Alan Cooke – Lines of Defense – Glen Valley 1, 2023

Hymn 325

I have been hearing about the BC and Glen Valley convention, and it’s good to be here.

We sang, “Lord, may my steps be ordered by Thine indwelling love.”

I labored for many years in West Africa.

One thing about Africa is that the countries have vastly different cultures.

I spent many years in Ghana where tradition is strong.

If someone dies, everybody knows what to do.

On the other hand, in Liberia where I also spent many years, they are not so steeped in tradition.

It was founded by slaves which weren’t given their freedom like on this side of the Atlantic but were granted a charter in their own right in 1840.

The result seems to be that when some situations come along, very often they don’t really know how to behave or deal with it.

Once, in Ghana we had a whole family of six children whom we thought were doing well, but something went wrong, and the father informed us that they weren’t coming to any more meetings.

We were never really able to find out to our own satisfaction what the reason was.

Most of the rest of our friends were quite shocked.

Even worse than that was a short time afterward, the father died very, very, suddenly.

The funeral came along, and the question arose with our friends: do we attend this funeral or do we not?

According to African custom, because of what the family had done, one would not attend that funeral.

One or two of our older friends became guardians of preserving the custom and because they had separated themselves from us, they wouldn’t attend the funeral.

Some of the younger ones weren’t so sure about that.

What did I say about it?

That hymn says, “Lord, may my steps be ordered by Thine indwelling love.” I found it a wonderful guideline.

We sang a similar hymn, “The love of God within my heart, will teach me how to do my part.”

I drew attention to what those words said. I didn’t do anything more than that.

It turned out that enough of our friends attended to show a visible presence there. They didn’t all go.

I think for many situations we can be ordered by God’s indwelling love. That’s a safe course.

An early companion of mine was an army man, who had spent 8 years in the British army, and he talked about a certain plan for direct lines of defense.

They always had the first line of defense; in fact, they had two more lines of defense.

If the first line failed, you had a second one.

If the second one failed, you had a third line of defense.

Our brother used to say the first line of defense is: 1) Word of God.

Next one is 2) Fear of the Lord,

3) is our conscience.

I don’t remember what he said after that.

From time to time, I enjoyed thinking of it.

We understand well that the first line is the Word of God.

The enemy is strong and has a purpose.

John 10 says his purpose is to steal, to kill and to destroy.

Our first line of defense is the Word of God.

You remember when Jesus was tempted that His first line of defense was the Word of God.

Every time, He used this expression, Every time!

“Men shall not live by bread alone”.

“Thou shalt worship the Lord Thy God and Him only shalt thou serve.”

Every time, the word of God was his first defense.

I do believe it is important that we bring our Bibles to meeting.

It’s very important because they are helping us to get to know what is in the word of God.

Studying the Bible helps us to know what is in the word of God.

We are promised that the Holy Spirit will bring things to remembrance.

We need to have the Christ work done so there is something for Him to work with, or there’s nothing for Him to bring to our remembrance.

It’s a wonderful thing that just as we need it, the Holy Spirit can bring just the right verse from the word of God to our remembrance.

That can be like our first line of defense.

I will spend a little time now talking about our third line of defense.

That’s our conscience.

We read about our conscience quite a lot in Acts.

Paul wrote about always endeavoring to walk with a good conscience.

When he was writing to Timothy and Titus, he also mentioned this matter of having a good conscience.

He warned it could become seared!

He also mentioned it in 1 Corinthians 4:4

It’s not always easy to see what he is saying: “For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.”

I pondered over that verse in some of the translations.

One says, “My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t mean I am right. I have to wait for what the Lord says.”

Now that’s a serious consideration.

There’s a possibility our conscience could be clear but that doesn’t mean we are right.

I’d say first of all, our conscience can never contradict if it tells us one thing, but the word of God tells us something else.

The word of God MUST be right.

Some say they don’t have any conviction about this, so “I am going to go ahead.”

Well, I know what can happen when the word of God is made CLEAR.

That’s just a matter that our conscience is clear, but is it right?

This situation just hasn’t seemed to have happened recently.

In the past I have been working on the computer and maybe a little ‘pop up’ comes about some problem and there are two options.

One option is, ‘fix it’ and the other option is, ‘continue anyway’.

You click on ‘continue anyway.’

You go on for a little while and the problem comes up again with a warning that something is the matter and there are instructions on how to fix it.

There is also the option you can click, ‘continue anyway’.

Have you ever done it?

We can be on a course in this life and a little voice can tell us, ‘There is something the matter’, but then a little voice will tell us, ‘continue anyway’.

We go on and continue anyway.

You know what happens?

Very quickly that little voice stops.

It doesn’t bother us anymore.

What it simply means is our conscience is seared.

Our conscience is not working.

We might just wonder, how can we keep a pure conscience?

There is a place in the letter to Titus and one thing I have noticed that in some of the places Paul mentions a conscience that he connects it with faith…’a pure conscience and faith unfeigned’.

Really, we’re very thankful to have heard so much about faith in this convention.

Our faith is not shaken.

This verse will help us to have a pure conscience.

It comes in the letter.

Here’s what it says Titus 1:15 “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled”.

From that verse I draw this conclusion that if we keep our minds pure and our heart pure, our conscience will also be pure.

Some were talking to our friends and one man was skeptical when it came to believing the scripture.

This man was a surgeon and said, “I have been conducting surgery for many, many years and I know all the organs of the body, but I have never yet found what you call a soul.”

The reply was given that, “You find the soul beside the conscience.”

I think the fact is we all recognize that God has given all of us a conscience and it is like one of the lines of defense against this enemy that is so strong.

The second line of defense is the fear of the Lord.

We can turn to many places in the scripture and read about the fear of the Lord.

I have noticed that is one of the themes that seems to go all of the way through Acts.

The early church was God-fearing.

In the first chapter the eleven apostles were in a situation they had never been in before.

Remember what Judas had done.

It was a terrible blow to them.

What was in his heart?

There were still 11 of them in the ministry.

What will they do?

Verse 24 Three words, “And they prayed.”

We sang, “The fear that sends me to Thyself.”

I don’t think Jesus told them about this situation before He left.

We find ourselves in situations and we are thankful that there is something that sends us to Thyself.

A lot happened to the apostles when they made their choice.

At the end of chapter 2 they all continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread and prayers.

I stopped there, but that’s not the place to stop.

“And fear came on every soul”.

It was in control and was their vital defense.

Starting in chapter one and chapter after chapter you read about the fear of the Lord and we can see the early church was a God-fearing church.

In the first chapter you might say they were in a situation they had never been in before.

They had remembered what Jesus had done and had restored the place of Judas by transgression.

It must have been a terrible blow to them.

I don’t think they had known what was in the heart of Judas.

They were still the anointed ministry that Jesus had appointed.

What were they going to do?

We come as far as verse 24 and there are just three words: ‘and they prayed’.

We sang in the meeting, “The fear that sends me to Thyself.”

I believe that was what was happening…the fear that sends me to Thyself.

They were God fearing and in a situation in which I don’t think Jesus had told them what to do about it before He left, but they prayed.

Again and again and again, it seems we find ourselves in situations and we’re thankful that there is something that sends us to the place of prayer…the fear that sends me to Thyself.

We read about all the people who made their choice and in the next chapter there is a verse that’s quoted quite often.

It says that they all continued steadfastly in doctrine, fellowship and breaking of bread and prayers.

I used to always stop there, but more recently I have discovered that’s not the place to stop, because the very next line says, “And fear came upon every soul.”

In other words, they continued in the apostles’ doctrine and in breaking of bread and prayer and the fear of the Lord was also in control.

There was going to be a lot of trials and difficulty and struggles, but their line of defense was going to be the fear of the Lord.

Just going on in Acts 5 is the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

In that story, once again the apostles and believers would be feeling fear.

Once again, we might feel that Peter dealt with the situation because his name appears three times in the story.

It wasn’t Peter who dealt with the situation, it was God.

He dealt with it in an infamous way.

We come to the end of the story, and it tells us that ‘great fear came upon all the church.’

Great fear!

In the next chapter at the end is the story, I appreciated very much this doctor Gamaliel who also taught the apostle Paul.

He wasn’t one who was seeking salvation, but as far as the people of the world are concerned, he was a sensible man with a measure of discretion.

He gave some outstanding advice to those who were speaking against the apostles.

The council was trying to overthrow these people, but Gamaliel gave examples about those who had a following and it came to nothing.

He said be careful what you do with these men, because if it’s only of men, it will quickly come to nothing.

If it’s of God be careful in case you will be fighting against God.

Here was a man of the world, one who did not have the teaching of Jesus, but did have the fear of the Lord.

We are thankful we can still find people like that in the world today and we can be thankful that there are those who govern who have the fear of the Lord.

Just coming back to this story, Gamaliel made the point that it will be finished if it’s of man.

I saw a little of this in my own country of Ireland.

There are lots of organizations, lots of societies that are formed of man and yet they have lasted for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Well, I think it’s like this: when you consider societies that I am referring to, how do they do it?

They have a president, a treasurer, a secretary, and a constitution and providing all these people fill their office properly, and have all the rules of the constitution, they can go on and on.

But Gamaliel looked at these men and he could see that they had nothing like that, and they can’t last.

They had lost their leader, they had no president, no treasurer, no constitution!

Something like this can’t last except it is of God, and you can’t fight against God.

What we have is built on the foundation laid by Jesus.

We have something that goes right back to the beginning and when we look to Jesus, we see in Him everything we treasure.

That being so, we can have full confidence that this is still the Lord’s pathway, and we are still the Lord’s people, the most precious thing that He has here on earth.

Every single one of us is priceless in His sight.

We are thankful over and over again for the time the gospel crossed our pathway, and we received that revelation that this is the Lord’s pathway, and we were willing to follow Jesus day by day.

I talked a lot about the fear of the Lord and our conscience, but I only mentioned a little about ‘love’ except for that one line of hymn, “Lord, may our steps be ordered by Thine indwelling love.”