God’s Word Sustains Us – Psalm 119:89-96

Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands. They stand this day according to Your ordinances, for all things are Your servants. If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me. I am Yours, save me; for I have sought Your precepts. The wicked wait for me to destroy me; I shall diligently consider Your testimonies. I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad. (NASB)

    Forever, O LORD,The psalmist opens with his focus on God, His Word, and His faithfulness to His people. He knows God’s Word is settled in heaven, and where the Word resides, there is stability (Psa 119:89). This is also true for the believer when God’s Word resides in her/his heart. Those who meditate on the Lord know He is faithful from one generation to the next (Psa 119:90a), for He “established the earth, and it stands” (Psa 119:90b). God’s Word is stable and His work is dependable; these reflect His character. Heaven and earth “stand this day according to Your ordinances, for all things are Your servants” (Psa 119:91).

The emphasis on creation’s standing is repeated in verse 91. “They stand” probably is to be interpreted with the heavens and the earth as the subject because the emphasis is on the established creation. The verb “stand” (עָמַד) emphasizes that what God created is fixed and permanent; it may also have the connotation of standing by to do the will of the sovereign, as attendants might present themselves before their king (Gen. 43:15) with the sense of becoming servants to a lord (1 Sam 16:22). This is confirmed in the second colon: “for all things are your servants.” All of creation exists because of obedience to God’s word; all of creation, therefore, exists to do his will.[1]

     Having set his mind upon the Lord and circulating divine viewpoint in the stream of his consciousness, the psalmist turns his focus on himself and his situation. His horizontal perspective becomes clear and hopeful in the light of God and His Word. He states, “If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction” (Psa 119:92). Here is delight in the midst of hardship; a delight that is rooted in God’s Word and not the circumstances of life. Furthermore, he states, “I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me” (Psa 119:93). The word forget translates the Hebrew verb שָׁכַח shakach, which connotes not keeping God’s commands. It must be remembered that the psalmist is an Israelite in covenant relationship with God. The blessings and cursings in the relationship depend, to a large degree, on his faithfulness to walk in God’s commands (Lev 26; Deu 28). The Lord told His people, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today” (Deu 8:11). To forget God opens His people to idolatry (Deu 8:19), as well as continual fear of others and timidity of circumstances (Isa 51:12-13). But throughout the whole of Psalm 119, the psalmist repeatedly mentions that he will not “forget” God’s Word, saying “I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word”  (Psa 119:16), “The cords of the wicked have encircled me, but I have not forgotten Your law” (Psa 119:61), “Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes” (Psa 119:83), “I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me” (Psa 119:93), “My life is continually in my hand, yet I do not forget Your law” (Psa 119:109), “I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts” (Psa 119:141), “Look upon my affliction and rescue me, for I do not forget Your law” (Psa 119:153), and “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (Psa 119:176). By staying focused and committed to God’s Word, he experienced personal revival (Psa 119:93b).

     The psalmist also saw himself as God’s personal possession, for he states, “I am Yours, save me; for I have sought Your precepts” (Psa 119:94). He belonged to God, and to God he cried for help. His cry for help was also based on his being rightly related to God as one who sought His precepts. Though he walked with God, he also had relational problems with others, which is revealed in his statement, “The wicked wait for me to destroy me” (119:95a). All believers, at some time in their walk, encounter others who are out to cause them harm. As the psalmist had sought the Lord in the past, for guidance and strength, so he would do again, saying, “I shall diligently consider Your testimonies” (Psa 119:95b). The stability of believers is, to a large degree, predicated on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. Though we cannot always influence the circumstances around us, we do not have to be controlled by them, as we can turn to the Lord and His Word. The psalmist closes this section, saying, “I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psa 119:96). Another translation reads, “I realize that everything has its limits, but your commands are beyond full comprehension” (Psa 119:96 NET). Though there is a limit to all things created, God’s Word is boundless. In this pericope, the psalmist set his mind upon the Lord and contemplated His Word and faithfulness; and though he faced hardship, he was strengthened and sustained by learning and living God’s Word, which is boundless and never fails.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90–150): Commentary, vol. 3, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016), 541.

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Being the Good Boss

Christian leadership is the overflow of a life dedicated to pleasing God and serving others so that we can together accomplish the purposes for which the Lord called us together.[1]

    I’ve been reading books on leadership; Christian leadership to be specific. Most of my time is spent in the Bible chasing down biblical references and reading the historical accounts of great men and women who served the Lord and others. What I’m looking for are those biblical qualities that reflect the highest and best in a leader. Not only do I want to possess those qualities and make them my own, but to exercise them daily with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and with people I happen to meet in society.

    Being the Good Boss In my pursuit, I have come to realize that good character is never automatic, but is consciously developed over many years of right learning and living in the midst of trials, storms, and conflicts. It’s an inescapable truth that strong character—like a strong body—is developed through training and trial. No pain, no gain, as the old adage goes. If we’re willing, we can see life’s trials as a means to make us better rather than bitter. We can willingly subject ourselves to the furnace of affliction that burns away the dross of weak character and develops those golden qualities that reflect the highest and best in mankind. And, in time, we can even learn to smile at the storm when it comes, because we know the One who sends it, and we accept that it comes with a purpose, part of which is to develop the good character that could not mature by any other means.

     But there are other forces at work in the world. Other value systems that are harmful and may lead me into destructive paths. Society is never neutral, and there are pressures that pull me to go with the flow. Sometimes that’s alright, but other times not. I realize any dead fish can float downstream with the current, but it takes someone who is alive and strong to swim against it. I want to be that person. I want to be that good person who desires to walk with God daily, and who helps and encourages others to do the same. God has granted me the privilege of being the leader in my marriage, in Bible class, and as a supervisor at my work. I take these responsibilities very seriously, because I know that who I am and how I live influences the thoughts and actions of others. The following is a list of good character qualities that I desire to possess, and the list is by no means exhaustive. I see a good leader as one who:

  1. Submits to God. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (Jam 4:7).[2]“I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1).
  2. Resists conformity to the world. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
  3. Lives by Faith. “But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38 CSB). “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6).
  4. Possesses integrity. God said of king David, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Psa 78:72). “He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out” (Pro 10:9). Having integrity means a person is not artificial, but is genuine in character, honest in speech and faithful to promises.
  5. Does not slander others. “The Lord states, ‘You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness’” (Exo 23:1; cf. Psa 15:3; Pro 11:3; Tit 2:7-8).
  6. Associates with wise persons and listens to their counsel. “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Pro 13:20). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. (Pro 12:15).
  7. Governs wisely. “By me [wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly” (Pro 8:15-16).
  8. Does not befriend immoral persons. “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (Psa 1:1). “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor will I go with pretenders” (Psa 26:4).
  9. Prays often. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:18). “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18).
  10. Brings stability to those under his/her care. “The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it” (Pro 29:4).
  11. Cares about justice. “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev 19:15). “He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8).
  12. Searches to find the facts of a matter before rendering judgment. “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. (Pro 18:13). “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Pro 25:2).
  13. Preserves the rights of others by clear thinking. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Pro 31:4-5).
  14. Educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons. “Now listen to me [Moses receives instruction from Jethro, his father-in-law]: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you” (Exo 18:19-22 NAU).
  15. Is compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving and loving. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14) “I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph 4:1-2).
  16. Looks out for the interests of others. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phi 2:3-4).
  17. Encourages and builds others up. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for building someone up according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Th 5:11).
  18. Pursues peace rather than strife. “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psa 34:14). “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom 14:19).
  19. Recognizes his/her authority and uses it to serve others, not to tear them down. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mat 20:25-28; cf. John 13:1-17).
  20. Rebukes wickedness. “He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’ peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and a good blessing will come upon them” (Pro 24:24-25). “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Th 5:14).
  21. Is slow to anger. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Pro 16:32). “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Pro 17:27; cf. 15:18; 19:11; 29:11).
  22. Is not argumentative. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24-25).
  23. Uses wise and gracious words. “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice” (Psa 37:30).  “Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him” (Ecc 10:12), and “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:6).

     On a day to day basis, the good leader is one who will listen to you, stand up for you, trust you and not micromanage every aspect of your work. They communicate clearly, constantly, and in a collaborative manner. They seek your advice, listen to your concerns, and consult you on the best solutions for success. They set high expectations and encourage you to be the best you can be, operating according to agency standards, and striving for new heights of excellence. They also care about your life outside of work and want you to have good physical, social, and mental health. Lastly, the good boss can be tough when needed. They live in reality and know there are some who will not respond to their leadership, and, may be required to use their authority to reprimand and/or terminate staff; however, this is always a last recourse after all other positive strategies have failed. Overall, I see the good boss as one who lives sacrificially for the benefit of others, always desiring their success as well as the success of the agency.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Christian Gospel  
  2. Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders  
  3. What is Integrity  
  4. Biblical Qualifications for the Church Elder  
  5. Twelve Ways to Deal with the Bad Boss  
  6. Submission to Authority – Part I
  7. Submission to Authority – Part II
  8. Submission to Authority – Part III

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, On Being a Leader for God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 18.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are the New American Standard Bible.

Posted in Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Leadership, Marriage, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chasing After Donkeys

  29332497 - donkey on natural enviornment     I recently delivered a message on God’s providence to a small church in White Settlement, Texas (the audio message is below). My passage was 1 Samuel 9:1-17, and my focus was on primary and secondary causes in the life of Saul. The passage provides an example of how God providentially controls circumstances to accomplish His will. The central idea of the pericope is that Saul went out to find his father’s donkeys, but was actually being directed by God to find a kingdom. The meeting of Saul and Samuel was divinely orchestrated, for neither of them knew each other or planned the occasion. In the passage, God is portrayed as the divine conductor orchestrating the events. What seemed like a normal, even mundane activity—searching for lost donkeys—was ultimately under God’s sovereign control, as He used the situation to guide Saul geographically to the place where he would be anointed king of Israel.

     God’s providence refers to His wise and personal acts, whereby He creates and controls circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His people. As Christians, we live in the flow of history, and are moved by the circumstances He controls, for the Lord “does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).

Providence is normally defined in Christian theology as the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill (Ps. 145:9 cf. Mt. 5:45–48), he upholds his creatures in ordered existence (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), guides and governs all events, circumstances and free acts of angels and men (cf. Ps. 107; Jb. 1:12; 2:6; Gn. 45:5–8), and directs everything to its appointed goal, for his own glory (cf. Eph. 1:9–12). (J. I. Packer, “Providence” in New Bible Dictionary, 979)

     God’s providential control is seen throughout the Bible. For example, God used the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers to bring him to Egypt (Gen. 37:23-28), and later used Joseph to deliver the very ones who betrayed him (Gen. 45:5-8; 47:11, 27-28; 50:20). It was God’s providence that drove Saul to chase after his father’s donkeys and be led to the prophet Samuel and anointed king of Israel (1 Sam. 9-10). It was God’s providence that directed Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, so the baby Jesus would be born at the appointed time and place (Mic. 5:2; Luke 2:4-6; Gal. 4:4). It was God’s providence that forced Aquila and Priscilla out of Rome by the emperor Claudius’ decree, only to meet the apostle Paul in Corinth and join him in Christian ministry (Acts 18:1-3; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19). It was God’s providence that put the Lord Jesus on the cross to be crucified by the hands of godless men, and by this act He accomplished our salvation (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

     By God’s sovereign will He controls all the events of our lives, and the things we consider mundane are used by Him to direct us to the places and people He has predetermined. In this, we know there are no accidental events in our lives, nor chance encounters with other people, for God is working “all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11; cf. Ps. 103:19; 135:6; Dan. 4:35), and causing “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

     It is to our benefit that we see ourselves within the context of God’s sovereignty and providential control, otherwise we’ll wrongly interpret the circumstances of our lives as accidental, or worse, fail to recognize the divine purpose of our lives and to develop the personal sense of destiny that is rooted in the God who created us. It is by learning God’s written revelation that we elevate our thinking above the experience of daily circumstances and see ourselves within the larger context of His greater plan. We learn from Scripture there are no accidental people, for it is by God’s sovereign will that we exist, for “It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psa 100:3). To paraphrase my good friend, Francis Schaeffer, “there are no little people or little places in God’s world.” We all have value and we all have a place of purpose, because God makes it so.

     God’s sovereignty, expressed through His providential control, produces confidence in us who know He is directing all things after the counsel of His will. The growing believer knows “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Where the Bible is silent, the believer seeks to discern God’s will through His providential direction as He guides people and circumstances as He pleases. God controls all of life (Gen. 2:17; Job. 1:21; Ps. 104:29–30; Eccl. 12:7; Dan. 5:23), human birth and calling (Ps. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:4-5; Gal. 1:15), nature (Ps. 147:8; Jonah 1:4; Mark 4:39-41), plagues (Ex. 7–11; 12:29; Rev. 16:10-11), the roll of dice (Prov. 16:33; cf. Ps. 22:18; Matt. 27:35), health and sickness (Deut. 28:27-30; 2 Chron. 21:18; Ps. 41:3; Acts 3:16), prosperity and adversity (1 Sam. 2:7; Job 2:10; Isa. 45:5-7), suffering (Ps. 119:71; Heb. 12:5-11), and the development of Christian character (Rom. 5:2-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Jam. 1:2-4), just to name a few things. The growing believer takes great delight in knowing his good, loving and wise God is in control of His creation and is directing all things according to His providential plan.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Here’s the audio lesson:

[Part of this material is derived from another article I wrote a few years ago on God’s providence]

Related Articles:

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Choosing the Faithful Way – Psalm 119:25-32

My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word. I have told of my ways, and You have answered me; teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders. My soul weeps because of grief; strengthen me according to Your word. Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law. I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart. (Ps 119:25-32 NASB)

     Twice the author describes himself in a depressed state, saying, “My soul cleaves to the dust” (vs 25a), and “My soul weeps because of grief” (vs 28a). His condition is likely the result of suffering brought on by his commitment to know and live God’s Word (see Ps 119:17-24).[1] Many godly persons have expressed their emotions openly. Joseph, when reunited with his father, Israel, “fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time” (Gen 46:29). When David learned about the death of his sons, he “tore his clothes and lay on the ground” (2 Sam 13:31). When the elders at Ephesus heard that Paul was leaving, “they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him” (Acts 20:37). The display of emotion does not necessarily mean the believer is controlled by that emotion; for even during heightened emotive states the believer may still be governed by God’s Word, which keeps her/him on the right path.

     Twice the author seeks God’s help, saying, “revive me according to your word” (vs 25b), and “strengthen me according to your word” (vs 28b). The words “revive” and “strengthen” (Piel imperatives) express an intensity to pursue and lay hold of that which lifts the soul; specifically, God’s Word. The idea in both of these verses is that the stressed-out-believer recharges her/his battery by means of Scripture (c.f. 119:107, 154), which “is living and active” (Heb 4:12) and transforms the mind and strengthens the life of those who lay hold of it.

     The psalmist also states, “I have told of my ways, and You have answered me” (vs. 26). Here he reflects on past times when he spoke to the Lord and He responded to him. God’s past faithfulness encouraged him to know the Lord even more; therefore, he states, “teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders” (vss. 119:26b-27). His return on spiritual investments motivate him to know and invest more. Dr. Allen Ross states:

If he gains more knowledge and understanding of God’s word, he will be able to make more sense of this life and renew his commitment to live faithfully in spite of the dangers. When he gains more understanding, then he will meditate (וְאָשִׁיחָה; s.v. Ps. 119:15) on all God’s wondrous works. With the increase in knowledge and understanding there will be increase in devotion and praise.[2]

     We don’t know exactly what caused the psalmist’s grief (vs 28a), but it could be related to some deception that had led to his harm. This would explain the latter clause where he asks the Lord to “Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law” (Ps 119:29). Deception can bring hurt and derail the believer’s life, but God’s Word can “strengthen” the soul (vs. 28b) and keep it on the path of righteousness. He knows God’s Word guides him in truth and is a means of grace to strengthen him during troubling times.

    Faithful WayThe psalmist is not passively sitting around waiting for life to happen. He’s a man of action who will not idly sit by and do nothing. He states, “I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart” (Psa 119:30-32). I have chosen, I have placed, I cling, and I shall run depict the human will set in motion. But he is not wandering aimlessly or just staying busy as a means of ignoring some unpleasantness. No. He’s thoughtful, focused, and decisive about his direction. He has chosen the faithful way, Your ordinances, Your testimonies and Your commandments. The faithful way is the path of faithful obedience to the Lord, and His ordinances, testimonies and commandments are the specifics of what he will follow. As the psalmist clings to God’s testimonies, he asks that he not put me to shame. Of course, the Lord will not; and in fact, cannot let this happen, for He has integrity, always keeps His promises, and will not let His reputation be tarnished. With renewed enthusiasm, the psalmist runs in God’s commandments, knowing God will enlarge his heart. The heart is the seat of understanding and volition, and greater knowledge of Scripture results in greater capacity for service.

Summary:

     Whoever this psalmist was, he expressed himself in honest ways as one who faced great distress, perhaps because of persecution for righteous living. When faced with threats, he cried out to the Lord for strength and doubled down on his commitment to know God and to run in His ways. His desire was to have enhanced knowledge of God’s Word, which would strengthen his soul and increase his capacity for righteous living. The benefit was a soul set free to run with God and a knowledge and capacity to do His will.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

 

[1] The psalmist regarded himself as a “stranger in the earth” (Ps 119:19), whose soul “is crushed” (vs. 20), and was experiencing “reproach and contempt” (vs. 22). He suffered conflict with others, saying, “princes sit and talk against me” (vs. 24a), God’s “servant who meditates” on His statutes (vs. 24b).

[2] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90–150): Commentary, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016), 491.

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Psalms, Righteous Living, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social Justice from a Biblical Perspective

Thus has the LORD of hosts said, “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” (Zec 7:9-10)

Social Justice     The phrase social justice is commonly used in America today in connection with socialism; and though the term is good, socialism is not.[1] From a biblical perspective, social justice refers to the divinely bestowed rights that God legislates concerning vulnerable persons in society; specifically, the poor, widows, orphans, and sojourners. These rights were theirs by divine law in which God commanded those blessed with resources to provide for the needs, protection, and just treatment of the vulnerable. Blessed Israelites were theologically obligated by God to help the less fortunate. In God’s theocratic kingdom, the dependent could expect the powerful and wealthy to help meet their needs and defend their rights. Solomon wrote, “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern” (Pro 29:7).[2] The “righteous” are those who have regard for God and His laws and are “concerned for rights of the poor” (cf. Isa 10:1-2). Those who disregarded God’s laws concerning the vulnerable could expect to be judged by Him, as Moses wrote, “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow” (Deu 27:19). God’s written law was the basis for “the justice due” to the vulnerable in Israel. According to God’s law:

  1. If a person became poor and had to sell his land, it could be purchased back by a near relative, or by himself if able. However, if there was no one to buy the land, it was automatically returned to the owner in the Year of Jubilee, which came once every fifty years (Lev 25:23-28).
  2. The poor could expect those whom God had blessed to be open-handed toward them and to give generously (Deu 15:7-11).
  3. If a poor person sold himself as a slave to a fellow Israelite, he was to be set free in the seventh year, and sent away with abundant resources. But if the slave chose, he could stay with his master forever (Deu 15:12-17; cf. Lev 25:39-42). Moreover, slaves were to be treated fairly, as God declared, “You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God” (Lev 25:43).
  4. If a poor person gave their cloak as a pledge, it was to be returned to him at sunset so that he would not get cold during the night (Deu 24:10-13).
  5. If one of God’s people hired a poor person to perform labor, he was to be paid the same day (Deu 24:14-15).[3] This is because the poor person relied on that money to eat.
  6. Sojourners, widows and orphans were free to eat the remnants of a crop after harvest (Deu 24:19-21).
  7. Levites, sojourners, widows and orphans were to enjoy the tithe of produce that came every third year (Deu 14:28-29).

     God called His people to be righteous, honest, truthful, protective and open-handed toward the less fortunate in society. Sadly, there were times when kings, princes, judges, wealthy, prophets and priests behaved wickedly and abused the poor.[4] For this reason, God raised up prophets such as Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Zechariah and others who called for His people to “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow” (Isa 1:17). This call for obedience was rooted in the ethics of the Mosaic Law, which God’s people were to follow. Unfortunately, God’s prophets were ignored or mistreated and the vulnerable continued to be exploited. When God’s people would not turn back to Him, He administered retributive justice, which brought about national discipline and eventual destruction (see Ex 22:21-24; Deu 10:17-18; Mal 3:5; Jer 21:12). God used both the Assyrians and Babylonians as His disciplinary agents to dispense retributive justice in Israel.

     In the Church age, governmental leaders—both Christian and non-Christian—serve as conduits of His government and grace to help care for the needy in society. In this case, tax dollars are used for basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Scripture teaches us to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), and to regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom. 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the governmental leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom. 13:2-4; 6-7). Christian leaders who have a healthy walk with the Lord are ultimately directed by His Word. Non-Christian leaders are influenced directly by God who controls their hearts (Pro 21:1), their consciences (Rom 2:14-15), and through the influence of godly believers in their periphery (Dan 3:28-29; 6:25-27).

     As Christians, we use the phrase social justice within the context of God’s moral absolutes. We agree with the laws of man when those laws reflect God’s laws. As a result, we are to advocate for the poor, widows, orphans, and all who are vulnerable to exploitation. In many cases, we are the proponents who affect that blessing as we open our hands to the destitute. This was true of the early church, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44-45). There is no model for socialism here, whereby the state acts as the mediator who takes from one and gives to another. Instead, these Christians willingly sold “their property and possession” to help others, and this was done freely in order to help “as anyone might have need.” James writes, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jam 1:27). Individual Christians are to be open-handed when helping the poor, widows and orphans.[5] This can be done directly, or through the agency of others, including organizations that help the needy and defend their rights. We are called to be good stewards of God’s resources, and this means compassion for others should be governed by wisdom from God’s Word.

     Simple ways to help the poor include: 1) spending personal time with them and treating them with respect, 2) sharing the gospel of Christ, 3) giving kind words and praying for them, 4) sharing Bible promises, 5) personally delivering freshly prepared meals or snacks, 6) giving clothes and blankets, 7) sharing information about local charities that might help them, 8) giving money, 9) volunteering at a homeless shelter, 10) offering gift cards that can be used at local restaurants such as McDonalds or Taco Bell, 11) giving to a local church that helps the poor, 12) or giving to a local charity such as Meals on Wheels or the Salvation Army.

     Lastly, there will be no utopian government until Jesus returns and establishes His government in the world. At that time, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isa 9:7; cf. Jer 33:15). During that time “He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth” (Isa 11:4).

When our Lord returns He will take the reins of government and rule the nations of this world as a benevolent dictator (Rev. 19:15). Then and only then will the world experience a time of righteousness, justice, social welfare, economic prosperity, and spiritual knowledge. He will show Himself to be King of kings and Lord of lords in the same arena where man’s rebellion against God took place.[6]

Summary:

     When Israel was a theocratic kingdom, God legislated certain benefits to the poor, widows, orphans and sojourners in order to meet their daily needs, and these were to be given by those whom He’d blessed with abundance. God instructed His leaders to uphold and defend the rights of the vulnerable, knowing there would be wicked persons who would seek to exploit them. Sadly, much of Israel’s history was marked by a breakdown among His people, as the leaders and wealthy in the land exploited the poor they were called to defend. Now, in the Church age, God provides care for the needy in society through human governments, as well as through individual Christians and local churches. Lastly, perfect government will come in the future when Jesus Christ returns and establishes His kingdom on earth and provides righteous reign and care for all.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Here’s the audio lesson.

Related Subjects:

  1. The Gospel 
  2. Christians in America 
  3. What Does it Mean to be a Man? 
  4. Honor the Lord from Your Wealth 
  5. Treating Others with Dignity 
  6. Helping the Poor  

 

[1] Socialism is little more than thievery, in which governmental leaders extract wealth from one class of citizens—often the honest and hardworking—and redistributes it to others in order to create outcomes of equality. Socialism has brought nothing but social and economic ruin wherever it has been implemented.

[2] Solomon’s mother planted seeds of righteousness in the garden of her young son’s mind, hoping someday the landscape of his thinking would beautifully display the richness of God’s Word. She instructed her young son, saying “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy” (Pro 31:8-9). Oh, that mothers would instruct their children in the ways of the Lord; that children would grow up with godly values that instruct them to care for others and to help the less fortunate. That children would grow up to represent the highest and best within society and not the lowest and worst.

[3] The Bible promotes a strong and honest work ethic. In fact, God’s expectation of compensation for work performed is so strong, it even extended to animals, as Moses wrote, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (Deu 25:4). The animal that works has the right to benefit from its labor. In contrast, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Th 3:10).

[4] The wicked are described as those who “slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans” (Psa 94:6), who “deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans” (Isa 10:2). In addition, “They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor” (Jer 5:28).

[5] Not all widows were eligible for support from the church, but only those who met the age requirements and displayed a life of humility and service to others (1 Tim 5:9-10). And, if a widow has children, they are to care for her (1 Tim 5:4). Younger widows were to seek remarriage and a godly life (1 Tim 5:11-14). And if a young woman has a dependent widow, she must care for her and not expect the church to do it (1 Tim 5:16).

[6] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 316.

Posted in Biblical Worldview, Christian Theology, Church, Hot Topics, Leadership, Living by Faith, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

When God Gives Us a Test

When God     God tests His people. It’s a fact that is repeated throughout Scripture (Exo 16:4; 20:20; Deu 13:3; Jud 3:1-2; Isa 48:10). He tests us with difficult situations in order to humble us, so that we will not look to ourselves for strength, but to Him. In the end, the test reveals that it is God who provides for us. In Genesis 22, Moses records an event in which “God tested Abraham” concerning his son Isaac (Gen 22:1). The Lord told Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen 22:2). Abraham obeyed and did as the Lord instructed, right up to the moment that Isaac lay bound on the rock, with Abraham’s hand raised, ready to slay him with a knife (Gen 22:3-11). But God interrupted and told him, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Gen 22:12). Abraham then turned and saw a ram caught in a thicket, which he took and offered to God “in the place of his son” (Gen 22:13). Abraham passed the test. He loved and trusted the Lord above all else, even his precious son, Isaac. Abraham learned that God provides for him; therefore, he named the place “The Lord Will Provide” (Hebrew יְהוָה יִרְאֶה Yahweh Yireh or Jehovah Jireh) (Gen 22:14). The writer to the Hebrews mentions this event in the life of Abraham, and states:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Heb 11:17-19)

     In another situation, God tested the Israelites in the wilderness by placing them in a situation greater than their ability to cope. Moses spoke to them, saying, “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deu 8:2). God tested them for a purpose, to humble them and to teach them something important. He wanted them to know that He is their provider. Moses went on, saying, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deu 8:3).

     God never puts us in a difficult place, or calls us to a difficult task, without also providing the means to accomplish what He’s set before us. Our duty is to seek the Lord first, believing He will journey with us and provide for us all the way. David wrote, “they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing” (Psa 34:10). Our duty is to “seek the LORD and His strength; [to] seek His face continually” (Psa 105:4). Often, we are distracted with the everyday concerns of this life and focus more on them than on God. Jesus informs us that God knows our needs and will provide for us (Mat 6:25-34), but our concern should be to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat 6:33). This means we should live each moment trusting God to provide. For this reason, Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mat 6:34).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Virtue of Humility  
  2. God’s Grace is Sufficient 
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  4. God Wrestled with Jacob  
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Posted in Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

God’s Grace is Sufficient

     God will, at times, place us in difficult situations in order to humble and teach us. This happens because it’s our natural proclivity to be prideful and to rely on our own strength and resources. When this happens, He gives us hardship so we’ll cry out to Him for strength and guidance, and He always comes through.

God’s Grace     The apostle Paul learned a valuable lesson about God’s grace, but first he had to suffer beyond his ability to cope. The incident occurred when he received special revelation from God and this led him to be puffed up with pride (2 Cor 12:1-6), and the Lord gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to humble him (2 Cor 12:7). No one knows what the “thorn in the flesh” was, but it caused Paul a great amount of suffering. He prayed three times for the Lord to take it away (2 Cor 12:8), but God refused to remove it because it served His purpose. However, the Lord did not leave Paul without the means to handle the suffering, as He told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). Paul wanted the thorn removed. God said no. But then He gave Paul grace that was sufficient to deal with the suffering. The word grace (χάρις charis), as it is used here, refers to divine enablement. It is the strength necessary to cope with a problem that is greater than our ability to handle on our own. God gives grace in proportion to our weakness. The greater our weakness, the more grace He gives. This is a moment by moment grace; always sufficient for the need, and the need is always changing. A problem for many of us is that we think about tomorrow’s problems from the standpoint of today’s grace. But tomorrow’s problems are different than today’s problems, and we cannot expect to deal with tomorrow’s problems with today’s grace. Today’s grace is for today, and tomorrow’s grace will be given to us tomorrow, when we need it. We simply trust the Lord that He sees our needs and will provide for us in each moment. We become relaxed when we realize and accept this.

     When Paul came to understand God’s grace and how it worked in his life, he responded properly, saying, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9b). Paul’s weakness, which ebbed and flowed, was always matched by God’s power to do His will. Paul learned to depend on God, day by day, hour by hour, and moment by moment, as the need required. Because God’s grace is always sufficient for the need, Paul could actually boast about his afflictions and weaknesses, for when he was weak, God would supply His strength. Weakness is a blessing if it teaches us to look to God more and to ourselves less. Paul applied this to all of his situations, saying, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Our weakness and God’s power are simultaneously at work in us, much like they were in Christ when He faced the cross, or in Paul, as he dealt with his thorn in the flesh. “The greater we sense our weakness, the more we will sense God’s power (cf. Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13).”[1]

This grace of Christ (13:14) was adequate for Paul, weak as he was, precisely because (gar, “for”) divine power finds its full scope and strength only in human weakness—the greater the Christian’s acknowledged weakness, the more evident Christ’s enabling strength (cf. Eph 3:16; Phil 4:13). But it is not simply that weakness is a prerequisite for power. Both weakness and power existed simultaneously in Paul’s life (note vv. 9b, 10b), as they did in Christ’s ministry and death. Indeed, the cross of Christ forms the supreme example of “power-in-weakness.”[2]

     We struggle with suffering for at least two reasons: 1) because it leaves us feeling helpless and vulnerable, and 2) because it’s an affront to our pride. We don’t like to think of ourselves as weak. But suffering is our friend when it exposes our weakness and leads us to lean on Christ every moment of every day, for it’s in that hardship that our faith grows and God’s grace is greatest.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Basics of Grace  
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  4. Living by Grace  
  5. God’s Favor Toward His People  
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[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 2 Co 12:9.

[2] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 397.

Posted in Christian Theology, God's Grace, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments