Face to Face

Face to Face

“I hope to see you shortly and we shall speak face to face”

3 John 14 (see also 2 John 12)

Letters and emails are terribly impersonal and can often be misunderstood. The reader is inclined to read their own thoughts and circumstances into the letter received. It can also be difficult to convey a message clearly on the phone. John had a message for his readers that he did not want misunderstood so he wanted to speak to them face to face. There have been many times that I have gone out of my way to speak to someone face to face because I didn’t want to risk confusion that may arise from a letter.

As we read the Bible we observe that the Lord appeared to quite a few men face to face at times when He wanted to communicate important information. He appeared to Abraham on several occasions in the process of making and confirming the Covenant. Each time more information was given and/or affirmed. He also met with Jacob face to face before he was permitted to re-enter the Promised Land (Genesis 32:30).

Moses met the Lord face to face on several occasions beginning at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). He was the only one who could communicate with the Lord after Israel’s rebellion and he spoke with the Lord face to face (Exodus 33:11). Before the conquest of the Promised Land Joshua met the Lord face to face (Joshua 5:14) and so did Gideon prior to battle (Judges 6:22).

The Lord promised He would speak with Israel face to face when they are restored to the Promised Land (Ezekiel 20:35). When Jesus returns and establishes His earthly kingdom He will fulfil this (Ezekiel 39:28-29). Others saw visions of the Lord that caused them to fall on their faces before Him (e.g. Daniel 10:5-6).

Job knew that one day he would see the Lord face to face (Job 19:25-26). The apostle Paul had that expectation as well (1 Corinthians 13:12) and John confirms that all believers will see Jesus face to face (Revelation 22:4). When we have an important message for someone we prefer to give it face to face. The Lord speaks to us through His word, affirmed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, but to convey the Gospel to an unsaved person the Lord’s way is (generally) to send His messenger to speak face to face. This remains the most effective way. Jesus was the first such messenger; and if we are His, we are now His messengers.

Regular Tests

“Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them.” Judges 3:1

With each generation of Israel, the Lord sent a test to see “whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them …, or not” (Judges 2:22, cf. 3:4). Ever since God breathed life into Adam this has been the way of the Lord. No generation, Jew or Gentile, may live by the faith of their parents (although there are great advantages in having believing parents). Each person, each nation, each generation will be tested. The book of Judges records various groups in Israel being tested.

Chapter one of Judges reveals Israel’s failure to perform all that the Lord had commanded. It would appear that they failed because they lacked faith in the Lord and did not persevere in the task given. From God’s perspective we discover in Judges 2:20-3:4 that the Lord left the ungodly nations in order to test Israel.

The professing church is facing a similar test today. We are being tested by the ungodly to reveal whether we will hold fast to and obey the word of the Lord, or not (3:4). Testing is a good thing; without it many might go through life believing their eternal destiny was heaven when in fact it was not. I have heard many testimonies of people who had believed they were Christians but on hearing a faithful Gospel presentation discovered that they had been “Christian” in name only.

This current test is revealing a division among professing Christians; between those who believe God’s word and those who do not. The tares and the wheat are being exposed by their fruit in preparation for the harvest when a complete separation will be effected. Following that separation the Lord will remove His true Church from the earth in readiness for the outpouring of His wrath on the whole earth.

In His prayer the Lord prayed to the Father, “They were yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word,” “I have given them Your word” and “Sanctify them by Your Word” (John 17:6, 14, 17). That which separates true believers from merely professing believers is their faith in the words of Jesus expressed in their own words and actions. Those who deny the words of Jesus, and thereby call Him a liar, cannot possibly be His disciples.

Each generation must be tested to expose false profession and reveal the truly born of God. That is what we are observing today.

Faithful Witness

“When that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the lord or the work which He had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10

Each generation is born in sin and must come to faith in Christ or there will be a speedy turning away from knowing the Lord toward the world’s religions. This is evidenced in the book of Judges as well as in our modern world.

The attractions of the world’s religions are that they appeal to comfort, greed and pride (1 John 2:16). True Christianity often results in tribulation in this world and produces sacrifice and humility in the Christian as exemplified in Jesus Christ.

The experience of the church is not unlike the experience of Israel. Many parents are grieved because their children do not come to know the Lord and walk with Him. There may be several reasons why children do not choose to follow Jesus but in the verse quoted above the reason given is that the new generation did not know the history of God’s dealing with the nation. This is much more than just academic knowledge of history. It also includes acknowledging God’s hand in history.

In earlier years I attended churches where people regularly stood before the congregation and shared how they came to faith in Jesus Christ or some experience in their life where the Lord had intervened. This does not seem to be happening as often these days. So children may not hear of the ways in which the Lord has changed lives in earlier generations.

A biography or autobiography by someone not known personally are helpful but can only go so far. If our children have only known us as Christians we need to explain to them that it was not always so and share our spiritual path. A niece of mine was reluctant to accept that in my youth I was extremely selfish and self-centred because she has only known me as a Christian. From that point I was able to explain that it is Jesus Christ who is making a change in me. It helps her to understand why I follow Jesus.

As we read the earlier books in the Bible regarding Israel’s departure from Egypt and arrival in Canaan we observe many events and practices designed to teach and remind the people of how they made that journey. How will the next generation in our churches come to faith if they do not hear the testimony of previous generations? Yes, we share the Gospel of Christ with them but our own personal testimony will give great weight and help make it personal.

Paul wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:5). It is a church family responsibility and privilege to share testimony to the next generation, confirming the parents’ testimony, so that they may choose to follow Jesus. The faithful witness of parents and other Christians, of both the Gospel and personal testimony, will go a long way in helping a child choose Christ.

Passing the Baton

“When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10

Turning away from following the Lord was as sudden as one generation in Israel’s early history. We see this pattern repeated throughout the book of Judges and we can see it in our generations now. Why did Israel suffer such sudden changes and reversals in their faithfulness to the Lord? It was because Israel had not driven out all the inhabitants of the land as the Lord had commanded and those inhabitants turned Israel’s hearts to idolatry. “So the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and Asherahs” (3:7).

Like Israel, we live amidst people who serve false gods. They may not all realise it but they do. One thing for sure is that most people do not worship the One true God in Christ Jesus the Lord. The hearts of people in western countries have turned to worshipping man just as Satan lied to Eve. People no longer look to the Lord for deliverance; they look to the religion of man worship through politics and science. Strangely, each generation gets sucked into this lie even though history and our present world condition reveal this to be a futile hope. Their faith is misplaced in man and not in God.

The Bible teaches us that each generation is born into this world as sinners with the basic need of being born of God. Left to find out for ourselves we will always choose a false god. That is the nature of sin. We must be taught the truth by someone who knows the truth. Those who are ignorant of the truth can only pass on what they believe to be true but that will prove to be futile. We ought not to be surprised that so many people choose to end their lives when they see only pain with no hope of relief in the future. Jesus said that it is the knowledge of that which is true that will set us free from this kind of despair as we live in a fallen world (John 8:36).

In my lifetime I have observed a turning away from the Lord within the churches that has become more and more entrenched. With each passing generation many who call themselves Christian have sidelined the Word of God more and more. The very word of hope that has delivered many and is still able to deliver us from hopelessness and despair is dismissed as unimportant or even irrelevant (Romans 1:16-17). People put their own wisdom over the wisdom of God.

Many people have a veneer of Christianity but have not Christ. In some cases they are in positions of authority in the church. They want the benefits that Jesus brings with Him but they do not want Him. They are most effective in turning people away from the true Gospel. When tested by the world they reveal their departure from the Word of God by caving into the philosophies of sinful men and dismissing or rejecting the Word of God.

When sexual immorality threatened the church at Corinth Paul wrote in very strong words, “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:5). When we allow anything contrary to God’s Word to continue unaddressed among God’s people we are sowing the seed for destruction of the next generation. For the sake of our children and grandchildren we must resist the vain philosophies of men and cling to the Word of God and teach them the truth.

An Unpalatable Sandwich

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Judges 17:6 & 21:25

Twice this statement is made in the book of Judges. We might think it is for emphasis but that is not the main reason for the repetition. The two statements are like the two slices of bread of a sandwich and we should have a closer inspection of what lies between.

In between are two examples of the consequences of not having a faithful spiritual leadership and departing from the Word of God. Since Cain killed Abel men have been creating gods from their imagination. Not surprisingly this is one of the main teachings Jesus Christ and the New Testament writers address. Jesus Christ alone is the way to the Father. He said, “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Every person must make a choice whether to believe Jesus or not. The default position is that of not believing.

Micah (not the prophet) had a shrine in his home in which he placed an idol that he had made himself from his own imagination. This doesn’t seem much in all Israel but it led to the whole tribe of Dan following after the imaginary god behind the idol. Some consider that this is the reason why the tribe of Dan is not included among the twelve tribes that will evangelise the world during the seven year Tribulation to come (Revelation 7:5-­8). In the place of Dan, Joseph receives the double portion through Ephraim and Manasseh. This appears to be what Jacob meant when he said “And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine” (Genesis 48:5).

Secondly, the city of Gibeah had turned the way of Sodom. God had utterly destroyed Sodom and its surrounds because of their wickedness (Genesis 18 & 19). Gibeah was a city of the tribe of Benjamin. The circumstances surrounding this revelation in the Bible reveal that there was no godliness in Gibeah. So what? That is just one city. However the whole tribe of Benjamin supported Gibeah against the rest of Israel who had come to cleanse the nation by destroying the wickedness in Gibeah. As a result of this support almost the whole tribe of Benjamin was wiped out. The lesson to us is that we must not identify with or support ungodly groups even if they have close family ties. If we do we can expect to share in God’s enmity with them.

In the prophetical Scriptures we discover that this is a pattern that will continue until Jesus Christ returns to the earth to rule. Our world is like Israel was in those days. Indeed, everyone is doing what seems right to them, “what is right in their own eyes.”

Unless God is our King mankind will go the way of Sodom, Dan and Gibeah. This we can easily observe today “but God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s actions against ungodly people are not His final judgment but a call to repentance.

All Our Ways

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

Like many proverbs this is another that has been committed to memory and given some measure of acceptance and application in the lives of Christians. Anyone who meditates on it and considers the ramifications of such a proverb will of necessity be greatly shaken.

The very nature of the proverb informs us that we will not believe the proverb. After all, our human logic and reason always appears right to us so we will act in accordance with what seems right. “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes” (Proverbs 16:2) and “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (21:2). This may be why most people, if asked if they are a good or bad person, will respond by saying they are good. It is because they generally live according to their own conscience of what they believe is right and wrong. These proverbs affirm that they are not deliberately lying. This was evident in the history of Israel and is revealed in the book of Judges (17:6; 21:25).

Those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ probably think these proverbs don’t have as much application to us but that would be a huge error. How often do we go ahead and do what seems right to us without ever checking with the Lord or His word? We do this far more often than we realise or are willing to admit. We are inclined to go to Him only when we are unsure or we consider it a “big” matter instead of in all our ways (3:6)

“The way of death” is not bodily death but death to our intimate fellowship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In view of the magnitude of the two opposing ways, death or life, we would profit greatly by honest reflection on what is the prime influence in our lives with regard to the things we say and do.

Another proverb says, “A fool rages and is self-confident” (v 16) showing the folly of one who ignores his fallen state and corrupt logic and reason. There are many who brandish this attitude in our world today and reject the verdict of the only One who is able to search the hearts of people and He Himself is the measure.

Without a source of understanding and wisdom we have no measure. We are not left without resource. There is another proverb that includes these words, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6). God and His word are the only resource that will reveal the right way. Anything that comes from man without confidence and dependence in God and His word will lead to death and not life.