The Word of Truth
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“Deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword: From men which are thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure.” (Psalm 17:13-14)
The question here centers on the wicked. How would they be God’s sword? How would they be God’s hand? How does God fill them with His hid treasure?
We catch a glimpse of the unsearchable greatness of God in this verse, which David wrote by inspiration when he was in great peril and holding unto God with all his might to help him through his dealings with King Saul. We tend to think that when a man has turned away from God, as Saul did, that there is no further use for him—nothing but a merciful pause to give opportunity for repentance (if he will), and that nothing good can come of the man’s backsliding. But, dear brother, God is greater than that. He can make evil men prove the truth, as well as saints. He can even make Satan himself prove the truth. (Consider the trials of Job.) God is that big. He made Cyrus, that pagan king, into an instrument for His purpose of sending His people back to Jerusalem, just as He made Nebuchadnezzar an instrument for bringing judgment by carrying them to Babylon. “Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.” (Isaiah 45:1-4) Much that has been raised up among men that is good and wholesome, as well as that which is the product of rebellion and sin, is placed in the hands of men such as Cyrus, and their handling of these things in their time, with God’s interference in their doings, forms a tapestry of God’s wisdom that glorifies Him, whether they intend it that way or not. So, into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar fall the precious riches of secret places, even the upright lives of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He begins to work his will on them, but God changes things on him, all the time preserving his right to choose, as well as the four Hebrew brethren. Into the hands of this proud and haughty man falls also the rebellious and sinful life of Zedekiah, a treasure (for he has an immortal soul) of darkness.
Back, then, to the scripture in Psalm 17. Consider what was delivered into Saul’s hands: a kingdom which reflected the labors of Samuel and his unrestrained sons. Into Saul’s hands these treasures were placed. It was his to digest (his “belly”) and use, for better or far worse. If he had taken God’s way, he would now be counted with the forces of right (as Samuel or David), but alas! The goodly young man threw it all away and transformed himself by his actions into a man of the world who has his portion in this life. How oft the sad story is repeated! He entrenches himself against truth. He professes to be a servant of the most high God, but in works he denies Him, bringing reproach and sponsoring skepticism and unbelief. Then God interferes (as usual). Samuel plays the part God has for him. God anoints His servant, David, by the hand of the faithful prophet. This young man begins the process of separating the pure from the vile in his own mind and heart. He sees that God put King Saul in the place he abuses, and that it is God’s business how far He allows the man to go. David consecrates to suffer, yea, down to the cave and the sleeping king. The wicked is God’s sword to qualify and prepare David to do it right. Hallelujah!
“Enemies may strive to injure;
Satan all his arts employ;
He will turn what seems to harm me
Into everlasting joy.”*
Saul, the wicked man used as the sword of the Lord, turns the evil eye upon David with the malice of hell. He tempts; he plots and schemes; he attempts murder. God uses all this to refine His servant’s heart, to cut off excess, and to preach the difference between right and wrong in all circumstances, all ways. In these trials, Jonathan finds God’s way for him. His sisters make their choices. They set the course of each of their lives. “Many [are] purified, and made white, and tried.” (Daniel 12:10) Others choose the ways of the world. Some compromise on what God has taught them; others die to be true. Was there ever such a God as the Lord?
“So while here the cross I’m bearing,
Meeting storms and billows wild,
Jesus for my soul is caring,
Naught can harm His Father’s child.”*
Oh, glory, glory, glory to His Name! Surely He doeth all things well!
We are privileged to see the end of the matter. We realize that bad as it looked, hopeless as it looked, David was never in real danger as long as he served God, for the hand of God preserved him as he followed God. “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” (Psalm 2:6) The first part of this Psalm is a prophecy of Jesus, inspired by David’s trials. In his trials, his life and place in Israel were at stake. In the trials of our Savior, the salvation of all of mankind, including us, was at stake. Jesus was succoured in His sufferings by the trials of David, and those who trusted that Jesus was He who should have redeemed Israel had all this available to them for their comfort and help. All of this produced by God taking a wicked man and using him (unknowingly and unwillingly) as His sword!
“But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)
I do not believe Jesus was teaching us to literally turn the other cheek to be stricken! But please, comment and explain what the implication is.
The mandate goes deeper than just turning the other cheek literally, though I hasten to add that obedience could bring us to do just that under some circumstances. But the statement brings up this question: How long should I suffer? When is forbearance no longer a virtue? Should I conduct myself in such a way that I become a doormat, void of dignity and respect, in the eyes of others? And when we get to this point, we realize that we are asking the same question that Brother Peter asked the Lord, “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Matthew 18:21) Peter was asking if forgiving someone seven times for the same offense was reasonable enough. It, of course, raises the question: what if he offends me eight times? Here is the reply that was given: “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) This came as a great shock to the disciples. 490 times? This is ridiculous! Who could even keep track of that many occurrences? That, of course, is the point. We need a superbounding grace that does not even count the number of offences. It just forgives and suffers and suffers and forgives until God delivers us and helps us to get His purpose in allowing the trial working in our lives.
Someone has said that loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ooooooooooooooooooong-suffering means to suffer as long as there is something to suffer. We need to give our sense of dignity and justice to God, realizing that we do not know how to manage these things, and surrender ourselves to God as vessels to accomplish His purpose. One key to victory here is to make ourselves “of no reputation,” and to take upon ourselves, “the form of a servant,” (Philippians 2:7) as our Master did. If we are little in our own eyes, it is easier to continually get grace to bear and forebear.
A minister was driving down the street and stopped at a traffic light with his car blocking a driveway. A woman whizzed out of the driveway without looking where she was going and slammed into the minister’s car. She jumped out and began to berate him, blaming him for everything. He said, “I was just sitting there in the street, waiting for the traffic light to change.” He went home, and her husband called him and bawled him out, accusing him of many things and blaming him for it all. The minister said, “I began to heat up under the trial.” So he went to prayer and began to request of the Lord that God would make the devil behave himself, and that God would make these folks behave themselves, too. He began this prayer, but he didn’t finish it, because he said that God interrupted him right in the middle of his request. God told him, “People aren’t supposed to treat you right all the time!” He was shocked. He wasn’t to be treated right? He was supposed to be wronged and abused? Yes! I am to be smitten from time to time. I would not choose it. But it is supposed to be! It is not enjoyable. It is humiliating. It makes me feel awful. But it is supposed to be.
The point here is a change of focus that God wants for us. It is not so much what happens to us in life that matters; it is how we take it. It is not so much how people treat us; it is how we treat them. Now, if God leaves us alone and doesn’t put us through unfair, unjustified, demeaning experiences like this as oft as He knows we need them, we start to thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We must work the trial instead of letting the trial work us. My blessing, my path to heaven, comes down to turning the other cheek (inwardly) to get the good from the trial. And I must consecrate to keep turning, alternately, inside until I get all that God has for me at this time. The gain is worth the pain.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7) Here is the depth of longsuffering that God has for us. Here is the judgment of the desire to have the last word, to justify myself before my accusers. The next verse declares that His judgment was taken away; it was just simply, completely unfair, but he opened not his mouth. He did not open it inside, either. He just took it and trusted His Father to help Him take it. He did not strive (2 Timothy 2:24) and “durst not bring against [them] a railing accusation” (Jude 1:9) (much as they richly deserved it). He was a vessel in the hand of God for suffering and patience. This thought applies, though out of context, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) Oh, Lord, give us this depth of humility You had that we might suffer as we ought!
“And he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)
Does Jesus approve self-defense then?
If we took just the words quoted above, then it would seem that Jesus wants us equipped with carnal weapons. That would imply actual use of them, as well. Against the surface interpretation of what Jesus said, I would mention an outstanding fact. There is no record of any of the disciples of Jesus carrying or using any carnal weapons after the incident spoken of above. Beyond any doubt, this is highly significant. Instead, we have, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4) This alone, plus the thoughts on longsuffering in Matthew 5:39, would discredit any idea of carnal self-defense against people. Consider again, if we have to step outside holiness to defend holiness, we have already lost it. Without going any further at all, we see that anything less than being as Jesus was, in this matter of carrying a carnal weapon, is destructive to the gospel. Did Jesus carry a sword for protection from other men? No. Would He carry a gun for protection from other men? No. Would He carry a gun for hunting? I see no moral reason not to.
Then what does the scripture mean?
I heard a message by a brother who had long served the Lord in a group of people. The older ministry (who, by and large, were God-fearing and established) were leaving this world, and their place was being taken by a younger generation—it was a changing of the guard. The older brother preached to all who loved the Lord: “Arm yourselves.” His text was drawn from 1 Peter 4:1, and his message was this: Dangerous times are coming now, and you had better be prepared. Get ready; arm yourselves. Now to the spiritually-minded, this meant hiding away more deeply in Jesus. To the more shallow, it meant a scrambling to stand by and express loyalty as best they understood it, for the trial catches each of us where we are. And to the carnally-minded, it meant carnal resistance of one way or another.
This incident in Luke 22:36 caught the disciples where they were, and it is evident that they were minded to react in a way that they would not at a later date. They belonged to a kingdom that was not of this world, yet they did not know what spirit they were of all the time and were minded to fight, for a full work of purging and filling had not yet been accomplished in them. And they had a self-confidence, which was not really merited, that they would be true to God unto death. They were not ready for the fiery trial which was shortly to try them, but they were loyal and really loved Jesus. He understood this, and knew they were in for a shock—the shock of failure. They could not be sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost before the trial hit. They were going to have to cope with it with what they had. And what they had was an unsound confidence that they would be true to death, a scrip or two, and two swords. This was not good preparation for what was coming, but it was all that they knew to do, and all that they could fairly be expected to do before the trial broke upon them. So Jesus looked at them, and knew they were doing all they could at the time. He breathed upon them and desired of them that they would receive the Holy Ghost, but knew it could not happen yet.
We know the story. Under extreme provocation, Peter cuts off the ear of Malchus (John 18:10). But it did not turn out as they assumed it would. “And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.” (Luke 22:51) Is this not marvelous? Instead of heading off this act of violence, Jesus does something they did not expect and that puts a rebuke against it in such a way that only divine wisdom could devise. Jesus heals the man whom I damaged with my carnal weapon. What an incredible lesson! Both to disciples and to persecutors! (How did Malchus feel about that? Peter? The others?) Jesus lets me carry a sword, for that is all I can imagine about being prepared for this situation, then Jesus heals and reverses what I thought I must accomplish! I am told to put up my weapon, and the thing proceeds in such a way as to vividly manifest that this weapon at my side is perfectly useless for accomplishing anything in living for God. No wonder they never carried one again for use against people! My preparations are so inadequate (I speak as Peter) that it is awesome and horrifying; and, oh, horror of all horrors: denial of Christ lieth ahead before the rooster crows three times. What an amazing lesson! Here are the other accounts in the gospels that speak of this:
“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:52-54)
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled. And they all forsook him, and fled.” (Mark 14:48-50)
“Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11)
How could a lesson be more emphatically taught that drives home this point?—Attempting to live for Jesus in my own strength by just my own best understanding does not fit with the working of God and will reduce me to consternation and confusion. I will do well to avoid failure by getting behind what I do know and understand. This lesson, that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, was seared into their hearts and minds, and helped them to die and consecrate their way to the glorious coming of the mighty Parakletos on the day of Pentecost.
“Be angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26)
A man was standing in his neighborhood one day when a car came by at high speed, driven recklessly and irresponsibly by young people. He thought of how his small children could have been in the street and put in harm’s way. He thought of other children in the neighborhood, and he became very angry at the foolishness and criminal irresponsibility of the driver of that car. His sense of rightness was outraged. He was highly displeased.
The Bible tells us that “God is angry with the wicked every day.” (Psalm 7:11) That is, He is highly displeased. This is a justifiable reaction, this intense displeasure, to things that ought to be changed. It is possible, even necessary, to be highly displeased without sinning. But then, it is possible to sin through anger, and this scripture in Ephesians 4:26 warns us of that. It puts a time limit on our wrath. It says, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Definitely, I can stay highly displeased too long, and this will get me into sin.
Now I can be too sensitive about things around me, and my sore displeasure can be too easily kindled—my disposition can be too combustible. This may arise from a lack of patience, a getting out of my place and wishing God to do something other than He is doing or how He is doing it, or it may arise from illness or strained nerves. In Psalm 37, we read about David’s battles as a result of his trials in King Saul’s court.
“Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:1-11)
In verse 8, we see the objective when I am tried by being highly displeased. “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” My refuge is in trusting in the Lord and doing good, delighting myself in the Lord, and committing my way unto the Lord until I rest in Him. This path is a sure recipe for dealing with anger; it will cure it every time. Many things happen down here that must not be dwelt upon. I can meet a great deal of this with Philippians 4:8, but every now and then, I will have to go deeper to hold that scripture and become reconciled to letting God let what He will let. God tolerates a great deal and bides His time, dealing and striving with the hearts of men. Real victory over anger that would lead to sin means accepting and embracing God’s way of doing things. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) We readily see that one of the temptations of wrath is to take matters into our hands, even in God’s name. This will certainly involve us in sin if we give place to this. How do we deal with this, then? The next two verses tell us. “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” (Romans 12:20) Can you conceive of anything better to cool off our strong displeasure than this? Praise God! It will put you to praying for opportunity to do good to those who hate you and despitefully use you! And finally, the conclusion: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) In this way, we can “cease from anger, and forsake wrath.”
David—after long and sore battle with most justified anger at King Saul for all his injustices and unfairness; after moving his aged father and mother out of the country to Moab because of this man; after losing the wife of his bosom because of this man, after living the life of a fugitive with every man’s hand against him as an outlaw—found himself and his band of fellow-sufferers watching and listening to King Saul snore all alone in the cave. He was totally at their mercy, and David’s men immediately urged violent and final action by David on the reprobate king. An end to their hardships seemed in sight and even providential. David won the victory over wrath and doubting. He had ceased from anger and forsaken wrath. He had no desire to take things into his hands. All was given to God. He cut off a portion of Saul’s coat, probably with a mind to prove that he was really there, but regretted it immediately. His victory over anger soared above discourtesy, even to the extent of calling this monstrous father-in-law, “My lord the king.” (1 Samuel 24:8) It swathed him in lowliness. “After whom is the king of Israel come out?… after a dead dog, after a flea.” (1 Samuel 24:14) And the effect of ceasing from anger, oh, the effect, my brother! It touched the sinful man’s heart as nothing else could have done. Truly, good overcame evil. Confession came forth. How rare it is! And how necessary! Oh, that Saul would have taken all steps after that good one to get clear before God! The sinning man went home. We would love to read that he repented, came to a point of being willing to step down from the throne, and let God have His way! Alas, it was not so! He picked up the reins of jealously and hypocrisy and persecuted the child of God yet again. But naught could erase the victory of the one or the awful persisting failure of the other.
When the scripture tells us in Titus 1:7 that “a bishop must be… not soon angry,” we are simply informed that a man must live spiritual enough, with enough victory over the irritating and vexing things of life and the hardness of being a soldier in the Lord’s army, that he can demonstrate victory over being highly displeased all the time or even a good part of the time. If he is easily moved to anger, he needs to get closer to God to do the work of God, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20) This does not mean that no occasion will arrive when the temple needs to cleansed, so to speak, but there a child of God has grace available to be an example in every way while morally indignant. We should be troubled if certain conditions do not stir us with great displeasure. Then, may the Lord help us to do the work of God as we should. To stop when He stops; to usurp in no way any of His place. “Who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Corinthians 11:29)
If we attempt to feel nothing at all, imagining that victory is an unfeeling state where we feel no indignation, feel no great displeasure; then we will find that our capacity to rejoice is also diminished. The Bible doesn’t say, “Cease from feeling.” It says, “Cease from anger,” (Psalm 37:8) and that in due time, too. God saves us to be saved human beings, and salvation is designed for real flesh and blood human beings to live. God calls no one to be a spiritual robot.