"ask for the Old Paths" (2)
The world around us is one where religious beliefs are considered to be a sign of difference and weakness. It is one where husbands and wives seem to find it more and more difficult to live together. One where children seem to have to show their open disobedience and defiance. One where the master-servant relationship seems to be always constantly strained. One where the dominant role of the woman is encouraged, to try and negate the effects of Eden. One where greed and lust dominates every waking minute of most peoples lives.
These influences put our marriages, our families, our homes and our Ecclesias under constant attack from outside.
But we must also realise that such influences can equally creep inside under camouflage, and start to reflect that ecclesial picture as recognised by the Lord Jesus Christ in those Ecclesias mentioned in the early chapters of Revelation.
We must be continually on our guard. The purity of the Truth is at stake, and sound doctrine must be maintained at all costs.
And achieving that is right down to you and me, in our Ecclesia and in our personal contacts with others.
It requires us to be totally on our guard, aware of the standards that we have had built for us by those in the past, and able to be open, forthright, and condemnatory of anything which threatens those standards.
“Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16.13).
To watch and stand fast we must have ‘True Knowledge’.
Viewed in its most general sense, the world’s knowledge presents to the mind a baffling concept, embracing so many fields, and inviting the uncertain and the unwary into so many uncharted channels.
So, what a relief it is to the wisely disposed to open a book, as we all hopefully do daily, a book wherein we have a complete compendium of true and life-giving instruction. Here is a fountain of knowledge which, if read and understood, is a path unto salvation.
The knowledge that confronts us in a very practical way at this moment is contained in the book of Proverbs.
Let us read the opening words:
“The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity … A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels” (Prov. 1.1-3,5).
Notice the terms used: “… wisdom … instruction … understanding … justice … judgment … equity … knowledge” and so on.
As far as we are able to tell, the Hebrew originals of these words are substantially the same in meaning as the English; or we should rather say, the English is a commendable rendering of the original.
That first word wisdom gives the idea of wisdom with perhaps an emphasis on moral goodness; in its second use it is a somewhat different Hebrew word, suggesting circumspection and intelligence.
Instruction indicates reproof, warning, restraint; and the other words in the list generally parallel the meaning of the originals.
These opening verses, then, give the introduction and setting to the whole of the Book of Proverbs, and we do well to dwell upon them.
Let us not regard them as just an initial exhortation to the uninformed, to such as might be seeking the Truth, but an exhortation to all of us as we seek the Wisdom of Yahweh.
The Book of Proverbs, as with all Scripture, is a wealth of spiritual sustenance to all of us. When we read the Proverbs, as with all Scripture, we will need to heed the implied exhortation in the opening verses, and give due attention to the many wonderful and often penetrating shades of counselling which this book contains.
The attainment of excellence.
Let us note the great cardinal point of Proverbs 1.7: “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge.”
There is a point behind those words that is very penetrating, if we think about it a little. I suppose, if we ask any of our contemporaries what they would consider to be the object of pursuing knowledge (in whatever field), they would surely answer, “The attainment of excellence in that particular field”.
But, then of course, the question follows: What is excellence?
There are areas where excellence is, we suppose, not a matter of controversy, and there are others where it is debatable, even a matter of personal taste.
As an example, take a household appliance, let us say, if summer is coming on, for cooling.
Now, if the appliance cools well, we could say, without controversy, that it is a good, perhaps an excellent article. If it failed to do so, presumably no one would recommend it.
But there are other areas of knowledge where there is room for controversy and even dispute. The external physical appearance or colour of our cooling appliance may please one but not another. This is where ‘artistry’ comes into the matter.
The industrial designer produces what he considers a pleasant-looking product, but another designer may disagree with his ideas, and the potential purchaser may disagree with them both. In this particular field of knowledge, the scope for divergence is endless, and the pursuit of excellence is as controversial as the idea of excellence itself.
What we must note, even from that poor example which I have used, is that the knowledge of man can engender controversy; whereas we have to be convinced that Divine knowledge is to be treated with the utmost respect and True Doctrine is not controversial.
There may be those who seem to relish in controversy, we must then ask whether they are the wolves in sheep’s clothing against whom we are warned.
We must seek True excellence.
Now, transferring our thoughts from all those material things to matters that surely concern us most dearly.
We will now think of that Divinely revealed knowledge, wisdom and instruction that we comprehend in the term we use, “The Truth”.
We will all say, that this is true excellence, and, as the verse in Proverbs tells us, the fear of Yahweh is the beginning, the very commencement of its pursuit.
Now, having imbibed the knowledge of the Truth, and having resolved to heed the injunction in those opening words of Proverbs, as doubtless we all have, we do not have to be long in the Truth before we realise that it has not only to be imbibed knowledge, it must also be applied knowledge.
To this extent it is like other fields of knowledge. If it is just left in the mind, or written down in a notebook and put aside somewhere, then it is merely academic and of no real use.
To be of use, it has to be applied.
And, this is what becomes so important in the Truth, so much of its application concerns our relations with, and attitudes to, one another.
As we have already stated – the doctrines must be kept pure, and our treatment of our Brethren and Sisters will go a long way in helping our Ecclesia to stay within the parameters of “Pure”.
If the fear of our heavenly Father is the beginning of knowledge and of wisdom, then love is the fulfilling of the law that He has given.
You will recall that when one asked the Lord Jesus Christ: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said unto him, “Thou shall love the Yahweh thy Elohim with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt. 22.36-9).
Here, the Lord Jesus Christ explains that we must use our knowledge of the Truth in a manner that is loving and of benefit to our Brethren and Sisters, and we must apply and present our knowledge in a loving manner, not to use it as a club, or to “Give them a burst” as was a colloquialism used by some of the members of an Ecclesia we know some years ago.
This now brings us to our loving concern for the affairs of our Spiritual Family.
We have wonderful practical lessons on this matter of loving concern throughout the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, for example, let us look in Luke 15.
The very first thing we notice about this chapter is the large number of human characters it brings before us, some actual people, and some as depicted in the three parables in this chapter.
There were the tax collectors: men who collected revenue on behalf of the Romans and had a reputation for dubious dealing in so doing, and were therefore out of general favour.
Also, there were those termed “sinners”: those people despised by the punctilious religious elite.
Then there were the Scribes and Pharisees. We also find people used in the parables as examples, we have the shepherd who had lost one of his hundred sheep, the woman who had lost a coin, and the father with two sons, the younger being “prodigal”.
Reviewing these characters brings to us remarkable lessons.
With regard to the tax collectors and those others of dubious repute, we read in the 1st verse of this chapter that they were anxious to “hear” the Lord Jesus Christ, which was an attitude that was very different to that of their detractors.
They, those considered of dubious repute, were also acknowledging their deficiencies, and were taking the first step as described in those opening verses of Proverbs.
How different it was with the Scribes and Pharisees! They were not prepared even to listen. “There is nothing”, they were saying to themselves in effect, “that this man can give us”.
Are we like that?
In this they were despising the very fountain of true knowledge, for was not Paul later to write to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 1:24, that the Lord Jesus Christ is “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, the Messiah is the power of Yahweh and the wisdom of Yahweh”?
How did the Lord Jesus Christ counter this opposition?
We must note that he did not abide the watering down of true doctrine, but he also did not fall prey to human emotion in his treatment of the problem.
Strong reproof is not always appropriate, for we know that a soft answer turneth away wrath. Our dear Lord demonstrated that many times over.
The rest of the chapter is the record of his words in the form of three parables.
Note how that in each parable there appears a character who is very caring: one who is really concerned about something or someone lost; and the great point to be noted is that the caring attitude quite over-rides every other consideration.
Note also that the circumstance that caused the loss is not nearly so great a matter of concern as is the earnest need to retrieve the lost item or the lost person, and then we should behold the joy when the lost is found.
The other side of the picture, of course, concerns the helpless and hopeless condition of the lost, without this over-riding care. The lost sheep was certain of a miserable end in the lonely harshness of the desert, if it were not for the tireless, diligent, and eventually successful search of the anxious shepherd.
With regard to the lost coin, to our contemporary minds it may seem strange that this woman should go to such excesses of joy upon recovering it; calling all her friends and neighbours together to an occasion of festivity that may seem to outweigh the value of the lost article.
If we quickly look at the historical reasoning, it has been suggested that the coin was part of a headdress traditionally worn by the women of the East as a wedding gift; an article regarded as so precious that tradition forbade its being seized as a pledge or in lieu of a debt. Whatever the reason may be, we still have the picture of infinite concern over a loss, and overwhelming joy upon the item’s recovery.
In the third parable, recorded in the latter part of the chapter, we have the father of the prodigal son, bringing home with full force this lesson of compassion and concern.
All these parables were meant to make the Scribes and Pharisees realise that all their exactness about the Law, with all their traditions by which they set out to embellish and codify it, all counted for nothing when they were unable, or more likely, unwilling, to perceive the grace that was being brought into their midst by the One whom Moses and all the prophets had predicted so long before.
They couldn’t accept that grace would be extended, not only to the tax-collectors and sinners in their midst at that time, but also to the Gentiles.
The basis of all this grace is care and concern, which seemed to be something about which the Scribes and Pharisees knew very little.
Brethren and Sisters, do we know much about the care of our spiritual family, are we very concerned about those who are sick, or lonely with the cares of this life weighing upon them?
Do we remember and work to retrieve those who are out of fellowship, other than for the glee we had gossiping about their misdemeanours?
Do we always remember that it is by grace that we are saved?
That being the case with Yahweh, He remembers all, and supports all with care and sustenance at all times, so much the more that we must show grace and love towards our Brethren and Sisters.
The Lord Jesus Christ, the wisdom of Yahweh. Of course, the dominant character in this chapter is the speaker of the parables, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
We recall again Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 1:24: “Christ, the power of Yahweh, and the wisdom of Yahweh,” and our Lord’s matchless wisdom shows itself in his discerning insights into natural human character and its responses as displayed in these examples.
And every Sunday, we remember him as he has bidden us, and as we identify ourselves with his life and his sufferings, through which we have both warning and comfort.
The Lord Jesus Christ could, and does read all hearts. We only need to examine ourselves, look into our own hearts and rectify the problems we see there.
He could, and still does analyse and see through all problems.
He assures us that where two or three are gathered together in his name, there he is in their midst.
So, at this Table before us, let us reflect that, if we think we are ever misunderstood, here is One who understands perfectly; if we are perhaps painfully conscious of our limitations, here is One who through his mediation can achieve our forgiveness.
If the pressures of life seem overwhelming, then here is One who has felt all these pressures to the extreme, and has even overcome death itself; and that conquest means victory for us all.
Yes, indeed, “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of Yahweh.”
May the day dawn very soon, when “he shall appear” and in Yahweh’s mercy “we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”
Even so – come Lord Jesus.