The Testing of the Fire (continued)
Christian Work (continued)
"I verily thought ..." 'I truly thought'; if you like, 'I honestly thought' - "with myself, that I ought to do many thing contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). That is the utterance of an honest man, of a sincere man. 'I verily thought that I ought ... I considered this thing: this was no mere impulse, this was no mere fanaticism. I thought' - Paul was a man who thought - 'I thought that I ought ... It was a matter of conscientious conviction with me that this was what I ought to do, that it was the right thing to do, that I was called upon to do it. It was a matter of conscience with me. I verily thought within myself that I ought ...'
Yes, but how possible it is to be as utterly sincere as that and as utterly mistaken! The Judaizers were like that. But their work did not last. Here is the work of the Spirit going on: and it has gone on, and it is still going on. It has stood all the testing and all the trying out, and it survives the fire - the fire of judgment, the fire of testing. It has proved itself to be the work of the Holy Spirit. It shows the supreme importance, as the key to the whole of this thing - not of being sincere, not of being enthusiastic, not of acting on the basis of conscientious conviction - but of being governed by the Holy Spirit. That is the important thing! It is only that that lasts.
This all comes into the realm of Christian work. Perhaps you may have felt a little catch just now about the Judaizers; but you have got to concede them quite a lot, you know. There Judaizers were not anti-Christian. What they really wanted was Jewish Christianity - a Christianity with a Jewish complex. They are prepared to have Christianity, if only Christianity will conform to the Jewish order, to the Jewish pattern. I am not going to argue that out now, but I could bring forward much evidence to show that that is so. Paul shows by his letter to the Galatians that that is not the work of the Spirit. It is something quite different.
The next thought here takes us into the realm of Christian testimony: the fire at work in the realm of Christian testimony. We turn to a very well-known passage:
"But thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the Savour of Christ unto God, in them that are being saved, and in them that are being saved, and in them that are perishing; to the one a Saviour from death unto death; to the other a Saviour from life unto life" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
There is the dividing effect of the fire. You know the picture, the background. Paul is thinking in terms of the Roman procession, the triumphant General leading his prisoners in his train, holding celebrations of his victory from place to place. At every such place the altar was erected, the fire was lit, the flame leapt up, and the incense filled the air, and that had a double effect. There were some who were in the way of perishing, and that was the place where they would perish; they will be sacrificed there. There are others who are no in the way of perishing: they will pass that fire and go on; they will be saved. The background, you see, is very vivid. The fire is discriminating and determining here.
But Paul says that this is the dual effect of the Holy Spirit in our life and ministry, as we go from place to place. Something happens everywhere and every time. One or both of two things happens in every place. On the one hand, those who refuse the light, who persist in fighting against the victorious Lord, who resist the Holy Spirit, are brought to condemnation: they are put into the category to which they belong - condemned. On the other hand, those who believe, those who accept are, by the same Holy Spirit, brought into liberty. They pass the testing fire and go on in life. "To the one a Saviour from death unto death; to the other a Saviour from life unto life."
Now the point is this: Paul is saying that this is the effect of the Holy Spirit in our ministry and in our testimony. In other words, the Holy Spirit never leaves things as they were. The presence of the Holy Spirit always brings about some kind of a crisis and verdict. If the Holy Spirit is present, speaking, we cannot be the same afterward as before. Something happened. We are either more hardened or more softened; we are either more condemned or more saved. In the presence of the Holy Spirit something happens: the fire does this work of judging.
This is what the Lord Jesus meant when He spoke of 'casting fire upon the earth.' What will the fire do? Well, it will make this division, it will bring this judgment; it will determine things and people and their destiny. We know how true that is in history. That is the effect of the Holy Spirit. But what I want to underline in that particular connection is this: If you and I are really men and women who are governed by the Spirit and filled with the Spirit, the effect of our presence and our passing this way will be to leave things otherwise than they were before. There will be eternal verdicts reached by our having gone this way. That is, of course, the object of ministry. "Thanks be unto God Who leads me on from place to place to celebrate His victory.' The effect is either the one thing or the other; things are not afterward as they were before. Holy Spirit ministry must be like that: it must produce something, it must effect something, it must make a difference. And in fact it does! It does that!
(continued with # 21 - (The Fire Disciminating)