Enduring To The End
The Lord's obvious, basic point in the parable of the sower was that
very many who start the race will fall away- for various reasons.
Israel after the flesh, the New Testament record, Christian history,
our own ecclesial experience: they all shout the truth of this. And
as we analyze our own private spirituality the more, we see that in
principle, we too have an unpleasant capacity to fall away from the
spiritual heights we occasionally reach. We witness a baptism, attend
a powerful Bible School, break bread and catch, for once, a real picture
of the height of the Lord's devotion for us; enter, all too briefly,
into some surpassing excellence of God's word...but then, all too
quickly, we come down from the mountain, as it were, back to the normality
and humdrum of that much lower level of spiritual life to which we
are sadly accustomed. Indeed, we can come to so recognize the regularity
of this experience, that we no longer rise so enthusiastically to
those heights of feeling, because at the back of our mind we know
that it will only be a temporary 'high'. In extreme cases, a believer
will cease to even try to (e.g.) attend Bible School, break bread
etc.; they see no point in trying to lift themselves up, because they
know they will fall down again. This problem, in one form or another,
affects every one of us. We fain would know how to acquire the tenacity
of the long distance runner, the patience of the farmer (James 5:7),
the faithfulness of the soldier on a long, difficult campaign (2 Tim.
2:3-5). There is a something which is the essence of the
ability to keep on keeping on, in the face of all discouragement.
It's this issue which I want to analyze.
Firstly, remember that God knows our nature; He remembers that we
are dust. He knows that we have this terrible capacity to lose spiritual
intensity. His most faithful servants have been afflicted with this
- The disciples in Gethsemane slumbered and slept when the Lord
had specifically asked them to struggle on in prayer. A stone's
throw from them, the Son of God was involved in a height of spiritual
struggle utterly unequalled. And they dozed off in the midst of
their half-serious prayers. This incident is alluded to by Paul
in a powerful appeal to us: " Consider him that endured [as
the kneeling disciples should have watched the distant Lord Jesus
as an inspiration to themselves]...lest ye be wearied,
and faint in your minds [as they did]. Ye have
not yet resisted unto blood [cp. the Lord's sweat as drops of blood]
, [in your] striving against sin" (Heb. 12:3,4). Time and again
Paul alludes, sometimes perhaps even subconsciously, to the record
of Gethsemane. He evidently saw in those garden prayers and the
disciples' sleepiness a powerful cameo of our every battle and failure;
and a strong, urgent plea for us to rise up and catch the fire of
real spiritual struggle (2).
- Moses fled from Egypt, not fearing the wrath of Pharaoh; he went
in faith (Heb. 11:27). But the Exodus record explains that actually
he couldn't keep this level of faith, and fled in fear (Ex. 2:14,15).
- The house of Baal was broken down in 2 Kings 10:27. But soon
afterwards, it was rebuilt and had to be destroyed yet again (2
Kings 11:18). There are examples galore of purges and re-purges
in the record of the Kings.
- Hezekiah's faithful reign was followed by a slip: in his desperation,
he cut off the gold (cp. faith) from the doors of Yahweh's temple,
and gave them to the invading Assyrians to placate them (2 Kings
18:24). But soon he bounced back to his normal spirituality, with
the demonstration of a faith and humility few have matched.
- Jonah, in the intensity of fresh repentance, was willing to die
for the salvation of Gentile sailors from God’s judgment.
But he lost this intensity as he sat under the gourd, angry that
Gentile Nineveh might yet be saved judgment.
- The Jews in Jeremiah's time released the Jewish slaves they had
been abusing, in response to the word of God to them. " But
afterward they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids,
whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection"
- Jeremiah himself taught that Israel should surrender to the Babylonians,
in accordance with God’s word. He himself tried to do this,
in obedience; but he was caught by the Jews. He promptly denied
that he was doing this, overcome by the patriotism of the moment
(Jer. 37:14; 38:2).
- Job seems to oscillate between solid belief in a resurrection
and future reward, and a cynical attitude to these things, as if
to say ‘If only this were true...’ (e.g. Job 14:14,15
- Baruch, the faithful scribe of Jeremiah 36, had to be reminded
later to stop seeking great things for himself (Jer. 45:5).
- The exiles who returned from Babylon obeyed the prophetic call
to flee from Babylon and rebuild the land. But once they arrived,
they lost their enthusiasm. And then Haggai came, seeking to stir
them up again. It's easy to date Haggai's prophecies. According
to Hag. 1:12-15, the people responded enthusiastically to his initial
message, given [in European dating] on September 21st. But by October
17th, according to the prophecies of Hag. 1:15-2:9, the people again
needed to be exhorted to keep on keeping on in their response to
the prophetic word. The fickleness and lack of staying power of
the exiles must serve as a warning to us- for throughout the New
Testament, the believer who has come out of the world of figurative
Babylon is portrayed in terms of those Jews who returned to Judah.
They were types of us.
- Dear, heroic Peter started out on the water, eyes set on the
Lord. But his gaze wandered, he saw something blowing in the wind-
and he lost that intensity.
- Paul withstood the pressures of the ‘circumcision party’
within the early church, and rebuked Peter for caving in to them (Gal.
2:12,13). But then he himself caved in under pressure from the same
group, and obeyed their suggestion that he show himself to be not opposed
to the keeping of the Mosaic Law by paying the expenses for the sacrifices
of four brethren.
- If Timothy was the elder of the church at Ephesus, it would appear
that the Lord's rebuke of the 'angel' or elder of that church in Rev.
2:1 may well have been directed at Timothy (assuming an AD66 date for
the book of Revelation). This would imply that Timothy failed to follow
Paul's charge to him of 2 Tim. 4, and that his initial devotion waned
in some ways.
- David graciously overlooked Shimei's cursing, promising him that
he would not die because of it (2 Sam. 16:10,11; 19:23). But he didn't
keep up that level of grace to the end: he later asked Solomon to ensure
that Shimei was killed for that incident (1 Kings 2:8,9). And
one wonders whether it was Shimei’s words which so broke David’s
heart that he later wrote: “Because that he remembered not to
shew mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man…as he loved
cursing, so let it come unto him; as he delighted not in blessing, so
may it be far from him. He clothed himself also with cursing as with
a garment…” (Ps. 109:16-18). In Zedekiah's time, the people
stopped abusing their Hebrew servants and "let them go"- "But
afterward they [re]turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids,
whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection
for servants" (Jer. 34:11). Note the play on the word "return".
By making their servants 'return' to bondage, they were 'returning'
to the bondage of sin and selfishness. And this example is so true to
our lives- we can forgive a person at one point in time, or in some
way 'release' them; but find it impossible to maintain that intensity,
just as David failed with Shimei.
- Israel at Sinai eagerly accepted the challenge of being God's
covenant people and therefore living in harmony with His laws. Their
sincerity was unquestionable. And yet they simply failed to keep
up that intensity.
- The disciples kept changing the subject whenever the Lord started
speaking about His death. As He hung in ultimate triumph and suffering
on the cross, men came and looked, and turned away again (Is. 53:3;
Lk. 23:48). The spiritual intensity of it couldn't be sustained
in their minds, as it cannot easily be in ours. The more we break
bread, the more we try to reconstruct Golgotha's awful scene, the
more we realize this.
And so we could multiply Biblical examples, as we could from our
own lives. But the Father knows we are like this. His word urges us
not to weary in well-doing, to continue instant
in prayer, to pray and faint not, to pray always. And the
Lord who bought us knew we were like this. His parable of the ten
virgins shows how He recognized that all His people, wise
and foolish, would all start off with oil in their lamps at baptism,
but would inevitably lose it over time. This reflects the pattern
of Israel after the flesh, who began their wilderness journey with
none of them weak or ill- which in a group of three million was a
miracle (Ps. 105:37). The parable teaches that the Lord's true people
would realize their capacity for losing oil, and make some effort
to refill themselves. The nature of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit
in the first century reflected the principle that flesh cannot retain
the Spirit of God for long. It seems that the apostles were filled
with the Spirit in order to do certain acts, and after doing them
they were as it were 'drained' of the Spirit, and had to be filled
up again (1). Thus the Lord Jesus felt
that something had gone out of Him after performing miracles (Lk.
6:19; 8:46). The non-miraculous work of God through His Spirit would
seem to follow a similar pattern. We are " strengthened with
might by his spirit in the inner man" , " strengthened with
all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and
long-suffering" (Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11). God strengthens us deep
inside to have that hupomonè, that patient endurance,
that energy to keep on keeping on. But this strengthening is according
to our effort in the appropriate spiritual exercises, and the strength
given is not ultimately permanent unless we continue responding to
it. and it isn't only a N.T. phenomena; even in earlier times, they
that waited on the Lord had their strength renewed, they mounted up
on eagle wings, they were made to walk and not faint in God's ways
(Is. 40:31). As God doesn’t faint or weary, so somehow those
who identify their lives with His will also keep on keeping on- even
now (Is. 40:31 cp. 29). David felt that his youth was renewed like
the eagle's in his repeated experience of God's grace (Ps. 103:5),
that his soul was restored (Ps. 23:5), and that a right spirit could
be renewed by God within him (Ps. 51:10).
At our baptism, we died and rose with the Lord, so that in our subsequent
lives we should " live in new-ness of life" (Rom.
6:4),. serving Him in " newness of spirit (mind)" (Rom.
7:6). The spiritual life, the mind-life that we now share with Him
is a life that is ever being made new. This new-ness of mind
and living is the very antithesis of the life of spiritual boredom
which some complain of. The Lord Jesus is seeking to merge our lives
with His eternal, ever-new life; this was the process which began
at baptism. There is therefore a sense in which baptism is an ongoing
experience. As we die to various aspects of the flesh, so we come
alive to spiritual life in those areas; we thereby live in a new-ness
of life. As we received Christ Jesus as Lord at baptism,
so we live daily in Him; our baptism experience is lived
out throughout daily life (Col. 2:6). Thus Paul spoke of how he died
daily so that he might share in the Lord's resurrection life (1 Cor.
15:31). We always bear about in our body the spirit of the Lord Jesus
in His time of dying, so that His life might be made manifest in our
mortal flesh even now (the use of " mortal flesh" indicates
that this is not a reference to the future resurrection). In this
way the process of dying to the flesh works life in us (2 Cor. 4:10-12).
Peter clearly held this conception of baptism as an ongoing process;
he speaks of how we have already been born again unto a living hope
by the resurrection of Christ (a clear reference to baptism), and
yet goes on to say that having obeyed the truth, we must go on in
being (continuous tense) born again by the work of God's word (1 Pet.
Baptism is a putting on of the Lord Jesus, a union with Him; which
is something essentially ongoing (Gal. 3:27). The Lord Himself spoke
of sharing His baptism as being the same as drinking His cup, sharing
His cross (Mk. 10:39); which, again, is a process. Likewise Peter
saw baptism as not only the one off act, but more importantly a pledge
to live a life in good conscience with God (1 Pet. 3:21). 'Obeying
the truth' is not only at baptism, but a lifelong pursuit (Gal. 5:7).
The whole body of believers in Christ are being baptized into the
body of the Lord Jesus in an ongoing sense (1 Cor. 12:13 Gk.), in
that collectively and individually we are growing up into Him who
is the Head (Eph. 4:15).
Fire And Water
The ongoing nature of the act of baptism was outlined in baptism's
greatest prototype: the passage of Israel through the Red Sea (1 Cor.
10:2). They were baptized into that pillar of cloud (cp. the water
of baptism), but in fact the cloud and fire which overshadowed them
at their Red Sea baptism continued throughout their wilderness journey
to the Kingdom. They went " through fire and through
water" (Ps. 66:12) throughout their wilderness years, until they
entered the promised rest (cp. the Kingdom). Likewise, the great works
of Yahweh which He showed at the time of their exodus from Egypt (cp.
the world) and baptism at the Red Sea were in essence repeated
throughout their wilderness journey (Dt. 7:19). Therefore whenever
they faced discouragement and an apparent blockage to their way, they
were to remember how God had redeemed them at their baptism, and to
realize that in fact His work was still ongoing with them (Dt. 20:1).
He told them in the desert that He was " Yahweh that bringeth
you up out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 11:45). Therefore
the overcoming of Edom, Moab and the Canaanite tribes is described
in language lifted from the Red Sea record (e.g. Ex. 15:15-17). Throughout
their history, Israel were reminded that what God had done for them
in their Red Sea deliverance He was continuing to do, and therefore
all their enemies would likewise perish if they remained God's people
(e.g. Is. 43:16).
The only two sacraments which we have- baptism and the breaking of
bread- are related, in that both show in physical symbolism our association
with and blessing from the Lord's sacrifice. The breaking of bread
is in a sense an ongoing reminder of the same principles which we
showed at our baptism. Likewise the Jewish Passover (cp. our breaking
of bread) was in order to bring to mind the deliverance achieved at
their national baptism. They were even to wear a sign on their hand
and between their eyes that reminded them of the exodus (Ex. 13:9);
all their thinking and doing was to be overshadowed by the awareness
of the fact that they had been redeemed that day. If we do feel that
we have fallen so deeply into the rut of semi-spirituality that we
can't crawl out, then think back to your baptism, or to the days when
you first read Christian literature, bought a Bible, started praying...
Try to grasp the enormous importance of that act of baptism: that
you were redeemed from the world of sin and death, and that power
that worked in your life to bring about that exodus can continue to
work. This is why the weak ones among the New Testament believers
were bidden look back to their baptisms and spiritual beginnings (2
Cor. 4:6; Gal. 3:3; Heb. 10:32; 2 Jn. 8; Rev. 2:5; 3:3).
The New Life
We have shown that the Lord Jesus is working in our lives, to bring
His ever-new, eternal life into ours. We live after baptism in union
with Him, we have drunk of the water of His life, and we
should therefore be experiencing deep within us that life which is
described as an ever-bubbling spring (Jn. 4:10; 7:38 Gk.). And yet,
like those faithful men we considered to begin with, this is all too
often not how spiritual life feels at all. The Scriptures fully recognize
this, and abound with ways in which to realize that life. The following
is an incomplete list:
- Recognition of the seriousness of our sins. Sin
has a kind of anesthesia accompanying it; the very act of sinning
makes us less sensitive to sin. If we can really pray, on our knees,
for forgiveness of what may appear to others (and sometimes ourselves)
to be surface sins, just the inevitable outworkings of being human...
then we will have a 'new life' experience. We will die to that sin,
and in that death find life. We must wash ourselves from all filthiness
of the flesh and spirit even after baptism (2 Cor. 7:1); by doing
so, we as it were go through the death-and-resurrection process
of baptism again; we live it all once again. We must even after
baptism " put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision
for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:14; Eph.
4:14; Col. 3:12,14; 1 Thess. 5:8), even though at baptism we
put on the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:27; Col. 3:10) and in prospect the
flesh was co-crucified with Christ's flesh (Rom. 6:6,18). By putting
off the things of the flesh and putting on the things of the Lord
in our lives, we live out the baptism principle again; and thereby
we are " renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Eph. 4:22-24).
This newness of thinking, therefore, is a result of serious self-analysis
and confession. No matter what your disillusion with Christians
and even yourself, whatever your sense of boredom in spiritual life:
to rise up from your knees having confessed even your 'smallest'
failure, really believing you are forgiven, all revved up with determination
to do better... this will impart a verve and newness to life which
little else can. But we can only have this if we truly realize our
desperation. That we are prisoners condemned to death waiting
in the last cell, beggars starving to death, craving a piece of
bread, neglected captives left to die of thirst (Ps. 69:33;
102:20; 146:7; Is. 42:7; 51:14; Zech. 9:11). These are all oft-repeated
pictures of our desperation in spiritual terms. If we can truly
grasp it, and realize that we have been freed, we have been lifted
up from our desperate poverty- we won't be passive.
- Serious prayer is of itself an experience which
can really wake us up, whether or not we receive a concrete answer
immediately. The peace of God fills the mind simply as a result
of making our requests known (Phil. 4:6,7). Praying alone in the
room, kneeling, maybe at the bedside, pressing your little nose
into that mattress as you concentrate your thoughts and requests;
the very experience of this close communion will of itself
enable you to unbend your legs and rise up a new man.
- True pastoral concern for others that they might
reach the Kingdom. Paul could say that he lived, if his brethren
held fast; his life was bound up with theirs (1 Thess. 3:8; 2 Cor.
7:3). He was willing to be offered as a drink offering upon the
sacrifice of the Philippians (Phil. 2:17). Time and again he rejoices
in the joy and hope of others (e.g. 2 Cor. 7:l3; Col. 1:4); they
were his joy and hope and future crown of reward in the Kingdom
(Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19,20). For them to be accepted at the day
of judgment would be his crown, i.e. his reward and expectation
which he looked forward to. It was for their salvation, not his
own, that he would rejoice at the Lord's return (2 Cor. 1:14). His
spiritual life was bound up in that of others; others who were many
times his spiritual inferior. Paul " endured" , he held
on himself, for the sake of the elect (2 Tim. 2:10). And likewise
the Lord Himself died above all for us, His desire for
our salvation lead Him to endure for Himself. And on a
mundane level; the husband who does his readings a second time for
the sake of his wife or children or because a brother has paid an
unexpected visit... this kind of spiritual effort for others keeps
us going ourselves.
- The concept of judgment, that every, every action
has its ultimate result and response at the day of judgment; this,
Paul reasons in Gal. 6:9, ought to mean that we don't faint, we
don't fade away in our enthusiasm to do what is right. There will
come a moment when we will be shaken, until only those things which
cannot be shaken will remain. In view of this, " let us hold
fast, that we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly
fear" (Heb. 12:28 mg.). " Let us hold fast...(for) the
Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into
the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:23, 31). If we appreciate
the suddenness of the Lord's coming, that one day will be our last,
one day we will put our clothes on, eat breakfast...for the last
time, and then the judgment; this of itself, the Lord Himself
reasons, ought to result in us holding on (Rev. 3:3,11). Likewise
Paul argues that the opposite of falling away is living by faith
in the fact that one day, He who is prophesied to return will really
return (Heb. 10:37,38 cp. Hab. 2:3,4).
- Concentration on the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus
is something which the Hebrew writer so often encourages, in his
efforts to encourage the Hebrew believers. After perhaps 25 years
of believing (they were probably converted at Pentecost), they were
starting to get bored with God's Truth; the will to keep on keeping
on was no longer what it was. But because of the cross, because
He paid dearly for you, because He is now thereby our matchless
mediator, Paul argues: hold on, hold fast, therefore (a
watchword of Hebrews) endure to the end (Heb. 3:1,6; 4:14; 10:21,23).
For that great salvation will surely be realized one day. So, concentrate
personally on the fact that He hung there for you, honour
your solemn duty to at least try to reconstruct the agony of His
body and soul.
- Seriously breaking bread is related to all this.
We can so easily be like Israel, who (presumably, under Moses) kept
the Passover throughout their forty years in the wilderness; but
never in all that time remembered the day that the Lord brought
them forth from Egypt (Ps. 78:42). Yet this was what the Passover
was intended for, to remind them of that day of their redemption!
They kept the Passover, but never really grasped what it was all
about; they never really remembered that day of salvation, they
forgot the wonder of their redemption and the future direction which
it should have imparted to their lives. And so we can so easily
break bread without due attention to the real import of
the cross. It is, in my own disappointing experience (and you must
know yourself what I mean), one of the easiest things in the world
for us to do. The love of Christ will constrain us- if
we let ourselves behold it (2 Cor. 5:14); we can be changed into
His image, if we simply behold His glory, as in a mirror (2 Cor.
3:18). The breaking of bread brings us up against a wall; we see
the two ways clearly before us. Taking the cup of wine is a double
symbol: of blessing (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25), and of condemnation (Ps.
60:3; 75:8; Is. 51:17; Jer. 25:15; Rev. 14:10; 16:19). Why this
use of a double symbol? Surely the Lord designed this sacrament
in order to highlight the two ways which are placed before us by
taking that cup: it is either to our blessing, or to our condemnation.
Each breaking of bread is a further stage along one of those two
roads. Paul realized this in pleading with the Corinthians to examine
themselves before taking the emblems. He saw the ceremony and our
self-examination there as a kind of foretaste of the judgment (1
Cor. 11:29-32). And there is no escape by simply not breaking bread.
The peace offering was one of the many antecedents of the memorial
meeting. Once the offerer had dedicated himself to making it, he
was condemned if he didn't then do it, and yet also condemned if
he ate it unclean (Lev. 7:18,20). So a man had to either
cleanse himself, or be condemned. There was no get out, no third
road. The man who ate the holy things in a state of uncleanness
had to die; his eating would load him with the condemnation of his
sins (Lev. 22:3,16 A.V.mg.). This is surely the source for our possibility
of “eating...condemnation” to ourselves by partaking
of the breaking of bread in an unworthy manner. And so it is with
us as we face the emblems. We must do it, or we deny our covenant
relationship. And yet if we do it in our uncleanness, we also deny
that relationship. And thus the breaking of bread brings us up before
the cross and throne of the Lord Jesus- even now. It brings us to
a realistic self-examination. If we cannot examine ourselves and
know that Christ is really in us, then we are reprobate; we "
have failed" (2 Cor. 13:5 G.N.B.). Self-examination is therefore
one of those barriers across our path in life which makes us turn
to the Kingdom or to the flesh. If we can't examine ourselves and
see that Christ is in us and that we have therefore that great salvation
in Him; we've failed. I wouldn't be so bold as to throw down this
challenge to any of us, not even myself, in exhortation. But Paul
does. It's a powerful, even terrible, logic. Whilst this is listed
by me as just one of several ways of getting to real grips with
spiritual life, this alone ought to be enough.
- Appreciate the grace of God. " This is
the true grace of God. Stand ye fast in it" (1 Pet. 5:12 RV
mg.). Appreciating that we personally have experienced that grace,
so great, so free, will of itself make us hold fast and not fall
from it. Because we have received grace, Paul reminisces, therefore
we don't faint in our faith (2 Cor. 4:1 Gk.).
- Personally meditate on the tragic brevity of
the human experience. And this doesn't take a lot of time; just
some effort. Think back to you as a child, the questions you asked
your mum, your innocent eyes in the photos, think how your dad has
aged, realize what a large proportion of his life, of your life,
of your brother's life, has now irretrievably passed, in the fleeting
tragedy of human experience. And, especially, don't quell the tears
or the lump in the throat. I don't think Moses did, as he thought
out and wrote Psalm 90. Be taught to number our days, that we might
apply our hearts unto wisdom and to that which is ultimately meaningful,
to those things which will bind us all together beyond the grave
- Personally reflect on Scripture. See the wonder
of it all. Let me share with you something that dwells in my mind
at the moment. Despite all the likely previous creations, and the
fact that God has existed from eternity, the Lord Jesus was His
Only and His begotten Son, made exactly like us
so as to save us , humans who began with the first man
Adam 6,000 years ago, sent at this time in the spectre of eternity,
to save so few. You can only have a firstborn son once. The Lord
didn't personally pre-exist, and God went through that climactic
event for us. And I have been called to know the saving
Truth that relates a man to His Son. This is a thought surpassing
in its excellence. But next week, the wonder of it will have dimmed.
But if I keep reading, some other facet of the wonder of it all
will come to mind. And by these things we live.
And even if despite all these spiritual exercises, we still fail
to find that newness of life; the Lord wishes and wills to
share His new life with us. He has called us for this purpose. If
we don't very deeply experience His newness of life, He may therefore
block our road in life with a wall, where we have only two paths possible:
to abandon Him completely, or dedicate ourselves to Him anew. He may
do this in quite complex ways, but His will is that we should give
Him our heart, soul and mind. And He will work in our lives to bring
(1) This is well explained
in R. Carr & E. Whittaker, Spirit In The N.T. Chapter
3 (Norwich: The Testimony, 1985).
| 1 Thess.
|| Mt. 26:40,41
| 2 Cor.
| 2 Cor.
8:15; Gal. 4:6
|| Mk. 14:36