Rightly Dividing the Word (Part 28): The Circles of the Christian Life

A number of years ago at Northfield, Massachusetts, Robert E. Speer, D.D., gave an address on “The Inner Circle.” Its purpose was to show the different concentric circles or spheres of the Christian Life in their relation to Christ. The outline of Dr. Speer’s address has been put in diagram form by the writer, see Chart on “The Circles of the Christian Life,” page 307. The description of the “Circles” is mainly that of the writer.

First Circle—“The Five Hundred”

In 1 Cor. 15:6, we read—“After that, He was seen of above FIVE HUNDRED BRETHREN at once.” The word “Brethren” denotes that the “Five Hundred” were “Believers,” that they had “FAITH,” and were saved persons. This “Circle” then is the


and represents the large body of Christian Believers in the Church who have been saved by faith in Christ, but are not walking in nearness to Christ, but are following “afar off,” and therefore are mere followers of Christ.

Second Circle—“The Seventy”

In Luke 10:1–11, we read—“After these things the Lord appointed other ‘SEVENTY’ also, and sent them two and two before His face into every city and place, whither He Himself would come.” Jesus sent the “Seventy” forth “two by two” so that they would have company and could consult with each other. Probably they were of different gifts, as preacher and singer, and of different temperaments so as to harmonize their work. They were fully instructed as to their conduct, where they were to go, what they were to do, and what they were to say. When their mission was successfully finished they returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name.” Luke 10:17.

The “Seventy” were picked out from the “Five Hundred” for SERVICE. This “Circle” then is the


In every Church there is only a small number, in proportion to the membership, who are fit for service. Shall we say that the proportion is only 70 in every Church of 500 members? How was it with Gideon when he went against the Midianites? He had an army of 32,000 men (Judges 7:1–8), but the Lord told him that they were too many, that if they were successful they would lay it to their number, so he told Gideon to test them to see how many were fit for service, and Gideon found there were but 300. In this we see the weakness of numbers. The “fearful” and “afraid” in every Church are a source of weakness. Only those of “faith” are fit for service. It is a great thing to be saved, to be in the “Outer Circle” of FAITH, but it is a greater thing to be fit for service and to be honored by a place in the “Circle of Service.”

Third Circle—“The Twelve”

The next inner circle is the “Circle of the Twelve.” “And He goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto Him whom He would; and they came unto Him. And He ordained TWELVE, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils (demons).” Mark 3:13–15. Jesus called the “Twelve” for a twofold purpose.

1.    That they might be with Him.

2.    That He might send them forth.

Jesus was a lonely man, as all men are who live above their fellows and have visions of the future. This was seen in His desire for fellowship, and His “Homesickness” was revealed in His prayer in the “Upper Room” in which He said—“And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine Own Self with the GLORY WHICH I HAD WITH THEE BEFORE THE WORLD WAS.” John 17:5. To meet this “loneliness” and to overcome this “homesickness,” Jesus chose the “Twelve Apostles.” This “Circle” then is the


But Jesus was not selfish in His desire for “Fellowship.” He wanted as companions men whom He could use in His work, and whom He could send forth as He had sent forth the “Seventy.” The names of these men are given in Matt. 10:2–4. These men were doubtless chosen not from the “Five Hundred” but from the “Seventy.” While all the “Seventy” were fit for “Service” they were not all fit to be “APOSTLES.” There are therefore among the workers in every church some who are especially fit for office in the church, such as “Deacons.” For the good of the Church, and the helpfulness of the Pastor, these officers should be men of his own choosing, so that their fellowship may be mutually helpful and pleasant. These Officers should be paired off for service, so the Pastor can send them forth to minister on the field.

Fourth Circle—“The Three”

Among the “Twelve Apostles” there were three men that Jesus chose to go with Him on special occasions. Those men were Peter, James and John. Why He always chose the same three men we are not told, doubtless it was because of their special fitness. We do know that those three men, unknown to themselves, had special work ahead of them. Peter was to be the leading Apostle, James was to be the head of the Church in Jerusalem, and John was to be the “Apocalyptic Seer” of the Church. It was necessary therefore that these three men should never question the “DEITY” of Jesus. To this end He took them to places where He manifested His “Deity.”

1. The Home of Jairus

Jairus sought Jesus that he might ask Him to come and heal his dying daughter. On the way Jesus was delayed, and when they reached the home of Jairus his daughter was dead. Mark 5:22–43. Jesus put out the curious crowd and taking only Peter, James and John, and the parents of the dead girl, entered the chamber where she lay dead, and raising her from the dead He restored her to her sorrowing parents. Why did Jesus take Peter, James and John to that “Chamber of Death”? He took them there that He might reveal to them His “RESURRECTION POWER.” That they might see in that “Power” His DEITY.

2. The Mount of Transfiguration

The second place to which Jesus took Peter, James and John was the “Mount of Transfiguration.” Mark 9:1–10. His purpose was to reveal to them His “GLORY.” To let them have a vision of the “Glory” He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5), that they might see that He existed before His Incarnation, and that He was not a stranger to Moses and Elijah, but had known them and they Him before He became a man. It is noteworthy that Jesus forbade them to tell at that time what happened in the home of Jairus, or upon the Mount of Transfiguration because the announcement of His DEITY then would be premature and interfere with His work.

3. The Garden of Gethsemane

The third place Jesus took Peter, James and John alone was to the recesses of the “Garden of Gethsemane.” Mark 14:32–52. Doubtless all who were in the “Upper Room” and had partaken of the “Lord’s Supper” accompanied Him to Gethsemane, but all but Peter, James and John, were forbidden to enter the recesses of the Garden. Even they were not permitted to witness the “Agony” of Gethsemane, that was too sacred, but they did see when He awakened them the marks of suffering on His face. Jesus took the “three” into the Garden that He might reveal to them His “SORROW,” and that they might get a vision of what the sufferings of the Cross cost Him. The sad thought is that they did not measure up to their opportunity, for they fell asleep. That night was a microcosm of present world conditions. 1. A praying Christ. 2. A sleeping Church. 3. An active Devil.

The “Circle of the Three” was the


It was a great privilege for them to have been chosen by Jesus for special revelations of His “Power,” “Glory” and “Sufferings.” It is a great privilege for a chosen few of the Officers of a Church to be singled out by the Pastor, and have revealed to them things that are not best to give to the world, yet increase their faith in him. You may say “I am not fit to belong to the ‘Circle of Privilege,’ I am a vacillating, unreliable, and impulsive man.” So was Peter, but he was chosen. And James and John were self-seeking men, who, through their mother, sought to sit on the right and left of Jesus in His Kingdom, yet Jesus chose these men. Why? Because He saw in them when they were “sifted as wheat” the golden grain of character that would make them leaders in the Church. How did they get in? Why, they “forsook all” to follow Him. Jesus knew that they were consecrated men and therefore He chose them.

Fifth Circle—Of One

Jesus said—“A new Commandment I give unto you. That ye LOVE one another; as I have LOVED you, that ye also LOVE one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my Disciples, if ye have LOVE one to another.” John 13:34–35. If there ever was a Disciple of Jesus that fulfilled this Commandment it was JOHN. He never boasted that he loved Jesus, but with great humility spoke of himself as the Disciple whom JESUS LOVED. John 21:20. Love seemed to be the “Key-note” of his life, and he breathed it out in that wonderful fourth chapter of his First Epistle, in which he uses the word 26 times. The “Circle of One” then is the


Love will brave any danger for those it loves. A mother’s love will face the most malignant disease for the sake of her child. We read that at the time of the Arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane all the Disciples of Jesus forsook Him and fled. Mark 14:50. But there was an exception, and that exception was JOHN. He was the “another disciple” who went in with Jesus into the Palace of the High Priest to the trial. John 18:15. The intimacy of love exceeds all other intimacy. A Pastor may respect the Officers of his Church, and take them to a large extent into his confidence, but he will not become intimate only with those he loves.

Now to which of these “Circles” do you belong? Do you belong to the outermost Circle, the “Circle of Faith?” Are you only one of the “Five Hundred,” saved, but no good for service? Do you belong to the “Circle of Service,” are you one of the “Seventy” busy about the Master’s work? Or do you belong to the “Circle of Fellowship,” having been called from among the “Seventy” to be one of the “Twelve” and hold some Office in the Church? If so, are you one of the “Inner Circle of Privilege” where you enjoy the special favor of your Pastor? Or can it be said of you that you are the “Beloved Disciple” whom Jesus loves? Your usefulness and service depends on which “Circle” you are in. May we all live the “Pillowed Life” of rest on the Bosom of Jesus.


[1] Larkin, C. (1921). Rightly Dividing the Word (pp. 306–312). Clarence Larkin.

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