Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, conservative, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas. Steven’s ministry activity is entirely voluntary (articles, blogs, podcasts, and video lessons), as he works a full time job as a Case Manager for a local nonprofit agency that helps the elderly and disabled in the community.
Solomon wrote, “A good name is better than a good perfume, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Eccl 7:1). This seems antithetical to our worldly culture. That’s fine. God’s Word always challenges our secular viewpoint. A good name speaks of a good character, and a good character is more desirable than a good perfume. But why does Solomon say a good name is better than a good perfume? I’m glad you asked. In the ancient world, perfume was used at funerals to mask a body’s decay, and it was used on all, both the good and the evil. But whereas the pleasant aroma of good perfume is temporary, a good name will endure. It will endure to the end of one’s life and beyond. For this reason Solomon says, “the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.” But what is Solomon talking about? Why is the day of one’s death better than the day of one’s birth? I’m glad you asked. A birth marks a beginning of life, one with numerous possibilities, either for wisdom or folly, righteousness or wickedness, goodness or evil. Though there are forces at work (within and without) to push and pull us one way or another, our life is what we make it. And our value system and the daily choices we make, whether biblical or worldly, will direct us onto the path of righteousness or wickedness, and every moment is a choice to continue along that path or turn from it. For the righteous, as long as we are alive and walking with the Lord, there’s the possibility our good name may become ruined if we turn from that path. But if we maintain our goodness and integrity to the end of our life, our good reputation will be sealed forever. And among the righteous, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, and favor is better than silver and gold” (Prov 22:1), and “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Prov 10:7). The death of the righteous is like the setting of the sun on a beautiful day, with bright rays shining through the clouds and lighting the sky on fire for all to enjoy and revel in its glory.
Ironically, Solomon failed to abide by the wisdom he gave to others. For Solomon, who started out well in life, eventually turned away from the Lord and chose a path of idolatry and wickedness. At the end of his life, Scripture reveals that “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done” (1 Ki 11:6). Though good perfume was used on Solomon’s body at the time of his death, his good name was tarnished by his evil actions.
This article is written primarily to the one who has recently been released from jail or prison. The intention of the article is to provide some helpful advice to be successful. I write to let you know that success is possible after a life in prison, as long as one measures success by the right metric. For the Christian, that metric is God and His Word, and success is measured primarily by it. People and societies have their own metrics for success, and Christians must be careful to abide by society’s norms, as long as they don’t conflict with God’s. This requires wisdom and discernment.
As a fully pardoned ex-convict, my journey to success has been bumpy and blessed at the same time. I received my gubernatorial pardon on February 10th, 2005, fifteen years after the time of my release in 1990. However, for those years I carried the felony conviction, life was very challenging. I often identified with Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, as I felt unfairly discriminated against by many who worked against me. However, rather than complain or accept defeat, I worked to improve myself as best I could with what was available to me. I chose to be better rather than bitter.
Transitioning from a period of incarceration to life in a free society can be challenging. In prison, though life is difficult, it is also very structured. Inmates do not have to worry about employment, a bed to sleep on, clothes to wear, food to eat, or whether they can pay for their utilities (just to name a few things). After their release, they are under pressure to learn to adjust to the free world where they have to make it on their own, often with limited support and guidance. A productive life after prison is possible, but only for those who have determination, the right mindset, and the wisdom to succeed. My own journey of success after prison was largely up and down (as life can be). The following points reflect my own mental attitude and choices along the way, and I offer them here to any who may benefit from some or all of them.
Study God’s Word: Learning God’s Word allows you to operate from a biblical worldview and to frame your life from the divine perspective. You are to “study to show yourself approved to God as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). And “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word, so that by it you may grow in respect to your salvation” (1 Pet 2:2). Your walk of faith is critical, and you will often face obstacles from a world that cares little about you; a world that also has satanic forces that are set against you. But God is with you and for you (Rom 8:31-39), to give wisdom, grace, and strength to advance in this world, and you must live moment by moment staying close to God and relying on Him for everything. Realize that adversity is inevitable, but stress is optional, as you can take up the shield of faith and protect yourself from the fiery darts of the enemy (Eph 6:16).
Live God’s Word: As you study God’s Word, you must make the conscious choice, moment by moment, to apply it to your life as opportunity presents itself. Ezra was a godly person who did this, as “Ezra had firmly resolved to study the Law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24). Hearing and doing. That’s the order. You cannot live what you do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living God’s will. But it is possible to learn it and not live it (Heb 4:1-2), which is why James wrote, “prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jam 1:22).
Be Devoted to Prayer: Paul said, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col 4:2), and “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). Prayer is essential to spiritual success as you need to have upward communication with God to express yourself to Him. Prayer is the means by which you make requests to God, believing He has certain answers ready for you, and that you just need to ask (Jam 4:2). Life can be stressful, and developing the habit of prayer allows you to alleviate the pressures by “casting your cares upon the Lord, because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).
Be Thankful: Scripture states, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Th 5:18). This is done by faith and not feelings. Though you cannot always control our circumstances, you must not allow yourselves to be controlled by them.
Serve Others in Love: Paul wrote, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13), and “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). As Christians, we are told, “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” (Phil 2:3-4). It helps us greatly if we approach life and people with a serving and giving mentality.
Seek Employment that is Available: As quickly as you can, find employment, as this will provide the financial resources you need to start advancing. However, realize there are many employers who will not hire felons (the reasons are many). Be polite and persistent in your pursuit, as you will eventually find something. And be willing to do menial labor for a while until something better comes along. I was a waiter for nine years, a welder for three years, and even drove a trash truck for a while. God always opened doors of employment for me, even though it was not always what I wanted. Remember, honest work done in an honest way is an honorable thing. And ultimately, “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:24), so do your work well.
Deal With Failures: It’s inevitable that you will make some bad choices after your release. You must own them, confess them to God (1 John 1:9), accept responsibility, extend grace to yourself and get back on the path of righteousness. With a few exceptions, relapse does not lead to collapse. You must get up, look to God (Col 3:1-2), dust yourself off, and keep advancing to the spiritual and moral high ground God wants you to attain.
Embrace Difficulties: Learning to embrace your trials by faith is important. James wrote, “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). God knows the struggles you will face after prison and will use them to refine and develop you into a better person, if You’ll let Him. Remember, God is more concerned about your Christian character than your creaturely comforts, and the trials you face are all under His control, being used by Him to burn away the dross of weak character and to refine the golden qualities He wants to see in you.
Seek Spiritual and Social Support: As Christians, we are “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb 10:25). Finding and maintaining a good support group is very important. This should first be a solid Bible church that teaches God’s Word accurately and can help you continue your spiritual advance. But having good social support helps as well, whether from family, friends, or groups that can assist you in your journey. God has a way of placing unexpected people in your path to help you, so you should not be surprised when He sends the right person your way at the right time.
Develop a Plan: As much as possible, you should have a realistic plan on what you want to accomplish after your release and what path you might journey to get there. This may include education, job training, building a support system, and connecting with family and friends who can help.
Be Flexible: Though you may have a plan, life often does not turn out the way you think or want, and making constant adjustments—whether large or small—allows you to be able to improvise, adapt, and succeed.
Be Professional: There are many people who will evaluate you based on your appearance and interaction with them. Being professional in dress, speech, and conduct will work to your advantage.
Seek Material Support: Find out what resources are available to assist with shelter, food, clothing, employment, etc. This might include family, friends, church, or other groups that can assist. Often, there is financial assistance available to help with education and job training.
Be a Minimalist: Paul wrote, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim 6:8). It’s fine if God blesses you with more than these things, but always learn to be content with the basics (Phil 4:11-13), as this will help to keep frustration levels at bay.
Keep Quiet About Your Past: Though some people are safe, friendly, and helpful, the world at large is not. There are many people who think, “Once a convict, always a convict.” It’s okay to share your past, but be careful who you talk to, as it may work against you. Be discerning. Not everyone is your friend.
Avoid Old Habits and Bad Influences: One of the biggest challenges of reentry is avoiding old habits and negative influences. Stay away from people and situations that may lead to trouble. Paul said, “Bad associations corrupt good morals” (1 Cor 15:33). And Solomon wrote, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). Choose your friends carefully!
Let Your Past Help Others: Learn to let your past help others who face similar struggles. For over fifteen years I’ve had the privilege of teaching God’s Word in jails and prisons. For me to go back into that environment has been a blessing for me and the inmates that come to Bible class. Many have come to faith in Christ, and others have been helped in their walk with the Lord. My past experience of being in jail half a dozen times (mainly for petty drug offenses) and then going to prison allowed me to speak to others and offer helpful guidance. I’ve published two books that are specifically written for inmates, shared the gospel many times, and explained how to live spiritually while incarcerated. In this way, my past experience has been a help to others.
Manage Your Self-Care: Solomon wrote, “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (Eccl 4:6). Get good sleep, stay hydrated, eat well, get exercise, and make time to rest and play. You’re no good to yourself or others if don’t care for yourself in practical ways. Remember, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), and you should take care of that temple as best you can. Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote, “It is a serious thing to remove the element of relaxation and play from any life. We cannot be normal physically, mentally or spiritually if we neglect the vital factor in human life. God has provided that our joy shall be full.”
These few points will help you maintain your Christian walk and live successfully in this world after your release from prison.
 Daniel is a good example of someone who lived a godly life in a pagan culture and was successful in God’s sight, though he sometimes was at odds with people and the culture around him.
 I was incarcerated at High Desert State Prison for sales of narcotics (marijuana), and after my release in 1990, God took me on a journey of trials and blessings, frustrations and joys, disciplines and comfort to bring to me to where I am. Today, I feel greatly blessed that God has granted me a small place of service in His plan for humanity.
 Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 60-61.
The greatest event in our lives occurred when we became “children of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26), believing the simple gospel message “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Nothing compares with it. Nothing at all. For that single decision has forever changed the course of our lives and eternal destinies in ways we can never fully calculate. Through faith in Christ, we were forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 10:10-14), given the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), eternal life (John 10:28), became “children of God” (John 1:12), were rescued “from the domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and are now brothers and sisters to Jesus, Who is “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim 6:15). These, and other wonderful blessings have been bestowed on us who are now, in Christ.
After being “justified as a gift by His grace” (Rom 3:24), we are called into phase two of the Christian life, which is our sanctification. In this phase, we start off as newborn babes in Christ, knowing little about God and His Word. As spiritual babies, our primary objective is to grow into spiritual adulthood, to “press on to maturity” (Heb 6:1), “no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14), but “to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:14-15). We advance to spiritual maturity by learning and living God’s Word on a daily basis, as we feed on “the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet 2:2). The reality is that we cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. But, it is possible to learn His Word and not live His will. For this reason, we must be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers” who delude ourselves (Jam 1:22).
Called Into Service to the King
Now that we are God’s people and are growing spiritually, we are called into service to the King, to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). Paul uses similar language when writing to Christians in Thessalonica, saying, “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Th 2:12). We are called to a mission, and our mission field is wherever we happen to be and includes whoever we happen to meet. To fulfill our divine objective requires submission, humility, commitment, biblical education, field training, and advancement testing. We reach the spiritual high-ground by operating by faith as God’s Word saturates our thinking and directs our speech and behavior. And this dynamic life of service is executed in the Lord’s power, for “whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Pet 4:11).
Sadly, not everyone answers the call to service, as our positional justification does not guarantee our experiential sanctification. But for those few who do answer the call, there is no better life, no higher calling, no nobler pursuit, than that which we live in our daily walk with the God of the universe who has called us “out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9; cf. Eph 4:8-9). As those who are now “the saints in Light” (Col 1:12), we need to act like it. God expects our performance to reflect our position in Christ, “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light; for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:8-10). And we are to “lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12), and learn to function “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15). Being a light in the world means helping those who are positive to God to know Him. It means sharing Scripture with them. It means sharing the gospel of grace to the lost who want to know God so they might be saved (1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9). And for Christians who want to grow spiritually, it means helping them know God’s Word so they can advance to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1; cf., 2 Tim 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Such a life glorifies God, edifies others, and results in joy for the believer.
Our service to the Lord takes place in an ever fluctuating hostile environment that is largely governed by Satan. And we’re not told why, but for His own sovereign reasons, God permits Satan a modicum of freedom in our world, to influence mankind to function apart from God. As believers-on-a-mission, we are instructed, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world” (1 John 2:15a), and “do not be conformed to this world” (Rom 12:2a), for “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (Jam 4:4). The world (κόσμος kosmos) does not refer to the physical planet (γῆ ge), but to those values and philosophies that are antithetical to God and His Word, which values and philosophies originate in Satan, the prince of darkness, and are promoted by his demonic forces and those people who belong to his kingdom of darkness. It’s helpful for us to know that Satan’s world-system is unreformable, being systemically corrupt throughout. Being irredeemable, Satan’s world-system can only be resisted. For those people who are trapped in that system, we share the gospel of grace with the hope that they will turn to Christ and be rescued out of it. When someone turns to Christ as their Savior, they are liberated from “the dominion of Satan” (Acts 26:18), as God rescues them “from the domain of darkness” and transfers them “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). This is their new reality in Christ, as they have been transferred from one kingdom to another.
As we grow spiritually and walk with God, learning and living His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), we will stand in opposition to Satan’s world-system and sow the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in his kingdom of darkness. We disrupt Satan’s kingdom when we share the free grace gospel that liberates others from spiritual bondage and brings them into relationship with God. The gospel is the only way a person can be delivered from spiritual slavery; “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Once saved, we seek to influence the thoughts and lives of other Christians through biblical teaching (1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 4:2), fellowship (Heb 10:23-25), prayer (Jam 5:16), edification (Eph 4:29), encouragement (1 Th 5:11), love (1 Th 4:9; cf. Eph 4:14-15), and words of grace (Col 4:6).
But Satan does not want us to succeed and will work to hinder us, either by pleasures or pressures. When we fail, and we occasionally will (Prov 20:9; Eccl 7:20; Rom 7:18-21; Jam 3:2), it’s important to confess our sins directly to God and accept His forgiveness (1 John 1:9), get back into the arena and “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12), and share God’s gospel of grace with all who will listen. And as we promote the gospel and biblical teaching, we will disrupt Satan’s domain of darkness by calling out of it a people for God. Worldly-minded people may not want to hear what we have to say, and their personal choices should be respected (Matt 10:14; Acts 13:50-51), but they should never be under the false impression that they have the right to quiet us.
Ultimately, we know God’s plans will advance. He will win. The future messianic kingdom on earth will come to pass. Christ will return. Jesus will put down all forms of rebellion—both satanic and human—and will rule this world with perfect righteousness and justice. But until then, we must continue to learn and live God’s Word and fight the good fight. We are to live by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6), share the gospel of grace (1 Cor 15:3-4), disciple others (Matt 28:19-20), be good and do good (Gal 6:9-10; Tit 2:11-14), and look forward to the return of Christ at the rapture (Tit 2:13; cf. John 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:13-18).
As Christians, we have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Our salvation results in forgiveness of sins, the gift of righteousness, eternal life, and a new status as a child of God. After our salvation, we are called to journey towards spiritual maturity and service to our God and King. The journey involves learning God’s Word and applying it by faith, and service to the King requires submission, humility, commitment, field training, and advancement testing. As God’s children, we are to glorify God in all things, be lights in a dark world, and help others know Him and grow spiritually. But we live in the reality that living the Christian life is not always easy and will be met with opposition, both from Satan and other people who operate according to their fallen natures. Despite this opposition, we are encouraged to share the gospel of grace and biblical truth with others, to live by faith, and serve as ambassadors for God. By promoting the gospel and biblical teaching, we disrupt Satan’s domain of darkness by calling people to God. While not everyone wants to hear the gospel or Bible teaching, believers should be respectful, conversational, and never have a confrontational attitude, as arrogance never helps advance biblical truth. Ultimately, we know God will establish his righteous kingdom on earth after the Second Coming of Jesus, so we look forward to His return.
 God always retains His sovereignty over His creation, for “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19). As believers, we know “our God is in the heavens, and He does whatever He pleases” (Psa 115:3), and that “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind” (Dan 4:17).
 Our world is fallen for two reasons. First, at some time in the past—we don’t know exactly when—there was an angelic revolt in heaven, where an angel, of the class of cherubim, by the name of Lucifer, sinned against God and led an angelic revolt (Isa 14:12-14; Ezek 28:12-17). The result was that a third of the angels fell with Satan (Rev 12:4), and this created his kingdom of darkness. But Satan expanded his kingdom of darkness when he convinced the first humans, Adam and Eve, to follow him rather than God (Gen 3:1-8). When Adam and Eve sinned, they abandoned their position as theocratic administrators (Gen 1:26-28) and handed the title deed of the world over to Satan (Luke 4:5-6), who now rules over the realm of mankind. Three times Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Other Scriptures call Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), informing us “that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). And Satan is no benevolent dictator, but rules as a tyrant who has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12), and currently “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9; cf. Rev 20:3). Satan rules by deception, oppression, and enslavement; and because he is a finite creature, he relies on others—fallen angels and people—to help him advance his agenda. These are his useful idiots.
 Systemic corruption refers to a form of corruption that cannot separate the inherently immoral values from the institutions and processes that guide them. This corruption permeates the entire fabric of Satan’s system, and reflects his values, strategies, and practices. And Satan’s corruption infects most of society, influencing those who accept his values and practices, who range from high-ranking officials to everyday citizens.
 In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gave the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt 13:36-43). In that parable, Jesus said, “the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the weeds are the sons of the evil one” (Matt 13:38). This is a picture of reality, as the whole world is split into two groups of people, the saved (good seed) and the lost (weeds). This means everyone we meet is either a child of God or a child of Satan. Those are the only two options. And this state of affairs will continue until Christ returns at His second coming, at which time He will remove all unbelievers (Matt 13:39), and will establish His earthly kingdom for a thousand years (Matt 6:10; Rev 20:4-6). Afterwards, all unbelievers will stand before Christ at the Great White Throne judgment and be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15).
 As God’s influencers in the world, we should never try to force the gospel or Bible teaching on anyone, but be willing to share when opportunity presents itself. At times this will bring peace, and other times cause offense and disruption. In this interaction, we must be careful not to fall into the exclusion trap, in which the worldly person (whether saved or lost) controls the content of every conversation, demanding we only talk about worldly issues, as Scripture threatens his pagan presuppositions. Having the biblical worldview, we should insert ourselves into daily conversations with others, and in so doing, be a light in a dark place. We should always be respectful, conversational, and never have a fist-in-your-face attitude, as arrogance never helps advance biblical truth (2 Tim 2:24-26).
There are several believers in the Bible I admire in one way or another, but none more than Barnabas. I admire him because his life is marked by faith, grace, and because he was an encourager to other believers. Faith, grace, and encouragement. That resonates with me.
We first hear about Barnabas in the book of Acts where we learn his name was “Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles” (Acts 4:36a). Luke informs us that Joseph was also known as Barnabas (his nickname), which means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36b). To be a son of something meant that one was characterized by the quality of the word that follows. In this case, the quality is that of encouragement, which translates the Greek noun παράκλησις paraklesis, which denotes “emboldening another in belief or course of action, encouragement, exhortation…[the] lifting of another’s spirits.”
No doubt, Barnabas’ life reflected what He saw and experienced in his relationship with God. In Scripture, we learn that 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 (χάρις charis) 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). And there is nothing more powerful or encouraging than God’s grace to warm and motivate His people to action. For what flows down from God to his children, when received with an open heart, will find natural outward expression to others, who will “encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Th 5:11a), and will “encourage one another day after day” (Heb 3:13a). I believe Barnabas was one who drank deeply from the well of God’s grace and goodness, and being blessed and encouraged by the Lord, was motivated to do the same to others.
Barnabas’ first act on encouragement was witnessed in his willingness to give of his own resources for the benefit of others; specifically, we are told he “owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:37). Barnabas was a man of financial means as he owned land, perhaps on the island of Cyprus. Being a man of grace, he sold his property and gave it to the apostles to be used for ministry purposes. The sale of private property was not a common practice among Christians, which is what set Barnabas apart and made him an exceptional person. If such behavior had been practiced by all, there would have been no need to focus on Barnabas and his gracious act. It is a truth of Scripture that God’s blesses believers who are gracious in giving, for “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor 9:10). And Scripture also reveals these openhanded believers will be rewarded by the Lord in eternity (1 Cor 3:10-15).
Later, in Acts, we’re told that the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22), and “when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God” (Acts 11:23a)—there’s that grace again!—he “rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” (Acts 11:23b). Here, the word encourage translates the Greek verb παρακαλέω parakaleo, which means to “call to one’s side.” The picture is that of one person who comes alongside others and encourages them to accomplish a task or finish a race. In this case, it meant encouraging these Christians to press on and do God’s will. Encouraging other believers “to remain true to the Lord” is what healthy encouragement looks like.
We also learn from other biblical passages that Barnabas was pivotal to the growth of the early church. For example, it was Barnabas who supported Paul shortly after his conversion, even though others had reservations about him (Acts 9:27). It was Barnabas who bridged the relationship between the church in Jerusalem and the church in Antioch (Acts 11:22). It was Barnabas who partnered with Paul and formed a teaching ministry in Antioch that lasted for a year (Acts 11:25-26). It was Barnabas—along with Paul—who was entrusted to deliver a financial donation to suffering Christians in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). It was Barnabas who helped launch the first significant missionary journey into the Gentile world (Acts 13:1-4). It was Barnabas who helped resolve the first major theological issue facing the church (Acts 15:1-25). It was Barnabas who supported Mark, his cousin (Col 4:10), even after Mark had failed to complete a missionary journey (Acts 15:37-38). Unfortunately, Barnabas’ support of Mark resulted in a major conflict with Paul that resulted in their breaking fellowship for a while (Acts 15:39-41). However, from later biblical passages we know that Barnabas and Paul—men who were both known for their grace and love—reconciled their differences and were reunited in fellowship and ministry (1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:9).
Overall, Barnabas was noted as being an encourager (Acts 4:36; 11:23), who sacrificed his own resources to be a blessing to others (Acts 4:37). He was called “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24), and one—along with Paul—who “risked” his life “for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). Barnabas was not without his flaws; however, he possessed the qualities one would like to see in a Christian leader, as he sought to build the Christian community by means grace, love, and solid biblical instruction. Churches and Christians need people like Barnabas, who will stand with them, give them wise counsel, and encourage them in their walk with the Lord.
 The name Barnabas, as it appears in Hebrew (ברנבו), actually means son of a prophet. The question among some Bible scholars is how this could translate as Son of Encouragement? I think Paul helps us here when he spoke to prophets at the church of Corinth, saying, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (1 Cor 14:31). The idea is that a prophet of the Lord would function as one who encouraged others to walk with the Lord and remain faithful to Him.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 766.
The subject of Jesus’ resurrection is an essential element of the Gospel (εὐαγγέλιον euaggelion). Paul set forth the gospel of grace in precise terms, saying, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:1). And the gospel message he preached is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Believing the gospel message concerning the Person and work of Christ is what saves. According to R.B. Thieme Jr., “First Corinthians 15:3-4 defines the boundaries of the Gospel, beginning with the work of Christ and ending with His resurrection. The good news is that ‘Christ died for our sins…and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day.’ Any Gospel message that strays from the cross or denies Jesus Christ’s resurrection from physical death is inaccurate and out of bounds.” (R.B. Thieme, Jr. Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, p.113).
Amazingly, there were some at the church in Corinth who taught “that there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). Paul addressed this issue head on, saying, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is useless…For if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:13-14, 17). The clear teaching of Scripture is that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor 15:20), and being “raised from the dead, is never to die again” (Rom 6:9). Praise God! By His resurrection, Jesus overcame sin and death.
Biblically, we understand that it is God who saves (John 3:16). The gospel is what we must believe to receive that salvation. Paul wrote, “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14). But now you’ve heard the good news. I’ve just preached it to you. And if you’ve not trusted Christ as your Savior, I beg you, don’t wait another moment. Place your faith in Him. That single decision will forever change the course of your life and eternal destiny in ways that are beyond your ability to fully calculate, for “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). At the moment you trust Christ as your Savior, you will receive forgiveness of all your sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 10:10-14), the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), eternal life (John 10:28), become a child of God (John 1:12), be rescued from Satan’s “domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and become a member of the royal family of God, related to Jesus, Who is “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim 6:15). These, and other wonderful blessings will become yours at the moment you trust in Christ as your Savior, for God will bless you with a portfolio of spiritual blessings that stagger the imagination (Eph 1:3). The gospel is simple, and the choice is yours. I pray you act wisely.
In Acts 4:12, Peter states, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” And the name he’s talking about is the name of Jesus, the theanthropic Person who came into this world (John 1:1, 14), lived a sinless life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:5; 1 John 3:5), and went to the cross and died a penal substitutionary death for all mankind (1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 Pet 3:18). Peter dogmatically states that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. This is exclusive, for it means there is only way to be saved. The word “must,” in Acts 4:12, translates the Greek verb δεῖ dei, which speaks of divine necessity. This means it is necessary to come to Jesus, and Jesus alone, for our salvation, “for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” We need only Christ to be saved. And to be saved (σῴζω sozo) calls for one action only, and that is to trust in Christ as our Savior. This means we accept the good news “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And if we trust in Jesus as our Savior, we will have forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), and the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9). Here is grace, as we can be forgiven and made right with God. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9). We are not required to produce any works to be saved (Rom 4:4-5). None whatsoever. No works before, during, or after salvation, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28). Our forgiveness of sins and eternal life are a free gift from God to us, paid in full by the Lord Jesus. We are helpless to save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10), and we come with the empty hands of faith, offering nothing, only receiving the free gift that God offers to us. Once we are saved, good works should follow salvation (Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14), but they are NEVER the condition of it. Good works that follow salvation earn us rewards in heaven; but heaven itself is the blessing that comes to us by grace, and this blessing to us is the work of Christ alone.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus died for everyone (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), which means everyone is savable. That’s unlimited atonement. But, though Christ died for everyone, the benefit of salvation is given only to those who believe in Jesus as their Savior. These are the elect. The gospel message is simple, even a child can understand it and be saved. If you’ve not trusted in Jesus as Savior, then I “beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). Turn to Christ as your Savior, believing He died for your sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day. And no matter what your past sins may be, no matter how many or egregious, God will forgive you (Eph 1:7), give you eternal life (John 10:28), and bless you with a portfolio of spiritual assets (Eph 1:3) that will open for you the most wonderful life you can have in this world; a life in relationship with God. And this all starts when you simply believe in Christ as your Savior. This is the most important decision you can make in your life, for it determines both the quality of life you have in this world, as well as your eternal destiny afterwards.
By most standards, successful leaders get good results. Their success is not measured by their output, but their outcomes. If the good results are not there, the leaders are called a failure. This is true in politics, business, sports, academics, nonprofits, etc. Ideally, we like to see leaders who operate by high moral standards AND produce good results. Sadly, there are some leaders who will abandon good morals and resort to bullying tactics such as harassing, lying, and humiliating others to get their way. Controlling leaders are the worst; for though they may get results, they also damage lives, and that’s no good. The world is better off without tyrants.
Most would agree that good leaders have a clear vision of what they want to achieve, and they communicate it clearly and persuasively, inspiring and motivating others to achieve that vision. Good leaders have integrity, which means they are honest, ethical, and abide by virtues that represent the highest and best in mankind. They lead by example and inspire trust and confidence in others. They display genuine empathy for those under their care and work to create a positive environment that operates within the bounds of reality. They are decisive and able to make tough decisions confidently, quickly, and with sound judgment, while not compromising their compassion for others who may be affected by their decisions. Such leaders are adaptive to unexpected challenges and ever-changing circumstances, collaborating with others, listening to wise counsel, and taking responsibility for their actions. These are some of the marks of a good leader, for which we applaud them. But in the end, success in leadership is ultimately measured not by their output, but by their outcomes. That is, successful leaders get good results.
But this paradigm of success based on results does not work when considering those called into service by the Lord. Oh, there are examples in the Bible of believers who obeyed the Lord, preached His Word, and got positive responses. Jonah’s preaching led many thousands to believe in God (Jonah 3:1-10). This is wonderful. Peter preached on the day of Pentecost and we are told “about three thousand souls” responded positively (Acts 2:41). We love this. And a short time later, Peter preached again, and “many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). Hallelujah! However, when one reads through the Bible, such positive results are the exception and not the norm. The majority of those called by the Lord to lead others into His will were rejected, treated with hostility, and did not obtain positive results. Many of these godly leaders “experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground” (Heb 11:36-38). But these godly persons were not failures in God’s sight. They were a success, for they 1) subordinated themselves to God, 2) operated according to His Word, 3) sought to lead others into His will, and 4) were faithful to the Lord, even when others rejected their leadership. According to Earl Radmacher, “the call of God is for faithfulness to Him, to His Word, and to the call itself.” And Warren Wiersbe states, “the test of ministry is not outward success but faithfulness to the Lord.” Below are a few examples of godly leaders who were faithful to the Lord, even though their guidance was rejected by others.
Noah was faithful to the Lord as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5), and his preaching ministry transpired during the 120 years he spent building the ark (Gen 6:13-14). But those who heard Noah preach for all those years rejected his message, and only “eight persons were brought safely through the water” (1 Pet 3:20). Yet, Noah was a success in God’s sight, for he had been faithful to the Lord, even though his message was rejected by his generation.
Toward the end of Moses’ life, the Lord called Moses and Joshua to a special meeting (Deut 31:14), and appointed Joshua as Moses’ successor. It was at this meeting the Lord told Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them” (Deut 31:16). Here, the Lord informed Moses that those he’d led in the path of righteousness for forty years would begin a journey into apostasy after his death. Surely this was difficult news for Moses to hear. And this news was difficult for Joshua to hear, because it meant his leadership of the nation would not have a positive impact after he died. Though Joshua knew his godly influence would not continue after he died, we count him a success because he was faithful to the Lord to lead the nation in righteousness.
The prophet Samuel was faithful to the Lord and tried to lead his generation away from their foolish request for a king so they could be like the other nations (1 Sam 18:4-9). Samuel tried to warn the people about the suffering they would experience if they got what they wanted (1 Sam 8:10-18), but they rejected his leadership, and “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’” (1Sa 8:19-20a). God gave them Saul, a king after their own hearts, and the nation suffered. Samuel was faithful to the Lord to lead His people into righteousness, even though the leadership and people of Israel would not listen to him.
The prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the Lord (Isa 6:1-7), which was followed by a call to ministry (Isa 6:8a). Isaiah answered the call, saying, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa 6:8b). But then Isaiah was told his ministry would be met with negative volition and his words would have a hardening effect upon those who were already committed to wickedness (Isa 6:9-10). When Isaiah asked, “how long” his difficult ministry would last (Isa 6:11a), the Lord answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate, the LORD has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land” (Isa 6:11b-12). Isaiah was faithful to the Lord for many years, even though his audience rejected his message.
Jeremiah was a godly servant who faithfully preached God’s Word for decades, even though his generation would not listen. Jeremiah said, “these twenty-three years the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened” (Jer 25:3). Jeremiah had a recalcitrant audience who would not listen to him, though the majority were glad to listen to the false prophets who spoke “a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the LORD” (Jer 23:16). Because the leadership and people rejected God’s message through Jeremiah, the result was divine judgment, as God raised up the Babylonians and used them as His disciplinary agent to destroy the nation. The result was that many thousands of Israelites went into Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C. Jeremiah was a success in God’s sight because he was faithful to the Lord and preached His Word as he’d been commissioned to do (Jer 1:4-10).
Of course, there’s no greater display of leadership than the Lord Jesus, Who spoke perfect truth all the time and called others to trust in Him (John 14:1) and to follow Him (Matt 4:19). During His time of ministry on the earth, as the God-Man, Jesus was the perfect leader. He repeatedly offered His kingdom to the nation (Matt 4:19; 10:7), was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), healed to sick (Matt 8:13; 12:15), raised the dead (Matt 27:52-53; Luke 7:14-15), fed the masses (Matt 14:19-20; 15:35-38), and perfectly executed the Father’s will. Near the end of His ministry, Jesus said to the Father, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). All that Jesus said and did was perfect; yet, the majority of those who heard His message and saw His miracles rejected Him (John 3:19; 12:37). Jesus was faithful to do His Father’s will, and though He was rejected at His first coming (Matt 12:24; John 19:15), He will be welcomed at His second coming, when all Israel will say, “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt 23:39). At that time, “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26), and Messiah will begin His reign on the earth (Rev 20:1-6).
I could go on to write about Peter who was persecuted for his faithful leadership (Acts 5:17-18, 40), Stephen and James who were martyred for their faith (Acts 7:1-60; 12:1-2), Paul who suffered greatly (2 Cor 11:23-29), and others who were faithful to the Lord and preached His Word. Though there were some who responded positively—just as we have—the pattern is that the majority of those who heard God’s Word from God’s servant-leaders rejected it and continued in a path of sin and rebellion. Yet, these servant-leaders were all successful in the eyes of the Lord, because they were faithful to Him and to their calling
As God’s people, we control the output of our message, but never the outcome. What the recipients do with God’s Word is between them and the Lord. As God’s children, we are to be faithful to learn His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2), communicate it to others in love (Eph 4:15), and let it do its work in the hearts of those who hear (Isa 55:10-11). However, we realize this will result in mixed outcomes, depending on the hearts of others. Charles Spurgeon said, “The same sun that softens wax also hardens clay.” By this he meant that God’s Word, which gives light like the sun, has different effects depending on the material exposed to it. The reality is that some hearts are positive to God (wax) and these grow soft when exposed to the light of His Word, but other hearts are negative to God (clay) and exposure to His Word only makes them harder. We are responsible for our output of lifestyle and message, not the outcome of results. God measures our success by our willingness to submit to Him and our faithfulness to walk with Him moment by moment, learning His Word and doing His will. As God’s children, we want to be among those whom Jesus says, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matt 25:21a).
 Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 814.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 30.
 Though Israel’s journey of apostasy began with the death of Moses, it exploded after the death of Joshua (who was also a godly and faithful leader), and for roughly 350 years Israel turned away from God and worshipped idols (read the book of Judges). Yet, even with this difficult news, the Lord encouraged Joshua, saying, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you” (Deut 31:23). Near the end of Joshua’s life, he encouraged the people to adhere to the Law of Moses so that they might know success and blessing (Josh 23:6-11), with a warning of judgment if they disobeyed (Josh 23:12-16; 24:20-24). And Joshua was a godly example to others, saying, “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh 24:15).
 Biblically, we know God is gracious, compassionate, and slow to anger (Neh 9:17; Psa 86:15; 103:8); however, His gentle qualities do not last forever, and when people persist in their sin and there is no hope of them turning to Him, His judgment falls (Psa 9:7-8; 96:13; Acts 17:31).
As Christians, our love for one another should be obvious to others. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Other passages inform us, “you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (1 Th 4:9b), and “keep fervent in your love for one another” (1 Pet 4:8a), and “this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11), and “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (1 John 3:23), and “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). In each of these biblical passages, the word love translates the Greek verb ἀγαπάω agapao, which means we value others by seeking God’s best in their lives, seeking to build them up and to meet their needs as we have opportunity.
God’s love should also be extended to those who hate and mistreat us. God has unconditional love for everyone, which means He does them good and blesses them. This is virtue love. Though God’s love is innate to Him, it is not natural to us, since we are fallen and marked by sin. Our innate personal love can never rise above our particular likes. But, once saved, we are to learn about God’s love—virtue love—and then model it in our lives to others. Virtue love must be learned. The apostle Paul, when writing to his friend, Timothy, said, “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). And Paul described virtue love, saying, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:4-8a). As we advance spiritually in our walk with God, we can learn to love as He loves.
Virtue love and personal love are distinct. Personal love is based on an individual’s particular likes and affections, which fluctuate and change. Personal love is no greater than the person whose desires and feelings vacillate. Virtue love is greater, because it is tied to God and His love. God’s love is stable, constant, sacrificial, and does good to everyone. Virtue love is based on God’s truth. True love requires truth, otherwise, it becomes a lesser form of love that is subject to personal whims. According to R. B. Thieme Jr., “For human love to succeed, God’s perfect, unchanging truth must be the source, pattern, and basis of that love. Mankind can truly love only by possessing the virtue that derives from God Himself (1 John 4:9–10).” Virtue love manifests itself toward others in a thoughtful and sacrificial way and is not based on the beauty or worth of the object. Scripture reveals, “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). This is a sacrificial love, for “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). And “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). John concludes, saying, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Our love for others is borne out of God’s love for us.
Operating on virtue love does not mean we expose ourselves to unnecessary harm (1 Ki 18:13; John 8:59; Acts 9:23-25; 2 Tim 4:14-15), nor that we trust all people (John 2:23-24), nor fail to rebuke others when needed (Matt 16:21-23; Luke 9:51-55), nor that we interact or befriend people who are hostile to God (Prov 13:20; 20:19; 22:24-25; 24:21; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 15:33; 2 Tim 3:1-5), nor forfeit the right to defend ourselves physically or legally when we come under attack (Acts 22:25-29; 25:7-12). And when we are attacked, it’s alright to be angry. Paul wrote, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26). And it’s alright to be hurt, but never to hate (Luke 6:27-28).
Personal love, weak as it is, is our default setting from the flesh. Virtue love is acquired over time as we learn about God through His Word and follow His directives. Virtue love operates fully and effectively even toward those hate us and seek our harm. Jesus demands this kind of love from His disciples, saying, “I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). All four of Jesus’ directives (to love, do good, bless, and pray) are in the imperative mood, which means they are commands to be understood and obeyed. These directives are consciously in our minds and actively obeyed as we direct our wills to seek God’s best in the lives of others. To do good to those who hate us means we are kind and generous when possible. To bless our enemies means we wish them well rather than harm. To pray for our enemies means we ask God to save and bless them, even though they seek to mistreat us. In all this, we are never to return evil for evil (see Rom 12:14, 17-21; 1 Th 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9). This is not mere passivity, but requires great discipline of the mind and will, which can be contrary to our emotions. Nor does such behavior imply weakness on our part. Jesus, the theanthropic person, possessed all power sufficient to destroy His enemies, yet He restrained His power for the sake of love and grace.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:44-45). Divine truth, not feelings, must be what guides our thoughts, words, and actions. As Christians, when we think and act this way, we are like the “sons of the Most-High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). Paul, when speaking to unbelievers, said of the Father, “He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). That’s love. And in Galatians, Paul said, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). God’s love for everyone is our pattern to follow. This is not personal love, but virtue love. This kind of love and behavior is accomplished by faith and not feelings. Though we can’t always change our feelings, we must not be governed by them; rather, God’s Word must be the driving force that directs our thoughts, words, and actions. As we grow spiritually, God’s love will become more and more seated in our thoughts, and as we submit ourselves to Him and walk in the Spirit, His love will begin to shine forth toward others and we will seek God’s best in their lives. Let us love others as God directs, based on the truth of His Word, and after the pattern of Himself and our Savior, Jesus. In this way, we will adhere to Paul’s instruction, in which he says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 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).
God sometimes brings judgment upon a nation that is pursuing a path of unrighteousness. He did this with the nation of Judah. God’s judgment came upon His people in three ways.
First, He caused a reduction in supplies for daily living. Isaiah said, “For behold, the Lord GOD of hosts is going to remove from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support, the whole supply of bread and the whole supply of water” (Isa 3:1). That is, there would be a reduction in food supplies, most likely caused by a drought upon the land. This would naturally lead to a rise in cost of living as food resources would become scarce. Though economists consider various factors that affect the supply side of economics (i.e., commodity prices, production, distribution, regulations, etc.), God’s Word tells us the Lord is THE major factor in a nation’s prosperity or poverty. God controls all geophysical factors that determine agricultural production. This is divine viewpoint thinking that helps us orient to reality.
Second, God removed the nation’s leaders, both good and bad, all who were trusted by the people. Those whom God removed included “The mighty man and the warrior, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty and the honorable man, the counselor and the expert artisan, and the skillful enchanter” (Isa 3:2-3). These are mostly good leaders, but also included “the diviner” and “the skillful enchanter” who relied on pagan practices to lead others. The Bible tells us that it is God “who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21a), for “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 4:17b).
Third, God replaced the nation’s leaders with immature and inexperienced rulers. God said, “And I will make mere lads their princes, and capricious children will rule over them” (Isa 3:4). According to Gary Smith, “This could be understood literally or it could be a metaphorical way of saying that the new leaders would be people who act like immature, unwise, mischievous, strong willed, and inexperienced children.” Even if good and godly men were available to help, the Lord would prevent them from advancing to their office because of His greater plans to punish the nation.
The result of God’s judgment upon the nation was that “the people will be oppressed, each one by another, and each one by his neighbor; the youth will storm against the elder and the inferior against the honorable” (Isa 3:5). According to Earl Radmacher, “For everyone to be oppressed by another describes a state of anarchy. In such an upside-down world, child is against elder, the base against the honorable. In His judgment, the Lord has given over the wicked to their own evil ways.” Biblically, we know that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov 14:34), and “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psa 33:12a).
When someone hurts me, I sometimes react and feel the need to seek revenge. That is, to take the matter into my own hands and hurt the other person so that I feel the scales of justice are balanced. Revenge starts with a mental attitude in which we seek to harm an offender for the injury or offence they caused, whether that injury or offense is real or imagined. The desire to retaliate against the offender is generally followed by action to hurt them, whether physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially, financially, or legally.
The desire for revenge can be coupled with very strong emotions that help inflame the injustice in our mind and to relive it over and over, which can eventuate in mental bondage as we keep recalling the hurt. Also, an injured person may feel helpless and victimized by an oppressor, so hurting the other person can make one feel empowered. It is true that personal revenge can offer a temporary sense of closure or satisfaction, but it can also establish a pattern of behavior that can be exhausting and endless, as we feel the need to retaliate against all perceived offenders. God’s Word speaks to the issue of dealing with offenders who cause hurt, giving directions on how we are to respond.
First, there is the positive directive concerning how to treat offenders. Jesus said, “I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). As Christians, we live in a fallen world and are surrounded by fallen people who, often unknowingly, help advance Satan’s agenda. These fallen people are identified as our enemies who operate by the mental attitude of hatred, openly curse us, and will mistreat us if given the opportunity. Being an adversary who operates on hate, and who curses and mistreats us, are all things that do not rise to the level of dangerous harm. Even a slap on the cheek, or stealing our clothing (Luke 6:29) does not constitute a life-threatening situation that requires self-defense. Loving others does NOT mean:
It does not mean we expose ourselves to unnecessary harm. There were times when God’s people hid from their enemies (1 Ki 18:13; Acts 9:23-25). Jesus faced hostile people, who at one time “picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59). Paul was greatly hurt by a man named “Alexander the coppersmith,” whom he told Timothy, “did me much harm” (2 Tim 4:14a). Paul then warned Timothy, saying, “Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim 4:15).
It does not mean we trust all people. Jesus loved everyone, but He did not entrust Himself to all people, even believers. John tells us there were many who “believed in His name” (John 2:23), but then tells us that “Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men” (John 2:24).
It does not mean we fail to rebuke others when needed. When Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem, He passed by a village of the Samaritans (Luke 9:51-52) whose residents “did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53). Luke tells us, “When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” (Luke 9:54). But this was a wrong attitude, so Jesus “turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of’” (Luke 9:55).
It does not mean we interact or befriend people who are hostile to God (Prov 13:20). Solomon said, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself” (Prov 22:24-25). Scripture also states, “do not associate with a gossip” (Prov 20:19), and “do not associate with rebels” (Prov 24:21), for “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33; cf. 1 Cor 5:11). The apostle Paul, when writing to Timothy, described the sinful attitudes and actions of people committed to godlessness (2 Tim 3:1-5a), and told his friend to “avoid such men as these” (2 Tim 3:5).
It does not mean we forfeit the right to defend ourselves physically or legally when we come under attack. Paul, who at one time took a beating with rods (Acts 16:22-23), later used legal force by exercising his rights as a Roman citizen to protect himself from a flogging that might have killed him (Acts 22:25-29). And Paul eventually appealed to Caesar, hoping to gain a just trial (Acts 25:7-12).
By wisdom we come to know when to turn the other cheek and when to stand up and push back, as self-defense is valid if the injury rises to the level of great physical harm, is life-threatening, or threatens to harm or kill a loved one (see my article on Is Self-Defense Biblical?). Even though we may defend ourselves, we must never stoop to the place of hatred toward our enemies, but must always maintain love for them and be willing to forgive and help if/when possible.
As Jesus’ disciples, we are to love (ἀγαπᾶτε) our enemies, do good (καλῶς ποιεῖτε) to those who hate us, bless (εὐλογεῖτε) those who curse us, and pray (προσεύχεσθε) for those who mistreat us. All four of Jesus’ directives are in the imperative mood, which means they are commands to be understood and obeyed. To love our enemy means we care about them and seek God’s best in their life. To do good to those who hate us means we are kind and giving when possible. To bless our enemy means we wish them well rather than harm. To pray for our enemy means we ask God to save and bless them, even though they seek to mistreat us. Love manifests itself by doing good, blessing, and praying for those who hate us. This is not mere passivity, but requires great discipline of the mind and will, which can be contrary to our emotions. Nor does such behavior imply weakness on our part. Jesus, the theanthropic person, possessed all power sufficient to destroy His enemies, yet He restrained His power for the sake of love and grace. Divine truth, not feelings, must be what guides our thoughts, words, and actions. According to Joel Green, “Love is expressed in doing good—that is, not by passivity in the face of opposition but in proactivity: doing good, blessing, praying, and offering the second cheek and the shirt along with the coat.” Paul, when writing to Christians in Rome, used similar language, saying, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Rom 12:14). As Christians, when we think and act this way, we are like the “sons of the Most-High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35). This is accomplished by faith and not feelings. Sproul is correct when he states, “We may not be able to control how we feel about them, but we certainly can control what we do about those feelings.”
Second, there is a negative directive in which we are not to retaliate or seek personal revenge. The Lord said, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Lev 19:18). The apostle Paul said, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” (1 Th 5:15). Peter wrote, “All of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Pet 3:8-9). Solomon wrote, “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil;’ wait for the LORD, and He will save you” (Prov 20:22). Concerning this verse, Allen Ross states, “Leave retribution to the Lord. Let him bring about a just deliverance…The righteous should not take vengeance on evil, for only God can repay evil justly (cf. Rom 12:19–20).” Bruce Waltke says this verse “suggests that the Lord will help the disciple by compensating him justly for the wrong done to him. The Helper will both compensate the damage and punish the wrongdoer.” And David Hubbard adds:
Vengeance is an activity too hot for any of us to handle. Its motivation is selfish; its execution is usually extreme; its result is to accelerate conflict not to slow it down. In short, vengeance is God’s business not ours (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30). All human sin is sin against Him, so He is the ultimate victim; only He can judge accurately the damage done; only He can distribute fairly the blame; only He can exact freely the proper penalty. We are not entitled to ‘play God’ at any time.
The challenge for us is to put the offense in God’s hands, trusting He sees, and that He will dispense justice in His time and way. For this reason, Scripture states, “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” (Rom 12:17-19a; cf. Deut 32:35; Heb 10:30). Again, this requires discipline of mind and will, and is executed by faith and not feelings.
Third, place the matter in the Lord’s hands and let Him dispense justice in His time and way. The Bible teaches that God is the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25) and that He dispenses justice upon those whose who deserve it. Scripture reveals the Lord is a “God of vengeance” (Psa 94:1) and will punish the wicked. And Nahum tells us, “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). God told the Israelites if they listen to His voice, “Then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries” (Ex 23:22). Paul, after instructing Christians not to seek their own revenge, explained that God will handle the matter, saying, “for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19b; cf. Deut 32:35; Heb 10:30). And again, “It is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Th 1:6). Even Paul did not seek his own revenge when hurt by Alexander the coppersmith, but said, “the Lord will repay him according to his deeds” (2 Tim 4:14). According to Warren Wiersbe, “The word vengeance must not be confused with revenge. The purpose of vengeance is to satisfy God’s holy law; the purpose of revenge is to pacify a personal grudge.”
It is true that God may extend grace to His enemies and those who hurt us, as He gives them time to repent and turn to Him for forgiveness. We must always remember that we were God’s enemies and terrible sinners before we came to faith in Christ, and God waited patiently for us (see Rom 5:8-10), for God is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). But God’s grace does not last forever. At death, all of life’s decisions are fixed, and what the unbeliever does with Christ in time determines his eternal destiny. If a person goes his entire life rejecting God’s grace, not believing in Christ as Savior (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3-4), then he will stand before God at the Great White Throne judgment and afterwards will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). It is at that time that God will deal out “retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Th 1:8-9). Wiersbe states, “Certainly, the wicked who persecute the godly do not always receive their just payment in this life. In fact, the apparent prosperity of the wicked and difficulty of the godly have posed a problem for many of God’s people (see Psa 73; Jer 12:1; Hab 1). Why live a godly life if your only experience is that of suffering? As Christians, we must live for eternity and not just for the present.”
Fourth, if we fail to follow the Lord’s directives to love, do good, bless, and pray for our enemies, and instead decide to take matters into our own hands and seek revenge, then we are sinning against God and open ourselves up to divine discipline. The very punishment we may seek to inflict upon our enemies may be administered to us by the Lord, and this because we are walking by sinful values rather than being obedient-to-the-Word believers. However, if we put the matter in the Lord’s hands and let Him dispense justice in His time and way, we can rest assured that He will bring it to pass, for He says, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Rom 12:19b), and it is “just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Th 1:6). Plus, when we learn and live God’s Word by faith it frees us from the tyranny of hurt feelings which can be fatiguing to the mind and toxic to the soul.
In closing, we are to obey the words of Jesus, who tells us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Assuming the hostility never rises to the level of requiring self-defense (which does not negate loving the attacker), we are to tolerate the hostility and abuse and respond in love by doing good, blessing, and praying for our enemies. It’s ok to hurt, but not to hate. Operating from divine viewpoint, we walk by faith and trust God to handle the matter, knowing He is the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25) and that “it is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Th 1:6), as God states, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Rom 12:19b). In this way, we will follow the example set by Jesus, who, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; and while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2:23). If we live as God directs, abiding by the royal family honor code, then He will dispense justice upon our attackers in His time and way. The challenge for us is to discipline ourselves to learn God’s Word and live by faith, not our hurt feelings or circumstances.
 Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 272.
 R. C. Sproul, A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999), 115–116.
 Allen P. Ross, “Proverbs,” 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), 1046.
 Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 152.
 David A. Hubbard and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Proverbs, vol. 15, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989), 308.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 194.
Being a godly servant glorifies God, benefits others in their walk with the Lord, and helps us advance to spiritual maturity. Having a servant’s heart is in line with that of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus, when speaking to His disciples, said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant” (Luke 22:25-26). Paul wrote, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13). And Peter wrote, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). No greater picture of servanthood can be found than when Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords became the Servant of servants and washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). But service to others can happen only when they are open to receiving what is offered. Jesus offered truth and love and grace to others (John 1:14; 14:6), but He was rejected by the majority of those who saw and heard Him (John 1:11; 3:19; 5:39-40; 12:37; Matt 23:37). Being a Christian servant means being obedient to God first, following His Word and walking with Him. Below are a few examples of what being a Christian servant does not mean:
It does not mean we help others commit sins contrary to God and His Word. God’s people have a duty to say “No” to others who seek to lead us into sin (Dan 3:16-18; Acts 5:27-29); however, this should be done respectfully (Dan 6:1-10, 20-21; Acts 23:5).
It does not mean we have to expose ourselves to unnecessary harm. Sometimes it’s valid to hide to avoid harm (1 Ki 18:13; Acts 9:23-25; John 8:59; 2 Tim 4:14-15). However, if avoidance is not possible (like Stephen in Acts 7), we are to commit ourselves to the Lord (1 Pet 2:21-23), bless rather than curse (Luke 6:27-28; Rom 12:14; 1 Pet 3:8-9), and trust that God will dispense justice in His time and way (Rom 12:17-21; 2 Th 1:6-7). This is executed by faith and not feelings.
It does not mean we have to interact or befriend people who are hostile to God (2 Tim 3:1-5). Solomon said, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself” (Prov 22:24-25). Scripture also states, “do not associate with a gossip” (Prov 20:19), and “do not associate with rebels” (Prov 24:21), for “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33; cf. 1 Cor 5:11). Choosing our friends carefully is important, for “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20).
It does not mean we forfeit the right to defend ourselves physically or legally when we come under attack. In Scripture there are examples of believers who at one time defended themselves or others, but then at other times fled and/or suffered for their faith. David, who killed Goliath (1 Sam 17:48-51), 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). Paul, who at one time took a beating with rods (Acts 16:22-23), later used legal force by exercising his rights as a Roman citizen to protect himself from a flogging that might have killed him (Acts 22:25-29). And Paul eventually appealed to Caesar, hoping to gain a just trial (Acts 25:7-12).
In summary, we are called to have a servant’s heart and be willing to give of ourselves to help others know the Lord and walk with Him. However, only the person who is positive to God and has a humble heart will accept and benefit from what we offer. Wisdom helps us identify those who are humble.
Biblically, four things are true about revivals: 1) they start with the communication of God’s Word and the positive reception of it, 2) they can be personal or corporate, 3) they lead to regeneration of the lost and godly reforms among the saved, and 4) they often don’t last beyond one generation. These four points will be demonstrated in the following examples.
An Example of Personal Revival
We observe a personal revival in Psalm 119, where the Psalmist positively received God’s Word and it led to holiness of conduct. The psalmist said, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word” (Psa 119:9). He then said, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psa 119:11). When God’s Word was received into his heart, it reformed his behavior for the better. He went on to pursue God’s Word further so that it might work in his life, revitalizing him. He said, “My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word” (Psa 119:25), and “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (Psa 119:50), and “I am exceedingly afflicted; revive me, O LORD, according to Your word” (Psa 119:107), and “Plead my cause and redeem me; revive me according to Your word” (Psa 119:154).
Other examples include Jeremiah, who said, “Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16). And the two disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and recalled their experience, saying, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
Three Examples of Corporate Revival
First, we see an example of corporate revival in Judah during the reign of King Josiah (2 Ki 22:1). The revival began when a copy of Deuteronomy was found in the temple and was read to the king who responded positively to its message (2 Ki 22:8-20). King Josiah then read God’s Word to his people. Scripture reveals the king “went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD” (2 Ki 23:2). Apparently the leadership and people responded positively to God’s Word, as they followed King Josiah in many good and godly reforms. The benefit was that Judah was largely purged of idolatry and the temple restored to its proper place of function (2 Ki 23:1-25). However, after Josiah died in 609 B.C., his reforms did not last, as the four subsequent kings all did evil in the sight of the Lord, and this led to Judah and Jerusalem being destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
Second, Jonah preached God’s Word to the Ninevites, and “the people of Nineveh believed in God” (Jonah 3:5). The king of Nineveh responded positively as well and directed his people, saying, “let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands” (Jonah 3:8). The result was that God relented of His threat of judgment and the city was spared (Jonah 3:10). Unfortunately, subsequent generations rejected God and His Word and fell back into their sinful ways, and the Assyrians destroyed Israel nearly 37 years later in 722 B.C. This shows that the faith of one generation is merely the faith of one generation, and that believing and humble parents do not guarantee believing and humble children. Eventually, God destroyed the Assyrians in 612 B.C.
Third, Paul taught Scripture in Ephesus for two years (Acts 19:9-10), and “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). Paul’s preaching was received by many, which led to regeneration and social reforms. Luke tells us, “many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone” (Acts 19:19). The result was that “the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (Acts 19:20). Paul eventually left Ephesus after a great conflict (Acts 20:1) and the church continued as a model of godliness (see Paul’s letter to the Ephesians). However, within two generations they had lost their fervor, and Jesus said of that church, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev 2:4), and He called them to “remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first” (Rev 2:5a). Again, this demonstrates the point that the faith and zeal of one generation does not automatically flow into the next, as subsequent generations must choose the Lord for themselves in order for the Lord’s approval and blessings to follow.
Preaching God’s Word Does Not Guarantee a Positive Response
Sadly, there were some generations of people who were not receptive to God’s Word, and this resulted in the Lord’s judgment falling upon them. For example, Noah preached God’s Word for one hundred and twenty years with very minimal results (2 Pet 2:5), and God’s judgment fell upon the world in a global deluge, with the result that only “eight persons were brought safely through the water” (1 Pet 3:20). Jeremiah preached God’s Word for twenty-three years, but his generation would not listen. Jeremiah said, “these twenty-three years the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened” (Jer 25:3). The result was that Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians and went into captivity in 586 B.C. Of course, there’s no greater display of grace and truth than our Lord Jesus (John 1:14), yet the majority of those who saw Him and heard His message rejected Him (Matt 12:24; John 3:19; 12:37), and judgment fell upon that generation (Matt 23:37-39). The result was that Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 when the Romans attacked the city and destroyed the temple.
For revival to be true according to Scripture, whether personal or corporate, it must start with the communication and positive reception of God’s Word. When there is positive volition in the hearts of people, it will lead to regeneration of the lost through evangelism, and godly reforms among the saved.
The Bible teaches God has assigned a limited amount of time for us to live in this world. David wrote, “in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for my life when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). Job said a person’s “days are determined, the number of his months is with You” (Job 14:5). And David said, “LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am” (Psa 39:4). Paul said, “God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation (Act 17:26). How we use our time is a matter of personal choice.
Concerning our use of time, Paul wrote, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). Paul starts this instruction with the Greek verb βλέπω blepo, which the NASB translates as be careful. The Greek word basically denotes perception with the eye, but here refers to one’s mental state of alertness which, according to Louw & Nida, means “to be ready to learn about future dangers or needs, with the implication of preparedness to respond appropriately, to beware of, to watch out for, to pay attention to.” The form of the verb is present tense, active voice, and imperative mood. This means our being alert is to be an ongoing action, is produced by the Christian, and is a directive to be obeyed by faith.
Specifically, we are to be mindful of how we walk in this world. The word walk translates the Greek verb περιπατέω peripateo which is a metaphor for conduct. As Christians, we are to walk, “not as unwise men but as wise.” To walk unwisely (ἄσοφος asophos) is a possibility for any Christian, otherwise the statement is superfluous. The adjective, ἄσοφος asophos, according to BDAG, refers to “one who lacks the power of proper discernment, unwise, foolish.” The fool is not necessarily one who does not reason, but reasons wrongly. He lacks God’s Word as a reference point for reality and divine viewpoint. But we are to be wise (σοφός sophos), which denotes operating from divine viewpoint. As Christians, we are to possess and operate by the revelation of God’s Word which gives us insights into realities we could never know, except that God has spoken, and His Word directs every aspect of our lives (i.e., marriage, family, friends, work, finances, etc.). When we operate by divine viewpoint, we will prioritize our lives in such a way that God is glorified, others are edified, and we are sanctified. By living this way, we are “making the most” of our time, knowing “the days are evil.” The work making translates the Greek verb ἐξαγοράζω exagorazo, which is a commercial term that denotes purchasing an item from a market. Grant Osborne states, “The verb is a commercial metaphor used for purchasing a commodity, and it implies a period of vigorous trading while there is profit to be made…Here the intention is that we will use our time wisely, making every opportunity count.” And the form of the verb is in the present tense and middle voice. The present tense implies ongoing action, and the middle voice means we exercise our volition in such a way that we participate in the action and benefit from it. And what we are to regard as a precious commodity is time, which translates the Greek word καιρός kairos, which here denotes opportunities God places in our path. The same word is used elsewhere by Paul, who wrote, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity [καιρός kairos]” (Col 4:5). And in Galatians he wrote, “So then, while we have opportunity [καιρός kairos], let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). And why must we be so careful about the opportunities God provides? Paul’s answer was, “because the days are evil” (Eph 5:16b). Living in a fallen world means evil is always around us, seeking to draw us away from God and the stable ground of His Word. As Christians, we are to be on the alert, because evil people and spiritual traps abound. And believers who are ignorant of God’s Word and/or not paying attention to their activities become soft-targets for Satan’s forces. Concerning the evil days, Harold Hoehner states:
The days are evil because they are controlled by the god of this age (Eph 2:2) who opposes God and his kingdom and who will try to prevent any opportunities for the declaration of God’s program and purposes. Hence, in this present evil age believers are not to waste opportunities because this would be useless and harmful to God’s kingdom and to those who are a part of it…It is interesting to notice that he is not recommending that they fear the present evil age or avoid interaction with it. Rather his exhortation is to walk wisely in the evil days by seizing every opportunity. Unrelenting warfare exists between the God of heaven and the god of this age. In essence, believers are commanded not to let the god of this age intimidate them, but to take advantage of every opportunity in this immoral environment to live a life that pleases God (cf. Gal 2:10).
As Christians, we will face ongoing worldly distractions which are designed by Satan to prevent spiritual growth and hinder our impact for God in this world. As God’s children, we have choices to make on a daily basis, sometimes moment by moment, for only we can choose to allow these distractions to stand between us and the Lord. We must be disciplined with the time and opportunities God gives us, learning His Word and living by faith so that we can advance to spiritual maturity and serve as lights in a dark world (Eph 5:8-10). Every moment is precious and we must make sure our days are not wasted on meaningless pursuits, but on learning God’s Word, living His will, and loving those whom the Lord places in our path.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 332.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 144.
 Grant R. Osborne, Ephesians: Verse by Verse, Osborne New Testament Commentaries (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 178.
 This principle is true to life, for enemy forces on the battlefield, or criminals in the city, look for soft targets they can exploit for their own agenda. Knowing the enemy is present, understanding his tactics, maintaining personal preparedness and staying alert, makes you a hard-target which mitigates injury.
 Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 694–695.
Israel is a special nation that was created by God Himself. The Lord said of Israel, “I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isa 43:15). This makes Israel unique among all the nations of the world! He even calls Israel, “My glory” (Isa 46:13). And God loves Israel, declaring, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer 31:3). God is eternal, and His love is eternal, which means it never fades for His people, Israel. To possess the love of God is to love that which He loves. One cannot claim to have God’s love, and simultaneously hate Israel, His chosen people. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the heart of anyone, especially the Christian! According to Lewis S. Chafer, “When the Christian loves with a divine compassion he will acknowledge what God loves. Therefore, he too must love Israel.”
To love the people of Israel is not a blanket endorsement of all their beliefs and behaviors. God, who loves Israel and chose them to be His people (Deut 7:6-8), also called them to be holy (Ex 19:5-6; Lev 11:45), and to live righteously (Deut 6:24-25). Under the Mosaic Law, God blessings and curses for them were conditioned on their obedience or disobedience (Deut 11:26-28; 28:1-68). For much of Israel’s history, we know they failed to walk with God, sometimes rejecting His love for them and walking in the ways of the world (see 2 Ch 36:15-16; Jer 7:25-26; 25:4-7). The national rejection and crucifixion of Jesus (Matt 27:22-23; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), Israel’s promised Messiah (Deut 18:15; Isa 7:14; 9:6-7; 53; 61:1; Matt 1:1, 17; Luke 1:31-33), is their greatest historical failure. Did Israel act alone in crucifying Jesus, their Messiah? No! God foretold Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die (Psa 22:11-18; Isa 53); and, according to His sovereignty, He used wicked men, both Jews and Gentiles, to accomplish His will (Acts 22:22-23; 4:27-28). Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote:
If it be inquired, as constantly it is, who put Christ to death? It may be pointed out that He was offered by the Father (Psa 22:15; John 3:16; Rom 3:25), of His own free will (John 10:17; Heb 7:27; 9:14; 10:12), by the Spirit (Heb 9:14), and by men—Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and Israel (Acts 2:23; 4:27). To this may be added that part of His death was contributed by Satan (cf. Gen 3:15).
God, who loves Israel with an everlasting love, continues to keep His Word to them. Israel has a future hope because of the promises and covenants God made through the patriarchs and prophets (Gen 12:1-3; 15:18; 17:8; Deut 30:1-10; 2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:33-37; Jer 31:31-33). Though unbelieving Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt 23:37-39), God’s covenants and promises are still in effect (Rom 9:1-5), and will remain in force until Jesus returns and is accepted as their Messiah.
Furthermore, it is wrong to think the church has replaced Israel, for “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (Rom 11:2), even though there is a “partial hardening” among them until Messiah returns (Rom 11:25-27). Until then, unbelieving Israel is under spiritual darkness and divine judgment. The apostle Paul—a biological Jew himself—revealed that God’s promises and covenants are still valid for Israel, and wished all would come to faith in Christ. Paul said:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart [for unbelieving Israelites]. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh [to whom Paul is related biologically], who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh [i.e. Messiah], who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 9:1-5)
Today, Jews and Gentiles alike become partakers of the church, the body of Christ (Eph 1:22-23; cf. 1 Cor 10:32), when they believe in Jesus as their Savior (Gal 3:26-28). These believe the gospel message, that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Christians are looking forward to the rapture of the church, in which He will catch us away (ἁρπάζω harpazo – to seize, catch up, snatch away) to heaven (1 Th 4:13-17). Until God resumes His prophetic plans for Israel, Christian are called to love them, pray for them, and share the gospel of grace that they may turn to Jesus as the Messiah and be saved (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18-24; 15:3-4).
 Lewis S. Chafer, “Israel” in Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 206.
 Even Jesus, at the time He was pronouncing judgment upon the nation because of their rejection of Him, still had great affection for them, saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt 23:37). There is great tenderness in the heart of Jesus for His people.
 Lewis S. Chafer, “Christology” in Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 80.
Psalm 62 is a psalm of David in which he is experiencing unjust attacks and feels threatened by enemies who seek to topple him. In this psalm, David counsels his soul to trust in God alone. When anxious fears arise, he is conscious to turn to the Lord and not people or riches. Trusting in the Lord alone, and waiting in silence, are key features of the psalm. The Psalm is broken into three stanzas, with two ending with Selah.
Psalm 62 may contain a chiasm, which is a literary device intended to draw the reader’s attention to key statements for emphasis. A basic chiasm takes the form of A-B-C-B-A, which means the first and fifth sections share a parallel thought, as do the second and fourth sections, with the emphasis on the middle section.
A Have confidence in God (Psa 62:1-2)
B Corrupt persons cannot be trusted (Psa 62:3-4)
C God alone saves (Psa 62:5-8)
B Corrupt persons cannot be trusted (Psa 62:9-10)
A Have confidence in God (Psa 62:11-12)
If Psalm 62 contains a chiasm, then verses 5-8 serve as the main point of the Psalm, in which David directs his mind, as well as the minds of others, to the truth that God alone saves.
Superscription – Psalm 62:1a
Psalm 62:1a provides the introduction, “For the choir director; according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David” (Psa 62:1a). The introduction is similar to other Psalms (Psa 39:1; 77:1). According to Earl Radmacher, “Jeduthun in the superscription was the chief of one of the choirs in the temple (1 Chr 9:16) whose descendants founded a temple choir (1 Chr. 16:41-42).” The historical background of the psalm is not known. From the superscription we know it was written by David.
David opens his psalm, saying, “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation” (Psa 62:1b). Here, David sets the tone for the rest of the psalm, in which he seeks to maintain his focus on the Lord alone as the One who is able to save him from his troubles. Scripturally, believers are virtuous by choice and never by chance. Here, David speaks of his soul’s disposition, that he waits in silence (דּוּמִיָּה dumiyyah), which here denotes quietness, rest, repose, as he waits patiently for the Lord to act (cf., Psa 37:7; Lam 3:25-26). Such waiting on the Lord is a discipline of the godly. Several times throughout this Psalm, David repeats the use of the word only (אַךְ ak), which appears as a restrictive particle to show his complete reliance upon God. David states, “My soul waits in silence for God only” (Psa 62:1), “He only is my rock and my salvation” (Psa 62:2), “My soul, wait in silence for God only” (Psa 62:5), “He only is my rock and my salvation” (Psa 62:6). David once uses the word negatively, saying, “Men of low degree are only vanity” (Psa 62:9), which means they are not to be trusted.
David continues, saying, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psa 62:2). David’s confidence in God produced stability in the face of adversity, which meant he would not be greatly shaken (מוֹט mot). Here, David’s mental and emotional state is secure, because God is his rock, deliverer, and stronghold. According to Tremper Longman, “While circumstances conspire to upset his life and fill him with anxiety (see vv. 3–4), he relaxes in his relationship with God. He knows that the solution to his troubles comes from God who is his salvation. Through his use of metaphors of protection, he reveals his belief that God will not let those who assault him overwhelm him.”
David briefly turns his focus to his attackers, saying, “How long will you assail a man, that you may murder him, all of you, like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence?” (Psa 62:3). The question of how long a trial may last is often upon the lips of psalmists (Psa 13:1-2; 35:17; 74:10; 79:5; 89:46; 94:3). The phrase also indicates David has been dealing with this stressful situation for a while. David speaks of being assailed by another. To be assailed (הוּת huth), according to Allen Ross, “could be from a verb ‘to shout’ (הוּת), meaning to rush against him with shouts, or from a verb ‘to speak continuously’ (הָתַת), meaning to overwhelm with reproaches.” David is amazed at the persistence of his enemies and that they keep coming at him with relentless attacks in an effort to wear him down. David perceives his assailants as wanting to “murder him.” The Hebrew רָצַח ratsach, according to HALOT, means “to kill, murder, strike down, [or] slay.” However, Ross notes, “the verb may have more of its basic meaning of ‘break down’ or ‘throw down,’ especially with the images to follow. It is clear that they were all trying to destroy him.” The phrase “like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence”, could refer to David’s enemies, or David himself. The NET Bible translates it as referring to David’s enemies, saying, “All of you are murderers, as dangerous as a leaning wall or an unstable fence” (Psa 62:3). However, it seems preferrable to understand the phrase as pertaining to David who sees himself as inherently weak, unstable, and ready to fall if pushed hard enough. There is no resource within David to sustain him, and he knows it; therefore, he wisely looks to God for help.
David continues to describe his attackers, saying, “They have counseled only to thrust him down from his high position; they delight in falsehood; they bless with their mouth, but inwardly they curse. Selah” (Psa 62:4). In the previous verse (62:3), the evil, who like to feel powerful, are drawn to weakness in others in order to destroy them. However, in Psalm 62:4, they are pictured as seeking to thrust down the person who holds a high office. Kidner notes, “Evil, being ruthlessly competitive, is attracted to weakness, to give a last push to whatever is leaning or tottering. It is also attracted to strength, the target of its envy and duplicity.” David recognizes there are evil persons who seek his office, “to thrust him down from his high position” in order to elevate themselves to a place of power. Their tactics are to employ falsehood (כָּזָב kazab), which means their words are deceptive as they twist reality to their advantage. Deception, in its cruelest form, is a method of psychological warfare that seeks to manipulate another person’s perception of reality in order to distract, discourage, and defeat a person by destroying their confidence. Such tactics break a person down and destroy their will to fight. These evil persons are dishonest when face to face with the king, in that “they bless with their mouth, but inwardly they curse” (Psa 62:4b). Allen Ross notes, “The idea of the verb ‘curse’ is to ‘treat lightly’ or ‘despise.’ The blessing may have taken the form of public praise, or court flattery, but it was false. They had pretended to honor him, but when they thought it was safe to do so, they threw off the pretense and set about to bring him down.”
David, being aware of his enemies and the tactics they employ, gives wise counsel to his own soul, saying, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him” (Psa 62:5). Here, David engages in a form of self-talk, in which he counsels himself to wait for God alone. In this way, David was his own biblical counselor as he applied God’s Word to his situation in order to produce stability in his soul. The reason for such self-counsel is that he, like all believers, wrestle with maintaining his faith in the Lord, as his thoughts alternate between his hypocritical enemies who traffic in lies and seek to undermine him, and God who is his salvation and strength. Robert Hubbard states, “We admire the confidence and security reflected in this psalm, but we should not imagine they come easily or naturally. In fact, this psalm of trust admits that these qualities do not come without effort.” The phrase “wait in silence” translates the Hebrew verb דָּמַם damam, which means “to be motionless, to stand still…to keep quiet.” The verb is a Qal imperative, which means David is commanding his own soul to “wait in silence for God only.” According to Ross, “The human spirit cannot always remain constant in its confidence. Perhaps the more he reflected on the threat from his deceptive enemies the more he sensed the need to exhort himself to hold fast to his silent confidence in God “alone” (אַךְ). This is the positive way of saying “fret not.” It is a reminder of the object of his faith, and the need to remain calm in that faith.”
When David shifted his focus from God to the problem, it appears his soul became agitated, which required him to refocus back on the Lord, in order that he might be calm again. In principle, the stability of the believer is predicated on the biblical content and continuity of his thinking. Biblical self-talk is a feature of growing believers who, by discipline of mind and will, place their faith in the Lord. Adversity in this world is inevitable, but how we handle it is optional. When adversity arises because of the sinful actions of others, we must not allow our thoughts to run away into fear or frustration (which is the default mechanism of our lower nature). Rather, we must take our thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5), arresting and isolating those aberrant beliefs that cause unwarranted stress in the soul. It is a benefit to us that we discipline our minds to focus on God and His Word, which bring about cognitive and emotional stability (Isa 26:3; Col 3:1-2). In the growing believer, this takes years to master, but the end result is that our faith will be strengthened, and we will enjoy greater stability in our souls; a stability that honors the Lord, strengthens us, and edifies others.
Keeping his focus on the Lord, David states, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken” (Psa 62:6). Because God is David’s rock, salvation, and stronghold, the result is inner stability. The benefit of having God as his rock and salvation meant David would “not be shaken” ( לֹ֣א אֶמּֽוֹט- lo emmot). The adversity of David’s situation does not overwhelm his soul. David continues, saying, “On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God” (Psa 62:7). David personalizes his trust in God as the One who saves and provides security in the midst of adversity. When David speaks of “my glory” (כָּבוֹד kabod), he’s likely speaking of his reputation and honor as the king of Israel, a position the Lord Himself assigned to David. Having spoken of his personal trust in God, David then encourages his audience to do the same, saying, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psa 62:8). David’s wise counsel to others is to “Trust in Him at all times” (Psa 62:8a). To have trust (בָּטַח batach – Qal imperative) “expresses that sense of well-being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence.” We trust what we believe is beneficial to us. Of course, there is no greater trust one can have than in the Lord Himself, and this trust should be in Him at all times and in all situations.
In contrast to God who is able to save those who trust in Him, David advises his audience not to place ultimate confidence in people or riches. David says, “Men of low degree are only vanity and men of rank are a lie; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than breath” (Psa 62:9). David speaks of men of low degree ( בְּנֵי אָדָםbene adam) as being vanity (הֶבֶל hebel), meaning they have no substance of character and are transitory. They are a puff of wind. And men of rank (בְּנֵי אִישׁ bene ish) are a lie (כָּזָב kazab), meaning they are an illusion (CSB) and not what they appear to be. Neither classes of men have the lasting qualities that make for a stable relationship. Though David viewed himself as a weak and tottering wall, he saw his enemies, whether low or high, as nothing at all. Wiersbe notes, “David’s enemies had acquired their power and wealth by oppressing and abusing others, and David warned his own people not to adopt their philosophy of life. How tragic when God’s people today put their trust in their wealth, positions, and human abilities and not in the God who alone can give blessing.”
David says of his enemies, “in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than breath” (Psa 62:9b). The balances (מאֹזֵן mozen), in this statement, seem to refer to the scales of divine judgment. That is, when these people are viewed from the divine perspective, there is nothing to them but the optic of weighty importance. According to Ross, “People think they are important, but in fact they are nothing more than a wisp of air, insignificant and worthless—and so they are unrighteous, of no value to God.” In contrast, the righteous who know and walk with the Lord have substance of character, which might explain David’s previous use of the term glory (כָּבוֹד kabod), which in its basic meaning refers to something that is heavy.
David continues his instruction, saying, “Do not trust in oppression and do not vainly hope in robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart upon them” (Psa 62:10). Power feeds pride in those who operate by human viewpoint. Having nothing more than themselves and their wealth to sustain them, the arrogant seek to retain their power by oppression, which is a common feature of tyrants. David warns his hearers not to trust in oppression or riches, saying, “do not set your heart upon them” (Psa 62:10b). David is instructing his audience to regulate their own hearts (לֵב leb), and not to direct their thoughts and affections on oppression or riches as a source of personal security. Oppression speaks of the desire to overpower others by means of force or deceitful manipulation, and this because the oppressor feels threatened by others.
David closes out his psalm, saying, “Once God has spoken; twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God; 12 and lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, for You recompense a man according to his work” (Psa 62:11-12). David reports that “Once God has spoken” to him, which means that what follows is divine perspective. David also says, “twice I have heard this”, which, according to Radmacher, “is a convention of wisdom literature to use a number and then raise it by one (Prov 30:11–33). The point here is that David has heard the message with certainty.” The two things David understood was “that power belongs to God; and lovingkindness is Yours” (Psa 62:11b-12a). Though people may hold positions of power, whether assumed or delegated (cf. John 19:10-11), God alone holds absolute power (עֹז oz). But, unlike people, God’s power is never arbitrary or cruel, for it is tied to His lovingkindness (חֶסֶד chesed). God, who delivers His righteous ones, does so because of His loyal love for them. The God of power is also the God of love. Power unchecked can be unpredictable and harmful; but when regulated by love, it is safe and beneficial.
In the final clause, David stated of God, “You recompense a man according to his work” (Psa 62:12b). Under the Mosaic Law, God promised to reward His people when they lived in righteous conformity with His directives (see Deut 28:1-14). Israelites who abided by God’s directives and lived righteously could, with absolute confidence, trust that God would reward them as He’d promised, for “God is not a man, that He should lie” (Num 23:19a), and “the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind” (1 Sam 15:29a; cf., Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). Though a believer might experience adversity as David was experiencing, in the end, God would prove to be his Savior and would reward him for his faithfulness.
In the dispensation of the Church age, though God may sovereignly choose to bless some materially (1 Tim 6:17-19), generally we are not promised material riches in this life. Rather, we are promised that when we live righteously, we can expect unjust persecution (2 Tim 3:12; cf., Phil 1:29; 1 Pet 3:14). Of course, God being just, will reward us as His children, but our reward is promised in the afterlife, when we stand before His judgment seat to be compensated for the life we’ve lived on earth (1 Cor 3:10-15). Ours is a future reward.
Psalm 62 is a picture of confidence in the Lord as David faces a threatening situation and counsels his own soul to operate and abide by divine viewpoint. David seeks to calm his soul with divine viewpoint rather than let it focus on unsettling circumstances which create anxiety. David knows that God is powerful and good and will provide what he needs as his Rock, Refuge, and Savior. In this way, David is able to apply God’s Word to his situation and stabilize his own soul in the midst of adversity. David knows he’s in a covenant relationship with God and that if he follows the Lord’s directives and lives righteously, that God will reward him as He promised (Deut 28:1-14). Christians living in the dispensation of the Church age rest in divine promises that God is with us (Heb 13:5-6), for us (Rom 8:31), and will guard our hearts and minds when we live by faith (Phil 4:4-7).
I think it was Martin Luther who popularized the phrase, God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. It’s a cleaver phrase that communicates the notion that God works through imperfect people to accomplish His perfect will. Though I believe God calls us to be transformed in our thoughts, words, and actions (Rom 12:1-2), and to strive for spiritual and moral purity (1 Pet 1:15-16), the reality is that He does not wait for us to be perfect before He uses us. In fact, if God were to say to His children, “Let those who are without sin serve me”, there would be none. Though Christians are not perfect, we can be humble and obedient, and when willing to do God’s will, He can and will work through us as conduits of truth, grace, and love. Below are a few examples of God working through imperfect believers whom He used to advance His truth and plans in the world.
Abraham was called into a special relationship with God (Gen 12:1-3), but twice lied and jeopardized the safety of his wife, Sarah (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-11). Yet, God worked through Abraham to produce the nation of Israel, who in turn gave us the Scriptures, and Jesus, the Messiah (Matt 1:1, 17).
Tamar played a prostitute in order to sleep with Judah, her father-in-law (Gen 38:13-14), and Judah had sex with her, thinking she was a harlot (Gen 38:15-18). In spite of their conniving, God worked through their offspring to bring forth Messiah, the Savior of the world (Matt 1:3).
Moses killed a man (Ex 2:11-14), argued with the Lord when called into ministry (Ex 4:1-13), which angered the Lord (Ex 4:14), and later disobeyed the Lord’s directive (Num 20:6-11), and suffered divine discipline (Num 20:12). On one occasion, Moses became so overwhelmed with the pressures of leadership, that he asked God to kill him (Num 11:11-15). Yet, God worked through this imperfect man to lead His people out of Egyptian captivity (Ex 3:9-10; Hos 12:13), and to write holy Scripture (the Pentateuch).
Samson was a man with problems, as he’d slept with several women (Judg 16:1, 4), and lied to his parents (Judg 14:5-9). Yet, three times we are told “The Spirit of the LORD came upon him” (Judg 14:6, 19; 15:14), and that God worked through Samson as “he judged Israel twenty years ” (Judg 16:31).
King David had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-17), followed Satan’s temptation and “sinned greatly” by taking an unauthorized census in Israel (1 Ch 21:1, 8), and even practiced the sin of polygamy contrary to the Law of Moses (Deut 17:17). Yet, God used David to lead the nation of Israel, write Scripture (he wrote 73 psalms), and receive the honor of being called a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14; cf. Acts 13:22).
Solomon practiced polygamy and “had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines” (1 Ki 11:3a), and this in spite of God’s clear directive for the king of Israel, that he “shall not multiply wives for himself” (Deut 17:17). Yet, in spite of Solomon’s failures, God worked through him to build the Jewish temple (1 Ki 5:5; 6:37-38), and write Scripture (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon).
Jonah had some problems with God’s grace and mercy being extended to others whom he felt deserved the Lord’s wrath (Jonah 4:1-2). Jonah even disobeyed the Lord and fled His calling (Jonah 1:1-3). Yet, the Lord humbled His prophet (Jonah 1:4-2:10), who eventually obeyed and preached His Word to the Ninevites (Jonah 3:1-4). The result was that many thousands “believed in God” (Jonah 3:5), turned from their sinful ways (Jonah 3:6-9), and were spared from the Lord’s wrath (Jonah 3:10).
Elijah, after a great spiritual victory over the false prophets of Baal (1 Ki 18:1-40), became mentally overwhelmed when threatened by Jezebel (1 Ki 19:1-2), and became “afraid and arose and ran for his life” (1 Ki 19:3). Elijah ran into the wilderness and “requested for himself that he might die” (1 Ki 19:4). But God extended grace, fed him, gave him time to rest (1 Ki 19:5-7), and waited for Elijah to complete a forty-day journey to Mount Horeb (1 Ki 19:8). Afterward, God recommissioned His prophet to return to Israel and appoint his successor (1 Ki 19:15-21).
Jeremiah was a prophet of the Lord who, during his time of ministry, felt overwhelmed by the pressures he’d been facing (Jer 20:8-10), and became severely depressed and entertained suicidal ideations (Jer 20:15-18). Yet, God worked through Jeremiah to communicate His Word to His people (Jer 1:4-10), which he faithfully executed for decades, in spite of the negative volition of others (Jer 25:3).
The apostles James and John—also known as the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17)—suggested to Jesus that a Samaritan city be destroyed by fire (Luke 9:51-54), but Jesus “turned and rebuked them” for their wrong attitude (Luke 9:55). Yet, these men were granted permission to preach Jesus’ message to others (Matt 10:1-8), and to see the glorified Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-2).
Peter was a man who seemed impulsive at times and said some really dumb things. On one occasion, Peter rebuked the Lord and tried to stop Jesus from going to the cross (Matt 16:21-23), and later publicly denied Him three times (Matt 26:69-75), and even “began to curse and swear”, telling others, “I do not know the man” (Matt 26:74). Yet, God showed him grace and used this imperfect person over and over to lead others to faith in Christ (read Acts 2-12) and to help Christians advance to spiritual maturity (1 & 2 Peter).
The apostle John, while receiving divine revelation, was twice rebuked for worshipping an angel (Rev 19:10; 22:8-9); yet, he was used by the Lord to write Scripture (the Gospel of John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation), and to share the gospel of grace that others might be saved (John 20:30-31).
When I think about my own sinfulness and shortcomings (which are constantly before me), I’m daily reminded of God’s grace towards me, and that He continues to use crooked sticks to draw straight lines. I think there’s merit to the Latin phrase, simul iustus et peccator, which translated means we are simultaneously just and sinners. Both are true. Always. We are justified in the sight of God because Christ has borne our sin on the cross (Mark 10:45), judicially forgiven us all our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 10:10-14), gifted us with His own righteousness (Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9), and eternal life (John 10:28). God calls us to leave behind the values and practices of this world (Rom 12:1-2), and to advance to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1; 1 Pet 2:2), that we might live holy lives (1 Pet 1:15-16). Yet, we still possess a sinful nature (Rom 7:18-23; 1 John 1:8), commit acts of sin (Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:10), and need to confess our sin daily to the Lord (1 John 1:9). As a Christian, I know it’s never God’s will that we sin, but when we sin, it’s always His will that we handle it in a biblical manner by honest confession, in order that we might be forgiven (in a familial sense) and restored to fellowship with Him. This is why confession is so important to the growing Christian; for “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). Once we’re restored to fellowship, it’s God’s will that we “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:10), and to “walk as children of Light” (Eph 5:8).
The Lord is able to use believers who are humble (1 Pet 5:5), who study His Word (Psa 1:2; 2 Tim 2:15, 1 Pet 2:2), and live by faith (Heb 10:38; Jam 1:22). Christians who advance spiritually will become more and more righteous, which means we will sin less and less; however, it never means we will attain sinless perfection in this lifetime. Jesus, in His humanity, was the only Person to ever live a spiritually and morally perfect life in this world, as Scripture reveals He “committed no sin” (1 Pet 2:22), “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), and in whom “there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). Apart from the Lord Jesus, there are no perfect people in this world. All humanity, even the saved, are not perfectly righteous in character and conduct, nor ever will be in this life, “for there is no one who does not sin” (1 Ki 8:46), and “there is not a righteous person on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl 7:20; cf. Prov 20:9; Rom 3:23; 1 John 1:8, 10). We don’t have to be perfect to be used by the Lord. However, when called in the moment, we need to be humble and obedient to do His will.
 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).
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Tim 2:11-13)
Occasionally, a student of Scripture will encounter a passage that is challenging to interpret. An understanding of the author’s language, as well as his historical and cultural background, can shed light on his writings. And maintaining a consistent literal approach to the text is always best. This means preferring a plain reading of Scripture, which protects the reader from fanciful interpretations. According to Charles Ryrie, “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.” David Cooper writes, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.”
2 Timothy 2:11-13 – A Difficult Passage
In 2 Timothy 2:11-13, Paul provided Timothy a short theological statement that seems to reflect a doctrinal creed in the early church. The words may have been set to music as a hymn. Paul’s statement can be broken into four parts, each beginning with a conditional clause (εἰ). The four parts are: “if we died with Him”, “if we endure”, “if we deny Him”, and “if we are faithless.” Paul introduces these four parts with the phrase, It is a trustworthy statement (πιστὸς ὁ λόγος). The phrase is common to Paul, as he employs the exact wording elsewhere (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; Tit 3:8). The phrase is intended to emphasize the trustworthiness of what follows. The NASB changes the typeset in verses 11-13 to show the saying is poetic or hymnic in nature. According to Thomas Constable, “It may have been part of a baptismal ceremony, a hymn, or a catechism. It consists of four couplets: two positive and two negative. Each couplet represents a condition that Paul assumed to be real, not hypothetical, since each is a first-class condition in the Greek text.” Paul’s four couplets are as follows:
First, “For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him” (2 Tim 2:11b). This phrase parallels Paul’s words in Romans, where he states, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rom 6:8; cf. Col 3:3). The phrase, For if we died with Him (εἰ γὰρ συναπεθάνομεν) refers to our being united with Christ in His death on the cross. In a very real sense, we were with Jesus on the cross. His death is our death. Death means separation. Spiritual death is separation from God in time. The Second Death is separation from God in eternity (Rev 20:14). Those who died with Christ will never experience the Second Death in the Lake of Fire. As Christians, we died with Christ when He died on the cross (Rom 6:8-11). He bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Though Christ’s death is sufficient for all (Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2), it is effective to those who believe in Him as Savior (John 3:16; Eph 1:7). The blessed benefit for us who have trusted Christ as Savior is that we will live with Him (καὶ συζήσομεν). The phrase, we will live, translates the future active indicative of συζάω suzao. The future tense points to a reality yet to come for the Christian, and the indicative mood is declarative for a statement of fact. This seems to refer to the future resurrection life that is ours in Christ (1 Cor 15:20-23).
Second, “if we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12a). The phrase if we endure (εἰ ὑπομένομεν) refers to phase two of the Christian life; that is, our sanctification, in which we advance to spiritual maturity, which glorifies God and edifies others. Biblically, there are three aspects to our salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Put differently, it means we are saved from the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 8:1, 34; Gal 2:16), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and ultimately from the presence of sin (1 John 3:2-3, 5; cf. Rom 8:17). The first and third aspects of our salvation are entirely the work of God. However, our sanctification requires us to exercise our minds and wills in conformity with the mind and will of God. As Christians, we must endure the hardships of life and advance spiritually. To endure (ὑπομένω hupomeno), according to BDAG, means “to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition, stand one’s ground, hold out, endure.” It means we don’t back down or give up in the face of pressure or opposition. This requires reinforcement in one’s soul, a doctrinal fortress in one’s thinking that enables the Christian to remain strong when circumstances get tough. This statement was intended to encourage Timothy to face difficulties with the certainty that there will be a future reward for obedience; namely, the blessing and honor that we will also reign with Him (καὶ συμβασιλεύσομεν).
There are two major aspects of God’s reign over His creation. First is His ongoing universal rule. According to Scripture, “God is the King of all the earth…He reigns over the nations; He sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47:7-8). The Bible reveals “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a), and the “LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b). God is supreme over all His creation, for “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6). It is God “who changes the times and the seasons; 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), and “He 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).
Second is the future time when God will rule through His Son, Jesus, who is the ideal theocratic administrator over His creation. God promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of this world, saying, “I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psa 2:8). In the future, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan 2:44). This refers to the future earthly kingdom of Christ, when Jesus will be given “dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14). The establishment of Christ’s earthly kingdom will occur after the seven-year Tribulation; at which time it will be said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15; cf. 20:4). Jesus’ kingdom and reign is prophesied all throughout Scripture and will come to pass, because God will make it happen (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 35-37; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Luke 1:31-33; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 11:15; 20:4-6). And, for believers who are obedient-to-the-Word in this life, we will reign with Christ in the eschaton (Rev 5:10; 20:4-6). Our reigning with Christ in His millennial kingdom is what Paul is referring to in 2 Timothy 2:12.
Third, “if we deny Him, He also will deny us” (2 Tim 2:12b). To deny (ἀρνέομαι arneomai), according to BDAG, means “to disclaim association with a person or event, deny, repudiate, disown.” Though this word is used of unbelievers in several NT passages (Acts 3:13-14; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 2:22-23), it is also used of born-again Christians who fail to live as they should (1 Tim 5:8). The apostle Peter publicly denied (ἀρνέομαι arneomai) Jesus three times (Matt 26:70-74; John 18:25-27), yet did so as a believer, not an unbeliever. In the context of Paul’s words to Timothy, the phrase if we deny Him (εἰ ἀρνησόμεθα) refers to the potential reality that we, as Christians, may fail in our calling to walk with the Lord and advance to spiritual maturity. That is, we may choose to walk according to the flesh and Satan’s world-system, which is a very real possibility and danger (1 John 2:15). Some Bible teachers, mainly Arminians, take this verse as a prooftext that we can forfeit our salvation. However, John Piper, a Strict-Calvinist, uses this verse to argue that a person who denies Jesus proves he was never saved. Piper states, “The ‘we’ here includes Paul. If Paul denies Christ, Christ will deny him. The salvation of the elect depends on their not denying Christ and on their enduring in faith and obedience.” But is that Paul’s meaning? Is Paul writing about Christian salvation? The Arminian and Calvinist would say “yes.” However, if we look at the statement in its context, we see where Paul had just said, “if we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12a). To change the subject from reigning with Christ—a reward for faithfulness—to salvation, is to switch horses midstream, which breaks the logical flow of Paul’s statement, and is hermeneutically inconsistent. It is better to take this statement as referring to Christian rewards, not as a prooftext that one can lose his salvation, or as evidence he was never saved from the outset. According to Geisler:
There is a better way, though, to understand Paul’s teaching. The immediate context reveals that he is speaking about a denial of reward, not of eternal life [bold mine]. The preceding phrase says, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” Reigning is part of a believer’s reward (cf. Rev 20:6; 22:12), and he has already received eternal life, whether he is rewarded or not (cf. 1 Cor 3:15).
The phrase, He also will deny us (κἀκεῖνος ἀρνήσεται ἡμᾶς), does not mean Jesus reverses our salvation with the result that we will be cast into the Lake of Fire with unbelievers, or as proof that we were never saved. Paul is not talking about salvation. He’s talking about rewards. It means Jesus will deny us the right to reign with Him in His millennial kingdom. Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). It is a serious and shameful thing if a Christian succumbs to pressures of a fallen world and denies Christ in this life. Such a one may even be subject to divine discipline (Heb 12:5-11), and forfeit rewards in the future (1 Cor 3:15). The apostle John wrote, “Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8). Rewards are the blessings promised to Christians who, by faith, overcome trials (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12; 21).
Fourth, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13). Some Bible scholars believe Paul shifts here to talk about unbelievers who are faithless (i.e., MacDonald, Farstad). However, Paul’s use of we—which would include himself and Timothy—rules out that possibility. To be faithless (ἀπιστέω apisteo), according to BDAG, refers to “one lacking a sense of obligation (of disloyal soldiers) of relation of humans to God or Jesus.” It speaks of the potential disloyalty that Christians can display when they turn away from the Lord and fail to think and walk as they should. The active voice means the Christian produces the action of being unfaithful to the Lord. The present tense implies ongoing action, which means this is not the occasional failure, but continuing failure. The action means the Christian fails in regard to his sanctification, or life as a disciple.
Though Christians belong to the kingdom of Christ (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13), it is possible for a believer to live carnally (1 Cor 3:1-3) and help Satan advance his agenda by loving his world-system (Jam 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Christians who abandon their walk with the Lord are in real danger of divine discipline if they choose a path of faithlessness (Heb 12:5-11). Failure to advance spiritually means loss of reward (1 Cor 3:15), not loss of eternal life, which cannot happen (John 10:28; Rom 8:1; 33-39).
The phrase, He remains faithful (ἐκεῖνος πιστὸς μένει), means God honors His Word to reward us for faithfulness, or deny us reward for unfaithfulness. God has integrity and always keeps His Word. If we are faithless, God remains faithful, as Paul stated, for He cannot deny Himself (ἀρνήσασθαι γὰρ ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται). We are not always our best selves, but what God is, He always is, and cannot be otherwise! When God makes a promise, He always keeps His Word. We must realize that “God is not a man, that He should lie” (Num 23:19a), and “the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind” (1 Sam 15:29a), for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf. Tit 1:2). The faithfulness of God is proclaimed elsewhere in Scripture (Deut 7:9; Rom 3:3-4; 1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18; 1 Th 5:24; 2 Th 3:3; Heb 10:23; 13:5). If we can’t trust God at His Word, who can we trust? Failure to trust God at His Word leaves us on a sea of uncertainty that results in great cognitive instability, where fear dominates our souls and steals our confidence and joy. But God is faithful to His Word, and when we’re living by faith, it produces stability within us.
Because we have trusted Christ as our Savior, we are positionally united with Him in His death at the cross and will enjoy a future resurrection in the eternal state; however, not all will receive the same reward. If we learn and live God’s Word and advance to spiritual maturity, we will be rewarded with the right to reign with Jesus in His earthly millennial kingdom. Discipleship can be tough, but God will honor His faithful children in the millennial kingdom and the eternal state. But if we turn to a life of carnality and deny Jesus’ authority over our lives, marginalizing His Word and failing to walk with Him, then He will deny us future rewards, which also includes the reward of reigning with Him. Though we may be unfaithful—and may suffer divine discipline in this life—we are never in fear of losing our salvation, for God promised us eternal life, and He always keeps His Word. But, though we cannot forfeit our salvation, we can forfeit future rewards, which God is faithful to deny us if we fail to advance spiritually. In all this, we can say with Paul, “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:11-13).
Total depravity is the biblical doctrine that sin permeates all aspects of our being—mind, will, and sensibilities. For Strict-Calvinists, total depravity means total inability. That is, lost sinners cannot respond to God at all, as they are spiritually unable (dead) to respond apart from God’s granting life and ability to believe. This leads them to conclude two things. First, God sovereignly acts by Himself to regenerate the spiritually dead and make them spiritually alive (monergism). Second, God gives the newly regenerate a special kind of faith whereby they can and will trust in Christ as Savior. According to Wayne Grudem, regeneration is “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.” This argument of a special kind of faith as a gift is largely taken from Ephesians 2:8-9. According to John MacArthur, “Our response in salvation is faith, but even that is not of ourselves [but is] the gift of God. Faith is nothing that we do in our own power or by our own resources…Paul intends to emphasize that even faith is not from us apart from God’s giving it.” The result of these divine actions in God’s elect means they will produce good works and will persevere in those works all their life until they die. John MacArthur states, “The same power that created us in Christ Jesus empowers us to do the good works for which He has redeemed us. These are the verifiers of true salvation.” Thus, good works from regeneration to the end of one’s life are the proof of salvation. Failure to produce ongoing good works until the end of one’s life is offered as proof he was never saved (Matt 7:21). Others who hold this view include notable scholars such as B.B. Warfield, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, John Frame, and J.I. Packer.
However, the Biblicist takes a different view. He understands that total depravity means total unworthiness, not total inability to respond in faith to God’s offer of salvation. He sees regeneration as entirely the work of God in saving lost sinners who cannot save themselves (Rom 5:6-10). The sinner brings nothing of worth to salvation, but receives all that God has to offer by grace. Regeneration follows faith in Christ. John Walvoord states, “Regeneration is wholly of God. No possible human effort however noble can supply eternal life.” According to Lewis Sperry Chafer, regeneration refers to “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.” Paul Enns states, “Succinctly stated, to regenerate means ‘to impart life.’ Regeneration is the act whereby God imparts life to the one who believes.” Regeneration occurs in the one who believes in Christ as Savior. According to Charles Ryrie, “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).” The Biblicist believes there is only one kind of faith, and that only those who place their faith in Christ will be saved. Faith does not save. Christ saves. The Strict-Calvinist believes there are two kinds of faith, one that is common to all, and another that is special and imparted only to God’s elect.
As a prooftext, Strict-Calvinists often point to Ephesians 2:8-9, which reads, “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). Much of the debate centers around the demonstrative pronoun that (Grk τοῦτο touto). In Greek grammar, “A demonstrative pronoun is a pointer, singling out an object in a special way.” The Strict-Calvinist believes it refers back to its nearest antecedent, which is faith. But this fails to hold weight in Greek, as the demonstrative pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender. In Ephesians 2:8, the demonstrative pronoun that (Grk τοῦτο touto) is neuter gender, whereas the nouns grace (χάρις charis) and faith (πίστις pistis) are feminine, thus showing the two are not necessarily connected. Daniel Wallace states, “On a grammatical level, then, it is doubtful that either ‘faith’ or ‘grace’ is the antecedent of τοῦτο.” Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson, states that “salvation does not have its source (ἐξ ὑμων) in men, but from God. Besides, it is God’s gift (δωρον) and not the result of our work.” According to Arnold Fruchtenbaum, “Never is saving faith the gift. The only passage the proponents of this doctrine go by is Ephesians 2:8-9, [whereby] they have to violate the rules of Greek grammar to claim that saving faith is a gift. Grammatically, that is an impossible interpretation. It is the salvation that is the gift, not the saving faith.” What’s ironic is that John Calvin did NOT believe that faith is a gift. In his commentary on Ephesians, John Calvin said, Paul’s “meaning is, not that faith is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God.” John Calvin understood it properly.
There are numerous passages in the Bible that place faith as the necessary prerequisite to 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 Jesus said, “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. Furthermore, people are condemned, not because God has not made a way for them to be saved, but because of their unwillingness to come to Christ as Savior. The issue is individual choice, not inability. The apostle John said, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Jesus, speaking to unsaved persons, said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus said the Holy Spirit convicts everyone of sin (John 16:8), particularly the sin of unbelief, “because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9). There is only one sin that keeps a person out of heaven, and that is the sin of unbelief; of rejecting Jesus as the only Savior. Apparently unbelievers may resist the Holy Spirit, as Stephen said in his sermon, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51a).
Scripture reveals that “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). This means they must not trust in themselves or any system of good works to save, but must trust in Christ, and Christ alone to save. Faith does not save. Christ saves. Faith is the non-meritorious instrument by which we receive eternal life. The Strict-Calvinist believes Christ died only for the elect (Matt 1:21; John 10:15), and only the elect are savable. The Moderate-Calvinist believes Christ died for everyone (John 3:16; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2); therefore, everyone is savable, though only the elect will believe. Paul said, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Tit 2:11), and that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Peter stated, “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). Like the apostle Paul, I “beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). You can be saved by believing the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:2-4).
The more I understand God’s Word and the further I advance in my walk with the Lord, the more I realize the Christian life is a disciplined life. Discipline is doing what I ought to do, whether I want to do it or not, because it’s right. Christian discipline is living as God wants me to live, as an obedient-to-the-Word believer who walks by faith and not feelings. The proper Christian life glorifies the Lord, edifies others, and creates in me a personal sense of destiny that is connected with the God who called me into service.
Paul, when writing to his young friend, Timothy, says, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). Paul does not deny the benefit of bodily discipline, but, when compared to godly discipline, says it “is only of little profit” (1 Tim 4:8a). Godliness (εὐσέβεια eusebeia) denotes devotion to God and a life that is pleasing to Him. Paul prioritizes godliness, declaring it “is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8b). The word discipline in 1 Timothy 4:7 translates the Greek verb γυμνάζω gumnazo, which we bring into the English as gymnasium. In secular use, the word originally meant “gymnastic exercises in the nude: to exercise naked, train.” It referred to how athletes trained in the ancient world. However, in the New Testament, the word was used figuratively “of mental and spiritual powers: to train, undergo discipline.” The focus is on inward development of mind and character rather than the outward discipline of the body. And the discipline is to be ongoing (present tense), carried out by each believer (active voice), and executed as a directive by the Lord (imperative mood). The training is for godliness. According to Wiersbe, “Paul challenged Timothy to be as devoted to godliness as an athlete is to his sport. We are living and laboring for eternity.” For Paul, godliness does not happen accidentally, but is connected with “the teaching that promotes godliness” (1 Tim 6:3 CSB). It is learned and lived on a daily basis.
The disciplined Christian develops over time, as biblical thinking leads to wise actions, and wise actions develop into godly habits, and godly habits produce godly character. This brings us to the place of spiritual maturity, which is God’s desire for us (Heb 6:1). The writer to the Hebrews references mature believers, saying, “solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb 5:14). Maturity (τέλειος teleios) in this passage denotes one who has attained a level of spiritual growth, which glorifies God, edifies others, and is witnessed in the one who daily learns and lives God’s Word. Concerning maturity, Thomas Constables states, “A person becomes a mature Christian, not only by gaining information, though that is foundational, but by using that information to make decisions that are in harmony with God’s will.” According to Wiersbe, “As we grow in the Word, we learn to use it in daily life. As we apply the Word, we exercise our “spiritual senses” and develop spiritual discernment. It is a characteristic of little children that they lack discernment. A baby will put anything into its mouth. An immature believer will listen to any preacher on the radio or television and not be able to identify whether or not he is true to the Scriptures.”
A baby believer may be spiritual because he is rightly related to the Holy Spirit and operating by God’s Word to the degree he knows it. Because of limited knowledge of God’s Word, he often defaults to human viewpoint in many situations and falls under the control of his sin nature, thus making him a carnal Christian (1 Cor 3:1-4). In contrast, the mature believer has a greater depth of knowledge concerning God’s Word and utilizes it often as the Spirit leads. The word practice (ἕξις hexis) refers to “a repeated activity—practice, doing again and again, doing repeatedly.” The daily practice of learning and living God’s Word will train believers to discern good and evil, which allows them to make good choices. God’s Word is the standard for right thinking and conduct, and learning and living His Word by faith is the key to spiritual advancement.
As a growing Christian I want to be wise in the ways of God and His Word. But this requires commitment and many choices throughout my life. I realize the wise are wise by choice and never by chance. That is, no one is accidentally wise. This is also true for being just, loving, gracious, kind, and merciful, for these and other godly virtues are the product of many good choices over the years. Some of our spiritual disciplines include:
Bible study – “Study to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet 2:2; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 3:18).
Meditation on God’s Word – “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” (Josh 1:8). “His delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2; cf. Phil 4:8-13).
Managing our thoughts – “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isa 26:3). “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5; cf. Col 3:1-2).
Living by faith – “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:5-6). “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). “My righteous one shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38a; cf. 11:6).
Devotion to prayer – “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col 4:2; cf. 1 Th 5:17).
Controlling our speech – “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Prov 17:27). “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; CF. Jam 1:19).
Encouraging others to love and good deeds – “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24).
Committing ourselves to Christian fellowship – “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb 10:25).
Serving others – “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10).
Worshipping God – “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15).
Doing good – “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). “Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:16).
Expressing gratitude – “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).
Living a simple life – “Be on guard that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life” (Luke 21:34a). “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim 2:4).
Making time for rest – “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (Eccl 4:6). Jesus said to His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) (Mark 6:31).
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 226.
 Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Heb 5:14.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 295.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 511.
 The Bible is a special book, as it gives me insights into realities I could never know, except that God has spoken; and what He has spoken has been inscripturated and is available for personal study. Furthermore, I have God the Holy Spirit as my teacher, who helps me to understand biblical truths, and recalls it to my mind when I need it (John 14:26; cf. John 14:16-17; 16:13; 1 Cor 2:10-15). Sometimes the Spirit illumines my mind immediately when I’m reading the Bible. At other times, He works through the agency of gifted teachers He’s placed in my life.
The apostle Paul, during his missionary activities in Derbe and Lystra (Acts 16:1a), met a young man whose name was Timothy. This meeting was according to God’s providence, as the Lord brought these two together to serve in ministry. In the book of Acts we learn that Timothy was “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1b), and that Timothy “was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). That is, Timothy had a good reputation as a growing believer. It appears that Timothy grew up in a home where his mother was a believer, but his father was not. Paul saw Timothy as a valuable asset and wanted him “to go with him” (Acts 16:3) on his missionary travels to help lead others to Christ. Timothy responded positively to God’s call and was used by the Lord.
Timothy was a good disciple and helpful minister to Paul, and this because he was positive to the Lord and walked in His Word. But Timothy’s godly life was no accident. He’d been influenced by his mother and grandmother who helped shape his character. Paul wrote to Timothy, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well…and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15). Timothy’s mother and grandmother had a big influence on his upbringing, which led to his conversion and spiritual growth. The spiritual seeds they’d planted in his young heart sprouted and flourished into a productive spiritual ministry. Later, God used the apostle Paul to help Timothy advance further in his spiritual journey, and Timothy grew to be a blessing to others.
After years of ministry, as Paul approached the end of his life, he wrote two letters to Timothy, to instruct and encourage him further in his walk with the Lord. Paul directed Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Timothy needed to study God’s Word for himself, as it would help advance his knowledge of God and His will. Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). And, as Timothy advanced in ministry, he was to be faithful to “preach the word; to be ready in season and out of season; to reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim 4:2). The godly influence that started with Timothy in his home, grew into a successful life and ministry to others.
I am greatly touched by Timothy’s story. As a young boy growing up in southern California, I was blessed with a godly grandmother who taught me the Scriptures at a young age. She gave me what I needed to be saved and to begin my spiritual journey of service to the Lord and others. For that I am very thankful. Of course, what she’d planted at a young age of eight and nine did not come to life and bear fruit until after I was 21 and had lived like the devil for several years. She died before she got to see the influence she’d had on me. But thank God for my grandmother. By the grace of God, the seeds she’d planted came to life, and now there’s been fruit for over thirty years of Christian ministry. The prodigal son came home.
I realize many of you may not have had such a godly family influence at a young age as Timothy did. That’s fine. God has chosen your specific path of life because it’s part of His master plan for you. Your journey is your own, chosen by the Lord Himself. But if you are a Christian and serving the Lord, then someone somewhere touched you with the gospel of grace and Bible teaching, and those seeds of truth are bearing fruit. And now He calls YOU to be a godly influence on others, whether family, friends, co-workers, or whoever the Lord puts in your path. And as a faithful Christian, you are only responsible for your godly output, not the outcome of response by others. You are to let your light shine for others to see and to plant seeds of truth in a loving way, and God will cause the growth in the lives of those you touch, if the soil of their heart is good.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Prov 3:5-6)
Proverbs 3:5-6 is perhaps one of the best-known passages in all of Scripture. These words written by Solomon are found on many plaques, posters, and paintings that hang on home and office walls. Like any proverb, it encapsulates a big truth in a small phrase. The words are an exhortation to trust in God in everything we do (Prov 3:5-6a), with a promise that He will make our paths straight if we comply (Prov 3:6b). As believers who are called to “walk by faith” (2 Cor 5:7), we are to know God’s Word and rely on it more than our own inadequate understanding. As believers, our walk of faith requires a discipline of mind and will, for fear and pride—our perennial enemies of the heart—can derail our walk if we let them.
Solomon opens his instruction with the word trust, which translates the Hebrew verb בָּטַח batach, which means to “to trust, rely on, [or] put confidence in.” According to John Oswalt, “batach expresses that sense of well-being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence.” And John Kitchen notes, “This ‘trust’ is the sense of security and safety that comes from being under the care of another more competent than ourselves.” God is our provider, and our faith is in Him and His directives and promises. And the Lord is completely reliable, for “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num 23:19). Yes! Of course He will! God has integrity and always keeps His Word, for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18). And God is all-wise, which means He makes no mistakes in His directives. And His love is perfect, which means He always seeks our best interests.
If we turn away from the Lord and trust in mankind (or any created thing), then we place our confidence in something that is, by its very nature, weak and subject to failure. Elsewhere, Solomon wrote, “He who trusts [בָּטַח batach] in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf” (Prov 11:28), and “He who trusts [בָּטַח batach] in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Prov 28:26). And a psalmist penned, “Do not trust [בָּטַח batach] in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psa 146:3). I don’t think these verses are to be taken to mean we never trust in people at all, for practical living requires it. Rather, the idea is that we do not trust in things, self, or others to provide direction or meet needs that only God can provide.
And Solomon’s instruction is that we are to trust in the Lord with all our heart (לֵב leb). The heart represents the inner person and refers to the mind and will. These work together like a hand in a glove. Living in a fallen world, we are faced with tremendous external pressures to act in conformity with Satan’s values, which are promoted in all aspects of society (i.e., government, business, education, entertainment, etc.). Plus, we struggle with internal temptations from our fallen natures which seek to pull us away from the Lord. This is why renewing our minds is so critical for our spiritual life and health (Psalm 1:1-3; Rom 12:1-2), for we cannot live what we do not know, and learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. When our minds are saturated with God’s Word, we have the capacity to operate from divine viewpoint, which directs the will into righteous living. Elsewhere, Solomon said, “He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD” (Prov 16:20).
There is always a temptation to trust only in ourselves and our own understanding; but Solomon says, “do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5b). This statement does not exclude academic learning or suggest in the slightest way that God’s children turn off their brains. In fact, Solomon says, “Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding” (Prov 23:23). Solomon himself was a prolific writer and composed 3,000 proverbs and a 1,005 songs (1 Ki 4:32). He also studied botany, zoology, ornithology, entomology, and ichthyology (1 Ki 4:33). Solomon’s statement (v.5b) means we should subordinate our reasonings to Scripture, so that where human knowledge is inadequate, or in conflict with God’s Word, it yields to divine revelation. Our understanding, at its very best, is but a thimble of knowledge compared to the infinite ocean of God’s wisdom, and we are fools to trust in ourselves in matters where God has spoken and gifted us with divine insights. John Kitchen states:
‘Understanding’ is a word that is generally given a positive spin by Solomon (cf. Prov 1:2; 2:3), but here is seen negatively. Here it is that human wisdom worked up from our natural selves as compared to the divine wisdom that God gives to those who seek Him (cf. Jam 3:15–18). This does not mean to imply that there is nothing to be trusted in ‘common sense,’ but simply that you don’t use it as your sole, or even primary, support in life. Rather, we should bank our all on God and the wisdom of His ways. His ways are above ours (Isa 55:8–9; Rom 11:33–34), and must be chosen when they seem to contradict our earthly, human wisdom.
And in what areas of our lives are we to trust in the Lord? Solomon answers, “In all your ways acknowledge Him” (Prov 3:6a). The word ways translates the Hebrew noun דֶּרֶךְ derek, which commonly refers “to a path worn by constant walking.” Here, the noun is used metaphorically to refer to one’s behavior, lifestyle, or way of life. Trying to capture the essence of the phrase, other translations read, “think about Him in all your ways” (Prov 3:6 CSB), and “in all your ways submit to Him” (Prov 3:6 NIV), and “seek His will in all you do” (Prov 3:6 NLT). God’s ways are much higher and better than our ways (Isa 55:8-9), and the wise look to Him in everything.
The word acknowledge translates the Hebrew verb יָדָע yada, which means to know. But this is not merely an academic knowledge of God’s Word, but the experiential knowledge that one has by applying the truth of Scripture. Living by faith is a two-step process. First, it requires us to know God’s Word, which means studying it carefully and thoroughly on a regular basis (Psa 1:2; 2 Tim 2:15). Second, it means we make choices in the light of His revelation and follow His directives and cling to His promises, being “doers of the word, and not merely hearers” who deceive ourselves (Jam 1:22). To acknowledge the Lord is an intentional act, in which we consciously and purposefully set our minds upon the Lord and insert His Word into everything we think, say, and do. And “the LORD knows the way of the righteous” (Psa 1:6), as we walk with Him in the light of His truth. But this way of living can be risky business as we cast ourselves fully upon the Lord, trusting that His ways are best and that He will keep His promises to us, all in His time and way.
To the one who trusts in the Lord, not relying on human viewpoint, but acknowledging Him in every area of our lives, Solomon then gives the promise that “He will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:6b). Allen Ross points out, “When obedient faith is present, the Lord will guide the believer along life’s paths in spite of difficulties and hindrances. The idea of ‘straight’ (v. 6) contrasts to the crooked and perverse ways of the wicked.” Elsewhere, Solomon tells us the wicked are those “who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; 14 who delight in doing evil and rejoice in the perversity of evil; 15 whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways” (Prov 2:13-15). John Kitchen states:
The reward is more than the promise of simple guidance. It includes the removal of obstacles (Isa 40:3; 45:13) from the path of the wise and the surety of arriving at one’s destination. When you abandon yourself to God in trusting obedience, finding your entire support in Him and striving in every avenue of your life to know Him more intimately, He guarantees that the path before you will be clearer and smoother than otherwise it would have been, and that He will keep you in His will.
Having a straight path does not mean we are exempt from the troubles of this life or that we will never experience injustice or poor health. Jesus epitomized a life of knowing and walking with the Father, yet He suffered great opposition and was rejected by the majority of those who heard Him speak and witnessed His miracles (John 3:19; 12:37). At every moment, we are faced with two paths, one that is marked by truth and righteousness, and one that is marked by falsehoods and evil. For each and every second of your life, I encourage you to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:5-6).
 William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 904.
 John N. Oswalt, “233 בָּטַח,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 101.
 John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2006), 76.
 We see in the book of Jeremiah a contrasting use of בָּטַח batach. In the first situation we see a misplaced trust in mankind, as the Lord said, “Cursed is the man who trusts [בָּטַח batach] in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. 6 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” (Jer 17:5-6). Choices have consequences, and spiritual health is starved in the one who trusts in measly mankind. But in stark contrast, we are told, “Blessed is the man who trusts [בָּטַח batach] in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. 8 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 17:7-8).
 Some would include emotions as part of the inner person. Maybe. I think it’s better to see emotions as responders to thought and action, as they never operate independently of the mind or will. Emotion follows thought and action like a trailer follows a truck. If we think and act as God directs, our emotions will follow and stabilize.
 John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, 76–77.
 Herbert Wolf, “453 דָּרַך,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 196.
 Allen P. Ross, “Proverbs,” 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), 917.
 John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, 77.
On numerous occasions, throughout the Old Testament, we read about “the anger of the Lord” (Ex 4:14; Num 11:10, 33; 12:9; Deut 6:15; 7:4; 11:7; Josh 7:1; 23:16; Judg 2:14, 20; 3:8; 2 Sam 6:7; 24:1; Psa 106: 40; Isa 5:25; Jer 4:8; 12:13; Zeph 2:2). The Lord’s anger is certainly a cause for healthy fear among any who deviate from His will. Earl Radmacher notes, “The idiom for anger in the Old Testament translated literally is ‘the nose burns’ or ‘the nose becomes hot’ (Gen 30:2; Ex 4:14)…The nose is symbolic of anger because an angry person breathes heavily or noisily.” It is true that God displayed His anger among His own people because they repeatedly turned away from Him and pursued sin and idolatry. God, being righteous and holy, naturally gets angry at rebellion and sin, and we should thank Him for it. According to Charles Swindoll, “God is right in being angry at the sin and disobedience of His people who pain and displease Him (Ex 32:10). God’s anger, though fierce (Jer 25:37), is not sinful or evil. It has its source in His holy character, which is rightfully offended by the sinful rebellion of His creatures. God’s anger often results in His chastising (Psa 6:1; Isa 12:1) and punishing His people (2 Sam 6:7; Jer 44:6).” The Bible reveals the Lord “is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day” (Psa 7:11). Knowing this about God, it is good that we fear Him.
However, though God does get angry and righteously judges sin and sinners, we also see a number of Scriptures that tell us He is “slow to anger.” The Lord described Himself to Moses, saying, “The LORD, the LORD God, is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex 34:6). Moses picked up on God’s language and repeated it back to Him in a prayer, saying, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Num 14:18). Based on these qualities in God, Moses prayed for Israel, saying, “Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (Num 14:19). And the Lord heard Moses’ prayer and forgave His people (Num 14:20). Being slow to anger is another way of describing God’s patience toward us.
Others throughout the Old Testament echoed this same language. Nehemiah said, “You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh 9:17). On three occasions, David said, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15), and “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psa 103:8), and “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psa 145:8). Joel said to his people, “Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of calamity” (Joe 2:13), and Jonah said, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). That God is slow to anger could explain why America, with all our sins, has not yet been judged.
But how slow is God to become angry before He judges the sinner? Well, He is as slow as He needs to be, depending on the attitude and actions of people. God’s timing for judgment is always wise, patient, and just. The Lord waited one hundred and twenty years before judging the evil generation of Noah’s day (Gen 6:3). Amazingly, God waited four hundred years before rendering judgment on the wicked Canaanites (Gen 15:16). After four hundred years, the Canaanites had sinned away their day of grace, and their guilt required His judgment (Lev 18:24-30; Deut 9:1-5). For twenty-three years, God spoke to His people through Jeremiah the prophet, but the Judahites refused to listen (Jer 25:3). God gave Nebuchadnezzar twelve months to think about the Lord’s sovereignty before punishing him (Dan 4:29-32). Every sinner of accountable age who dies without Christ, will face eternity in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). For some, this period of grace could be days, months, or years. For others, it could be decades, or even more than a century. In the end, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). Don’t test the Lord’s patience! Trust in Christ as your Savior and don’t be foolish by sinning away your day of grace (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph 2:8-9).
What’s amazing, is that God was quick to forgive and show kindness when people humbled themselves, even in the slightest way. For example, King Ahab was a wicked ruler who reigned over Israel for twenty-two years (1 Ki 16:29), and Ahab “did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him” (1 Ki 16:30). By the end of Ahab’s life, it is written, “Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel” (1 Ki 21:25-26). However, even wicked Ahab, after hearing God’s judgment against him (1 Ki 21:20-24), responded in humility and “tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently” (1 Ki 21:27). And God, because He is quick to show grace and mercy, turned from His anger against Ahab, saying to His prophet Elijah, “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days” (1 Ki 21:29). Even the most wicked, as long as they have breath, may taste the Lord’s goodness if they humble themselves before Him. Even wicked men such as Nero, Domitian, Hitler, Stalin, or Mao Zedong may be in heaven, if they turned to the Lord and believed in Christ before they died. Only God knows.
God has certainly been slow to anger and patient with us, as Peter wrote, “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). The Lord tolerated my nonsense for many years before disciplining and humbling me, for which I am thankful that He was patient and did not destroy me. Now, as His growing child, I keep short accounts of my sin by coming before His “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), and confessing my sin to Him directly. The apostle John, writing to Christians, said, “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). By faith, I trust God at His Word, that when I confess my sin to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive me of that sin, and to cleanse me of all the sins I may have forgotten. And God does this every time! To be faithful (πιστός pistos) means God does the same thing over and over without failure. And God is just (δίκαιος dikaios) to forgive my sin because Christ has already born it on the cross. But if I neglect to confess my sin daily and to deal with it through ongoing spiritual growth, then I may face God’s loving corrective discipline (Heb 12:5-11). I avoid corrective discipline by daily confession and advancing to spiritual maturity by learning and living God’s Word in all aspects of my life (1 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).
Psalm 46 is classified as one of the Psalms of Zion. The others include Psalm 48, 84, 87, and 122. These songs of Zion celebrate Jerusalem as the place where God dwells with His people (i.e., the city of God). Psalm 46 focuses on God as the refuge and strength of His people when they turn to Him in a time of distress. This psalm is very personal. God is declared to be “our refuge and strength” (Psa 46:1b), and “is with us” and “is our refuge” (Psa 46:7, 11). This theme is repeated throughout the psalms where the Lord is the source of His people’s strength (Psa 29:11; 68:35), their refuge (Psa 14:6; 61:3; 62:7-8; 71:7; 73:28; 91:2; 142:5), and their stronghold (Psa 9:9; 18:2; 48:3; 59:9, 16-17). The wise seek Him because they are a people in need (Psa 22:19; 27:9; 40:13; 44:26; 63:7). Psalm 46 is constructed in three parts.
For God’s faithful people, He is their refuge and strength, even though the world around them is chaotic (Psa 46:1-3).
God is among His faithful people and will protect them when the enemy invades (Psa 46:4-7).
God calls His people to witness the defeat of the Gentile nations (Psa 46:8-11).
This Psalm inspired Martin Luther to write his hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
Occasion & Date
The historical background of the psalm is likely God’s deliverance of His people, under the leadership of King Hezekiah, when the Assyrians besieged the city of Jerusalem in 701 BC (2 Ki 18:1—19:37; Isa 36:1—37:38).
The psalm opens with a superscription, which reads, “For the choir director. A Psalm of the sons of Korah, set to Alamoth. A Song” (Psa 46:1a). The sons of Korah are somewhat of a mystery. They are mentioned several times in the psalms (Psa 42:1; 44:1; 45:1; 46:1; 47:1; 48:1; 49:1; 84:1; 85:1; 87:1; 88:1), but not much is said about them. According to Allen Ross, “In the superscription there are a few introductory notes. It was for the sons of Korah, a Levitical group that performed the psalm at times.” The term Alamoth (עַלְמָה) refers to a young girl of marriageable age. According to Peter Craigie, “Alamoth (lit. ‘maidens, young women’) might be the name of the tune or musical setting to which the psalm was sung. More probably, it may indicate a high musical setting, or being sung by soprano voices.”
Psalm 46 was a song of confidence in God, in which the people sang, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psa 46:1b). Here, the psalmist pictures God as a refuge (מַחֲסֶה machaseh), a place where His people can run for protection from the storms of life (cf., Isa 25:4). He also says that God is their strength (עֹז oz), which means He fortifies their souls in troubling times. Because God is omnipresent, He is always near to those who call upon Him and is a help (עֶזְרָה ezrah) in difficult times. Without God’s help, His people would surely be destroyed when the storms of life arise. The word trouble (צָרָה tsarah) means one is experiencing “need, distress, anxiety.” It speaks of the psychological disequilibrium one experiences when threatened by a rising force. The good news is that God is a strong refuge and help during times of calamity, and by faith, His people run to Him for shelter.
Turning to God in turbulent times produces confidence that stabilizes the stressed-out soul. The psalmist states, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah” (Psa 46:2-3). Here, the psalmist pictures a worst-case scenario in which the earth, mountains, and sea change and behave in radically disruptive ways. Though ecological calamities are the natural reading of these verses (and certainly does not exclude them), the later mention of nations (vs 6) and wars (vs 9) tells us he is speaking metaphorically. According to Tremper Longman, “The psalmist utilizes the well-known images of mountains and waters to communicate the most formidable trouble possible. While mountains are images of security and permanence, the waters are forces of chaos. Thus, to envision the mountains being overwhelmed by the waters is a metaphor that points to the ultimate nightmare, or, as we might say today, ‘All hell is breaking loose!’” Adversity in life is inevitable, but stress in the soul is optional, depending how God’s people handle it. If God’s people hold to the theology of the first verse, that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psa 46:1b), the benefit is that they will not fear when everything comes crashing down around them. It’s natural that a believer’s initial response be that of concern; however, if God’s people can quickly adjust their thinking and align it with Him and His Word, it will produce stability in their souls.
Apart from the previous scenario of chaos, the psalmist provides a contrasting picture, saying, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High” (Psa 46:4). The city of God is Jerusalem (Psa 48:1-2; 87:2-3). In the city of God, the water is pictured differently. Rather than being a chaotic force that threatens to destroy, it is pictured as a calm river that makes glad the souls of those near its gentle flow. For ancient Israel, the source of water was the Gihon spring that was underneath the city of Jerusalem, and it was harnessed to flow into pools such as that of Siloam (John 9:7). God’s title of Most High (עֶלְיוֹן Elyon) pictures Him as the Ruler who is above all creation and able to protect those who turn to Him.
Furthermore, God’s people do not need to search far for Him, for “God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (Psa 46:5). The Lord is always with His people, in their midst, and the benefit is that they will not be moved, though all the world around them slips and slides in every imaginable way. It was God, not the city or its walls, that gave His people stability (cf., Zeph 3:15). The phrase, “God will help her when morning dawns”, speaks of a time when the darkness of night—and the troubles associated with it—has passed and a new day dawns.
The psalmist speaks of the trouble they’d been facing, saying, “The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted” (Psa 46:6). The earlier language (Psa 46:3) of the seas roaring (הָמָה hamah) is here applied to the nations which make an uproar (הָמָה hamah). And the picture of the mountains which slip (מוֹט mot) into the sea (Psa 46:2) here describe the kingdoms of men which tottered (מוֹט mot). At the mere raising of God’s voice, the nations, kingdoms, and the earth itself, all melt away when He speaks.
Then comes the first of two refrains. The psalmist states, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah” (Psa 46:7). Here we observe one of God’s titles, the LORD of hosts (Yahweh Sabaoth) which literally means, the LORD of the armies. The picture is that of heaven’s Master, who commands His armies of angels to do His will. Remember, it was God who sent His angel to rescue His people during the Assyrian siege, where it was recorded, “Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead” (2 Ki 19:35). The refrain in Psalm 46:7 focuses attention on the Lord. God is with His people, and He is their stronghold. William VanGemeren states:
The great doctrine of the presence of God, even in the OT, affirms that the Great King has identified himself with his people; therefore they need not fear. God’s people will never fall. They will always be assured of his readiness to help them (v. 5). The help of God “at break of day” (cf. Ex 14:27) suggests that in the darkness of distress the people of God know that the Lord will not let them suffer unduly long (cf. Psa 30:6–7; 90:14). His acts of unfailing love are renewed each morning (cf. Lam 3:22–23).
The psalmist calls for God’s people to set their minds on the Lord, saying, “Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth” (Psa 46:8). Operating from divine viewpoint allows God’s people to see His work in the earth and in their lives. And what events is the psalmist describing? Specifically, that “He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire” (Psa 46:9). That God makes wars to cease, not just in Israel, but “to the end of the earth”, connotes the Messianic age that will come when Jesus returns at His second coming (Rev 19:11-21), putting down rebellion and establishing His kingdom on earth (Rev 20:1-6), which kingdom will be global in nature (Isa 2:4). The reference to the bow and the spear is a synecdoche in which the parts are used to represent the whole (i.e., all the instruments of war). Furthermore, the chariots were the tanks of the ancient world and represented a nation’s military force at its greatest. But these He burns with fire, destroying and rendering them useless.
God, who will bring all wars to an end, says, “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psa 46:10). The word cease translates the Hebrew verb רָפָה raphah, which means to “let alone, do nothing, be quiet.” And the form of the verb is causative (hiphil), which means those who are acting must relax their efforts. But to whom is the psalmist directing the command to cease? According to Allen Ross, the directive primarily speaks to the Gentile nations of the world, who are “exhorted to stop all their tumult and recognize that God is sovereign, and that only his authority and words matter.” Derek Kidner agrees, saying, “the injunction Be still … is not in the first place comfort for the harassed but a rebuke to a restless and turbulent world.” And Tremper Longman states, “In verse 10, the poet quotes God, who asserts his sovereignty not only over Israel, but over all the nations of the earth. He commands that their uproar be silenced and that they all recognize that he is God.” Though God is speaking to the hostile Gentile nations of the world, which are under His sovereign control (Psa 135:6; Dan 2:21; 4:35), the song itself was to be sung by His people, which would instill confidence in God and courage toward the circumstances of life. They were, like all God’s people, to live by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6). The chief end of history will be to God’s glory, for He will make it so. What He promises, He will bring to pass (Isa 46:9-11). His people need only watch and wait for the Lord to act as He promises.
The psalmist closes out his song with the repeated refrain, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah” (Psa 46:11). Here is a refrain to be heard over and over again, for it seats into the hearers consciousness the greatness of God who is with them. God is their stronghold in times of trouble, and by faith they trust Him and His promises and find rest for their souls. God will be exalted in all the earth. His Word declares it. The challenge for the hearers is to live by faith and not feelings, and to look to God more than to themselves or their circumstances.
Psalm 46 is about trusting God despite any difficulties that may arise. Whether in natural disaster or national crisis, God is always a refuge and strength for His people, and in His presence and promises they find rest for their souls. Allen Ross states, “In this psalm the believers are strong, being filled with confidence in the presence of the living God. And today the more that believers focus on the power of God, the presence of God, and the promises of God, the more they will find comfort and confidence to deal with the tragedies and troubles of the world.”
God continues to be a refuge and strength for His people during times of disaster or crisis. Though adversity is inevitable, the stress in our souls is optional. As God’s people, our mental stability is largely predicated on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. When we learn to take in God’s Word on a regular basis, it creates a bank of theological information in our souls that we can draw upon when facing difficult times. But to benefit from God’s promises, we must take our thoughts captive so that His Word flows in the stream of our consciousness without disruption (2 Cor 10:5). If we fail to live by faith, then our knowledge of God and His promises are merely academic, and we forfeit the confidence that can be ours in troubling times. Faith in God and His promises means no fear; at least none that rises to such a level as to overwhelm the soul and create psychological and emotional instability.
Biblically, we know God permits us to be tested by difficulties. It is His will that we be in this hostile world (John 17:15), that we learn His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), live by faith (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 10:38; 11:6), advance to spiritual maturity (1 Cor 14:20; Eph 4:11-13; Heb 6:1), and serve as lights to others (Eph 5:8-10). We also know the nations of the world are currently under Satan’s control (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), who operates by deception (Rev 12:9; 20:3, 8), that he might weaken them (Isa 14:12). And God permits this for a time. But a day is coming when the sovereign Lord of all the earth will silence the nations, quieting their hostilities, and will bring all wars to an end (Isa 2:4). At that time, our glorious King, the Lord Jesus, will execute His righteous reign on earth for a thousand years (Rev 20:4-6), and afterwards, will hand the kingdom over to the Father (1 Cor 15:24). As Christians living in this fallen world, we are to walk by faith, and are constantly “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13). Come Lord Jesus! We are ready for Your reign.
Grace is unmerited favor. It is the kindness one person grants to another who does not deserve it. Grace (χάρις charis) refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, [or] goodwill.” This definition speaks of the attitude of one who is characterized by grace. A gracious act is “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.” Others may not understand or accept what is offered by grace, but this is not for want of attitude and action on the part of the giver, where the benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another and the kindness shown finds its source in the bounty and free-heartedness of the giver. Once grace is received, it can, in turn, lead to gracious acts to others (Matt 5:43-45; Luke 6:32-36). In this way, grace leads to grace.
The Need for Grace
Everyone needs God’s grace, because we are all born in sin. We are sinners in three ways: 1) we are sinners by imputation of Adam’s original sin (Rom 5:12-21), 2) we are sinners by nature (Psa 51:5; Rom 7:19-21; Eph 2:3), and 3) we are sinners by choice (1 Ki 8:46; Rom 3:9-18). Adam’s sin the Garden of Eden is the first and greatest of them all. Because of Adam’s rebellion against God, sin and death entered the human race and spread throughout the universe (Rom 8:20-22). Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom 5:12), for “through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men” (Rom 5:19a), and “by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Jesus] also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all [who believe in Him] will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:21-22). All of Adam’s descendants are born into this world spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), “separate from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), “alienated” from God (Col 1:21), helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies (Rom 5:6-10). From a biblical perspective, we are all born totally depraved. According to Lewis Chafer, “Theologians employ also the phrase total depravity, which does not mean that there is nothing good in any unregenerate person as seen by himself or by other people; it means that there is nothing in fallen man which God can find pleasure in or accept.” Total depravity means we are helpless to save ourselves.
Grace & Judgment
God’s grace does not ignore righteousness or judgment. God is righteous and He must condemn sin. He can either condemn sin in the sinner, or in a substitute. According to Merrill F. Unger, “since God is holy and righteous, and sin is a complete offense to Him, His love or His mercy cannot operate in grace until there is provided a sufficient satisfaction for sin. This satisfaction makes possible the exercise of God’s grace.” Christ is our substitute. He bore the penalty of all our sins and satisfied every righteous demand of the Father, for “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom 3:24-25; 1 John 4:10). God’s grace follows from His judgment. According to Lewis Chafer, “grace is what God may be free to do and indeed what He does accordingly for the lost after Christ has died on behalf of them.” God’s love for sinners moved Him to provide a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is Christ who died in our place. Once we have trusted in Christ for salvation—and trusted in Him alone—God is then free to bestow on us forgiveness and eternal life, as well as numerous other blessings that are beyond our imagination to grasp. For those who reject God’s salvation by grace, they are left to trust in themselves and their own good works to gain entrance into heaven, and this will fail miserably for those who choose this course. In the end, these will be judged by their works, and because those works never measure up to God’s perfect righteousness, they will be cast in the Lake of Fire forever (Rev 20:11-15).
Common Grace & Special Grace
There is a common grace God extends to everyone, whether they are good or evil, and this does not depend on their understanding or attitude toward God or others. God simply extends grace to all, and all receive it. Jesus said of the Father, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). Paul said, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways [in rebellion]; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). In these passages, God’s grace is freely given to all, and this because He is gracious by nature.
However, there is special grace given to those who will welcome it. Special grace refers to those blessings that God freely confers upon those who, in humility, turn to Him a time of need. First, there is saving grace that God provides for the lost sinner who turns to Christ in faith alone (Eph 2:8-9). Second, there is a growing grace for the humble believer who studies and lives God’s Word (2 Pet 3:18). Third, there is a grace God gives—a divine enablement—to help a believer cope with some life stress (2 Cor 12:7-10). Humility and positive volition are necessary requisites for those who would receive God’s special grace, For “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5; cf. Jam 4:6).
God’s grace is never cheap. Our salvation is very costly. Jesus went to the cross and died in our place and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. He is righteous. I am a sinner. He paid my sin debt in full. There’s nothing for me to add to what He accomplished. The sole condition of salvation is to believe in Christ as my Savior. He died for me, was buried, and rose again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4), and we know “that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again” (Rom 6:9). Salvation is not Jesus plus me. It’s Jesus alone. He saves. My contribution to the cross was sin and death, as Jesus took my sin upon Himself and died in my place. Peter wrote, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). We are brought to God solely by the death of Christ. Salvation is never what I do for God; rather, it’s what He’s done for us through the cross of Christ. All of this consistent with the character of God, for He is gracious by nature. Scripture reveals, “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. Jesus is an example of grace, in that He cared for others, healing and feeding many (Matt 4:24; 14:15-21), even to those who refused to show gratitude (Luke 17:12-19). He acted out of His own goodness, for the benefit of others, with a full knowledge the majority would reject Him and abuse His kindness (John 3:19; 12:37).
Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Rom 3:28; 4:1-5; Gal 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; cf. Phil 3:4-9). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35; John 1:1, 14), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17), was always pleasing to the Father (John 8:29), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Isa 53:1-12; Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 John 2:2).
Jesus died once for all sin. And His sacrifice on the cross was a substitutionary death in which He paid the penalty for all our sins. Unlike the Old Testament animal sacrifices “which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11), Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (Heb 10:12). This means there is nothing more to be offered for our salvation, for “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb 10:14). Jesus’ atoning death on the cross was a one and done event. After Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The phrase it is finished translates the Greek word τετέλεσται tetelestai, which is a perfect passive indicative of the Greek verb τελέω teleo, which means “to complete an activity or process, bring to an end, finish, complete.” According to Edwin Blum, “Papyri receipts for taxes have been recovered with the word tetelestai written across them, meaning ‘paid in full.’” It means whatever debt we owed to God has been paid in full, and there’s no further payment required. This is why salvation is never by our good works (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Good works in the life of the Christian should follow salvation (Eph 2:10; Gal 6:9-10), but they are never the condition of it! When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we accept His payment for our sin-debt. He gets all the glory and we get all the benefit. And “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).
In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; 20:30-31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.
Christians are to Model Grace
As Christians, we display common grace to everyone and special grace to believers. Concerning unbelievers, Jesus told His disciples, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). This is done by grace, for the enemy does not deserve the love extended to them. When believers show this kind of gracious love, we are acting like our Father in heaven, for He is unconditionally good to everyone (Matt 5:45). Paul communicated both common and special in his letter to the Galatians where he wrote, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people [common grace], and especially to those who are of the household of the faith [special grace]” (Gal 6:10). And, as Christians, our speech should be characterized by grace. Paul wrote, “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). This means our speech should be biblically attractive to others, especially those who are positive to God.
Why Believers Show No Grace
One would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, those who are shown grace by God would show grace and mercy to others. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. I am amazed at Christians who welcome God’s grace, but show no grace to others. Many are mean-spirited, condescending, harsh, unforgiving, and speak with a critical spirit. This is contrary to the character of God and the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to our sin and unworthiness, the truth of Scripture is, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10). God has not treated us as we deserve. In fact, He treats us much better than we deserve; but again, that’s grace. The Lord is a God who loves, forgives, and shows great compassion toward the undeserving and has done so toward us. Yet some believers refuse to give grace to others, who are themselves undeserving. Jonah, for example, was a prophet of God who became angry when the Lord showed grace to Israel’s enemy, the Ninevites, and withheld judgment when they humbled themselves and repented of their sin (Jonah 3:1-10). Jonah became angry at God’s display of grace, saying, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). The contradiction is that Jonah personally enjoyed God’s grace, but then selfishly wanted God to withhold it from others. I also think of the story Jesus told about a servant who owed a great debt, and when the man could not pay, he pleaded with his master, who felt compassion and graciously forgave his debt (Matt. 18:23-27). However, the man who had received forgiveness from his superior, later refused to forgive another man who owed him a very small amount (Matt. 18:28-30). The man who was shown grace refused to show grace to others, and the Lord called him “wicked” (Matt 18:32). I’ve often pondered why some, who rejoice in God’s grace, refuse to show grace to others. I think there are several reasons.
Ignorance of God and His Word. Some believers fail to understand grace as a characteristic of God (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; Prov 3:34; John 1:14; Eph 1:6; Heb 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet 5:10), and that He directs His people to be gracious and loving to others (Matt 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28; Col 4:6). Grace is not automatic in the Christian life. It must be learned and actively applied. As believers learn about God’s grace, they can then actively share it with others.
A legalistic mindset. Legalism is the belief that one can earn God’s favor through religious practices and good works. This mindset prevents people from experiencing God’s grace because they don’t think they need it. Why would they? Their religious lives and good works lead them to think they’ve earned God’s favor. But this has consequences in relationships with other people. If we earn God’s favor, then naturally we’ll only show favor to those we feel have earned it too.
A judgmental spirit. It seems as though some people come out of the womb with a judge’s gavel in their hand. These stand in the place of God rendering judgment on others according to their own arbitrary standards and expectations. Often this judgmental spirit takes the form of gossip, maligning, and badmouthing others. Such a critical spirit lacks the capacity to show grace because everyone is guilty, and some more than others. In some ways, running others down is a subtle form of self-praise.
Arrogance. Arrogant people don’t show grace. In fact, they lack the capacity because they’re so self-absorbed, consumed with thinking about themselves and their own life, they have no room in their thinking and speech to show grace to others. I’ve heard it said that “arrogant people never see their own faults, only the faults of others,” and I think there’s merit to the statement.
Refusing to forgive. An unforgiving spirit makes it difficult to show grace. Forgiveness means we release someone from an offense or debt they owe us (or a debt we think they owe us). Forgiveness releases them from paying the penalty for their crime (real or imagined). Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), but it means we continue to seek God’s best in their life by prayer and biblical discussion. By refusing to forgive, we end up harboring hatred, and there’s no room for grace in a hate-filled heart.
How do we overcome these obstacles to grace? First, it starts with knowing what the Bible teaches about the gracious character of God. We cannot live what we do not know, and knowledge of God’s character and Word necessarily precedes living His will. We show grace only as we learn and experience it ourselves. Second, we must learn to see everyone from the biblical perspective, as undeserving of God’s grace and love. Then, with eyes open, we choose to love the unlovely and show them grace. We treat them better than they deserve. We seek God’s best in their lives. Third, learn to discipline the mind and will daily to think and act in grace. As we encounter unpleasant people, or those who have hurt us (i.e., family, friends, co-workers, etc.), we can consciously extend grace to them by showing love, kindness and mercy. Fourth, be ready to be hurt. Showing grace can be very difficult because it places us in a vulnerable spot where we may be hurt, sometimes on an ongoing basis. By faith we’re okay with absorbing the pain others inflict, much like our Lord (1 Pet 2:21-24). We know God is with us, to shield and sustain us as we do His will (Psa 18:30; 55:22; Isa 41:10; Phil 4:6-7; Heb 4:16). Since we’ve tasted of the grace of God, let us also be gracious to others.
As Christians living in the dispensation of the church age, we are not under the Mosaic Law as the rule for life (Rom 6:14; Heb 8:13), but are under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). Israelites, living under the Mosaic Law were promised physical blessings if they obeyed the Lord’s directives (Deut 28:1-14), and physical curses if they disobeyed (Deut 28:15-68). For Christians, our blessings from the Lord can be physical (1 Tim 6:17-19), but are primarily spiritual in nature (Eph 1:3). And we are not said to be cursed when we disobey, but we do come under God’s discipline (Heb 12:5-11), and this because ongoing sin impairs our walk with Him and stunts our spiritual growth.
As God’s children, He has equipped us with the knowledge and power to live righteously (2 Tim 3:16-17; Tit 2:11-14; 2 Pet 1:2-3). Daily sin is handled by means of confession directly to the Lord, who always forgives (1 John 1:9). However, unconfessed sin and failure to advance spiritually can bring God’s discipline. He loves us enough not to leave us where we are, and desires that we advance to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1; cf., 1 Cor 14:20; Eph 4:11-13). This means we learn to deal with our sin based on His resources (so that we sin less), and pursue the Christian virtues He desires to see in us.
Hebrews 12:4-11 is a key passage related to God’s discipline in the life of a Christian. In the letter, the writer states, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb 12:4). According to Zane Hodges, “By ‘sin’ the author probably primarily meant that of ‘sinful men’ who opposed them, but doubtless also had their own sin in mind, which they had to resist in order to maintain a steadfast Christian profession.” Biblically, we should personally strive against committing sin; however, the reality is that we do not. Some of us barely struggle at all. Where we break down in our personal efforts, God will work in and around us to help us grow. It is written, “You have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives’” (Heb 12:5-6).
In these verses, the writer uses the Greek word for an adult son (υἱός huios) and not that of a newborn (βρέφος brephos) or young child (παιδίον paidion). According to Warren Wiersbe, “A parent who would repeatedly chasten an infant child would be considered a monster. God deals with us as adult sons because we have been adopted and given an adult standing in His family (see Rom 8:14–18; Gal 4:1–7). The fact that the Father chastens us is proof that we are maturing, and it is the means by which we can mature even more.” The noun (παιδεία paideia) in Hebrews 12:5 refers to the process whereby adult children are groomed for holy living. It is “the act of providing guidance for responsible living, upbringing, training, instruction, [which] is attained by discipline, correction, of the holy discipline of a fatherly God.” The verb (παιδεύω paideuo) in Hebrews 12:6 means “to provide instruction for informed and responsible living, educate…to assist in the development of a person’s ability to make appropriate choices, practice discipline” Wiersbe states:
Chastening is the evidence of the Father’s love. Satan wants us to believe that the difficulties of life are proof that God does not love us, but just the opposite is true. Sometimes God’s chastening is seen in His rebukes from the Word or from circumstances. At other times He shows His love by punishing (“the Lord…scourgeth”) us with some physical suffering. Whatever the experience, we can be sure that His chastening hand is controlled by His loving heart. The Father does not want us to be pampered babies; He wants us to become mature adult sons and daughters who can be trusted with the responsibilities of life.
As Christians, we must learn to expect God to discipline us, as He uses His Word and the hardships of life to mold our characters. God’s discipline is a sign of His love for us, and “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb 12:7). MacDonald states, “when testings come to us, we should realize that God is treating us as sons. In any normal father-son relationship, the father trains his son because he loves him and wants the best for him. God loves us too much to let us develop naturally.”
And God does not discipline the devil’s children, but He does discipline His own; for “if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb 12:8). There may be times when unbelievers get away with certain sins and even seem to enjoy the blessings of this life without hardship (Psa 73:1-12). But this is not so with God’s children, as He desires greater blessings for us, both in time and eternity. The wise gardener never spends her time pruning the neighbor’s weeds, but only her roses, and this because she desires greater beauty from them.
God’s loving discipline is consistent with that of a good father who loves his children and trains them in righteous living. For “we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness” (Heb 12:9-10). God’s desire is to refine us into the godly persons He wants us to be. By means of discipline, He seeks to burn away the dross of weak character and sinful habits and to refine those golden qualities He wants to see in us; the godly qualities that make us better. God always disciplines us for our good, that “we may share in His holiness” (Heb 12:10). According to John Jowett:
The purpose of God’s chastening is not punitive but creative. He chastens “that we may share His holiness.” The phrase “that we may share” has direction in it, and the direction points toward a purified and beautified life. The fire which is kindled is not a bonfire, blazing heedlessly and unguardedly, and consuming precious things; it is a refiner’s fire, and the Refiner sits by it, and He is firmly and patiently and gently bringing holiness out of carelessness and stability out of weakness. God is always creating even when He is using the darker means of grace. He is producing the fruits and flowers of the Spirit. His love is always in quest of lovely things.
As growing believers, we must learn to operate by divine viewpoint and live above the daily grind of life with all its difficulties and hardships. When we operate by divine viewpoint and live by faith, we can be thankful for God’s loving work in our lives which, over time, yields godly fruit in the lives of His humble and obedient children. It is by divine viewpoint that we realize, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (Heb 12:11a). It is the natural proclivity of a person to maximize joy and minimize sorrow, and the Christian is no exception. We must never think the absence of joy means the absence of God, for though we often praise Him in the heights, He is with us in the valleys (Psa 23:4), and it is there His work is most impactful. And when God’s discipline has taken its course, when we “have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11b). It’s always the afterwards that matters most to God, for when the Pruner has done His work in cutting away useless branches that bear no fruit, the benefit is a harvest of right living.
As God’s children, He expects us to live holy and righteous lives that conform to His will (Tit 2:11-14; 1 Pet 1:15-16). When we sin, we can be restored to fellowship with God by means of confession (1 John 1:9). If we fail to confess our sins, and choose a sinful lifestyle, we put ourselves in real danger of knowing God’s discipline. The wise believer accepts God’s correction. The psalmist wrote, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psa 119:71), and later said, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Psa 119:75).
Suffering is sometimes removed after the believer confesses his/her sin to God (1 John 1:9). However, sometimes God leaves the suffering, which means His corrective suffering becomes perfective suffering to help us grow spiritually. In corrective suffering, we are outside God’s will and are governed by our sin nature and human viewpoint, which cannot sustain the believer in times of trouble. But when we confess our sin to God (1 John 1:9), any residual suffering can be dealt with as we are filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), walking by means of the Spirit (Gal 5:16), and living by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6).
The Sin Unto Death
There is a point when a believer can sin and there’s no recovery. When that happens, God will bring His child home. The apostle John wrote, “If anyone sees his [Christian] brother committing a sin that does not bring death, he should ask, and God will give life to him—to those who commit sin that doesn’t bring death. There is sin that brings death. I am not saying he should pray about that” (1 John 5:16 CSB). It happens from time to time that a Christian will see another Christian “committing a sin.” The apostle John distinguished two kinds of sin in the life of the Christian: the “sin that does not bring death” and the “sin that brings death” (1 John 5:16-17). The “sin that does not bring death” is any sin the Christian commits that does not warrant physical death from the hand of God, though it may bring divine discipline if the believer continues in it. John does not specify which sin leads to death and which sin does not, as the punishment is finally determined by the Lord.
It was a terrible sin when Aaron led the Israelites into idol worship (Ex 32:1-6), but God did not call for Aaron’s death. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg 16:1-4), and though he was disciplined, the Lord did not kill him. When David had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah, it was a rotten sin that brought divine discipline. The Lord told David, “I will raise up evil against you from your own household” (2 Sam 12:11); however, the Lord also told David, “you shall not die” (2 Sam 12:13), but then disciplined him with the death of his son (2 Sam 12:14). Later, after David confessed his sin, he was restored to ministry (Psa 51:12-13). It was evil when Solomon worshipped idols (1 Ki 11:1-10), but even here the Lord did not pronounce death for Solomon’s sin. Peter argued with Jesus and tried to prevent Him from going to the cross (Matt 16:21-22), and later publicly denied the Lord three times (Matt 26:34-35; 69-75), but Peter was allowed to live. The apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev 19:10; 22:8-9), but the Lord let him live and used him in ministry. God’s grace and mercy is very prominent throughout the Bible, and He repeatedly gives us ample opportunity to confess our sin and turn back to him. We know from Scripture that “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psa 103:8). Because of this, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10). Thank God for His great grace.
But there are sins a believer can commit that can result in physical death. The sin that leads to death, according to Paul Karleen, “denotes a sin habitually practiced by a believer, leading to God’s removing him from this life, but not taking away his salvation.” It refers to the believer who has become so sinfully rebellious that God disciplines him to point of death and takes him home to heaven. There are references in the Bible where God personally issued the death penalty for one or more of His erring children who had defied His authority. Examples include: Nadab and Abihu, who disobeyed the Lord in their priestly service (Lev 10:1-3), Uzzah, when he touched the Ark (2 Sam 6:1-7), and Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). The Christians at Corinth experienced stages of discipline which included weakness, sickness, and eventual death (1 Cor 11:30). God’s discipline is never to condemn, which cannot happen (Rom 8:1), for “when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor 11:32).
Under the Mosaic Law, God willed that sin be punished, but only some sins were punishable by physical death. Sometimes God Himself executed the punishment (Lev 10:1-3; 2 Sam 6:1-7), and other times it was carried out by Israel’s leaders (Ex 32:19-28). In the New Testament, God does not call Christians to put anyone to death, but has delegated that authority solely to the governments of this world (Rom 13:1-6), or He does it Himself (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16). Personal sins that impact only the believer are differentiated from sins that harm others. Divine discipline is only related to our time on earth, as there will be no need for discipline in the eternal state (Rev 21:3-4).
Many Christians rightfully suffer because of their sinful lifestyle (1 Pet 4:15), and those who persist in their sin will eventually die by the hand of the Lord. Such a death is the pinnacle of suffering in this life, but we should never conclude that it means suffering for eternity. All believers are eternally secure in Christ. At the moment of salvation, all believers are given eternal life and imputed with God’s righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). They are forever kept by the power of God and cannot forfeit their salvation (John 10:29; Rom 8:38-39). This means that when believers die—whatever the cause—they are guaranteed heaven as their eternal home. At the resurrection, the Christian is guaranteed a new body just the like body of our Lord Jesus, which has no sin (Phil 3:20-21).
It is possible for a Christian to sin, and to sin as badly as any unbeliever. However, unlike the unbeliever, God disciplines His own (Heb 12:5-11), and, if necessary, disciplines to the point of death (1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16). This need not be the case. The Christian is called to a life of holiness (1 Pet 1:15-16), and this means learning to walk with God and do His will. Though we still possess a sin nature, Christians know victory because of our union with Christ (Rom 6:6, 11-13), and our walk of faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6). When filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), and walking by means of the Spirit (Gal 5:16), we can learn to embrace trials and even rejoice in them (Rom 5:3-5; Jam 1:2-4).
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 324.
 William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2203.
 John H. Jowett, Life in the Heights: Studies in the Epistles (New York, Bible House Publications, 1925), 260-261.
 Paul S. Karleen, The Handbook to Bible Study: With a Guide to the Scofield Study System (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 359.
 There were certain laws under the Old Testament that brought the death penalty: 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 (Deut 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 (Deut 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex 22:18; Deut 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut 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 (Deut 22:25-27).
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul set forth 15 qualifications for church leaders. In Titus 1:5-9, he presented 17 qualifications. Though similar in most ways, the two lists differ slightly. Each list served either as a general guideline, or was specifically tailored by the apostle Paul for each church-group to whom he was writing. I tend to think Paul was providing a general list of characteristics that one would like to see when considering a person as an elder in the church.
Paul’s list of qualifications for overseer in 1 Timothy 3:1-7
Paul moved from a discussion about authority in the church (1 Tim 2:11-12) to the office and qualities of an overseer in the local assembly. Paul said, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Tim 3:1). The term overseer (ἐπισκοπή episkope) refers to “engagement in oversight, supervision, of leaders of Christian communities.” The term overseer appears to be synonymous with elder (πρεσβύτερος presbuteros) and pastor (ποιμήν poimen), as these terms are used interchangeably in the New Testament (Acts 20:17, 28; Tit 1:5-7; 1 Pet 5:1-3). Beginning his list of qualities for overseers, Paul states:
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Tim 3:2-7)
A closer look at the characteristics of an elder:
Above reproach (ἀνεπίλημπτος anepilemptos) means there must be nothing observable in an overseer’s life that others can take hold of and legitimately criticize him for. This requires sound doctrinal thinking by the church and time to observe the candidate. Sadly, Satan will always have those who oppose a good candidate, and where a genuine flaw cannot be found, one can be manufactured, in order to disqualify an elder candidate. This sort of false attack was certainly true for the Lord Jesus, whom the Pharisees and Sadducees had called “a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matt 11:19). Surely, their estimation should not count.
The husband of one wife (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα), is literally, a one-woman man. This phrase is somewhat ambiguous. Certainly it prohibits polygamy. I take the phrase to mean the overseer must have his affections directed solely to his wife. However, some Bible teachers take the phrase to include men who have been divorced and remarried (Wiersbe). According to Duane Litfin, “The reasoning behind this view is usually that divorce represents a failure in the home, so that even though a man may be forgiven for any sin involved, he remains permanently disqualified for leadership in the congregation (cf. vv. 4–5; 1 Cor 9:24–27).” One must consider this matter carefully, for though the church must select qualified men to serve as overseers, it must also guard against weaponizing these qualifications to rule out good candidates. Wisdom is needed.
Temperate (νηφάλιος nephalios) “pertains to being very moderate in the drinking of an alcoholic beverage, temperate, sober.” The Bible does not condemn drinking alcohol (John 2:1-10; 1 Tim 5:23), but it does prohibit drunkenness (Eph 5:18; cf. 1 Cor 11:21). This is because alcohol can impair a person’s thinking and behavior, which must always be under control. A church elder must always be able to think, and to think doctrinally in order to lead effectively.
Prudent (σώφρων sophron) “pertains to being in control of oneself, thoughtful, self-controlled.” This means he must take his work in the church seriously and be disciplined. Of course, this does not mean he is not friendly or jovial, for one with a dour personality will not last long in church leadership.
Respectable (κόσμιος kosmios) means he must be orderly. Wiersbe states, “The pastor should be organized in his thinking and his living, as well as in his teaching and preaching.” There is a discipline and ordered structure to the life of a church elder.
Hospitable (φιλόξενος philoxenos) means he must love strangers. Elders should be friendly toward unbelievers (Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2), who must feel welcome in the local assembly, but also to Christians who might be traveling from city to city and looking for Christian fellowship (3 John 1:5-8).
Able to teach (διδακτικός didaktikos) means he is skilled to teach others. This requires years of training and practice as a communicator of God’s Word. There’s no place for sloppiness in handling God’s Word, and judgment will fall upon the one who does (Jam 3:1).
Not addicted to wine (πάροινος paroinos) pertains “to one who is given to drinking too much wine.” This touches on the matter of maintaining self-control in one’s thoughts and actions, which is forfeited when intoxicated. The Bible clearly prohibits and condemns drunkenness (Eph 5:18; 1 Cor 11:21).
Not pugnacious (πλήκτης plektes) refers to a person who is “a striker, one apt to strike; a quarrelsome, violent person.” Such behavior is characteristic of a bully, and there’s no place for bullies in the church. Charles Spurgeon used to tell his students, “Don’t go about the world with your fist doubled up for fighting, carrying a theological revolver in the leg of your trousers.”
Gentle (ἐπιεικής epieikes) describes the believer who is “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant.” Where God’s Word is silent, the overseer will make room for others in the church to exercise their preferences.
Peaceable (ἄμαχος amachos) means the Christian leader must “not be disposed to fight; not quarrelsome or contentious.” He is one who, when possible, prefers peace in all situations. Elsewhere, Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom 12:18).
Free from the love of money (ἀφιλάργυρος aphilarguros) means “not fond of money, not covetous, generous.” The one who loves money might be tempted to twist or compromise God’s Word lest it offend a would-be giver. The writer to the Hebrews states, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have” (Heb 13:5a).
A good family manager. Paul states, “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim 3:4-5). This means he must manage his home well, controlling his children—as best he can—while not throwing his dignity out the window. Paul’s rationale is that if he cannot manage his own home life, he will not be able to manage the local church. According to Wiersbe, “This does not mean that a pastor must be married, or, if married, must have children. However, marriage and a family are probably in the will of God for most pastors. If a man’s own children cannot obey and respect him, then his church is not likely to respect and obey his leadership.”
The overseer must a mature believer. Paul states the elder must “not be a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Tim 3:6). According to Litfin, “An overseer must not be a recent convert (neophyton, “neophyte”), lest his rapid advancement to leadership fill him with pride and conceit, and he experience the same kind of judgment that the devil incurred for his pride.”
He must have a good reputation with outsiders. Paul closed this section, saying, “And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim 3:7). Thomas Constable states, “A good reputation with those outside the church is essential so that the elder will not bring reproach on the name of Christ and the church. Paul saw this as falling into disgrace and the snare of the devil.” Warren Wiersbe asks, “Does he pay his bills? Does he have a good reputation among unsaved people with whom he does business? (see Col 4:5 and 1 Th 4:1).”
Biblically, it appears God is the primary Person who selects elders to serve in His church. The Apostle Paul, when speaking with the elders at Ephesus, said, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). William MacDonald states:
Only the Holy Spirit of God can make a man an elder. This is clear in Acts 20:28. The Holy Spirit lays a burden on a man’s heart to take up this important work and also equips him for it. It is impossible to make a man a bishop by voting him into office or by ordaining him. The responsibility of the local assembly is to recognize those men in its midst who have been made elders by God the Holy Spirit (1 Th 5:12-13). It is true that we find the appointment of elders in the book of Titus, but there it was simply a matter of Titus’ singling out those men who had the qualifications of elders. At that time, the Christians did not have the NT in printed form, as we have it today. Therefore, they did not know what the exact qualifications for elders were. So Paul sent Titus to them with this information and instructed Titus to set apart those men who had been raised up by the Spirit of God for the work. The recognition of elders by a local assembly might be quite informal. It often happens that Christians instinctively know who their elders are because they have acquainted themselves with the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
The Bible does not specify how many elders may serve in a church, or even what process is to be followed concerning their appointment to office. The church has the liberty to follow a relaxed or formal policy depending on its membership. Other qualifications for church elders are as follows:
They consist of men only (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:6; cf. 1 Tim 2:12-14).
They solved doctrinal problems in the church through biblical discussion and research (Acts 15:1-11, cf. Acts 16:4).
They worked with “the whole church” in choosing men to send on a missionary journey (Acts 15:22). This is important because elders lead from the front, not the top. They work within the church, and with the church, serving as examples to the church, and not “lording” their authority over others (1 Pet 5:3).
They received biblical instruction from Paul regarding the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Today the elder spends the majority of his time studying Scripture so he can be spiritually prepared to meet his obligations as a church leader. Studying God’s Word is important, for he cannot live what he does not know.
They shepherded the church through general oversight (Acts 20:17; 28).
They guarded against false teachers and their false doctrines, guiding believers into God’s will, and feeding the church with the truths of Scripture (Acts 20:28-32; Eph 4:11-14, cf. Jer 3:15).
All the elders were leaders (1 Th 5:12-13; Heb 13:7, 17), but only some functioned at “preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17; cf. Eph 4:11-14).
They were supported financially by those who benefitted from their oversight and teaching (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17-18).
The elders offered support and prayer to fellow believers who were suffering (Jam 5:14).
The first elders in Scripture had their place in the church by apostolic appointment. First, Paul appointed elders in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Acts 14:21-23), and later, he commanded Titus to appoint elders in the church (Tit 1:5). Since we do not have apostles today, authority does not rest in a person, but Scripture alone. Church leadership is still appointed by God (Acts 20:28; cf. Eph 4:11), and the church recognizes leadership because they measure up to the qualifications set forth in Scripture (1 Tim 3:1-7; Tit 1:5-9).
The role of elder/overseer/pastor is very challenging. Though there are no perfect pastors, they must display a level of maturity and godly qualities to be eligible for leadership service in the local church. Pastors have huge responsibilities and often bear great burdens for those in the church (2 Cor 11:29). Today, a qualified pastor will devote many years to learning God’s Word, which requires great discipline and financial cost, both for his education and library. Afterwards, he will often accept pay well below what he could have earned if he’d chosen another profession. Many pastors serve bivocationally (Paul was a tent maker who often paid for his own needs; Acts 18:3; 20:34), and some work purely as volunteers. These men need all the encouragement and support a congregation can provide, to help lift them up that they might stay the course and lead God’s people in His will.
God gives law to humans living in every age. He gave commands to the first humans living in the sinless environment of the Garden of Eden (Gen 1:26-30; 2:15-17). He gave commands to Noah (Gen 6-9). He gave commands to Abraham (Gen 12:1; 17:10-14). He gave commands to the Israelites—known as the Mosaic Law—after delivering them from their bondage in Egypt (Ex 20 – Deut 34). He has given commands to Christians (Romans 1 to Revelation 3). These biblical distinctions are important, for though all Scripture is written for the benefit of the Christian, only some portions of it speak specifically to him and command his walk with the Lord. Just as the Christian would not try to obey the commands God gave to Adam in Genesis 1-2, or the commands God gave to Noah in Genesis 6-9, so he should not try to obey the commands God gave to Israel in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Romans chapter 1 through Revelation chapter 3 marks the specific body of Scripture that directs the Christian life both regarding specific commands and divine principles. Charles Ryrie states:
Adam lived under laws, the sum of which may be called the code of Adam or the code of Eden. Noah was expected to obey the laws of God, so there was a Noahic code. We know that God revealed many commands and laws to Abraham (Gen 26:5). They may be called the Abrahamic code. The Mosaic code contained all the laws of the Law. And today we live under the law of Christ (Gal 6:2) or the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Rom 8:2). This code contains the hundreds of specific commandments recorded in the New Testament.
Israel and the Church are both the people of God, but they operate under distinct law codes. The Mosaic Law was given specifically to the nation of Israel and referred to “the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai” (Lev 26:46). The Mosaic Law revealed the holy character of God (Lev 11:45; cf. Rom 7:12), was given specifically to Israel circa 1445 BC (Lev 27:34), was regarded as a unit of laws (613 total), was to be taken as a whole (Gal 3:10; 5:3; Jam 2:10) and existed for nearly 1500 years before being rendered inoperative (Heb 7:18; 8:13; cf. Rom 7:1-4). Jesus was born under the Mosaic Law (Gal 4:4), and directed others to abide by it (Matt 8:1-4; 23:1-3). However, on the night before He was crucified, Jesus provided teaching to His disciples that pertained to the dispensation of the Church (John chapters 13-17); then He went to the cross and died for our sins, just as He’d prophesied (Matt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19; Mark 10:45).
The Mosaic Law was never a means of justification before God, as that has always been by faith alone in God and His promises (Rom 3:24-28; 4:1-5; Gal 2:16, 21; 3:21; Eph 2:8-9). Over time, the Mosaic Law became perverted into a system of works whereby men sought to earn their salvation before God. Merrill F. Unger states:
By nature the Law is not grace (Rom 10:5; Gal 3:10; Heb 10:28). It is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual (Rom 7:12, 14). In its ministry it declares and proves all men guilty (Rom 3:19). Yet it justifies no one (Rom 3:20). It cannot impart righteousness or life (Gal 3:21). It causes offenses to abound (Rom 5:20; 7:7-13; 1 Cor 15:56). It served as an instructor until Christ appeared (Gal 3:24). In relationship to the believer, the Law emphatically does not save anyone (Gal 2:21). A believer does not live under the Law (Rom 6:14; 8:4), but he stands and grows in grace (Rom 5:2; 2 Pet 3:18). The nation, Israel, alone was the recipient of the Law (Ex 20:2).
The New Testament reveals the Mosaic Law was regarded as a “yoke” which Israel had not “been able to bear” because their sinful flesh was weak (Acts 15:1-11). There is no fault with the Mosaic Law, for it “is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12). The Mosaic Law is holy because it comes from God who is holy. Because the Mosaic Law is holy, it exposes the faults of people and shows them to be sinful (Rom 3:20), and among many, it actually stimulates their sinful nature (Rom 5:20; 7:7-8). Paul made clear that the Mosaic Law was not the rule of life for the Christian (Rom 6:14). He even referred to it as a “ministry of death” (2 Cor 3:7) and a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Cor 3:9). Paul stated that it was intended to be temporary (Gal 3:19), that it was never the basis for justification (Gal 2:16, 21; 3:21, Rom 24-28; 4:1-5; Eph 2:8-9), but was intended to lead people to Christ that they may be justified by faith (Gal 3:24). Now that Christ has come and fulfilled every aspect of the Law and died on the cross, the Mosaic Law, in its entirety, has been rendered inoperative as a rule of life (Matt 5:17-18; Rom 10:1-4; Heb 8:13). According to Fruchtenbaum, “As a rule of life, the Law of Moses was temporary … [and] came to an end with the death of the Messiah.” The Christian living in the dispensation of the church age is now under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2).
God is the Author of both the Mosaic Law as well as the Law of Christ; therefore, it is not surprising that He chose to incorporate some of the laws He gave to Israel into the law-code which He has given to the Church. When trying to understand which laws have carried over and which have not, the general rule is: what God has not restated, has been altogether abrogated. Charles Ryrie states, “The Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Tim 4:4), some old ones (Rom 13:9), and some revised ones (Rom 13:4, with reference to capital punishment).” The Church is no more under the Mosaic Law than a Canadian is under US law, as laws only have authority to its citizenry. Thomas Constable states:
The law of Christ is the code of commandments under which Christians live. Some of the commandments Christ and His apostles gave us are the same as those that Moses gave the Israelites. However, this does not mean that we are under the Mosaic Code. Residents of the United States live under a code of laws that is similar to, but different from, the code of laws that govern residents of England. Some of our laws are the same as theirs, and others are different. Because some laws are the same we should not conclude that the codes are the same. Christians no longer live under the Mosaic Law; we live under a new code, the law of Christ (cf. 5:1).
Though rendered inoperative as a rule of life, the Mosaic Law can be used to teach such things as God’s holiness, people’s sinfulness, the need for atonement, and the ultimate need for people to trust in Christ for salvation (Rom 3:10-25; 5:20; 10:1-4). All Scripture is for us, though not all Scripture is to us (1 Cor 10:11). And being under the grace-system does not mean believers are without law and can therefore sin as they please (Rom 6:14-16; Tit 2:11-12). The New Testament speaks of “the perfect law of liberty” (Jam 1:25), “the royal law” (Jam 2:8), the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), and “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). Henry Thiessen states:
The believer has been made free from the law, but liberty does not mean license. To offset this danger of antinomianism, the Scriptures teach that we have not only been delivered from the law, but also “joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom 7:4). We are thus not “without the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21; cf. Gal 6:2). Freedom from law should not result in license, but love (Gal 5:13; cf. 1 Pet 2:16). The believer is, consequently, to keep his eyes on Christ as his example and teacher, and by the Holy Spirit to fulfill his law (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:18).
Arnold Fruchtenbaum adds:
The Law of Moses has been disannulled and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2 and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new law, totally separate from the Law of Moses. The Law of Christ contains all the individual commandments from Christ and the Apostles applicable to a New Testament believer. A simple comparison of the details will show that it is not and cannot be the same as the Law of Moses. Four observations are worth noting. First, many commandments are the same as those of the Law of Moses. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are also in the Law of Christ. But, second, many are different from the Law of Moses. For example, there is no Sabbath law now (Rom 14:5; Col 2:16) and no dietary code (Mark 7:19; Rom 14:20). Third, some commandments in the Law of Moses are intensified by the Law of Christ. The Law of Moses said: love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev 19:18). This made man the standard. The Law of Christ said: love one another, even as I have loved you (John 15:12). This makes the Messiah the standard and He loved us enough to die for us. Fourth, the Law of the Messiah provides a new motivation. The Law of Moses was based on the conditional Mosaic Covenant and so the motivation was: do, in order to be blessed. The Law of Christ is based on the unconditional New Covenant and so the motivation is: you have been and are blessed, therefore, do. The reason there is so much confusion over the relationship of the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ is that many commandments are similar to those found in the Mosaic Law, and many have concluded that certain sections of the law have, therefore, been retained.
The Church is not Israel and is not under the Mosaic Law as the rule for life. Just as OT saints had a clear body of Scripture which guided their walk with the Lord, so NT saints have a body of Scripture that guides us. According to Fruchtenbaum, “The rule of life for the saint today is found in the epistles of the New Testament. As with the Law of Moses, instructions and commandments of the New Testament are not the means of salvation but they are a ‘heavenly rule of life’ for those who are heavenly citizens through the power of God.” Christians living under the Law of Christ have both positive and negative commands that direct their lives. Where the Scripture does not provide specific commands, it gives divine principles that guide the Christian’s walk (i.e., to walk in love, to glorify God in all things, etc.).
In Scripture, we learn that Israel is a nation (Ex 19:6), but the church is not a nation (Rom 10:19). God’s program for Israel focused 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). 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 Ch 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).
 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).
As God’s children, we simultaneously live and operate in two realms. Physically, we live in the material world that God created (though damaged by our sin), and it is here we spend our time learning, working, playing, resting, and touching the lives of those whom God places in our path. It is here we must advance by learning God’s Word and living wisely in His will (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Making good choices from day to day—rooted in God’s Word—is paramount to this life, as well as the one to come. As believers, we are to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33), and trust that “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). This requires faith (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 10:38; 11:6). But we also live in a spiritual realm that touches things real, but unseen. As Christians, we are to be led by God the Holy Spirit, to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18), and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16). Furthermore, we face attacks from the spiritual realm, as Paul warns us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). As advancing Christians, we are to “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9). And because the mind is the primary battleground, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Knowledge of God and His Word provides a basis for living effectively in both the physical and spiritual realm. God’s Word reveals He’s provided us a portfolio of spiritual blessings that benefit us in this life and, if understood and applied, will result in great rewards in the eternal state (1 Cor 3:14-15; 2 Cor 5:10).
As Christians living in the dispensation of the church age, God has bestowed on us many good things. Though He blesses some Christians materially (1 Tim 6:17-19), His main focus is on giving us spiritual blessings which are far better. Paul wrote that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). According to Harold Hoehner, “Every spiritual blessing (eulogia) refers to every spiritual enrichment needed for the spiritual life. Since these benefits have already been bestowed on believers, they should not ask for them but rather appropriate them by faith.” Warren Wiersbe states:
In the Old Testament, God promised His earthly people, Israel, material blessings as a reward for their obedience (Deut 28:1–13). Today, He promises to supply all our needs “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19), but He does not promise to shield us from either poverty or pain. The Father has given us every blessing of the Spirit, everything we need for a successful, satisfying Christian life. The spiritual is far more important than the material.
Some of our spiritual blessings are as follows:
We are the special objects of His love: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), and “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
We are forgiven all our sins: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14; cf. Eph 1:7; Heb 10:10-14).
We are given eternal life: Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand (John 10:27-28; cf. John 3:16; 20:31).
We are made alive together with Christ: “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5).
We are raised up and seated with Christ: God “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6).
We are the recipients of God’s grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
We are created to perform good works: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
We are given freedom in Christ: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1; cf. Gal 5:13; 1 Pet 2:16).
We are given a spiritual gift to serve others: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10; cf. Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4:11).
We are children of God: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1a; cf. John 3:6; Gal 3:26; 1 Pet 1:23; Tit 3:5).
We are made ambassadors for Christ: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).
We are gifted with God’s righteousness: “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; cf. Rom 4:3-5; 5:17; Phil 3:9).
We are justified before God: “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus…For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:24, 28).
We have peace with God: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).
We will never be condemned: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
We are given citizenship in heaven: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).
We are transferred to the kingdom of Christ: “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13; cf. Acts 26:18; 1 Th 2:12).
We are all saints in Christ Jesus: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (Eph 2:19; cf. Eph 1:18-19).
We are made priests to God: “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev 1:6).
We are God’s chosen: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4; cf. Rom 8:29-33).
We are the recipients of His faithfulness: “He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (Heb 13:5; cf. Phil 1:6; 1 Th 5:24).
We have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life: “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4; cf. Rom 6:10-13).
We are members of the Church, the body of Christ: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:4-5), and “He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23; cf. Col 1:18).
We are indwelt with the Holy Spirit: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16; cf. 1 Cor 6:19).
We are sealed with the Holy Spirit: “having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13b; cf. 2 Cor 5:5).
We are enabled to walk with God: “I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).
We are empowered to live godly: “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet 1:3).
We have Scripture to train us in righteousness: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
We are guaranteed a new home in heaven: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
We are guaranteed resurrection bodies: “I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:51-53).
We have special access to God’s throne of grace: “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
We will be glorified in eternity: “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col 3:4), for Christ “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil 3:21).
In these blessings from God we observe “the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7). These are bestowed on us at the moment we trusted Christ as our Savior, and we come to know and appreciate them the more we study God’s Word and grasp His goodness toward us. Such blessings are intended to motivate us to service, to live a life in appreciation for all God has done for us. With Paul, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:18-19a).
Israel was a theocracy, one kingdom under God, who was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22). In ancient Israel, God cared about the economic practices of His people, saying, “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt. You shall thus observe all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them; I am the LORD” (Lev 19:35-37). Here we observe that God was concerned about metrology, which is the science of measurement, most commonly with weights and volume. Having an agreed upon universal standard allowed a free market to operate with integrity, as each person could know that what they were buying or selling was a true measurement.
We observe similar language in the book of Deuteronomy, where God directed His people to have integrity and to live honestly in their business dealings with others. Moses said, “You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Deut 25:13-15). Using unjust weights and measures would be a violation of the command not to covet (Deut 5:21) as well as the command not to steal (Deut 5:19). According to Victor Matthews, “Commerce in a society without coined money is dependent on standard weights and measures. Examples of stone and metal weights, marked with specific symbols designating weight values, have been found in Egyptian tombs as well as at several sites in Israel and Mesopotamia.”
Using different weights and measures was a form of thievery, as a businessperson would use a heavier weight or larger measure when purchasing items, thus obtaining more for himself, and then a lighter weight and smaller measure when selling to the purchaser, giving less to the customer. Jack Deere states, “The Israelites were to be totally honest in their business dealings. They could well afford to be so since it was ultimately the Lord who would withhold or give prosperity to them. Thus, honesty in business was a way of proclaiming one’s faith in the Lord’s ability to support him and give him long life.” Here was blessing that came from God to those who abided by His moral standards.
As a theocracy, Israelites could not separate the learning of the law from the practicing of the law within the context of a theological relationship with the Lord of the law. Various aspects of God’s law touched on matters familial, agricultural, social, judicial, martial, religious, and financial. In this way, we learn there was no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. To walk properly with the Lord meant knowing His directives and conforming one’s life to them. God’s directives form the standard for righteous conduct. Without a fixed standard for values, morals become arbitrary and unstable. Holding to God’s moral standards meant one would follow ethical business practices, being honest in buying and selling, adhering to just weights and measures.
Solomon wrote, “A just balance and scales belong to the LORD; all the weights of the bag are His concern” (Prov 16:11). According to John Kitchen, “God is intimately involved in establishing what justice in the business world looks like. The standard of ethics for business is divinely established! Unethical business practices are not only in defiance of the king, but of God Himself. There is more to be considered in business than mere pragmatics.”
Furthermore, God disapproved of false weights and measures, saying, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight” (Prov 11:1), and “Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD” (Prov 20:10), and “Differing weights are an abomination to the LORD, and a false scale is not good” (Prov 20:23). Three times in Proverbs it is declared that a false balance or differing weights are an abomination to the Lord. John Kitchen said:
An abomination is an attitude or action that is repugnant to the Lord and which He cannot endure. Because God loathes these things, they come under His judgment. Other things listed as ‘an abomination’ to the Lord include idolatry (Deut 7:25), homosexuality and other sexual perversions (Lev 18:22–30; 20:13), human sacrifice (Deut 12:31), occult activity (Deut 18:9–14), ritual prostitution (1 Kings 14:23f), and sacrificing unclean or defective animals (Deut 14:3–8; 17:1).
Those who reject God inwardly will be inclined to defraud others outwardly. Unfortunately, Israel later turned away from the Lord and declined morally, and their business practices reflected their spiritual state. Having dethroned God from their lives and rejected His moral standards, they enthroned their own sinful desires which flowed into their business dealings. Later prophets, who served as prosecuting attorneys for the Lord, brought charges against Israelites because of their corrupt business practices (Amos 8:4-6, Mic 6:10-11), which added to the eventual destruction of the nation. It should be remembered that people may use weights in business dealings, but “the LORD weighs the hearts” of everyone (Prov 21:2; cf., Prov 24:12); and He desires “righteousness and justice” from His people (Prov 21:3). Honesty and generosity should be the hallmark of God’s people, especially those who lead in business.
Biblically, there is only one human race. The Bible reveals, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27; cf., Gen 9:18-19). The apostle Paul said that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). The idea of multiple races confuses and divides people in harmful ways, allowing for racist ideologies to flourish. Certainly, there are different tribes, ethnic groups, languages, and cultures, but all humanity constitutes only one race. According to Norman Geisler, “The Scriptures clearly teach that the whole human race is descended from a single pair (Gen 1:27; cf.; 2:7, 22; 3:20; 9:19). All are children of a common parent and have a common nature.”
Sadly, some people wrongly discriminate against others because of the pigmentation of their skin. According to modern science, skin color is produced by the amount of melanin the body produces, not because people belong to a different race of humans. In an article on melanin, Mary Jo DiLonardo states:
Melanin is a natural skin pigment. Hair, skin, and eye color in people and animals mostly depends on the type and amount of melanin they have. Special skin cells called melanocytes make melanin. Everyone has the same number of melanocytes, but some people make more melanin than others. If those cells make just a little bit of melanin, your hair, skin, and the iris of your eyes can be very light. If your cells make more, then your hair, skin, and eyes will be darker. The amount of melanin your body makes depends on your genes. If your parents have a lot or a little skin pigment, you’ll probably look like them.
Apart from the natural melanin our bodies produce, it’s also true that exposure to the sun causes our bodies to make more melanin, which darkens our skin color even more. But skin color does not indicate different races of humans. The idea of different races based on skin color is an artificial construct that has no basis in biology or genetics. Unfortunately, even the Supreme Court of the United States, according to U.S. Law Code § 1093, defines a racial group as “a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of physical characteristics or biological descent.” This is scientifically incorrect. In an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Yasuko Takezawa states, “Genetic studies in the late 20th century refuted the existence of biogenetically distinct races, and scholars now argue that ‘races’ are cultural interventions.” All people, whatever their skin color, are 99.99+% genetically identical. Takezawa further comments, “There are no genes that can identify distinct groups that accord with the conventional race categories. In fact, DNA analyses have proved that all humans have much more in common, genetically, than they have differences. The genetic difference between any two humans is less than 1 percent.” Race, having no basis in genetics, is more an artificial social construct than a biological fact.
Though racism has ancient roots, Charles Darwin popularized it in our current culture. The original title of Darwin’s book suggests that he viewed some races as superior to others. The title of Darwin’s book is: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. But the subtitle reads: On the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The idea that there is a struggle between various human races, and that one race is favored over another (because of greater abilities), implies racial superiority. Darwin’s idea is that in the struggle for life, natural selection will filter out the weaker race, leaving the stronger race to continue. This notion has caused great harm to humanity. Henry Morris states, “Although racism is an ancient fallacy, it was Darwinian evolutionism that first seemed to give it scientific plausibility. For many decades after Darwin, the idea of different origins for the different human races seemed to have displaced the biblical doctrine of just one race.” Morris further states:
There is really only one race of human beings, and this is the human race. Our primeval parents did not evolve from one or more populations of ancient primates, but were directly created by God, in His own image. God did establish at Babel distinct nations corresponding to the various languages He also established at that time, with a purpose for each nation and tribe. In that sense there is divine justification for national patriotism in a nation, but only in consistency with God’s purpose for that nation in the context of his overall purpose for all nations. There is no basis whatever — theological or scientific — for notions of “racial” superiority. These ideas have led to great suffering.
Addressing the evils of racism, Norman Geisler states, “The idea that there is a superior race, of whatever color, is contrary to the most fundamental teaching of Scripture…There is only one race—the human race—and we are all part of it. There are many ethnic groups, but, again, only one race—the Adamic race, which includes all of us.” John Witmer adds, “Adam is significant as the father of all humanity. Because we are all descendants of Adam, differences of skin color, culture, customs, and language are of no ultimate importance. No one race is intrinsically better than any other.” According to John Piper, “The heart that believes one race is more valuable than another is a sinful heart. And that sin is racism. The behavior that distinguishes one race as more valuable than another is a sinful behavior. And that sin is called racism.”
As people, we share the same physiology. Whatever a man and woman’s skin color, national origin, language, or culture, when they copulate, they produce human offspring. According to Thiessen and Doerksen, “blood can be transfused from one [person] to another, organs can be transplanted, the body temperature, pulse rate, and blood pressure are within the same limits, and there is liability to the same diseases.” Furthermore, people share the same basic mental and emotional qualities. According to Louis Berkhof:
The soul is the most important part of the constitutional nature of man, and psychology clearly reveals the fact that the souls of all men, to whatever tribes or nations they may belong, are essentially the same. They have in common the same [creaturely] appetites, instincts, and passions, the same tendencies and capacities, and above all the same higher qualities, the mental and moral characteristics that belong exclusively to man.
Salvation is Available for Everyone
Biblically, there is only one human race, as “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27; cf., Gen 9:18-19; Acts 17:26). All people are special, being made in the image of God (imago Dei) and should be treated with respect. Though all people are made in God’s image, the Bible also reveals everyone is marked by sin and guilty before a holy God; as “there are none righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:10, 23). By God’s declaration, all are condemned in Adam, for “just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12; cf. Rom 5:19; 1 Cor 15:21-22). That is, we all sinned when Adam sinned. His guilt is our guilt. Furthermore, we are powerless to save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-2), and no amount of good works can open heaven’s door to us. Though we cannot save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3), there’s good news that God offers salvation by means of faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; Acts 4:12). Because of God’s goodness, all are savable through the work of Christ who died a substitutionary death on the cross for everyone (Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2). Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And this He did, “For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10), as “Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). At the moment of faith in Christ, God forgives us all our sins (Eph 1:7), gives us eternal life (John 10:28), and rescues us from Satan’s domain of darkness and transfers us to “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). This is offered to us by grace (which means we don’t deserve it) and received by faith in Christ (and not by any good works which we might offer). Salvation is never what we do for God; rather, it is what God has done for us through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ who paid our sin debt in full (Heb 10:10-14). Paul 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). Salvation is imparted when we see ourselves from the divine perspective as sinfully separated from God (Isa 59:2), dead in our “trespasses and sin” (Eph 2:1), and then turn from all human effort to save ourselves by means of good works and trust solely in Jesus as our Savior. The issue for everyone is very simple: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Act 16:31).
In closing, there is no biblical or biological basis for multiple human races, and the idea of race as a social construct is divisive. To judge people based on their skin color is wrong. However, to judge people based on their character and conduct is valid. We should praise those who adhere to biblical morality and reject those who live by selfish and sinful values. The teaching of one human race is both theologically and practically significant.
Are Christians biblically justified to use force for self-defense? Depending on the situation, the answer is sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Killing a thief is both justified and unjustified, depending on the situation (Ex 22:2-3). In Scripture there are examples of believers who at one time defended themselves or others, but then at other times fled and/or suffered for their faith. David, who killed Goliath (1 Sam 17:48-51), 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).
In the book of Daniel, we learn about three Hebrews who opposed a tyrant and accepted the possibility of death by fire (Dan 3:1-30). Daniel chose to face death in a den of lions rather than cease his prayers to God (Dan 6:1-24). Peter defied the command to stop preaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18-20; 5:28-29) and rejoiced after being flogged (Acts 5:40-41). Stephen offered prayers and forgiveness for those who stoned him to death (Acts 7:54-60). Paul avoided a murder attempt by escaping through an opening in a city wall as he was lowered to safety in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). Paul also accepted unjust persecutions, beatings, and imprisonment for Christ (2 Cor 11:23-30; 2 Tim 2:8-9).
Even Jesus did not fight against His accusers and attackers (Matt 26:51-53; John 18:10-11; 1 Pet 2:21-23), but willingly laid down His life (John 10:15, 18; Gal 2:20; Eph 5:25), and died a substitutionary death on a cross for our sins (Mark 10:45; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 3:18). When asked about His kingship and kingdom, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36a). When Peter drew a sword to defend Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10), Jesus stopped him and said, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). The Son of God had the means to defend Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, for He declared, “do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Twelve legions of angels (approximately 72,000) would have been more than adequate to fight against Jesus’ attackers. However, it was not the Father’s will that Jesus be defended, either by angels or men, but that He suffer and die for our sins. This was for the Father’s glory and our benefit (John 12:28; 32-33; 17:1). The world is not worthy of those who suffer and die a martyr’s death for the cause of Christ (Heb 11:36-40).
Should Christians be Pacifists?
There are Christians who love the Lord Jesus and take His words seriously when He says, “do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt 5:39). But is this a call for Christians to practice total pacificism? Norman Geisler states, “Biblical arguments for total pacifism are flawed. For example, Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39) refers to a personal insult (like a slap in the face), not to bodily harm.” I agree with Geisler on this matter. Overlooking a personal insult can be very difficult at times, but this is what we’re called to do. The apostle Paul said, “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” (Rom 12:17-19). As growing Christians, we should have a calm spirit, not be hypersensitive, exercise self-discipline, control our emotions, and learn to dismiss an insult. Solomon said, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov 19:11).
Is Killing the Same as Murder?
Killing is not the same as murder. Murder is the taking of a human life for unjustified reasons, and under God’s Law, “the murderer shall surely be put to death” (Num 35:16; cf. Ex 21:12; Lev 24:17). God authorized killing when He told Noah, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen 9:6). In fact, God Himself has killed (Lev 10:1-3; 2 Sam 6:1-7; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:27-30; cf., Deut 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6) and will kill again (Rev 9:15; 19:11-21). God’s law for Israel listed specific violations that warranted the death penalty. Though these are few in number, they clearly show that killing is not wrong in God’s sight. But if an offender displayed humility, God may grant a reduced sentence. God’s directive for capital punishment continues into the New Testament (Rom 13:4-6).
Good Government’s Right to Kill
When doing God’s will, governmental rulers are to be respected and obeyed, as God has granted them the authority to kill for just reasons. Scripture states, “for it [government] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing” (Rom 13:4a). The sword is a picture of capital punishment, which God sanctions by means of the governments of this world. Capital punishment is necessary to exact justice for those who have been innocently murdered and to deter future acts of evil. Killing is justified when God commands it.
Certainly, there are rulers who abuse their power for sinful purposes, and at times need to be resisted (with wisdom and courage). However, for the most part, governments serve as “a minister of God” (Rom 13:4), and for this reason, we submit ourselves “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). Furthermore, governments employ and empower police and military as a means of restraining evil, and this sometimes requires force, and even deadly force. Good government will adequately fund and support their police and military. And if a Christian is called into police or military service, then he may be the one who wields the instrument of punishment to accomplish God’s will. In this case, he needs to be the best police officer or soldier he can be, and this for God’s glory.
Biblical Examples of Self-Defense
In Genesis, we read that Abram fought against Chedorlaomer to defend the innocent and restore stolen property (Gen 14:1-24). David used force to rescue his family and belongings from Amalekites who destroyed and plundered the city of Ziklag (1 Sam 30:1-20). In the book of Esther, we learn about a man named Haman, who “sought to destroy all the Jews” (Est 3:6). By deceit, Haman convinced King Ahasuerus to pass a decree that would allow him to kill all the Jews, and the king blindly passed the law (Est 3:7-14). Later, Haman was hanged on the gallows he intended for the Jews (Est 7:10; 8:7), and afterwards, King Ahasuerus passed a second law which “granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives” (Est 8:11). When they came under attack, “the Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying” (Est 9:5). The sword was the weapon being used against the Jews, and the sword was used by Hebrews to defend themselves. This was clearly self-defense. When Nehemiah was rebuilding the city wall in Jerusalem, both he and his builders were under threat of attack (Neh 4:1-10). Nehemiah split his forces between defenders and workers, and Nehemiah said, “half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah” (Neh 4:16). And it is said of the builders themselves that “each wore his sword girded at his side as he built” (Neh 4:18). Clearly these swords were for self-defense. Jesus, toward the end of His ministry on earth, told His disciples, “Whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Norman Geisler states, “while Jesus forbade His disciples from using a sword for spiritual purposes (Matt 26:52), He urged His disciples to buy a sword if necessary for protection (Luke 22:36–38).”
Sometimes legal defense is the preferred course of action. Paul, who at one time took a beating with rods (Acts 16:22-23), later used legal force against his attackers by exercising his rights as a Roman citizen to protect himself from a flogging that might have killed him (Acts 22:25-29). And Paul eventually appealed to Caesar, hoping to gain a just trial (Acts 25:7-12). Christians can certainly use the legal system as a means of protection.
Non-lethal Use of Force
In Genesis, we see an example of a non-lethal use of force to neutralize a threat (Gen 19:1-25). Lot, while living in Sodom, had received some male guests (who were actually angels) that he welcomed into his home (Gen 19:1-3). However, there were men in the city who came to Lot’s house and demanded he turn out his male guests so they could have sexual intercourse with them. It’s likely these men intended to rape Lot’s guests. The text tells us, “Before they went to bed, the men of the city of Sodom, both young and old, the whole population, surrounded the house” (Gen 19:4), saying, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Send them out to us so we can have sex with them!” (Gen 19:5). Surrounding the house and making demands was an intimidation tactic designed to cause fear.
Lot tried to reason with them, saying, “Don’t do this evil, my brothers” (Gen 19:7), even wrongly offering them his two daughters in place of his guests (Gen 19:8). The men of the city then demanded Lot get out of their way, and “they put pressure on Lot and came up to break down the door” (Gen 19:9). When the men of Sodom did not get what they wanted, they resorted to force and tried to break into Lot’s house. This mob would certainly have committed a great evil against Lot and his guests, but fortunately, “the angels reached out, brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door” (Gen 19:10). Since the mob was not rational, the angels were required to use force, so “they struck the men who were at the entrance of the house, both young and old, with a blinding light so that they were unable to find the entrance” (Gen 19:11). Here, we witness the angels employing a measured use of nonlethal force sufficient to stop the men of Sodom from advancing. Of course, this was a temporary use of nonlethal force until such a time that God could render fatal judgment on the city as a whole (Gen 19:12-25). Though the actors in this example were angels, it still demonstrates an example non-lethal force used to neutralize a threat.
Americans and Self-Defense
Law-abiding responsible Americans have the right to own a firearm for self-defense. This is our constitutional right according the Second Amendment of the United States of America, which declares, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There is no conflict between Christianity and our constitutional right as Americans to own guns for protection and self-defense. Wayne Grudem states, “A gun is the most effective means of defense in all kinds of threatening situations, especially against attackers who may be stronger or more numerous. Protection of the right to own a gun is especially important in areas of higher crime or more frequent violence.”
Self-defense with a gun is not mandatory for believers, but is a matter of Christian liberty. If you don’t like guns as a method of self-defense, then by all means have some protection, whether pepper spray, a knife, taser, or whatever increases your ability to neutralize a threat. Having an alert mind that pays attention to your surroundings is your best defense. Also, it might be helpful to use psychological deterrents to keep criminals away from your home.
There are times when using lethal force is justified, and other times not. God sanctions justified killing, but not murder. God has granted good governments the right to kill, both as a means of exacting justice and deterring crime. And there are clear examples of believers in Scripture who used lethal force as a means of protecting themselves from unjustified attacks. Furthermore, God Himself has killed and will kill again. And non-lethal uses of force may also be used to neutralize a threat. Lastly, law-abiding Christians in America have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms as a means of self-defense.
In closing, I would like to reference an article on guns and self defense by pastor John Piper. In his article, he states he “would personally counsel a Christian not to have a firearm.” Though I disagree with his final position, his article offers a different point of view, which is helpful when considering this sensitive subject.
 Norman L. Geisler, “Does the Bible Support a Just War?” in The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal, Chad Owen Brand, E. Ray Clendenen et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 995.
 As God’s children, we should expect unjust persecution and suffering in this fallen world (John 15:18-19; Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 1:12; 1 Pet 3:14, 17), and when attacked because of our faith, should not retaliate (Rom 12:17-21; 1 Pet 2:23), but trust God that He will deliver if He chooses (Dan 3:17-18; 6:21-22; Acts 5:19-20; 12:6-7).
 The sins that warranted the death penalty include: 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 (Deut 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 (Deut 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex 22:18; Deut 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut 22:22), 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 (Deut 22:25-27).
 For example, in Scripture we read about David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11:1-17). The divine estimation was, “the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Sam 11:27). Biblically, both offenses warranted the death penalty under God’s law (Ex 21:12-14; Deut 22:22). 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).
 David was a man of war and had spent years developing his martial skills. He even blessed God for the military skills he’d received, saying, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psa 144:1; cf. Psa 18:34).
 Norman L. Geisler, “Does the Bible Support a Just War?”, 995.
 Wayne A. Grudem, Politics according to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 211.
 For example, keep the outside of your house well lit, install cameras (or fake ones if you can’t afford real ones), post signs that say your property is managed by a security company, or signs that say you’ll use force if needed. For most criminals there is a risk verses reward mentality, and they are often deterred from committing crime if the risk of being caught, injured, or punished exceeds the prospect of reward. This assumes some rational thinking, and I realize some criminals engage in harmful behavior without thought or fear (perhaps because they’re impaired by drugs or a mental disorder).
No one likes suffering, and generally, we try to avoid it. However, some suffering is unavoidable, as there are people and circumstances beyond our ability to influence. This is part of the human experience. But we are not neutral, and though suffering is inevitable, how we handle it is optional. If we greatly fear suffering, then we may be tempted to avoid it at all costs, and the weakening instinct of self-preservation might handicap us from maturing in life. God wants us to grow up and become mature Christians (1 Cor 14:20; Eph 4:11-14), and suffering is sometimes the vehicle He uses to help get us there.
As Christians, we realize some fear is rational and healthy, and this helps regulate our words and actions. Rational fear might also be labeled as healthy caution, which is a mark of wisdom. When driving on the highway, it’s good to be slightly cautious of other drivers, as this can help us avoid an accident. And, when entering a relationship with another person (i.e., friend, business partner, spouse, etc.), a little caution can save us much heartache. Solomon tells us, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). Here, an ounce of prevention will save us from a pound of trouble.
Sometimes, we’re the source of our own suffering, as we make bad choices that affect us physically, socially, financially, etc. The wise will learn from their bad choices—even choices done in ignorance—and be better. And sometimes our mental and emotional distress is the product of irrational fears in which we manufacture imaginary negative situations that upset us. These are the mental dramas we construct in our thinking in which we are under attack by someone or something and feel helpless to stop the assault. These self-produced mental plays can include family, friends, coworkers, or anyone we think has the power to hurt us. But we have the power to redirect our thoughts, shut the story down, change the characters, or rewrite the script any time we want. Of course, this requires introspection and the discipline to manage our thoughts. As I’ve shared in other lessons, the stability of the Christian is often predicated on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. It’s not only what we think, but we keep on thinking that provides mental and emotional equilibrium.
As a Christian, suffering can be viewed either as a liability or an asset. A liability is a burden, a drain on one’s life and resources. However, an asset is a benefit, something that adds value to life. If we’re able to frame life’s difficulties from the divine perspective, then we can thank God for the trials He sends our way, because we know He’s using them to humble us and shape us into the persons He wants us to be. How we view the trial determines whether it makes us bitter or better. But such an attitude is a discipline of the mind.
In Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth, he recorded an incident in which he’d been caught up to heaven and “heard inexpressible words” (2 Cor 12:4). But Paul’s heavenly experience came with a price. The Lord knew Paul would become prideful because of the experience, so the Lord gave him a “thorn in the flesh” that was intended to cause him suffering and humility (2 Cor 12:7). Though Paul did not like the suffering, he eventually came to understand it was divinely purposeful. Twice he declared it was given “to keep me from exalting myself” (2 Cor 12:7). The word “exalt” translates the Greek verb ὑπεραίρω huperairo, which means “to have an undue sense of one’s self-importance, rise up, [or] exalt oneself.” It means one becomes prideful. Elsewhere in Scripture we learn “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov 16:18), and that God “is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5b).
Paul asked God, on three occasions, to take the discomfort away (2 Cor 12:8). But God denied Paul’s request, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). God’s grace (χάρις charis) in this passage refers to His divine enablement to cope with a problem that He refused to remove. God’s grace was the strength necessary to cope with a problem that was greater than Paul’s ability to handle on his own. And God’s grace was in proportion to Paul’s weakness. The greater Paul’s weakness, the more grace God gave. This was a moment-by-moment grace, sufficient for Paul’s need.
As Christians, it’s legitimate that we ask God to remove our suffering; however, what He does not remove, He intends for us to deal with. This was true with Paul. God did not want to remove Paul’s discomfort because it served a purpose, and that was to keep him humble, to keep him close to the Lord. When Paul understood what God was accomplishing in him through the suffering, Paul chose to embrace it, knowing it came with divine help to shape him into a better person. Paul 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). This was done by faith and not feelings. Furthermore, Paul said, “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). The word content translates the Greek verb εὐδοκέω eudokeo, which means “to take pleasure or find satisfaction in something, be well pleased, [to] take delight.” Paul was not a victim of his suffering, as he chose to frame it with a healthy biblical attitude. This also fulfills the command to “Do all things without complaining” (Phil 2:14), and to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18).
Elsewhere, Paul said, “we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 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 James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:2-4). Exulting in tribulations and counting it all joy when we encounter various trials is a discipline of the mind and will, in which “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Warren Wiersbe states:
Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to “count it all joy.” If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better. Job had the right outlook when he said, “But He knows the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). So, when trials come, immediately give thanks to the Lord and adopt a joyful attitude. Do not pretend; do not try self-hypnosis; simply look at trials through the eyes of faith. Outlook determines outcome; to end with joy, begin with joy.
Weakness is a blessing if it teaches us to look to God more and to ourselves less. And we cease to be the victim when we see suffering as divinely purposeful. This is not always easy, but the alternative to faith is fear, and fear brings mental slavery to the circumstances of life. By framing his weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties from the divine perspective, Paul was able to see them, not as a liability, but as an asset that worked for his benefit to help shape him into the person God wanted him to be. From God’s perspective, Paul’s Christian character was more important than his creaturely comforts. And Paul needed to have a character that was marked by humility, not pride.
It is true that God desires to bless us; and of course, we enjoy this. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). But it’s also God’s will to advance us spiritually, and this means He will send us trials that are intended to burn away the dross of weak character and refine those golden qualities He wants to see in us. We trust that when God turns up the heat, that He also keeps His hand on the thermostat, regulating the temperature. And when we desire and pursue spiritual maturity as an important goal in our Christian life, then we can become content, pleased, and even find delight in the hardships, because we know God controls them and sends them our way for our good. And this is done by faith, and not feelings.