(The following is the latest installment in our series of articles drawn from Pastor Stam’s classic work on True Spirituality. Since this book never appeared as a series in the Searchlight, many of even our long-time readers may not be familiar with these selections.)
THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WILL
“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9).
Every truly spiritual believer will heartily desire to know and do the will of God, and as we write the above passage again we pray earnestly for our readers, as Paul did for his, that they may indeed be filled with the knowledge of the will of God, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.
We must be prepared, however, to expect that “the heart,” which by nature is “deceitful above all things,” and “the father of lies,” who appears as “an angel of light,” will both be ready to offer “attractive” substitutes for the true knowledge of God’s will. Here we can find safety only in depending upon what God Himself says on the subject.
It is just because believers so often fail to recognize the realm of Satan’s activities and the deceitfulness of their own hearts that they are constantly “tossed to and fro,” not certain whether or not they are truly in the will of God.
For one thing, self-occupation enters entirely too much into the average Christian’s desire to know God’s will. The vast majority of believers, reading the passage quoted above, think only in terms of God’s will for their lives in their particular circumstances.
A young Christian asks: “What is God’s will for my life? Should I go into the ministry or become a missionary? If the latter, should I go to China, Africa or India? Or, would God have me stay in business and help to finance His work? But while the young man is so concerned about God’s will for the details of his life, he is woefully ignorant of God’s will, i.e., what is it He wants done. The emphasis is upon himself rather than upon God and His great plan for the present dispensation.
What would be thought of the soldier in the army who was constantly concerned about the details of his life, wondering whether or not his commanding officer would approve, while indifferent to the great objectives which his commanding officer had outlined for the progress of the battle?
Those who would truly know and do the will of God should learn first that such passages as the above do not refer to God’s will in a given situation but to God’s purpose and program as revealed through the Apostle Paul by the glorified Lord, and that He rightly holds us responsible to learn what this is.
At Paul’s conversion the Lord sent Ananias to tell him:
“…The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know His will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of His mouth.
“For thou shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard” (Acts 22:14,15).
That the revelation of God’s will to and through Paul involved more than God’s will concerning his life is evident from Paul’s own writings about it. We cite here several passages as confirmation of this fact:
“[Christ] gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world [Gr., age] according to the will of God and our Father” (Gal. 1:4).
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5).
“Having made known unto us the mystery [secret] of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself” (Eph. 1:9).
“In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11).
In connection with God’s having made known “the mystery of His will,” the apostle emphatically states: “By revelation He made known unto me the mystery” and calls this mystery “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:1-3).
Such passages as Colossians 1:9, then, refer not to God’s will in a given situation, but to His long-hidden purpose and program as revealed in the epistles of Paul. Briefly, it may be outlined as follows:
When Israel had rejected the risen, glorified Christ, joining the Gentiles in rebellion against God; when sin had risen to its height and all was ready, prophetically, for the outpouring of God’s wrath upon this wicked world, God intervened, saving Paul and sending him forth with “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). “And that He might reconcile both [Jews and Gentiles] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Eph. 2:16). This body, not to be confused with the kingdom to be established on earth, enjoys a heavenly position, heavenly blessings and a heavenly prospect (Phil. 3:20; Eph. 1:3; Col. 1:5).
This, basically, is the great message Paul labored so earnestly and suffered so willingly to make known, asking prayers for an open mouth and open doors to proclaim it, and open hearts to receive it (Eph. 1:15-23; 6:18,19; Col. 4:3).
Should the reader ask: What is God’s will for my life? We would reply immediately: God’s will for your life is that you obey II Timothy 2:15 to obtain a clear understanding and deep convictions as to His will for the present dispensation, and then to obey it. Then the details will naturally fall into their proper places and assume their proper proportions.
A fine, faithful young Christian once asked the author about a change which was taking place in her prayer life. “I used to pray,” she said, “about so many little things: my position, my salary, my health and even the smallest details of my life. Now I find I don’t spend much time with these things. Oh, I do pray all the time, though, about this wonderful message of grace, and that the Lord will help me present it clearly and faithfully!” We answered: “Now you are getting to be a full general in God’s army!”
As the general naturally has a larger outlook and is concerned about more important matters than the soldier of lower rank, so the believer who makes progress as “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” naturally becomes less and less occupied with the lesser circumstances of life and more and more occupied with the great overall objective.
The majority of God’s people seem to think that God’s will should accommodate itself to their fluctuating experience. When, in the depths of despair, they do not know where to turn, they cry to the Lord to show them His will. When on the mountain top, called upon, perhaps, to choose between two attractive alternatives, they ask the Lord again to show them His will, thusBut all the while they neglect to inquire as to His objective, or to learn how they may fit into His plan and purpose, so clearly defined for us in the Pauline epistles. This plan—the will of God for the present dispensation—runs straight as an arrow, and we must conform ourselves to it, thus:
It is true that God is interested in whatever concerns us and that He would have us look to Him in any detail in which we may need help or guidance, but let us put the emphasis where it belongs. If a man is ignorant of the will and purpose of God, what good to inquire whether he should go to Africa or China for service? He may do as much harm as good wherever he goes. On the other hand, one who does have an intelligent understanding of the will of God and has been gripped by it will have little danger of remaining unused in the Lord’s service.
If we would be in the center of the will of God, then, we must come to a knowledge and appreciation of the great secret revealed through Paul for us today. This alone can give us a true sense of our place in His program, broadening and balancing our spiritual experience.
In seeking to determine God’s will in the particular circumstances of life, the truly spiritual believer will pay little heed to the very things which others deem decisive. He will not depend upon “getting the mind of God through prayer,” hoping for “inner promptings” (not “a voice” but “an impression” as one writer on “spirituality” put it). Nor will he go to “the promise box”1 or flip his Bible open at random to learn God’s will.
He will look for guidance in answer to prayer, to be sure, but this by using his God-given faculties in the light of the written Word, rightly divided.
God has given us hands to work with, hearts to love with and minds to think with, and He expects us to use them all to His glory. Hence, in any given situation we should use the common sense He has given us, in the light of His Word. True, there may be places so dark that we will not even know what to pray for, for it is still true that “we know not what we should pray for as we ought,” but it is in this very connection that the apostle explains that the Holy Spirit “maketh intercession for the saints ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD,” and the most perplexing problems need not lead us one step out of God’s will, since He will work all out for us (See Rom. 8:26-28).
THE CALL TO THE MINISTRY
This holds good even with regard to calls to special service for Christ, whether to the pastorate, the mission field or any other branch of the work.
The truly spiritual child of God will not look for, nor depend upon, some overwhelming emotion as an indication that God has called him to the ministry. Much less will he expect a “Macedonian vision,” for he will have learned that Paul’s call to Macedonia is the last such call recorded in Scripture, and that it belonged with the signs of a past dispensation.
First, all believers are called to make known “the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery” and the written Word of God together with the appalling need all about us constitute an urgent call to this ministry.
All are not meant to minister in the same capacity, however. Some may accomplish much more for Christ in business than they could as pastors or missionaries. Here the particular qualifications of the individual and the particular ministry to which he is best suited are involved.
There is no room for superstition in matters so important. It is rather for each individual to ask God for light from the Word and for wisdom to consider the need, the circumstances and his own talents objectively, praying for an open door to that field of service where he may accomplish most for his Lord.
THE IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING THE WILL OF THE LORD
The infinite importance of understanding God’s will may be better appreciated if we consider that we are now living in the tense moments between man’s declaration of war on God and God’s counter-declaration of war on man, so that there is no time to lose in winning men to Christ.
After Pentecost, Israel, instead of repenting, joined the Gentiles in their rebellion. They “set themselves…against the Lord, and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Psa. 2:2,3). In a word, they declared war on God and His Christ (See also Acts 4:26,27; 8:1,3). In reply God will “speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure” (Psa. 2:5) will “make [His] enemies [His] footstool” (Psa. 110:1) and, in a word, make a counter-declaration of war on them (Cf. Rev. 19:11).
As we have seen, however, the prophetic program was interrupted just when the judgment was about to fall and “the dispensation of the grace of God” was ushered in, under which reconciliation is offered to all men by grace through faith in Christ and His merits.
But how long will this dispensation of His longsuffering last? When will it close? No man knows, for not one more day’s delay has been promised, nor has one specific sign been given to indicate the time of its consummation. Hence the apostle begs the unsaved not to receive the grace of God in vain, counselling them: “Behold, NOW is the accepted time; Behold, NOW is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2). And to the saved he says:
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
“Redeeming [Lit., buying up] the time, because the days are evil.
“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15-17).
In the light of all this, how we should pray for ourselves and our fellow-believers “that [we] may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God”! (Col. 4:12).
- If for no other reason, simply because he would thus limit God to the particular passages which the box happened to contain!