Matthew 10:32-33, "Whosoever therefore will confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."
This morning, mortal men all too often become shortsighted about reality. In reality, men are not nearly the "masters of their own domain and destiny" as often or to the extent they like to think. Simple contemplation shows that we cannot even get from place to place without relying on and trusting in other people and things. For example, for me to get to work on a daily basis, I trust that my vehicle will not break down, there will be gas at the service station if I need it, food will be available to eat through the efforts of many to grow and prepare it, and many of the other daily routines have similar dependencies and needs. While individuals should do the best they can on a daily basis to strive in their fields of labour and endeavor, we all need and depend on other people to "do their part" as well for the services and needs that we rely on. The need for others shows forth even brighter in a spiritual sense in our study verses.
Sometimes I sit in contemplation at the end of the day and wonder how much help the Lord gave me during that day that I did not even see or notice. The possibilities are endless for peril in this old world. How many of them were close to me but prevented from harming me by His Almighty Hand? How many pitfalls did I get close to? We need Him and depend upon Him for so much that we cannot even begin to count the ways in which He has helped and aided us in our daily struggles of life. In our study verses, the context is crucially important to glean the proper exegesis of the lesson, but even the immediate context – though very specific in application – can be broadened a bit as we shall labour to investigate.
The immediate context deals with Christ sending out His disciples to preach the gospel. All that precedes our verses in this lesson gives them specific instructions about how to preach, where to preach, how to walk, and how to talk, etc. Therefore, the specific application of this lesson refers to a minister or ministers going about their labours in the kingdom and how they should behave. The broader application can touch any of God's faithful trying to war a good warfare in this life. So, let us investigate the primary thought followed hard by the broader application. To set the table for this discourse, allow a personal reflection and illustration that shows a skewed point of view on this passage.
Many years ago, I was having a conversation with a man – who wore the name Primitive Baptist elder – who was in serious error about the doctrine of eternal security. His theology basically back-end loaded the child of God's life with good works as some sort of "proof of election" that all children of God would manifest. They would all manifest a belief in Jesus, and he was one half-step away from affirming that they would all hear and rejoice in the gospel. He invoked this passage as one of his proofs that children of God would all manifest this behavior. They would all confess Jesus, as no child of God would ever be denied in the presence of the Father – he claimed. While his point of view is patently in error (as many children of God have failed to confess Jesus for one reason or another as John 12:42 so proves), let us at least deal with this point of view to set up the discussion on the right point of view.
In II Timothy 2:11-13, Paul gives the young minister a faithful saying that includes some descriptions about denial. Putting verses 12-13 side-by-side under the glass could yield the possibility to think "that looks like a contradiction." It is not, as nothing in the Bible ever does contradict itself. However, one must figure out how on the one hand He could deny us, but on the other hand He cannot. As we mentioned in our last writing, the answer lies in the difference between timely and eternal stances: positional vs. conditional language. When it comes to our position in Christ Jesus, He cannot deny us, for such would be to deny Himself. He can no more deny us entry into heaven than He could deny His own work in election, predestination, sanctification, redemption, atonement, and eventual glorification. However, He can and does deny us on a regular basis in this old world when our steps flounder on the uneven pavement of life's thinking.
Christ here tells His disciples how to behave while preaching. The point is inescapably clear from the context that if they attempt to preach on their own strength and might, they will fall flat on their face. If they attempt to preach while wholly and totally dependent upon Him, they will invoke the blessings of heaven's throneroom as the Father smiles down upon them and their efforts. Denying Christ in this lesson is akin to trying to preach based on the power of your own study, prowess of language, finesse of delivery, and acumen of intellect. While it is important that a minister study and labour intensely while putting forth the best and least distracting delivery he can, the demonstration of God's Spirit and its associated power can only come through dependency upon Him. If the minister does not depend upon Him, the denial before the Father will be manifestly evident. I can regrettably say that the pulpit is the most awfully lonely place in the entire world when I have denied Christ for my dependency and strength.
Let us move into the broader thought for a moment. Some Biblical lessons can be dealing primarily with one subgroup of people but still be applicable to a broader group, and our verse does indicate such a time and place. The most fitting place to deal with God's children in general in this lesson is through the lens of prayer. Prayer is something the Bible says should be done perpetually. (I Thessalonians 5:17) Yet, many of us – self included – go about so many daily activities and routines without thinking about invoking His help and strength through the power of prayer. In all of the daily routines that we mentioned at the start of this piece, how many of those things do we need His help in? All of them. We need His help to live and move and even have our being. Without Him, we can do nothing. (John 15:5) However, if your pattern looks a lot like mine, I will charge into the affairs of life without praying for His help, and then watch things blow up and not go as I had planned. When the problems arise, then I pray and ask for help. Sometimes, I feel the answer come down into my chest from on high, "No." What has happened is that I have been denied since I denied Him by not initially confessing my need for His help.
However, to keep from ending this lesson in a downward direction, consider the converse thought. Whether minister or prayerful disciple, what happens when we do invoke that help from on high? What happens when the minister lays his soul at the threshold of the altar pleading, "Lord be with me in the sermon as I need Thy help desperately?" What happens when the disciple of the Lord prays fervently, "Lord, watch over my steps. Keep me from falling, and lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil?" Those heart-felt yearnings and petitions should have the hope and consolation that One is in heaven pleading and interceding that case. He says, "Father, hear and grant the petition. In love and mercy, bless, forgive, and aid with heavenly power." Friends, just as surely as denial will come from heaven when we deny Christ, so just as surely will heaven pour out blessings unspeakable and full of glory when we confess Christ as our only help and all in all.
Such verses and passages as these are not meant to – nor should they ever – be used as "scare tactics" for children of God to prove their election or regeneration. Rather, they should be used as faithful exhortations of encouragement to remember where our hope and strength comes from in our battles of life. Thanks be unto God, friends, that the war has already been won by the labours of Jesus Christ, but thanks be unto God as well that He sees fit to regularly bless and aid us in our battles when we rely upon the Captain of our salvation and leader of our army. Through my own unfaithfulness I have been denied in prayer and in preaching, and through His power, I have been blessed in both as well. May our lives pressing forward in His service be full of confession of Him with denial of our Help and Strength wholly absent in all the labours to which our hand finds to do.