€ NO FLESH SHOULD GLORY €
Readings: 1 Kings ch. 17; 1 Corinthians ch. 1
The two chapters which we have read together from the Holy Oracles contain a blend of teaching concerning a Divine principle of the utmost importance to us all. It is expressed in those very few words found in the 1st chapter of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians in one single verse: € That no flesh should glory in his presence. € That, God willing, shall be the theme of our mutual reflections.
The chapter sets out the sublime truth that God has chosen the foolish, weak and base things of the world, as men count these things, to confound the things which are mighty. On the other hand, the chapter read from the 1st Book of Kings gives us a beautiful illustration of this very principle in the life of the prophet Elijah. Moreover, the theme is particularly applicable to the life of the Lord Jesus, and he is the one whom we are now remembering. It is set forth equally, in practical terms, in the very simplicity of these emblems upon the Table. So surely our theme must be from every point of view both appropriate and profitable for our collective study.
The apostle was moved to write to the Corinthians about this principle of which we are to speak because some in the ecclesia were tending to pander to human learning, wisdom and pride in the proclamation of the Truth. That was natural, seeing that Corinth was that great city of learning and culture famous in history and in the Roman Empire; but this was a glorying in man, not in God. Paul condemned such methods as entirely unsuited to the preaching of the gospel. Chapter 1, then, of this 1st epistle to the Corinthians, verse 17:
€ Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. € The cross of Christ was to be preached in humility, reverence and simplicity with the sole object of converting sinners to repentance.
To pander to the tastes of a few intellectuals, perhaps, in the ecclesia, who preferred rhetoric and philosophical arguments in presenting the gospel, was to impair, says Paul, the effectiveness of plain and simple preaching. So he asks the question, verse 20: € Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. € -
In the next chapter Paul reverts to the same points in explaining his method, Chap. 2.1: € 1, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. € € Jesus Christ, and him crucified. € How much there is in that short expression! This principle applies not only to preaching but to every department of ecclesial work. So that is the very first lesson we can learn from this chapter this morning in the theme we are endeavouring to develop. Let us be on our guard lest, wittingly or unwittingly, whether by act, word or demeanour, we infringe the Divine principle that no flesh should glory in His presence.
How easy it is for human nature to indulge in self-glorification! The world is full of this evil. How boastful they are! € How clever lam! See what J have done, what I can do, what I have achieved, what I have got! € Their pride in everything of which they are prone to boast! As the Psalmist says of the man of the world: € When he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him. Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself. He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. € So much for their foolishness and, from their point of view, their cleverness.
That is the lesson, then, that we must learn. Even in the work of the Truth it is possible to do it in the spirit of self-glorification, especially if we have talents superior perhaps in some small way to others. The speaking brother, for instance, is especially at risk. Sisters can even boast of their deeds of hospitality, good works, make a show of them, exaggerate them, like to talk about them, rather, perhaps to their own glory than to the glory of God to which every should be done. Achievement of any kind can often foster pride, as can material possessions, even when used in the Master € s service. All are tinged, inasmuch as we are all weak and human, with this little tendency to glory in ourselves.
The Pharisees made no attempt to conceal it. Christ condemned them out of hand for this very thing and castigated them as hypocrites. They loved the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and to be called of men, Rabbi. It is just the same today with the leaders of religious thought, so-called Reverends and Very Reverends and suchlike terms, Rabbi, Father, the Pope himself being no exception. In opposition to all this kind of behaviour, God has said to His servants through the prophet Jeremiah: € Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:
but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which execute lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight. € That puts very simply our New Testament teaching: € He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. € If we want a New Testament illustration of it, we have it surely in the beloved apostle himself. He was prepared to esteem himself the offseouring of all things for Christ € s sake. He almost belittled himself. On one occasion, as you know, he wrote to the Romans that he was prepared even to sacrifice his own possibility of obtaining eternal life for his brethren € s sake. But what humility there was there, what self-sacrifice! There was no self-glorying in that.
As you know, on another occasion he besought the Lord no less than three times that He would remove his thorn in the flesh, no doubt thinking that lie would be able to do the work of the Lord better if he were not so hindered. But what was the answer? Was his prayer answered? No, it was not. € My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. € Being told that, Paul was only too ready to accept the advice and the instruction; and so he could say immediately afterwards in those words from which we have just quoted: € Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. € That is the solemn lesson, then, spoken by Paul in all kindness to the Corinthians, in the same spirit that we are speaking of it now tn one another. Let us all be on our guard against doing anything which is detrimental to the interests of the Truth because we are tinged with self-glorification when the glory should really he given to God.
We turn now to our Old Testament reading. How well that principle is illustrated in the life of the prophet Elijah! We have read of his introduction to Israel and Ahab. How brief and uninformative it is. € Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead. € That is all. There is no reference to his upbringing, his age, his antecedents or his qualifications, It was the message, not the man, that mattered. His opening words were in harmony with the principle we are considering:
€ As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. € How illustrative of the principle: € Let him that glorieth glory in the Lord. € He attributed all that followed to His answer to prayer.
Was this because he was a kind of superman? By no means. It is James who tells us: € Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are € € € just like you and me, subject to all the weaknesses, all the trials and feeling the pressures of life, and even fear of his life when he approached Ahab. A man of like passions as ourselves. But he was a man of earnest prayer. James points that out too. € He prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. € James emphasises the lesson. € The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. € And when he prayed again after the 31/2 years it rained in torrents.
So then, James emphasises a lesson we can all learn from that:
€ The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. € If it is true in the big things of life it is equally true in the small. € The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. € Let us never forget it. We are ever in God € s sight. lie is always aware of all our ways and our doings and our needs, and wise are we if we make prayer an important and indeed a vital part in all our daily and perhaps nightly activities. Yes, that is the lesson of Elijah and answered prayer. God answered his prayer and all this happened in consequence. Although he did not work the miracle himself by the power of the Holy Spirit, like the disciples, nevertheless he was the instrument through which this tremendous drought came upon the land of Israel for all that long time.
Are then our prayers answered? Of course they are. The promise is so clear. Provided that we ask in faith according to His will € those are the stipulations € and in the spirit of the Lord € s own example:
€ Not my will, but thine, be done, € we can rest assured that our prayers are answered. Not always; we have mentioned Paul € s prayer. We shall come in a moment or two to when Elijah prayed and he also was not answered in his prayer.
No doubt Elijah felt in thus praying to God that something of an extreme measure might come upon this nation, the effect of which might be to turn their hearts again to God in the time when they were all idolaters and thoroughly wicked and under the evil influence of Ahab and Jezebel. But having that power in his prayer to bring about such a situation, was he to publicize the fact by declaiming against Ahab and his courtiers in the king € s palace? Was he to move among the nation as a great public figure having miraculously, in answer to prayer, shown that he had control even over the elements? No. He was to flee as a fugitive into obscurity, and there be fed by the ravens € by the ravens, of all birds, an unclean bird, a bird notorious for its particular habit of being voracious in appetite. That is one of the features of the raven, and yet that very bird was selected by the Father to feed His prophet in a solitary place by the river and the brook. Could he be brought much lower than that? Yet God still cared for him. God fed him. It was a wonderful miracle, and Elijah was preserved alive.
There again is this principle; the foolish things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and the prophet Elijah no doubt accepted that, so when he was told to arise and go to a widow in Sidon, a Gentile city, a Gentile woman, and find his abode there while the drought lasted, he would have had no difficulty in doing that; whereas if it had not been for the lesson of the ravens, the unclean bird, he might have thought that of the widow of Zarephath where he was sent; he would get to learn the same lesson as Peter had to learn afterwards: € What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. €
So then, Elijah went to Zarephath. He was not told to go and find some in the land who were better off, who had a good store, and demand that he share their dainties. No, that was not for Elijah. He was sent to a Gentile widow whose larder was nearly empty. God knows the heart and He commanded her to sustain him, and she did it for many days. Again, how exactly she fitted the apostolic description of those whom God chooses: € Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: . God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. €
So what a contrast there is in this humble little scene in a remote village of Sidon, Zarephath: a widow woman with just her son, and the prophet of God, living quietly in complete obscurity whilst the whole nation was in frenzy and commotion and anxiety, the more as the drought penetrated into everybody € s life, This was the weak, small things of the world associated with God € s dealings with His servants, and indeed with the world. It was not for the world to know where Elijah was at that time. He would appear later. How strange, we say, are the workings of God, so utterly different from any methods which man would employ.
That was not all that happened in Zarephath, just the continuance of the handful of meal and the cruse of oil. There was more than that. That was proof enough of the power of God to sustain this godly woman, for such she must have been to recognise so readily that Elijah was a prophet of God, the € man of God € as she called him. She was his willing hostess. More was to happen to encourage her faith in the existence and power of the God of Israel. Her son fell sick and he died. A wonderful miracle was wrought. The dead was brought to life, to the mother € s great delight. € Now I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth. € So a Gentile woman was converted to worship the Lord God of Israel, and certainly to do as she was bidden, in spirit no doubt with the prophet:
€ He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. € Elijah no doubt would attribute all that had happened to the power of God on her behalf.
Well, as we know, about that time, towards the end of the 3 I/2 years € drought, the prophet was snatched from the obscurity of Zarephath to the dazzling publicity of the events of Carmel. We shall read about that tomorrow. For a short period the glory of the Lord shone upon the servant of God, Elijah, to demonstrate once and for all to that nation that he was a true prophet. God did not leave him without witness. But the prophet attributed all that happened to the power of God. Let us turn over to the 1st Book of Kings chapter 18 and read verse 36: € And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that Jam thy servant, and that J have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, 0 Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. €
It was all attributed to the glory of the God of Israel, with Elijah but the humble instrument in His hands. But it did not last long, this publicity and apparent fame: just a matter of a few hours. What is the next picture? Within twenty-four hours Elijah again is flying as a fugitive from the wrath of an evil woman determined before daybreak to put him to death. That was the sequel to this remarkable event at Carmel, Elijah fleeing for his life. He hastened to Beer-sheba in the province of Judah, a journey of some 75 miles from the north to the south; Carmel is fairly well in the north, not right at the north but well up; Bccr-sheba is right down in Judah; 75 miles of rough territory no doubt, and he did it in a hurry, he would be afraid. When he arrived at Beer-sheba he was exhausted. Leaving his servant there he took a day € s journey into the wilderness and sat down, no doubt absolutely dejected, under a juniper tree, and so discouraged was he by the apparent failure to bring the nation to repentance that he requested for himself that he might die. But God had further work for him to do and Elijah € s guardian angel sustained him miraculously with food and drink.
Then he was directed to go to Horeb, and Elijah would know what had happened there before in the history of the nation. It was there that Yahweh appeared to Moses at the bush. The Memorial Name was made known there. Moses had struck the rock at Horeb and the water gushed out. At Horeb Moses had seen the similitude of God, His reflection, to encourage him in his depression. So we read in verse 9 of 1 Kings 19: € He came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? € The answer, verse 10: € . . . I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant Then the prophet was given instructions, verse 11: € . . . Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. €
Then some remarkable things happened. € Behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind:
and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. € How illustrative of the principle governing the work of God upon earth. This nation might have been brought to its knees by the occurrence of devastating tornadoes initiated by Divine power, or by a death-dealing earthquake killing thousands, or by an annihilating furnace of fire burning up all their lands. But that was not the way by which God was to make Himself known. The nation was to be saved by the presence of God in the still small voice speaking through the mouth of Elijah, and beside that, to Elijah € s utter surprise, through the mouths of 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Verse 18: € Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. €
Now there is a great lesson to be learnt from this. We know how the apostle Paul refers to this very incident when writing to the Romans. Let us just turn to it. Romans 11.1 € 5. We read there concerning the still small voice: € I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. . . God hath not cast away his people. . . Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. €
Yes, as in Elijah € s day, in that still small voice, there was God speaking through a community, small as it was in comparison with the numerical strength of the nation, that was actually a remnant according to grace, so Paul said to the Romans that it was the same in his day. The remnant in apostolic days was according to the election of grace, and they were the still small voice when all Israel were putting Christ to death, denouncing his teaching and persecuting his disciples. The remnant among the Gentiles, saving the world from complete putrefaction, are still His still small voice proclaiming the gospel of salvation; and who are they? Well, they are you and me sitting here round the table. If we are sincere in our professions of the Truth we are numbered among the remnant with the still small voice. The privilege is according to the election of grace. So there is nothing to boast about. € Not unto us, 0 Lord, but unto thee is glory due. €
Why then should we be discouraged any more than Elijah needed to have been? Though the whole world turn against God, as Israel did in the days of Elijah, let us maintain our firm hold upon the Truth. Though we be of no account in the eyes of the high and mighty and wise of this generation, God knows us and cares for us and will bless our work if done to glorify Him. Hbw true are the words concerning Elijah! Let us be very jealous for the Lord God of hosts. He was that. Let our prayers for help and guidance be fervent, as were his. They will prove as effectual, and in the end the still small voice will be as effective as the deepening claps of thunder.
Well, Elijah prayed that he might die. He could notstand the strain any longer. But instead of ending his days in despair and frustration he was taken up by a whirlwind to heaven, thus sharing the unique experience, like Enoch of old, of being translated that he should not see death. What a blessing that his prayer was not answered! Is that not right? Poor Elijah! Some of us have felt like that sometimes, we have wished that we could die. If there is work to be done and we do it faithfully as unto God, for His glory, He may preserve us a little longer, and who knows what may be the eventual consequence of our labours? Well, those were the consequences as far as Elijnh was concerned. If we have been as faithful as Elijah in these matters, if we have done our best, we € numbered today under the remnant according to the election of grace € may receive a comparable reward. What joy will await the righteous who have done all to the glory of God! Not 7,000 but countless thousands of saints will join their voices in praise and worship for ever to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Meanwhile, we think finally of the Lord Jesus himself, We are here to remember him as we do week by week. How true of him is this principle that we have endeavoured to follow. € A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench. € No man ever had a more lowly beginning than Christ, laid in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn, brought up a despised Nazarene. He had not where to lay his head. Silver and gold he had none. He had to perform a miracle to pay his little bit of tax. He refused all earthly honours and dignities. He chose the role of a slave, he washed the disciples € feet, not excluding those of Judas.
€ Have any of the rulers believed on him? € € He came unto his own, and his own received him not. € He was degraded below Barabbas the robber and was crucified between thieves; and, Paul says, remember that € Jesus Christ, and him crucified € is all we need to know. That was what it was to him and he invited us to think of it in the same way:
€ Jesus Christ, and him crucified, € the Father € s method by which He was pleased to accomplish all His purposes, to fill the earth with His glory to the exclusion of all human pride.
Well, what a lesson for us, then. Paul might well speak of € the meekness and gentleness of Christ. € But what a transformation will soon come! At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess, just as it was bound to do in the case of E1ijah who was a type of Christ. Men confessing, Christ shall be Lord to the glory of God the Father. € Wherefore, my beloved, € says Paul, € as ye have always obeyed,. . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. € And the proof of this? The provision of the Saviour. So as Paul says in the chapter we have read: € Of him (that is, of God) are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. € What more could we wish for? What more could we have? What greater blessing could ever be given to us? € Thanks be to God for this unspeakable gift, € and let us show our gratitude by carrying out to the best of our ability the apostolic command: € He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord, € € H. T. Atkinson