Thursday, February 13, 2014

Where is the works in Ps 23?

For exposition of the entire Psalm 23, read my following articles:

      2.   Ps 23:2-3 – The leading of the LORD, my Shepherd;
      3.   Ps 23:4-6 - The LORD, as our Shepherd, is with us in trouble.

Metaphor is meant to illustrate certain aspects only
This psalm uses the shepherd-sheep metaphor to give us a picture, NOT necessarily, the entire picture, of the life of a believer.  It is necessary for us to understand that the use of metaphors and parables is for the purpose of illustrating or giving a portrayal of certain aspect(s) of a scenario, process or attribute, character or thing, or even God.

Every metaphor or parable has its limitations to portray more than the essential aspect(s) it is meant to portray.  Representations are NOT the same as the actual thing or process or scenario.

Works exhorted in Scripture?
Now, is works exhorted in the life of a believer, in Scripture?  The answer can only be one, and that is yes or affirmative.  Works is one aspect of the redemptive works of our Lord (For fuller study of the Redemptive works of the Lord, read this: Works of redemption by our Lord).

A few scriptures to support works as being necessary, include these:

We are created to do good works – Eph 2:10
Eph 2:8-10 - 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--  9 not by works, so that no one can boast.  10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Tree that bears no good fruit to be chopped down – Matt 7:19; Matt 3:10
Matt 7:19 - Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Matt 3:10 - The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Narrative of “Who are the sheep and who are the goats”Matt25:31-46
If you are keen to read my exposition of this: read “Who are the sheep, and who are the goats

The Great Commission – Matt 28:19-20
Matt 28:19-20 - 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Works in Ps 23 or NOT?
So, is there works in Ps 23 or NOT?  The answer is, explicitly, no.  It is silent on it (works), but it is NOT incongruent with the necessity of works in the life of a believer, and it does NOT preclude works; and if you are open about it, you can even see it, implicitly.  The metaphor, shepherd-sheep was used to illustrate more, of leading and following, of the one leading is good and more than capable, who must be wholeheartedly and unreservedly followed, and followed with perseverance.  Sheep by nature, do NOT work (explicit definition); and so, the metaphor does NOT hold itself out directly, to be talking about works; but it does NOT preclude works.

If works is NOT precluded, where can be works be, in the psalm? Depending on your definition of works, we can see works, embedded or is implicitly found, in the psalm!

To just sit around in the beach chair, and doing nothing, just basking in the sun, for most definitions, it can be said to be of nil works.  The overly grace or hyper grace community believers have this motto – we are to just bask in grace.  If their idea is to be like the one basking in the sun, how profaning they are, of the grace of God.  For a lot of the time, the grace of God can be seen to be for a purpose.

For example, the sun’s rays come, for us to “bask” some prawn crackers, even as we got basked in sun, doing the work.  From that provision of the sun’s ray, many people, including ourselves, will benefit from eating of the prawn crackers.  This, rather, is a common way the grace of God is extended to us; its benefit is to extend beyond ourselves.

A sheep, just lying there, not budging at all, all day long, can be with no works; but if it gets up and follows the shepherd, it can be said that it is working!  For a moment, think about the nursery rhyme, “Ba ba black sheep”.  Have you any wool?  Yes, sir, yes, sir; three bags full; one for the master, one for the dame, and one for the little boy down the lane. 

Think for moment, away from a sheep going to the slaughter; suppose a sheep will NOT be slaughtered, but would live to give of its wool.  The sheep is working towards provision of wool when it follows the shepherd’s leading to green pastures and quiet waters, to get itself well-nourished. 

When a sheep does NOT budge, and so, does NOT get to feed of the green pastures and drink of the quiet waters, do you think it will produce good bags of wool, for the master, for the dame, or for the little boy down the lane?  While I have said that sheep do NOT work; now, if you could view from the angle of they eating in order to be producing wool, milk (well, even meat!), they are working!  (Actually, a lot more can be discerned from the sheep as metaphor of a believer, and perhaps, another article could be written on it).  Following the shepherd can be works for the sheep; so, are us, believers, following the Shepherd.

Following the Lord is works
The psalm is strong in its portrayal of us needing to follow the LORD, our Shepherd.  Following the LORD is works.  It is NOT difficult to appreciate, as far as I am concerned; for example, if I sit around, at my laptop, playing the computer game I like, beyond a healthy preoccupation with recreation, I am can be said as NOT doing any works (gratifying myself solely).  Now, imagine I am prompted by the Holy Spirit to go outside and share the gospel with the little boy down the lane, and I follow the prompting (the Spirit) and do it, the following is works (for the Lord), compared with continuing with my playing away at my computer game.  To obey and follow the Lord is works.

At the green pastures and at the quiet waters, are the sheep working away?  If you think about the wool-producing sheep or even the milk-producing sheep; they are working away, to feed the “machinery” within themselves to produce what they are to produce.  If you still don’t get it, just consider the other common metaphor used (to portray believer) in the NT - that of a tree, and its necessity to bear fruit; the tree gets water and minerals from the ground and makes food with the help of its leaves and sunlight, so that it could grow, flower and bear fruit – tree in works!

We are all “marketplace” ministers!
The sheep works away, hours on grazing and hours on cuds chewing, yah, at the places of sustenance, green pastures and quiet waters.  So, too, for us, believers, even at our places or positions of getting our sustenance for life, we too, should be engaged in works.

The sheep take in all sustenance, NOT for itself solely, that it may produce wool, that it may produce milk; so shall we NOT just hoard from all the sustenance that the LORD would bring us to.  If you have become rich, enjoy it, but also share it; if you have been blessed, enjoy it, but also bless others.  In your sharing and in your blessing, you are engaged in works.  Do NOT be like the Dead Sea, only take in, but give NOT, out!  The “Ba Ba Black” sheep blesses the master, the dame, and the little boy down the lane, with its 3 bags of wool; what about you?  The master might have merited it, perhaps, the dame, but the little boy down the lane receives unmerited; do you share or bless those who merit NOT(?); that’s works.

If you look hard enough, you will discover there is even much more works, in the “in-betweens” – the in-betweens of green pastures and quiet waters, in the “valley of the shadow of death”, in troubles.  Even as the shepherd leads, he moves the sheep from one green pasture to another, from one quiet water to another, and as he does that, the sheep, with their shepherd leading, may pass through “valley of the shadow of death” or trouble-spots (to understand more, about there is the valley of the shadow of death, even when the Lord is shepherding – read this: “Ps 23:4-6 – The Lord, as our Shepherd, is with us in our troubles, yet they would get through safely, without fear, when they work with the shepherd (there is works, there).

Works spells trouble, and trouble spells works!
Although it is true, that the evil one is no gentleman, and he may still trouble you when you don’t do anything (for his purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy), there is truth in “works spells trouble, and trouble spells works”! In other words, at the “valley of the shadow of death” or trouble-spot, if you work NOT, you are dead-meat! 

Of course, work here, does NOT mean “you go fight by your own wits and strength”, nonetheless, it is work, for you need to be especially attentive to the Holy Spirit, obey Him, and follow Him or be led by Him, and that would include, if He asks you to “jump”, you “jump”; if He asks you to “climb”, you “climb”, if He asks you to turn to left or right, you do so; and if He asks you to go over and give of your “milk” and your “bag of wool” to the starving and freezing souls, you do so. Why would the LORD ask of you for the last item in the list?  Because He would go after the ONE lost sheep; because even as sheep are gregarious, we are NOT to meant to be caring for ourselves only.

If you would live out your life according to the prescription or ways of God or His Kingdom, you are living a supernatural life, for you are working against the natural ways of the world you are living in, the fallen world (and that can spell trouble); in such, you are working, and it is works.  To love God is works, to obey Him is works, to follow Him is works, and so, to be led by the Lord or His Spirit is works.

We are saved for good works (from Eph 2:10).

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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