It is good for those who profess to be Christians to constantly assess their lives, beliefs and practices against an infallible standard. That standard must necessarily be outside of themselves, and outside of their fellow-men, or else the standard will be a relative one, and therefore of no value. What is the use of a standard that we set for ourselves? Or which others, fallible men, set for us?
We live in a day when in the world relativism reigns, and where the idea of absolute truth is treated with scorn. The strange thing is that those who think in this way are in fact undermining their position, for they want to make absolute statements about truth, whilst at the same time denying absolutes! This is contradictory, and therefore is a self-refuting position to adopt.
Truth may be defined as that which corresponds to reality. God is the true God, not only in the sense that He is not a false god, but also in the sense that truth only finds its real meaning in and through Him. It follows that relativism, the idea that what is true for one person may not be true for another, is a denial of God. Truth is absolute, and God is the source of it He has graciously made known His truth in the words of the Bible.
If it be asked why we should believe the Bible, as opposed to other books that some class as holy, then the answer is simple. The Bible is self-authenticating, bearing within itself the marks of genuineness and truth. The Lord Jesus said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent me. If any man will (is willing) to do His (God’s) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself”. Since the Lord Jesus endorsed the whole of the Bible in His teaching, then to accept His teaching is to accept the whole of the Bible as word of God.
The apostle Paul was able to write to those who believed in Thessalonika, and say, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe”, 1 Thessalonians 2:13. So not only does the word of God bear the marks of genuineness within itself, but also changes the lives of those who receive it with repentance and faith. No other book can bring a person into conformity with the will of God.
The apostle John wrote in a similar way, making response to apostolic doctrine the test as to whether a person was a true believer or not. His words are, “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us.” 1 John 4:6. To be of God is to have the life that comes from God, which is eternal life, the present possession of those who believe the gospel. Those who have that life respond to apostolic doctrine, those who do not respond with faith and assent, do not have eternal life, and therefore are not among the children of God.
We see then the importance of bowing to the authority of the word of God, for in so doing we bow to the authority of God, a thing all true believers will be eager to do. In this connection it is important to notice the way the early Christians acted. We read that “They that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers”, Acts 2:41,42.
It is clear from this that there is a close connection between the doctrine and the fellowship. In fact, the phrase could be read, “the doctrine and fellowship of the apostles”. In other words, those who believed allowed those things the apostles taught them to regulate what they shared in with one another. The result was that they only had fellowship in things the apostles would have had fellowship in. This made their decision-making very simple. They just needed to put their practice alongside both the doctrine and practice of the apostles, and the will of God for their lives as believers would become clear.
Let us now enquire what it was the apostles taught, and then put our beliefs alongside that doctrine. By so doing we shall see whether what we think is in harmony with what the apostles taught. If it is, then we shall be in line with the will of God, for the apostles wrote by the power of the Spirit of God, so that what they wrote is directly from God, and not the product of their own reasoning.
We shall look briefly at six areas of doctrine: doctrine concerning the Person of Christ as found in the Four Gospels; doctrine concerning the gospel of Christ as found in the Epistle to the Romans; doctrine concerning the church; doctrine as to how Christians should meet together as found in the First Epistle to the Corinthians; doctrine as to the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ as found in the Epistle to the Hebrews and finally, doctrine as to future events.
We shall do this by taking a very general view of these books of the Bible so as to gain an overall grasp of their teaching. More detailed explanations of these things can be found by choosing from the menu on the right.
DOCTRINE CONCERNING THE PERSON OF CHRIST AS FOUND IN THE FOUR GOSPELS
Each of the four gospels presents to us a fresh view of the Lord Jesus. MATTHEW has as his theme that Christ is Israel’s true King. So he begins by showing the legal right He has as a true son of Abraham, and as son of David, with a unique claim to Israel’s throne.
Having recorded His birth, (which fulfilled Old Testament predictions), Matthew recounts in chapter 4 the temptation in the wilderness. Assailed by the cleverest amongst the forces of evil, Christ won a resounding victory over the Devil. He thus has the moral right to reign, for He is untouchable by sin.
Next Matthew records in chapters 5-7 what is called the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ asserted His Divine right as King, for He took the words spoken by God to Israel when He gave the law, and added to them and amplified them. “He spake as one that had authority, and not as the scribes”, 7:29. The true King must display wisdom exceeding that of Solomon, and this He does.
Then we are told in chapters 8 and 9 of His dynamic right to the throne, for the prophets had foretold that the Messiah would do works of power, and this He did. Disease, demons, danger, and even death all fled from before Him.
The teaching Matthew next records in chapters 10-25 establishes His prophetic right, for the King was rejected, and He foretell the consequences of that rejection by His teaching, mostly in parable form, but also in more prophetic manner in chapters 24 and 25. When His prophecies concerning the more immediate future came to pass, Israel could be sure that His more long-term predictions would come to pass also.
Finally, Matthew records the execution of the king. But such is His supreme right that He rises from the dead, and announces to His followers that all power is given unto Him in heaven and on earth.
MARK has as his object the presentation of Christ as the true Servant of God. He who is in the form of God has taken upon Himself the form of a servant, and Mark emphasises this. His gospel may be summed up in Christ’s own words, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many”, Mark 10:45. The first part of Mark’s gospel shows Him serving others in His life, then the latter half how He served in the ultimate sense by giving His life at Calvary as the ransom price for sinners. We are slaves to sin, and the only means of deliverance is through the ransom price paid in blood by Christ at the cross. Appropriately, Mark ends his gospel with a reference to the fact that as the apostles went forth to serve Him, He was working with them, Mark 16:20, for He has taken servant-hood for ever.
LUKE was a Gentile, a Greek, and presents to us a view of Christ which suits all men. The detailed account of the events surrounding the birth of Christ are given to us by Luke, (who was a doctor), to convince his readers that He was a real man.
Because He was sinless, He was ideal man too. When He went into the synagogue in Nazareth at the age of about thirty, after having lived in the town most of His life, the people rejected Him, but not because of some fault they had seen in Him during His life amongst them, but because of His claim to be the Messiah.
As Luke proceeds with his account, he records seven incidents which took place in houses, showing the Lord Jesus to be social man, and relevant man, for He is able to relate constructively to all with whom He comes into contact.
Luke also records seven incidents which took place in synagogues, showing Him to be a godly man. And seven occasions when He is found praying, for He is dependant man also.
By His death and resurrection the Lord Jesus dealt with that which the first man Adam brought in by his sin, and by so doing established Himself as God’s “second man”, 1 Corinthians 15:47.
John tells us why he wrote his gospel. “These things are written that ye may know, and that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life through His name”, John 20:31. The historical Jesus of Nazareth is none other than Israel’s Messiah. But more than that, John produces evidence to show conclusively that this Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This means He is equal with God in every respect.
This is a great claim, and Christ enlarged on it in John 5. His first public discourse in John’s gospel opens with the statement, “My Father worketh hitherto and I work”, John 5:17. The Jews understood very well that He was saying that God was His Father in a special sense, and therefore He was uniquely the Son of God.
He claims to be equal in attributes and ability in verse 17 and 18; equal in apprehension as to what God’s will is, in verse 20(i); deserving of equal acknowledgement in verse 23, for all should honour Him as they honour the Father; possessing equal authority to give life, verse 26; and possessing equal authority to judge, verse 27. All these things combine to assert with the utmost force that Jesus Christ is equal with God, and therefore he should be believed and trusted. And, moreover, His sacrifice of Himself at Calvary is of infinite worth and efficacy.
So whilst the gospel writers give differing views of Christ- Matthew as Sovereign; Mark as Servant; Luke as Saviour, and John as Son, they all agree that He is worthy to be believed in. What they do not do, however, is tell us very much about the implications of His death and resurrection. This is supplied by the epistle to the Romans, to which we now turn.
DOCTRINE CONCERNING THE GOSPEL
The first eight chapters of the Epistle to the Romans may be divided into two sections. In the first, the matter of man’s sin is dealt with, and the remedy is found in the blood of Christ, shed to redeem and bring forgiveness of sins to those who believe. In the second section, the matter of man’s sin is confronted, meaning that sin-principle within man that enables him to sin. The remedy for this is the death of Christ.
Thinking of the first section, it may be divided into seven parts:
In part one, 1:1-17, the apostle shows that the person of Christ is central to the gospel. All that God has for man by way of salvation and forgiveness is found in Him. There can be no right relationship with God until His Son is received as Saviour and Lord. So it is that the apostle distinctly says “the gospel of God…concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord”, verses 2 and 4. The apostle was concerned that the name of this one might be promoted among all nations, verse 5, for He alone can bring into true and lasting blessing.
In part two, 1:18-32, the apostle announces God’s wrath as the Creator God against man for contravening His laws. By the creation all around him man is able to come to a realisation that there is a God of power who has made all things. Sadly, man prefers to worship material things instead of the One who brought them into being. This being the case, God allows men to reap the consequences of rejecting Him and His wise laws, so that He gives them up to corruption of spirit, soul and body, so that, realising the result of abandoning God, they may turn in repentance to Him.
Part three runs from 2:1-16, and declares God’s wrath against man, not so much as Creator, but as the Moral Governor of the universe. God has not abandoned the world He created, but still superintends it, and calls men to account for their sin. So it is that this passage tells us nine things about the judgement of God:
In verse 2 we learn it is real, that is true to God’s standard.
In verse 3 that if men do not repent, it is inescapable.
In verse 4 we learn it is avoidable if men do repent.
In verse 5 that it is judicial and not remedial, for the judgement that awaits the unbelieving in the Lake of Fire is unending.
In verse 6 it is proportional, according to the degree of guilt.
In verse 6 again, it is personal, for the individual is accountable to God.
In verse 6 yet again, it is universal, for God will render to every man what he is due.
In verses 8 and 9 we learn that the judgement is fearful, for “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God,” Hebrews 10:31.
In verse 11 we learn it is impartial, for God is no respecter of persons.
Part four is found in 2:17-3:20, where we learn of God’s wrath against man as the Legislator. It is the Jew who is addressed in this passage, for it was to him that the Law was given at Sinai. The Jew is accused of complacency in verse 17-20; hypocrisy in verses 21-24; unreality in verses 25-29; infidelity in chapter 3:1-8; and iniquity in verses 9-7. Finally, the apostle in verses 18-20 gives a list of damning quotations from the Old Testament that the Jews held dear, to show that despite their great advantages, the Jew is just as guilty as the heathen Gentile. So it is that in verse 19 we read that the whole world is guilty before God. For the Jew was a test-case, and if he is fails and is guilty, all are guilty.
Is there any remedy for such a disastrous state of affairs? Indeed there is, for part five tells us that the work which Christ did on the cross at Calvary is sufficient not only to satisfy God with regard to His demands against sin, but also to bring those who believe into a right relationship with Him.
Part five is relatively short, but is very concentrated. It runs from 3:21-26. We learn in the passage about the righteousness of God. Because God is righteous, He is always correct, never making a mistake, ever true to Himself; He is always erect, never leaning in compromise, never swaying from one side to the other, as if influenced by forces outside of Himself; He is always direct, ever pursuing an undeviating path to the working out of His eternal purpose. We might well ask how we, condemned as sinners by the previous passages, can ever hope to be in a meaningful relationship with such a One. But it is gloriously possible, but only through the work of His Son.
So the apostle writes in verse 21 of the righteousness of God and the law, and shows that we are condemned as guilty sinners by that law.
In verse 22 he shows that it is possible for man to be in a right relationship with God, for He is prepared to reckon righteous those who believe in Christ. When God reckons righteousness to a person, he is thought of by Him as being in harmony with His righteous self. This does not mean that that person never again commits an unrighteous deed, but it does mean that God thinks of that person in the light of what He thinks about His Son, “who of God is made unto us…righteousness”, 1 Corinthians 1:30. Those who believe are “made the righteousness of God in Him, (Christ), 2 Corinthians 5:21.
In verse 23 we are reminded that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”, but in verse 24 we learn that by the free grace of God, sinners may be set free from their sin, and brought into true liberty.
Verse 25 declares on what basis all this may happen. The answer is found in the word propitiation, which refers to that aspect of the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary whereby He gave to God the complete answer to the presence of sin in the universe, thus making the salvation of sinners a glorious possibility once they repent and believe the gospel.
No wonder the apostle can speak in verse 26 of God maintaining His just character, yet at the same time justifying or declaring righteous, guilty sinners, when they believe in Jesus.
In part six, from 3:27 to 4:24, the apostle shows that God’s salvation is known by those who do what Abraham did, namely believe God’s word; and also do what David did, namely, repent of sin. These are the two conditions that God lays down for those who desire to be right in his sight.
Part seven, found in 5:1-11, gives to us the result of what has gone before, as it shows us believers rejoicing in three things. In verses 1 and 2, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, for they have been justified by His grace through faith, and now have God’s interests at heart. In verses 3-10, they rejoice even whilst passing through trials and difficulties, for they have a relationship with God that circumstances cannot alter. And in verse 11 they rejoice in God Himself, who has been fully revealed in the person and work of his Son. Their ground of rejoicing is what He has, does, and will do, on their behalf, guaranteeing them complete security in the day of judgement.
In the second half of Romans 1-8, which runs from 5:12 to the end of chapter 8, the apostle turns his attention to what we are by nature. He addresses the question of the ability that believers have of sinning even after being declared righteous by God.
Again, the section may be divided into seven parts:
The first part, 5:12-21, compares the actions of the two heads of the human race, Adam and Christ. The passage shows the marked contrast between the two. Adam sinned, and brought all the human race down with him in condemnation, and passed on to them a nature which sins. Christ, however, not only did not sin, but more than this, accomplished a supreme act of righteousness when He died upon the cross. By means of this, those who believe in Him and accept his headship, are freed from the condemnation that having a sinful nature involves. He also delivers from the reign of sin in the heart, and enables those who believe to “reign in life, by one, Jesus Christ”, verse 17.
In the second part, which consists of the whole of chapter 6, the apostle deals with the objection raised by some that declaring a man righteous will encourage him to sin. The answer to this is found in the fact that a true believer is identified with the Lord Jesus in His crucifixion, burial and resurrection. As the apostle Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live…” Galatians 2:20. Since this is so, he is reckoned by God to be dead to sin, in the same way as Christ has died to sin in the sense that He has finished dealing with it at the cross and has been laid, dead, in a tomb. He is raised, however, to the sphere where death cannot come, and is therefore dead to sin once and for all; death shall never have any claim upon Him. But the true believer is associated by God with Christ’s resurrection, so whatever position Christ is in, he is in too. Because, however, he is still in the body, he has the capacity to commit sin. This is why he needs to reckon himself to be in practice what God has reckoned him to be in principle, namely dead to sin and alive to Christ.
The believer is greatly helped in this by remembering what happened when he was baptised. It is God’s will that every true believer should be baptised. The mode of baptism should be very clear even from the passage we are considering, for the apostle writes that the believer is “buried with Him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised by the glory of the Father, we also should walk in newness of life”, verse 4. So baptism, properly administered, is of a person who has already come to personal faith in the Lord Jesus, and who then is buried in a watery grave, and emerges from that grave in figurative resurrection. There can be no doubt, therefore, as to the mode of baptism, for it is a burial, and bodies are not buried by having small amounts of earth sprinkled upon them.
Because of the truth of this passage, we see that the objection that the apostle’s doctrine leads to sin is invalid, for as he sys, “how shall we, that are dead to sin, live any more therein?”, verse 2. Dead persons cannot sin! And if a believer does sin, it is because he has forgotten his true position in Christ, and has allowed the sin-principle residing in his body to influence him.
In the third part, 7:1-6, the apostle uses the illustration of marriage to show that the Christian life is not one subject to law. Just as the law of marriage, for instance, is only binding on those who are alive, so those who have died with Christ have died to the law, and are therefore not under its dominion. But there is another aspect to the law of marriage the apostle uses, for a wife is free to marry another once her husband is dead, so the believer is free to “marry” Christ, once the law is rendered powerless, as it is since Christ has died.
The fourth part is found from 7:7-25, and here the apostle uses his own experience to show that it is futile to try to live the Christian life by observance of the law of Moses, for that is the way of wretchedness and failure. As soon as a believer puts himself under law, he finds that law condemns him and slays him as far as living for God is concerned. The fact is the Christian is not under law. Christ is the end of any idea of attaining righteousness by keeping the law, Romans 10:4. It just cannot be done perfectly, Galatians 3:10, and God demands perfection. The secret of successful and victorious Christian living is found in the next passage.
In the fifth part, from 8:1-17, we learn that the Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and His is the power by which the Christian life is to be lived. His is the power by which the self-principle in man, called here the flesh, is defeated. For the Spirit of God operates in the believer’s heart on the principle that he has life in Christ Jesus, the risen man, and in that position there is liberty to do the will of God. Every true believer has the Holy Spirit within his heart, as verse 9 makes clear, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His”.
In the sixth part, from verses 18 to 27 of chapter 8, the apostle speaks of the present suffering of the believer, and future glory. Being still in the body, the Christian still has that last link with Adam, and therefore shares in the groans that creation experiences because of the fall of man. The glory awaits however, and deliverance from the hindrances of the body is in prospect for all believers.
In the seventh and final part, the apostle brings his teaching to a climax by showing that the believer is involved in the eternal purpose of God, and nothing, and no-one, can frustrate that purpose. So it is that the apostle is confident that nothing can separate the believer from Christ, and therefore he is eternally secure, and cannot be lost.
DOCTRINE ABOUT THE CHURCH
During His ministry, the Lord Jesus spoke of the church in two senses. He spoke in Matthew 16 of the church consisting of all believers of this present age. Then in chapter 18 He spoke of a company of people that could be told things, meaning that they were in a particular locality, and available. These two concepts are developed more fully in the New Testament epistles written by the apostle Paul, who was specially entrusted with the task of revealing them. In the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians he deals with the church as described by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16, whilst in the Epistles to the Corinthians and to Timothy he deals with truth regarding the church in a locality.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians chapter 1 we learn that the Lord Jesus has been raised to the highest place in heaven. He is there as head of His people, who no longer own the headship of Adam. They are now the body of which He is the head.
The way in which we have become associated with Him there is told in chapter 2, as the apostle describes how believers have been lifted up from being dead in trespasses and sins, and associated by God with the resurrection, ascension, and present session of the Lord Jesus at God’s right hand.
In chapter 3 the apostle shows that this and associated truths were not known by believers in Old Testament times, but have been revealed by the Spirit to Paul, and through him to us.
In chapter 4 we learn that from our ascended head comes down the support that we need to function as members of His body.
In chapter 5 we are encouraged as we read that His care for His people is like the care a husband should have for his wife, whilst in chapter 6 we are warned that the enjoyment of these things is dependant upon us not allowing the Devil to cause us to retreat from them.
The emphasis of the Epistle to the Colossians is slightly different, for although the truth of Christ as head and the church as the body is taught, the burden of the apostle as he wrote was the attacks that the believers were experiencing. There were those who wanted to take them back, and there were those who claimed to be able to take them higher. Those who wanted to take them back wanted them to engage in the sort of things the Jews were occupied with in Old Testament times. And there were others who claimed to have a higher knowledge than the apostle had taught the Colossian believers. He exhorts them to resist strongly the ideas that were being suggested to them. So today there are those who do not realise that that which pertained in the Old Testament has been rendered obsolete by Christ. By their practices it is very evident that they are not on true New Testament ground. And there are those of a New Age persuasion, who suggest they have an advanced knowledge which we would do well to allow them to share with us. We must resist both these temptations.
THE DOCTRINE ABOUT THE GATHERINGS OF CHRISTIANS
We need to consider doctrine about the gathering together of the people of God. We have already referred to Acts 2:42, and seen the important connection between doctrine and fellowship. It is very important for Christians to meet together, but as they do so, they must be sure that they are conforming to the will of God. So now we consider some of the truth set out in the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
Unlike the Epistle to the Romans which was simply addressed to believers in Rome, the Epistle to the Corinthians is addressed to the “church of God which is at Corinth”. This immediately alerts us to the fact that it will have to do with matters that are collective in character.
It is well for us to know what a church is. The Greek word translated church consists of two words which combine together to give the idea of a called out company. They are called out of the world at large through the gospel, to which they have responded. But they are not left to wander aimlessly after having been separated from the world of sinners, for they are called together, so that they may express the will of God as a united company in a particular locality. In 1 Corinthians 12: 27 the apostle describes the church of God at Corinth as the body of Christ. This means that just as a man expresses himself through what he does in and through his body, so the Lord Jesus expresses Himself through His people, now that He is no longer physically present in the world. It is obvious, therefore, that a church is not a material building, but rather, a company of people gathered together in accordance with New Testament principles, who may or may not meet in a building.
The apostle begins his epistle by warning the Corinthians of the dangers of the wisdom of the world. As they come together, they must do so remembering that the cross of Christ ends the wisdom of the world. God deliberately made the shameful death of the cross the means by which salvation is obtained, so as to show that His wisdom is completely different to the world’s, for the men of the world are perishing, yet those who trust Christ are saved.
In chapter 2 the apostle shows where to obtain true wisdom, even from the Spirit of God, who has inspired men to write the scriptures, and who then guides God’s people into their truth, so that the mind of Christ may be known.
Chapter 3 warns against using the ideas and so-called wisdom of the world in what is built into the local church, and both that chapter and chapter 4 warns that the Lord of the church will assess what believers have done in connection with the local church, and will reward or censure accordingly.
Chapters 5-7 enforce the important lesson that a local church is a holy company, and immorality has no place in it. The Corinthians had forgotten that, and so the apostle gives instruction in chapter 5 on how to deal with immorality when it arises, and, in chapter 6, how not to deal with it, for some at Corinth were having recourse to the law-courts of men. Chapter 7 gives instruction on the sanctity of marriage, so that the problems of chapter 5 may be avoided.
In chapters 8-11 the matter of idolatry is confronted. Many of the Corinthians had worshipped idols before they were saved. They had now begun to worship God, but in some cases had contact with their former associations. They must remember that to believers there is only one object of worship, God Himself. It is indeed true that an idol is nothing, but that does not mean that contact with idolatry is of no account. It is, for the important reason that fellow-believers may be led astray if former idolaters have fellowship again with what they left at conversion. To show that he has learnt this lesson, the apostle relates in chapter 9 the ways in which he foregoes what he may legitimately claim, so that others might not be led astray. If he does that with spiritual things, how much more should they do it in worldly things.
In chapter 10 he employs another argument. Those who eat and drink in the presence of their object of worship, are having fellowship with all that the object of worship provides for his devotees. So Israelites partook of sacrifices that had been offered on the altar, and thus expressed their fellowship with Jehovah. Idolaters partake of food offered to their idol, and likewise showed they were in fellowship with their god. So believers, partaking of the bread and the wine at the Lord’s Supper, are committing themselves to the God who has sent His Son to die for them. They cannot do that, and also have fellowship with the idol-system, for that would be contradictory.
The way has been made ready for a consideration of the central action of a local church, even the remembrance of the Lord Jesus at the Lord’s Supper. The apostle reminds the Corinthians of the words of the Lord Jesus in the Upper Room, where He instituted the Supper. “This do in remembrance of Me”, were His words, and Christians are happy to comply. As they come together, they are prompted by the loaf to remember that the Lord Jesus took a body in incarnation, and this brings to their minds all that He was for His Father’s glory and their blessing, in His life. As they look upon the cup of wine, they are reminded of all that He did in His redemptive work at Calvary.
As they quietly consider these things, the Spirit of God moves first one brother and then another in the company to express words of worship and praise, and all in the company add their hearty Amen. It is required of the female Christians to be silent in church gatherings, as 1 Timothy 2 makes clear. But that does not mean they do not worship. One of the most beautiful expressions of worship was made by Mary of Bethany, and she was commended highly by the Lord for it, but she did not utter a word!
This reminds us of the related fact that the apostle has prefaced his remarks about the Lord’s Supper with instruction about head coverings and hair. It is God’s will that Christian sisters should have long hair, (long enough to throw around their shoulders, such is the meaning of the word used for “long”), and have their heads covered. Likewise, it is God’s will that Christian brothers should have short hair, and uncovered heads in the church gatherings. Important truths are signified by these things, and it is vital that the instructions of the first part of chapter 11 are carried out wholeheartedly. When they are, conditions are suitable for the remembrance of the Lord in His own appointed way.
Chapter 12 begins a new section of the epistle, which has to do with the exercise of gifts in the local church. Each believer has one or more gifts, and is expected to exercise those gifts to the benefit of all. There is no support in the New Testament for the idea that one man has most or all of the gifts, and all that is done in the gatherings must be left to him. This is a notion imported from the Old Testament, where one tribe was given exclusive rights to function for the rest of the people. It has no place in a New Testament church.
The local church must be marked by love in the exercise of gift, or else all is valueless, so this is the theme of the apostle in chapter 13. Whilst the next chapter gives guidance of the relative value of gifts. The Corinthians were tending to emphasise the spectacular ones, to their spiritual loss. The two gifts specially mentioned in chapter 14, tongues-speaking and prophecy, have both been withdrawn, but the principle made known by the apostle remains.
Chapter 15 has as its theme resurrection, both that of Christ and that of believers. This subject would remind them that their behaviour in the church gatherings would one day be brought up for review, and only labour done in conformity with God’s revealed will would be rewarded.
In chapter 16 the important matter of Christian giving is introduced. Each believer is to be exercised to give in order to further the Lord’s interests in the world. Unlike the system of tithing under the law, grace has brought believers into such a wealth of blessing, that a mere tenth is surely a poor response. It is left to the individual believer how he will respond to God’s great goodness.
DOCTRINE REGARDING THE SACRIFICE AND PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST
We come now to the important doctrines relating to the priesthood of the Lord Jesus as found in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The epistle opens with a seven-fold description of the Lord Jesus as Son of God. He is heir of all things, for He is God’s Firstborn Son. He is the maker of all things; the brightness or outshining of Divine glory; the exact expression of the essence of God; the upholder of all things by the word of his power; the purger of sins at Calvary; and the one who sits at God’s right hand in heaven.
In chapter 2 we learn seven reasons why He came into manhood:
First, in verses 5-8 we learn He came to vindicate God’s trust in man, for God had set Adam over His creation at the beginning, but he had failed. Only Jesus can rectify this.
Second, in verse 9, to consummate God’s purpose by tasting death for every man and every thing, by which He paved the way for the bringing in of God’s will for the universe.
Third, in verses 10-13, to elevate God’s people, guiding them through the pitfalls of their pilgrimage here, and bringing them safely to the glory of heaven.
Fourth, in verse 14, to eradicate the Devil by His death on the cross. For centuries the Devil had been tormenting men with the fear of death, but now at last there is one who can enter into death voluntarily, showing that death, and the Devil, has no power over Him. By this means the Devil is defeated.
Fifth, in verse 15, to emancipate those who were in bondage to the fear of death because they had no assurance of the full forgiveness of sins.
Sixth, in verses 16-17, to propitiate sins, giving to God through His sacrifice the perfect answer he required regarding sin.
And seventh, in verse 18, to relate to their sufferings, for He has come into manhood that He might know what it is to suffer in the flesh.
Having established Christ’s rights as one who combines Godhood and manhood in His person, the writer is able to present to us two aspects of the priesthood of Christ. One aspect has to do with earth, and the other with heaven. The former is found in chapters 3-7 of the epistle, the latter in chapters 8-10.
In chapter 3 we are introduced to the one who is the apostle and high priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. This is an important truth. There is no other person who can possess these two offices. All those who, in their arrogance, claim to represent the people of God and be their high priest, are false and deceitful. Christ Jesus does not delegate these offices to any other, but discharges them with the utmost competence by Himself.
In chapters 4 and 5 we are taught that, despite His high offices, the Lord Jesus is nonetheless able to sympathise with us as we make our way through this world. He has suffered the trials and temptations this world presents to the believer, and has triumphed over them, and now strengthens His people so that they triumph too.
Chapters 6 and 7 inform us as to the order of priesthood exercised by the Christ Jesus. He is priest after the order of Melchizedek, who was a priest in the Old Testament who combined kingship with his priesthood. That priesthood does not have to do with sacrifices, but rather the support and maintenance of those who are already in the good of His sacrifice. The end of chapter 7 makes it very clear that the Lord Jesus did not become a high priest until He had offered Himself for sins at Calvary.
This brings us to the second aspect of the high priestly ministry of Christ. Not only does He support His people as they pass through the world, but He also maintains them so that they enter the presence of God to worship and praise Him. So in chapter 9 we are presented with seven effects of the blood of Christ shed at Calvary, which effects are made good to God’s people through the presence in heaven of their great high priest.
First, in 9:11-12, it is shown that the blood of Christ gives Him title to enter heaven as the representative of His people. Just as Aaron could only enter the earthly sanctuary because of the shedding of blood at the altar, so Christ enters the heavenly sanctuary on the same principle. The only difference being that it is His own blood that gives Him title to enter, and not the blood of animals as with Aaron.
Second, in verses 13-14, the blood of Christ purges the conscience of the worshippers. Only with a clear conscience may they enter the presence of God to adore Him.
Third, in verse 15, the blood of Christ deals with the transgressions under the first covenant. God forgave the sins of those who repented in Old Testament times on the basis of what His Son would do in the future. By His death Christ vindicated God for acting like that.
Fourth, in verses 16-17, the death of Christ enables the new covenant to come into force, for only on the death of the one who makes the testament do the terms of the testament come into effect.
Fifth, in verses 18-22, the blood of Christ unites the people with the sanctuary. Just as the blood of the covenant victim was sprinkled on both the earthly sanctuary and the people, so the blood of Christ has fitted the heavenly sanctuary for the worshippers, and the worshippers for the heavenly sanctuary.
Sixth, in verses 23-24, the blood of Christ purifies the heavenly sanctuary. We must never forget that sin originated in the heart of Lucifer in heaven, but the blood of Christ has purified the presence of God from even the memory of that sin.
Seventh, in verses 25-26, the sacrifice of Christ puts away sin. Such is the value of what the Lord Jesus did when He offered Himself without spot to God at Calvary, that He has effectively dealt with sin in its entirety for ever, as far as God is concerned.
Those who know the value of the sacrifice of Christ are invited to enter with boldness into the presence of God as purged worshippers. They know that there is no valid place of worship on earth, but they do have access to heaven in spirit, through the ministry of their high priest, Christ Himself.
DOCTRINE CONCERNING THE FUTURE
The Jews believed that time was divided into two portions. There was the age before the Messiah, and the age of the Messiah, the latter being when He would reign upon the earth. What they did not know was that God had a secret in His heart, and that involved showing special grace to all men, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles, and incorporating them into the church of which Christ is head. So it is that the present age is specially privileged, for salvation is offered to all on the basis of the work of Christ at Calvary. God is not limiting His blessing at this time to the nation of Israel.
This present age will come to a close however, when the Lord Jesus descends from heaven to take His people to Himself in heaven, as detailed in 1 Thessalonians 4. Subsequent to this, after a time of extreme judgement on the earth, when the wrath of God is experienced by men, Christ will return to the nation of Israel, who will gladly receive Him as their Messiah and accept His reign over them for 1000 years. After this, the unsaved dead will be raised, and the judgement of the great white throne will take place, as described in Revelation 20. Those who are unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire. Thus will have finished the dealings of God with this present heavens and earth, whereupon He will create a new heaven and a new earth, wherein righteousness will dwell, and which will never be spoiled by sin. There will follow the eternal state, when the destiny of men will be fixed for ever. At last God will be all in all.
Thus ends our consideration of the doctrines of the apostles. We have not covered all of them, but have sought to give an overview, so that we may judge our beliefs and practices in the light of them, and may have meaningful fellowship in those things that the apostles were happy to associate with.