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The Discipline of Waiting

by R. H. Boll

From Words in Season

Reprint from the March 1920 W&W

   The discipline of waiting has its own peculiar value. ‘It exercises faith: it develops faithfulness; it trains us to patience, and teaches us to be steadfast under trial. It especially serves to keep us in an unsettled condition as sojourners who dwell in tents, like Abraham and the heirs with him of the same promise. Such a frame of mind is essential to a true, pure Christianity.

     The Scripture sharply distinguishes God’s true people from those who “dwell on the earth”—earth-settlers. Then are not settlers, but on the contrary, they are strangers and pilgrims·. pilgrims because strangers. Their Lord was the original Stranger here. Bethlehem had no room for Him. “He was in the world and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own and they that were his own received him not.” But to the few that received Him, He imparted the Divine life and made them children of God. (John 1:30-13). While this united them with Him, it separated and alienated them front the world. “If the world hated you,” He said to them, “ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:18, 19).

     The sons of God must be strangers here just as the Son of God was. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called children of God. For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not:’ However, there is a day coming when the sons of God shall lay aside the humble guise which now they wear, and shall appear in the glory of His likeness. “For when lie shall be manifest we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is.”

     There then is the fixed goal of their waiting-time. And the hope to which they look is a potent power that shapes their present course: “Everyone that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself even as He is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3). “Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory ” (Col. 3:2-4).


     The power of this hope to separate from the world is seen in a remarkable passage in Philippians. Setting forth the one single aim of his life, the apostle admonishes the brethren to be imitators of him, and to mark those who walk after his example. Then he describes a type of church-members quite plentiful even iii that day, and no less abundant now: “For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things’’ The essence of their failure lay in the fact that they minded earthly things. Therefore, the cross of Christ was unwelcome to them for it strikes at the very heart of worldly aim and ambition. (Gal. 6:1-4 ). Because they minded earthly things it follows that their real god was their belly, under whatever refined name or pretense they may have carried on the worship of that god. Their success in combining Christianity with worldly ends, and making their faith subserve material benefits filled their mouth with boasting, they congratulated themselves upon having managed to make godliness a way of gain; whereas they ought to have hung their heads in shame. They mind earthly things! They are wrapped up in the worlds affairs: society, commerce and politics, material improvements, amusements, honors and prestige, wealth and fame among men—such are the things that occupied their minds. The thoughtful reader will not fail to notice how strikingly this describes the popular Christianity of our times.

     But the apostle quickly distinguishes himself and the faithful at Philippi from that class of Christians. “For OUR citizenship is in heaven,” he says— “whence also we wo.it for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who [when He comes] shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself. Wherefore my brethren, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord.” (Phil. 3 :17-4:1)


     The word used here by the inspired apostle, and translated “wait” in our Bible, is a word of peculiar force (apekdechomai). The older view was that this word signified “waiting it out,” ‘Waiting patiently to the end.” That meaning would be strictly in harmony with Gods will expressed elsewhere. But this particular word bears an additional and intenser meaning: to await eagerly and ardently. It denotes a keen and anxious expectation. It is used in Rom. 8:18-25 in connection with a very singular and extreme expression. We read there that “the earnest expectation” (apokaradokia, the outstretched neck, the uplifted head) of the creation waiteth (apekdechomai) for the revealing of the sons of God;” and “even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting (apekdechomai. again) for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body/’ Both the “revealing of the sons of God.” and “our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body,” center in the second coming of Christ. Thus the whole creation in its unconscious groaning, and the children of God consciously, are represented as in an attitude of suspense, most eagerly awaiting and sighing for that glorious day of His appearing. This verb, apekdechomai, is the one used in Phil. 3:20— “we wait for a Savior;” and again in l Cor. 1 :7, “waiting for the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ;” again when in Gal. 5:5 it says. “We through the Spirit, by faith wait for the hope of righteousness;” and once more in Heb. 9:28—he “shall appear a second time apart from sin, to them that wait for Him, unto salvation.” In the Expositor’s Greek Testament, a critical commentary (and such works do not lean in favor of the strong expectation of Christ’s return) the commentator on Gal. 5:5 says, “This verb expresses eager expectation rather than the attitude of patient waiting attributed to it in our versions.” Again, in Phil. 3:20, “The compound emphasizes the intense yearning for the Parousia.” (The “compound” he speaks of is the verb apekdechomai; and “Parousia,” is the word for Christ’s coming). On “apokaradokia” in Rom. 8:19, the same work (but a different commentator in each of the cases above referred to) says it “denotes absorbed, persistent expectation,— waiting, as it were, with uplifted head.” Perhaps I should offer an apology for introducing the discussion of Greek term s; but on occasion it is proper to seek out the force of the exact words by which a Bible doctrine is set forth. The scholars above quoted have not been called in for the sake of their theological views and interpretations, but for the definition of Greek terms, which is a matter of scholarship.


     Now this attitude of eager yearning and expectation of Christ’s coming is salutary, and even necessary. It gives us the true perspective and proportion of values. It prevents our settling down upon the earth and in its affairs; it keeps us from ‘craving’ or regarding unduly its goods and its honors, from seeking the world’s recognition, from putting undue weight upon earthly matters, and from being taken up in eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage. It enables us to hold lightly our earthly possessions, and to estimate correctly the value of worldly advantages. It makes present burdens, privations, sufferings seem small, and gives us strength unto patient endurance. It weans our hearts away from the present evil age and its affairs, and raises our minds to the things that are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. In short, it makes us pilgrims and strangers, who have no abiding city here, who are willing to go without the gate to share their Lord’s reproach, the while they look for the sure coming of the Lord. For this cause the world scoffs at, and worldly religionists hate, the Bible doctrine of the Second Coming. It runs contrary to all their plans and wishes. For the same reason, no doubt, the theory (which puts an end to all real expectation of Christ’s return)—that the thousand years of world-wide conversion, bliss and peace, must precede the Lord’s coming, has found such wide favor. ‘T h e postmillennial scheme,” says a certain writer, “fits in with every worldly-religious plan and ambition.” Which is evidently true, though all who hold that view do not follow it to its logical conclusion.


    It was in order that God might thus keep His people in this only right attitude of expectation and consequent detachment from this present age, that He kept secret the time of the return of His Son from heaven; while urging upon them the necessity of being· found ready, watching, and waiting when their diary means without lapse of intervening time; but immanency to us. Some have objected to the word. If there is a better word to express the idea that the event is likely to occur at any time, we should be glad to have it. When we say a thing is “imminent” we do not say that it will occur immediately. Immediately means without lapse of intervening time; but imminence means likelihood of occurrence at any time. As a matter of fact that imminent event may not occur for quite a time; but so far as we know, it may happen at once. The only right attitude in such a case is one of constant watchfulness and readiness. But that is precisely the attitude enjoined upon us by our Lord. “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man. sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all. Watch.” (Mark 13:33-37).

     It is thus that the coming of the Lord is always at hand, always about to occur, always in sight and upon us. No Christian has ever lost anything by taking this attitude in sincerity and in truth. But how much those have lost who lost sight of this great goal and pole-star of all Christian life, will be seen in that day. The servant that conceives in his heart the thought that his Lord delayeth—that he will probably not come for a long time yet—-loses both his stimulus and his bearings. He begins to associate and participate with the self-indulgent: he eats and drinks with the drunken. He loses his sense of responsibility to the extent of abusing his fellow-servants who, possibly by their very faithfulness arouse his resentment. Some day when this unfaithful servant least expects, his Lord will come and cut him asunder and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: “There shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 24:48- 51). Even if his Lord should not come during this evil servant’s life-time, the life he lived unsanctified by that purifying hope, held down by the gravitation of this world, with no counter-attraction to pull his heart upward, will testify in that day. That unfaithful servant is he who, like Demas who forsook Paul, “loved this present, world;” but the faithful servant he who loves His appearing. (2 Tim. 4:8, 10).


     In the first watch of the night (six to nine p. m.,) everyone is awake, or can be, without difficulty. In the second watch (nine to twelve) there is apt to be some nodding; in the third watch (twelve to three), and in the fourth (three to six) sleep is almost overpowering. Now the Lord did not tell His disciples at what hour of the night He would come, whether at “even,” or at “midnight;” or at cockcrowing,” or “in the morning.” “If the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken through. Therefore be ye also ready, for at an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matt. 24:48, 44). His purpose manifestly is to keep them watching at all hours of the night. But it must be evident that the watching becomes more difficult as the night drags on. The very delay tends to diminish hope. Logically it ought to intensify it.      

     The thought lies near that perhaps He will not come at all or, seeing so many centuries have passed already, perhaps not, for many a century yet. The post-millennial doctrine does not appeal to the worldly-minded alone, but to those despairing souls also, to whom it seems that any definite, earnest expectation of the Lord’s return is futile and unpractical. The doctrine that death is the equivalent of the Lord’s coming to the Christian is only another solution offered to the problem, and an effort of discouraged and puzzled hearts to content themselves without the prospect of the Lord’s coming. Moreover the world begins to laugh at their “hope.” The scoffers— scientific scoffers who reason upon the constancy of the reign of natural law, and scout the very idea of Divine Interference in mundane affairs—say sneeringly, “Where is the promise of his coming? For from the day that the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” (2 Pet. 8:1-4). With other words, Since never anything miraculous has happened, nothing ever will. We are told that these scoffers shall be prevalent “in the last d a y s ” If we need any signs of the times, here is one. The last day scoffers are with us, in the streets, schools, seminaries, universities, and, alas, abundantly in the pulpit. The devil also uses fanatics, time-setters, and various sorts of cranks to throw* added stigma and reproach upon the Christian’s expectation; and the scoffers are quick to turn such extravagances to the further discouragement of those who would yet hold fast the blessed hope. Then the church is appropriated by the world as a moral institution whose laudable mission it is to improve the general conditions of the world. Social service, philanthropy, public-spiritedness, the “uplift of humanity” along the lines of certain up-to-date schemes and plans to large measure supersede the spiritual message. They sink to the level of the minding earthly things. They forget that- the age is evil, and terminates with the Lord’s return. They forget that their mission in the meanwhile is to call men out of the world and into Christ. They want to improve the world as such. They want to clean up and beautify the “far country” to make it “a better place to live in,” rather than to call the Prodigal back to the Father’s house. They have exchanged their hope from above to a hope below of a man-made millennium.


      When circumstances become so difficult for the maintaining of the earnest expectation of the Lord’s coming. God’s people are holpen with a little help. They will be led to remember that just such a situation was predicted for the last days. The description of the last days outlined in 2 Pet. 3:1-4; in Jas. 5:1-9; the prevailing church conditions shown in 2 Tim. 2 :1-5; and the religious conditions in 1 Tim. 4:1-3 and 2 Tim. 4:3, 4 ; the peculiar rise of the flood of delusion and the falling away out of which the man of Sin comes— these they see verified before their eyes. Moreover they rightly conclude that, their Lord being faithful, every added day of delay does not subtract but adds probability to the Lord’s speedy return. The ridicule and opposition of others will help to stiffen their purpose to God-ward. They feel that it is increasingly worth the while for them to look for their Lord, serving while waiting, waiting while serving. It cannot be much longer. Paul in his time declared— not by guess, but by inspiration—-that the night was fa r past and the day at hand. Four thousand years of the night had passed by when Paul said that; and the night was fa r past then; two thousand years have rolled by since. What hour of the night now? How far off the day? The Lord alone knows the day and the hour; but He wants us. as He expected it of the Jews, (Luke 12:54-56) to know our time; and when we see certain things beginning to come to pass, to lift up our heads, for the time is nigh. (Luke 21:28). Such is our encouragement in these days. “


     If there is a suggestion to God’s people in Christ’s coming as of threatening evil and disaster, as surely there is to the world; if some of the Lord’s people should fear to meet Him, feeling themselves to be unfit and unworthy, though indeed they love Him and could not be satisfied without the hope of His appearing; if conscious of great deficiency, the doubting questions arise

“When to the Lord we restore our talents

Will He answer me, Well done?”

 When His eye searches my record, what will the verdict be? Let us hear God’s assurance in the matter. There is indeed a responsibility, but there is also a promise. As we have been saved by grace; and as the grace of God, healing, cleansing, strengthening us in our weakness, is with us all along; so we are bidden to set our hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1 :13). The promise is left to us that He is able to keep us from stumbling and to set us before the presence of His glory without blemish in exceeding joy (Jude 21) ; that he  will confirm us unto the end that we may be unreprovable in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ ( 1 Cor. 1:8,9 ), and He pledges His faithfulness that it shall be even so. (1 Thess. 5:2,3 ). Only continue steadfast in your faith and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel. Let us henceforth work and watch that He may find us “so doing.” “For yet a very little while and he that cometh shall come and shall not tarry: but the just shall live by faith and if any man draw back my soul hath no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that shrink bade unto perdition, but of those who have faith unto the saving of the soul.” (Heb. 10:37-39). After the ripening season comes the harvest; after the waiting-time the promised fulfilment. And we reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed.

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Philippians 4:13