A Time To Keep Silence

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens:… A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” – Ecclesiastes 3 v 1, 7

There are times in my life which are exceedingly dark. Times when I’ve so selfishly and unrelentingly catered to the flesh and neglected the things of God, that I’m brought to the point of utter misery. Sometimes God gives us what our flesh desires, to show us that it cannot ever satisfy, and eventually it becomes sickening. It was His way in response to the murmuring and weeping of the children of Israel in Numbers 11: “… and Jehovah will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Not one day shall ye eat, nor two days, not five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; but for a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils, and it becomes loathsome unto you; because that ye have despised Jehovah who is among you…” (v 18-20).

A moment of self-examination shows the same ungrateful flesh in me – the flesh which hankers after spiritual Egypt, and despises the spiritual manna. The flesh has no taste for Christ. I have to confess that all too often I’ve murmured inwardly against God’s blessed provisions. In Numbers 11 the culmination of God’s dealings is a righteous judgement of evil, unsparing and final, so that the place came to be called Kibroth-hattaavah, ‘graves of lust’. Thanks be to God that there’s One who is infinitely greater than Moses, making intercession on my behalf, a patron with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2 v 1) – One Who has borne the wrath I so richly deserve, made propitiation for sins.

Having been brought through one of these dark times of waywardness and neglect, it’s often my first instinct to get on my knees before God, to confess my sins, lament my weakness, beg the Spirit’s help, and to pour out all my misery. A right instinct, I should think, but sometimes it’s “a time to keep silence” in the presence of God. Sometimes He would say, “Enough. Now, you will listen to what I have to say to you.” After a time of distance and turning away, it’s a wonderful relief, having come to myself like the younger son (Luke 15 v 17), and repented, to simply spend a moment at the feet of the Lord and hear what He would teach me about what has happened. There is always a lesson to be learned in these incidents – often a deeply humbling one. Every failure of mine and the consequent discipline is part of my education. The failure is allowed, and the discipline administered, by a God and Father Who loves me far beyond my feeble ability to comprehend.

Some thoughts on the necessity of avoiding public contention

“And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle. And the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land. And Abram said to Lot, I pray thee let there be no contention between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen, for we are brethren.” – Genesis 13 v 7-8

There are so many fundamental lessons contained in the first book of the Bible – it’s often referred to as the ‘seed-plot’ of the scriptures.  I’ve been led increasingly by the Spirit of God into the appreciation of the treasures contained in Genesis. The scripture quoted above was discussed recently in one of our enquiries in the scriptures in the assembly setting.  There’s an important lesson in this for our day, and the conditions in which we find ourselves.

The events described in Genesis 13 will be familiar to most – Abram and Lot were journeying together, both had cattle, the land couldn’t support them (v 6), and contention and strife arose between Abram’s and Lot’s herdsmen.  Abram acts in wisdom to deal with the source of the strife, and, although the events which follow are both interesting and instructive to the believer, they’re perhaps best left for another discussion.

The Spirit of God, in inspiring the record of scripture, has ensured that every important detail was included.  Here, it’s recorded that “the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land.”  Sadly, we live in a time when there’s a good deal of strife between the people of God.  Real believers are mixed up with unbelievers in the systems and organisations of men throughout Christendom, which is utterly destructive to unity and in opposition to peace.  Among those who have come apart, separated themselves to the Name of the Lord (Matthew 18 v 20, 2 Timothy 2), and gone to Him “without the camp” (Hebrews 13 v 13), the devil is always active to disrupt – if he can – the unity the saints.  Strife and contention among brethren is something to be deeply regretted and it calls (speaking for myself first and foremost) for self-examination and judgement of anything that may have come in as the result of the activity of the flesh and the grieving of the Spirit.  Not only is it to be regretted, it’s often all too public in this age of the Internet.

When the world and the unbeliever – the Canaanite and Perizzite of our day – see contention and strife between the saints of the assembly, it can only be dishonouring to the Lord Jesus, whose assembly it is.  We have to admit, humbly and with deep, heartfelt sorrow, that the Church doesn’t subsist in the state of unspotted purity and outward unity on the earth which existed at the beginning.  The declension was quick – an apostle could write about the time in which he lived being “the last time” and that “even now there have come many antichrists, whence we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2 v 18).  Christendom is running to outright apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2 v 3) and the mystery of lawlessness was already at work in the time of the apostles (2 Thessalonians 2 v 7).  We have to admit all this, and acknowledge that there’s been a failure in responsibility for keeping these things out, and that we have our part in that failure.  And yet, what God has established will go through to eternity, untouched by every exertion of the enemy and every failure of man in responsibility.  Hades’ gates shall not prevail against the assembly which is of Christ’s building (Matthew 16 v 18).  However, this consideration (however comforting it is to the faithful believer) doesn’t absolve us of our current responsibility to “strengthen the things that remain” (Revelation 3:2).  How we do that is a large subject in itself, and one which can’t be done justice to in a short article.

It’s our duty, beloved brethren, not to ‘break ranks’ by engaging in public strife and contention with one another.  Speaking from my own experience, it’s a trap which is very easy to fall into.  An even-tempered discussion on a public forum can quickly turn into an acrimonious debate. We have to always keep in mind that troubles which have arisen among the people of God should be dealt with in a priestly way in the circle of the saints. The unbelieving world doesn’t share the divine valuation of things; the unbeliever, not having the Holy Spirit, isn’t able to see the preciousness of light as to the truth, the unity of the saints, or an expression of the assembly in a day of departure. The world would either be indifferent to or disdainful of what it would see as squabbling over things that are worthless, or it would actively try to interfere, causing even more confusion.

Where the activity of the enemy has introduced strife and contention amongst the brethren, there are divine resources to deal with it. If only (and I speak for myself) we would depend on those inexhaustible resources more often. In Genesis 13, Abram depends on the sovereignty of God – he wouldn’t choose the direction in which he should go. After Lot separates himself from him, Abram lifts up his eyes when invited to by God. You might say that vistas open up before him. He’s brought into the knowledge of the purposes of God. Thus, by taking up the matter privately with his brother, before God, not acting wilfully, walking by faith and not by sight, Abram proves divine blessing. May we all prove that abundant blessing.