The Responsibility of the Christian (continued)
The Christian as Athlete (continued)
Well, here is a contest, here is an engagement, which calls upon us to be very watchful, and to be in many directions self-denying. But don't mix this up with your salvation - you can never be saved by good works! To be a Christian you don't have to give up this and give up that, and do all sorts of things that you don't naturally like doing! This is not in order to be a Christian; but when you "are" a Christian, here is a vocation, here is a responsibility. Paul said: "I buffet my body ... lest ... after that I have preached to others. I myself should be rejected" (1 Corinthians 9:27), and he is thinking of this very thing - this business on hand, this great responsibility into which he is called, this great contest. 'I must see to it that my body, my fleshly appetites, don't get the upper hand; I must keep a strong hand upon myself; I must learn the disciplined life.' To most people that word "discipline" is a most hated word. Yes, bus this is not just discipline for its own sake - it is because of what is involved. And we can lose so much - young Christians, you can lose so much, and you can be disqualified from the great calling with which you are called, and from obtaining the great prize, the real prize, which is set before you, if you do not learn the disciplined life. Keep under your body. A Christian ought to be a very disciplined person, with a life well ordered and regulated - nothing loose or flippant or careless. We ought to be a people girded on a great business.
The Christian As Craftsman
And finally, the second chapter of the second letter and the so well-known 15th verse: "Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth." The translation that we have in our Authorized Version, "Study to show thyself approved unto God ... rightly dividing the word ...", has given rise to a good deal of misunderstanding. Many have thought that this is a picture of the student in his study, taking the Word of God and cutting it up and putting it into all kinds of different watertight compartments and dispensational sections. A whole school of dispensationalism and ultra-dispensationalism has been build upon this word, and it is all wrong! We shall be led astray if we get that idea.
This has nothing to do with the study and with the book. The Revised Version has improved upon the translation: "Give diligence to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed ..." It is true that your work is with the Word of God, but the picture here is not of a student, but of a craftsman, and what lies behind the Greek here is the stonemason. The stonemason has the specification before him of the stones that are to be cut and fitted into a building; and in the specification, or the blueprint, there are all the lines where the cuts are to be made, very finely, so that, when these stones are put together, they exactly fit, they belong to one another. It is the craftsman's job. With all the mass-production and the machine-made things of today, I think there are few things better than to see a real craftsman at work: really to find a craftsman, an old-fashioned craftsman, with his genuine hand-work, that is not the work of a machine.
Paul is talking about the craftsman. And he says, 'Now you have got the specification given to you in the Word of God. Don't toy with it, don't play with it, don't be careless about it. See to it that the truths of the Word of God are faithfully observed, that you handle the Word of God absolutely honestly.' In his second Corinthian letter you remember the Apostle used this phrase: "Not ... handling the word of God deceitfully" (2 Corinthians 4:2). What does that mean? Making it mean what it does not mean, for our own convenience - because it suits us so to interpret it! But "no ... scripture is of private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20). Our attitude must be: The Word of God says this; we cannot get around it. Don't try to get around it, don't try to make it mean something that it does not mean, and certainly don't be superior to it and think that you know better than what it says. Be absolutely honest with the Word of God. The Word of God says that; the blueprint, the pattern, the specification gives that as the precise line of things: then take it. Don't think that you can improve upon it; don't be careless about it. Take note of it.
(continued with # 78)