Life-Study of Markby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In the foregoing message we pointed out that in the Gospel of Mark we see a life that is fully according to and for God’s New Testament economy. The term “God’s New Testament economy” is familiar to most of us. However, in order to be refreshed in our understanding, let us consider, in a simple, basic way, what God’s New Testament economy is.
God’s New Testament economy is to work Himself into His chosen people to make them members of Christ so that Christ may have a Body for His expression. In this description of God’s economy we see a few important matters: that God wants to work Himself into His chosen people; that God wants to make His people members of the Body of Christ, the church; and that the Body of Christ is for Christ’s expression. In the Gospel of Mark we see a life that is fully according to and for this New Testament economy of God.
As we have pointed out, if we compare the Epistle of James and the Gospel of Mark, we shall see that these books present two kinds of lives. In the Epistle of James we see something of the life of James, and in the Gospel of Mark we see the life of the Lord Jesus. Each of these books helps us to understand the other. Without Mark we might not be clear concerning the Epistle of James. Likewise, without James we might not have such a clear understanding of the Gospel of Mark. It is when we compare these two books and see the two lives revealed in them that we have the proper understanding of both the Epistle of James and the Gospel of Mark.
Because the Epistle of James emphasizes practical Christian perfection, many Christians have a deep appreciation of this book. As we have pointed out in the Life-study of James, James does emphasize Christian perfection, and he emphasizes this in practice, not in doctrine. Therefore, many godly, devoted, and pious believers love the book of James. James tells us to pray for wisdom so that we may behave properly. He also encourages us to restrict our speaking, to bridle our tongue, so that we may live a godly life. In every chapter of his Epistle, he brings forth certain matters related to godliness.
In church history as well as in the Bible James was known for his godliness. He spent much time in prayer, and he was highly regarded among Christian Jews in ancient times. According to chapters fifteen and twenty-one of Acts and chapter two of Galatians, James was highly regarded by the saints. For example, Galatians 2:12 refers to some who “came from James.” According to this verse, when these came to Antioch, Peter “shrank back and separated himself, fearing those of the circumcision.” This is an illustration of the influence of James. Even Peter, the leading apostle, was under his influence.
Geographically, Jerusalem was in the south, and Antioch was in the north. Many Bible teachers regard these two cities as two great centers. There was a church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), and also one in Antioch (Acts 13:1).
From reading the book of Acts it may seem that the church in Jerusalem had a Jewish appearance and the church in Antioch had a Gentile appearance. Some may think that since Jerusalem was in Judea and Antioch was in the Gentile world, it was necessary for the church in Jerusalem to have a Jewish appearance and the church in Antioch to have a Gentile appearance. Perhaps you would say, “How could the church in Jerusalem, a city of the Jews, not be Jewish in its appearance? And how could the church in Antioch not be Gentile in its atmosphere? Surely, the churches in Japan have a Japanese appearance and the churches in America, an American appearance.” This may be logical from the human point of view. But the New Testament reveals that the church is neither Jewish nor Gentile. First Corinthians 10:32 speaks of three categories of people: the Jews, the Gentiles (Greeks), and the church. This indicates clearly that the church is something apart from both the Jews and the Gentiles. God has called His chosen ones out from both the Jews and the Gentiles to be the church. Therefore, the church should be neither Jewish nor Gentile. If the church has either a Jewish or a Gentile appearance, then to some extent the church has lost its character or at least some of its characteristics.
If we read carefully Acts 15 and 21 and Galatians 2, we shall see that at the time of Peter, Paul, and James, Jerusalem exerted a considerable influence over Antioch. This means that the church in Jerusalem exercised influence over the churches in the Gentile world. James might have been concerned that the churches in the Gentile world did not practice the Mosaic law. This might have been the reason that he sent certain brothers from Jerusalem to Antioch. Those brothers might have gone to Antioch to observe the situation among the believers there.
Before certain ones went to Antioch from James, Peter was behaving himself properly as a brother and a member of the Body of Christ. In particular, he ate with the Gentiles. As Paul says of Peter, “before some came from James, he ate with those of the nations” (Gal. 2:12). However, when the brothers came from James, Peter was frightened and took the lead to pretend, that is, to behave as a Jew once again. Paul’s word for this pretending was hypocrisy: “And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:13).
Some may question what was wrong with Peter’s behavior. It may appear that there was nothing wrong. But to those who know God’s New Testament economy it is clear that Peter made a serious mistake. His behavior in shrinking back and separating himself from the Gentile believers involved a mixture that was damaging to God’s New Testament economy.
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