Rev. Phyllis H. Wolfram (1921-1985)
Pillar of Fire Church
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I've come across what to me is an interesting idea and that is that as the church of Christ, and in fellowship and unity one with another, we need to help each other lift up our heads so that we can lift our eyes to the Lord. You may have some other ideas, and I'd be glad to hear them later. But I'd like you to try something. Everybody in the congregation put your head down, your chin down as far as you can. Now without moving your head, lift your eyes to the Lord. Everybody look up without moving your head. It's not easy is it? You may look up.
Then I came to a most unusual account, I thought, of a couple of people. One was the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and the other was the king of Judah. He had become king when he was eighteen. His name was Jehoiakim. He was Jehoiakim's son, very wicked young man, followed in the steps of his father, idol worshiper, just a bad fellow all the was around. Well, these two interesting people met in prison, in the dungeon, and got to be pretty good friends. Why was Nebuchadnezzar's son there? Well, he had spent a couple times in prison. He sat on the throne during the seven years when Nebuchadnezzar was out of his mind and eating grass and going around like a wild animal. And the Bible tells us that he really did not mind that his father was going through all of this. In fact, he made fun of him, made light of him. When Nebuchadnezzar came back to his right senses and found all of this out, he threw him in the dungeon. He stayed there for quite awhile. Then he came out when his father died and he went back on the throne.
At this time we find Nebuchadnezzar's son on the throne, and he remembers this young man who had been the king of Judah, this idol worshiper. And so he sends for him, and the Bible says in Jeremiah 52:31,
[He] lifted up the head of Jehoiakim, . . . and [he] spake kindly unto him and set his throne above the thrones of the kings that were with him in Babylon, and changed his prison garments: and he did continually eat bread before him all the days of his life. And for his diet, there was a continual diet given him of the king of Babylon... (Jr 52:31b-34a)So he lifted up his head. That was interesting to me how one sinner could lift up the head of another sinner. Looking up this phrase I found out that it is really Jewish, a Jewish phrase, and it means to encourage, to lift up just as the word indicates. We first hear about it in the book of Genesis (Gn 40:5-19) when Joseph interpreted a dream. The dream was the one when he was asked to interpret two dreams, and it was the butler and the baker. We read that Joseph told the butler, Pharaoh shall lift up thine head in three days. It was true. He brought him out; gave him back his position and so forth. So he lifted up his head.
So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil saying, It is ready for the soldering: and he fastened it with nails that it should not be moved. (Is 41:7)Now I've heard this all my life, and heard it as an illustration of how we should encourage one another. And looking into this, I find out they're making an idol, and they're encouraging one another, making this idol. Let's get it done so that we can fall down and worship it and get better times coming to us! So here again are some more sinners encouraging one another. Let's get this business out of the way and let's get this done. And the Lord said they are all vanity. Their works are nothing. Their molten images are wind and confusion. That's the end of that chapter, talking about what they had made and what they had done. And so again sinners encouraging one another.
Then in the book of Psalms sixty-four, the fifth verse, we have,
They encouraged themselves in an evil matter. (Ps 64:5)Well, this isn't what I need, and I'm sure it isn't what you need.
If I be wicked, woe unto me, and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. I am full of confusion; therefore, see thou my affliction. (Job 10:15)Now we have a righteous man. I know he's righteous, and you know he was righteous. He says, ``I know in whom I have believed.'' And he had an insight into the resurrection of the body that even the followers of Christ did not understand until after Christ rose from the dead. And he says, ``I know my Redeemer liveth.'' (Job 19:25)
So Job was a righteous man, and he had faith in the Lord. But he says, I'm full of confusion; I can't lift up my head. Well, why is he confused? He is used to the idea of the saintly men in the Old Testament, that if God were blessing them, then they would be blessed financially, spiritually, blessed with old age, blessed with health, long years and so forth. Look at the patriarchs and so forth. They all had that kind of testimony and that kind of life. Here is Job; he says I'm confused, and even if I'm righteous, I can't lift up mine head. I would like to have seen his three friends put him in a clean bed, and bath his wounds for him. The dogs liked his wounds. I saw a picture the other day in a Bible book of a man with boils all over his face. And the boils extended out until they were even with his nose. You can imagine a man with this all over his body, and his friends letting him lie in the ashes and in the dirt, and sitting on the ground around him. I would think that would be the first thing to do, get him into a clean bed.
And then his wife. . . Couldn't she have said, "God has never failed you in the past. Can't you be encouraged now in Him and keep trusting Him? He'll answer your prayer.''? He needed to have his head lifted up somehow as he lay there suffering like this. But they didn't do it. They didn't give him the kind of encouragement he needed. But Job with the Spirit of the Lord in His heart began after a number of days to pray for these friends. I don't know what he said, but I know in the New Testament we are told (cf Mt 5:44) to pray for those who despitefully use us, and we are to talk kindly to those who do not talk the same way to us. I don't know how he prayed, but the Bible says as he prayed for his friends, things turned around for him. Indeed, I suppose his head did lift up, and he was able then to look up and praise the Lord. For the Lord changed everything around as he prayed and took an interest in his friends. Something magical about that it seems. As he prayed for his friends, this all changed.
He says that he found out that perhaps there is such a thing as original sin that the Bible talks about. He thinks that there can be no doubt at all that it's the instinct and perhaps the obligation of every organism to look out for itself.
Self preservation, selfishness -- call it what you will. Now in human society if this built-up selfishness is not modified and controlled, it's dangerous. All great religions have known this and tried to combat it with principles like "love thy neighbor as thyself.' Great good has come from such a principle. But men can never really fully do it. It's almost impossible to love on command. Furthermore, the principle can run counter to the great laws of biology.Then he says,
Years of experimentation in the laboratory have taught me that when an organism is subject to any kind of stress from which it can't escape, it reacts in one of two ways. Either it mobilizes its defenses and fights or it tries to adjust and live with the stress. And there's a parallel on this level. Two great emotions that cause the absence and presence of stress are love and hate. The Bible makes this point over and over again. the message is that if we don't somehow modify our built in selfishness, we arouse fear and hostility in other people, not a very favorable environment in which to exist. If we modify that self-centeredness, the more we can persuade people to love us rather than hate us, the safer we are and the less stress we have to endure.Well, the question was asked, if your neighbor does not respond, then what? He says well, if he doesn't respond, you shouldn't continue to struggle. Now, that's a good idea, but he says it's very hard to do this. And the only way that you can keep the golden rule is to turn it around, sort of a mirror image. Earn thy neighbor's love, and cash in on it, work at it, and then it all comes back to you. They love you and there's a good feeling there, and the stress goes. Well, as he said, it's impossible to keep some of this without the Lord's help. How can we go about earning our neighbor's love, if we don't love our neighbor in the first place? How can you turn it around and earn your neighbor's love if you don't love?
Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. (1 P 1:22-23)Martin Luther made a wonderful comment on this scripture. For instance, he said that "Christian brotherhood flows from our new birth in an imperishable seed, the abiding word of God.'' The seeds that we plant in the ground die, they blossom perhaps, and then die. The seed that the Lord implants in our heart lives forever. It's imperishable according to this scripture, as long as we do His will. Then Martin Luther says, "For what end must we lead a chaste life?'' He asks the question, that we might be saved? Is that why we should get all of the love of the Lord that we can in our hearts, that we should be saved? Martin Luther says, "No, but for that we may serve our neighbor.'' Laying aside hypocrisy, be sincere. Brotherly love is different from common love.
Now, here you have something that's a lot different from what we spoke about in the beginning, encouraging the blacksmith. Hello! How are you today? That's a good job you're doing there. Peter is talking about a love that is springing up from in the heart and flows to our neighbor, and that we should love with unfeigned love, that is without hypocrisy. Really love, not holding anything back, not anything unforgiven. An unforgiven occurrence will keep us from loving. Unfeigned love of the brethren -- see that you love one another with a pure heart. So that is the first requirement. We can't really love our brethren unless our hearts are pure, unless we come to the Lord and been emptied of all sin, of all corruption in our own hearts and get a pure heart. Then we are able to really love our brethren.
Then the word is used, "fervently''. That is a very strong word. Can we love each other fervently in church? Something to think about. That is more than just saying, hi, as we go by, and say well, there's love. I loved him now. I said, Good morning, How are you. Now I've loved that brother today. "Loving from a pure heart fervently. But the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this word which by the gospel is preached unto you.''
"He that loveth not his brother abideth in Death.'' (1 J 3:14b) That's a very strong test. The suggestion was made that we just go aside and test ourselves. Do you love your brother or not? If you don't, you're abiding in death. You're not even saved if you don't love your brother.
Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer. And ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he lay down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 J 3:15-16)I jotted this down. I thought you might want to know if the Lord wants you to go out and take your own life, or jump in front of a car and say this is for all the people who were in church tonight. Lay down your life for the brethren. The comment was made that we can give our time, our care, our labours, our prayers, our substance. Our lives ought not to be dearer than God's own Son felt His life was to Him. So that is a holiness point of view. To feel that we are willing to go the very end of ourselves for somebody else. That takes the love of Christ, the root springing up, the seed of love from God Himself springing up in our hearts to be able to do that. We can't do that on our own. And not even a scientist with forty years of study can help us do that.
I found a comment about this dear John, John that I am quoting from in the New Testament. This dear man that lived to be very old, Jerome says of him -- this account isn't in the Bible, but the historian Jerome says,
When the venerable John could no longer walk to meeting of the church, but was born thither by his disciples, he always uttered the same address to the church. He reminded them of that one commandment which he had received from Christ Himself, as comprising all the rest and forming the distinction of the new covenant. My little children, he would say, love one another. And when the brethren present asked why he repeated the same thing so often, he replied, "because it is the commandment of the Lord, and if this one thing be attained, it is enough.'
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Ga 6:2)What does it mean? How can we do that? We want to fulfill the law of Christ. I think perhaps, this little illustration will help us to come to some idea of this. It is said that Dr. Halbeck who was an English missionary in South Africa, stood on top of a hill one day looking down at the leper colony. He noticed two men who had leprosy out in the field. One had no legs, and one had no arms. The one who had legs picked the other one up on his back, and he in his hands picked up the bag of peas and they walked along the furrow planting peas. And the man with the arms held the bag, and he dropped the peas in the ground. And the man carrying him who had the feet walked along and covered the peas over with his feet.
And so, I believe in the New Testament
church the union of the members of Christ's body in which we are all the
members should have the same care one for another. And I believe in doing
this we lift up one another's heads.