Part 1: True Spirituality

(The following is the first of a series of excerpts from Pastor Stam’s classic work on true spirituality. Since this book never appeared as a series in the Searchlight, many of even our long-time readers may not be familiar with these selections.)

“He that is spiritual judgeth [discerneth] all things, yet he himself is judged [discerned] of no man” (I Cor. 2:15).

The truly spiritual man is so far above the wisest sages of this world, yes, so far above the mass of Christians with whom he comes into contact, that he can understand them, but they can never quite understand him.

We should all long to be truly spiritual, but what is true spirituality? This is the question we seek to answer in this book by the Scriptures—and the Scriptures rightly divided.

Our libraries contain many books on this subject, written by able men of God. The reason for the appearance of this, still another, however, is quite simple.

The professing church has so long built upon the false premise that the present dispensation began at Pentecost with the “pouring out” of the Holy Spirit, that the vast majority of the books written on spirituality take their readers back to Pentecostal days to find the pattern for true spirituality. Most of these necessarily do this with reservations and qualifications, since the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was accompanied by tongues, healing and other miraculous demonstrations, along with a communal way of life which is incompatible with God’s program for today, as revealed through the Apostle Paul.

We “believe, and are sure,” however, that the present dispensation began, not with Peter and the eleven at Pentecost, but with Paul, to whom the risen, glorified Lord later revealed His will and program for our day. We therefore believe, further, that the truth about the Spirit’s operation today is to be found in Paul’s epistles and such other Scriptures as are compatible with them.

True Spirituality first appeared as a series of articles in Truth magazine, the official organ of Milwaukee Bible College. With a few minor changes and corrections we now send it forth in book form, praying that God will graciously use it to lead many into a sane, balanced and truly spiritual Christian experience.

SCRIPTURAL SPIRITUALITY

What is meant by such terms as “he that is spiritual” (I Cor. 2:15) and “ye which are spiritual” (Gal. 6:1) in the Scriptures? What is true spirituality in the Bible sense of the word?

In proceeding to answer this question we must first observe that true spirituality does not consist merely in the domination of a man’s life by his spirit, rather than by his soul or his body, for with the entrance of sin man’s whole being was “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:17-19) and he became, spirit, soul and body, a fallen creature. Moreover, as we have seen, man’s perverted soul now, rather than being the seat of simple self-consciousness, became that of self-importance and self-interest, and this had a devastating effect upon his spirit, setting the whole inner man at enmity against God (Rom. 8:7; Col. 1:21).

An examination of the Bible usage of the word pneuma will soon dispel the notion that the quality of spirit is in itself necessarily good. Again and again we read in the Scriptures of “unclean” and “evil” spirits (Mark 1:23; Luke 7:21, etc.). In I Peter 3:19,20 we read of “spirits in prison,” who were cast there for their disobedience to God in the days of Noah. Satan himself is, as we know, “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2) and believers are explicitly warned that their warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against wicked spirits in the heavenlies (Eph. 6:12). Indeed, the fact that we are called upon to cleanse ourselves from all defilement of “the flesh [referring to the physical man when thus linked with the spirit] and spirit” (II Cor. 7:1) and that some do seek to be “holy both in body and in spirit” (I Cor. 7:34) indicates clearly that man’s spirit did not remain undefiled in the fall.

Hence it is not enough that our lives be dominated by our spirits. The whole man, spirit, soul and body, must be dominated by the Spirit of God. Spiritual men, in the Bible sense of the term, are those who possess “the Spirit which is of God” (I Cor. 2:12) appreciate and respond to “the things of the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 2:14) are “led by the Spirit of God” (Rom. 8:14) and thus bear “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22).

That Scriptural spirituality has to do with the work of the Spirit of God in the believer, is clear from I Corinthians 2:11, where the Apostle Paul points out that just as no one could understand “the things of a man” if it were not for “the spirit of man which is in him,” so no one can understand “the things of God” except by “the Spirit of God.”

The mere fact that fallen man himself is, or has, a spirit does not help him to understand God or to be more like Him. This fact should be carefully noted by those who seek to please God by constantly—and vainly—attempting to attain to their “higher” selves.

THE SPIRIT AND THE FLESH

In this connection the Pauline epistles have much to say about the flesh (Gr., Sarx) in an ethical sense, as signifying, not merely the physical body, nor even the body and the soul, but the fallen, Adamic nature in man, as it affects his whole being, including even his spirit.

In the flesh, says the apostle, “dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). He calls it “sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). He tells us that “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit” (Gal. 5:17) that it seeks “occasion” to do wrong (Gal. 5:13) and that “the works of the flesh” are all bad (Gal. 5:19-21).

It is important that we understand that more than the physical body, or even the body and the soul, is meant by the term “flesh” in such passages as these. The apostle refers to the old nature as it operates in the whole man.

Often, to be sure, man’s fallen nature expresses itself in the abandoned gratification of sensual passions, but on the other hand it may express itself in an attempt to control those passions. The “old man” may be outwardly moral and upright and, indeed, quite religious. He may faithfully observe fasts and feasts and holy days. He may strive to keep his body under control, disciplining himself by participation in ascetic practices in “a voluntary humility,” while actually he is all the more displeasing to God because he is “puffed up by his fleshly mind,” supposing that he is making something of himself. And meanwhile the “ordinances” to which he “subjects” himself and even his “neglecting of the body” fail to prove “of any value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:18-23) for the simple reason that all these efforts merely represent an attempt by the flesh to improve himself.

Little wonder that we read not only that “he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6:8) but that even “to be carnally minded is death…. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:6,7).

“So then, they that are in the flesh [I.e., live in the realm of the old nature.] cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). This is important to remember. No matter how educated or cultured or religious the natural man may be, he CANNOT PLEASE GOD.

We have dealt with this subject at some length in order that the reader may not be misled into supposing that if only his spirit could somehow get control over his body he would be a better man, for his spirit, soul and body are from infancy controlled by the fallen Adamic nature—the flesh.

What the sinner needs is a new nature, begotten of the Spirit of God, so that God Himself may have control.

PREVALENT FORMS OF PSEUDO-SPIRITUALITY

Before explaining from the Scriptures how sinners may become “partakers of the divine nature,” something further must be said about what spirituality is not.

In addition to sincere, though vain, attempts by the unsaved to improve the old nature, there are various forms of pseudo-spirituality which many, even among God’s people, have mistaken for the real thing, supposing that they evidence a working of the Spirit of God within.

With some, pure emotionalism is taken for spirituality. Natural emotional reactions to touching stories, impassioned appeals or beautiful sacred music is thought to be the working of the Spirit within, and those who react readily to these things are thought to be quite spiritual.

With others solemnity is taken for spirituality. They feel that true believers should be always grave and so they go about with bowed head, a long face and a generally sober bearing or, perhaps, try to affect deeper spirituality by so doing, while others—who do not know them well—remark on their piety.

With others again it is the very opposite. They mistake cheerfulness for spirituality and look upon those who are quickest to shout “praise the Lord,” or who seem always happy, as being most spiritual.

Very often, of course, mere ceremonialism is confused with spirituality. Observing a “sacrament,” gazing at a “sacred” picture or statue, kneeling at an altar; such things may be, and often are, mistaken for spirituality.

Perhaps the most prevalent counterfeit of true spirituality is that which believers are least apt to suppose they would ever be deceived by: superstition, which plays so largely upon the imagination. A young man seeks to determine the Lord’s will for his life by flipping his Bible open and letting his finger alight at random upon some passage which is supposed to indicate the leading of the Lord. A housewife seeks guidance for the day by taking a promise at random from a “promise box”—a promise which may not at all apply to her and which she will have to “spiritualize” in some way to make it fit. Another says: “I talked with the Lord about it and He said….” Often the most unscriptural practices or courses of action are justified in this way. When people tell us this we generally inquire further into the matter. We ask: “Just what did the Lord say to you?” “How did He say it?” “Did you hear His voice?”

We believe that God does indeed speak to His children directly in His Word and indirectly through circumstances, but even in Bible times it was comparatively seldom that man ever heard the voice of God. Generally what “the Lord said,” in such cases as the above, was nothing more than some wholly human emotion felt or opinion arrived at—and as wholly unreliable. If what “the Lord said” was a genuine conviction, based on the revealed will of God, then it may be said that God spoke to the individual through His Word, doubtless in answer to prayer, but the impression should not be given that the Lord “said” or “whispered” something, while the individual was engaged in prayer. Those who imagine that they have such experiences and suppose that this reflects some degree of spirituality on their part should search the Scriptures and learn that in the days when God did speak to men by word of mouth, or by angelic appearances, He did so to the wicked and ungodly as well as to His saints. Doubtless our adversary would gladly have us occupied with imaginary “voices” and “revelations” and so displace the now-completed revelation in the Holy Scriptures.

Let us not be misunderstood. We do not say that emotional reactions or sincere solemnity or cheerfulness are wrong. We simply say that they should not be confused with true spirituality. The unsaved can experience similar emotional reactions to those which are felt by the saved. The unsaved too may be cheerful or grave. Certainly ceremonialism and superstition have a large place among the unsaved. Yet the unsaved, whatever their emotional experiences, however solemn or cheerful, however given over to ceremonialism or superstition, are far from spiritual.


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Part 3: The Importance of the Local Church

If we were to choose a model of leadership from the Old Testament, the honor would probably go to Nehemiah, who was the cupbearer of the Persian King Artaxerxes. The cupbearer essentially tasted all the food and drink before it was served to the king to ensure it wasn’t laced with poison. It was one of those high-risk positions that came with hazardous pay. The concept was: carry out the cupbearer in a basket dead, but “long live the king.”

Cupbearer was a prestigious position that was only given to those who were highly respected by the king. Since leadership is best defined as influence, a leader must first earn the respect of others. Artaxerxes held Nehemiah in such high esteem that he didn’t hesitate to grant his servant’s request to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall of the city. He even gave him the building materials to complete the project (Neh. 2:5-8).

Another characteristic of effective leadership is action. Leaders are people who get things done while others are pondering all the obstacles. When Nehemiah learned that his countrymen were suffering afflictions at Jerusalem, the walls of the city lay in ruin, and the gates burned, he immediately sought the Lord in prayer. He humbly confessed the sins of his nation, in which he included himself, and reminded the Lord of His promise to Moses that if the nation turned back to God, He would restore them (Neh. 1:5-11). Although the problem seemed to be insurmountable, Nehemiah faced the crisis head-on. This is the mark of a good leader. Rather than run for cover or dwell on the problem, he sought to find a solution to the crisis (Neh. 2:11-18). Usually the Lord’s people are quick to point out trouble, but when the volleys begin to cross the bow of a conflict, they are usually nowhere to be found when the smoke clears. Consequently leaders often find themselves standing alone!

According to the law of physics, anytime something moves it causes friction. This is also true in the things of the Lord; not everyone is going to agree with a leader’s decisions. No sooner had Nehemiah announced his plan to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem when opposition arose to the project in the form of personal attacks and death threats (Neh. 2:19; 4:1,7-11). Discouragement is often the weapon of choice for those who oppose the will of the Lord. Leaders are those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and become personally involved. They lead by example, yet at the same time they know how to delegate authority to others to ease the burden. Essentially, Nehemiah had a hammer in one hand and a sword in the other (Neh. 4:6,17,18,21-23).

LEADERSHIP IN THE LOCAL CHURCH

“This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (I Tim. 3:1).

Godly leadership in the local church is essential to the spiritual life of the assembly. Those who hold these positions are given the moral and spiritual oversight of the church, which is something that should never be taken lightly. In regard to the appointment of elders, the Lord strikes a balance between the human side and the divine side. Humanly speaking, a man must desire the office of an overseer. On the divine side, Paul states to the Ephesian elders: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Note that God the Holy Spirit “made” or “appointed” the Ephesian elders as overseers to give guidance to the assembly. Here then we have two sides of the same coin—human and divine. Both are necessary in the calling of an elder.

“If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless….Likewise must the deacons be grave….For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree” (I Tim. 3:1,2,8,13).

Before we consider the authority structure which God has ordained for the local church, we must first define our terms and address an unwarranted tradition. The term “bishop” is the Greek word episkopos, which has the idea of overseer. Its corresponding part presbuteros or elder is defined as one who is older and more mature. These two terms are often used interchangeably and refer to the same individual. For example:

“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders (presbuteros) in every city, as I had appointed thee….For a bishop (episkopos) must be blameless” (Titus 1:5,7).

While some denominations point to Paul’s usage of “the office of a bishop” to establish a hierarchy over their churches, we fail to see any such teaching in his epistles. Denominationalists essentially believe that a bishop presides over other ministers and has a superior rank in the administrative affairs of their assemblies. However, as we have seen, the terms “bishop” and “elder” are synonymous; therefore, the office simply refers to the function of overseeing. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers [bishops], to feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Notice that the Holy Spirit refers to the bishops (plural) as ones who were collectively working together to govern the assembly at Ephesus. The responsibility of those who hold the office, especially those who labor in the Word and doctrine, is to feed the church of God (I Tim. 5:17).

The bishop/elder then is an overseer who provides spiritual leadership for the assembly. In addition to faithfully teaching the Word of God he is to manage, maintain order, investigate grievances, and generally watch over the things of the Lord.

The other office to which Paul makes reference in his epistles is deacon. “Likewise must the deacons [Gr. diakonos] be grave…” (I Tim. 3:8). The deacons are those leaders who attend to the physical needs of the local assembly. Thayer describes those who hold this office as “one who executes the commands of another…a servant, or attendant. One who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use.” Under the direction of the elders, the deacons are responsible to attend to the offerings, distributions to the needy, building and grounds, etc. They, too, are to be spiritually minded as they carry out the duties of their office to the glory of God (Acts 6:1-7 cf. I Tim. 3:9,13).

Administratively, the positions of elder/overseer and deacon are the only two offices found in the special revelation given to Paul (Phil. 1:1).

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

As we noted earlier, the term “elder” implies age. Those chosen to hold this position in the local church should be seasoned and well-grounded in the faith. But what is the age requirement, if any, taught in Paul’s epistles? Although a specific age is never given, there does seem to be a hint in the prophetic Scriptures as to what God deemed to be the age of maturity. Under the law the priests, who were the ministers of God, were not permitted to serve in the tabernacle until they turned thirty years old (Num. 4:3). We also know that our Lord didn’t begin His earthly ministry until He turned thirty, which was apparently classified adulthood in Israel (Luke 3:21-23). I can speak from personal experience that after I passed over this threshold I began to look at things more objectively. It amazed me how insightful my father and grandfather became almost overnight.

In some cases, a younger man may be more mature than a man many years his senior; therefore, the leadership of the local church must exercise due diligence in the selection process.

Interestingly, there is always plurality of leadership in the local assembly. According to the Scriptures, there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. In other words, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” As Paul and Barnabas retraced their footsteps on Paul’s first apostolic journey, Luke records: “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord” (Acts 14:23). There are two classifications of the position of elder—the teaching elder and the ruling elder. Paul wrote to Timothy regarding this matter accordingly:

“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the Word and doctrine” (I Tim. 5:17).

The teaching elder is the pastor or primary Bible teacher of the local assembly who opens the Scriptures for all to partake of the riches of God’s grace. The ruling elders on the other hand are those who serve with the pastor to provide spiritual direction for the assembly. While the main responsibility of the ruling elders is to govern they, too, must be prepared to minister the Word, if called upon (I Tim. 3:2). Like the cream that rises to the top, the teaching elder will surface from among the governing elders to serve as the pastor of the assembly. This is why they are counted worthy of receiving double honor. Thus they are the point of the sword and as President Truman once quipped: “The buck stops here!”

The practical application of the above is seen in the ministries of Paul’s companions. Titus was instructed by the apostle to remain at Crete to ordain elders (ruling) and set in order the things that were wanting (Titus 1:4,5). But it was Titus that served as their teaching elder who was challenged by Paul to “rebuke them [Cretians] sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). He was the one who was to “put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work” (Titus 3:1). Another example is Timothy, who headed up the work at Ephesus. We know there were ruling elders ministering on behalf of the saints there, but Paul admonishes Timothy who served as their pastor in this manner: “I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (I Tim. 1:3 cf. Acts 20:28). We also know the above to be true today experientially in our churches.

The question is often raised as to whether the spiritual leadership of the assembly or the congregation should appoint an elder to the office. A fairly strong case could be made for either position, but the Scriptures seem to emphasize the spiritual leadership making the selection. They, of course, are the most qualified to make the decision on behalf of the assembly. Note the emphasis placed upon the leadership appointing elders for the churches:

“And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord” (Acts 14:23).

“For this cause left I thee [Titus] in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5).

Regarding the appointment of elders, during the years I conducted my ministry in the local church I recommended that the board of elders nominate two candidates, both of whom were qualified to fill the position. At our annual meeting we would have the congregation cast their vote for one of the two nominees. This procedure allowed everyone to be involved in the process. It also gave me the consolation that the Holy Spirit could speak through the congregation to appoint the man of His own choosing (II Cor. 8:16-24). But what if no one is qualified to hold the office according to the guidelines outlined in I Timothy 3? Our counsel would be to leave the position vacant until there is a suitable candidate.

A plurality of leadership is the key to a ministry that honors and glorifies God. We’ve always been leery of a leader who refuses to have others serving with him. Paul himself was accountable to the leaders at Antioch who had sent him out on his apostolic journeys. A group of elders provide a check and balance in the ministry, thus insuring that the best interest of the Lord’s people is always in view.

QUALIFICATIONS OF AN ELDER

Paul writes to Timothy, “This is a true saying,” that is, it is trustworthy, reliable, credible, “if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” But how does a young man determine whether his desire to be a pastor is of the flesh or truly a longing to be used of the Lord? We believe there are two prerequisites that must be met to make this determination.

First, does his Christian experience align itself closely with the qualifications to fill this office? (I Tim. 3:1-7). Second, is he willing to enter into a rigorous training program to prepare for full-time ministry? (II Tim. 2:2). This may take the form of a “Paul, Timothy” type of training program where a senior Grace Pastor takes a pastoral candidate under his wing to prepare him for the Lord’s service. Of course, the other option is to attend a Bible School specifically established for training workers for the ministry. Whichever path is chosen the key word is discipline. If a man is unwilling to endure the discipline of three or four years of training, it is highly unlikely he will remain in the ministry very long.

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach” (I Tim. 3:2).

The long list of qualifications set forth here by the Spirit is the measuring stick for those who have a desire to be an elder. God has set the standard so high that there are few, if any, who have attained to such a lofty goal. This is the ideal; therefore, we are to choose those who are earnestly striving to fulfill the standard. A good rule of thumb is to look for men who measure up to the standard, not to shape the standard to fit the man!

Although the portion before us is primarily addressed to the leadership of the local church, Paul’s words are far-reaching. This is a very practical section that is beneficial for every believer in Christ. If this is the divine standard for the spiritual leadership of the church, should we not all strive to meet this goal? How do you measure up?

Blameless: The conduct of the one considered for this office must be above reproach, lest the name of Christ be brought into disrepute. Not sinless, but unimpeachable! Expositors says: “It is not enough for him to not be a criminal; he must be one against whom it is impossible to bring any charge of wrongdoing such as could stand an impartial examination.” We believe this statement is true of both those within and without the household of faith. It is our firm conviction that an elder must abstain from even the appearance of evil.

The husband of one wife: Those who hold this position must be standing on the moral high ground. An elder must not be a womanizer! He is to be the husband of one wife and she is to be the apple of his eye. Paul’s statement here has raised the question: should only a married man hold this office? While it is preferable, we do not believe it is a prerequisite. As far as we know, Paul was unmarried during the entirety of his apostolic ministry (I Cor. 7:7,8). It also appears that both Timothy and Titus were single, yet both were greatly used of the Lord.

Having said this, we believe a wife adds a woman’s point of view to the ministry which can be very beneficial to her husband. Most men function best when they are dealing with one issue at a time. Some would say we are focused, which basically means we’re oblivious to other things going on around us! On more than one occasion my wife has made an observation during a time of crisis that sailed right by me. Her insights over the years have been invaluable. A pastor’s wife brings a whole new dimension to the ministry, a dimension that greatly enhances the Lord’s work.

Men can be rough around the edges at times, but a wife is God’s perfect tool to chip away at our imperfections, not to mention to keep us humble! Dr. & Mrs. Ironside were having a spirited discussion after holding a number of meetings one Sunday when Dr. Ironside reminded his wife he had spoken five times that day. “I’m tired!” Mrs. Ironside replied, “Yes, dear! But please don’t forget that I was the one who had to listen to you five times today!” I wonder if Dr. Ironside enjoyed his slice of humble pie?!


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Ultra-Dispensationalism: A Personal Testimony

(R. B. Shiflet is one of our senior Grace Pastors who has faithfully stood in the defense and confirmation of Paul’s gospel for longer than any one can remember. Having authored a number of popular booklets he has brought many dear saints into a fuller knowledge of the Word, rightly divided, through the written page. We are sure you’re going to enjoy his insights on the subject of Ultra-Dispensationalism. Brother Shiflet is getting along in years and we’re confident he would appreciate receiving a note of encouragement from our readers.)

I have never met a man who admitted that he was an ultra-dispensationalist. I have never heard nor read a satisfactory definition of one. I know that ultra-dispensationalism has a synonym, “hyper-dispensationalism.” Thus the propagandist who enjoys resorting to name calling may have his choice of the Greek prefix (hyper) or the Latin one (ultra) to hurl at this victim. I am aware that these terms are sometimes thrown about promiscuously by Bible teachers who have status in conservative circles. The terms are also repeated parrot-like by thousands who are simply seeking notoriety among fundamentalists.

Usually someone is referred to as an ultra-dispensationalist if his system of dispensational interpretation of the Bible goes beyond one’s own. That, of course, is the meaning of the prefix “ultra”—over or beyond.

There is another, and perhaps even more deadly, ultra-dispensationalism, for which little rebuke seems to be forthcoming from any of the publications dedicated to the right dividing of the Scriptures. I consider this form of ultra-dispensationalism as practical ultra-dispensationalism, rather than doctrinal. I submit to you that when we become guilty of any of the following practices, we are “ultra” or “hyper” in our dispensationalism: that is, we go beyond the Scriptures and become practical ultra-dispensationalists.

Make a Sect of our Dispensationalism. We refuse fellowship with any who do not agree with us in every facet of our teaching on right division of the Word. By way of example: not long ago a woman called our home to inquire about our church services. She was fundamental in her beliefs and dispensational according to the Scofield-Darby system, but she belonged to an independent fellowship of fundamental churches. When she discovered that our church was not affiliated with her denomination with its system of dispensationalism, she became aloof and would not attend our meetings, even though we assured her of the soundness of our teaching and that she would be made welcome in our assembly. This woman was so ultra in regard to her denomination and its system, that she could not see the many, many things we had in common and missed the sweet fellowship we could have enjoyed together as fellow believers.

To be honest, we must admit that some of the most sectarian groups we have ever encountered were dispensationalists who took pride in the fact of their non-sectarianism. Many who boast in their being “non-sectarian Christians” are so hidebound in their dispensationalism that they refuse to admit to their fellowship any who vary even slightly from their particular “norms.”

Mutilate the Scriptures by our Dispensationalism. Foes of right division of the Scriptures have often accused us of taking only a portion of the Word of God and casting the remainder aside. A well-known fundamentalist, who has been loud in his condemnation of dispensational Bible study, used to say that we took a slice of bread of God’s Word, while he took the whole loaf. He was, of course, inconsistent. He claimed to preach the “Great Commission” of Mark 16, but at the same time attacked with all his might the “healing preachers” who were attempting to carry out the sign program of the same commission. But the other side of the picture is that we of the “Grace Movement” have often been guilty of preaching the Mystery and Pauline truths, while neglecting or ignoring the remainder of the Bible. The error is not in preaching the great truths of Paul’s Epistles; it is in failing to give a balanced message, and so appearing to disregard or cast aside the rest of the Book. The revelation of truth concerning the Body of Christ needs the background of the Gospels. The Gospels would not be understandable without the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets. Therefore, we need the whole Book. Let us not become so ultra in our emphasis on dispensationalism (wherever we find the boundaries) that we neglect parts of the Word.

Miss the Sweetness of Spiritual Applications. Closely associated with neglecting the Word of God other than Paul’s letters, is the failure to see spiritual applications from portions belonging to other dispensations. Dr. E. W. Bullinger said in his excellent book, How to Enjoy the Bible:

“All the sweetness, all the blessing, all the truth can be obtained by a wise application, without in the slightest degree impairing the true interpretation. This may be left and preserved in its integrity, and yet something really spiritual may be appropriated by application—all, in fact, that can be desired—without doing any violence to the Divine Word….”

I think it was Dr. Henry Grube who called attention to the fact that I Corinthians 10:11 authorizes four types of Bible study: (1) “Now all these things happened”—I can study the Bible as literally true, because these things actually happened; (2) “unto them for examples” (Greek, tupos, TYPES)—I can study the Bible for types and shadows; (3) “and they are written for our admonition”—I can study the Bible for spiritual applications; (4) “upon whom the ends of the world [ages] are come”—I can study the Bible to distinguish the ages or dispensations.

Surely some of God’s elect from among the Plymouth Brethren have done the Body of Christ a great service through their detail studies regarding spiritual applications of Old Testament truths! Who among us has not rejoiced with C. H. Mackintosh in many of his studies in shadow and type? If we become so dispensational that we miss the sweetness of these spiritual truths in type and shadow, we are Ultra.

Manifest the Spirit of Continuous Criticism. I believe that, by the grace of God, most of us who love Pauline teaching have grown out of this to a degree; but who among us cannot remember the time when a believer new in dispensational truth was almost afraid to open his mouth around older believers for fear of being criticized for his choice of words, choice of hymns, etc.? We did not dare refer to the Old Testament or the New without a dissertation on just when the Old was replaced by the New. We dared not use the words “Christmas” or “Easter,” lest someone think we were observing days. It was heresy to sing “Stepping in the Light” because we surely were not “Trying to walk in the steps of the Savior.”

In our zeal to stress the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ was a Jew according to the flesh, made of a woman, made under the Law, living on Old Testament ground, and coming to die for our sins, not showing us the way but coming to be The Way, we forgot another side of the picture. While we do not follow our Lord in His Jewish religion with its Sabbaths and ceremonies, we do (or should) strive to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” As far as His humility, His kindness, His graciousness and His love are concerned, we must remember that He left us an example that we should follow in His steps, not to be saved, but because He lives in us. In our zeal to “know Him no more after the flesh,” we may have put a stumblingblock in the path of weak Christians who did not even know what we were talking about. If our life is a pattern of criticizing those who fail to agree with us in that which has almost become dispensational jargon, we are Ultra.

This message is not an appeal to minimize or de-emphasize the precious truths of right division, nor is it designed to discourage anyone from making known the Dispensation of the Mystery. Surely, too few are doing enough to make these rich truths known. But I am convinced that Satan sometimes uses the friends of dispensationalism to be its greatest hindrance. This truth given to us by the risen Christ, through the Apostle Paul, was meant to stress the unity of the Spirit, the oneness of all believers in Christ. It is a sad commentary on our depravity that our message, through these forms of ultra-dispensationalism, has become a source of division.

A man of God of whom I have heard, and whose sweet spirit has been an inspiration to me, even though I was never privileged to meet him face to face, was Brother Elmer Leake, a Texas pastor, who, before any of us was born, was standing for many of the truths we hold dear. He was quoted as having said, “Brethren, if a wall of separation or sectarianism is ever built between us and any other believers, let’s let them do the building.” In other words, this dear brother loved all believers and desired fellowship with them through the Lord Jesus Christ. Brother C. R. Stam once wrote, “We look forward to the day when, in God’s grace, denominational walls will fall and we can all enjoy our oneness in Christ. Meantime we seek what fellowship we can find with those who love and trust our Lord in truth, whatever their denominational affiliation.” This statement climaxed an article that Brother Stam wrote on, “The Practical Effects of the Mystery,” in which he gave an impressive, clear-cut message on the preciousness of the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the Mystery, showing the practical effects this message should have in our lives.

When we become so concerned with the minute details of dispensationalism that we lose the realization of our oneness in Christ, we have become Ultra.

If you would like to contact Pastor Shiflet, he can be reached by e-mail at: rb@shiflet.us or write: P.O. Box 473, Mineral Wells, TX 76068.

Paul’s Prayers From Prison

EPHESIANS 1:15-23

The Apostle Paul starts the letter to the Ephesians with these words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). This sets the theme of the letter, which is the believers’ position “in Christ.” The words translated “blessed” and “blessing” come from the Greek root word ulogeo. This word carries the general meaning of “to give honor to.” In other words, Paul is saying that the uniquely honored and highly exalted God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has honored the members of the Body of Christ with every spiritual honor in the heavenly places. This is an astounding statement of spiritual fact. The first three chapters of Ephesians are built directly on this verse, and the last three chapters are directly related to it.

Paul’s prayer as recorded in verses 15-23 is an appeal that God would grant the Ephesians spiritual enlightenment and understanding of the blessings bestowed on them “in Christ” as outlined in verses 4-14. This request, of course, is not only to the Ephesian church but includes every believer from Paul’s day until now. These spiritual blessings are referred to as “the hope of His calling” and “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (verse 18).

The Lord Jesus Christ is seated at the Father’s “right hand in the heavenly places.” He has been exalted above and beyond all others in heaven and earth. As believers, we who were dead in sin have now been made alive with Christ and made to “sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:1-7). To understand your calling “in Christ” read and re-read the first three chapters of Ephesians and ask God to grant Paul’s prayer on your behalf.

EPHESIANS 3:1-13

In chapter three of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul starts to record a second prayer for the believers at Ephesus (see 1:15-23). However, in verse two he temporarily leaves off explaining the details of his prayer and goes into a discourse explaining his special knowledge of the Dispensation of the Grace of God.

Paul’s explanation of his knowledge includes several important facts: 1). The Dispensation of the Grace of God was particularly given (revealed) to Paul (v. 2). 2). It was for the Gentiles (nations) (v. 1-2). 3). It was a mystery (secret) which concerned Jesus Christ (vvs. 3-4). 4). This mystery was never made known in previous times (v. 5). 5). This mystery has been revealed by the Holy Spirit (see I Corinthians 2:9-16). 6). Only after being revealed to Paul was it revealed to Christ’s Holy Apostles and Prophets (cf. Galatians 1:11-2:9; II Peter 3:15-16). 7). In the Dispensation of Grace, Jews and Gentiles would become fellow-heirs in Christ (v. 6). 8). Paul, by a gift of God’s grace, was to preach the unsearchable (hidden and untraceable) riches of Christ (v. 8). 9). Paul’s commission was to make all men see what the fellowship of this mystery was (v. 9). 10). In past ages this mystery was hidden in God, indicating that it was not a subject of the Scriptures given before Paul’s letters were written (v. 9). 11). That Jesus Christ was co-Creator with the Father (v. 9). 12). This mystery message is for the purpose of making the wisdom of God known (v. 10). 13). The mystery program is according to God’s eternal purpose (v. 11). 14). God’s purpose was accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 11). 15). It is in Jesus Christ that believers have access to God (v. 12; also see Romans 5:1-2).

These things are recorded for us in the Bible because they are vitally important to understanding the believer’s inheritance “in Christ” (see Eph. 1:11-12). Do you share in this inheritance through faith in Christ? Only in Him can anyone be forgiven of their sins and receive the gift of eternal life.

EPHESIANS 3:14-19

In verse 14 of our text Paul takes up where he left off in verse one of Chapter three. This prayer is actually a continuation or addendum of his prayer recorded in chapter one, Verses 15-23. If we have blessings in Christ (the request of Paul’s first prayer) we will now be able to continue in our spiritual growth and understanding of what it means to be “in Christ.” If we do not first understand our position or standing before God “in Christ” we simply cannot fully understand what Paul is requesting on behalf of not only the Ephesians, but every member of the Body of Christ. Remember that while this was Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, it was inspired by the Holy Spirit and preserved in Scripture as God’s letter to the entire Body of Christ.

The main thrust of this letter is that the character or nature of Christ would be formed in the heart of the believer. To say it another way “that we would become Christ-minded” (see Eph. 4:20-23; Phil. 2:1-5; Col. 3:8-10). Paul equates this with “being rooted and grounded in love” (v. 17), which in turn enables is to comprehend or understand the matchless “love of Christ which passes knowledge” (vvs. 18-19). The love of Christ is the fourth dimension which gives real meaning and substance to the three-dimensional world we live in. True love can only be found “in Christ.”

The love of Jesus Christ can only be exhibited in our lives in proportion to our understanding of the magnitude and scope of God’s love and grace of which we have become partakers in Christ Jesus.

PHILIPPIANS 1:3-8

Our text does not record the content of one of Paul’s prison prayers, but gives the reasons the Philippians brought joy and thanksgiving to Paul’s heart whenever he thought of them. Whenever he went to the Lord in prayer, he always remembered the church at Philippi with specific requests on their behalf. Verses 5-8 reveal why every remembrance of these precious brethren was a cause of rejoicing and thanksgiving to Paul. This was not the case with every church Paul wrote to, as some were a cause of great concern, especially the Corinthians and Galatians, both of which he was forced to rebuke. The Corinthians for improper conduct and the Galatians for false doctrine (mixing law and grace).

Paul was thankful for the Philippians’ fellowship in the gospel (v. 5). This refers to their giving to support Paul both during and before his imprisonment. He had no doubts about the Philippians’ salvation and eternal destiny, and that in the meantime the Lord was working in their lives as they were being conformed to His image (v. 6). He knew this because in his imprisonment and in the defense (resisting all attacks against) and confirmation (by a constant and unwavering testimony) of the gospel they shared with Paul in God’s Grace. Paul knew that even as a prisoner in Rome he was not forgotten by his brethren in Philippi. He was thankful to know that they were committed to the truth and importance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This church was a source of great joy to God’s appointed Apostle to the Gentiles because the Grace of God was exposed in their attitudes and actions (v. 7). And it was for these reasons that Paul’s heart went out to these believers for whom he prayed often (v. 8).

PHILIPPIANS 1:9-11

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians was that their love would continue to abound more and more. Abounding love is that which has no limit, it exceeds or goes beyond that which is considered standard or normal. It is an overflowing love that is not hindered by any boundaries, and simply cannot be contained. It is like a rain-swollen river in the spring which overflows its banks.

This love is not the outworking of misplaced emotionalism or religious fervor, but has a specific purpose and direction based on knowledge and spiritual wisdom gained through God’s Word. Our knowledge is to be centered on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ so that when we grow in Him we will be able to discern between sound and unsound doctrine (see Ephesians 4:11-15). The term “approve the things that are excellent” carries with it the idea of trying or testing those things that differ; to compare and approve or endorse that which is excellent or differentiate between those things that make a difference. This refers to making a distinct separation between Israel’s program based on prophecy and God’s program for the Body of Christ based on the “revelation of the mystery” revealed through the Apostle Paul (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:1-9). By separating prophecy and mystery, law and grace, and the kingdom from the Body, believers can direct their love in truth without stumbling or causing others to stumble over doctrine that is unsound “because of not rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (see II Timothy 2:15). This kind of love is expressed through service to others, which results in the fruits of righteousness which brings glory and praise to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

COLOSSIANS 1:3-8

Paul precedes his prayer for the church at Colosse with a sort of preamble to state his motivation for praying for them. In verse 3 he gives thanks to God for these believers and says that he was praying for them on a continuing basis. Verse 4 tells us that he began to pray for them as soon as he heard of their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior which was manifest in their love for all those who are “in Christ.” Continuing on in verse 5 he states that because of their faith in Christ Jesus they have a hope. Not an uncertain hope of the sort promised by the world of man-centered religions, but a sure and eternal hope which was laid up for them in heaven (cf. Colossians 3:1-4). The security of this hope is found in nothing else but the person of the crucified, resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This hope is presented to be an integral part of the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ Jesus which Paul also refers to as “the revelation of the mystery” and the “dispensation of the grace of God” (see Romans 16:25; I Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 3:1-4).

Verse 6 declares that the gospel had not merely been proclaimed at Colosse, but to all the world, and so was not a message limited to any one nation, ethnic group, or geographical location (also see Colossians 1:23). It is through the preaching of the Gospel of Grace that fruit unto God is brought forth. It is by the preaching of the gospel that those who believe are saved (Romans 10:12-17; I Corinthians 1:18-21). And it is through the preaching and teaching of sound doctrine by rightly dividing the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15), that the Body of Christ is edified (built up) in love (see Ephesians 4:1-16).

COLOSSIANS 1:9-12

Since he had first heard of their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for other believers, Paul had been praying for the church at Colosse on a regular basis. Of course Paul’s divinely inspired and recorded prayer for this group of believers is an expression of God’s desire for the entire Body of Christ.

This petition to God makes mention of four specific requests on behalf of believers. First, that they would “be filled with the knowledge of His will” (v. 9). Of course this can only be accomplished through godly wisdom and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 1:26-31 tells us that wisdom from God is only found in Jesus Christ, and in chapter two, verses 6-16 that it is only through the indwelling Holy Spirit that spiritual enlightenment is possible.

The second request was for “a walk worthy of the Lord” (v. 10). This entails a life style that bears fruit unto the Lord through our labors (good works) done in faith on His behalf.

Third, Paul asked that the church be “strengthened with all might according to His glorious power” (v. 11), to the end that we will be able to endure suffering on behalf of Christ with the joy that comes from knowing our hope “in Christ” is sure and that He is all that is needed to sustain us: “And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10).

Last, that thanksgiving (v. 12) from a truly grateful heart would be given to the Father who has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us that we might share in His Son’s inheritance (Rom. 8:16-17; Eph. 1:10-12; 2:4-7; Col. 3:1-4).

 COLOSSIANS 2:1-3

While our text is not actually a part of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians, it is sort of a capsule statement in which he states the reason for his prayer found in chapter 1:9-12. This passage also reveals the importance of verses 13-29, which provide pertinent information for increasing our knowledge of God and His eternal purpose which He has accomplished in Jesus Christ our Lord (also see Ephesians 3:8-12).

Paul’s mention of conflict in verse one refers to his concern that the believers at Colosse, Laodicea, and all who had not actually met him in person (which includes all believers of today) might go into doctrinal error. He recognized a spiritual danger that caused him anguish of soul. His desire was that believers would be encouraged in their hearts and knit together (united) in love. This concerns not only the unity “in Christ” all believers share as members of the Body of Christ, but also the unity of the Spirit as outlined in Ephesians 4:3-6: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Understanding this unity results in the attaining of eternal riches through the full assurance of understanding, which comes through the knowledge of the mystery of the Dispensational of the Age of Grace as has been revealed to and through the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 3:1-12; Colossians 1:24-27).

All that is truly valuable is eternal in nature, and can only be found in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom God has accomplished that which He purposed in Himself before the foundation of the world, according to the counsel of His own will.

Berean Searchlight – February 2005


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