Joined by God, or Joined to Man
J. E. Ostell, Bebington
In many gatherings of God's people today, interest seems chiefly to be focussed upon youth. This stressing of one side is not goad. The whale assembly should be united, old and young, and all should be workers together.
" For we (Paul and Apollos) are labourers together with God: ye (the Corinthian saints) are God's husbandry, God's building " (1 Cor. 3. 9). The word " together " denotes unity. The effects of unity or disunity among saints in testimony during their pilgrimage are illustrated in Abram and Lot, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy, Paul and Titus, among others.
AHRAM AND LOT (Gen. 12, 13, 14, 18, 19)
The lives of Abram and Lot provide several lessons. First, natural relationships constitute no reason for association in the work of the Lord. This is made clear in Genesis 12. However desirable it may seem to a young believer to join an older and more gifted servant, there must first be a personal conviction that it is God's way. Faith must be in God, not in the servant. Abram's history proves that it is possible to falter and err. How much, more he who ventures without a call.
God, who called Abram, brought him into the land. His altar expressed thankfulness. Having arrived at Bethel (The House of Clod) one would have expected them to rest there. Alas! They did not! What impelled Abram to go farther is not clear, but Gen. 12. 10 show that he moved into famine. There is no famine in Bethel—God's House. This teaches two things: —
1. Departure from God results in famine.
2. Though God has not promised to make His servants immune
from trials common to mankind, He preserves His children
The Journey to Egypt, and its lessons. The world has no
room for truth and worship. Neither Abram nor Lot raised an
altar in Egypt. Material prosperity (to be found in Egypt) does not engender harmony among saints (Gen. 13. 1-11). The world does not welcome the presence of the child of God. " All that will live godly shall suffer persecution " (2 Tim. 3. 12).
Rebuke in Egypt. No doubt untruth fill ness in Egypt (Gen, 12. 11-13) and the consequent rebuke of Pharaoh pained Abram. But the return to Bethel brought back an acknowledgment of God into Abram’s a life, though Lot seems to be excluded from the atmosphere of verses 2 to 4 of chapter 13.
Egypt's evil influence. The sojourn in Egypt soon manifested its ill effects. Lot had imbibed its ministry of carnal things; Abram, desirous of avoiding strife (for the Canaanite and Perizzite were in the land) offers Lot a choice. Nothing pleases the worldling and Satan more than strife between brethren: " Let nothing be done through strife (debasing others) or vain glory (exalting self) " (Phil. 2. 3). Lot lifts up his eves and sees the plain " like the land of Egypt."
The grace displayed by Abram finds no echo in his worldly minded nephew. Note his steps—he
1. Chose all the Plain of Jordan
2. Separated from the " friend of God "
3. Dwelt; in the Cities of the Plain
4. Pitched his tent towards Sodom—this being the last time
we read of the tent (the mark of pilgrimage) in connexion
Each is a step further from blessing; henceforth he became a citizen, and was no longer a pilgrim. Unhappy choice!
The Battle of the kings—chapter 14. Lot would not have been involved in this had ho remained a pilgrim, separated from the world. Grace, however, caused Abram to intervene. The separation had not embittered his spirit: this itself should have spoken to self-centred Lot. Egypt had not been forgotten; present comfort in the city was more to him than the sure prospect of a City to come. He rejected present pastoral life of separation in the Plains of Mamre.
To cherish, a social position in the world is to prize the society of those who despise Christ. Friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4).
The lessons of chapters 18 and 19 are found in contrasting these cotemporary episodes in each life. The chapters should be carefully read, and the contrasts noted: Abraham's humility in contrast with Lot's haughtiness; the eagerness for the company of the visitors and the sincere hospitality, compared with the customary respect and entertainment of Lot; the ready acceptance of Abram's offer and the refusal of Lot's; the open atmosphere of the tent of the plain, and tin: barred doors of the city house; the quiet of the noontide, and the bedlam of the midnight hour; the desire to set the men on their way, and Lot's reluctance to leave Sodom; the intercession with Jehovah for Sodom, that all may be saved, and the cry for Zoar that he might preserve his own soul. Abraham looked from the heights to the plain; Lot leaves Zoar for the mountain, the very place to which he had at first been told to flee. How apt here are the words; " ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth." Abraham's son of promise (Gen. 21. 2), and Lot's sons of shame (Gen. 19. 37, 38).
These contrasts are the result of different paths: Abraham's in separation from the world, walking with God; Lot formally separate in Sodom, but not walking with God.
The place of elevation did not bring: holiness to Lot; he had no tent; he was over a man of the world, a cave was his dwelling. He reared no altar to God, but in drunken excess begat shame to himself and daughters, and his sons became inveterate enemies of God and His people.
Did Abraham and Lot ever meet after the rescue from Chedorlaomer? It would seem not. Severance was complete; no basis for communion existed. But to Abraham God was more than the promised land, whilst the cities of the plain were more to Lot than the call of God through the angels.
As we reflect upon this association that began so well, and ended so tragically, we cannot but ask. What was the cause of failure? Was it the journey to Egypt? Or the vacillating character of Lot, who placed present material things before present and future spiritual blessings? Or was it this: that a natural tie had been regarded as equivalent to a personal spiritual call? Lot had set his confidence in Abraham, until prosperity divided them (the strife of the herdmen being incidental), rather than in Abraham's God. We never read of Lot building an altar, or calling upon the Name of Jehovah.
Lot's return to Sodom, and the final fiery departure, call to mind the solemn warning of verses 26 and 27 of Hebrews 10—" For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries."
ELIJAH AND ELISHA (1 Kings 19, and 2 Kings 11)
The association of these two servants of God offers further help as " labourers together "; their time together was brief indeed but was not marred by any lack on the part of the younger Elisha,
It was when Elijah felt that " he only " was being used or left for service that Elisha was chosen. From the time of that call until Elijah's rapture, we hear nothing of the young prophet. Are we to presume that he did nothing? The last clause of 1 Kings 19. 21 and 2 Kings 3. 11 would forbid such a thought; surely it was during these days of ministry to the Old Prophet that he learned something of his constancy, and his desire for the double portion developed.
The rapture of Elijah, the enduement with power of Elisha, his return through Jordan to the sons of the prophets, are in themselves a figure of what in the mercy of God happened later in history. It recalls the Risen Lord, when ascending from His waiting disciples, having promised them enduement with " power from on high " to enable them to minister again and again, as those alive from the dead.
Elisha had his request for the double portion granted. As earlier neither the call of father and mother had deterred him, so now the voices of the sons of the prophets did not hinder him from following his vision of glory. The Spirit of Elijah rested upon him. The old garments had gone, the mantle he wore was from henceforth that of his ascended Master. In thin new power and in death to former self he returns as one alive from the dead to minister to the sons of the prophets. What a great need there was for power, for though there were many sons of the prophets, there was little spirituality among them.
In the midst of difficulties what grace is exercised in Elisha's ready acquiescence to the young men who find themselves too confined, and desired the prophet to accompany them. Again, the prayer of Elisha opened the eyes of his servant to see that the same power that caught up Elijah was available to protect Elisha. " The Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him." Elisha lived in the atmosphere of the New Testament exhortation, "He left us an example that we should follow His steps." He lived in "deeper harmony," in "softer tunes," something much more powerful than a mere echo or emulation of Elijah. Was it accidental or by design that the young prophet follows the same course?
They both smote Jordan; the one mantle was common to both; of Elisha it was said, " the Spirit of Elijah rested upon him" (2 Kings 11. 15). Elijah went to Carmel; his successor went there too; the former slew the prophets of Baal, the latter the ruffians of Bethel. Each of them was a servant of God in a time of drought, and was instrumental in obtaining water; both ministered to the sustenance of a widow, and both raise a widow's son; both bring blessing to the Gentiles; and chariots, fire and horsemen are associated with each of them. (Compare 2 Kings 11. 12, 2 Kings 6. 17, and 2 Kings 13. 14.)
In Elisha we learn that God's purposes can be met in grace as well as power. This entire lie learned in those obscure years of service to Elijah (2 Kings 3. 11).
The New Testament teaches similar lessons.
PAUL AND TIMOTHY
Why was the association of Paul and Timothy so successful? Both had a providential preparation for ministry, though each was unaware of God's purposes for them: Paul in the school of Gamaliel, Timothy at the knees of his grandmother and mother. There was also evidently a natural affinity between them. The sight of Paul's sufferings at Iconium and Lystra at the age of 16 or 17 years, must have impressed young Timothy; Paul's courage in persecutions bound him to Timothy's heart, for the evidences of his affections are many, Timothy was a " good ground " hearer, and a doer of the word also. The ground prepared by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and the seed sown by the Apostle bore abundant fruit. The ministry of women is often sadly forgotten. The home is a fruitful field for their ministry; how many men, mightily used of God, can look back to the time when their mother or some sister taught them the things of God.
The testimony of Lystra and Iconium were sufficient to prove Timothy's steadfastness; here was a greater than Demas or Mark.
The opening verses of Acts Hi suggest that the Apostle knew Timothy and his family well, was satisfied with the report of the brethren concerning his testimony, and that he was well disposed toward the young disciple. Whilst family association has it’s blessing, it is important never to overlook the danger of Abram and Lot, of which we have spoken earlier.
The offspring of a Jew and Gentile, he was peculiarly fitted for this special ministry. None would know the advantages of this better than Paul.
The blessing that flowed from this partnership of old and young was the result of a mutual, deep and sincere love. Undoubtedly, Timothy was greatly encouraged by the affection of the older and prominent servant of God, who showed such amazing fortitude in sickness (aggravated by the appalling travel conditions of those days), courage in persecution, tolerance of the weak, love amid hatred, faithfulness though forsaken by all. Yet Paul's example (so closely following the steps of his Master) gave little encouragement to any but the stoutest of hearts.
The Epistles to Timothy reveal how the Holy Spirit through the Apostle used divine wisdom and love to reveal possibilities; so that he might not relax in the fight. Weil might Timothy shed tears as he pondered tie strange vicissitudes of such a faithful life. Can any wonder that the Apostle was assured before his death of a Crown of Righteousness? Timothy saw demonstrated in Paul's lift: that " love never faileth."
PAUL AND TITUS
Little is heard of Titus as compared with Timothy. He had many admirable qualities, and there is no suggestion of failure on his part. He combined those qualities, which fitted him for succession of leadership: enthusiasm, integrity, discretion and love. The Apostle must have rejoiced to find such singleness of purpose in Titus. “ The same zeal far the poor saints " was spontaneous; 2 Cor. 8.17 reveals His zeal and personal persuasion in these matters. Later in the Epistle (2 Cor. 12) Paul indicates the unalloyed integrity of Titus. Paul made no gain, neither did Titus; they walked in the same spirit, they traversed the same path, they did " all things " for the edifying of the saints.
What Paul exhorted the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13. 11) was the rule of life of Titus and his elder, Paul. Both worked our their own salvation with fear and trembling; both displayed unswerving God-given courage.
Paul's Letter to Titus. This little Epistle discloses the Apostle's attitude to his young fellow-labourer. It declares his love for his convert, his confidence in leaving him at Crete; his appreciation of Titus's spiritual discernment regarding the Church's need. He appointed him to ordain elders and supply that which was lacking.
It is true the qualifications of elders axe minutely indicated, but spiritual discernment was necessary in their choice. This discernment Paul saw in Titus. It is this that is lacking today, the state of the Church being witness.
Titus was to display in Crete the same conduct as had marked him when travelling with Paul. As an ambassador for Christ lie was invested with authority to speak, exhort and rebuke: his manner of life should give no cause for his being despised.
He was to turn their eyes from the temporal and material to eternal and spiritual values. He, who appeared in grace, is about to appear in glory; therefore good works should follow salvation.
When Titus's work of confirmation was done and Artemas or Tychicus had arrived to take up the burden, Paul wants Titus to come to him. Reunion is his last thought.
Neither Timothy nor Titus shrank from the rough path of the Soldier of the Cross, though both, as all of us, were liable to do so. This, no doubt, is one of the chief failures of our day:
Am I a Soldier of the Cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause.
Or blush to speak His Name?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?
Since I must fight if I would reign, Increase my courage, Lord: I'll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy Word.
Let, then, old and young work together. They do things better when united than when apart.