There are many complex words in the scriptures that can send one to a concordance searching for the meaning. On the other hand, there are deceptively simple words of two or three letters that can change the whole tenor of a passage.
Take for example ‘if’ and ‘but’. The use of both can be dramatic, as in the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy. Here, the fledging nation of Israel was informed of the wonderful blessings that the merciful and loving God was willing to bestow upon an obedient people: “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God: blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country…” (Deut. 28:1-3, NKJ).
There follow the horrendous curses that would surely come about for will-ful disobedience of the Lord’s commandments: “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you…The Lord will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me…” (Deut. 28:15,20, NKJ). Clearly, the wellbeing of Israel depended upon unconditional obedience qualified in those two little words: ‘if’ and ‘but’.
Another small word, packed with significance is, ‘in’. Imagine for a moment, being out in a howling blizzard. The freezing wind is driving the snow into drifts around your feet and hurling it into your face, causing ice crystals to form on your lashes and eyebrows. Suddenly a light appears through the swirling snow and with all your strength you struggle towards it. As you reach it a door opens and a voice says, “Do come in.” Think of the warmth and security you would ex-perience having entered into the safety of that house.
We have all experienced tiredness to the point of total exhaustion, at the end of a long and stressful day. What a relief it is to lie in a warm and comfortable bed as our aching limbs begin to relax.
Surrounded by wickedness
Many years ago in the days of Noah, the world was very much as it is today, a godless society, full of violence and wickedness. Alone in this morass of evil, Noah and his family loved the Lord and did their best to serve Him: “And the LORD said to Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation…they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life. And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him… and the LORD shut him in” (Gen. 7:1,15,16).
Terror, horror, distress and turmoil were outside on a scale never before experienced on the earth. Inside, Noah and his family were safe in the care and protection of God. Noah’s name means ‘rest’ or resting place. This is exactly what he found when he resided in God’s ark of salvation.
Respite in the ark
Moving on in time we see God’s people in a world of blackness and suffering, oppressed as slaves in the land of Egypt. The stubborn refusal by Pharaoh to let the Israelites go resulted in the ten plagues; the climax being the visitation of the angel of death to every house in the land. But God told Israel to put their trust in Him. They were to slaughter a lamb, daub its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, and then stay inside until the angel of death had finished his work. The people obeyed the Lord’s commandment. Faithfully they entered in through the lamb’s blood into the warmth, comfort and refuge of their homes. We certainly cannot imagine them bickering inside. They would be totally united as a family. United in their common fear and apprehension about the terrible things that were occurring outside that night. Even their big problems and dis-agreements would vanish, as with beating hearts they would hold hands and thank God for His incredible love and protection, as the angel of death passed over.
Centuries later, seemingly insur-mountable problems surround us. The world is becoming increasingly corrupt and violent. If we try to resist this wickedness by our own strength we will fail miserably. Help is near at hand, for God tells us to put our trust in Him and to come in through the blood of the lamb to the refuge that He has provided for us: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection… Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom. 6:4,5,8).
How comforting it is to know that we have a sanctuary in Christ, what-ever our circumstances. The joys and benefits are innumerable; the greatest being the fact that we can escape the consequences of our sins: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
The apostle Paul presents us with a challenge: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.” Being so familiar with this phrase, we may overlook the fact that Paul goes on to say: “prove yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). He is saying in effect, that it is not sufficient to examine ourselves to be sure that we are in the faith; we must prove it. In other words our actions must demonstrate our faith.
John, in his first letter, states that if we claim to be in the Lord Jesus Christ, then we must become like him: “Here-by know we that we are in him. He that says he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 3:5,6). If we are truly trying to follow his commandments then a prerequisite will be to put aside the things of the world and concentrate on developing love and care for each other: “But whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him” (1 John 3:17-19). The test of whether or not we are truly in the faith as laid down by our Master is the way we behave. All the pro-fessions of faith are meaningless, unless they are accompanied by action.
Love in action
What a privilege it is to be brethren and sisters of Christ. To be united inside our refuge, the ark provided by God, to ensure that we may escape the storms of wickedness and distress that threaten to engulf us at every turn. As Paul says: “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another… Let love be without dis-simulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another. Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord. Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of the saints; given to hospitality… Be of the same mind one toward another…” (Rom. 12:5,10-16).
As brethren and sisters in Christ let us leave the blackness and emptiness of the world outside and listen to the words of Jesus: “Abide in me” (John 15:4). “In me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Now as part of the family of Christ, we have come to the table of remembrance to partake of the emblems of his death and resurrection. There are no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ about it for: “in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off (from God), are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).
Barry Lambsdown, Stratford upon Avon, U.K.