Living on Different Levels 

 

- There are different levels of fellowship; as we actually know from our own experience. There are some we are 'in fellowship' with whom we don't feel so close to as others. John says that he wanted to declare to them the depths of the understanding of Christ, " that ye also may have fellowship with us" (1 Jn. 1:3), even though they were already technically 'in fellowship'. And so it is with our communal life. A close binding together in the depths and heights of the Lord Jesus leads to ever higher experiences of fellowship. It may be that there are even different levels of fellowship between men and God. Thus God’s original intention was that His presence in the Angel should go up to Canaan in the midst of Israel; but because of their weakness, He went in front of them, somewhat separate from them (Ex. 33:2,3). Likewise the glory of God progressively distanced itself from the temple and people of God in Ezekiel’s time.

- The Lord's comment that "If thy brother shall trespass against thee" (Mt. 18:15) then one could take the matter to the church was immediately picked up by Peter when he asked: "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?" (Mt. 18:21). The Lord's reply was that Peter should forgive his brother to an unlimited extent, each and every day. It seems to me that the Lord was saying that the 'one-two-out' attitude which He had just described was very much the lower level of response; He wished His followers to take the higher level, of unconditional forgiveness. Indeed, the whole passage where He speaks about going to see your brother and then telling the church is wedged in between His teachings about grace and forgiveness. It's so out of place that one wonders whether He wasn't saying it very tongue in cheek, perhaps in ironic allusion to the synagogue discipline methods. At the very least, He seems to intend the contrast between His surrounding words and those about 'one-two-out' to sink in, to the point that we realize, as He told Peter, that there is indeed a higher way. 

- There are degrees of sin. Paul seems to reason that sexual sin involving the body of God’s creation is especially culpable. Num. 32:14 speaks of ‘augmenting yet the fierce anger of the Lord’ by premeditated sin, as  if there is a scale of offence to God. 

- There will be different degrees of reward in the Kingdom. Are these not a reflection of the different levels which men have served God on in this life? One star will shine brighter than another; one will rule over five cities, another over two. There is entry into the Kingdom, and an ‘abundant’ entry (2 Pet. 1:11).

- It seems that the record is prepared to accept that some achieved a valid faith in Jesus, even though they didn’t confess Him (Jn. 12:42). And yet there are abundant reasons for understanding that unless we witness to our faith, it isn’t a faith that’s worth much. And yet the record still accounts these who didn’t testify as they ought to have done as ‘believers’. This is a comfort for us in those times when we know we chose a far lower level than we should have done, and simply kept quiet about the wondrous hope within us.

- It would have been no sin for Ezra to ask for an armed guard to escort him back to Judah from Babylon. But he chose not to, because he wanted to show the power of God’s saving arm to the Gentile world through which he would pass, as well as to the Babylonians (Ezra 8:22). In other words, the concept of living on different levels inspires spiritual ambition, of which we have written elsewhere in these studies.

- There are many links between 1 Thess. 4,5 and Mat. 24,25. The wise virgins slumbered and were sleeping at the time of the Lord’s return. Paul matches this by saying that the unworthy will be slumbering and we ought to be awake and watching at the time of the Lord’s return. And yet, the parable teaches that those slumbering wise girls will be accepted. This is a glaring paradox within the Lord’s own teaching- for had He not taught that the faithful servants will be awake and watching when their Lord returns? Yet the paradox is there to flag a major message- that even though the last generation of believers may well not be ready and watching as they should be, their humble recognition of the very likelihood of their oil running out would be their saving grace. And within 1 Thess. 5:6-10 this same paradox is brought out: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake [s.w. watch] or sleep, we should live together with him”. The same Greek words are italicized. The contrast is between those who watch and those who sleep. And yet Christ died to save both those who watch / are awake, and those who sleep, as the ‘wise’ virgins slept when they ought not to have done. Both those who watch and those who sleep [after the humble pattern of the wise virgins] will be saved due to the fact that Christ died to save sinners, to save the sleepy as well as the more lively- if they are truly and humbly in Him. Likewise the Lord’s parables generally include two types- the self-righteous rejected, and the accepted, who have something spiritually the matter with them. They either enter the Kingdom with splinters in their spiritual vision / perception, or are totally blinded by planks in their vision and will be rejected.

- The Lord seemed to accept that men would live His Truth on different levels. He told the people concerning John: " If ye will receive it, this is Elias" (Mt. 11:14). It's as if He wasn't sure whether they could rise up to the level of realizing that Malachi's prophecy had a primary fulfilment in John, notwithstanding its evidently future application. And John records that some Jews believed, although they didn’t confess Jesus as Lord openly (Jn. 12:42). It took the crisis of the cross to bring them up to a higher level.

- The Jews could have taken the spoil of those whom they killed at Purim. But they didn’t, thereby chosing a higher level (Esther 8:11; 9:10).

- When "the children of Joseph" complained that they didn't have enough territory, Joshua could've told them to go and drive out Canaanites and take their territory- this was clearly God's ideal intention. Instead, Joshua said they could go to some virgin forest and cut down trees to provide more territory for themselves (Josh. 17:15).

- The structure of the law of Moses seemed to almost encourage this idea of serving God on different levels. After much study of it, the Rabbis concluded that there was within it “a distinction between holy and holy just as much as there is between holy and profane”. Take the uncleanness laws. They basically said: 'Don't touch an unclean animal. If you do, there's a penalty. If you carry the carcass, there's a more serious penalty. And if you carry the carcass home and eat it, there's something more serious (Lev. 11). The highest ideal was not to touch the unclean thing. But there were concessions to weakness for those who either couldn't or wouldn't make the effort to attain the highest level of response to the will of God. Another example of different levels of service is in the legislation about Levites. They could choose to go and serve at Jerusalem, and therefore sell their possession of land which they had in the local area (Dt. 18:6-8). By doing this, a number of principles were broken, in order that the highest level- serving Yahweh in the temple- might be achieved.

- God told Israel that He wanted altars made of earth; but He knew they would want to make altars of stone like the other nations, and He made allowance for this (Ex. 20:24,25). The Law has several examples of this living on different levels. " Ye shall let nothing of (the Passover) remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire" (Ex. 12:10) is an evident example. God foresaw their disobedience to His stated principle, and made a concession and provision. Or take the Law’s ruling about tithes: “...neither shall he change it: and if he change it...” (Lev. 27:33).

- When the Lord Jesus gave His commandments as an elaboration of Moses' Law, that Law was still in force. He didn't say 'When I'm dead, this is how you should behave...'. He was showing us a higher level; but in the interim period until the Law was taken out of the way, He was opening up the choice of taking that higher level, even though making use of the concessions which Moses offered would not have been a sin during that period. Thus He spoke of not insisting on " an eye for an eye" ; even though in certain cases the Law did allow for this. He was saying: 'You can keep Moses' Law, and take an eye for an eye. But there is a higher level: to simply forgive'.

- Likewise Paul taught his hopeless Corinthians that they ought not to be taking each other to court in the world, but rather should get brethren to settle disputes between brethren. But then he offers the higher level: don’t even do this,  but “rather take wrong...rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded” (1 Cor. 6:7).

- The Lord's teaching about judging does not in fact say that the act of condemning our brother is in itself a sin- it's simply that we must cast out the beam from our own eye first, and then we can judge our brother by pointing out to him the splinter in his eye. But the Lord tells us not to judge because He foresaw that we would never completely throw out the beam from our own eye. His command not to judge /  condemn at all was therefore in this sense a concession to our inevitable weakness (Mt. 7:1-5).

- The Lord Jesus could’ve called upon legions of Angels to help Him; but He chose not to (Mt. 26:53); He could have taken power there and then in His ministry and declared Himself King- but He walked off to the hills instead (Jn. 6:15). In these examples we see what we could call a renunciation of power. Time and again we are called upon to decide whether we will renounce what power we have, or use it or abuse it for our own selfish ends. A parent faces this issue so often with a young child. The parent has more power; but how and for what reasons should she / he use that power? We can use ‘power’ in many ways in the trivia of daily life; but actually in most of those micro level decisions we are challenged with a choice as to what level of spirituality and unselfishness we are going to show.

- God had prophesied that He would restore Jerusalem at the time of the return from Babylon, and would be " unto her a wall of fire round about" (Zech. 2:5). Therefore Nehemiah's rebuilding of a physical wall for defence can be seen as taking a lower level of faith, living on a lower level; and yet God worked with him in this, putting the idea into his heart and strengthening him in the work (Neh. 2:12,18,20).

- We are presented with the possibility of being " slow to wrath" , being angry, and yet not sinning. However, these passages are both in the context of warnings against the wrath of man (James 1:19-21; Eph. 5:26). Surely the point is, that 'righteous anger' is not in itself wrong (witness the Lord's anger in the temple); but whilst this is allowable for us, the more sensible level for us frailer men is not to be angry at all.

- According to 1 Chron. 21:5, there were 1,100,000 “men that drew sword” in Israel. According to 2 Sam. 24:9, there were 800,000 “valiant men” in Israel, according to the same census. There is no contradiction- rather the Samuel record is perceiving that there was a higher level of commitment, as. There were the enthusiasts, and those who merely could draw a sword. They were all living on different levels.

- " Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Lev. 19:18). But they could avenge, and provisions were made for their human desire to do so (Num. 35:12; Dt. 19:6). These provisions must also be seen as a modification of the command not to murder. The highest level was not to avenge; but for the harshness of men's hearts, a concession was made in some cases, and on God's prerogative. We have no right to assume that prerogative.

- It was forbidden by the Law to keep a man’s outer garment overnight (Ex. 22:26,27). But the Lord taught whilst the law was still in operation that we should be willing to give it up, and even offer it (Mt. 5:40). The threatened man could have quoted the Law and kept his clothing. But the Lord bids us go to a higher level, beyond using God’s law to uphold our own rights. And in this He raises a vital if difficult principle: Don’t always enforce what Biblical rights you have against your brother. Don’t rush to your own defence and justification even if Scripture is on your side. Live on the level of true love and non-resistance to evil.

- We get the impression that God was very strict about the offerings. He was. But He made concession to the man who couldn't bring what he ought to: " If he be poor, and cannot get much...two young pigeons, such as he is able to get" (Lev. 14:22). If they were blemished in some way, and even though they were not the animal God desired, God would accept such as the man was able to get. Likewise the offerings had to involve the shedding of blood; but God was prepared to accept a food offering if a man really couldn't get an animal. The eagerness of God to accept what a man can do rather than the insistence on legal principles really comes over. He recognized the Israelites would be living on different levels. Such an eagerness involved accepting a lower standard of adherence to God's ideal principles. In harmony with this, the Passover ‘lamb’ could be either a sheep, or if necessary, a goat (Ex. 12:5), even though the use of a goat would somewhat spoil the foreshadowing of Christ.

- In the face of sin amongst His people, there are levels of God's withdrawal of His presence. The way the glory progressively departed from the temple as recounted in Ezekiel is a graphic illustration of this. Under the Law, Aaron initially could come at will within the Most Holy. But after the blasphemy of his sons, apparently for being drunk on duty, he was only allowed to come once per year, and only after an elaborate ritual emphasizing human sinfulness (Lev. 16:2 ff.). Likewise it seems that God's original intention was that the Angel of the presence should travel in the midst of Israel in the wilderness. But after the golden calf apostasy, God announced that He was still with Israel, but His Angel would " go before thee...for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiff-necked people: lest I consume thee in the way" (Ex. 33:2,3).

- The slayer of innocent blood was to be slain without pity: " thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee" (Dt. 19:13). But David seems to have stepped up to a higher level when he told the woman of Tekoah that he would protect her son from revenge murder, after he had slain another man (2 Sam. 14:8-10). The woman pointed out that if her son was slain, the inheritance would be lost in her husband's name. Here was a case where two principles seemed to be at variance: the need to slay the guilty, and the need to preserve the inheritance. The higher level was to forgive the slayer of innocent blood, even though the Law categorically stated that he should be slain.

- Elisha with the eye of faith knew that the mountain was full of invisible Angels, ministering for him as he did God's will. But his servant didn't have such faith. And therefore " Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw" the Angels. But Elisha didn't ask this for himself. He could have done. But he chose the higher level. The Lord in His final agony did this time and again (see Study 7.11).

- There are several examples in the NT of where Paul could have taken a certain course of action, or insisted on acceptance of a certain doctrinal position, knowing that Truth was on his side. But he didn't. Thus the council of Jerusalem established that Gentiles didn't need to be circumcised, but straight afterwards Paul circumcised Timothy in Lystra out of consideration to the feelings of the Jewish believers (Acts 16:1-3). He could have stood on his rights, and on the clear spiritual principles involved. But he stepped down to the lower level of other believers (e.g. by keeping some of the redundant Jewish feasts), he made himself all things to all men that he might try to save some,  and by so doing stepped up to the higher level in his own spirituality.

- God wanted to speak directly with Israel at Sinai; and yet they urged Moses personally to go and hear what God wished to say, and tell them about it: "Go thou [you singular] near and hear" (Dt. 5:23,27). Moses urged them not to fear, and told them that this was all a test from God for them (Ex. 20:20). But they didn't rise to it. Yet God accepted this lower level, so did He wish to communicate with them. And He used Moses as a mediator through whom He spoke His word to His people.

- Paul could have taken wages from the Corinthians for his service. But on that occasion he chose “not to use to the full my right in the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:18 RV); and he uses the same word in 1 Cor. 7:31, in teaching that although we have to ‘use this world’ we are to ‘use it to the full’ (RVmg.). As God operates with us on different levels, accepting non-ideal situations, so we are to deal with each other. Paul could have used his power in the Gospel more sharply than he actually did with the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13:10)- and note how he earlier uses those two words "power" and "use" in saying that he could have demanded financial support from them, but he chose not to use that power / authority which he had (1 Cor. 9:12).

God works like this because He is prepared to accept that different people will make something different of His Truth. The parable of the sower shows that; the " good ground" brings forth 30, 60 or 100 fold. Some believers respond three times as actively to the Gospel as others; yet they will all be accepted at the end. I see a connection between this parable and Christ's words to the rich, righteous young man: '" If thou wilt be perfect..." sell what you've got; and then you'll receive 100 fold in this life, and eternal life in the Kingdom' (Mt. 19:12,21). Presumably, that man at that time was (say) in the 30 or 60 fold category. Christ wanted him in the 100 fold category. But if that man didn't sell all that he had, it doesn't necessarily mean that Christ would have rejected him ultimately. In this context, He says: " Many that are first (in this life) will be last (least- in the Kingdom); and the last shall be first" (Mt. 19:30). Those who don't sell all that they have will be in the Kingdom, but least in it. The poor of his world, rich in faith, will be great in the Kingdom (James 2:5). We need to ask ourselves whether we really accept the parable of the sower; whether we are strong enough to let another brother be weak, to accept that even if he's in the 30 fold category, he's still acceptable to his Lord, just living on a different level. Indeed, it isn't for us to go very deeply at all into how exactly Christ sees others; because we can't know. The point to note is that God wants us to rise up the levels of commitment. Paul was persuaded that the Romans were “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge”, but he prayed they would be filled yet further (Rom. 15:13,14).