Thus far we have looked at ourselves through the titles – “disciples,” “saints” and “brethren.” I have been trying, in these three messages, to distinguish between titles and descriptions. There may be a fine line between these two, and I’m sure to cross it from time to time. In fact sometimes the titles are clear descriptions anyway. The Bible often calls God’s people names or titles which carry with them God-designed meanings. When my parents called me “David,” I doubt that they were thinking that the original Biblical meaning of my name meant “beloved.” To them it was just a name which they liked. But when God oversaw the naming of Jesse’s last little boy, it was with a purpose. I hope you’ve seen that in our Biblical titles there are ideals to which we are supposed to strive. A “saint” is not just one of a special group of glorified people, standing closer to the throne of God than the more lowly Heavenly residents. A “saint” is supposed to live and reflect the fact that while still in this sinful world, he is a separated unto God. The Bible calls New Testament believers “disciples” – a term which refers to someone who is sold out for Christ – learning, reflecting and sharing Christ with others. And “brethren” suggests that, as beloved of God, we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are titles, yet with practical meaning, describing certain aspects of our regenerated character.
I am thinking that soon we might look at some Biblical descriptions of God’s people which are not titles. But this evening, and against next week, I’d like you to consider a handful of lesser-used titles. God applies them to you and me – but are we worthy of these titles?
Let’s start with“the elect.”
I suppose that there might be people who take offense at any of these titles – for various reasons. But this is one of the more troublesome for many, because it carries with it a doctrine which they detest. I, for one, do not detest either the doctrine or the title. For one reason, it was the Lord Jesus who used it first in the New Testament, although He may have narrowed its focus in the course of that particular conversation. In Matthew 24:22, Christ was talking about the Tribulation, and His subjects were people whom He intended to save during that time, so they were primarily Jews. But the principle of election applies to all those whom He intends to save – Jews and Gentiles – as well as to those He has already saved. Jesus said, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Notice that Christ called those people “THE elect” – it is a title applied to a specific group of people.
Paul used the same in Colossians after talking about the different places from which we have all come. Some of God’s people were Greeks while others were Jews; some of the circumcision and some were not. We have come from among Barbarians, Scythians, free men and slaves, “but Christ is all, and in all.” He said that we who are saved are “the elect of God.” – Colossians 3:12. In other words, God has chosen us, loved us, called us and saved us from a variety of families and tribes. We are His elect – “the elect of God.”
In II Timothy 2:10, the Apostle says, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” The Lord has His chosen people who are scattered throughout all nations, tribes and tongues. And knowing this, Paul was willing to endure privation, temptation, persecution and destitution in order to be a part of God’s process of evangelizing those people for whom Christ died. And – guaranteed to these elect would come eventual “eternal glory.”
In my humble estimation, of the four titles which we have examined thus far, this is the most precious. Like the title “saint” it ties us directly to the Lord who saved us, but it carries with it a different kind of blessing and responsibility. It ties us more to the love of God than to His holiness. Why have any of us been chosen or elected by God? It is because of God’s love and grace. And yet as Paul says in Colossians 3:12 there are responsibilities which come with this title. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” From there Paul goes on to exhort different segments of “the elect” – wives, husbands, children and slaves. Concluding with – “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” And then even among “the elect” – “He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.” Not all among “the elect” will be equally blessed – some will “receive for the wrong which he hath done.”
It is generally acknowledged that the person who has been put into a position of trust or honor should be held to an high standard. Sure, we shouldn’t expect the football or basketball MVP to be anything more than a high-paid jock. And we shouldn’t expect much out of the popular singer or the movie star. But the man we put in the mayor’s seat, or into the White House, or into the pulpit – should be someone of the highest morals and integrity. It is too bad that ideals rarely match reality in our sin-laden world. But GOD is not limited by our fallen natures, and He never relaxes His standards.
Perhaps the most supreme of all honors is God’s election of grace. Are we worthy of the title “the elect of God” if we refuse to forbear and forgive? – (Colossians 3:13). And when we are more full of worry than faith, refusing to “let the peace of God rule in our hearts,” are we properly exemplifying “the elect?” Paul says that “the elect” sing with grace in their hearts, and yet I witness people in our services who refuse to sing the songs of Zion. Are these people saved? Are they among “the elect?” Are we as characterized by mercy, kindness, humility, meekness and longsuffering, as Paul suggests belong to God’s elect? Are WE worthy of this title?
Another lesser-used Biblical title for the people of God is “believer.”
This is obviously, one of those terms which crosses back and forth between title and description. In the midst of a chapter full of exhortation for young Timothy, Paul says, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Where he might have used any number of other titles, Paul called the saints, “believers.” “Timothy, be thou an example of a true disciple of Christ.” “Behave like a saint of God in conversation, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” “Show yourself to be a loving brother to the people in your church.” “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
There are several places in the Book of Acts – and elsewhere – where the children or God are described simply as “believers.” And they are believers because they believe – they are worthy of the title because they ARE the title. In Acts 21:20, Pastor James ties one title with another description – “Thou seest, brother (Paul), how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law.” Then just a few verses later James refers to Gentile believers. And in his first epistle Peter speaks about the preciousness of Christ to those who are “believers.” Sure, these verses are referring to “the saints” and to “disciples,” but the Holy Spirit wanted to point out that they were people of faith.
In what did they believe, and how strong was their faith? They were obviously trusting in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ – as I hope you are. Did they believe in the imminent return of Christ? Did they believe in the upcoming Tribulation and Millennium? I can’t say for sure. Did they believe that “all thing work together for good, to them that loved God; to them that are called according to His purpose”? How MUCH faith does it take to earn the title “believer?” How STRONG must my faith be before I am worthy of the title “believer?”
Years ago, I read a book by David Benedict called “Fifty Years among the Baptists.” I have to confess that I was not as blessed by that book the first time that I read it, as I was when I read it again a couple months ago. Benedict was married to the grand-daughter of John Gano, and pastored a Baptist church in Rhode Island, so he knew where of he spoke. Besides this book, he wrote several others all related to current and previous Baptist history. This book is basically divided into five sections, one each of five decades preceding 1856. One of his interesting comments was that earlier there was a more common use of the title “Brother.” He said that rarely was another Christian ever called anything but “Brother” or “Sister” so-and-so. Even on the street when Christians met, they identified each other as “Brother” or “Sister” so-and-so. Around our church, we still use the title, although perhaps not as consistently as they did during the first decades of the 19th century. But I was
thinking how awkward and perhaps even inappropriate it would be if we applied some of the other titles in the same sort of way. “Greetings Saint Smith, it’s good to see you today.” “Disciple Fred, I heard that you were not feeling well the other day.” And “Believer Jones, it is wonderful to see you up and about.” I think that I shall stick with “Brother” and “Sister” until the Lord gives us something more appropriate to use in Heaven.
Let’s consider one more little-used title this evening –
How easily could you greet someone with the title “Vessel Bill” or “Vessel Oldfield”?
Again, it is debatable whether this is a title or an allegorical description. In Romans 9 Paul was dealing with the subject of God’s elective grace and mercy. In contrast to grace there are the shadows of wrath, judgment and destruction. In contrast to the mercy which Jehovah bestowed on Israel in saving her from Egypt, there was the wrath which was poured out on Pharaoh. “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”
The Bible says that there are two kinds of people in this world – vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy. The word “vessel” in this case speaks about some sort of container – a ship, a jug, a pitcher, a vase. Let’s ignore for this evening the vessels of wrath – our theme involves titles applied to God’s people. The saints of God are pitchers containing the grace and mercy of God. We are vessels of mercy because we are “the elect of God” and have been saved by His grace. Into us has been poured eternal life dissolved in the Holy Spirit Himself. We bear the fragrance of Holy of Holies and incense created at the command of Jehovah.
Does it matter, as vessels of God, how large or small we are? Does it matter, whether or not we are full to the brim or if there is just a few drops in the cup? I had to laugh at a book I was reading Friday, which said that a certain man’s cup was filled to the “tippy top.” I thought that in a rather serious book that kind of language was rather childish and out of place. But it is not out of place when speaking of the blessings of God. Mercy is one of those blessings which is always either at the verge of spilling over or actually doing so.
I am a vessel of mercy. Think about that. Say it to yourself. Say it out loud. “I am a vessel of mercy.” I was a vessel of clay, worthy of destruction, but the Lord purchased me by His grace. I was crooked, misshaped, and not profitable in any way, but the Lord, the righteous Potter, refitted me into something which can bring Him glory. Then He filled me with His mercy and grace, setting me on His mantle, in His trophy case, on His altar. He has taken me as a pitcher full of His blessings into the market place and city streets. I am one of God’s vessels of mercy. “Merci, Divine Saviour!” Not only am I filled with God’s mercy, it is my commission to share that mercy with others.
God’s people are elect, believers, vessels of beauty in the eyes of Jehovah.