The Biblical Teaching on Tithes

tithe

     I took this picture with my camera phone while passing through an apartment complex one day.  The person living in the apartment apparently thought the message important enough to stick on the front of her door for others to read as they passed by.  It certainly reveals her theology.  So, will you “tithe if you love Jesus”?

      The word tithe means “to give a tenth.” Prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law (ca. 1445 B.C.), we see an example of Abraham giving Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war which he had accumulated after he had defeated Chedorlaomer at the Valley of Shaveh (Gen 14:17-20). Later, Jacob made a vow to give God a tenth of his possessions if God would be faithful to protect him on a journey (Gen 28:20-22). In the accounts of Abraham and Jacob, there was no mandate from heaven for them to give a tenth, and when they did give a tenth, it appears to be a one-time act, never repeated as far as Scripture is concerned. It was not until several centuries later that tithing became mandatory for the nation of Israel when they entered into the Mosaic Covenant and came under the Mosaic Law.

     When God established the nation of Israel as a theocracy under the leadership of Moses and Aaron (ca.1445 B.C.), He gave them 613 commandments known as the Mosaic Law. This law-code was designed to regulate the values and behavior of the citizens of the nation, morally, religiously, socially, economically, etc. Within the Mosaic Law, God required Israel to pay several tithes, which was tantamount to a form of taxation.

The so-called tithe (“a tenth”) added up to far more than a simple 10% annually, because there was a second tithe annually, and a third tithe in the third and fifth years…In the Old Testament economy all the giving covered the sanctuary offerings for God, the taxes for the nation, and charitable gifts all rolled together.[1]

     The tithe consisted of produce and livestock (Lev 27:30-32), and was given to the Levites for their support for ministry (Num 18:21-24). The Levites, in turn, gave a tithe of the tithe to the Priests for their service (Num 18:25-28). Additionally, the worshipper could eat a portion of the sacrifice with his family and the Levites (Deut 12:17-19; 14:22-27). Lastly, a tithe was taken every third year to help the poor, the alien, the orphans and the widows. This tithe was comparable to a social welfare system for the most unfortunate in society.  

At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. (Deut 14:28-29)

tithe-storehouse     The tithe was to be gathered into a “storehouse” (הָאוֹצָר בֵּית – bet ha otsar; Mal 3:10), which referred to a large room where “they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests” (Neh 13:5). Withholding the tithe was a form of robbery to God, the Levites, and the less fortunate in society who depended on it for daily living (Mal 3:6-11).

Non-tithers-board     Sadly, some pastors have mishandled Malachi 3:8-10 and applied it to the Church, browbeating Christians to make them feel guilty for not giving money to the Church. Some tyrants have even required church members to show their annual tax returns, or publicly posted their annual contributions in order to strong-arm Christians to give. This is more an act of despotic control over one’s flock than loving leadership. Pastors who use Malachi 3:8-10 against Christians display both an ignorance of God’s Word and a spiritual immaturity in leadership. The fact is, Malachi 3:8-10 has nothing to do with the Church.

     To be clear, Israel and the Church are both God’s people, but Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:11; Gal 6:2). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex 40:18-38; 2 Chron 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5; cf. Rom 12:1; Heb 13:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut 14:22-23; 28-29; Num 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

     To Christians, the apostle Paul mentions systematic giving (1 Cor 16:1-2), but nowhere specifies an amount. Giving 10% of one’s income is fine, so long as it is understood that it’s a voluntary action and not required by the Lord. One could easily set aside a different amount to be given on a regular basis. Certainly, the financial support of the Pastor is in line with Scripture (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17-18), although the apostle Paul supported himself in his own ministry as an example to others of sacrificial living (Acts 20:32-35). Giving systematically and giving joyfully is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament (1 Cor 16:1-2; 2 Cor 9:7).

     Lastly, we should realize all we have is on loan from God, for “the earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1). The Lord declares, “every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psa 50:10), and “‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine’, declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag 2:8). When we give to the Lord, it’s a test of our love and loyalty to Him; for what we give is already His, and giving back to Him means we trust and support His work in the world. David captures this well when he says, “who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Ch 29:14).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson on Tithing

Related Articles:

 

[1] Allen P. Ross, Malachi Then and Now: An Expository Commentary Based on Detailed Exegetical Analysis (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 156.

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The Old and New Priesthood

     A priest was one who offered prayers, sacrifices, and worship to God on behalf of others. He also offered instruction, by speech and behavior, concerning how to properly approach God in righteousness. In the OT—before the Mosaic Law—few priests are mentioned. Melchizedek functioned as the king/priest of Salem (Gen 14:18-20; cf. Heb 7:1), and Jethro/Ruel (Moses’ father-in-law) as the priest of Midian (Ex 2:16-21; 3:1). Job served as the priest over his household, offering sacrifices for the sins of his family (Job 1:5). Most people worshipped and served God as non-priests. Men such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built temporary stone altars and worshipped God directly (Gen 8:20-21; Gen 12:7; 13:18; 26:24-25; 35:1-7). Before the Mosaic Law, it appears that sacrifice and worship were personal, simple, did not require special attire, and were not tied to a specific geographic location or facility.

     After Israel was delivered from the bondage of Egypt, God established the Hebrews as a theocratic nation among the Gentile nations of the world. God originally intended the whole nation to be a kingdom of priests, saying, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). However, because of the sin of worshipping the golden calf (Ex 32:1-35), God took that privilege from the nation and gave it solely to the tribe of Levi (Num 3:6-10).

     Aaron was from the tribe of Levi, and he and his descendants constituted the priestly class in Israel, and other qualified Levites helped them in their priestly duties. The distinction between priests and Levites continued into the NT (John 1:19; Luke 10:31-32). The priests in Israel were not given land (Num 18:20, 23-24), but could live in one of forty-eight cities that were assigned to them (Num 35:7). Their living was derived from the tithe (Num 18:21, 24-28), and they could eat part of the animal sacrifice (Lev 5:13, 7:31-34), along with their family (Lev 10:12-15).

     God required that Levitical priests could not have any physical defects (Lev 21:17-23), and restricted the age to twenty-five to fifty (Num 8:24-25). The Levitical priests originally served in the tabernacle, and later in the temple. Special clothing was required both for the priests and the high priest. Throughout the years of their priestly service they were required to:

  1. Be holy in their behavior (Ex 19:6).
  2. Teach God’s Law to others (Lev 10:8-11; Deut 31:9-13; 33:8-10; 2 Chron 17:7-9; Ezra 7:10; Mal 2:7).
  3. Offer sacrifices for sin to God (Lev chapters 4, 9, 16).
  4. Adjudicate legal matters (Deut 17:8-13; 19:16-17; 2 Chron 19:8-10).
  5. Preserve the tabernacle and temple (Num 18:1-7).
  6. Perform official duties in the Holy of Holies once a year (Ex 30:6-10; Lev 16).
  7. Inspect persons, animals, and fabrics to make sure they were clean (Lev 1:3; Deu 15:21; Lev 13-15).
  8. Receive the tithes (Num 18:21, 26; cf. Heb 7:5).
  9. Pronounce God’s blessing on the nation (Num 6:22-27).

     The death of Christ on the cross fulfilled the Mosaic Law and ended the OT animal sacrificial system and the Levitical priesthood (John 1:17; Rom 6:14; 8:3-4; 10:4; 2 Cor 3:1-13; Gal 5:18; Heb 8:13). Jesus is identified as a Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Psa 110:4; Heb 7:11-19), and He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone for sin (Mark 10:45; Rom 8:3-4).

The Priesthood of all Believers     Today, there is no specialized priesthood, and the Catholic Church—or any organization—is not justified in creating a priestly cast within the body of Christ. Presently, in the church age, every Christian, at the moment of salvation, becomes a priest to God. Peter writes of Christians, saying, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5), and “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).[1] This is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who “has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6), and “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev 5:10; cf. 20:6). Furthermore, we do not worship at a temple; rather, “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16; cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17). And we do not bring animal sacrifices, but “offer up spiritual sacrifices” to God (1 Pet 2:5). The basic functions of the Christian priesthood include:

  1. The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2).
  2. Confessing our sins directly to God (1 John 1:6-9).
  3. Sharing the gospel with others (Rom 15:15-16).
  4. Offering praise to God (Heb 13:15).
  5. Doing good works and sharing with others (Heb 13:16; cf. Phil 4:18).
  6. Giving our lives for the benefit of others (Phil 2:17; cf. Phil 1:21-26; 2:3-4).
  7. Walking in love (Eph 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet 1:22).

     The Christian becomes a priest at the moment of salvation; however, the practice of the priesthood begins when he/she surrenders their body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Unlike the OT animal sacrifices which surrendered their lives once, the Christian life is a moment by moment, continual surrender to God. This spiritual service is performed by the believer “to our God” (Rev 5:10), for the benefit of others (Gal 6:10; Phil 2:3-4; Heb 13:16).

Audio lesson on The Old and New Priesthood

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. Restoring Fellowship With God
  3. The New Covenant and the Lord’s Supper
  4. What is the Church?
  5. The Basics of Prayer
  6. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
  7. Walking with God

 


[1] Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues that the references in 1 Peter 2:5-9 refers narrowly to Jewish Christians, and there is merit to his argument. He also makes clear that all Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, are priests to God, and references Revelation 1:6; 5:10, and 20:6 as his prooftexts. For further investigation, read Israelology, pages 720-722.

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Authorial Intent

What is the Meaning

     This picture is commonly used to argue that meaning is found in the reader who is free to interpret words or symbols based on his/her perspective. But this ignores what the author intended when he/she wrote the word or symbol in the first place. In everyday communication, meaning always originates with the author and the context of their writing. 

      If two people are looking at the same word or symbol and have opposing views, the first thing that should be done, if possible, is to contact the author and ask what was intended. If that’s not possible, then one should seek to orient to the word or symbol by looking at surrounding words or symbols. For example, if one sees the numbers 5 and 7 on either side of the number in question, then that means it’s a 6. If the nearby numbers are 8 and 10, then the number in question is a 9. Or, perhaps the number is in front of a building, in which case, the observer is helped by facing the front of the property. 

     Again, authorial intent and context always determines meaning. This is true when listening to a supervisor’s instruction, reading the words on a medicine bottle, following the speed limit on the freeway, paying one’s taxes, or reading the Bible. 

     If one does not have enough information to make an informed decision, then it’s best to suspend judgment rather than provide a dogmatic guess, or argue from one’s limited perspective. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Hermeneutics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

King David – the Good and the Bad

     The Bible describes David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14; cf. Acts 13:22). This is a huge compliment, but what does it mean? God certainly knew David’s heart and what kind of king he would be, for He informed His prophet, Samuel, saying, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). The statement of David being a man after God’s own heart occurs within the context of Saul’s disobedience to the Lord. Samuel told Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you” (1 Sam 13:13), and again, “you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam 13:14). Saul had disobeyed God’s command through His prophet, so the Lord promised to take the kingdom from him and give it to one who would be more obedient. David was that man. He was an obedient king, for the most part, and subsequent kings were measured by him (1 Ki 3:14; 9:4-5; 11:4-6, 31-34, 38; 14:7-8; 15:1-5; 11-15; 2 Ki 14:1-4; 16:1-3; 18:1-3; 22:1-2). David set the bar for what it meant to be a good king, and this allowed others to have a standard to guide them. However, we should not conclude that David was perfectly obedient and kept the Lord’s will in all matters in his life. He did not. No believer ever does, for there are none who are sinless, except the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Jo 3:5). But David obeyed the Lord in important matters, and apart from a few major offences, he did not generally commit egregious sins.[1]

David_and_Bathsheba_by_Artemisia_Gentileschi     In fact, David personally acknowledged his sins, saying “my iniquities are gone over my head; as a heavy burden they weigh too much for me” (Ps 38:4). He also wrote, “For evils beyond number have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to see; they are more numerous than the hairs of my head, and my heart has failed me” (Ps 40:12). Among David’s recorded sins, the most offensive was his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-17). Scripture tells us that David had slept with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed; and “the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Sam 11:27). What is commendable about David is that he handled his sin in a biblical manner by confessing it and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness. Concerning Uriah and Bathsheba, David said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam 12:13; read Psalm 51 for the longer version of David’s confession). And upon his confession, the prophet Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam 12:13). Here we see God’s grace and government at work; for though David was forgiven and restored to fellowship with God, there were still consequences for his actions and the Lord dispensed judgment upon David and Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:14-18).

     On another occasion, David followed Satan’s temptation and “sinned greatly” by taking a census in Israel (1 Chron 21:1, 8), presumably because he was trusting in his military strength rather than the Lord. When God judged David for this, David confessed his sin and declared, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing” (1 Chr 21:8a). It is a hallmark of a mature believer to own his sin and humble himself before the Lord through confession. Not only did he confess his sin, but he also sought the Lord’s forgiveness, saying, “Please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly” (1 Chron 21:8b), and “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great” (1 Chron 21:13).

images     Furthermore, David practiced the sin of polygamy contrary to the Law of Moses, which specifically commanded the king of Israel, that “he shall not multiply wives for himself” (Deu 17:17). From Scripture we know the names of eight of David’s wives: Michal (1 Sam 18:27), Abigail (1 Sam 25:39-42), Ahinoam (1 Sam 25:43), Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24), Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah (2 Sam 3:2-5). And he had other wives and concubines that are not named, as Scripture reveals, “David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron” (2 Sam 5:13a). Interestingly, the Bible says nothing about David’s practice of polygamy, and though it is a sin according to Scripture, it was apparently tolerated in David’s life, perhaps because it never resulted in his wives leading him into idolatry as it had done with his son, Solomon (see 1 Kings 11:1-11).[2]

     But doesn’t this seem unfair? That David could commit such heinous sins as murder, adultery, and polygamy and still be called a man after God’s own heart, as well as being the standard of a good king to all subsequent kings in Israel? I think there’s an answer to this, and it is found in two words; grace and humility. Grace on God’s part and humility on David’s part. There is a pattern in David’s life: when God charged David with acting contrary to His will (as His righteousness demands), David accepted it and humbled himself before the Lord, accepting whatever came to him; preferring forgiveness alone, but accepting punishment also, if that’s what the Lord decided. David knew that grace is a chief characteristic of God (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; Pro 3:34; John 1:14; Eph 1:6; Heb 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet 5:10). For this reason, David could say, “the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness”, and that “He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever” (Psa 103:8-9). The Bible reveals God is gracious, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). The kindness shown is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the giver.

     The other word is humility. Humility is a lowliness of mind, an inward quietness before the Lord that reflects a poverty of spirit. The humble know they need God and seek Him for wisdom, guidance and strength. Humility is not a natural quality, nor does it come easily, but it is what the Lord requires of His people (Mic 6:8; Eph 4:1-2; Phi 2:3-4). The humble live with a constant sense of their weaknesses and inabilities to cope with life apart from God, and are keenly aware of their sinful nature and propensity to turn away from the Lord and befriend the world. Humility is not a sense of worthlessness, but unworthiness of the Lord’s love and blessings. The humble realize they deserve nothing good in this life, and any blessing they receive is from God’s grace. Though David had his failings, he realized God is gracious and forgiving to the humble believer, as Scripture states, “for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). For this reason, David could say:

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:10-14).

     David was not perfect, and neither are we. But I want to close with the point that we too can be described as a person “after God’s own heart” if we walk daily with Him and prioritize His commands in our lives, and humbly accept His correction when He gives it. To be a person after God’s own heart meant David was primarily disposed to seek God’s will rather than his own, as was the case with Saul. David desired to know God’s will and walk in it, and to lead others to do the same. To be a person after God’s own heart is to love what He loves, to walk with Him in the same direction He is going, to be sensitive to what pleases Him and to obey His commands. David had this kind of heart, saying, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart” (Psa 40:8), and “make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it” (Psa 119:35; cf. 11, 24, 92).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. David – A Better King  
  2. Saul – The King who Failed  
  3. Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders  
  4. Characteristics of a Christian Leader  
  5. What is Integrity?  
  6. Walking with God  
  7. The Basics of Grace  
  8. God’s Great Grace  
  9. Living by Grace  

[1] Biblically, some acts of obedience are more important than others, and some acts of sin are more egregious than others. For example, Samuel, told King Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22). Solomon wrote, “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice” (Pro 21:3). Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). Likewise, some sins are worse than others and bring greater judgment. Jesus told His disciples not to be like the Scribes, “who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers”, saying, “These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:47). Concerning the citizens of Chorazin and Bethsaida, Jesus said, “it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (Matt 11:22). The apostle John, writing to believers, states, “All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death” (1 Jo 5:17). These are obvious statements that show some acts of obedience are better than others, and some acts of sin are worse than others. Furthermore, of the 613 commands given in the Mosaic Law, only 15 demanded the death penalty, namely: intentional murder (Ex 21:12-14; cf. Gen 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex 21:15), kidnapping (Ex 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deu 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex 22:20), cursing God (Lev 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deu 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex 22:18; Deu 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev 20:10-14; 21:9; Deu 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex 22:19; Lev 20:15-16), incest (Lev 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deu 22:25-27).

[2] In fact, there was an incident in which two of David’s wives were captured by Amalekites who made a raid on the Negev and Ziklag (1 Sam 30:1-5). David sought the Lord in prayer (1 Sam 30:6-8a), and God said, “Pursue, for you will surely overtake them, and you will surely rescue all” (1 Sam 30:8b). In this account, God gave David victory (1 Sam 30:9-17), and “David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and rescued his two wives” (1 Sam 30:18).

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David – A Better King

The shepherd     David was a good king who reigned in Israel from roughly 1010 to 970 B.C.[1] David’s life was intermingled with Saul, Israel’s first king, who failed to walk with God and do His will. David was better than Saul. He was better because he was a man of faith, and faith always pleases the Lord (Heb 11:6). This did not mean that David was sinless, for he was not; but by faith he handled his sin in a biblical manner. David was also marked by humility and knew his advancement and blessings were from the Lord. Though God had anointed David king of Israel (1 Sam 16:1-13), the promotion did not go to his head. At the time he was anointed, he did not rush in and demand the throne, but waited on the Lord to give it to him; after all, Saul was still king in Israel until the Lord removed him. An example of David’s humility is observed by the fact that he did not abandon his duties as a shepherd, for though his three oldest brothers “had gone after Saul to the battle” (1 Sam 17:13), perhaps to pursue worldly glory by being near the king and the battle, David continued “to tend his father’s flock at Bethlehem” (1 Sam 17:15). Don’t miss that statement. David’s commitment to lowly work says something about his character, for there’s certainly no worldly glory to be had as a modest shepherd caring for sheep in a lonely field. Humility does not reach for glory; it reaches for the Lord’s will, and delights to serve in it, even if it leads to lowly and unknown places, doing necessary work that others will never see. To be sure, it was in those places that God prepared David for the battles he would face throughout his life.

     God would eventually move David into the public spotlight, and He did this when He set the stage for David to slay Goliath. Jesse, David’s father, sent him to the battlefield to check on the welfare of his brothers (1 Sam 17:17-19). The text tells us, “So David arose early in the morning and left the flock with a keeper and took the supplies and went as Jesse had commanded him” (1 Sam 17:20). When David arrived, he saw Israel in battle array going out to the battlefield, and he “ran to the battle line and entered in order to greet his brothers” (1 Sam 17:22).

David kills lion and bear     When David saw Goliath mocking the armies of Israel, he questioned how the Philistine could get away with it, asking, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). David’s comments were passed along to others until they eventually reached the ears of Saul, who sent for him (1 Sam 17:31). When questioned by Saul, David said, “Let no man’s heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:32). These are confident words uttered by a lowly shepherd-boy to the king of Israel. Saul could not believe what he was hearing and said, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth” (1 Sam 17:33). That’s human viewpoint at work. What Saul did not know, what no one could know, was that God had worked in the unseen and lowly places to prepare His servant, David, for this very occasion. But David knew it and answered, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him” (1 Sam 17:34-35). David then made the connection for Saul, saying, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God” (1 Sam 17:36). What’s interesting is that David, while caring for his father’s sheep, had no idea God was preparing him for something else, something greater. As an obedient son, David was simply doing his humble job faithfully, as his father expected. God often grows and strengthens His people in the out of the way places where no one sees. But it’s those times of private growth that we’re prepared for other battles, and the faith that works in one situation easily applies to the other. For this reason, David could say to Saul, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:37). And we know the rest of the story, how God used David to defeat Goliath with a sling and a stone, a shepherd’s weapon wielded by a hand of faith (1 Sam 17:38-58). In the end, it’s not human strength that wins the battle, “for the battle is the LORD’S” (1 Sam 17:47).

     Saul sought to capitalize on David’s success by bringing him into his house and making him part of his army (1 Sam 18:1-5). But this backfired on Saul, as the people he was trying to impress were more impressed by David. The text states, “It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’” (1 Sam 18:6-7). David’s success was not his own doing, but was from the Lord. However, Saul did not care about the Lord, nor did he care to recognize those whom God was blessing. Rather, Saul became fearful and irrational. The text reveals, “Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on” (1 Sam 18:8-9). If we’d been there with Saul in that moment, we might have tried to reason with him about his negative reaction to David’s success. But our words would have failed, for Saul was not a rational person; rather, he was governed by pride and fear, rather than humility and faith.

Saul tries to kill David     Saul’s mental decline created instability in his household, and one never knew what to expect from one moment to the next. Rather than rejoicing in David’s success, he sought his destruction and tried to kill him (1 Sam 18:10-11). When that failed, he tried to win him over by giving him his daughter in marriage, thus making David his son-in-law (1 Sam 18:17-27). Sin creates irrationality and fickle behavior, but submission to God is the basis for wisdom and a healthy mind, for “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; [but] fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Pro 1:7). It is often true that a person’s greatness is measured by the obstacles he overcomes, and David’s success can be measured, to some degree, by how he responded to Saul. Saul hated and tried to kill David, but David did not hate Saul, nor did he retaliate. Instead, David modeled good sense, coupled with wisdom and diplomacy (1 Sam 18:12-30). During this time of persecution, David developed a deep and lasting friendship with Jonathan, Saul’s son, who kept David informed of Saul’s plans and helped protect David when he was running for his life (see 1 Samuel chapters 19-23).

David protects Saul     For nearly seven years David fled from Saul’s murderous pursuit, as he traveled from city to city and sometimes hid in caves in the wilderness. A significant event occurred when God brought Saul and David together in a cave in the wilderness of Engedi. Saul had taken three thousand men in pursuit of David (1 Sam 24:1-2), but Saul unknowingly put himself in a vulnerable spot when he went into a cave to relieve himself (1 Sam 24:3). What Saul did not know was that David and his men were hiding in that cave, and though David had opportunity to kill Saul, and was even encouraged by his men to do so (1 Sam 24:4), he would not, for he recognized that Saul was “the Lord’s anointed” and David would not harm him.[2] David said to his troops, “Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD’S anointed” (1 Sam 24:6). And when speaking to Saul directly he said, “I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’S anointed” (1 Sam 24:10). David understood that even though Saul was governed by fear and hate, he was still God’s chosen king, and only God could remove him from office. David declared that he would not harm Saul, though Saul had tried to kill him on several occasions. David simply put the matter in the Lord’s hands and chose to let Him dispense justice, in His time and way. David said, “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Sam 24:12) and “The LORD therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand” (1 Sam 24:15). Saul, for a brief moment, recognized his sinfulness, apologized to David, and went home (1 Sam. 24:16-22a), “but David and his men went up to the stronghold” (1 Sam 24:22). I believe David did not return with Saul because he knew Saul would not change, and this was confirmed after Samuel died (1 Sam 25:1), and Saul again took three thousand men and went in pursuit of David to kill him (1 Sam 26:1-2). And again, David was given the advantage to kill Saul (1 Sam 26:3-7). On the first occasion, David was encouraged by his friends to kill Saul (1 Sam 24:4), and on the second occasion, David’s soldier, Abishai wanted to kill him (1 Sam 26:8), but David forbid it, saying to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” (1 Sam 26:9). And again, putting the matter in the Lord’s hand, David said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish” (1 Sam 26:10). The Lord did kill Saul battle, as Scripture states, “Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore, He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse” (1 Ch 10:13-14). Through all his interactions with Saul, David proved to be a better man.

     After Saul’s death, all Israel came to David asking him to be their king, saying, “Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel’” (2 Sam 5:1-2). The leaders of Israel recognized God was the reason David was successful. “So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the LORD at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years” (2 Sam 5:3-4).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Saul – The King who Failed  
  2. Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders  
  3. What is Integrity? 
  4. Walking with God  
  5. Characteristics of a Christian Leader 

[1] Conservative scholarship places Saul’s reign roughly from 1050 to 1010 B.C., and David’s reign from 1010 to 970 B.C. We know David was thirty years of age when he became king (2 Sam 5:4), which would place his birthday around 1040 B.C. It is thought by many that David was about fifteen years of age when he was anointed king in 1025 B.C. This could be supported, in part, by Saul’s early description of David as a “youth”, a Hebrew word (נָעוּר naur) which commonly means boy, youth, or lad. If this is correct, it means Saul would had been king for twenty-five years before David was anointed, and then another fifteen years before David took the throne.

[2] The phrase, “The Lord’s anointed”, occurs seven times in chapters 24-26 (1 Sam 24:6, 10; 26:9, 11, 16, 23).

Posted in Christian Theology, Leadership, Living by Faith, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Saul – The King who Failed

     Saul and David were Israel’s first two kings, and though their lives crossed each other’s paths on multiple occasions, they were very different from each other, and the difference was primarily a matter of the heart. Throughout his life, Saul proved to be a terrible king who repeatedly rejected God’s will and went his own way. Without God to guide and sustain, Saul became paranoid and sought to control those around him, and those he could not control, he tried to kill. David, on other hand, was an ideal king, and though he had his sinful failings, he handled them in a biblical manner, accepting God’s punishment and returning to a life of obedience.

Samuel and the People     The story of Saul begins with a breakdown in Israel’s leadership. Samuel had been the nation’s judge for many years and he’d been faithful to obey the Lord and treat His people fairly. However, as Samuel grew old, he appointed his two sons, Joel and Abijah, to rule as judges in his place (1 Sam 8:1-2), but his sons “did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Sam 8:3). Israel’s elders came to Samuel at Ramah (1 Sam 8:4), and said, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam 8:5). There was nothing wrong with Israel having a king; in fact, God told both Abraham and Jacob, “kings will come forth from you” (Gen 17:6; 35:11), and the Lord gave Moses the qualifications for a king, as well as the basic rules that were to guide his life (Deu 17:14-20).[1] The hidden motivation of the elders was later revealed, for what they wanted was to be like the nations around them, to have a king who would go out and fight their military battles (1 Sam 8:20). The elders either did not know about the qualifications of Israel’s king, or did not care. Either way, “the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed to the LORD” (1 Sam 8:6). God said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam 8:7). Israel was a theocratic kingdom in which God was their King. The request for a human king was born out of a heart of independence, in which His people did not want Him as their Ruler; rather, they wanted a king so they could be like the other nations. The request was ultimately a rejection of God.

     This request by Israel’s leaders was part of a long history of defiance that could be traced back nearly four hundred years, going back to the days of the Exodus, when God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt. God explained to Samuel, “Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also” (1 Sam 8:8). Rejecting God and worshipping idols was the national proclivity of Israel. “God saw this demand as one more instance of apostasy that had marked the Israelites since the Exodus. He acceded to their request as He had done many times before—by providing manna, quail, and water in the wilderness, for example. However, He mixed judgment with His grace.”[2] For a second time God told Samuel to “listen to their voice” (1 Sam 8:9a), and then told him, “you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them” (1 Sam 8:9). Samuel warned the leadership that what they requested would result in their harm (1 Sam 8:10-18), as the king would “take” more than he’d give (mentioned six times), that he would take the “best” of what they had (sons, daughters, fields, crops, servants and flocks), and the people would eventually become his “servants” (i.e. slaves vs. 17). Over time, this would result in great oppression, and they were warned, “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day” (1 Sam 8:18). With all this information, “the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, ‘No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles’” (1 Sam 8:19-20). Here is foolishness on display. God’s people rejecting Him and His wisdom, determined to run their kingdom their way, without Him. So the Lord granted their request and selected a Benjamite named Saul (1 Sam 9:1-2, 17), providentially directing him to Samuel (1 Sam 9:3-37), who anointed him king over Israel (1 Sam 10:1; cf. 10:24; 12:13). God gave Israel what they wanted; He gave them Saul, a king after their own hearts, and they would suffer for it.

     Saul had the outward appearance of what most people look for in a leader, for he was “a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people” (1 Sam 9:2). David was good looking too, as Scripture describes him as “ruddy, with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance” (1 Sam 16:12; cf. vs. 18). Often when we search for a leader, we want someone who looks and talks a certain way, has the right credentials and preferably a good work history. We shouldn’t diminish those things, but simply put them in their place, as being below the things God desires, “for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).

     Before becoming king, Saul is described in positive ways as “a mighty man of valor” (1 Sam 9:1), who showed concern for his father (1 Sam 9:3-4), listened to good advice from a friend (1 Sam 9:5-6), showed respect for God’s prophet (1 Sam 9:7-9), listened to him (1 Sam 9:17-10:8), and functioned as a prophet himself (1 Sam 10:9-13). However, Saul’s admirable qualities did not journey with him into his new position as king. After his promotion, Saul’s soul became unstable and he spent most of his life looking around rather than looking up, as he was governed by fear, jealousy, suspicion and hatred of those whom God was advancing; namely David. Saul could have done well. He could have flourished as Israel’s king if he’d listened to God’s voice and walked with Him. But his kingship turned out to be a failure because he would not obey the Lord.

King Saul Offers a Sacrifice     The major turning point in Saul’s life occurred when he failed to wait on God. Saul sinned by offering a sacrifice to God (1 Sam 13:8-14), which violated a previous command given by Samuel, the Lord’s prophet, who told Saul, “you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do” (1 Sam 10:8). Saul waited the seven days as Samuel instructed (1 Sam 13:8), but then took matters into his own hands and offered the sacrifices that Samuel was supposed to offer (1 Sam 13:9-10). Samuel pointed out Saul’s failure and said, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Sam 13:13). The consequence for Saul was that God would take away his kingdom and give it to another who would obey Him. The Lord said, “But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam 13:14; cf. Acts 13:22). To be a person after God’s own heart means to be one who obeys the Lord’s commands. Saul’s life progressively spiraled downward from this point forward.

King Saul tries to Kill David     Saul’s turning away from the Lord was marked by numerous foolish acts that spread over his life. Saul had issued a thoughtless command that harmed his people (1 Sam 14:24-30), and disobeyed the command to destroy completely the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:3, 8-9). Furthermore, Saul was afraid of David, because God was with him (1 Sam 18:12-16, 18, 29), and twice tried to kill him with a spear (1 Sam 18:10-11; 19:10), and conspired to kill him through others (1 Sam 19:1, 11, 15; 20:30-31). Saul even tried to kill Jonathan, his own son (20:32-33; cf. 1 Sam 14:44). Later, he had eighty-five Levitical priests killed (1 Sam 22:11-18). Saul wasted many years of his life chasing after David rather than building up the nation. By the end of his life, Saul debased himself by consulting a medium (1 Sam 28:5-28), which is against to God’s will (Deu 18:10-11). Eventually, Saul committed suicide (1 Sam 31:4). By the end of his life, “Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse” (1 Ch 10:13-14). David was a better king than Saul. He was a better king because he lived by faith and obeyed the Lord.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

 

[1] Because Israel was a theocracy, their king was to lead as a subordinate to the Lord, submitting himself to the Law of God as revealed in Scripture. The Mosaic Law specifically commanded that the king of Israel be one of their own countrymen and not a foreigner (Deu 17:15), that he not multiply horses and rely on his military strength (Deu 17:16), that he not practice polygamy, lest his wives turn his heart away from the Lord (Deu 17:17a), and that he not greatly increase silver and gold, lest he rely on his riches to save him in time of trouble (Deu 17:17b). In addition, the king of Israel was to write out a copy of the Mosaic Law and carry it with him all the days of his life that he might observe the Lord’s commands and walk in them (Deu 17:18-20).

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Sa 8:4.

Posted in Christian Theology, Hamartiology, Leadership, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When Life Gets Tough

If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? (Jer 12:5)[1]

     When life gets tough, sometimes God reassures and comforts us (Psa 23:4; 2 Cor 1:3-5; 2 Th 2:16-17), sometimes we comfort each other (Eph 6:22; 1 Th 4:18), and sometimes we comfort ourselves with His Word (Psa 119:50, 52; Lam 3:21-23). But there are times in Scripture when God does not give comfort—at least not in the way we might expect—but informs His people that things will get worse, and that they need to prepare themselves for the challenges and suffering ahead (Matt 10:16, 23; John 15:20; 16:1-2; Acts 9:15-16; 20:22-23). A good example of this is found in Jeremiah 12:1-6, where Jeremiah was experiencing suffering and went to the Lord with his complaint, seeking a solution; however, rather than comfort His prophet, He warned him that things would get worse. Let me give some background to Jeremiah’s situation before explaining the Lord’s answer to him.

     Jeremiah was a prophet to Judah, and his ministry began in 627 B.C. (Jer 1:1-2) and lasted approximately forty years until Judah and Jerusalem were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (2 Ki 25:1-21). Jeremiah’s ministry spanned the reign of five kings, namely: Josiah (640-609 B.C.), Jehoahaz (609), Jehoiakim (609-597), Jehoiachin (597) and Zedekiah (597-587).[2] Josiah was a good king who “did much to clear the land of idolatry, sacred prostitution, child sacrifice, and pagan altars not only in Judah but also in some formerly Israelite territory. He also reinstituted the Passover.”[3] However, after Josiah’s death in 609 B.C., the next four kings resorted back to pagan practices and the majority of Israelites followed. These were difficult times.

     Throughout his life Jeremiah walked with God and this heightened his spiritual sensitivities, making him deeply aware of the spiritual and moral decline of his nation (this is true of believers today). Most of Jeremiah’s contemporaries had shut God out of their lives—though many kept a veneer of religion (Jer 12:2)—and were desensitized to their own impiety and the sinfulness of others. Jeremiah faced constant opposition from Judah’s rulers, false prophets and corrupt priests (Jer 2:8, 26; 5:31; 6:13; 8:10; 14:18; 20:1-2; 23:11, 16; 26:7-8). The nation was spiritually corrupt, through and through, from the leadership down to the citizen (Jer 9:1-6), and idolatry was rampant (Jer 8:19; 10:8, 14; 16:18). Because of his suffering, Jeremiah has been called the weeping prophet (Jer 9:1; 13:17). In all this God was in total control, and He would raise up the Babylonians to destroy the Judahites because of their sinful rebellion against Him (Jer 5:15-17; 21:1-10).

     In Jeremiah 12:1-4 we see God as a righteous Judge in a courtroom, and Jeremiah as one who comes before Him to plead his case. Jeremiah states, “Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You; indeed, I would discuss matters of justice with You” (Jer 12:1a). The specific charge was, “why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?” (Jer 12:1b). What Jeremiah wanted, what he requested, was for God to act and bring justice upon the wicked. Jeremiah said:

You have planted them, they have also taken root; they grow, they have even produced fruit. You are near to their lips but far from their mind. But You know me, O LORD; You see me; and You examine my heart’s attitude toward You. Drag them off like sheep for the slaughter and set them apart for a day of carnage! How long is the land to mourn and the vegetation of the countryside to wither? For the wickedness of those who dwell in it, animals and birds have been snatched away, because men have said, “He will not see our latter ending.” (Jer 12:2-4)

Running Horses     Jeremiah wanted God to render justice, and he wanted it now. But the Lord replied to Jeremiah in an unexpected way, for rather than coddling His prophet, He informed him things would get worse and that he needed to prepare himself. The Lord said, “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jer 12:5). Another translation reads, “If you have raced with people and are worn out, how will you compete with horses? If you fall down in an open field, how will you survive in the forest along the Jordan?” (Jer 12:5 CEB). The horses are likely an allusion to the Babylonian riders that would invade the land of Judah in the days ahead, and the thicket of the Jordan was where fierce animals lived (Jer 49:19) and probably referred to Babylonian exile. If Jeremiah could not handle the difficulties of his countrymen, bad as they were, then he would not be able to handle the greater difficulties that were coming; difficulties which included the invading Babylonians who would destroy the city and temple, massacre tens of thousands and take many into captivity. What Jeremiah needed was great faith and courage in order to cope with present and future problems.

     Jeremiah could not even rely on his own family during this difficult time, for they would turn on him, as the Lord stated, “For even your brothers and the household of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you, even they have cried aloud after you. Do not believe them, although they may say nice things to you” (Jer 12:6). Jeremiah was in a spot where he had nowhere to turn but to God. The Lord’s prophet would succeed by trusting in God and not himself or others (Jer 17:5-8). Warren Wiersbe states:

As most of us do when we’re suffering, Jeremiah was asking, “How can I get out of this?” But he should have been asking, “What can I get out of this?” God’s servants don’t live by explanations; they live by promises. Understanding explanations may satisfy our curiosity and make us smarter people, but laying hold of God’s promises will build our character and make us better servants. God’s reply revealed three important truths to Jeremiah. First, the life of godly service isn’t easy; it’s like running a race. (Paul used a similar figure in Phil. 3:12–14.) Had he remained a priest, Jeremiah probably would have had a comfortable and secure life, but the life of a prophet was just the opposite. He was like a man running a race and having a hard time keeping going. Second, the life of service becomes harder, not easier. Jeremiah had been running with the foot soldiers and had kept up with them, but now he’d be racing with the horses. In spite of his trials, he’d been living in a land of peace. Now, however, he’d be tackling the thick jungles of the Jordan River, where the wild beasts prowled. His heart had been broken because of the attacks of outsiders, but now his own family would start opposing him. The third truth grows out of the other two: the life of service gets better as we grow more mature. Each new challenge (horses, jungles, opposition of relatives) helped Jeremiah develop his faith and grow in his ministry skills. The easy life is ultimately the hard life, because the easy life stifles maturity, but the difficult life challenges us to develop our “spiritual muscles” and accomplish more for the Lord.[4]

     Troubles are a part of life, and we should expect them to rise and fall. We’re all running a race, facing battles and dangers at every turn. God uses the trials of life, the injustices of this world, to develop our characters and help form us into the spiritual adults He wants us to be. At times He comforts us, but other times He gets tough with us, lest we fall into self-pity and become useless. Jeremiah’s hurt was nothing compared to God’s, whose beloved people were being given into the hands of their enemies (read Jer 12:7-12). Greater hardship requires us to maintain our spirits by laying hold of God and His promises, to walk by faith and keep our eyes on Him. As Christians, we can’t control the troubles that come our way, but we can choose how we respond to them. And, we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:1b-2a).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry began in the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign (Jer 1:2), which was 627 B.C. Josiah was a good king who reigned for 31 years (2 Ki 22:1-2; 23:24-25), and he committed himself to serve the Lord and to remove the deep-seated idolatry that had been implemented under the previous leadership of King Manasseh (2 Ki 21:1-6). Though Josiah worked diligently to lead spiritual and national reforms, destroying the pagan altars and places of worship, he could not dislodge the idolatry from the people’s hearts, and they quickly returned to their evil ways after his death in 609 B.C. Judah’s national instability continued for several years as the Babylonians rose to power under the leadership of Nabopolassar, who defeated the Assyrians in 612 B.C., and then his son, Nebuchadnezzar, who defeated the Egyptians in 605 B.C. at the Battle of Carchemish. Judah became a vassal state under the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, who took many captives to ensure their loyalty. Daniel as among the captives (Dan 6:1-6). Jerusalem suffered another attack by the Babylonians in 597 B.C., during which Jehoiachin and the leaders of Judah were taken captive, ten thousand in all, and only the poorest were left in the land (2 Ki 24:12-16). Ezekiel was taken into captivity at this time. Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin with Zedekiah, who was a spiritually weak king and did evil as his forebears had done (2 Ki 24:12-16). Eventually, Judah and Jerusalem were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., which Jeremiah personally witnessed and lamented (read Lamentations).

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Is 66:24.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Decisive, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 62–63.

Posted in Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Guard Your Heart

Guard     Our life is a reflection of what fills our heart. Good in is good out, and garbage in is garbage out. We determine what fills the heart. Solomon said, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pro 4:23).[1] Other translations read: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Pro 4:23 NIV), and “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Pro 4:23 NLT). The Hebrew concept of the heart (לֵב leb) is the total inner person; it includes the mind, the will, and emotions. It is the base of operations which determines the course of life. I believe Solomon is here talking to believers, for the heart of the unbeliever is bent only on sin (Jer 17:9; Gen 6:5; 8:21; Psa 53:1; Matt 15:19).

The text assumes that one can and should control that upon which his mind dwells. Evil thoughts must be barred or expelled. The “issues of life” are the impulses, the choices, the decisions that affect the nature of man’s existence in this world. If the heart is pure, the life will be pure. Conversely, if the heart is corrupt, the life will be corrupt. In Hebrew psychology the heart is the center of moral consciousness and the seat of the affections.[2]

     All we say and do flows out of the heart. This is true both for the righteous and the wicked. David wrote, “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip” (Psa 37:30-31). But this is not so with the wicked, for “sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts” (Psa 36:1 NLT). Jesus captured both ideas when He said, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).

     To find and keep good mental health, I carefully select the literature I read, the music I listen to, the TV shows I watch, the conversations I engage in and the friends who will help advance me spiritually in my walk with the Lord. The condition of my heart is paramount, for what I sow is what I will reap, and this determines the outcome and quality of my life. “There is not a more portentous predictor of your ultimate end than what you expose your heart to. Above all else, guard your heart!”[3]

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[2] James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), 499–500.

[3] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2006), 113.

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Rejoice, Pray, and Give Thanks

     I’m generally happy; but that’s because I work at it, especially when I don’t feel like it. Being happy starts with my choice to be thankful. It is a discipline of the mind to force myself to find something to be thankful for, and to focus on that rather than the negative thing that can tear me apart inside if I let it. It is an act of faith in which I force my mind to think on Scripture, in which I am “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). The battle is constant, and I usually win; but that’s because I’ve been working at it for years, meditating on Scripture, all day, every day, and applying what I’ve learned.

     If I’m not careful, I can easily fall into a pattern of complaining, and this can prove harmful, not only to me, but those around me, for my life influences others, for better or worse. Scripture states, “Do all things without complaining or arguing” (Phi 2:14). That’s a big order. How do I do this? By an act of faith; that’s how. Though the pressure can be great at times, I consciously make the choice not to complain; instead, I choose to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you [me] in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18). In these verses Paul uses three verbs in the imperative mood, which is the mood of command. A command assumes intellectual capacity to comprehend, the ability to obey, and present or future opportunity. The verbs are rejoice (χαίρω chairo), pray (προσεύχομαι proseuchomai), and give thanks (εὐχαριστέω eucharisteo). The first two commands relate to time: rejoice always, and pray without ceasing. The third command relates to circumstances: in everything give thanks. In short, these are to be executed all the time and in every situation. And to make the commands emphatic, Paul adds, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18b). These divine expectations appear elsewhere in Scripture, as we are called to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phi 4:4a), “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Col 4:2a), and “Give thanks always for all things” (Eph 5:20a).

In Everything Give Thanks     These commands are relatively easy to accomplish when life is good, and we should certainly praise God for His many blessings. But what about those times when life is difficult; such as when we’ve lost our health, work is overly stressful, or we’re experiencing unjust persecution? Are we to rejoice, pray, and give thanks even during those times? Yes! Especially during those times. It’s in difficult moments that we need to operate by faith, not feelings. In fact, feelings can work against us when we’re experiencing difficulty. When feelings rise up, faith must rise higher. As we commit to obeying the Word, our feelings will eventually get in line. It’s only when we understand and obey these commands by faith that we rise above our difficult circumstances. Though we aren’t physically removed from the hardship, mentally we’re lifted above it and experience a joy that is free from it. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12). This is exactly what the apostles did when they were persecuted and flogged, for Luke tells us, “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). And when Paul and Silas had been beaten and thrown into jail, we’re told they “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Act 16:25). In places Paul wrote, “we exult in our tribulations” (Rom 5:3a), and “I rejoice in my sufferings” (Col 1:24). And James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (Jam 1:2). One of the reasons we can rejoice in suffering is because we know God is using it to develop our character in order to mature us spiritually (Rom 5:3-5; Jam 1:2-4).

     This may seem impossible to do, especially if we’re accustomed to living by our feelings and reacting to circumstances. However, living by faith is possible, and is the only way Scripture can be obeyed, especially in difficult circumstances. Living by faith is quit liberating, because it frees us from the tyranny of difficult circumstances over which we have no control, and from the knee-jerk reaction of hurt feelings that naturally rise up in such situations. If we stay the course of learning God’s Scripture and living by faith, we will reach a place in our spiritual development where God’s Word becomes more real than our circumstances and feelings, and this is the place of freedom and joy, as long as we remain there. 

Prayer

     Dear Father, thank You for the many blessings you have bestowed on me that have enriched my life, and thank you for the difficulties that help develop my character and advance me toward spiritual maturity. Thank you for Your Word which defines reality and equips me with the viewpoint, commands, and promises I need to walk with You; all of which liberates me from the tyranny of difficult circumstances over which I have no control.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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A Song of Ascent – Psalm 126

A Song of Ascents. When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” 3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. 4 Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the South. 5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. 6 He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psa 126:1-6 NASB)

    This psalm of ascent is a praise, a prayer, and an expectation of restored blessing. It praises God for the return of His people back to the land; presumably from Babylonian captivity (vss. 1-3). It also requests the Lord restore even more captives (vs 4). Finally, those who struggled to cultivate the land were encouraged to be persistent, knowing they would eventually experience the joy of harvest (vss. 5-6).

     The psalm opens with a temporal clause that sets the mind on “When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion” (Psa 126:1a). Babylonian captivity is likely in view. Those who came back to Judah and Jerusalem were among the exiles who had experienced captivity and suffering, and having returned to the land, they had difficulty believing it was true and “were like those who dream” (Psa 126:1b). The result was, “Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting” (Psa 126:2a). Even the Gentile nations recognized something miraculous had happened, and they declared, “The LORD has done great things for them” (Psa 126:2b). The returned Israelites agreed, saying, “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psa 126:3).

The Lord has intervened to restore Israel from its exile to its land (cf. Ezra 1:1–4), but more significantly the return from captivity signaled a restoration from divine judgment to blessing. This unexpected change for the captives totally amazed them so that the people of Israel felt as though they must be dreaming, as did Peter when he was delivered from prison in Acts 12:9. They had experienced the surprising grace of the Lord, who exceeded their greatest hopes, as only he could (cf. Eph 3:20).[1]

     The Psalm then shifts from praise to prayer as they ask, “Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the South” (Psa 126:4). Other translations read, “Restore our fortunes, LORD, like watercourses in the Negev” (Psa 126:4 CSB), and “O LORD, restore our well-being, just as the streams in the arid south are replenished” (Psa 126:4 NET). The NASB translates the Hebrew noun שְׁבוּת shebuth as captivity, whereas the CSB and NET translate it fortunes and well-being. This is likely a request for more Israelites to return from Babylonian captivity to help with the restoration. For just as dry rivers beds could suddenly be filled with water when the rain comes, “as the streams in the South” (Psa 126:4b), so the psalmist prays the empty highways from Babylon to Judah would flow with returning Israelites.

The streams in the South of Israel, the Negev, dry up in the parched summer months but become raging torrents during the rainy season. The psalmist used these streams as a figure of what the highways from Babylon could become with God’s further blessing. They could become flooded with travelers moving back into the land God wanted His chosen people to occupy.[2]

    HarvestThe joy the Israelites knew when they’d returned from captivity did not last long, for they faced the daunting task of restoring a nation and society rooted in the Mosaic Law, with its rebuilt temple and festivals (read Ezra 3:1-13). In addition, they faced opposition and discouragement along the way (Ezra 4:1-4, 24), which delayed the temple reconstruction for sixteen years, until 520 B.C., when God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the Israelites to finish the work (Hag 1:1, 14-15; Zec 1:1, 7). Part of the struggle the Israelites faced included cultivating the hard land which had not been tilled for decades. It is in this context the psalmist seeks to encourage his readers, saying, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psa 126:5-6). The challenge for them was to remain faithful in the routine and not let impatience or discouragement get them down. Perseverance would eventually bring reward, for the seed would sprout, the harvest would come, and the tears would be replaced with celebration.

Summary

     God’s people were amazed and filled with laughter when He restored them from captivity to the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem (Psa 126:1-3), and they prayed the Lord would restore even more (vs 4). But the joy was dampened by the hard work of cultivating the land which had laid dormant for decades; however, they were encouraged to be persistent, knowing their labor would result in a harvest.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Daniel J. Estes, Psalms 73–150, ed. E. Ray. Clendenen, vol. 13, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2019), 475.

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ps 126:4.

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God’s Imputed Righteousness

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom 4:3-5)[1]

     Like most people in the world, I work for a living. I work for an agency that agrees to compensate me for my labor. Each day I work, I put the agency into debt. The agency relieves its debt every two weeks when it deposits money into my checking account. For a brief moment, my employer owes me nothing. However, when I go back to work, I put the agency back into debt, and we repeat the process. In this arrangement, my paycheck is never considered “as a favor, but as what it due” (Rom 4:4). I do the work and my employer pays me. That’s it. There’s no grace between us. My paycheck is NEVER considered a gift, but what is owed to me. Sadly, many apply this same way of thinking to their relationship with God. The assumption is that if they do good works, God will compensate them with salvation. And, as long as they continue to do good works, He keeps them saved. This is a works-salvation. There is no grace here, only the repetition of work, work, and more work. And if they stop working, the pay ceases. There’s no more salvation; only the fearful expectation of judgment.

     But there’s good news. The Bible reveals that God offers salvation, not by good works, but by grace. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9), and, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3:5). The amazing truth of Scripture is, “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom 4:5). Did you catch that? Don’t miss it. God gives something to “THE ONE WHO DOES NOT WORK.” Do you want what God has for you? Stop trying to work for it! It’s a gift. Freely given and freely received. How is it received? By faith. We simply trust God at His word. We believe God when He tells us our salvation was accomplished in Christ, who died for our sins, was buried and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). And who receives it? Not the good person, but the ungodly; the one who deserves it the least. That’s me and you. And what is given? What is credited to our account? Righteousness. God’s own righteousness is given to the ungodly person who does not work for it, but simply believes in Him. That’s grace!

The gift of righteousness     But some might raise the question: how can a holy God justify unworthy sinners? How can He give something to someone who deserves the opposite? How is this just? Well, I’m glad you asked. The answer is found in Jesus and what He accomplished for us at the cross. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires. At the cross Jesus voluntarily died a penal substitutionary death. He willingly died in our place and bore the punishment that was rightfully ours. Our guilt became His guilt. Our shame became His shame. The result of the cross is that God is forever satisfied with the death of Christ. There’s no additional sacrifice or payment needed. Jesus paid it all. When we believe in Jesus, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 10:10-14), and then God imputes His righteousness to us. The apostle Paul calls it “the gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17; cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). God’s righteousness is not earned; rather, it is freely gifted to us who believe in Jesus as our Savior.

The Meaning of Imputation

     The word “imputation” itself is an accounting term used both in the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen 15:6; Ps. 32:2; Rom 4:3-8; Gal 3:6).[2] Moses wrote of Abraham, saying, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned [חָשַׁב chashab] it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). David writes, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute [חָשַׁב chashab] iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps 32:1-2). Moses and David both use the Hebrew חָשַׁב chashab, which in context means “to impute, reckon to.”[3] Moses uses the verb in a positive sense of that which God imputes to Abraham, namely righteousness, and David uses the verb negatively, of that which God does not credit to a person, namely iniquity. Allen P. Ross comments on the meaning of חָשַׁב chashab in Psalm 32:2 and Genesis 15:6:

Not only does forgiveness mean that God takes away the sins, but it also means that God does not “impute” iniquity to the penitent: “Blessed is the one to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”  The verb (חָשַׁב) means “impute, reckon, credit”; it is the language of records, or accounting—in fact, in modern usage the word is related to “computer.” Here the psalm is using an implied comparison, as if there were record books in heaven that would record the sins. If the forgiven sins are not imputed, it means that there is no record of them—they are gone and forgotten. Because God does not mark iniquities (Ps. 130:4), there is great joy. The same verb is used in Genesis 15:6 as well, which says that Abram “believed in the LORD, and he reckoned it (וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ) to him as (or, namely) righteousness.” The apostle Paul brings that verse and Psalm 32:2 together in Romans 4 to explain the meaning of justification by faith: when people believe in the Lord, God reckons or credits them with righteousness (Paul will say, the righteousness of Jesus Christ), and does not reckon their sin to them.[4]

     The apostle Paul cites Abraham’s faith in God as the basis upon which he was declared righteous before Him, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] to him as righteousness’” (Rom 4:3).[5] Paul uses the Greek verb λογίζομαι logizomai, which means “to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate, frequently in a transferred sense.”[6] Abraham believed God at His Word, and God reckoned, or transferred His righteousness to him. After pointing to Abraham as the example of justification by faith, Paul then extrapolates that we are justified in the same way, saying, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as righteousness” (Rom 4:4-5; cf. Gal 3:6). Paul then references David, saying, “David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits [λογίζομαι logizomai] righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. ‘Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account [λογίζομαι logizomai]’” (Rom 4:6-8). 

     Paul twice uses the Greek verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo to communicate the idea of an exchange between persons (Rom 5:13; Phm 1:18). The verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo means “to charge with a financial obligation, charge to the account of someone.”[7]  Paul tells his friend, Philemon, concerning his runaway slave Onesimus, “if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge [ἐλλογέω ellogeo] that to my account” (Phm 1:18). Paul has not wronged Philemon, nor does he owe him anything; however, Paul was willing to pay for any wrong or debt Onesimus may have incurred.  

Paul is giving us an illustration of that which God has done for us in Christ Jesus. As the Apostle assumed the debt of Onesimus and invited Philemon—who had been wronged—to charge that debt to him, so the Lord Jesus Christ took the debt that we owed to the injured One—to God—and He charged Himself with our debt and set His righteousness down to our account.[8]

     In a similar way, Jesus paid for our sin so that we don’t have to, and in exchange, we receive God’s righteousness. This idea of an exchange between persons means that one person is credited with something not antecedently his/her own. Our sin is our sin, and Christ’s righteousness is His righteousness. When Jesus took our sin upon himself at the cross, He voluntarily accepted something that belonged to another, namely us. Jesus took our sin upon Himself. On the other hand, when we receive His righteousness as a gift, we are accepting something that belonged to another, namely Christ. By faith, we accept that which belongs to Jesus, namely, His righteousness. Jesus’ righteousness becomes our righteousness. Paul references the exchange that occurred at the cross when Jesus died for our sin, saying, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21), and he personally spoke of the righteousness “which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:9).[9] Once we receive God’s righteousness, we are instantaneously justified in God’s sight.

Justification is a divine act whereby an infinitely Holy God judicially declares a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable before Him because Christ has borne the sinner’s sin on the cross and has become “to us … righteousness” (1 Cor 1:30; Rom 3:24). Justification springs from the fountain of God’s grace (Titus 3:4–5). It is operative as the result of the redemptive and propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, who has settled all the claims of the law (Rom 3:24–25; 5:9). Justification is on the basis of faith and not by human merit or works (Rom 3:28–30; 4:5; 5:1; Gal 2:16). In this marvelous operation of God the infinitely holy Judge judicially declares righteous the one who believes in Jesus (Rom 8:31–34). A justified believer emerges from God’s great courtroom with a consciousness that another, his Substitute, has borne his guilt and that he stands without accusation before God (Rom 8:1, 33–34). Justification makes no one righteous, neither is it the bestowment of righteousness as such, but rather it declares one to be justified whom God sees as perfected once and forever in His beloved Son.[10]

     It is sometimes difficult to accept this biblical teaching, because our behavior does not always reflect our righteous standing before God (even princes sometimes fail to live by the royal family code). However, God’s Word defines reality, and we are justified in His sight because of His righteousness that has been gifted to our account. The righteousness of God that is credited to us who have trusted in Jesus as our Savior.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Biblical Righteousness: A Word Study  
  2. The Righteousness of God  
  3. Theological Categories of God’s Righteousness 
  4. God’s Righteousness at the Cross 
  5. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
  6. A Dispensational View of God’s Righteousness 
  7. God’s Righteousness in the Future 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible (1995).

[2] Biblically, there are three major imputations that relate to our standing before God. First is the imputation of Adam’s original sin to every member of the human race (Rom 5:12-13; cf. 1 Cor 15:21-22). Every biological descendant of Adam is charged/credited with the sin he committed in the Garden of Eden which plunged the human race into spiritual and physical death. Jesus is the only exception, for though He is truly human (Matt 1:1; Luke 3:23-38), He was born without original sin, without a sin nature, and committed no personal sin during His time on earth (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Adam is the head of the human race and his fall became our fall. This is the basis for death and for being estranged from God. Second is the imputation of all sin to Jesus on the cross (Isa 53:4-6, 10; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:9; 1 Pet 2:21-24; 1 John 2:2). God the Father judged Jesus in our place (Mark 10:45; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 Pet 3:18), cancelling our sin debt by the death of Christ (Col 2:13-14; 2 Cor 5:18-19). This was a voluntary imputation on the part of Christ who freely went to the cross and took our sins upon Himself (John 1:29; 10:11, 15, 17-18). Third is the imputation of God’s righteousness to those who believe in Jesus for salvation (Rom 4:3-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:8-9). The righteousness of God imputed to the believer at the moment of faith in Christ results in the believer being justified before God (Rom 3:22, 24, 28; 4:1-5).

[3] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 360.

[4] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 2011), 710-711.

[5] The translators of the Septuagint use λογίζομαι logizomai as a reliable synonym for חָשַׁב chashab both in Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:2. Paul then uses λογίζομαι logizomai when making his argument that justification is by faith alone in God (Rom 4:3-5; Gal 3:6).

[6] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 597.

[7] Ibid., 319.

[8] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 40.

[9] Though the word “impute” is not used in some passages, the idea is implied. Isaiah writes of the Suffering Servant Who “will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11), and of God as the One Who “has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isa 61:10). And Paul writes of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom 3:22), and of being “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24; cf. 5:17; 9:30; 10:3-4; 1 Cor 1:30; Gal 2:16; 3:11, 24).

[10] E. McChesney and Merrill F. Unger, “Justification,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 729.

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A Song of Ascents – Psalm 123

A Song of Ascents. To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! 2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us. 3 Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us, for we are greatly filled with contempt. 4 Our soul is greatly filled with the scoffing of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud. (Psa 123:1-4 NASB)

    A SongPsalm 123 is one of fifteen songs of ascent (Psa 120 to 134), of which four are attributed to David (Psa 122, 124, 131, 133) and one to Solomon (Psa 127). The Mishnah states these psalms were sung on the fifteen steps that led up to the temple; however, it is more likely they were sung by pilgrims as they traveled up to Jerusalem, as stated in Psalm 122:1-2 and 125:1-2. Whether Jerusalem or the temple, these psalms were intended to prepare the worshiper’s mind to look to the Lord in faith. Spurgeon states, “Yet we must use our eyes with resolution, for they will not go upward to the Lord of themselves, but they incline to look downward, or inward, or anywhere but to the Lord.”[1]

     The opening verse is singular, “To You I lift up my eyes” (Psa 123:1a), whereas the second verse is plural, “so our eyes look to the LORD our God” (Psa 123:2b); this makes the prayer both individual and corporate. And where is the focus of their attention? It is to God who is “enthroned in the heavens!” (Psa 123:1b). This anthropomorphic language pictures God seated upon His throne and is a recognition of His sovereignty, for “the LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19). It is God who reigns supreme and has the authority to effect change in His creation. He cares about what happens on the earth. His people know that it is He who “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people” (Psa 113:7-8).

     These humble worshipers approach the Lord with a servant’s heart, singing, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us” (Psa 123:2). Here is a picture of humility and submissiveness; for just as servants cannot act on their own initiative or authority, and constantly watch for their sovereign’s gesture, so these humble believers look to the LORD their God, until He is gracious to them. And what is their desire? They twice request, “Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us” (Psa 123:3a). The repetitious appeal for God to be gracious underscores their desire to meet some pressing need. Though God is the sovereign Lord of the universe, He is no tyrant to be feared by those who are humble. These worshippers confidently approach God because they know something about Him; they know He is a God of grace. On numerous occasions the Bible reveals the LORD is “compassionate and gracious” (Exo 34:6a), “a God merciful and gracious” (Psa 86:15a), “a gracious and compassionate God” (Jon 4:2a), and “a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate” (Neh 9:17a; cf. Psa 103:8, 116:5; 145:8). This gracious disposition is true of all three Persons of the Trinity. God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the kindness and goodness that one person freely confers upon another who does not deserve it. There is a common grace that God extends to all, in which “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). This blessing is upon all people and is rooted in the goodness and open-handedness of the Giver, not the worthiness of the object. However, apart from common grace, there is special grace that God gives to the humble, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5b). God’s grace will meet their needs, and their humility is the open hand that receives it. 

     Why do they need God’s grace? Because they “are greatly filled with contempt” (Psa 123:3b). The word filled is a translation of the Hebrew verb שָׂבַע saba, which means to be sated, filled, satisfied, have enough. The word usually refers to something positive, such as being filled with food (Ex 16:8; Lev 25:19; Psa 132:15), but here it has a negative connotation of being filled with something hurtful, namely “contempt” (בּוּז buz), which refers to the despising or belittling that one person verbally casts into the ear of another. And the afflicted are described as being “greatly” filled (רָב rab), which means they are overflowing with contempt. Other translations read, “we’ve had more than enough contempt” (CSB), and “we have had our fill of humiliation, and then some” (NET). Their souls were injured by “the scoffing of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud” (Psa 123:4). Those who are at “ease” (שַׁאֲנָן shaanan) live secure lives, free from the affliction that often accompanies those whom the Lord is perfecting through some trial. The “proud” (גָּאֲיוֹן gaayon) are those who see themselves as self-sufficient and who operate independently of God; they see no need for grace, and have none to give. Theirs is the hand of oppression and they cannot abstain from violence; they care little about the harm they inflict. Unfortunately, when others think little of us, we are all too quick to think little of ourselves and to reject the consolations of a friend. “Scoffing” (לַעַג laag) is the ridicule, mocking, or derisive speech they use to poison the souls of their victims. It is deeply hurtful to be regarded as unimportant or insignificant by others, and the wicked have no consideration of those on whom they trample verbally. “The reason people ridicule what they oppose, aside from it being so easy, is that it is demoralizing and frequently effective. It is effective because it strikes at the hidden insecurities or weaknesses that almost everybody has.”[2]

Summary

     These worshipers ascended, not just to Jerusalem or the temple, but to God who is enthroned in heaven. And as a watchful servant looks to his/her master, so these persecuted believers look to the Lord until He is gracious to them; and they need His grace, for the scoffing of the proud has greatly wounded them. Overall, there is intentionality in their mindset as they look to the Lord, for their natural proclivity—and ours as well—is to look anywhere and everywhere other than to the One who sustains in times of trouble.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. God’s Grace is Sufficient  
  2. Living by Grace  
  3. The Basics of Grace  
  4. The Lord is My Shepherd – Psalm 23 
  5. Choosing the Faithful Way – Psalm 119:25-32 
  6. God’s Word Sustains Us – Psalm 119:89-96 
  7. Establish Our Footsteps – Psalm 119:129-136 
  8. Seek Your Servant – Psalm 119:169-176 

 

[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 3 (McLeon, Virginia, MacDonald Publishing Company, ND), 41.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1090.

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They Will Suffer for Your Unfaithfulness

     I struggled with how to title this article. I prefer to be positive, but many sections of the Bible reveal things that are negative, and an honest preacher will not ignore those sections. The title is actually a partial quote from Numbers 14:33, which reveals that Israelite children suffered because their parents were unfaithful to the Lord. The article ends on a positive note and call to action, but we must look at the difficult section first.

Twelve Spies     The concept of blessing and cursing by association is biblical. When Israel was advancing spiritually, walking with the Lord, and obeying His will, they experienced His blessings which spilled over into the lives of others. But, when they failed to grow spiritually and live by faith, they became their own worst enemy and experienced suffering, which negatively touched the lives of those near them. An example is found in the book of Numbers where God commanded Moses to send a dozen Israelites to spy out the land of Canaan. After forty days in Canaan the spies returned and gave an account of what they saw; but ten of the spies—who operated by human viewpoint—gave a negative report that discouraged the people (read Numbers 13:1-33). The fearful reaction lead to complaining and irrational behavior, as the Israelites concluded it would be better to return to Egypt than continue onward (Num 14:1-3). The people were ready to reject Moses’ leadership and elect new leaders, “So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt’” (Num 14:4). Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua tried to reverse the impact of the negative report by calling the people to see the situation with eyes of faith, not fear (Num 14:5-9), but the people would not listen and “all the congregation threatened to stone them” (Num 14:10a). When God and His Word are absent in our stream of consciousness, it’s very easy for fear to set in and dominate our thoughts, and fear is very difficult to dislodge when it becomes deeply seated in the human spirit, as it leads to psychological disequilibrium, which in turn can birth irrational and harmful behavior. Unfortunately, the people chose fear, not faith, and what followed were the consequences of their choice, as the Lord appeared and pronounced judgment upon them (Num 14:10b-29). He said, “Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected” (Num 14:30-32).

     I understand God judging His people because of their sin; He certainly disciplines me for mine. But what follows in the next verse is very sobering, as the Lord states, “But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness” (Num 14:33). Choices have consequences, and those Israelites who chose to live by fear and not faith were making decisions, not only for themselves, but for their children, who would either be blessed or cursed by those decisions. The opposite would have happened if the Israelites would have lived by faith, obeyed the Lord and walked with Him; but they did not, and their children paid the penalty for it.

How should we live?

     First, understand how we live impacts the lives of others, either positively or negatively for God; not only as a model for good behavior, but with the realization that our choices bring blessing or cursing into the lives of those near us, both in the moment, and for many years to come. The Israelites who accepted the negative report from the spies chose fear over faith and brought cursing into their lives as well as the lives of their children. Joshua and Caleb chose to operate by divine viewpoint and tried to unseat the fearful choices of their contemporaries, unfortunately, without success. Though Joshua and Caleb lived by faith, and would eventually enter the Promised Land, they too had to wait forty years.

     Second, choose to live by faith, learning and living God’s Word in all aspects of our lives. As Christians, we will be confronted with negative reports and behavior, even from other believers. Though we cannot control the negativity, God expects us to choose faith over fear, obedience over defiance. In fact, this is exactly what God wants from us, to “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psa 37:3), “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Pro 3:5), and “Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isa 26:4). This means we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), for, “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), and “My righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I take no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38).

     As I wrote this brief article, I thought about my grandmother and how she blessed me when I was young. Much of her life was focused on God as she modeled right living in conformity with God’s Word, whereas all others around me were focused on themselves and advancing worldly agendas. She feared the Lord, read her Bible, obeyed His Word, prayed often, sang praises, shared the Gospel, and sprinkled Scripture into her daily discussions with others. She was not perfect, but she owned her failures, confessed them, accepted consequences, sought forgiveness and moved on. That’s integrity. She was a light in my darkness. The seeds she sowed have come to life and are bearing fruit; not only in my life, but the lives of others. I want to carry on that noble Christian legacy, realizing how I live my life touches others. It touches family, friends, coworkers, students, and people I meet along the way. I realize the greatest blessing we can give to others is a life that communicates and models faith in God. Will you live that life? Will you leave that legacy for others to follow? Please do. Please, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat 5:16).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Seek Your Servant – Psalm 119:169-176

Let my cry come before You, O LORD; give me understanding according to Your word. 170 Let my supplication come before You; deliver me according to Your word. 171 Let my lips utter praise, for You teach me Your statutes. 172 Let my tongue sing of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness. 173 Let Your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen Your precepts. 174 I long for Your salvation, O LORD, and Your law is my delight. 175 Let my soul live that it may praise You, and let Your ordinances help me. 176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments. (Psa 119:169-176 NASB)

     This final section of Psalm 119 presents the psalmist as one who has wandered away from God, but cries for understanding and deliverance that he might praise and worship Him. At the opening of this pericope, the author appears spent, with nothing to bring to God but a “cry” for help and “supplication” for grace (Psa 119:169-170). He does not look beyond the Lord, but brings his requests directly before Him; literally, “before Your face” (פָּנִים panim). He desires God’s full attention as he asks for “understanding” and “deliverance” from Him. He asks for “understanding” that he might make sense of his difficulty and know how to respond to it. This is faith in action. He also requests “deliverance” from the Lord, that he might experience His concrete goodness. Both of these requests are given with the twice repeated phrase, “according to Your word.” All that he understands about God and could expect from Him was found in the special revelation of His Word.

     The next two verses express the psalmists desire to praise and sing to God for two reasons: 1) “You teach me Your statutes” (Psa 119:171), and 2) “all Your commandments are righteousness” (Psa 119:172). God Himself is his teacher, and what is revealed are His statutes (חֹק choq). God’s statutes are His rules that establish the boundaries for living in a right relationship with Him. Those who love God love His statutes, because they remove ambiguity of expectation and illumine the path He sets for us that we might walk with Him. This is reinforced by the appositional clause, “all Your commandments are righteousness” (Psa 119:172b). The Lord’s commandments (מִצְוָה mitsvah) are right (צֶדֶק tsedeq) because they reflect His righteous character, and lead the believer into righteous living. Such revelation is worthy of praise and song to God.

     The psalmist reveals he’s overwhelmed by something in his life, but he does not say what. Using anthropomorphic language, he cries, “Let Your hand be ready to help me” (Psa 119:173a). He realizes his own hand cannot do what is needed; so, he appeals to the hand that made him. The ground of his petition rests in the fact that he has chosen God’s precepts (Psa 119:173b). He has chosen them, not because there were no others, but because there were none better. The verse follows with the phrase, “I long for Your salvation, O LORD, and Your law is my delight” (Psa 119:174). Here is intentionality with the psalmist, as he requests help from the One whose laws are his delight. The word salvation (יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah) connotes physical deliverance, as the psalmist feels threatened by death. He asks, “let my soul live that it may praise you, and let Your ordinances help me” (Psa 119:175). By answering his request for salvation, God would be able to enjoy continued praise from His servant (which would cease if he died), and the servant would be able to continue doing what he loves, which is praising God. There is reciprocation here, for he desires to praise God and needs His help in doing so, and when God delivers, it becomes further grounds for praise.

With the three petitions—for help, for deliverance, and for life, there are four reasons stated for the prayers to be answered: 1) he has chosen God’s law and is resolved to obey it; 2) he has longed for deliverance from all hindrances so that he might obey freely; 3) the law is his devotion and delight; and 4) he desires to praise God for the answers to his prayer. In short, he is a believer who trusts the LORD for salvation, is committed to obeying his word, and will praise him throughout his life. Scripture teaches that God will bless such saints because this is what he desires from them.[1]

Shepherd finding lost sheep     The psalmist closes with the statement, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (Psa 119:176). He previously used similar language, saying, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psa 119:67). Sheep that wander away from the shepherd find themselves without direction and protection, vulnerable to dangers. Even though the psalmist turned away from God’s path, His Word was still present in the stream of his consciousness, convicting him of sin and directing him back to the path of righteousness. Furthermore, the psalmist is simultaneously a “lost sheep” that has gone astray, as well as God’s “servant” who does not forget His commandments. Here is an example of what Luther called simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously righteous and a sinner). Believers are made right before God at the moment they trust in Christ as Savior. Their righteous status in God’s sight is not because of any righteousness of their own produced by good works (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5); rather, it is because of the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to them freely at the moment of salvation (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). Though saved, we continue to possess a sin nature and face ongoing temptations from a world-system that was created by Satan and is perpetuated by him and his demonic forces. We will walk in righteousness as we learn and live God’s Word, but biblical ignorance, coupled with our sinful proclivity, means we will occasionally wander away from God. But though we wander, we never wander so far that we escape the Holy Spirit Who constantly invades our thinking and reminds us of our need of a Shepherd to pull us back into God’s will. The prayer of the saint should always include a sense of helplessness, confession of sin, and acknowledgment that we need God’s Word to illumine our paths and mature us spiritually.

     Throughout Psalm 119, the writer expresses his deep love for God and His Word and seizes every term within his vocabulary to describe it (i.e. laws, commands, precepts, ordinances, etc.). Furthermore, he describes himself as one who seeks for God’s Word diligently and delights when he finds it, and once obtained, obeys it. But in all his knowledge and application, there is not an ounce of academic pride, but rather, a profound sense of his sinfulness and unworthiness before the God who made him. He would not have been like the self-righteous Pharisee who boasted in his religious life (Luke 18:12); but rather, like the tax collector, who, “standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’” (Luke 18:13)

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), 594.

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Biblical Meditation

     Meditation, in the biblical sense, is an intentional filling of the mind with divine viewpoint; specifically, God’s Word. The purpose is to saturate our thinking with Scripture so that it will permeate all aspects of our reasonings and guide us in God’s will. This stands in stark contrast to the eastern view of meditation, which instructs adherents to empty the mind and to think nothing at all.

Meditate     The word meditate, in the Bible, translates the Hebrew verb הָגָה hagah, which means “to growl…to utter a sound…to moan…to read in an undertone…to mutter while meditating”[1] The word is used of a moaning dove (Isa 38:14), and a growling lion which hovers over its prey (Isa 31:4). Meditation, when applied to God’s people, connotes the student reads the biblical text no faster than her/his mouth can utter the words, which implies slowness, and perhaps greater comprehension, because one is hearing it as well as seeing it. And, it is the biblical text itself which is contemplated, first for understanding, and then for application. One can see this clearly in the command God gave to Joshua, saying, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Jos 1:8). Here is the principle that we cannot live what we do not know, that knowledge of God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will.

     Meditating on Scripture refers not only to the regular reading of Scripture, but the reflection of it throughout the day, in all aspects of life. David writes of the righteous person who delights “in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). Elsewhere it is written, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts” (Psa 119:97-100).

Regardless of the time of day or the context, the godly respond to life in accordance with God’s word. Even where the word is not explicit, the godly person has trained his heart to speak and act with wisdom (Prov 1:1–7). According to Proverbs 3:1–6, the wise man receives instruction (tôrāh), writes it on his heart, and wholeheartedly trusts in the Lord with all his heart in all his daily activities.[2]

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 237.

[2] Willem A. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 55.

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The Christmas Holiday

    Boy PrayingThere is an apocryphal story of a little boy who, during the Christmas season, had been praying for several days for a new puppy. Not feeling his prayers were being heard, he went into the living room near the Christmas tree and took the baby Jesus from the nativity scene, returned to his room, stuffed the little figurine in a sock and put it under his pillow. Afterward, he knelt down next to his bed and prayed, “Dear God, if you ever want to see your Son again, you’ll give me what I want.” Obviously, the little boy missed the reason for the season.

     So, what is Christmas and why is it celebrated? Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah, Who is the Savior of all who trust in Him for salvation (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph 2:8-9). Unlike the Jewish holidays that were mandated under the Mosaic Law (i.e. Passover, Feast of Booths, Yom Kippur, etc.), Christians are not biblically commanded to celebrate Christmas; rather, it has become a longstanding tradition within the church.

     When we think about the birth of Jesus, we should see it within the larger theological context of Scripture, which reveals His righteous life, compassion for the lost, substitutionary death on the cross, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The death of Jesus is really the major focus of the Bible, as only two chapters mention His birth, whereas thirty-eight chapters mention His death. Borrowing from a previous article I wrote on the meaning of Christmas, Christians should see the birth of Jesus in at least three ways:

  1. Christmas is about the gift of God to a fallen world. Nearly 2,000 years ago, God the Son added true humanity to Himself (hypostatic union; John 1:1, 14), was supernaturally conceived in the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis; see Luke 1:26-38), the mother of His humanity (christotokos – bearer of Christ), and was born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt. 1:1). Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a sinless and righteous life before God and man (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5).
  2. Christmas is about love and sacrifice. On April 3, A.D. 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a substitutionary atoning death on a cross (Mark 10:45; John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18). He died a death He did not deserve, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom. 5:1-2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14; 20-22). To those who believe the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4), God freely offers the gift of eternal life and the imputation of His righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18).
  3. Christmas is about a future hope. After His crucifixion, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt. 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor. 15:3-4), never to die again (Rom. 5:9), ascending to heaven (Acts 1:9-10), with a promise of a physical return for His own (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Tit. 2:13). Following His return, the King of kings and Lord of lords will reign in righteousness for a thousand years (Rev. 19:11-16; 20:1-6), and afterward, will create a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13; cf. Rev. 21:1).

     As we think about the reasons for celebrating Christmas, let us also consider how to live a life that models the One we worship. Like Jesus, may we be willing to accept the Father’s will for us to go where He wants and do what He asks, no matter how difficult the task or great the price. And, may our hearts be motivated by love for others as we give sacrificially for their edification. Lastly, may we learn to keep our eyes on heaven and the future hope that is ours in Christ.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Establish Our Footsteps – Psalm 119:129-136

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore, my soul observes them. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments. Turn to me and be gracious to me, after Your manner with those who love Your name. Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me. Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts. Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statutes. My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law. (Psa 119:129-136 NASB)

    papyrus-001The first three verses of this pericope reveal the psalmist’s appreciation of God’s testimonies, words, and commandments. The word wonderful translates the Hebrew noun פֶּלֶא pele, which communicates something unusual or miraculous and refers to God’s acts in history, such as the exodus, where “He wrought wonders [פֶּלֶא pele] before their fathers in the land of Egypt” (Psa 78:12). The psalmist delights reading about God’s acts in history; no doubt because they reveal aspects of His character and ways. Knowledge of God and His ways is tremendously practical, as it provides a mental construct for the psalmist to know what to expect from God in the present, for the Lord does not change (Mal 3:6). This wealth of knowledge derives from Scripture, as he states, “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psa 119:130). The unfolding refers to the unrolling of a scroll which contains written words on a page; words which give insight into realities one could never know, except that God has revealed them. Here is the precious light that comes from God, which penetrates into our darkness and exposes what is. That which “gives light” is followed by the appositional phrase, “it gives understanding to the simple.” The implied comparison is that God’s word, when opened and read, illumines the mind and brings understanding to the naïve. The psalmist, being very open to understanding God and His ways, states, “I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments” (Psa 119:131). Here is the picture of a little bird with its mouth open wide to receive the nourishment necessary for growth. He’s hungry and ready for what God has for him.

     Next, he requests of God, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, after Your manner with those who love Your name” (Psa 119:132). Having learned about God’s acts in history, and seeing His grace towards others, the psalmist pleads for the same. The Hebrew verb חָנָן chanan, translated grace, is a Qal imperative and best understood as an imperative of request. Through divine revelation the psalmist has learned that God is gracious; that is, He treats us better than we deserve and provides the necessary resources to do His will. The psalmist does not want merely to read about God’s grace, he wants to experience it for himself. Here, the idea of grace is that of divine enablement, which is given to those “who love Your name.” A person’s name conjures up all we know about her/his character and ways, and this is true of God. The humble psalmist loves the Lord and seeks the grace to do His will. Illumination and grace are followed by a request for right guidance, as he entreats the Lord, “Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me” (Psa 119:133). Only God’s word can provide stability for one’s walk, for all else is unstable. The request that God “not let any iniquity have dominion” over him likely refers to the iniquity of others and not his own. The next clause would support this, for he asks, “Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts” (Psa 119:134). Those who are hostile to God and His word possess an inborn proclivity to hate and oppress those who love and walk with Him. The psalmist knows oppression can upset his life, so he prays God will spare him from anything that would hinder his walk with the Lord. He wants to be governed by divine precepts, not human pressures.

     He continues his requests, saying, “Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statutes” (Psa 119:135). The word shine is the same Hebrew word (אוֹר or) used previously of the light that was given through God’s word (vs. 130). The shining of God’s face upon His servant is a picture of grace, as He illumines the one who desires to do His will. The language here is similar to the blessing of Aaron which he was commanded to speak to Israel, saying, “The LORD bless you, and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26).

     In closing this section, the psalmist expresses his sorrow over those who disobey God, saying, “My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law” (Psa 119:136). Here is true spirituality manifest in the heart of one who loves others and weeps because they reject God’s law (תּוֹרָה torah), His written revelation which illumines the mind and brightens the path of those who would otherwise walk in darkness. How terrible to live a life in darkness, fumbling and stumbling along, never seeing the path one is on; never knowing if danger lies ahead. “For someone who loves the word of God, lives obediently by it, and finds hope in its promises, to see the world mistreat it and reject it is very painful. Their attitude to the word is completely the opposite of the devout, who have found so much delight and benefit in it that they desire more from the LORD.”[1]

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), 569.

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No Distractions

     This morning, I was reading a section in Luke that recounts an event where Jesus visited two sisters named Mary and Martha. In the account, Mary was praised by Jesus because she had her priorities straight. When faced with competing priorities (i.e. listen to Jesus teach or clean the house), Mary chose wisely. The account is as follows:

“Now as they were traveling along, He [Jesus] entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42)

     Hard work is a Christian ethic rooted in Scripture (Exo 20:9; 2 Thess 3:10-12; 1 Tim 5:18), but even good work can be a distraction from learning and living God’s will. There’s a simple truth that we cannot live what we do now know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. One of the strategies of the devil is to get us to focus on anything and everything to the exclusion of God and His Word. I must confess I fall into this trap on occasion, whether at home, work, or driving on the highway. There’s always some pressure that weighs on my soul, and when I allow it to govern my attitude and actions, it brings out the worst in me and the result is that I behave poorly toward others. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to apologize to family, coworkers, or friends. But in spite of my many failures, I keep coming back to Scripture, for it enriches my life and stabilizes my soul. Without it, I know nothing of God or the wealth of blessings and promises He provides. When I live by faith, it blesses me and pleases the Lord, for “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).

     Sadly, it is possible to hear God’s Word and not benefit from it, because we allow worry to dominate our souls, or we pursue wealth or pleasure above God’s will. Jesus addressed this possibility in the parable of the sower and the fields, where He said, “The one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Matt 13:22), “And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mar 4:18-19), and “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).

    No DistractionsLet’s not be those who allow worry, riches, or the pleasures of life to choke the Word of God so that it bears no fruit in our lives, both within and without. Rather, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16). And when the pressures of life begin to mount, be wise and cast “all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7), and “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phi 4:6), and “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’” (Heb 13:5)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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  1. Learning to Live by Faith  
  2. Bible Promises that Strengthen our Soul  
  3. Walking with God  
  4. The Faithfulness of the Lord  
  5. The Lord is My Shepherd  

 

 

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Theological Categories of God’s Justice

    God’s JusticeThe Bible reveals God is righteous and just. He is declared to be righteous by nature (Deu 32:4; Psa 119:137, 142; Isa 45:21; John 17:25), and just in all His ways (Psa 145:17; Rev 15:3). Divine righteousness may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as just that which conforms to His righteousness and as sinful that which deviates. One discovers throughout the Bible that righteousness and justice are related words. The former speaks of God’s moral character, whereas the latter speaks of the actions that flow out of His character. Whatever God’s righteousness requires, His justice executes; either to approve or reject, to bless or condemn. Theologically, the justice of God is observed in several categories as follows:

  1. Rectoral justice recognizes God as the absolute legislative moral ruler who judges all mankind for their thoughts and actions. Abraham recognized God as “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25; cf. 94:2), and David writes, “the heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge” (Psa 50:6), and “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth!” (Psa 58:11). God righteously judges those to whom He has revealed Himself and who know right and wrong, either through written revelation (Rom 2:12), or the intrinsic moral code written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15; cf. 1:18-20).
  2. Retributive justice means God will administer just punishment to the wicked for their actions. The Lord told Moses, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them” (Deu 32:35). And Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica concerning their suffering, saying, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted” (2 Thess 1:6-7a).
  3. Remunerative justice pertains to the distribution of rewards. Sometimes this is based on righteous behavior, such as when David wrote, “The LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness” (1 Sam 26:23a; cf. 2 Sam 22:25); and elsewhere, “The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me” (Psa 18:20). In addition, it can refer to the compensation paid by the Egyptians to the Israelites for their four hundred years of slavery (Ex 3:22).
  4. Redemptive justice refers to God forgiving and justifying helpless sinners because Christ has redeemed them by paying the price for their sin. The price for redemption is the blood of Christ that was shed in our stead (1 Pet 1:18-19). The believer is “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom 3:24-25a). God’s redemptive justice saves us from the penalty of sin, guaranteeing “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires.
  5. Restorative justice refers to the familial forgiveness God gives to His children who humble themselves and confess their sin to Him. When we sin, we break fellowship with God, and when we confess our sin to Him, He forgives and restores us. David wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psa 32:5). In the Old Testament, forgiveness was predicated on confession of sin (Lev 5:5; 16:21; Psa 32:5; 38:18) as well as animal sacrifice (Lev 4:20; 5:6; 6:6-7). In the New Testament, God requires confession alone (1 John 1:9), which rests on the once for all atoning sacrifice of Christ at the cross (Heb 10:10-14). Concerning confession of sin, John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

     Understanding these aspects of God’s character help us know who He is and why He holds people accountable with regard to the laws He has revealed to them through general or special revelation. Furthermore, as Christians, we never retaliate against our attackers, but cast our cares upon the Lord and trust that He sees and acts righteously, in His time and way (Lev 19:18; Pro 20:22; Rom 12:14, 17-21; 1 Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:8-9).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson:

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  7. Walking with God  

Posted in Christian Theology, Hot Topics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Psalms, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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).
  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 , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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:

Posted in Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Inspirational Writings, Leadership, Living by Faith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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 , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

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  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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 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  
  2. God’s Grace to Save  
  3. Not of Works  
  4. Living by Grace  
  5. God’s Favor Toward His People  
  6. Why Believers Show No Grace 

[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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How to Deal with Jealousy

     Jealousy is mentioned throughout the Bible both in a healthy and unhealthy sense. The word jealousy translates the Hebrew קָנָא qanah and Greek ζηλόω zeloo.[1] Though closely related terms, there is a difference between envy and jealousy. Whereas the envious desire what belongs to another, the jealous desire to protect what belongs to self. Scripture reveals that God is jealous. The Lord states, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exo 20:5b; cf. 34:14; Deu 32:16, 21; Na 1:2). This statement occurs within the context of God forbidding His people to worship idols (Exo 20:3-4).[2] Idolatry is thievery. It seeks to steal God’s glory, and He’ll have none of it. He declares, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8). Likewise, God is jealous to protect His name, saying, “I will be jealous for My holy name” (Eze 39:25), which means He is jealous to protect His reputation. And, God is jealous for Israel, saying, “I am exceedingly jealous for Zion, yes, with great wrath I am jealous for her” (Zec 8:2). In this sense, jealousy means God is committed to the protection of His people.

People sometimes have trouble thinking that jealousy is a desirable attribute in God. This is because jealousy for our own honor as human beings is almost always wrong. We are not to be proud, but humble. Yet we must realize that the reason pride is wrong is a theological reason: it is that we do not deserve the honor that belongs to God alone (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7; Rev. 4:11).[3]

     But what about jealousy among people? Is it ever right? Yes. There are times when jealousy is right. Jealousy is born out of a strong sense of relationship that is intolerant of rivals and this can be healthy, if the rival is real and it threatens a godly relationship.[4] If God’s values are our values, and we regard as precious what He regards as precious, then His jealousy will be our jealousy and we will be angry alongside Him and seek to protect what He loves. Elijah the prophet said “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts” (1 Ki 19:10a). This jealousy—or zeal—in Elijah sought to protect what was good, namely God’s character and the walk of His people who were being led astray by false prophets. Elijah’s jealousy was provoked by his fellow Israelites, who “have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword” (1 Ki 19:10b). Paul too had this kind of jealousy for the church at Corinth, saying, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor 11:2). Paul wanted to protect the church’s purity of devotion to Christ, as they were in danger of being led astray by false teaching and into worldly values and practices (2 Cor 11:3-4). Godly jealousy seeks to protect God’s relationship with others and naturally feels threatened by anything that would harm it.

    How to Deal with JealousyBut there is a sinful jealousy that is born out of the sin nature (Gal 5:19-20) and does not seek God’s interests or the best interests of others. Sinful jealousy desires to possess and protect what God forbids. “In contrast to righteous jealousy, the sinful perversion is based on the belief that one is entitled to something to which one has no natural right.”[5] Not having a “natural right” to something means it was acquired selfishly, apart from God’s will. This can be a relationship, education, career, or material possessions. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, except that they can be pursued and possessed purely for self-interest, contrary to God’s will. If we ignore God and His will for our life, and selfishly enter into a relationship with another person, and that relationship becomes threatened by another selfish person, or the selfish actions of our partner, then we have no biblical right to protect that relationship. Jealousy will naturally arise, but it becomes a sinful jealousy if we seek to protect what was sinfully acquired.  

     Sinful jealousy cares nothing about God or others and will seek to destroy rather than protect and edify. It is selfish, irrational, and can even lead to violence. This is what happened when Joseph’s brothers sought to kill him. First, they were “jealous of him” (Gen 37:11), and their sinful jealousy led them to harm him (Gen 37:18-28). James wrote, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth…For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (Jam 3:14, 16). It was because of sinful jealousy that the Sadducees rose up in anger and attacked the apostles and put them in prison (Acts 5:17-18). This was because the apostles’ teaching threatened their pride and pseudo authority in the community. Paul had experienced jealous men who opposed his ministry (Acts 13:45), and, at times, they attacked the innocent (Acts 17:5).

How to Deal with Sinful Jealousy

     Sinful jealousy is a beast. It rears its ugly head to protect what has been obtained by sinful choice (i.e. a relationship, job, money, etc.), it operates on irrational fear, and, if left to feed on fear, will seek to destroy what threatens. To deal with sinful jealousy, a few things need to change.

     First, it is necessary to operate from a biblical perspective.[6] God is all-knowing and all-good, and what He reveals and commands in Scripture is for our best interest. Furthermore, God’s Word defines reality and helps us to understand ourselves and the world in which we live. If we’re not thinking biblically, then human viewpoint will lead the way and all thoughts and actions will be rationalized from a purely human perspective. But this is not what’s expected of the Christian. We’re called to think biblically, in every aspect of our lives, and to make choices consistent with God’s revealed will. As we study the Bible, we realize it touches all of life, including matters related to family, social issues, education, finances, politics, science, art, etc. For example, the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24), that a Christian should only marry another Christian (1 Cor 7:39), and that the relationship between the husband and wife should be loving and respectful (Eph 5:22-33). The mature Christian learns God’s Word, and then integrates it into all aspects of her/his life. Operating from a biblical perspective allows us to differentiate righteous jealousy from sinful jealousy, and to act according to God’s expectation.

     Second, as we study Scripture, we come to realize that we own nothing. Everything, including our own lives, belongs to the Lord. Scripture reveals, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psa 24:1; cf. 89:11). Job understood this very well, for even when he lost his business, family, and health, he could say, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Biblically minded Christians hold nothing tightly, for we know our possessions are on loan and can be taken at any moment (this includes family members); how much more those things we acquire through sinful choices. When we come to the place where we recognize God’s sovereign ownership of our lives and possessions, we can consciously live each moment by faith, with a relaxed mental attitude, knowing He is the One who gives and takes away. And, if God decides to take something away, by faith we can accept it, deal with the sorrow, and “know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

     Third, we handle sinful jealousy in ourselves by pursuing Christian love, for jealousy cannot exist where love predominates. I’m speaking here about jealousy as it pertains to personal relationships. The apostle Paul, when describing the virtue of Christian love (1 Cor 13:4-8), writes about what love is and is not, and states in plain language, “Love…is not jealous” (1 Cor 13:4). Christian love is the answer to sinful jealousy. However, it is important to understand that Christian love is never manufactured on our own; rather, it is derived from God and is part of our healthy walk with Him. It is a reflection of God’s love toward us. The apostle John writes, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). That’s the order. And what was our state when God first loved us?  He loved us when we were sinners and in a state of hostility toward Him. Paul states, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). In another place he writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5). God’s great love springs from His character and not from any beauty or worth found in the object of His love. God loves because, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b). Over time, as we walk with God, His love becomes ingrained within us and overtakes our hearts, and the conditional human love we’re so familiar with—that is natural to us all—is exchanged for His greater love, which is selfless and sacrificial. And God’s love is gracious in that it seeks to meet the needs of others without compensation. Grace refers to kind acts freely conferred on others, without expectation of return, and deriving its source in the abundance and open-handedness of the giver. Jesus explained this kind of gracious love when He said, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). 

     God’s Word gives us the standard for love and mature believers will display it in their lives. But love does not arise automatically in the Christian life, and it is typically not the first responder in a conflict. Love is learned, and once learned, it is applied by an act of the will by Christians who choose to love others. Love is not easy, and at times can be risky because we may be hurt. This is because the objects of our love can be offensive, and at times may hurt us. Christian love is not an emotion, for we are commanded to love, and a person cannot manufacture an emotion purely as an act of the will. Emotion follows thought. We are to love others regardless of how we feel. Mature believers learn to overcome their emotions and love others according to their needs.  J. I. Packer states:

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion. It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party. It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them. It is by their active love to one another that Jesus’ disciples are to be recognized (John 13:34–35).[7]

     This kind of love takes time. It is the product of spiritual growth that occurs in the life of the believer who is advancing in her/his Christian walk. Those who know the Lord and walk with Him manifest His character in their lives. They love because He loves. They are gracious because He is gracious. They are kind because He is kind. They are merciful because He is merciful. Walk closely with the Lord and love will grow. Love as God loves and sinful jealousy will depart.

Summary

     Jealousy can be either healthy or unhealthy, depending on the motivation of the heart. God is jealous. He is jealous to protect His glory (Isa 42:8), His name (Eze 39:25; cf. Isa 42:8), and His people (Zec 8:2). When we love what God loves, then we’ll possess a godly jealousy, like Elijah (1 Ki 19:10) and Paul (2 Cor 11:2). But when we care little about God, then sinful jealousy will dominate our hearts, and we’ll seek to destroy rather than protect and edify others, such as when Joseph’s brothers tried to kill him (Gen 37:11-28), or when the Sadducees attacked and imprisoned the apostles (Acts 5:17-18). We overcome sinful jealousy by: 1) placing God’s Word at the center of our lives and letting it direct our thoughts, words and actions (Psa 1:2; 2 Cor 10:5), 2) realizing the Lord owns everything (Psa 24:1; 89:11), and that He is free to leave or take whatever we have, including possessions, family, or health (Job 1:6-21), and, 3) that sinful jealousy cannot exist in a heart saturated with God’s love, for “Love…is not jealous” (1 Cor 13:4).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message  
  2. Reasons why we Obey God  
  3. Steps to Spiritual Growth  
  4. Learning to Live by Faith  
  5. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer    

[1] Sometimes קָנָא qanah is translated envy, such as, “Do not envy [קָנָא qanah] a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways” (Pro 3:31), and “Do not let your heart envy [קָנָא qanah] sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always” (Pro 23:17).  The Septuagint uses ζηλόω zeloo in both instances; however, when writing about envy, the NT writers chose φθόνος phthonos rather than ζηλόω zeloo.

[2] Asaph mentions God’s jealousy when he writes, “For they provoked Him with their high places and aroused His jealousy with their graven images. When God heard, He was filled with wrath and greatly abhorred Israel.” (Psa 78:58-59; cf. 1 Ki 14:22). God’s jealousy (and anger) rises both because of the violation of a promise, and because idolatry is really the worship of demons, which destroys those whom God loves (1 Cor 10:19-22).

[3] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 205.

[4] We must be careful not to feel threatened over an imaginary rival, for this can lead us down a dangerous road.

[5] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 556.

[6] Apart from divine revelation, we’re left to invent or borrow systems of thought with no greater reference point than ourselves, which means the foundation for knowledge is based on nothing more than our finite ability to observe and reason what is. The problem is that human perception only approximates reality but never fully encompasses or understands it; therefore, all systems of human thought are limited and subject to change (reading the various publications of the DSM prove my point). Scripture tells us why things exist, why the world is the way it is, and how to live successfully in God’s will. Any system of thought that simultaneously competes with God’s Word results in cognitive dissonance, and if not resolved, will render the believer ineffective. At the moment we believe the Gospel message and are born again, we enter into our Christianity with a lifetime of human viewpoint that must be dislodged and replaced with a thorough knowledge of God’s Word. Too often, when we come to believe in Christ as Savior, we assume that God will accept our human viewpoint—which may be organized and moral—as an adequate system from which He will direct our lives. We assume He wants to rearrange the furniture in our mental home to make it more beautiful. But the reality is God does not want to rearrange the furniture in our minds; rather, He wants to tear down the entire house along with its foundation and start over. He wants to destroy all the thoughts and values that are contrary to His revealed will. But we’re required to participate in this process. We must be willing to submit to Him and begin the lifelong process of learning Scripture. This is a process that occupies all our time, every day, morning and evening, and has both defensive and offensive aspects. Defensively, we must guard our minds against worldliness that comes to us from multiple avenues such as TV, radio, music, literature, art, and conversations. Solomon tells us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pro 4:23). Positively, we acquire divine viewpoint through the daily study of God’s Word. David writes about the godly believer, saying, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). For, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psa 19:7’ cf. 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17).

[7] J. I. Packer, “Love” Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

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When God Uses Evil Actions for His Good

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

    All Things for GoodWhen I read this verse I’m reminded of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who at a young age was sold into captivity by his brothers who hated him (Gen. 37). Joseph was carried to Egypt by slave-traders where he was sold to a man named Potiphar. After a short time, Potiphar’s wife also treated Joseph unjustly and lied about him, which resulted in his incarceration for several years (Gen. 39). But the Lord was with Joseph and orchestrated his release from prison and promotion to the right hand of Pharaoh (Gen. 40-41). God then blessed Egypt with seven years of agricultural prosperity before sending seven years of famine upon the land. These events set the stage for God to move Joseph’s brothers geographically into Egypt and to bring them directly to the feet of Joseph (Gen. 42-45). Once there, Joseph’s brothers were afraid of him, fearing he would retaliate for the evil that was done to him. But Joseph interpreted the events of life—including the evil actions of his brothers—from the divine perspective, and this gave him the spiritual capacity to respond to his brothers with love rather than hate, with grace rather than revenge. Joseph told his brothers, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:5-7). And later he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph operated from the divine perspective, whereas his brothers operated merely from their human viewpoint. From the divine perspective, Joseph realized God had orchestrated all the events of his life for a specific purpose and had incorporated the evil actions of his brothers to help develop his character and to strengthen his faith. Joseph’s divine perspective and strong faith enabled him to stand in God’s will and to show love and grace to those who sought his harm.

     Through Scripture, God gives His people the capacity to see all of life from His vantage point. Having God’s perspective allows us to rise above the daily grind of life and the petty actions of others and realize there is a sovereign God who rules over His creation and directs the activities of mankind—even evil activities—for His own good and the good of His people. For this reason, we can understand Paul’s words and know “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Let’s face the day with God in mind and let faith rise above our circumstances and feelings.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Alexander the Coppersmith

    Alexander the CoppermsithThere are times when it’s necessary to specifically name a person as hostile in order to warn others to avoid unnecessary harm. This was true of the apostle Paul, who warned his friend, Timothy, about a man named Alexander. The warning came at a time when Paul was in prison (2 Tim. 1:8, 16) and wrote to his friend Timothy, saying, “Make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Tim. 4:9). Paul informed Timothy his support of friends had diminished for various reasons, saying, “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia” (2 Tim. 4:10), and “Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus” (2 Tim. 4:12). He informed Timothy, “Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 4:11a). Knowing that Timothy would come to visit him, he requested, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Tim. 4:11b), and “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13).

     Then, Paul’s tone quickly changed, saying, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim. 4:14-15). Why this comment by Paul? It seems likely Paul imagined the route his friend Timothy would take as he navigated through the streets of Rome to get to him and realized the possibility that Timothy might encounter this dangerous man, so he warned him to be on guard. Because Alexander was a common name, Paul carefully identified him by his profession, as the coppersmith.[1] Paul informed his friend that Alexander “did me much harm” (2 Tim. 4:14a). Paul did not state what the specific harm was, but clearly he’d been marked by his encounter with Alexander and carried the memory of the hurt. As a Christian, Paul did not seek personal vengeance against Alexander, but rather, put the matter in the Lord’s hands, saying, “the Lord will repay with him according to his deeds” (2 Tim. 4:14b).[2] Because God is the one who dispenses justice, we are commanded, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Paul knew God would deal with Alexander in His own time and way and that the punishment would be equitable payment for the harm done to him.

     Though Paul did not seek retaliation, neither did he desire another hostile encounter with the man who hurt him. More so, Paul sought to warn his friend, Timothy, who was coming to him, lest he suffer unnecessary hostility. Paul told Timothy, “Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim. 4:15). The word guard translates the Greek verb φυλάσσω phulasso, which means to guard, watch, or protect. The form of the verb tells us that Timothy is to act now (present tense), that he is to act in his own interests (middle voice), and that the action is mandatory (imperative mood). Like all God’s enemies, Alexander was hostile to the teaching of Christianity and sought to harm those who carried its message. He’d certainly left his mark on Paul, who was concerned that others might be hurt by him as well.

     As Christians, we realize there are times when it’s valid to specifically name a person as hostile in order to warn others to avoid unnecessary harm. And, as God’s children, we are not to seek revenge when hurt by others (Rom. 12:19), but realize God is righteous and will dispense equitable justice upon those who hurt us (Ps. 62:12; 2 Thess. 1:6).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] The word coppersmith translates the Greek word χαλκεύς chalkeus, which literally means a worker of metal and perhaps points to Alexander’s profession as a manufacturer of idols. One cannot be dogmatic here, but it makes good sense to understand that Alexander was connected with the idol industry, for “he vigorously opposed” Paul’s teaching (2 Tim. 4:15b), which teaching forbid the manufacture of idols and idol worship (Ex. 20:3-5; 1 Thess. 1:9-10), identifying it as the worship of demons (1 Cor. 10:20-21). We should realize that theology is never neutral and touches matters social and economic. Paul’s teaching would have directly threatened Alexander’s profession and income, for as people turned to Christ as Savior, they would have stopped worshipping idols and even influenced others to turn from that wicked practice as well.

[2] The word “repay” translates the Greek verb ἀποδίδωμι apodidomi, which means to give up, give back, or repay. The verb is in the future tense and anticipates imminent action by the Lord, who always dispenses the proper judgment at the proper time. As Christians, we are never called to seek revenge upon those who have hurt us, but rather, to put the matter in the Lord’s hands. Scripture teaches that God repays people according to their actions, as David writes, “For You [God] recompense a man according to his work” (Ps. 62:12b; cf. Prov. 24:12; Jer. 15:15), and to the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thess. 1:6).

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Submission to Authority – Part III

    submitThis is my third and final article on the subject of submission to authority. The first article addressed God’s sovereign authority over His creation, as well as those persons to whom He’s delegated authority on earth to serve as administrative overseers to others; and these administrators can be believers or unbelievers. The second article addressed Satan, as well as his counterfeit leaders, who seek to lead others outside of the will of God; and these leaders are to be resisted. This third article will address submission to persons in authority, who may at times behave harshly, but neither commit sin, nor command their subordinates to commit sin. This article, like others, is subject to revision.

     Submission is based on the legitimate authority that has been delegated to a person despite their personality or character flaws. There are examples in Scripture of persons who are in a position of authority and who behave harshly toward subordinates, but their harsh behavior is not sinful, nor are they demanding those under their supervision to commit sin. The account of Sarai and Hagar in Genesis 16 provides a good example.

     The account opens, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar (Gen. 16:1). A decade earlier, God had promised a son to Abram (Gen. 12:2; 13:15-16; 15:5), and though they’d tried to produce an heir, Sarai was not able.[1] Because of impatience, Sarai proposed Abram marry her servant, Hagar, as a solution to their problem. “Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Gen. 16:2). And, “After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife” (Gen. 16:3).

In the legal custom of that day a barren woman could give her maid to her husband as a wife, and the child born of that union was regarded as the first wife’s child. If the husband said to the slave-wife’s son, “You are my son,” then he was the adopted son and heir. So Sarai’s suggestion was unobjectionable according to the customs of that time. But God often repudiates social customs.[2]

     What Sarai proposed to Abram was socially acceptable in their day; however, there’s nothing in Scripture that reveals they’d consulted the Lord about the matter, and we know from other Scripture that it was not God’s will, and that Ishmael would ultimately be rejected as Abram’s heir (see Gen. 21:1-12). Hagar’s status had been elevated from servant to servant-wife, and Abram “went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight” (Gen. 16:4). Promotion is not always easy to handle, and it’s possible that Hagar became prideful about her new place, and for this reason despised Sarai and treated her disrespectfully. “Hagar became a slave wife, not on equal standing with Sarai. However, if Hagar produced the heir, she would be the primary wife in the eyes of society; when this eventually happened, Hagar become insolent, prompting Sarai’s anger.”[3] Sarai got upset and said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me” (Gen. 16:5). Sarai felt jilted by Hagar after she’d conceived, and she brought her complaint to her husband, Abram. At this point is appears Abram returned Hagar to servant status, saying to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight” (Gen. 16:6). Having been reduced to a servant again, we learn that “Sarai treated her [Hagar] harshly, and she fled from her presence” (Gen. 16:6).

     Hagar was probably hurt and confused over all that had happened to her and we can understand why she ran away. God, who is very compassionate, extended grace to Hagar and appeared to her while she was running away from her troubles. “Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur” (Gen. 16:7). The “angel of the LORD” is later identified by Hagar as God Himself (vs. 13). And the Lord said to her, “where have you come from and where are you going?” And she replied, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” (Gen. 16:8). God then said, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority” (Gen. 16:9). The command to return translates the Hebrew verb שׁוּב shub (Qal imperative), which is used of someone “who has shifted direction in a particular way and then shifted back from it in the opposite way. As long as there is no contrary factor the assumption is that such persons or people will turn back and reach the original point from which they departed.”[4] God expected Hagar to return to Sarai, and once there, to submit to her authority. Submit is a rendering of the Hebrew verb עָנָה anah, which commonly means to be bowed down, afflicted, or humbled. The verb form is imperative which means it’s a command, and the stem is reflexive (Hithpael), which means that Hagar is to act upon herself; in this case, to humble herself. No one is forcing Hagar into submission, as she must to do it to herself in compliance with the divine mandate. To obey the will of God she must submit herself to Sarai’s authority. Lastly, the word authority translates the Hebrew noun יָד yad, which is the word for hand. “The phrase ‘into (or ‘under’) someone’s hand’ conveys authority involving responsibility, care, and dominion over someone or something.”[5] Here the word denotes the authority Sarai has over Hagar. It is possible that submission to Sarai’s mistreatment could be in view, hence the CSB translation, “You must go back to your mistress and submit to her mistreatment” (Gen. 16:9). It is likely that Sarai’s anger was not born out of a deep-seated hatred of Hagar, which might result in long lasting mistreatment of her; rather, it seems to be the anger of the moment which will pass with time.

     The command for Hagar to return and submit to Sarai’s authority was God’s will. God strengthened Hagar by telling her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count” (Gen. 16:10), saying further, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has given heed to your affliction” (Gen. 16:10-11). The name Ishmael (יִשְׁמָעֵאל Yishmael) means, God hears, and speaks of the compassion God had for the cries of Hagar, who was suffering unjustly. God then described Ishmael, saying, “He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers” (Gen. 16:12). This description by God reveals that Ishmael, unlike his mother, would be free to live where he pleased. “The prophecy is not an insult. The wild donkey lived a solitary existence in the desert away from society. Ishmael would be free-roaming, strong, and like a Bedouin; he would enjoy the freedom his mother sought.”[6] These would have been very encouraging words to Hagar. Operating from divine viewpoint, Hagar stated, “You are a God who sees” (Gen. 16:13). Knowing that God was aware of her plight, and promised to bless her in the midst of her suffering, Hagar was internally strengthened and sustained by God’s Word as she returned to Sarai and submitted to her authority. Hagar’s return was an act of faith as she obeyed God’s Word. With every harsh word or action against her, Hagar could think of her son and rejoice in God’s blessing, which outweighed any hardship she would endure. The historical account closes with the statement, “So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him” (Gen. 16:15-16).

     Submission to harsh authority is never easy, and like Hagar, we might feel tempted to run away. But as Christians who seek God’s will above all else, who desire to submit to His authority, we must be willing to subordinate ourselves to those whom He’s placed over us, even if those persons are at times harsh. And, like Hagar, we know God is a God who sees and that He will strengthen us to endure the hardships of life.

     In the New Testament, the apostle Peter addressed the subject of suffering under harsh leadership. He wrote to Christian-servants who were dealing with harsh masters, saying, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” (1 Pet. 2:18).[7] We do not have servants and masters like those to whom Peter was writing, but certainly an employee and employer might serve as a suitable analog. The word servant is a translation of the Greek word οἰκέτης oiketes[8] which refers to a household servant, as over against the general term for slave (δοῦλος doulos). The term master translates the Greek word δεσπότης despotes which refers to “one who has legal control and authority over persons, such as subjects or slaves, lord, [or] master.”[9] The word master is used both positively and negatively, depending on the character of the individual. In fact, the word is used of God (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24) and Jesus (2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 1:4). Biblically, some masters were recognized as good and gentle, while others were unreasonable. We’re always pleased to submit to a good and gentle boss who is thoughtful, kind and generous; but the unreasonable boss is a challenge. The word unreasonable translates the Greek word σκολιός skolios, which was used in secular Greek literature “of rivers and roads…also to the movements of snakes, and may refer, too, to a labyrinth or to ringlets or matted hair.”[10] In this passage it refers “to being morally bent or twisted, crooked, unscrupulous, [or] dishonest.”[11] It is likely the unreasonable boss is one who lives by a worldly ethic and is selfish, overbearing, controlling, and perhaps dishonest. It is only natural that we would recoil and rebel against such a person, except that we are governed by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. “Obedience should not vary according to the temperament of the employer. Anyone can submit to an employer who is good and gentle. Believers are called to go beyond that and be respectful and obedient to the harsh, overbearing boss. This stands out as distinctly Christian behavior.”[12] Submitting to a harsh employer does not mean obeying illegal or sinful commands, for this would be wrong. “This submission is not in the sense of carrying out devious activities but in the sense of complying with a crooked master who demands legitimate actions. Such obedience is the evidence of grace in an individual’s life.”[13]

     It is natural to ask why the Christian is to submit to an unreasonable boss, especially if the boss is hostile toward an innocent worker. Peter answers, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly” (1 Pet. 2:19). The phrase, “For this finds favor,” communicates the idea of what is commendable in the sight of another; and in this instance, the other person is God. “The reason we should behave this way is that this behavior is God’s will (cf. vv. 13, 17). The fact that this is how God wants us to behave is sufficient reason for compliance. Our conscious commitment to God should move us to do what is right resulting in a clear conscience.”[14] Christians are to operate according to divine viewpoint, which means God’s Word defines our reality and serves as a filter through which we interpret our experiences and bring our will into alignment with the will of God. Scripture serves as a divine guide to help us respond to various situations as God would have, and to operate according to the ethical standards He prescribes. The answer, Peter tells us, is a matter of “conscience toward God” for the Christian who works under a difficult boss. Peter goes on to say, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Pet. 2:20). Certainly there’s nothing commendable about those who patiently endure harsh treatment, when such treatment is the result of being disobedient and doing wrong. However, it is commendable in the sight of God when His child patiently endures unjust suffering from the hand of an unreasonable supervisor.

Christian employees must never take advantage of Christian employers. Each worker should do a good day’s work and honestly earn his pay. Sometimes a Christian employee may be wronged by an unbelieving coworker or supervisor. For conscience’ sake, he must “take it” even though he is not in the wrong. A Christian’s relationship to God is far more important than his relationship to men. “For this is grace [thankworthy]” to bear reproach when you are innocent (see Matt. 5:10–12). Anybody, including an unbeliever, can “take it patiently” when he is in the wrong! It takes a dedicated Christian to “take it” when he is in the right. “This is grace [acceptable] with God.” God can give us the grace to submit and “take it” and in this way glorify God.[15]

     Biblically, there is no greater example of dealing with unjust suffering than the Lord Jesus Christ, and Peter points this out to his readers, saying, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). The phrase, “For you have been called for this purpose” means that suffering is a part of the Christian life (Matt. 10:38, 16:24; Luke 14:27; Acts 14:22), and it is purposeful (Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4). Peter then points to Jesus, saying, “Christ also suffered for you.” Jesus suffered for doing good—which resulted in our salvation—and becomes our example for suffering while doing what is right. The word example translates the Greek word ὑπογραμμός hupogrammos, which occurs only once in the Bible (a hapax legomenon), and means to write under. The word was used of a writing template that a child would use as a guide to practice proper writing or drawing. Here, the word is used of Christ, who is our model of example that we are to pattern our lives after. We are to copy Jesus and follow in His steps, even when it leads us to suffering.

     Jesus did not suffer as one who deserved punishment; rather, Peter describes Him as one “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:22-23). We know from Scripture why Jesus suffered and died, and we rejoice that He did, for without His sacrifice, we would be lost in sin and forever damned. But the suffering and death of Christ affects more than just our salvation, as it also serves as a template, a paradigm, for the believer to endure unjust suffering at the hands of harsh leaders. And as our example, Jesus did not revile or threaten His persecutors, but presented His case before the Supreme Court of heaven, “to Him who judges righteously.” Likewise, Christian servants, while living holy lives, free from the lust and tyranny of self-vindication, can submit to harsh supervisors, and do so with kindness, never seeking retaliation, but trusting that God sees and will judge righteously.

     We’re not always given the reason why we suffer unjustly at the hands of those who are in authority over us, but we know that God is sovereignly in control of all things, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Sometimes God uses difficult people or circumstances to shape our character to be more like the character of Christ. In this sense we can rejoice, because even though the suffering is difficult, it is purposeful, as God is using it to shape us into the people He wants. He has our best interests at heart, and the trials we face serve as a vehicle to transform us into better persons (Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4). We must always remember that God is more concerned with our Christian character than our creaturely comforts, and our behavior should always be motivated by a desire to please the Lord above all else.

Summary

     Christians will, at times, suffer unjustly at the hands of those whom God has placed in authority over us, like the suffering Hagar experienced at the hand of Sarai. And, the harsh or immoral character of leaders should never dictate our response; rather, we should be governed by God’s Word, as we look to Christ as our example of unjust suffering. Lastly, we should obey those in authority over us, doing what they command, so long as they do not command us to sin.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] It appears God intentionally created a dilemma in which Abram and Sarai were helpless to produce a son, so that it would be obvious in the end that what God had promised them, only He was able to execute (cf. Rom. 4:18-21). This leads to the principle that a promise delayed is not a promise denied.

[2] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 56.

[3] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 16:3.

[4] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1429.

[5] Ralph H. Alexander, “844 יָד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 362.

[6] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 16:12.

[7] Concerning slavery in the first century, the NT writers were not called to reform society, and so their letters were not written to governing officials who might affect political, economic, or social change. Rather, their sphere of authority was to the Christian church, and so they wrote to those who were members of those churches (husbands, wives, children, masters, slaves, free person, rich, poor, etc.), directing their values and behavior within the church. This is important to understand, because NT writers, though acknowledging the institution of slavery—which was very different than the American form of slavery—did not address the evils of that institution or its creators and managers. Slavery was common to the Roman world, and as many came to faith in Christ and were added to the church, it was proper that they should be addressed as equals, like all members of the body of Christ (Gal. 3:26-28). In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul addressed both slaves and masters who had believed in Christ as Savior, and made it very clear they both have one Master in Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:9). And, when writing to his friend Philemon concerning the return of his runaway slave, Onesimus, Paul instructed Philemon to receive Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Phm 1:16). However, there were times when a Christian-servant did not have a Christian-master, and submission to authority was strained.

[8] The word is used four times in the NT (Luke 16:13; Acts 10:7, Rom. 14:14, 1 Pet. 2:18).

[9] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 220.

[10] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 1046.

[11] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 930.

[12] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2264.

[13] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 349.

[14] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Pe 2:19.

[15] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 406.

Posted in Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Leadership, Living by Faith, Righteous Living, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Submission to Authority – Part I

    submitThis is the first of three articles on the subject of submission to authority. These articles are born out of a previous article I wrote titled Twelve Ways to Deal with a Bad Boss. The first article will address submission to God and legitimate human authorities. By definition, authority refers to the right that one person or group has to make decisions, give orders, or demand obedience from another. God’s authority is intrinsic, whereas human authority is delegated. Human authorities include politicians, police officers, teachers, parents, employers, and so on. The second article will address Satan’s counterfeit systems of authority, to which the believer is not to submit. Corrupt leaders—like Satan himself (Gen. 3:1-7)—seek to lead people into sin, and these must be resisted. The third article will address the command to believers to submit to human authorities that may be harsh and unreasonable, though not sinful. Though it is difficult for us to understand, there are times when God will place us under harsh leaders, and we are required to submit to their authority. I’ll address this more in that section. Like all my articles, these are subject to revision as I consider the subject more and more.

     First and foremost, we must understand that God’s authority is supreme and He sovereignly rules over all. Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all”[1] (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6). Daniel wrote, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21), and “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17; cf. Dan 4:34-35; 5:21; 1 Chron. 29:11-12; Rom. 13:1-2). God has established the governmental systems of the world to promote law and order. This means He has delegated authority to persons and groups who serve as administrative overseers to others. When functioning properly, government produces harmony by establishing and enforcing laws in society, and by restricting and punishing wrongdoers and promoting and rewarding those who do good.

     Paul wrote to Christians in Rome, saying, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2), and to his friend Titus, he wrote, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Tit 3:1-2). And Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Pet. 2:13-14). Of special note is the fact that the king—or emperor—in Paul’s and Peter’s day was none other than that rascal Nero, who wrongly blamed Christians for starting a fire that burned much of Rome, and who, according to church tradition, had Paul beheaded and Peter crucified.[2] Based on Paul’s and Peter’s statements, we can say: 1) governing authorities exist by divine placement, 2) to resist those authorities is to resist God Himself, 3) to subject to rulers and authorities means being obedient, and 4) that we can generally expect punishment from the same when we do wrong, and praise when we obey and do what is right.

     The word submit is a translation of the Greek verb ὑποτάσσω hupotasso which means “to subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey.”[3] The idea is of “submission involving recognition of an ordered structure…of the entity to whom or which appropriate respect is shown.”[4] Submission means that we subordinate our will to the will of another. New Testament examples of submission include: the young Jesus submitting to Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:51), God the Son submitting to God the Father (1 Cor. 15:27-28), the church submitting to Christ (Eph. 1:22), believers submitting to God (Heb. 12:9; Jam. 4:7), believers submitting to their pastor (1 Pet. 5:5; Heb. 13:17), Christians submitting to governmental authority (Rom. 13:1, 5; Tit. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-14), the Christian husband submitting to Christ (1 Cor. 11:3[5]), and the Christian wife submitting to her husband (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1; 5-6). We submit to authority because it produces harmony in our relationships with those God has placed over us.

     As Christians, we hold dual citizenship. We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), and citizens of whatever country we live in. Our first allegiance is to God, and then to those whom He has placed over us. God’s commands are found in only in Scripture, which is the basis for the Christian’s faith and conduct. This means: 1) our thinking is theocentric, not anthropocentric, 2) that our values are derived from God, not ourselves, or any other source, and 3) that we consciously submit ourselves to do God’s will at all times and in all situations. Ultimately, we can say that all submission is to God, Who commands us to obey Him directly, as well as to obey those whom He’s placed in authority over us.

     Worldly-minded persons seek to live independently from God and to establish their own rules and laws, which they arbitrarily create because they fit their personal values for the moment. These persons operate horizontally and not vertically. That is, God is not in their thinking (or is only included to the degree they permit), and this is often intentional, for they seek to be a law unto themselves. These persons are best described by the word autonomous, which comes from two Greek words that mean to be self-governed (autos = self + nomos = law). Though to some degree we are self-governed (for God made us rational and volitional creatures), we are never totally free from God or from the authoritarian structures He’s placed around us. Even if we were to flee from human governmental structures and live in the wilderness, we’d quickly learn there are laws there as well, even a hierarchical structure among the animals, and so we are never totally free to live as we please.

     God delegates authority in all aspects of society, including political officials, military officers, police, pastors, teachers, coaches, parents, employers, etc. Human authority is limited to certain persons, for a certain period of time, and harmoniously interlocks with other laws and systems of authority. For example, the authority of a mother is only over her own children and not neighborhood children (Eph. 6:1-3), and only for the duration they reside in the home. Additionally, her authority operates harmoniously with her husband, who is in authority over her (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1; 5-6). The wife’s submission is to her husband’s godly and loving leadership (Eph. 5:25-33), as he submits himself to Christ who is his authority (1 Cor. 11:3). As a good Christian, the husband is to lead his wife into God’s will, and his authority is never divorced from Scripture. The wife is to reject her husband’s leadership if/when he seeks to lead her into sin, or subject her to violence. This same thinking can be applied to governing officials, police, pastors, teachers, coaches, employers, etc. We submit to human authority, whether saved or lost, until we are commanded to act contrary to God’s authority as it is revealed in Scripture, and then we must disobey, albeit respectfully.

     Lastly, we are to pray for those whom God has place in authority over us, in order that we might live godly lives and pursue righteousness. Paul wrote, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Summary

     God is the supreme Ruler of His creation, and He has established human governmental authorities to promote law and order. This means He has delegated authority to persons and groups who serve as administrative overseers to others. As Christians, we are commanded to submit to those in authority over us, whether it is the president, state governors, local city officials, police officers, employers, parents, teachers, etc. Failure to submit to human authority is regarded as failure to submit to God, Who has placed those persons over us. Though human leaders may fail in their character and commands, this does not invalidate their authority or right to rule. The believer is to reject those commands that direct his/her behavior to sin. At this point, the believer says “no” to human authority only because he/she is saying “yes” to God’s authority. Lastly, we are to constantly pray for our leaders that they may be governed by God’s wisdom and character and that we may live peaceful and godly lives.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, published by The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

[2] Both Paul and Peter knew governmental authorities could abuse their power for selfish ends; however, the occasional abuse of power does not necessarily mean their authority is diminished in any way. Paul and Peter called Christians to submit to Rome’s emperor as well as those officials he placed in office to serve as overseers and administrators to Roman citizens.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1042.

[4] Ibid., 1042.

[5] The word ὑποτάσσω hupotasso does not appear in 1 Corinthians 11:3, but the concept is certainly present.

Posted in Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Leadership, Living by Faith, Righteous Living, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Faithfulness of the Lord

No king is delivered by his vast army; a warrior is not saved by his great might. A horse disappoints those who trust in it for victory; despite its great strength, it cannot deliver. Look, the LORD takes notice of His loyal followers, those who wait for Him to demonstrate His faithfulness by saving their lives from death and sustaining them during times of famine. We wait for the LORD; He is our deliverer and shield. For our hearts rejoice in Him, for we trust in His holy name. May we experience your faithfulness, O LORD, for we wait for you. (Psa 33:16-22)

     It is the natural proclivity of a person to look to his own resources when facing an enemy threat; for the king, it is his vast army, his war machine, his mighty warriors and strong horses. But the psalmist here challenges human viewpoint with divine viewpoint, reminding the reader of a biblical principle: that victory in life comes only from the Lord.

    Faithfulness of the LordIt is a discipline of the mind and will to trust in God during a conflict. Too often we’re tempted to look around rather than look up; yet, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. We are to “look” to the Lord; to think on Him and His promises to us. The psalmist declares, “Look, the LORD takes notice of His loyal followers, those who wait for Him to demonstrate His faithfulness” (Psa 22:18). The phrase “The LORD takes notice” is more literally “The eye of the LORD,” which refers to His look of favor that is cast upon His “loyal followers.” And who are His loyal followers? It is “those who wait for Him to demonstrate His faithfulness.” It is those who by faith take Him at His word, believing He will do what He’s promised.

     The one who fails to look to God will instinctively look to self and others, and whatever temporary resources this failing world can offer. But Scripture instructs us, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psa 146:3). Rather, we are to “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psa 37:3).

     God manifests His provision and protection to His loyal followers, to those who wait for him to demonstrate his faithfulness, “by saving their lives from death and sustaining them during times of famine” (Psa 33:19). Death and famine represent extreme scenarios in life, and for the psalmist, may reflect his reality. However, for those of us who do not face such extreme threats, the a fortiori rationale serves as a tool for reason and helps us to understand that if God will protect from greater dangers (i.e. death & famine), then He will certainly protect from lesser ones. At this point, we should not conclude that we won’t face trials or dangers, but rather, that God will give us the fortitude of character to withstand them, if we’ll look to Him in faith.

     And how does the psalmist respond in the midst of his trial? He responds with faith in God! Notice that he graciously includes his readers by using the plural pronouns “we” and “our” as he writes, “We wait for the LORD; He is our deliverer and shield. For our hearts rejoice in Him, for we trust in His holy name. May we experience your faithfulness, O LORD, for we wait for you” (Psa 33:20-22). The word wait translates the Hebrew verb יָהַל yachal, which means “to wait, to cause to hope.”[1] The verb is intensive (Piel stem), which means we are to focus intensely on the Lord and not the conflict at hand. There is almost always a tension in the mind, as the threat seeks to distract us from the solution.

“Hope” (יָחַל; s.v. Ps. 31:24) includes the ideas of waiting with some tension until the thing hoped for arrives (see Gen. 8:2) and of a confident expectation of trust (Ps. 42:5). It is not a last resort, a hoping against hope, as it were. Rather, it is an expectant faith, but a faith that struggles with the tensions in life. Here the object of the hope is “the loyal love” of the LORD.[2]

     The strength of the believer is in God, as we trust His Word, believing He will sustain us as we face life’s difficulties. O lord, strengthen our minds according to Your Word, and nourish our hearts that our faith may be strong. Do not let us be overcome by life’s trials, but to see them as purposeful, as the fire that burns away the useless dross of a weak character, and purifies those golden qualities that are born out of a healthy walk with You; and may Your faithfulness calm our fears and cause our hearts to rejoice.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 407.

[2] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms 1–89: Commentary, vol. 1, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011–2013), 739.

Posted in Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Spirituality, Suffering & Persecution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Choice of Blessing or Cursing

Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jer. 17:5-8)[1]

     The prophet Jeremiah lived in a day when the majority of persons in society, starting from the leadership down, trusted in human alliances and idols when they should have been trusting in God. The Lord Himself declared, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD” (Jer. 17:5). The word cursed translates the Hebrew verb אָרָר arar, which means, “to bind with a curse.”[2] The form of the verb is passive, which means a curse is received by the person who trusts in others rather than God. The one who does this starves himself of the spiritual nutrients necessary for spiritual health and strength, and “he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant” (Jer. 17:6).

     The troubles of life are constant, and the natural inclination of people is to look to self and/or others for solutions when problems arise. This is not always bad, except when God clearly calls us to look to Him and live by faith on a regular basis (Heb. 10:36-39). The growing believer trains his mind to look to God for divine solutions rather than to people for human solutions.

    Choose the BlessingGod then declares, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD” (Jer. 17:7). The word blessed translates the Hebrew verb בָּרָךְ barak which means to be “blessed, filled with strength, [made] full.”[3] In the Old Testament the word basically means “to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity, longevity, etc.”[4] Do you want to fail as a believer? Then think about life from a purely humanistic perspective and make it your regular practice to look merely to yourself and others for the solutions to life’s problems. Do you want to succeed as a believer and enjoy God’s blessings? Then learn divine viewpoint by studying Scripture and discipline your mind to look to God for guidance and strength for the trial. Learn to trust God and obey His Word. The word trust, both in Jeremiah 17:5 and 7, translates the Hebrew verb בָּטַח batach, which means, “to feel secure, to trust…to be confident.”[5] Whereas the one who trusts merely in himself and/or others will live a barren life (vs. 6), the one who trusts in God will find spiritual nourishment and grow strong, and “will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jer. 17:8).

Such a person would experience a constantly growing and fruitful life. He would enjoy stability, confidence, mental health, freedom from anxiety even in trying times, and a consistently radiant testimony before others (cf. Ps. 1:3). An essential difference between a bush and a tree is its root system. A tree can outlast a drought and continue to bear fruit whereas a bush cannot (cf. Matt. 13:6, 21).[6]

     The value and blessing that comes from trusting in God is tremendous. Those who trust in the Lord will find “He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him” (2 Sam. 22:31; cf. Ps. 34:8), for “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him” (Nah. 1:7). And, “How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood” (Ps. 40:4), for “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man” (Ps. 118:8).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible (The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 91.

[3] Ibid., 159.

[4] John N. Oswalt, “285 בָּרַך,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 132.

[5] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 120.

[6] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Je 17:8.

Posted in Christian Theology, Living by Faith, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Twelve Ways to Deal with a Bad Boss

     The purpose of this article is to provide several tools for the Christian who is struggling under a bad boss, and these are given at the end of this presentation.

     The Bible does not directly address the subject of bosses and employees; therefore, much of what is set forth in this article is an extrapolation of truths related to good and bad leaders, whether kings, princes, governors, or any who are in positions of authority. And, some points are drawn from the practical wisdom of everyday life.

     I write this article as a Christian who has spent the vast majority of my life in the secular workforce (since 1983), which is primarily governed by worldly philosophies and values rather than according to God’s Word. The challenge for me as a Christian, whether as an employee, or supervisor, has been the daily application of Scripture with my coworkers. Where Scripture is silent on a work related issue, I seek the Lord in prayer, as well as the counsel of godly persons who can help me work through a matter. Before I provide some biblical coping mechanisms, I’d like to take a moment to briefly describe some of the differences between a good and bad boss.

Characteristics of a Good Boss

     The good boss has integrity (Ps. 78:72). This means he is not artificial, but is genuine in character, honest in speech and faithful to his promises. David writes of the man with integrity, and describes him as one who “works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:2). Furthermore, he is one who “does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend” (Ps. 15:3; cf. Prov. 11:3; Tit. 2:7-8). He studies God’s Word (Ps. 1:2; 119:1), does not associate with people of low moral character (Ps. 1:1; 26:4), prays often (Ps. 4:1; 17:6), seeks to govern wisely (Prov. 8:15-16), listens to wise counsel (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6), and brings stability to those under his care (Prov. 29:4). He associates with honest and gracious persons (Pro. 22:11), searches to find the facts of a matter (Pro. 25:2; cf. 18:13), preserves the rights of others by clear thinking (Pro. 31:4-5), and educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons (read Ex. 18:13-26). He is selfless, humble, gentle, patient, compassionate, kind, and truly appreciates others (Eph. 4:1-2; Phi. 2:3-4; Col. 3:12). He encourages and builds others up (Eph. 4:29; 1 Thess. 5:11), and pursues peace rather than strife (Rom. 14:19). He recognizes his authority and uses it to serve others, not to tear them down (Matt. 20:25-28; John 13:1-17). He may, at times, criticize bad behavior (1 Thess. 5:14), but this is done to make the other person better, because he sincerely desires their success (Prov. 9:8; Isa. 1:17). He is slow to anger (Prov. 15:18; 16:32; 17:27; 19:11; 29:11), uses wise and gracious words (Ps. 37:30; Prov. 16:21; Eccl. 10:12; Col. 4:6), is not argumentative (2 Tim. 2:24-26), cares about justice (Lev. 19:15; Mic. 6:8), and the needs of the poor, orphans, and widows in the community (Isa. 1:17; cf. Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; 15:11; 24:17-22; Prov. 14:21).[1]

     On a day to day basis, he is one who will listen to you, stand up for you, trust you and not micromanage every aspect of your work. He communicates clearly, constantly, and in a collaborative manner. He seeks your advice, listens to your concerns, and consults you on the best solutions for success. He sets high expectations and encourages you to be the best you can be, operating according to agency standards, and striving for new heights of excellence. He also cares about your life outside of work and wants you to have good physical, social, and mental health. Lastly, the good boss can be tough when needed. He lives in reality and knows there are some who will not respond to his leadership, and, he may be required to use his authority to reprimand and/or terminate staff; however, this is always his last recourse if all other positive strategies have failed.

Characteristics of a Bad Boss

    The bad boss refuses to listen to God and His Word (Ex. 5:2), is concerned about himself rather than others (1 Ki. 12:1-15), oppresses his staff (Prov. 28:15-16), listens to lies (Prov. 29:12), abuses his authority (Mark 10:42), does not follow the guidance he gives (Matt. 23:2-3), places heavy burdens on others but doesn’t offer to help (Ex. 5:6-19; Matt. 23:4; cf. Prov. 29:2), oppresses the helpless for personal gain (Prov. 14:31; 22:16), likes to be noticed by others and to sit in places of honor (Matt. 23:5-7), and may outwardly appear righteous, but is dishonest (Matt. 23:28).

    Bad BossThe bad boss can be threatening, unpredictable, hostile, and irrational. He generally feels insecure and does not like the thought of being out of control. This leads to a totalitarian style of leadership, which hinders optimal performance, while making staff feel undervalued. The bad boss is arrogant, and arrogant people rarely see their own faults, they only see the faults of others. He generally lacks the ability to introspect and does not care that others are damaged by his leadership. Once the bad boss does not like you, almost anything you say or do, no matter how great, will be viewed critically and devalued. He seeks to tear you down, only to defeat and destroy you. He cares little about you or your growth or success. He communicates very little, or provides misleading information, is hostile, and will criticize you on a personal level rather than discuss your work. Sometimes the bad boss won’t fire you; rather, he’ll work to make your environment so toxic that you’ll get frustrated and leave.

     The advantage of suffering under a bad boss is that you’ll have a clear picture of how NOT to behave if/when you ever become a boss to others. It can also teach you coping skills you’d otherwise never develop. Just like going to the gym builds muscle, so enduring difficult people can develop our character, if we learn the right coping skills and consistently employ them.

Twelve Tools to Help the Christian Who is Working under a Bad Boss

     Suffering under a bad boss can be a real challenge, especially when I feel trapped with no way out. Often I pray about my difficult situation, but I realize what God does not remove (as I desire), He intends for me to deal with. Below are some biblical coping mechanisms that help me deal with a bad boss and still be successful on the job. These are as follows:

  1. Live by faith. The Christian life starts and ends with faith, which provides stability for the soul during difficult times. “My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:38), and “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1), and “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8), and “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (Ps. 119:50).
  2. Know that God is for you. God desires our best, and He works all circumstances for our good, to teach us and to develop our character. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), and “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
  3. Make sure your character and work is excellent. As Christians, we are to live an excellent life and work hard. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10a), and “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23; cf. 1 Thess. 4:10-11).
  4. Don’t give yourself over to complaining. It’s easy to start complaining when under attack, especially if we feel it’s unjust. But we must be careful, for if we start down this road, it becomes more and more difficult to turn back, and complaining does not solve problems. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phi. 2:14), and “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Pet. 4:9). The solution for this is found in the first point.
  5. Pray for those in leadership. We should always be praying for leaders in positions of authority. “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
  6. Submit to authority. We should be willing to submit to those in authority and follow orders. “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Tit. 3:1-2). An exception to this is when that authority seeks to lead us outside God’s will, and then we must resist (Acts 5:27-29).
  7. Respect leadership, even when the leadership is unreasonable. This can be challenging, especially if we realize those in positions of leadership may not operate according to the same ethical standards that direct us. It helps to understand that respect does not mean approval. “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly” (1 Pet. 2:18-19).
  8. Realize that God may be using difficult circumstances—and people—to develop our character. “…We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5), and “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam. 1:2-4).
  9. Avoid trouble when possible. “A shrewd person sees danger and hides himself, but the naive keep right on going and suffer for it” (Pro 22:3). It is valid, when possible, to avoid the attacks of abusive leaders. David twice fled when Saul tried to kill him with a spear (1 Sam. 18:11; 19:10), and refused to retaliate, even when he had opportunity (1 Sam. 24:4-6). Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord from the hostile attacks of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Ki. 18:1-4). Jehosheba hid Joash from the attacks of Athaliah, “So he was hidden with her in the house of the LORD six years, while Athaliah was reigning over the land” (2 Ki. 11:3). Twice it is recorded that Jesus “hid Himself” from some of the hostile Jewish leadership who wanted to kill Him (John 8:59; 12:36).
  10. Defend yourself against wrongful attacks when necessary. Some leaders are very abusive, and there may be times when legal action is required as a means of self-protection. The apostle Paul used legal force against his attackers by exercising his rights as a Roman citizen to protect him from a flogging that might have killed him (Acts 22:25-29), and on another occasion appealed to Caesar, the highest court in the land, because he felt he was not getting a fair trial (Acts 25:7-12).
  11. Let God deal out retribution. Do not seek revenge if you feel you’ve been wronged. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (Rom. 12:17-20).
  12. Take time to rest and pray. “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (Eccl. 4:6). Taking time to care for yourself is very important, as it’s easy to let the pressures of work and life overwhelm you. Even Jesus, during His time of earthly ministry, found time to get away by Himself to rest and to pray. “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone” (Matt. 14:23), and “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Luke 5:16), and “He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] This list is by no means exhaustive, but representative of the qualities of good leadership as found in Scripture.

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The Wrath of God

     The Wrath of God-1When reading through the Bible, one encounters the subject of God’s wrath in numerous places (Num. 16:46; Deut. 9:7-8, 22; 29:23, 28; Ps. 7:11; Nah. 1:2; Matt. 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Rev. 6:16-17; 15:1; 16:1, 19). Scripture reveals, “God is a righteous judge and a God who shows His wrath every day” (Ps. 7:11), and “A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; the LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nah. 1:2). The apostle Paul states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). “More than twenty different words occurring about 580 times express the wrath of God in the Old Testament (2 Kings 13:3; 23:26; Job 21:20; Jer. 21:12; Ezek. 8:18; 16:38; 23:25; 24:13).”[1] The most common of these Hebrew words are אַף aph (210 times), חֵמָה chemah (115 times), קֶצֶף qetseph (28 times), חָרוֹן charon (33 times), and עֶבְרָה ebrah (24 times). The two Greek words are ὀργή orge (34 times) and θυμός thumos (18 times). “Orge conveys a more settled anger (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 2:3; 1 Thess. 2:16; Rev. 6:16), while thumos indicates a more passionate anger (Rev. 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1; 19:15). Together they clearly convey the divine hostility against sin in a personal way.”[2]

A Definition of God’s Wrath

     God’s wrath refers to His intense hatred of sin. God’s hatred of sin is primarily born out of His attributes of righteousness and love.[3] Righteousness and love are eternal attributes, but wrath is not. God’s wrath is the natural response to that which is contrary to His righteousness and love. God loves righteousness and He loves His people. Concerning His righteousness it is written, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7), and “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD” (Ps. 33:5), and “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (Ps. 45:7).[4] Concerning His people Israel, He says, “you are precious in My sight, you are honored and I love you” (Isa. 43:4), and in another place He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). And of the church, it is written, “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2), and to John it was revealed that Jesus Christ “loves us and released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev. 1:5).

     To perpetually act contrary to God’s righteousness will eventually bring a response of anger, and to attack that which God loves—His people—will bring about divine retribution (Rom. 12:19; 2 Thess. 1:6; Rev. 6:9-10; 19:2). Good parents understand these concepts, for they love their children and desire that they live morally according to the righteous standard of God’s Word. Virtuous parents seek to protect their children from unhealthy values that will corrupt their minds and behavior, because they know this can destroy their life, and loving parents will rise in fury if anyone should seek to harm their children.

Examples of God’s Wrath

     A few examples of God’s wrath in the OT include the worldwide flood (Genesis 6-9), the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19), the defeat of the Egyptians (Ex. 15:7), the suppression of the rebellion of Korah (Num. 16:1-50), the Assyrian destruction of the ten tribes of Israel (2 Ki. 17:1-23), and the Babylonian destruction of the two tribes of Judah (2 Ki. 24:1-4; Jer. 25:1-11). A few examples in the NT include Jesus’ anger at the hard-heartedness of religious leaders (Mark 3:1-6), His anger at the money changers in the Temple (John 2:13-16), God’s wrath during the Tribulation (Rev. 6:16-17; 14:9-10; 15:7; 16:1), at the second coming of Jesus (Rev. 19:2, 15), and at the Great White throne judgment where unbelievers are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

The Reasons for God’s Wrath

     God’s wrath is kindled against those who are disobedient to His revelation (2 Ki. 22:13; 2 Chron. 24:18-19; 36:15-16; Ps. 78:21-22; Jer. 32:31-33; Rom. 1:18; 2:5). When writing to the Romans, Paul states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). God’s revelation, both natural and special, reveals He is not friendly toward those who reject Him and perpetuate sin, especially the sin of idolatry (Deut. 28:25-25; 2 Ki. 22:17; Ps. 78:58-59; Jer. 7:17-20; 44:5-6; Rev. 9:20; 14:11). In another place Paul writes, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Whenever God pours out His wrath, such as during the Tribulation, He is always declared to be righteous and true, and those who receive His righteous anger deserve what they get.

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev. 16:5-7)

God’s Patience Delays His Wrath

     God’s anger is never rash. In fact, many biblical passages reveal God is very patient and slow to anger. Scripture reveals, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex. 34:6), and “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15), and “You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh. 9:17; cf. Ps. 103:8; Jon. 4:2). God’s patience allows people time to humble themselves and turn to Him before judgment comes. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Though God is patient, He is not patient forever, and there eventually comes a time when His judgment comes, both in time and in eternity.

God’s Wrath at the Cross

     God’s righteousness demands punishment for sin. We produce sin, but are helpless to deal with it. God alone solves our sin-problem, and the cross of Christ is that solution. At the cross God satisfied every demand of His righteousness by judging our sin in the substitute of His Son, Jesus, who bore the wrath that rightfully belongs to us (Isa. 53:6-12; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8-9; 1 Pet. 2:21-24; 3:18). As a result, God is propitiated by the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:21-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and extends grace and love to undeserving sinners (John 3:16-18; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9; Tit. 3:5). Those who reject Christ as Savior continue under God’s wrath (John 3:18, 36; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 5:9-10). Those who trust Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), eternal life (John 10:28), and the imputation of God’s righteousness (Rom. 5:17-18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Furthermore, we are reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:22), have relational peace with Him (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20), will never know eternal condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 31-39), and will be spared from the wrath to come (Rom. 5:8-9; Eph. 2:1-7; 5:1-10; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 5:9-10).

     It should be noted there is a difference between wrath and discipline. The Christian who falls into a lifestyle of perpetual sin may know God’s discipline (Heb. 12:5-11), even to the point of death (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). But discipline is born out of God’s love for the believer, not His anger, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb. 12:6), and “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3:19).

Should Believers Get Angry?

     Is it alright for God’s people to get angry? The answer is yes and no. There is a sinful anger that God’s people must avoid (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7); however, there are times when we will experience injustice, and it is natural and valid to be angry when this happens. The most common reasons for human anger are hatred, jealousy, fear, or injustice. Because we have such limited or faulty perceptions of circumstances or behaviors, as well as the causes and/or motivations behind them, we are often told not to get angry, as it can result in sin on our part (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7).

     When writing to Christians at Ephesus, Paul stated, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27). Anger is wrong when it leads us to sin (i.e. revenge, lying, gossip, murder, etc.). Because we are prone to sin, we should always be slow to anger. Scripture states, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29), and “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute” (Prov. 15:18), and “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Prov. 16:32), and “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11), and “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:19-20). As Christians, we must be careful with anger, for sin crouches near the one who harbors it, tempting us to retaliate and exact revenge upon the offending party. Personal revenge is not the Christian way, for Scripture directs us, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). More so, we are to love and pray for our enemies (Luke 6:27-29), and to bless them (Rom. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:8-9), if perhaps God may grant them saving grace (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Though God promises to avenge the innocent (2 Thess. 1:6-7; Rev. 6:9-11; 19:1-2); there may be times when He surprises us by showing grace and mercy to those who don’t deserve it, such as the grace shown to Paul when he was persecuting the church (Acts 9:1-6; Gal. 1:15-16), or the grace shown to us while we were sinners (Rom. 5:6-10).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 339.

[2] Ibid., 339–340.

[3] Other attributes may be involved as well, such as holiness and jealousy, but I will focus mainly on these two.

[4] This last verse shows the contrast between that which He loves and hates. To love something is to hate the opposite. To love righteousness is to hate sin. Jesus echoed similar language of antithesis when He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). And to the church at Ephesus, He states, “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6).

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Babylonianism

The Building of the Tower of Babel (oil on canvas)

Marten van Valckenborch (1535-1612) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

     Babylon is named after the city of Babel, which was founded by a descendant of Noah named Nimrod, who is described as a “mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen. 10:9). Moses tells us that Nimrod founded several cities, namely, “Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (Gen. 10:10). Shinar is in the region of what is today known as Iraq. Moses wrote about the origin of Babylon, with its values and practices.

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:1-4)

     In this passage we observe these early descendants of Noah all spoke the same language and chose to settle in the land of Shinar contrary to God’s previous command to “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). After settling, they began to use God’s resources of volition, intelligence, language, and building materials to build a city for themselves, as well as a tower into heaven. All of this was done to make a name for themselves, rather than to obey and glorify God. Their big plans and big tower were small in the sight of God, who “came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built” (Gen. 11:5). No matter how big their tower, it would never reach heaven, and the Lord condescended to see their production. Of course, the Lord knew all along what they were doing, and this satirical language helps us understand the work of men from the divine perspective. Because it was God’s will for them to fill the earth, He confused their language and scattered them over the earth (gen. 11:6-9).

     Babylon is the birthplace of organized rebellion against God, in which people used the Lord’s resources in defiance of His will. Babylon is mentioned over three hundred times in Scripture, and in several places is identified for her pride (Isa. 13:19), idolatry (Isa. 21:9; Jer. 51:44), sorceries (Isa. 47:13), and tyrannical form of government (Dan. 1:1-8; 3:1-22). By the time we get to the book of Revelation, Babylon is seen both as a city and a system that promotes religious, political, and economic agendas that are antithetical to God. Babylon is described as a great harlot who influences all of humanity with false religions (Rev. 17:1-5), is guilty of persecuting and murdering prophets and saints (Rev. 17:6), is a dwelling place of demons and unclean spirits (Rev. 18:2), with whom “the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (Rev. 18:3), and she sees herself as a queen that will never know mourning (Rev. 18:7). Eventually, Babylon is completely destroyed just prior to the Second Coming of Christ (Rev. 18:2, 10, 21).

     Babylonianism is a philosophy of human autonomy that permeates all aspects of society including politics, economics, business, entertainment, academic institutions, and culture at large. The philosophy is communicated through literature, music, art, television, radio, news channels, and everyday discussions. It is a system of values that start and end with man, and is embraced by the vast majority of people who assign no serious thought of God to their discussions, plans, or projects, and who seek to use His resources independently of His wishes. Babylonianism is also the mother of all world religions, which provide people a system of beliefs and rituals whereby they can work their way to heaven by human effort. There is even a Babylonian form of Christianity, which undermines the grace of God and convinces people they are saved by good works.

     Biblical Christianity is not a religion, whereby people bring themselves to God through ritual practices or good works. Rather, it presents the truth that people are totally helpless to save themselves (Rom. 4:1-5; 5:6-10; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5), and that salvation is a work of God alone, apart from any human effort (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9). The gospel message is that God provided a way for helpless sinners to be saved, and this is through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-4), who died in our place on the cross and paid the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:6-8; Heb. 10:10-14; 1 Pet. 3:18). The simple truth of Scripture is that we are saved by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9), through faith alone (John 3:16), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), whose substitutionary death provides forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).

     Biblical Christianity is more than just a way to be saved. It also provides a structured philosophical framework that tells us why everything exists (i.e. the universe, mankind, evil, etc.) and helps us to see God sovereignly at work in everything, providing purpose for our lives, and directing history toward the return of Christ. This gives us hope for the future; for “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). When properly understood and applied, Scripture guards us from harmful cultural influences (Phil. 4:6-8), and directs and enriches our lives (Ps. 119:14, 111). Jeremiah wrote, “Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jer. 15:16). Biblical Christianity sets us free to enjoy God’s world and to pursue righteousness and goodness (Rom. 6:11-13; Tit. 2:11-14).

     As Christians, must be careful that we do not fall into Babylonianism, either by following the lead of those who seek to silence or pervert the voice God, or be enticed by pleasures or activities that lead us to trust in people or things instead of Him. We are not to be taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Rather, we must consciously place God at the center of our lives and pursue His glory, actively and graciously insert His word into our daily discussions, and humbly serve others above our own self-interests (Phil. 2:4-8).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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Posted in Biblical Worldview, Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Living by Faith, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders

A leader is one who influences the thoughts and actions of others in order to achieve a specific outcome. The Bible differentiates between good and bad leaders, between the righteous and the wicked. Bad leaders exclude God from their daily thoughts and activities and selfishly pursue their own desires, even if it means harming others. Below are some qualities that describe bad leaders:

  1. They trust in human resources rather than God. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!” (Isa. 31:1).[1]
  2. They are open to lies. “If a ruler pays attention to falsehood [i.e. intentionally listens to lies], all his ministers become wicked” (Pro. 29:12).
  3. They make people groan. “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan” (Pro. 29:2).
  4. They oppress others. “Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days” (Pro. 28:15-16).
  5. They are sometimes described as beasts that are empowered by Satan. “Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea…and the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev. 13:1-2; cf. 7:1-8).
  6. They openly attack God and His people. “And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God…It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them” (Rev. 13:6-7).

In contrast, the good leader is first and foremost a follower of God who wears a crown of humility and derives his values and strength from the Lord. Below are some of the qualities of a good leader:

  1. He is a servant to others. When Solomon died, his counselors advised his son, Rehoboam, “If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7; cf. Matt. 20:25-28; John 13:13-17; Phil. 2:3-4).
  2. He seeks God’s righteousness as his rule for judging others. “Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice” (Ps. 72:1-2).
  3. He cares about the poor and needy. “He [the king] will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight.” (Ps. 72:12-14).
  4. He governs with integrity and skill. Of David, it is written, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Ps. 78:72).
  5. He rules by wisdom. “By me [biblical wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly” (Pro. 8:15-16).
  6. He displays impeccable judgment. “A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment” (Pro. 16:10; cf. read Deut. 17:18-20).
  7. He brings stability by adhering to justice. “The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it” (Pro. 29:4).
  8. He governs by loyalty and truth. “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness” (Pro. 20:28).
  9. He governs in righteousness. “It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and he who speaks right is loved” (Pro. 16:12-13).
  10. He should be honest. “Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool, much less are lying lips to a prince” (Pro. 17:7).
  11. He punishes the wicked. “A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them” (Pro. 20:26).
  12. He associates with honest and gracious persons. “He who loves purity of heart [i.e. has honest intentions] and whose speech is gracious [i.e. kind speech], the king is his friend” (Pro. 22:11).
  13. He searches to find the facts of a matter. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Pro. 25:2; cf. 18:13).
  14. He 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).
  15. He surrounds himself with wise counselors. “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Pro. 11:14).
  16. He educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons. When Moses began leading God’s people, Israel, he overextended himself and began to burnout. Scripture states, “It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening” (Ex. 18:13.). Moses’ father-in-law saw what was happening and said, “Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (Ex. 18:14). Moses explained the people were coming to him and that he felt compelled to help them (Ex. 18:15-16). Moses’ father-in-law answered, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone” (Ex. 18:17-18). He advised Moses to educate God’s people concerning His statutes and laws and then select honest men who would serve as judges to the people. He said, “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. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace” (Ex. 18:19-23). It is said of Moses, he “listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said” (Ex. 18:24).

As believers, we are always to pray for those in leadership positions. Paul writes, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

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Faith or Regeneration – Which Comes First?

Faith or Regeneration     I’ve been teaching through the Gospel of John at the federal prison near my house over the past few months. As with any expositional study, certain theological issues will naturally arise, and the issue of election has been popping up in our discussions. One of our conversations got a little heated one evening regarding the ordo salutis, or the order of salvation. The discussion focused primarily on whether regeneration precedes faith, or faith precedes regeneration. I was pleased to see them struggling with the issue and trying to work it out in their thinking. After nearly forty-five minutes I brought the discussion to a close, not because we’d resolved the matter, but because I needed get back to the expositional presentation of the Gospel of John, which is what the class is about. After I went home that evening, I spent a few hours writing this article, which I delivered to the inmates the following week. Though I take a position on this subject, I try to present both sides fairly.

     It’s important to keep in mind that there are good and loving theologians who stand on either side of the debate. Some believe regeneration precedes faith in Christ, and others that faith in Christ precedes regeneration. These are not dogmatic on the issue, stating the possibility that faith and regeneration may occur at the same time. Careful study through the Bible does not yield a step by step order concerning God’s salvation process in the life of His elect; rather, many of the arguments are predicated on logical reasonings. Below are a few quotes from top scholars who fall on either side of the debate. Though there are more teachers I could have chosen, I selected a few strong representatives from each side in order to keep the discussion focused and brief. A few opening remarks are important.

In view of the fact that the Bible does not specify the exact order that applies in the application of the work of redemption, there is naturally considerable room for a difference of opinion. And as a matter of fact the Churches are not all agreed as to the ordo salutis. The doctrine of the order of salvation is a fruit of the Reformation. Hardly any semblance of it is found in the works of the Scholastics. In pre-Reformation theology scant justice is done to soteriology in general.[1]

We should be flexible as to what goes into the ordo and what does not. The Bible itself doesn’t use the phrase ordo salutis any more than it speaks of an order of the decrees. And Scripture does not include anywhere a list of all the events theologians typically include under that label. Myself, I think that the ordo is mainly a pedagogical device.[2]

In the Reformed statement of the ordo salutis, regeneration precedes faith, for, it is argued, a sinner must be given new life in order to be able to believe. Although this is admittedly stated only as a logical order, it is not wise to insist even on that; for it may as well be argued that if a sinner has the new life through regeneration, why does he need to believe? Of course, there can be no chronological order; both regeneration and faith have to occur at the same moment. To be sure, faith is also part of the total package of salvation that is the gift of God (Eph. 2:9); yet faith is commanded in order to be saved (Acts 16:31). Both are true.[3]

A definition of regeneration:

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration [παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia = regeneration, renewal] and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5)

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration [παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia = regeneration, renewal] when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28)[4]

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [γεννάω gennao + ἄνωθεν anothen = born again, or born from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

     The word “regeneration” occurs only twice in the Bible (Matt. 19:28 and Titus 3:5). In both places the Greek word used is παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia, which means the “the state of being renewed… [the] experience of a complete change of life, rebirth of a redeemed person.”[5] Dr. Charles Ryrie states, “The word, used only twice in the New Testament (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:5), means to be born again. To be born from above (anothen) occurs in John 3:3 and probably includes the idea of being born again also (see the use of anothen in Gal. 4:9). It is the work of God that gives new life to the one who believes.”[6] Dr. Paul Enns would agree, saying, “Succinctly stated, to regenerate means ‘to impart life.’ Regeneration is the act whereby God imparts life to the one who believes.”[7] The Greek word ἀναγεννάω anagennao can be added as well. The word appears twice in Peter’s first epistle (1 Pet. 1:3, 23). The basic meaning is, to begat again, and is translated born again in both instances and has the idea of imparting new life.

The argument that regeneration precedes faith in Christ:

     There are many Christians who believe that regeneration precedes faith in Christ. The reasoning is that an unregenerate person has no ability within himself to do anything, and even believing is made possible by means of the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit. J.I. Packer states, “Jesus’ point throughout [John 3:3-8] is that there is no exercise of faith in himself as the supernatural Savior, no repentance, and no true discipleship apart from this new birth.”[8] In this formula, Packer places faith in Christ after regeneration. At another point he states, “Regeneration is a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, and conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit, not its immediate cause.”[9] Discussing John 3:3-8, Dr. Wayne Grudem takes the same view as Packer, stating:

Using the verses quoted above [John 3:3-8], we have defined regeneration to be the act of God awakening spiritual life within us, bringing us from spiritual death to spiritual life. On this definition, it is natural to understand that regeneration comes before saving faith. It is in fact this work of God that gives us the spiritual ability to respond to God in faith. However, when we say that it comes “before” saving faith, it is important to remember that they usually come so close together that it will ordinarily seem to us that they are happening at the same time. As God addresses the effective call of the gospel to us, he regenerates us and we respond in faith and repentance to this call. So from our perspective it is hard to tell any difference in time, especially because regeneration is a spiritual work that we cannot perceive with our eyes or even understand with our minds.[10]

Dr. John Frame argues that regeneration is the first act in our salvation, saying:

When God calls us into fellowship with Christ, he gives us a new life, a new heart. Regeneration is the first effect of effectual calling. And regeneration is the first item on the list that occurs inside of us. The presupposition of Scripture is that apart from God’s grace we are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1–3), as we saw in chapter 8. That means that in and of ourselves, we can do nothing to please God. Just as conception and birth bring new physical life, so the work of regeneration brings new spiritual life. Through the new birth we gain new desire and new ability to serve God.[11]

Arguing that the new birth precedes faith in Christ, Frame further states:

So, the new birth comes before our faith, bringing it about. People sometimes say, “Believe in Jesus, and you will be born again.” This expression is biblically inaccurate. It is true that believing in Jesus is the path to blessing. But the new birth is the cause of faith rather than the other way around. Again, you cannot give birth to yourself, even by faith. Rather, God gives new birth to you and enables you to have faith. It is always God’s sovereignty, isn’t it?[12]

The argument that faith in Christ precedes regeneration:

     Regeneration is completely a work of God, for fallen persons have no ability to produce spiritual life. Dr. Lewis S. Chafer believes regeneration is a work of God alone, in which God the Holy Spirit produces new life in the believer, completely apart from any human merit or worth, and occurs at the moment of faith in Christ.

On the basis of this text [Tit. 3:5], the word “regeneration” has been chosen by theologians to express the concept of new life, new birth, spiritual resurrection, the new creation, and, in general, a reference to the new supernatural life that believers receive as sons of God. In the history of the church, the term has not always had accurate usage, but properly understood, it means the origination of the eternal life which comes into the believer in Christ at the moment of faith, the instantaneous change from a state of spiritual death to a state of spiritual life.[13]

     Dr. John Walvoord argues that regeneration is completely a work of God, saying, “Regeneration by its nature is solely a work of God. While sometimes considered as a result, every instance presumes or states that the act of regeneration was an act of God.”[14] And he comments again, “As the word itself implies, the central thought in the doctrine of regeneration is that eternal life is imparted. Regeneration meets the need created by the presence of spiritual death.”[15] Further, Dr. Walvoord states clearly that eternal life is received by faith, saying:

The important fact, never to be forgotten in the doctrine of regeneration, is that the believer in Christ has received eternal life. This fact must be kept free from all confusion of thought arising from the concept of regeneration which makes it merely an antecedent of salvation, or a preliminary quickening to enable the soul to believe. It is rather the very heart of salvation. It reaches the essential problem of the lack of eternal life without which no soul can spend eternity in the presence of God. Regeneration supplies eternal life as justification and sanctification deal with the problem of sin specifically. It is a smashing blow to all philosophies which hold that man has inherent capacities of saving himself. Regeneration is wholly of God. No possible human effort however noble can supply eternal life. The proper doctrine of regeneration gives to God all glory and power due His name, and at the same time it displays His abundant provision for a race dead in sin.[16]

     Dr. Charles Ryrie writes concerning the means of regeneration, stating, “God regenerates (John 1:13) according to His will (James 1:18) through the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) when a person believes (1:12) the Gospel as revealed in the Word (1 Pet. 1:23).”[17] Ryrie then defines faith, saying, “Faith means confidence, trust, to hold something as true. Of course, faith must have content; there must be confidence or trust about something. To have faith in Christ unto salvation means to have confidence that He can remove the guilt of sin and grant eternal life.”[18] And finally, addressing the necessity of faith, he states, “Salvation is always through faith, not because of faith (Eph. 2:8). Faith is the channel through which we receive God’s gift of eternal life; it is not the cause. This is so man can never boast, even of his faith. But faith is the necessary and only channel (John 5:24; 17:3).”[19] Dr. Paul Enns would agree, saying:

John 1:13 indicates the new birth is not effected by the will of man. Regeneration is an act of God, not a cooperative effort between God and man. That is not to say, however, that faith is unnecessary in salvation. It may be suggested that although regeneration and faith are distinct, they occur simultaneously. The two are set side by side in John 1:12–13. In John 1:12, at the moment of receiving Christ (believing), the person becomes a child of God; in John 1:13 it indicates that at that very moment the persons have been born of God. Surely there is a mystery here that surpasses human comprehension.[20]

     I find myself more in agreement with Lewis Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Paul Enns, and many others who teach that regeneration occurs either just after faith in Christ, or at the same time. This discussion is not intended to resolve the issues surrounding the ordo salutis. Though I love and appreciate the writings of theologians such as R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, J.I. Packer, John Frame, and many others, yet I am unconvinced—at least at this time—by their arguments that regeneration precedes faith in Christ. My current position is based more on the evidence of Scripture rather than well-crafted theological arguments.

     Biblically, there are numerous passages that place faith as the necessary prerequisite to having new life, or regeneration. It is written, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40). In these and other instances, “eternal life” is given after we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Faith is never the cause of our salvation, but rather, the means by which we receive it. Scripture clearly states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

     I would also like to say in closing that I do not consider this theological issue as central to the Christian faith; therefore, disagreement on this issue is not a basis for breaking fellowship. I agree with the statement: in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel in Two Minutes  
  2. Not of Works  
  3. The Doctrine of Election  
  4. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation   

 

Cited Sources:

[1] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 417.

[2] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 183.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 376.

[4] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 752.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 376.

[7] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 338.

[8] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 157–158.

[9] Ibid., 158.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 702.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 185.

[12] Ibid., 186.

[13] Lewis Sperry Chafer; Major Bible Themes (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 2010), 97-98.

[14] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapds, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 130.

[15] Ibid., 131.

[16] Ibid., 132.

[17] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 376.

[18] Ibid., 377.

[19] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 377.

[20] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 340.

Posted in Christian Theology, Hot Topics, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What is the Church?

[This article is included in the book: What is Dispensationalism?]

     The church refers to the body of Christ which began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. It is comprised of Jews and Gentiles who have accepted Jesus as Savior. The church exists universally as an organism, the global presence of Christians who form the body of Christ. The church also exists locally as an organization, a nearby assembly of believers who gather together for Bible study, worship, fellowship, and the practice of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Christian church is a mystery not revealed in the Old Testament and is separate from Israel, having a different identity and purpose.

The Meaning of Ekklesia

     ChurchThe term church is a common translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means called out ones, assembly, congregation, or community of Christians.[1] The New Testament writers use the word both in a general and technical sense. When used in a general sense, the word refers to any assembly, such as an assembly of residents in a city (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). It is interesting that the assembly mentioned in Acts 19 refers to pagan worshippers of the Greek goddess Artemis and does not refer to believers at all (Acts 19:34-35). The word ekklesia is also applied to Israel as a general assembly or congregation (Matt. 18:17; Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:12). In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus addresses the subject of discipline within the fellowship of a community (ekklesia); however, the evidence of the passage favors a Jewish assembly (i.e. a synagogue) and not the Christian church.[2] In Acts 7:38 Stephen is speaking to a Jewish audience and mentions “the congregation [ekklesia] in the wilderness.”[3] Stephen’s use of the word ekklesia simply refers to the assembly of Israelites who were brought out of Egypt by Moses. In Hebrews 2:12 the writer quotes Psalm 22:22, in which the Septuagint[4] has the term ekklesia, again, used in a general way of an assembly or congregation of Jewish people.

     When applied to Christians in the New Testament, ekklesia takes on a technical meaning and refers to those who have been joined to the spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23) by means of personal faith in Jesus as Savior (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9). The first reference to the Christian church occurs in Matthew 16:18 after Peter had confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), and based on the rock-solid truth of Peter’s statement, Jesus said, “I will build [future tense] My church [ekklesia]; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus’ future tense statement reveals a church that was not in existence when He spoke. The Christian church began on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit began His baptizing ministry of placing believers into the body of Christ. Concerning this work of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Gal. 3:26-28). “The Holy Spirit of God is the primary agent who identifies the believer with other believers. Each one is a member of the body, and each member is united with the other members and with Christ (Rom. 6:1–4).”[5] The comparison of Acts 1:4-5 with Acts 2:1-4 and 11:15-17 make a compelling case for the church’s origin in Acts 2. It is mainly in the writings of Paul that the Christian church is identified as the body of Christ. Note the following Scriptures:

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23)

For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (Eph. 5:23)

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Col. 1:18)

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church. (Col. 1:24)

     Several times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as the Head of the body, the church. The Greek word soma, translated body, occurs 142 times in the New Testament and is used most often of physical bodies; however, it is used “sixteen times to refer to the church, the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). With the exception of Eph. 5:28, in Ephesians it is always used metaphorically as a reference to the body of Christ, the church.”[6] Paul first learned about this identification when he, as an unbeliever, encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus when he was persecuting Christians and putting them in prison. While on the road, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a bright light, which caused him to fall to the ground, and then a voice said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Act 9:4; cf. 22:7; 26:14). When Paul asked, “who are You Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Paul learned that an attack on Christians is an attack on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “The question, ‘Why do you persecute Me?’ (cf. Acts 9:5) is filled with significance for it shows the union of Christ with His church. The Lord did not ask, ‘Why do you persecute My church?’ The reference to ‘Me’ gave Saul his first glimpse into the great doctrine of Christians being in Christ.”[7] When a person believes in Jesus as Savior he/she is united to the body of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. This is a new designation in which ethnic, social, and gender identity are all secondary to the believer’s new identity of being in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28).[8]

The Universal Church

     The New Testament church is understood both in a universal and local sense. The universal church refers to the global existence of the body of Christ. This is the organic church as it exists all over the planet. Several passages in the New Testament communicate the idea of a universal church, such as when Paul said, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32), and “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28), and “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23; italics added). What is noticed in these and other places in Scripture is the use of the term church without a specific location (Matt. 16:18; Acts 8:3; 9:31; 20:28; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:10, 21; 5:23, 32; Col. 1:18, 24). Robert Lightner comments on this:

There are a number of usages of ekklesia that do not seem to refer to a local assembly of believers. Instead, they speak of that company of believers formed on the day of Pentecost into the body of Christ, which has been growing ever since as sinners trust Christ alone as Savior and are added to it. This company of the redeemed is called the church without consideration of whether or not those who are a part of it are members of local churches.[9]

     The universal church exists all over the earth. When the rapture of the church occurs, all believers, wherever they are on the planet, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18). That is, the church, as it exists globally, will be removed from the earth and taken to be with Christ. Also, whenever we meet another Christian, we are meeting someone who belongs to the global body of Christ, whether they belong to a local assembly or not.

The Local Church

     The word church is also used to refer to a local assembly of those who regularly meet at a specific location (1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Rev. 2-3). Luke mentions “the church which was at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), and “the church that was at Antioch” (Acts 13:1). Paul mentions “the church in Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1), “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (Phil. 1:1), and “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse” (Col. 1:2) (italics added). The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation to churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). These were all local churches that existed in ancient cities, where Christians lived and worked. However, we can narrow the local church down a little further and say that Christians met in the homes of specific church members within each city. The first church—which was Jewish—met “in the temple” in Jerusalem, as well as “from house to house” (Acts 2:46). As the church grew, and included Gentiles, the home continued as the primary meeting place for believers. Luke records Paul’s ministry to Christians in Ephesus and explained that he taught “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Paul mentions several home churches such as the one run by Aquila and Priscilla and “the church that is in their house” (1 Cor. 16:19), and about “Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Col. 4:15), and “to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Phm. 1:2) (italics added).

     Who were the members of these local house churches? From several writings in the New Testament we get a demographic breakdown of church members, which consisted of men and women (Eph. 5:22-23), parents and children (Eph. 6:1-4), slaves and free persons (Eph. 6:5-9), rich and poor (1 Tim. 6:17-19; Jam. 2:2-5), spiritual and carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Gal. 6:1), mature and immature (1 Cor. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:2). We can also surmise that home churches generally had few members because of the size of the homes (probably not exceeding 50 people) and the fellowship probably tended to be personal, with an emphasis on learning God’s Word and enjoying Christian fellowship. Luke gives us a snapshot of some of the values and practices of the early church in which he tells us “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

     We also know the first century church had problems. Churches then, like churches now, are no better or worse than the people who make up their fellowship. Christians who were immature, carnal and selfish tended to cause trouble. Churches struggled with problems such as jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21), relationship conflicts (Phil. 4:2), and legalism (Gal. 5:1-12). But God expected all to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), manifesting “the fruit of the Spirit”, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). In the church, Christians were to learn Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:2), grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18), advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), seek the interests of others over self (Phil. 2:3-4), love one another (1 Cor. 13:4-8a; 1 Thess. 3:11-12; 4:9; 1 Jo. 4:7-11), pray for one another (Jam. 5:16), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), edify each other (Rom. 15:1-2; Eph. 4:29), be kind and forgiving (Eph. 4:32), serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10), and do good works (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14). These Christian qualities made the church attractive and productive.

     The primary purpose of the church is to glorify God. Paul states, “we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12), and “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever” (Eph. 3:21; cf. Rom. 11:36; 16:27; 1 Pet. 2:5). Other purposes of the church include evangelizing the lost (Matt. 28:18-20), edifying believers through biblical teaching so they might advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16), praying for one another (Jam. 5:16), and showing love (John 13:34).

A Divided Understanding of the Church

     One of the dispensational distinctives is that Israel and the church are separate. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, made up of Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). The church, as the body of Christ, was revealed to the apostles only in the New Testament (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:1-12; 5:32; Col. 1:24-27). However, covenant theologians see the church existing as one people of God, a single group of people that goes all the way back to Genesis. Covenant theologian Wayne Grudem states, “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.”[10] And John Frame comments, “Israel was the church of the old covenant; the New Testament church is the Israel of the new covenant, what Paul calls ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16).”[11] Covenant theologians such as Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, Louis Berkhof, Edward Young, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and many others argue that Israel is the church and the church is Israel; they are the same. Though I have a great love for covenant theologians and am profoundly thankful for much of their writings, I respectfully disagree with their understanding of the church.

     When one reads back through the Old Testament there were basically two groups of people on the earth: Jews and Gentiles. This distinction began with the call of Abraham, when God called him into a special relationship and promised to bless the world through him (Gen. 12:1-3). Biblically, a Jew is a Jew because he/she is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:5; 17:7, 19; 22:15-17; 28:13-14; Ex. 2:24-25). “The biblical basis for defining Jewishness lies in the Abrahamic Covenant which promised that a nation would descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis 12:2a; 13:16; 15:5; 17:1–2, 7; 22:17; 26:4, 24; and 28:14; from which a simple definition of Jewishness can be deduced.”[12] A Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew. And a Gentile, no matter how hard he/she tried, could never be a biological Jew. Certainly Gentiles could participate in the Jewish blessings if he/she embraced God. Rahab and Ruth believed in God, but, though saved and in the line of Christ (Matt. 1:5), they were never regarded as biological Jews. Ruth continued to be called a Moabitess, even after her conversion (Ruth 2:2, 21; 4:5, 10). The Jew and Gentile distinction continued for millennia until the formation of the Christian church. Now, in the church age, there are three groups of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the church. This is why Paul makes the comment, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32; italics added). The church is now a third group that consists of Jews and Gentiles who have trusted in Christ as their Savior and been joined to the body of Christ.[13]

     Though both Israel and Christians are the people of God, the Christian church is distinct from the nation of Israel. Several observations from the New Testament provide a compelling case. First, the term Israel occurs 73 times in the New Testament (30 times in the Gospels, 21 times in the book of Acts, 19 times in the Epistles, and 3 times in the book of Revelation), and not once does it refer to the church.[14] “The term Israel is either used of the nation or the people as a whole, or of the believing remnant within. It is never used of the Church in general or of Gentile believers in particular.”[15] The fact that Israel is still called Israel, even after the church is formed, argues that Israel is not the church. Second, the word Jew occurs 186 times in the New Testament (84 times in the Gospels, 76 times in the book of Acts, 24 times in the Epistles, and 2 times in the book of Revelation), and refers to anyone who is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The word Jew is never used of Gentiles or the church. The fact that these distinctions continue throughout the New Testament make a compelling case that Israel and the church are separate groups of people.

The distinction between Israel and the church is verified by several facts. (1) In the New Testament natural Israel and Gentiles are contrasted after the church was clearly established (Acts 3:12; 4:8, 10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:19). (2) Natural Israel and the church are clearly distinguished, showing that the church is not Israel (1 Cor. 10:32). The apostle’s distinction would be meaningless if Israel were the same as the church.[16]

     Additional biblical distinctions reveal that Israel is a nation (Ex. 19:6), but the church is not a nation (Rom. 10:19). God’s program for Israel focuses on the land promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:1; 15:18; 17:8), whereas the church is called to go out to many lands (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Israel was mentioned throughout the Old Testament and recognized by other nations (Num. 14:15; Josh. 5:1), but the church was a mystery not known in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:1-6; Col. 1:26-27; cf. Rom. 16:25-26).[17] Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev. 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 40:18-38; 2 Chron. 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor. 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev. 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

     In the New Testament, there are Jewish unbelievers (Acts 14:2; 19:8-9), and Jewish believers (Acts 10:45; 14:1). This is what Paul referred to when he said, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). That is, one could be a biological Jew and not belong to the remnant of saved Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah. In addition, there are Gentile unbelievers (Acts 14:2-7), and Gentile believers (Acts 13:48; 21:25). Both Jews and Gentiles are distinguished in several passages (Acts 4:27; 9:15; 14:2, 5; 21:11, 21; Rom. 3:29; 9:24), as well as Jews and Christians (Gal. 2:11-14), Gentiles and Christians (Acts 11:1), and all three at once (Acts 14:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:32). In the book of Galatians, Paul draws a distinction between Gentile and Jewish believers, where he states, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them [Gentile Christians], and upon the Israel of God [Jewish Christians]” (Gal. 6:16). Covenant theologians commonly reference Galatians 6:16 to argue that the church and Israel are the same; but this fails to consider the language of the text. “The first group is the them, the uncircumcision, the Gentile Christians to and of whom he [Paul] had devoted most of the epistle. The second group is the Israel of God. These are the circumcision, the Jewish believers who, in contrast with the Judaizers, followed the rule of salvation by grace through faith alone.”[18] These distinctions in the New Testament make a compelling argument that Jews, Gentiles, and Christians are seen as separate groups.[19]

     God’s current plan in human history is being worked out through His church. However, we should never draw the conclusion that God is finished with Israel. He is not. Israel as a nation is under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39; Rom. 11:25-27), but God has a future plan to restore them and to bless the world through them. God’s covenant promises to Israel are still in effect (Gen. 12:1-3; Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2), which promises point to a future regathering of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15), a King and kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; Luke 1:31-33; Matt. 6:9-10; 19:28; 25:31), and a righteous rule (Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6; Rev. 11:15; 19:11-16), which will last for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6). Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham, and He will inherit the throne of His father and rule on earth.

Summary

     The church is distinct from Israel and Gentiles. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, from Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). More so, the church exists both in a universal and local sense, globally as an organism and locally as an organization. Once the church is caught up to heaven at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), God will resume His plan with national Israel and fulfill all the promises made to them through the covenants (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2; 25-27).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Audio lesson with PowerPoint Presentation (What is the Church) (PDF Version)

Related Articles:

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303-304.

[2] There are several reasons Matthew 18:17 does not refer to the Christian church: Firstly, the Christian church did not come into existence until after the resurrection of Jesus. To make Matthew 18:17 refer to the Christian church is to have the church in existence before the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit, which is how believers are joined to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Acts 1:5; 2:4; 11:15-16). Secondly, Jesus cites the Mosaic Law as the rule for judging the brother in Matthew 18, and this would have been expected of those living under that code (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Currently, Christians are not living under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14), but under the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; cf. Rom. 8:2; Jam. 1:25; 2:8). Thirdly, if the brother refuses to listen to the assembly, he is to be treated “as a Gentile” (Matt. 18:17), a term which would make no sense for the Christian church, since Jewish and Gentile identity is subservient to the greater identity of being united with Christ (Gal. 3:26-28).

[3] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

[4] The Septuagint, or LXX, refers to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, which was translated circa 250 B.C.

[5] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 229.

[6] Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 2002), 290.

[7] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 375–376.

[8] Prior to this transfer, every person is identified positionally as being in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21-22). However, at the moment of faith in Christ, the believer obtains a new identity and is said to be in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). Paul stresses this positional identification several times in the New Testament (Rom. 8:1; 16:3; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; Gal. 3:14, 26, 28; Eph. 1:1; 2:6, 13; 3:6).

[9] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review, 228.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 853.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 235.

[12] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 748.

[13] In one sense, Jews and Gentiles retain their ethnic and cultural identity, even after believing in Christ as Savior. However, in another sense, their new identity as a Christian, which is part of the body of Christ, supersedes whatever identity they had before (Gal. 3:26-28; Col. 3:9-11).

[14] The term Israel is used to refer to the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, both saved and lost (Matt. 2:6; 9:33; 10:6; 15:24, 31; 27:9; Mark 12:29; Luke 1:16, 54, 80; 2:25, 34; 4:25, 27; 22:30; 24:21; John 1:31; 3:10; Acts 1:6; 2:22, 36; 3:12; 4:10; 5:21, 31, 35; 7:23, 37, 42; 10:36; 13:16-17, 23-24; 21:28; 28:20; Rom. 9:4, 6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:1-2, 7, 25-26; 1 Cor. 10:18; 2 Cor. 3:7, 13; 11:22; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:12; Phil. 3:5; Heb. 8:8, 10; 11:22; Rev. 2:14; 7:4; 21:12), the God of Israel (Matt. 15:31; Luke 1:68), Jesus as the king of Israel (Matt. 27:42; Mark 15:32; John 1:49; 12:13), the land of Israel (Matt. 2:20-21), the cities of Israel (Matt. 10:23), and in contrast with Gentiles (Matt. 8:10; Luke 2:32; 7:9; Acts 4:27; 9:15).

[15] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 699.

[16] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 462.

[17] A mystery (musterion) is something “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5). Paul then states what that mystery is, “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

[18] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 691.

[19] A Christian can be a spiritual descendant of Abraham by exercising faith in the same God as Abraham (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:29), but this should not be confused with the covenants and promises of God which are promised to national Israel (Rom. 9:1-5).

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A Brief Analysis of the Millennial Kingdom

     The Millennial KingdomThe Bible reveals two aspects of God’s rule over His creation. The first is His universal rule in which He sovereignly decrees whatsoever comes to pass and “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). There are times when God accomplishes His will immediately without the assistance of others (such as in the creation), and other times He chooses to work mediately through creatures, both intelligent (angels and people), and simple (Balaam’s donkey). Concerning God’s universal rule, Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6). Daniel writes, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:34b-35a; cf. 5:21; 1 Chron. 29:11-12).

     The second is God’s earthly rule in which He governs through a human mediatorial administrator. The first account of such a rule is found in Genesis where the Lord assigned Adam and Eve to rule over the whole world (Gen. 1:26-28). Theirs was a mediatorial kingdom, which may be defined as “the rule of God through a divinely chosen representative who not only speaks and acts for God but also represents the people before God; a rule which has especial reference to the earth; and having as its mediatorial ruler one who is always a member of the human race.”[1] However, through an act of disobedience (Gen. 3:1-7), Adam and Eve forfeited their rulership to Satan, a fallen angelic creature, who rules through deception (2 Cor. 11:3, 14; Rev 12:9; 20:3, 8), blindness (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and enslavement (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). Since the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan has had dominion over this world and is called “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30; 16:1), “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). When tempting Jesus, Satan offered Him “the kingdoms of the world” (Matt. 4:8-9), and they were his to give. However, the Bible also reveals that Satan has been judged (Gen. 3:15; John 16:11), and in the future will be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-9), confined for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3), and eventually cast into the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 20:10). It must always be remembered that God sovereignly permits Satan a limited form of rulership for a limited period of time, always restraining him and his demonic forces, if they seek to transgress the boundaries He’s established for them (Job. 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Mark 15:1-13; 2 Pet. 2:4).

     Subsequent to Adam and Eve, God has worked to reestablish His kingdom on earth through the promises and covenants offered to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), the nation Israel (Ex. 19:5-6; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; Jer. 31:31-33), and king David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37). When Jesus came, He repeatedly offered the earthly kingdom to Israel (Matt. 3:1-2; Matt. 4:17; 10:5-7), a literal kingdom they could physically enter into (Matt. 5:20; 6:10; Luke 19:11; Acts 1:3-6). But they rejected Him and His offer (Mark 15:12-15; John 19:15); therefore, the earthly kingdom was postponed for a future time (Matt. 21:43; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31; Luke 22:28-30; Acts 1:3-6; Rev. 20:4-6).

     We are currently living in the church age, which will come to an end when the church is raptured to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Afterward, there will be a period of time known as the Tribulation, which will begin when the Antichrist signs a seven year peace treaty with Israel (Dan. 9:24-27; cf. Revelation chapters 6-18). The time of Tribulation will come to an end when Jesus returns to earth to put down rebellion (Rev. 19:11-21) and establish His kingdom (Matt. 25:31; Rev. 11:15; 20:1-6). After His second coming, Jesus will rule the whole earth, from Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-15; Dan. 2:44; 7:14, 27; Matt. 6:10; Luke 1:31-33; cf. Mark 11:9-10), He will rule absolutely with “a rod of iron” (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 19:15), and His reign will be marked by righteousness and peace on the earth (Isa. 11:1-9). Also, we know from Scripture that the earthly kingdom will last a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6), and afterward will become an eternal kingdom (Dan. 2:44; 7:27; 1 Cor. 15:24). The word millennium is derived from the Latin words mille which means “thousand” and annum which means “year”. The word millennium translates the Greek word χίλιοι chilioi, which occurs six times in Revelation 20:1-6. The millennial kingdom will see Jesus seated on the throne of David, in Jerusalem, ruling over the world. He will rule the nations in righteousness, advocating for the poor and weak, as well as suppressing wickedness and rebellion (Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-15). Satan will be bound during the reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-3), and a new worship system will be implemented (see Ezekiel 40-46).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Alva McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, Ind. BMH Books, 2009), 41.

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A Brief Analysis of Israel in History and Prophecy

     Israel in History and ProphecyThe history of Israel starts with God who chose the nation to be His representatives from eternity past. Israel was created by God (Isa. 43:1, 15), and He loves them with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:1-3). God chose them because of who He is, not because of any greatness or goodness in them (Deut. 7:6-8). Israel began with a unilateral covenant which God made with Abraham, promising “I will make you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2). The Abrahamic covenant was later expanded with the Land Covenant (Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37), and the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Though Abraham had children by different women (Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah), the Abrahamic promises were restated only through Isaac (Gen. 17:19-21) and Jacob (Gen. 28:10-15). Because of a crippling encounter with God, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “he who wrestles with God” (Gen. 32:24-30). The sons of Israel (i.e. Jacob) went into captivity in Egypt for four hundred years as God had foretold (Gen. 15:13), and remained there until He called them out through His servants Moses and Aaron (Ex. 3:1-10). God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage through a series of ten plagues that destroyed Pharaoh and the nation (Exodus chapters 5-14). Then God entered into a bilateral covenant relationship with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1-8), and gave them 613 commands—which comprise the Mosaic Law—and these commands are commonly divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial codes. Under the Mosaic Law, Israel would know blessing if they obeyed God’s commands (Deut. 28:1-15), and cursing if they did not (Deut. 28:16-68). The nation of Israel remained in the wilderness for forty years while God tested and humbled them (Deut. 8:2-5). After Moses died, God brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan (i.e. the land promised to Abraham) under the leadership of Joshua (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:1-9), and there the land was divided, giving a portion to each of the descendants of Jacob. After Joshua died (Josh. 24:29-31), Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry and suffered divine discipline for their rebellion (read Judges). This went on for nearly 300 hundred years as Israel fell into a pattern of idolatry, after which God would send punishment, then the people would cry out to God, Who would relent of His judgment and send a judge to deliver them, then the people would serve God for a time, and then fall back into idolatry. The period of the Judges is marked by people who did not obey the Lord, but “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Samuel was the last of Israel’s judges, and then the people cried for a king because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:4-5). God gave them their request (1 Sam. 8:22), and Saul became the first king in Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). Though Saul started well, he quickly turned away from the Lord and would not obey God’s commands. Saul reigned for approximately 40 years and his leadership was basically a failure (1 Sam. 13:1; cf. Acts 13:21). Later, God raised up David to be king in Israel (1 Sam. 16:1-13), and David reigned for 40 years and was an ideal king who followed God and encouraged others to do the same (1 Ki. 2:10-11). God decreed David’s throne would be established forever through one of his descendants (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4), and this is Jesus (Luke 1:31-33). Solomon reigned for 40 years after David (1 Ki. 2:12; 11:42-43), and though He was wise and did many good things (ruled well, built the temple, wrote Scripture, etc.), he eventually turned away from God and worshiped idols (1 Ki. 11:1-10), and the kingdom was divided afterward (1 Ki. 11:11-41). The nation was united under Saul, David, and Solomon.

     Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled over the two southern tribes (Judah) and Jeroboam ruled over the ten northern tribes (Israel). Israel—the northern kingdom—had 19 kings throughout its history and all were bad, as they led God’s people into idolatry (i.e. the “sins of Jeroboam” 1 Ki. 16:31; 2 Ki. 3:3; 10:31; 13:2). The ten northern tribes came under divine discipline because of their idolatry and were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Judah—the southern kingdom—had 20 kings throughout its history and 8 were good (some more than others), as they obeyed God and led others to do the same (they were committed to the Lord like David, 1 Ki. 15:11). However, Judah repeatedly fell into idolatry—as the 10 northern tribes had done—and were eventually destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The dispersion of Israel was promised by God if they turned away from Him and served other gods (Deut. 28:63-68). Since the destruction by Babylon, Israel has been under Gentile dominance (Luke 21:24; Rom. 11:25). After a temporary regathering under Ezra and Nehemiah, Israel continued under Gentile dominance with the Medes & Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, God disciplined Israel again in A.D. 70, and the Jews were scattered all over the world (Jam. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). Israel’s current state is one of judgment (Matt. 23:37-39), and a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25).

Israel Present

     For nearly 1900 years God has faithfully kept His word to disperse Israel because of their idolatry (Deut. 28:63-68) and their rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Matt. 23:37-39). Now, since 1948, Israelites are back in the Promised Land; even though the majority of them are atheists who reject God. This could be a fulfillment of prophecy in which God has regathered His people before the time of the judgment of the Tribulation (Ezek. 20:33-38; 22:17-22; Zeph. 2:1-2). Logically it makes sense that God will regather Israel as a nation (Ezek. 36:22-24) before He regenerates them and gives them a new heart (Ezek. 36:25-28). Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues two regatherings of Israel. The first is a regathering of Jews in unbelief, which sets the stage for the Tribulation. The second regathering is in belief, which prepares them for Messiah, who will rule over them during the millennium.

First, there was to be a regathering in unbelief in preparation for judgment, namely the judgment of the Tribulation. This was to be followed by a second worldwide regathering in faith in preparation for blessings, namely the blessings of the messianic age. Once it is recognized that the Bible speaks of two such regatherings, it is easy to see how the present State of Israel fits into prophecy.[1]

     As Christians, we are glad to see Jews returning to the Promised Land and support the nation of Israel. This support is by no means a blanket endorsement of all Israel does, for the nation may behave immorally like any other nation. However, we recognize that God is working to set the stage for prophetic events, and that Israel being in the Promised Land is a part of that.

Israel Future

     Israel has a future hope because of the promises and covenants God made through the patriarchs and prophets (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15, 17; 15:18; 17:8; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). Though unbelieving Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39), and subject to a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25), God’s covenants and promises are still in effect (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1), and will remain in force until Jesus returns and is accepted as their Messiah. Once Jesus returns, Israel will possess all of the land that was promised to them, and they will possess it forever.

     Covenant theologians often argue that God has already fulfilled His promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land (see Josh. 21:43-45; 1 Ki. 4:21; Neh. 9:8). God was faithful to bring Abraham’s descendants into the Promised Land, and though they eventually came to control much of it under the reign of Solomon (1 Ki. 4:21-24), they did not possess it all, and this seems plain from other biblical passages where Israelites had to fight the old residents still in the land (Josh. 23:5-7; Judg. 1:21, 27-28).

     “The first chapter of Judges, recording events which took place after the death of Joshua (1:1), records how various tribes failed to take the land allotted to them (1:19, 21, 27, 29, 30, 31–32, 33, 34–36). Never in Old Testament history did Israel possess, dwell, and settle in all of the Promised Land. Nor did it ever happen in Jewish history since.”[2] In fact, several of the prophets who lived after Solomon wrote about Israel’s future possession of the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15)

     Furthermore, it was stated in Scripture that Abraham personally would possess the land, and that he and his descendants would possess it forever. Several times God said to Abraham, “For all the land which you see, I will give it to you [Abraham] and to your descendants forever” (Gen. 13:15), “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you [Abraham]” (Gen. 13:17), and “I will give to you [Abraham] and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8). Yet, Abraham has never possessed the land that was promised to Him. In fact, Stephen makes this very point in his speech in Acts, where he says, “But He [God] gave him [Abraham] no inheritance in it [the land], not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him” (Acts 7:5).

     During his lifetime, Abraham did not possess the land God promised to him. But God will keep His word to Abraham and his descendants. God will, in the future, through resurrections, give both Abraham and Israel possession of all the Promised Land, and they will possess it forever. In addition, Israel will benefit from all the blessings of the New Covenant which are stated in Scripture (Jer. 31:31-34). Lastly, the nation of Israel will be blessed when Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, will be seated on His throne in Jerusalem, ruling over them “forever” (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Luke 1:31-33; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31).

     Both Covenant and Dispensational theologians agree that God made promises to Abraham of land, seed, and blessing (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:13-17; 15:17; 17:26; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). The difference lies in that Covenant theologians believe that God has fulfilled all those promises to Abraham, whereas Dispensationalists believe God will fulfill those promises in the future.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 716.

[2] Ibid., 632.

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Not of Works

     One of the things I emphasize when presenting the gospel is that salvation is completely the work of God and not the work of people. We are saved by what Jesus accomplished for us at the cross and not by any good works we produce. Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the condition of it. The following Scriptures reveal that good works have no saving merit before God.

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Rom. 3:28)

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom. 4:5)

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity (2 Tim. 1:9)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5)

     The Bible reveals that we are helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3), and human works, however noble or great, have no saving merit in God’s sight. How then are we saved? We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward us. Grace is sometimes used as an acronym for God’s riches at Christ’s expense. This is correct. God richly provides our salvation through the death of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18). There is nothing we bring to God to be saved. He is completely satisfied with what Jesus did for us at the cross. By faith we trust in Christ alone to save us from our sins and eternal separation from God (John 3:16-18; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14). The challenge for us is to stop trusting in human works to save us and to cast ourselves completely on Christ as our Savior.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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Reasons why we obey God

Reasons why we obey God     As a Christian, I want to serve the Lord and do His will, but I find myself caught in a battle, pulled by various desires from within and pressures from without. Sometimes I have the support of others who encourage me to do God’s will, and sometimes I’m alone. Though I’ve had failures over the years (too many to count), I’ve learned that relapse does not have to mean collapse, for there is forgiveness after my failure as I come before God’s “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16) and confess my sin and am restored to fellowship (1 John 1:9). That being said, I would rather succeed as a Christian and walk in God’s will than fail as a disobedient child. But I ask myself, “Why should I obey God? What’s my motivation to do good?” I ask myself this because I find that motivation drives much of my behavior, good or bad. I also find that some motivations are more powerful than others, as love is a greater motivator than fear. Below is a list of reasons why believers obey God.

  1. Fear of divine punishment. Scripture teaches, we are to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Eccl. 12:13; cf. Heb. 10:26-27). And, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever” (Ps. 111:10). In many instances the word fear ( יָרֵא yare) means fright or distress, because we know God may discipline us if we continue in sin (Heb. 12:5-11). In other instances the word communicates His awesome character and ways (Deut. 7:21; 10:17; Ps. 66:3).
  2. It brings us joy. Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy [Grk. χαρά chara] may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:10-11; cf. John 13:1-17). Worldly joy depends on circumstances and feelings, whereas God’s joy is found in doing His will. Jesus had joy even while suffering on the cross (see Heb. 12:2).
  3. It pleases God. Scripture directs us to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And, “do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb. 13:16).
  4. We want God’s blessing. “You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you” (Deut. 5:33). And, “Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deut. 12:28).
  5. We desire future rewards. Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35; cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15). And Paul wrote, “Instruct them [rich believers] to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:18-19).
  6. In response to God’s love for us. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). And, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Eph. 5:1-2). Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). And Paul wrote, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

     This list is by no means exhaustive, but touches on those major motivations mentioned in Scripture as to why we obey God and seek to do His will above our own. In my opinion, the greatest motivation to serve God is love—love in response to His love for us. But this motivation assumes we’ve read our Bible and learned something about who God is and what He’s done for us (hint hint).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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A Commitment of the Heart

     A Commitment of the HeartGood and evil reflect a commitment of the heart, and this commitment determines our values and actions, either good or bad. It was said of king Rehoboam that “He did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the LORD” (2 Chron. 12:14). Rehoboam was a person, made in the image of God, with the capacity to think and act. The text tells us he did evil (Hebrew רָע ra) which means he acted contrary to the will of God and in a way that was harmful to himself and others (read 2 Chron. 12:1-13). The Hebrew particle כִּי ki, translated because, is used here to introduce a causal phrase, explaining that one thing caused another.[1] In this case, it’s explained that Rehoboam acted in an evil way because “he did not set his heart to seek the LORD.” What does it mean to set the heart? The word set translates the Hebrew verb כּוּן kun, which here means to “be intent on, be firmly resolved.”[2] That is, Rehoboam firmly resolved in his heart that he was going to do as he pleased without regard for what God required of him. Biblically, this is always a recipe for disaster. Any time we choose our will above God’s will, we act like the little child that reaches for the flame because it’s pretty, not realizing the harm it will cause. The passage also speaks of Rehoboam’s heart (Hebrew לֵב leb) which refers to his inner core; the very seat of his life, from which he controls his thoughts, feelings, and actions. The heart is the pilot seat where one guides his/her life. It is from this seat that we choose our course, either for or against God. Similar language of setting the heart is used in a positive sense of king Jehoshaphat, to whom it was said, “there is some good in you, for you have removed the Asheroth from the land and you have set your heart to seek God” (2 Chron. 19:3), and king David said, “My heart is steadfast [כּוּן kunfirmly set], O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!” (Ps. 57:7). Concerning this comment by David, Dr. Allen P. Ross states:

The word “steadfast” means established, fixed, firm, secure; and the fact that it is his heart that is steadfast means that he is firmly established in his faith so that his affections and actions are loyal to God. This quality of steadfastness is what the penitent prayed for in Psalm 51:10, a steadfast spirit, for without it he would waiver in his faith and make the wrong choices. Here the psalmist has an unwavering faith in the LORD.[3]

     Similar statements are found in the New Testament of people who turned away from God because of a choice that started with an orientation of the heart, a decision to love something or someone other than the Lord. For example, John tells us that Jesus came as the Light into the world, but most people rejected Him because they “loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The word love translates the Greek verb ἀγαπάω agapao, which expresses a strong commitment to something; in this case, the darkness they hope will hide their evil deeds. A little later in His Gospel, John describes some Jewish rulers who believed in Jesus; however, they were afraid to publicly confess Him, “for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43). John uses the same Greek word, ἀγαπάω agapao, to describe the choice these men made, which choice was based on fear rather than faith.

     In summary, the direction of the heart determines our values and actions, either good or bad. Jeremiah described those who reject God and His Word, saying, “they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jer. 7:24). In contrast, Jesus spoke of those who receive God’s Word, saying, “these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15). Who are you? Are you one who has set your heart to turn away from God and live as you please? Is your will more important than His? Or, are you one who has an honest and good heart that welcomes God and His Word and who submits yourself to doing His will? I hope it’s the latter. Your words and actions will show it.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] John N. Oswalt, “976 כִי,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 437–438.

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 465.

[3] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Mich. Kregel Publications, 2013), 288.

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When God Said “Do Not Pray”

     There are two instances in Scripture—that I’m aware of—when God told someone not to pray, for He would not hear their prayer. Moses is the first example, for though he’d been faithful to God most of his life, he was told by the Lord he’d not enter the land promised to Israel because of his disobedience as a leader when he struck the rock (Num. 20:8-12). Moses pleaded with the Lord, saying, “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon. But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter’” (Deut. 3:25-26). God’s decision concerning Moses was final. Moses would not enter the Promised Land, for the Lord said, “Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan” (Deut. 3:25-27; cf. Deut. 1:37; 31:1-2). God explained to Moses why He would not hear his prayer, saying, “because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 32:51). No amount of prayer would change God’s mind, so He told Moses to stop praying about it.

     Do not pray-2The second example is the prophet Jeremiah. God told him not to pray for his fellow Israelites. Three times God told Jeremiah, “do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you” (Jer. 7:16; cf. 11:14; 14:11). The reason behind God’s command was that He had decided to judge and punish His people (Jer. 7:20) because they’d repeatedly broken their covenant with Him by disobeying His commands and pursuing other gods, which He had forbidden (Ex. 20:2-4; cf. Ezek. 20:4-24).[1] Israel’s idolatry was terrible in Jeremiah’s day and included human sacrifice, as many caused their children to be burned alive (Jer. 19:4-5; cf. Ezek. 16:20-21; 20:25-26, 31). Over and over again, Israel disobeyed God’s commands and would not change their behavior (Jer. 7:21-26; 11:1-13).[2] Though Jeremiah had repeatedly spoken God’s Word to them for over two decades (Jer. 25:3), the people openly defied His message, telling him, “As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we are not going to listen to you!” (Jer. 44:16). Their hearts were hardened to God’s Word. If Israel had listened to God and turned back to Him from their idolatry, God would have reversed His discipline and provided blessing instead (Jer. 7:3-7). Until they changed their ways, no amount of prayer was going to change their situation. God would not be moved by their pleas, or the petitions of His prophets.

     The New Testament teaches that God will discipline His disobedient people (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19; 1 Cor. 11:32), even to the point of death (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:27-30, 1 John 5:16-17). However, there are no examples in the New Testament of God telling anyone not to pray. Instead, we are commanded to be “devoted to prayer” (Rom. 12:12; cf. Col. 4:2), to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17; cf. Luke 18:1). This means the believer is to look to God always for wisdom and strength to do His will, lifting others before His throne of grace, requesting He will intervene as we ask, for His glory and their benefit.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] God had formed a covenant (בְּרִית berith) with the nation of Israel after He’d delivered them from Egyptian captivity (Ex. Chapters 3-14). The nation of Israel became a theocracy, and God gave them a total of 613 commands that were to guide their relationship with Him and others. God promised to bless Israel if they abided by the stipulations of the covenant (Deut. 28:1-14), and He promised to curse them if they did not (Deut. 28:15-68). God was being faithful to His word.

[2] The sin of idolatry was widespread in Jeremiah’s day, including Israel’s king, princes, and elders (Jer. 44:17), down to the basic unit of society, the family (Jer. 7:18). It’s an evil thing when parents lead their children away from righteousness and into gross immorality.

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The Basics of Prayer

     Pray to the LordThere are two statements I hear people make about prayer that are incorrect: 1) there’s power in prayer, and 2) prayer changes things. Both statements give undue authority to the one who prays. Biblically, the power lies in the One who answers the prayer, and He alone reserves the right to change things if He wills. God answers prayer, but He does so according to His sovereign will.[1] Sometimes He says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. It is good to remember that a prayer delayed is not necessarily a prayer denied. Sometimes we just need patience.

     Prayer is discussion with God. It is motivated by different causes and takes different forms.[2] Most often prayer is an appeal to God to change a difficult or helpless situation. Sometimes God changes our situations as we request (i.e., concerning employment, health, finances, family matters, etc.), and sometimes He leaves the difficult situation and seeks to change our attitude (2 Cor. 12:7-10). When God does not remove a difficult situation as we request, then He intends for us to deal with it by faith (Jam. 1:2-4). God uses difficult situations to remove pride (Dan. 4:37; 2 Cor. 12:7-10), and to develop our Christian character (Rom. 5:3-5). It’s almost always the case that we prefer God change our circumstances rather than our attitude; and yet, it seems both biblically and experientially that God prefers to do the opposite. Though the Lord is concerned about our difficult situations, He’s more concerned with developing our Christian character than relieving our discomfort. However God chooses to answer, He has His reasons and they always glorify Him. A challenge to us is to trust that His plan is better than ours, wherever it happens to lead us, or however difficult the journey becomes.

     Prayer is for believers, for one can address God as Father only as a member of the family of God (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26).[3] Jesus prayed often, both publicly and privately (Matt. 11:25-26; 14:23; 19:13; 26:36; Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28; 10:21; 22:41-42; John 11:41-42; 12:27-28; 17:1-26), and His prayer life was so noticeable, that His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1-4; cf. Matt. 6:9-13). For the Christian, prayer should be directed to God the Father (Matt. 6:6; Luke 11:2; Eph. 5:20; 1 Pet. 1:17),[4] in the name of Jesus (John 14:13; 15:16), and in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18; Jude 1:20). Praying in the name of Jesus is not a magic formula that makes our prayers acceptable to God; rather, it means our request is consistent with Jesus’ character and will (1 John 5:14-15). Praying in the Spirit means we pray as the Spirit leads according to Scripture.[5] It is interesting to note that both God the Holy Spirit and God the Son offer intercessory prayers for us to God the Father (Rom. 8:26; Heb. 7:24-25).

     Some of the different types of prayer found in Scripture include: request (Phil. 4:6; Eph. 6:18), thanksgiving (John 11:41; Phil. 4:6), submission (Luke 22:41-42), faith (Jam. 5:15), imprecation[6] (Ps. 58:6-8; 69:23-28), and intercession (Acts 12:1-5). The best prayers seek to glorify God above all else. Moses provides a model prayer in Exodus 32:7-14 where he prayed on behalf of His people, Israel, that God would not pour out His wrath on them because of their idolatry (Ex. 32:1-6). Moses’ prayer to God starts by identifying Israel as “Your people” whom He had rescued from Egyptian bondage (Ex. 32:11). Israel was not just any people, but God’s chosen nation, who had already tasted of His great grace and compassion.[7] After citing God’s deliverance, Moses then argued with God to withhold His wrath for two reasons: First, if God destroyed Israel, then His reputation among the pagan nations would be tarnished (Ex. 32:12). Moses sought to protect God’s reputation in the eyes of others, even unbelievers, and to uphold His glory above self-interest. Second, if God destroyed Israel, He would be in violation of the promises He’d made to Israel’s forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Ex. 32:13). Moses did not want others to see God as one who fails to keep His promises. Moses’ prayer was heard and God relented of the judgment He intended to bring on His people because of their sin (Ex. 32:14).

When God Does Not Hear Our Prayers

     There are some things in life that God conditions on prayer (Jam. 4:2), but praying is no guarantee He’ll grant our request. Being a righteous God, He only hears the prayers of those who seek to know Him and do His will. The apostle Peter writes, “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the Lord’s face is against those who do evil” (1 Pet. 3:12). The apostle John writes, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15).

    Biblically, there are several reasons why God does not answer the prayer of believers: lack of faith (Jam. 1:5-8), worship of other gods (Jer. 1:16; 11:12-14), failure to take in Bible teaching (Prov. 1:24-31; 28:9; Zech. 7:11-13), selfishness (Jam. 4:2-3), carnality (Ps. 66:18; Mic. 3:4; Isa. 1:15; 59:1-3), lack of harmony in the home (1 Pet. 3:7), pride and self-righteousness (Job 35:12-13), and lack of obedience (Deut. 1:43-45; 1 John 3:22; 5:14). All of these failings can be corrected as the believer learns God’s Word and lives obediently by faith. Failure to learn God’s Word and/or apply it results in self-harm, much like a child who will not listen to her parents, but repeatedly keeps reaching for the hot flame because it’s pretty. God’s commands are designed to bring blessing, either by teaching us to avoid that which is harmful, or to pursue that which is helpful.

     The apostle Paul reveals a situation when God refused to answer his prayer. Paul was struggling with something he called his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t know what it was, except that it caused him great hardship. Paul asked God to take it away, saying, “I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2 Cor. 12:8). Paul uses the Greek verb παρακαλέω parakaleo, which in this context means “to make a strong request for something.”[8] Paul was pleading with God to remove his problem, but God said no. The Lord had a reason for it to be there, and He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9a). Paul did not like being weak. He did not like feeling helpless about this thing that caused him discomfort. But Paul’s thorn, however difficult it was to him, kept him close to God, and that’s what God wanted. It’s as though God were telling Paul, “Paul, I know you don’t like your suffering, but the very thing you don’t like is what keeps you close to me, and the strength of our fellowship is more important than the alleviation of your discomfort.” Suffering is our friend when it keeps up humble and close to God. When Paul understood this, his attitude changed, and he accepted his suffering and praised God for it. Paul said, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 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. 12:9-10). This is a faith response, for it could never be born out of our emotions.

Summary

     Prayer is a blessing we enjoy as believers as we can come before God’s throne of grace and make requests. As Christians, we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17; cf. Luke 18:1; Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2). As we advance toward spiritual maturity, God will occupy our thoughts in all matters, and prayer will come more and more naturally. And, like Moses, we will seek God’s interests above our own and pray according to His will.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Scripture reveals, “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6), for “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:35), declaring, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isa. 46:10).

[2] The most common words in the Bible translated prayer are תְּפִלָּה tephillah (Job 16:17; Ps. 65:2) and προσευχή proseuche (Luke. 19:46; Acts 12:5), which simply speak of the act of prayer. Other words include פָּלַל palal – to intervene as a mediator (Gen. 20:7; Job 42:8), לַחַשׁ lachash – a whispering prayer (Isa. 26:16; 29:4), שָׁאַל shaal – to ask, inquire (Isa. 7:11; 45:11), עָתַר athar – a prayer related to sacrifice (Job 33:26), δέησις deesis – an urgent request (Eph. 6:18), and ἔντευξις enteuxis – simple prayer, childlike prayer (1 Tim. 2:1). The word αἰτέω aiteo is not translated as prayer, but is clearly used when making requests to God (Matt. 7:7; John 14:13).

[3] The general agreement among theologians is that God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers, for they are not God’s children but belong to Satan. Jesus said of unbelieving Jews, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). Logically, one cannot call God his Father if He is not. In another place, a man who had been healed by Jesus said to the Jewish religious leaders, “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). However, there does seem to be at least one occasion in which God heard the prayer of an unbeliever who was seeking Him for salvation (e.g. Acts 10:1-2, 30-31; 11:14). It could be that if an unbeliever seeks God for salvation, as Cornelius did, then His prayers for salvation are answered.

[4] Although there is at least one petition in the NT directed to Jesus (Acts 7:59-60).

[5] The Greek preposition ἐν can mean, “in” “by” or “with” the Spirit. Hoehner translates the prepositional phrase ἐν παντὶ καιρῷ ἐν πνεύματι as “at every opportunity or occasion in the Spirit” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Baker Academic, 2002, p. 856). Hoehner further states, “In the immediate context [of Eph. 6:18], praying in the Spirit may well be connected to the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit is, on the one hand, God’s spoken word to put His enemies to flight and, on the other hand, the believer’s utterance to God in prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit to aid in the struggle against the evil powers” (p. 857).

[6] Imprecatory prayers were valid under the Mosaic Law where obedient Israelites could expect God to dispense justice to their enemies (Deut. 28:7). These types of prayers are not valid for Christians because we are not under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14). We are commanded to pray for our enemies that God will bless them (Matt. 5:44-45; Luke 6:28, 35; cf. Rom. 12:17-21; 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). If God dispenses judgment upon our enemies, He will do so at His discretion and not ours (Rom. 12:17-19; 2 Thess. 1:6).

[7] God’s deliverance was not based on any righteousness found in Israel, for He describes them as a “stubborn” and “rebellious” people who keep defying Him, in spite of His goodness (Deut. 9:6-7).

[8] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 765.