Walking in the Light
This daily walk in the Spirit is not merely a matter of continuous fellowship with God. It is also with one another. To abide in Christ is to be at one with the body as well as the Head. There is the horizontal relationship, as we saw, as well as the vertical. Indeed, the former is the acid test of the reality of the latter.
John makes that plain when he says that our righteousness among men is the proof of our righteousness before God (3:7); and our love for our brother of our love toward God (4:20); and our testimony before men of our faith in God (4:15). In every case the visible horizontal is the practical demonstration of the unseen vertical.
So John says, “If we walk in the light we have fellowship one with another.” Now we have seen that this walk demands quick recognition of sin, followed by confession and cleansing. But this also means that when the sin has affected a brother, the confession must include him. That is really obvious, and we but mention it in passing. A repentance before God which said, “To You I confess, but not to my brother” needs no comment on its unreality.
David called repentance “brokenness.” That leaves no place for establishing my own righteousness. Down I go before God, and before man where necessary. A bent tree can spring into place again, a broken one cannot. That is repentance. This is no light challenge to face, for so many sins I commit affect my neighbor: an untruth, irritability, harsh criticism, stress and strain, an unquiet spirit, even the heaviness of unbelief, affect home, church or business. I must be ready to confess, and under God’s guidance will often do so. Yet confession to man should be under His guidance. Satan can whip God’s saints and drive them from behind to unwise action, whereas the Spirit gently leads and goes before. There are times when confession can do more harm than good. There are earnest folks who embarrass by their constant references to their failures. I must be truly willing. That is the point. The rest we can leave to God.
But fellowship in the light includes more than confession to a brother. It includes testimony one to the other. Confessing with the mouth of the Lord Jesus, as Paul commands us to do. The emphasis then is not so much on the thing that needed cleansing in our daily walk, although that has to be mentioned, as in the cleansing received and the joy that followed. This is almost an atrophied limb in our church life, with a consequent limp in our fellowship. In early Methodism the weekly class meeting was used for this purpose as the most vital method of keeping the congregations walking close to the Lord and to one another. Each member was required to tell of his week’s progress, sins, temptations, and victories. There are those in various parts of the world today who maintain this form of open fellowship, and prove how richly the Spirit seals it.
To confess with the mouth is a principle of living faith, and it is meant to be the natural habit of the believer to tell of the Lord’s daily dealings with him, both in fellowship meetings and in the normal contacts of life. Confession to those against whom we sin is an obligation: testimony is a continual privilege. Some of its important effects are worth noting.
It always magnifies Christ and gives glory to the precious blood, when we tell of its power in our lives, and give the homely details. At fellowship meetings of this kind there is a constant stream of praise ascending to the Throne, as one after another tells of up-to-date experience. But it needs to be down-to-earth testimony with the practical details both of the failure and victory. Vague generalities have little life in them.
Bringing into the light the Lord’s dealing with me over a particular sin sensitizes me to that sin, and indeed to sin in general, as nothing else can. It is the fulfilment of the law of faith that, when we confess a thing with our mouth, it stands before us in its stark reality: we see it in clear outline as never before.
Those who have begun to learn this way of open fellowship find they become sin-sensitive and thus can quickly be cleansed. They discover why they were so often in bondage and heaviness of spirit for no apparent reason. Sin always binds and usually blinds. Formerly when we sinned, we often did not recognize it was a sin, yet it bound us. “Whoever commits a sin is a slave to that sin” (John 8:34). Now by a quicker recognition, there is a quicker appropriation of the blood and a quicker deliverance. That is a direct result of learning to walk in the light with one’s brethren.
Walking in the light helps me to keep free and honest. All too easily I slip into unreality, appearing before others better than I really am. I become a partial hypocrite. Jesus gave special warning against that subtle leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, adding that most striking summons to openness, “For there is nothing covered which shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be made known.” It is all coming out one day. Better the small blush now, than the big blush later on! Better the burnings of a purging humiliation now, than to have all burned up that day!
Then, only true openness brings heart into true unison with heart. When barriers are really down, and fellowship has gone below the surface to where we are living our daily lives and meeting our daily temptations, there is a sense of brotherhood and understanding nothing else can give. Such fellowship in the light, costly though it is, gives us all a new understanding of one easily missed truth–that He fashioned our hearts alike, and that we are all men of like passions. One of the devil’s commonest lies to us is that I am the only person who would do or think such a thing. If my brethren knew, wouldn’t they be horrified! And I am shut up in a prison of secret shame, and maybe struggle against some temptation which I imagine assaults no one as it does me. But when we walk in the light, how different we find it to be! We are all alike. There is level ground at the foot of the cross. Like temptations come to all of us, and we all need the same cleansing blood. Here we find unity indeed. Not in some artificial attempt to claim some special standard of spirituality, but as fellow sinners all rejoicing daily in the same Saviour.
In this lies the humanity of the Bible biographies. We can understand these men because they were like us. It was actually said of both Elijah and Paul that they were men “subject to like passions as we are.” We know all the intimate failures of these men. How Sarah persuaded Abram to take Hagar; how Moses disobeyed God; how Jonah ran away; what the still small voice said to Elijah when he had fled from Jezebel; and even what Satan said to Christ on the mount of temptation. How do we know these things? The answer is obvious. Those who experienced them must have told them. The walls were down in those days!
Then again, one of the weakest links in the believer’s witness is disunity. Christ foresaw that when He made it one of His last two commands that we should love one another, and when it was the chief petition of His last prayer. In families, between husband and wife, parents and children, in congregations between individual believers, and between sections of the assembly, we all know our constant failures. Walking in the light is the solution for this. Disunity manifests itself in me by a hardness in my heart towards a brother. I may feel I am justified, and I may really be so: I may have strong and rightful differences of opinion: I may have dislikes founded on mannerisms, on personality quirks, or on more serious manifestations of the flesh. But my hardness is sin, when I am told to have perfect love, to love as He loved me. The only primary solution to such constantly arising fellowship problems is for me to walk in the light. When I learn to face my hardness as sin and, if so led, to admit it to my brother, I am paving the way to a meeting place at Calvary.
Whenever I see faults in my brother as something bigger than the fact of Christ in him, I am sinning. When my eye is single, it is full of light. In looking on my brother, my eye is single, when I am seeing Christ in him, and only then. In God’s sight that is all He sees, for “by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” My eye is evil when it is so fixed on faults and failings in my brother that they obscure my clear sight of Christ in him. And how easy it is to do that! It is the beam in my eye which hinders me from taking out the mote from my brother’s eye. Motes are there (as also in me), but they are fiddling compared to my sin in making more of them than Christ in him. He is the apple of Christ’s eye! Let me therefore get my sin out of the way, by confession and cleansing, and if led, by confession to my brother. Then let me renew my faith in the One within him who is busy conforming Him to His perfect image. That is perfect love. It is not blindness concerning those motes, but it is clear-sighted faith and love. It surrounds the brother with love, and contributes a living faith to the fact of a transforming work of the Spirit going on in him. That is the difference between criticism and discernment. Criticism sees the flesh or devil in a brother. It tears down and condemns. It has self-superiority at its roots. Discernment sees Christ in a brother. It edifies. It combines loving appreciation of the present with hope for the future. If I do that, I am fulfilling the love commandment, so far as in me lies, and demonstrating the unity of the Spirit.
Such are some reasons for the horizontal walk in the light, as well as the vertical. We are not under the law. We are not bound or commanded at set occasions to bear testimony one to another, or in our gatherings. We are led by the Spirit, and He will show the right occasions and right things to say. There may be times for restraint or silence: times when such a testimony might merely be misunderstood or hurt the hearers: some things that might be unseemly or embarrassing. But if there is a ready heart, understanding and accepting both our privilege and duty to walk in the light with our brethren, God will guide aright.
O One other aspect of fellowship in the light is mutual exhortation. Twice over in the letter to the Hebrews we are told to “exhort one another,” with particular reference to the danger of unrecognized backsliding. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” And when we are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, it is again “to exhort one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.” We are to help each other to the highest. But we at once recognize the dangers and difficulties of such reciprocal challenging. On the one hand we could do it in a wrong spirit, as a form of retaliation, to put a person right, to give them what we think they deserve. We can be certain that no one is in a position to challenge another on something in their lives or attitudes, who is not equally ready to receive a challenge themselves. Only those who readily and continually “break” and admit their own sins, are in a place to point out those of others. On the other hand, it is truly costly to be faithful to a brother. It is much more comfortable to pass things by, say nothing, and thus not risk disturbing the peace. A challenge may not always be accepted in the spirit in which it is intended. It is costly to give, costly to receive.