Alfred Place Baptist Church

5:22-25 The marks of the mature man

I Timothy 5:22-25 “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.”

The greatest single moment in the life of any human being is the time when he becomes a Christian. In that moment his whole position is radically and irreversibly altered. His heart is renewed. His status is changed. He is declared righteous by Almighty God. He is united to the Lord Jesus Christ. The domination which sin has had over him is ended. His prospects are completely changed. He has been made a child of God, his heir and even a joint heir with the Son of God. His is an incorruptible inheritance. He is given new resources, attitudes and aspirations. He is even made a new creation.

Christians properly emphasise the decisiveness and momentousness of that change, and yet from another point of view it is only the beginning of our soul’s salvation. It is not in itself the completion of the work of redemption. It is only the initial step. Between the soul at that moment and its final redemption, there lie all the struggles of the Christian pilgrimage as the City of Destruction is abandoned and the journey undertaken to the Celestial City. The follower of Christ must face many perils, temptations and obligations in learning the ways of discipleship. Most of all, perhaps, his life becomes a voyage of self-discovery as, by the word of God and the Holy Spirit, he finds out about himself.

Timothy has had the blessings of a mother and grandmother who taught him the Bible. He has experienced the incomparable privilege of the apostle Paul’s love, companionship, example and teaching. He writes letters to help Timothy. But more than that, Timothy has had the apostle Paul with the body of elders putting their hands upon him, gifting him and setting him apart for a life of serving the church. Timothy has now become the pastor of the best taught and maturest congregation in New Testament times. This church has received, read, virtually memorised and applied to its life – both as a congregation and as individuals – Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. What a privileged background Timothy has had, and what honours are his, as a young man, to be the pastor of such a church.

Yet Paul knows what is in the human heart, more than any other man ever had. He knew from his own experience that the evil he would not do he actually did. And the good he admired and would do he refused to do. At times his own wretched failures overwhelmed him. No other Christian had suffered such rejection from religious people, and hatred from the world. The apostle deplored any mystical tendencies that would destroy the usefulness and happiness of Christians. So he gives Timothy much practical advice as to how a Christian is to think and behave. In these verses he gives four pieces of practical sagacity, which, if Timothy heeds them will save his own life, and that of the congregation, from much pain.

1. Don’t Take Major Decisions Suddenly.

“Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (v.22). See the context of these words. Paul has been speaking about accusations being brought against elders, and that those who sin are to be rebuked publicly. Now he is suggesting to Timothy that some of this pain might be averted if an appropriate time span were allowed between men’s profession of faith in Christ and their being set aside as elders. Don’t make them officers in the church in a hurry.

Let us say that one of the first indications that a man is beginning to fulfil the function of an elder is that as part of his very nature he feels for, prays for and cares for people. Officers are concerned about the flock. They pray for people in the congregation and are anxious about their welfare. It is obvious that they bear members of the congregation, and the health of the church on their hearts. Both the elder and his wife are people who care in practical ways about the church. When I talk about ‘caring’ I don’t mean at all that they must be ‘touchy-feely’ and demonstrative, and effusive personalities. That is a danger, that people are bowled over by the emotional extravagances and affections of certain Christians so that immediately such people are set aside and given office in the church. “Don’t be hasty.”

Again let us say that an elder has to be a mature man. But that does not mean that he must be an old man. Some men become too old to continue in the work of the leadership of the church. Paul is not talking about chronological factors. Elders must be mature enough for their particular work in the church. There is a maturity needed to teach Sunday School, and a maturity needed to work with the young people, and a maturity to lead the women’s work, but those are not the same qualities as what is needed for the eldership. There is also a maturity needed to be a preacher and that is not the same as what is required in being an elder. In other words, the door to becoming a preacher is not the door marked ‘Elder.’ A man can open up Scripture, and preach the gospel and know the great truths of the Bible at twenty years of age. He can graduate from seminary at 23 and be called to a congregation where some of the most blessed and fruitful years of evangelism in his entire life are immediately experienced. He finds himself looking back with nostalgia to his early years. However, men can rarely become elders at 23, but many men certainly have become mature enough at that age to be preachers and missionaries. So these words of our text are not to be used to clamp down on young men declaring the word of God to any who will hear them, privately, or on a street corner, or from a pulpit.

Make sure people are mature enough for whatever you are asking them to do in a church. Go slowly. Be careful. Understand as well as you can the person before giving him office. If there are doubts then think again. Whatever problems of personality the man in the pew might have the possibility of hurting others is ten times increased if he has some office in the church. Does he have a teachable spirit? Will he respect the church leadership? Is he going in the same direction that you are?

But let us open up this caution a little wider. Do not be hasty in any important decision you take. Don’t be hasty in handing in your resignation. Don’t be hasty in writing a letter to a church member, or a person you barely know, or to the local paper. Don’t be hasty in deciding that you are going to marry that redhead. Don’t be hasty in phoning someone. Don’t be hasty in saying “I’ll never …” or “She always…” Don’t be hasty in going to see your children’s headmaster. Don’t be hasty to complain or to criticise to dismiss someone. Don’t be hasty in doing what you have decided has got to be done. Have some poise.

The Lord is never in a hurry. With him one day is like a thousand years. He is patient and long suffering. The apostle Peter says that God took his time in the days of Noah. He gave a world a century to heed his word. The Lord never gave up on us stupid rebels. He didn’t let us finish one another off with a doomsday bomb – though that is what we deserve. He didn’t come quickly at the end of the first century and turn the world into a perfect kingdom. He has not been hasty in taking decisive action. So with us too, let us get on with glorifying and enjoying him in all our duties in church, family, work and before the watching world. There are always many fascinating things to do if you are a Christian. Look evil full in the face and find courage from God to resist it. You can be more than a mere conqueror. You can enjoy the fruits of triumph for the rest of your life through Christ.

Don’t be hasty in acting on your feelings. There is nothing easier for the devil to counterfeit than feelings. Don’t be hasty in labelling such impulses ‘impressions of the Holy Spirit.’ They can be produced by any number of sources: God, Satan, an angel, a demon, human emotions (such as excitement or fear), hormonal imbalance, insomnia, medications or an upset stomach. The Bible does not invest inner impressions with authority to function as indicators of divine guidance. Impressions are real; believers experience them. But impressions are not authoritative. Impressions are impressions, so you should not act hastily in the light of them alone. If what you experience and desire is true and right then it can bear scrutiny and the test of time. So examine your impressions in the light of the Scriptures.

Ask for counsel before you act, but not just from those who will always agree with what you think. Then carefully evaluate what they say. The best counsellor may yet point you down the wrong road just as easily as your feelings. Here are two good questions you should ask people when you are seeking advice: “Do you know of any scriptural or biblical principles that apply to the decision I am making? Have you gained practical insight through your experience in making a similar decision that would be of value to me?” (cp. Garry Friesen’s “Decision Making and the Will of God”, Multnomah Press, 1980, p.270). So Paul’s first exhortation is do not take major decisions in haste.

2. Keep Yourselves Pure.

“Do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure” (v.22). The word translated ‘share’ is a familiar Greek word, ‘koinonia,’ the word that is usually translated ‘fellowship.’ You cannot remain in fellowship with defiant sinners. The apostle is not urging us to separate ourselves from the sinning people of this world by going off and living in a wilderness like John the Baptist. Paul makes a clear distinction between the holy living he insists upon in those who profess to love God, and the sinful conduct which he recognises as often characterising unbelievers. He has that familiar basic statement in I Corinthians 5:9-13, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” Do not fellowship with those who profess to be Christians and yet whose lives defy the Christians’ God. Remember the great words with which the book of Psalms begins, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps.1:1&2). Keep yourself pure in how you live, and what you believe and teach. Avoid those who would seduce you from the ways of God.

Dr J.Gresham Machen was a great champion of historic Christianity in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It was directly because of the stand which he took then that there are today more than half a dozen conservative Presbyterian seminaries in the USA training between 2,000 and 3,000 men for the ministry. He and a number of other ministers were deposed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) in its 1935 General Assembly for starting a Foreign Mission Board consisting of evangelical missionaries alone. After the sentence had been passed and the meeting closed some of the liberal leaders walked up to the Bible-believing ministers who had been put out of the denomination with an exaggerated demonstration of good sportsmanship. The modernists smiled at the “ultrafundamentalists” and shook hands. They told Dr Machen and the others that they had put up a good fight, and that they respected them for it.

Of course they could afford to be magnanimous. They had secured a vast and goodly heritage. Having got Princeton Seminary in their pockets, now they had all the legacies for the Foreign Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church (USA) which had been given through the sacrifice, sweat and prayers of a scripturally sound people. That could be used to promote a studiously vague Christianity. In their eyes they had ‘rescued’ the church from the impossible view that Scripture was the infallible word of God. But they hated to be ‘out of fellowship’ with anyone, whatever they might believe. So they showed they had no hard feelings, and across the floor of the General Assembly they strolled with outstretched hands to say to goodbye and good luck to those whom they had just excommunicated. If there had to be any group with whom they would not co-operate it was the ‘fundamentalists.’

We too are under a divine obligation not to fellowship in the sins of others. We cannot co-operate with those who preach another gospel. Do they believe in a virgin-born Christ? Do they truly declare that only through faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God men can be saved? Do they teach a substitutionary atonement, a bodily resurrection, a throne of judgment, a hell to avoid, a heaven to enter? If not, the precept is clear – “do not share in the sins of others.” You cannot remain in fellowship with both those who deny the gospel and at the same time with us also who live by the gospel. You have to choose. And we must take action too, and not associate ourselves with anyone who is called a brother but who preaches another gospel.

At Cambridge University in the summer term of 1919 an evangelical student called Norman Grubb of Trinity College and a friend, met with ten representatives of the Student Christian Movement to discuss with them what view of Christianity the SCM was promoting in the British universities. Norman Grubb asked them this fundamental question, “Does the Student Christian Movement put the atoning blood of Christ central in its teaching?” After a little deliberation the answer came, “We acknowledge it, but it is not central.” It was an accurate and definitive reply.

The parting of the ways stemming from that understanding of what is Christianity resulted in the beginning of the Inter Varsity Fellowship of evangelical Christian Unions in the universities of the British Isles. The test for Christian fellowship was not religious experience but the centrality of Bible truth. The IVF began with fifteen members of the Christian Union in Cambridge. Oxford quickly followed it, and by 1923 a Christian Union had begun in Cardiff University. The influence of the Inter Varsity Fellowship (later the UCCF) in the UK in helping students to understand what Christianity is has been enormous. But the subsequent story of the Student Christian Movement is also salutary. Of the 50,000 students in British universities before 1914 10,000 of them were members of the SCM. The SCM watchword had been “the evangelisation of the world in this generation.” That watchword was quietly dropped in 1922. By 1957 there were still 7,000 members of the SCM with half a million students in the British Isles, but by 1978 it had just 200 members. Starved of the oxygen of evangelical preaching and piety the SCM had entered into terminal decline. There was no way that gospel Christians could be part of a religious organisation where the atoning blood of Christ was not central. “Do not share in the sins of others.”

We are called to keep ourselves pure, and so the nickname which our fathers were given of ‘puritans’ may be given to us. I pray it may be so. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” I sometimes fear that we are growing bored with evangelical Christianity, and if so, then we are growing bored with God himself. There is a great work for us to do. This gospel must be preached in its purity to the men and women of the new millennium. Much work has been done this century by pastors whose names are today unknown. Some of them kept themselves free from error in obscure country villages. There have been hundreds of families who are completely unknown to us where the Bible has been read and honoured and from whose homes people have gone out to live as Christians in the world. They prayed, and we have reaped those things they sought for this land. God has not ceased to answer prayer. The Lord has blessed those who would not share in the sins of others. Let us thank him for what he has done, and remember the word of that Old Testament believer, “If the Lord were pleased to kill us would he have shown us all these things?”

3. Take a Little Wine.

“Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach, and your frequent illnesses” (v.23). Maybe this verse embarrasses you. Maybe you thought that Christianity was only about men’s souls. But the Christian religion is total in scope. If you are interested in proper physical habits, proper nutrition, and good health, the Bible is your book. Take a look at the directives that God gave the people of Israel – the dietary laws, the laws governing sexual conduct, the laws for cleansing, the laws for dealing with the sick and dead in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. According to doctors, these laws make good sense today. God gave these laws because he is interested in our physical health as well as our spiritual health. The apostle tells the Christians in Corinth, “Honour God with your body” (I Cor. 6:20).

When you went away to university did your mother call you with inquiries about your health? Did she tell you what to take and eat and when to go to bed? Of course she did. Wouldn’t Paul who fathered Timothy have the same concern for him? God had created Timothy’s body. It was a marvellous gift, and so Timothy was not to beat it up, tear it up, misuse it, and wreck it. Timothy didn’t come from a monkey, so he wasn’t to act like one. “Use a little wine because of your stomach, and your frequent illnesses.”

Let me approach the verse this way. It is very fascinating to learn that Timothy was often ill, although he had had hands laid on him by Paul. The apostle had only recently sent him to Ephesus, and Timothy was soon to see him, yet he was frequently sick. The apostle had also left a Christian worker called Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). These were not examples of apostolic failure, but of God’s will not being the healing of everybody, even during the time of the Lord Jesus and his apostles here on earth. I am saying as plainly as I can that it was not and is not God’s purpose that all sick people should be restored to perfect health. When the Lord Christ went to the pool of Bethesda he passed through crowds of sick folk whom he made no attempt to heal (Jn.5:3). He went directly to one crippled man who at once was fully restored. Again, the Lord raised from the dead three people only. When Paul went to Lystra (Acts 14:8-10) and to Malta (Acts 28:7-10) he expected and he saw the immediate healing of two men who were scarcely Christians, but with these two men, Timothy and Trophimus, who were both dear to him, and of great faith, and very important in the work of the gospel, the apostle had no authority from the Holy Spirit to heal them.

Think of the constant pain and ill health both Luther and Calvin knew. Think of how Baxter suffered, and Owen, and Watts, and Whitefield. Sickness cut short the lives of Brainerd, and McCheyne. They laboured with ill health all through their ministries. Spurgeon suffered throughout his life. God did not heal those giants. There seems to have been very few men greatly used of God, full of the Holy Spirit, who were not troubled by much pain, often laid aside on a sick bed. One reason for this is that whom the Lord loves he chastens. Those who bear fruit he prunes that they might bring forth more fruit.

Why are some healed while others are not? Men and women, there is the teaching in the Bible of the sovereignty of God. He determines those whom he will heal, by what means he appoints to their recovery, and those he chooses not to heal. He says to such, “Come above to the place I have prepared for you.” You remember there was one day last November when two Christian women from this town both gave birth to daughters, one was alive, and the other dead. Both were exemplary Christian mothers. One child lived and the other child died. At such times we gather together all the faith we have and we say humbly to our faithful God, “Even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” That is the victory that overcomes the world, even our trust.

It is just as true that as long as we are on this earth we – like all of mankind – are subject to the frailties of a sin-cursed body and a sin-cursed world. Becoming a Christian does not deliver a woman from the pain of birth-pangs. Like her non-Christian sisters she brings forth children with suffering. Though she is comforted and fortified in her suffering by the presence of the Lord, she is not delivered from suffering itself.

Becoming a Christian does not deliver a man from tilling soil which is cursed with thorns and thistles, or from earning his bread by the sweat of his brow. Timothy and Trophimus had no right to claim from God complete deliverance from the cursed effects of sin any more than a farmer can sit back and ask God to rid his fields of thistles. The farmer cannot say, “Supply my needs without my having to sweat.” The man who does not work does not deserve food.

When Timothy and Trophimus became Christians their bodies, which were born under the curse of sin, did not suddenly become ‘bionic.’ They did not get a whole new range of immunities to viruses, cancers, arthritis, infections, heart disease and the like. They certainly did get a new desire to respect their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. They learned the importance of pure living, discipline and self-control. But they could not ‘claim’ perfect health on the ground that their bodies had been delivered from the curse of sin. That curse has been passed on to us all from our solidarity in Adam. Not until we receive our glorified bodies from the last Adam will all our sicknesses be removed. One day Timothy would die, and Trophimus would die too, as all of us, and that is irrefutable proof that the body of the believer has not been delivered from the curse of sin.

“But there is a man in this congregation,” you protest, “who sixteen months ago was given a year to live. Now he is not only alive but every trace of cancer has been removed.” That is true. But what is significant is that we did not hold nights of prayer for him. In fact I can remember only one prayer meeting in which one person prayed for him. We did not lay hands on him or anoint him with oil. Yet God has healed him, by such prayers as were offered, and through a major operation, and skilful surgeons, and post-operation chemotherapy. It was God’s will that he should live more than a year. Doctors are not infallible in their predictions. Thus we believe that God heals today. He has healed me of every illness of which he has desired to heal me. Then a day will come and he determines I shall not be healed, and he will give me grace to die. And my family will not sue the National Health Service because I no longer live. Thus it is with all Christians. We believe that there are many occasions when we cry to God and he gives health, and we believe that there are occasions when his answer is No.

So there in Ephesus Timothy was often ill. Paul did not write and say, “Wait until I come. I shall heal you in a second.” He did not rebuke Timothy for his lack of faith. He did not say, “Name it and claim it.” He actually told Timothy to stop drinking water only, but to “use a little wine because of your stomach.” Now this word ‘wine’ is the very same word as we find in Ephesians 5:18, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.” It is not grape juice. It is not non-alcoholic. It can make you drunk. “Take a little of it,” the apostle tells Timothy, especially for medicinal purposes. Timothy was not a Nazirite; he had made no vows to refrain from wine. A Christian may choose not to drink alcohol. Many do.

There are means God has appointed for our survival. We are, for example, to eat and drink. If we refuse to do that then God will not miraculously keep us alive without food. We will die. God made Luke a physician and he was able to help people. Go to the best doctors you can. In the creation God has placed means of helping us cope with the sicknesses which all men and women must experience in this groaning world. Paul is telling Timothy not to stop taking his medicine. Address the means of strengthening yourself in every way.

This passage is making no comment on social drinking, but the Bible is scathing in its denunciation of drunkenness: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger long over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sight s, and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on the top of the rigging. ‘They hit me,’ you will say, ‘but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?'” (Provs. 23:29-35).

A man called Kevin Brain of the Institute of Alcohol Studies has just published a paper called “Youth, Alcohol and the Emergence of the Post-modern Alcohol Order.” He points out the strategy of the brewers in creating such drinks as alcopops, ice lagers, white ciders and buzz drinks and selling them in cafe bars, theme bars and club bars. It is the start of “recreational drug wars” in which alcohol is marketed as one of a range of psychoactive drugs. The young people are being herded into “unbounded hedonistic consumption.” You are under attack.

Many have been detroyed. Kevin Brain quotes what some of these young people say: Gail (aged 14), “It’s very important to get drunk otherwise there’s no point in buying it.” Gaz (aged 15), “Wouldn’t like to be seen with cheap cider. If you’ve got Budweiser you are loaded. It’s like the girls will say, I’ll go out with him…” Dan (aged 17) said that a good time consisted of, “getting wrecked, getting some slag, and having a fight without the police finding out.” Joe (aged 13) defined a good time as, “battering heads and nicking cars … drink makes you madder.” If you live without God you live without hope, and drink is a sad brief escape from reality.

Let me ask you if you as a Christian have ever been drunk, and when you got home to bed, did you pray before you fell asleep? Of course not. When you laid down your muddled head, you were all mixed up, and you couldn’t say a word to God, could you? That seems to me a simple enough reason why Christians shouldn’t get inebriated. I’m afraid to lose contact with the living God. I dare not become a loose cannon. Christians are supposed to pray without ceasing. That’s why it is so dreadfully dangerous to tamper with your mind. Of course, sometimes our minds become diseased or something functional goes wrong with them. That is bad enough. But voluntarily to induce states in your mind that will break your relationship with God is the most foolish thing in the world. So do not neglect to heed divinely appointed remedies for your own weaknesses.

4. Be Wise in Your Judgment of People.

“The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden” (vv. 24&25). Paul is telling Timothy the most simple point that the character of some men is immediately apparent. There is open hostility and contempt for all things to do with religion. One is taking part in student evangelism and visiting a Christian student when his door bursts open and in walks a grinning blaspheming friend of his. He wasn’t expecting to see a preacher, and quickly realises why you are there, and then, quite deliberately, he blasphemes again. He was saying, “I am not afraid of you or your religion.” “The sins of some men are obvious.” They say that they have no patience with ‘religion.’ They are in the fast lane to judgment, and their sins arrive there before them. The books are all open, and there is no question of their guilt. Out of their own mouths they are condemned.

There are others, however, who are very different. Their sins are so far behind them that they seem to be without any sin. Martin, a minister friend of mine, had a man ring his door bell. He was a deeply serious man who referred to the books and preaching of Dr Lloyd-Jones, the work of the Banner of Truth and what books had helped him. He had just moved to the town and was looking forward to settling in the congregation listening to Martin. Anything he could do to help him he would be more than happy to do. His wife and children would be joining him soon, but he had just moved before them, and they would be coming with him. Martin was over-joyed. he thought that this man was an answer to prayer. The man went on to say that he was having some difficulty finding suitable accommodation, but he had an option on an apartment which seemed suitable. The only snag was the bank in the town had not received from the bank in his home town the transfer of finance, and he had to pay the deposit that day. Could Martin help him with this loan for a couple of days?

Martin was almost completely taken up with this man, but something did not ring true. He had the slightest doubt about him. So he said to him, “Can you give me the name of a previous pastor I could get in touch with to confirm these things?” The man made a number of excuses, and then his whole tone began to change as he saw that Martin was resolute about this. He began to be abusive and scornful. He disdained Martin. He was like all the other evangelical Christians he had known, distrustful, suspicious, unwilling to help people in an emergency. Talking the talk, but not walking the walk. He got up and left Martin highly offended. However, he had mentioned a certain place he seemed to know well, and after he had gone out of the door Martin called the pastor there and described the man. He was well-known in the area. A liar and an embezzler who had spent time in prison and given his former wife and children a terrible life. He was not to be trusted with a penny, and certainly not with any work in the church. Martin was so glad that he had paused and made that simple request before handing over a couple of hundred pounds. “The sins of some men are obvious … the sins of others trail behind them.”

It is hard to make an assessment of people from a few weeks with them. We all make mistakes about personalities. Concerning doctrine and practice we have a Book to refer, but concerning people it is a very great man who has rarely been led astray in his assessment of men and women. Their sins were hidden away and they don’t turn up until later. Some turn up after the vows have been made, or after the pregnancy has been discovered, or after the business deal has been signed, or after the ordination service has been held. And you say you believe in love at first sight? Or you say that you pride yourself that you are a good judge of people? Or you plead the tingle factor as the reason you voted for the man who has turned out to be a deceiver as the pastor? The sins of some men trail behind them. They had a front of unimpeachable rectitude but behind it was a life that was evil and ugly. Aren’t you going to make some inquiries about a person’s past? Especially if your life is going to affected by that man? Go to God and spread it out earnestly before him. Our God doesn’t send the bill in at the end of every month. But send the bill in one day he most certainly will.

There are others, and their good deeds are obvious. There is an blessed approachability, and appreciation, and humility, and wisdom. Their names are known in all the churches. Many have cause to rise up and bless them for the providence that brought them together. But not all Christians are like that. Their good works are secret, and so they want them to be. They are shy and reserved people. No one knows the debt a congregation owes to such men and women. But the Lord knows. With an iceberg only a tenth of it is above the surface. There are unprepossessing Christians like that, who have hidden depths of faith and love.

We all say that we are going to have many surprises in the great day of judgment. Who will be amongst the sheep, and who will be greatly honoured in heaven, and who will not receive the prominence they expected, and who will be put to shame. To many the Lord will say, “Depart from me I never knew you.” To many he will say, “Come ye blessed because I was hungry and ye fed me,” and so on. They will be the most surprised of all to hear such words, and they will say, “But when did we do that?” “You did it to the least of these my brothers, and so you did it to me.” Things that were done in secret cannot be hidden for ever. God will honour them. He is never any man’s debtor. So do not be embittered if you have spent your life in obscurity with even your own church not giving you the honour you truly deserve. The day will reveal it all.

Do not be hasty. Keep yourself pure. Be cautious and discerning. These are the marks of Christian maturity.

19th March 2000 GEOFF THOMAS