Biblical Encouragement

Encourage on anotherAs Christians, we are directed to “encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Th 5:11). To encourage (in-courage) someone is to impart courage to them so they can be sustained in a difficult situation. It is to cheer them on, to build them up, to boost their morale, to strengthen them internally so they will move forward to achieve a goal. Athletes understand the power a coach or fans have when cheering them on. Words are often the most common means of encouraging others. Solomon tells us, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad” (Prov 12:25), and “The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word” (Isa 50:4a).[1] Christian courage is not the absence of fear; rather, it’s the overcoming of fear to do that which God says is right.

God’s people need encouragement on a regular basis. We need it because we’re not impervious to the pressures or frustrations of life. We need encouragement to do God’s will because we live in a fallen world with unethical people who confront us with challenges and pressures that cause fatigue and drain our battery. To discourage is to dishearten, depress, dampen, or frustrate another. Webster’s Dictionary defines discouragement as “to deprive of courage or confidence” or “to dissuade or attempt to dissuade from doing something.”[2] Dwight Pentecost writes, “Discouragement is the loss of courage. When an English word begins with the prefix dis, it simply means that the person being described has lost whatever the rest of the word suggests. The man who is discouraged has lost courage, has lost heart, has lost the will to fight; and the discouraged man is a defeated man.”[3]

Because we live in a fallen world and many are governed by sinful values, there will always be people who strive to discourage God’s people. For example, in the book of Ezra we read, “The people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4-5). Discouraged, frightened, and frustrated all refer to the damaging psychological and emotional impact the opposition had on the Israelites who were trying to do God’s will when rebuilding their temple. Later on, the temple was rebuilt, but only after the people had received adequate support from King Darius (Ezra 6:1-22).

Discouragement Can Lead to Despair

JeremiahDiscouragement is the lack of courage. It means one has lost the will to fight. I know Christian leaders—pastors, teachers, elders, deacons—who stand or fall depending on the level of support of those around them. No one can stand alone for long. Even great men such as Moses and Elijah became discouraged and even asked to die when the pressures of life became overwhelming. Moses got discouraged with the Israelites in the wilderness and cried out to God, saying, “I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So, if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness” (Num 11:14-15). And Elijah, when threatened by Queen Jezebel, ran for his life and “went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers’” (1 Ki 19:4).

JeremiahBoth Job and Jeremiah, when facing great pressure, slipped into severe depression and wished they’d never been born (Job 10:18-22; Jer 20:17-18). In the midst of his sadness Job said, “why then hast Thou brought me out of the womb? Would that I had died and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been, carried from womb to tomb” (Job 10:18-19). Because of his sorrow, Job saw his life as a “land of darkness and deep shadow; the land of utter gloom as darkness itself, of deep shadow without order” (Job 10:21-22a). During his time of sadness, the prophet Jeremiah wished that his “mother would have been [his] grave, and her womb ever pregnant” and in his great anguish went on to ask, “why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow, so that my days have been spent in shame?” (Jer 20:17-18).

Discouragement can lead to a loss of confidence, especially if there’s little return on our efforts, or we experience prolonged attacks.[4] Does this mean we never discourage others? Of course not. As Christians, there are times when we want to discourage sinful behavior and bad choices, as it can lead to harmful consequences, both for self and others. There is a valid place for encouragement and discouragement, as we want to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. Encouragement should be given to those who are doing good and need support along the way. It will help to sustain them if the struggle becomes great.

Biblical Examples of Encouragement

Just as some can be a source of discouragement, others can be a wellspring of encouragement. In the book of Judges, we learn “the men of Israel encouraged one another and arrayed themselves for battle” (Judg 20:22a). In the book of Samuel, we’re told, “Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God” (1 Sam 23:16). Interestingly, on one occasion, God used the angel, Gabriel, to be an encouragement to King Darius. Gabriel told Daniel, “In the first year of Darius the Mede, I arose to be an encouragement and a protection for him” (Dan 11:1). The text does not tell us how the angel Gabriel encouraged Darius, but only that he did

JoshuaIn 1405 B.C., as Moses was nearing death, the Lord gave him instructions concerning Joshua, who was to take his place and lead His people into the land of Canaan. The Lord said, “Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it” (Deut 1:38). Moses was to encourage Joshua in order to strengthen him for the task that lay before him. The word encourage translates the Hebrew verb חָזָק chazaq, which means “to be strong, grow strong, to be stronger than, to prevail over, to have courage.”[5] The form of the verb is intensive (Piel), which means to make strong or strengthen. In effect, Moses was to give something to Joshua that he needed but did not have, namely, the public conference of authority (Num 27:18-20; Deut 31:7). In this way, Joshua was strengthened to lead God’s people. In another place, the same Hebrew verb is used of the king of Assyria, in which God “turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezr 6:22). Here, the encouragement took the form of public support as well as the allocation of resources to accomplish the task of rebuilding the temple (Ezra 7:11-28).

In 701 B.C., in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign (2 Ki 18:13), Hezekiah faced a stressful situation when “Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and besieged the fortified cities, and thought to break into them for himself” (2 Ch 32:1). Here was an extremely stressful situation for the king and all the citizens of Judah. King Hezekiah could not control the attitude or actions of Sennacherib, but he had a choice to control his response. The king proved to be a wise leader who made good choices as he rallied his leadership team and took practical steps to fortify the city and its defenses (2 Ch 32:2-5). But Hezekiah knew external fortifications would not be enough. He needed his people to be fortified in their souls, strengthened within, so they might have the courage necessary to face the opposition. We learn that Hezekiah “appointed military officers over the people and gathered them to him in the square at the city gate, and spoke encouragingly to them” (2 Ch 32:6). Here is wisdom. Here is good leadership. Operating from divine viewpoint—which strengthened his own soul—Hezekiah used his words to insert divine viewpoint into the minds of his hearers, saying, “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be discouraged because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the One with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Ch 32:7-8a). If the people of God’s kingdom were to be strengthened in their souls, they would need to place their focus on God rather than the overwhelming problem at hand. Apparently, the people had positive volition and received Hezekiah’s words. And the result was, “Hezekiah’s words greatly encouraged the people” (2 Ch 32:8b). Now they were ready to face the enemy. Now they were ready to win.

During Jesus’ time of ministry on the earth, we observe on several occasions where He encouraged others. He told a paralytic to “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2). And to a woman whom He healed of a hemorrhage, He said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well” (Matt 9:22). The Lord calmed His disciples when they were frightened during a storm (Matt 14:26), saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matt 14:27). And when He informed His disciples that they would face future tribulation (John 16:33a), He also said, “but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). When the apostle Paul faced an attack in Jerusalem (Acts 23:10), Jesus stood by his side, saying, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also” (Acts 23:11). Though many were against Paul, Jesus was with him, and that was enough. In all these instances Jesus used the Greek verb θαρσέω tharseo, which means “to be firm or resolute in the face of danger or adverse circumstances, be enheartened, be courageous.”[6] In these instances people were facing some difficulty and Jesus gave them what they needed to overcome it. In some instances what they needed was physical, and in other instances mental and emotional.

BarnabasIn the New Testament we learn about a man named Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Here was a godly man whose words and actions were characterized by the quality of encouragement. As an example of his character, we read 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), 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.”[7] The picture is that of one person who comes alongside another and provides support, encouragement, or edification that strengthens that person in their soul 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 Christians “to remain true to the Lord” is what healthy encouragement looks like. Luke further describes Barnabas’ character, saying, “for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:24). Concerning this passage, Warren Wiersbe wrote:

Acts 11:24 gives us a “spiritual profile” of Barnabas, and he appears to be the kind of Christian all of us would do well to emulate. He was a righteous man who obeyed the Word in daily life so that his character was above reproach. He was filled with the Spirit, which explains the effectiveness of his ministry. That he was a man of faith is evident from the way he encouraged the church and then encouraged Saul. New Christians and new churches need people like Barnabas to encourage them in their growth and ministry.[8]

Later in the book of Acts we learn about two men named Judas and Silas who “encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message” (Acts 15:32). Paul described one of his companions, a man named Justus, whom he said, “proved to be an encouragement to me” (Col 4:11). When writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul directed them to “encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Th 5:11). And the writer of Hebrews directed his readers to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).[9]

Self-Encouragement

Sometimes there’s no one around to infuse us with the energy we need to face a difficulty. In those moments we must learn to harness our thoughts by looking to God and His Word. We can deal with life’s stressors by filtering them through Scripture, always making sure we’re interpreting them from the divine perspective. In those moments, 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 10:5b). It’s helpful to understand the stable Christian life is predicated, to a large degree, on the biblical content and continuity of our thinking. We are never neutral and, if we’re consistently thinking divine viewpoint, can impact our own mental attitude for the better.

Personally, I know much of my life is based on the choices I make. Like a spider’s web, there are many strands and intersecting parts, and to touch one part impacts the whole. My life—whether complex or simple—is interconnected by many choices, past and present, which impact my life as a whole. It helps me greatly to be wise about the choices I make, realizing the wise are wise by choice, never by chance. I also realize God has given me a measure of control over my life and calls me to be a good steward of what He’s provided. Stewardship is a biblical concept (Luke 12:42-43; Eph 3:1-2; Col 1:25; Tit 1:7). God has given me a body, mind, will, wife, job, home, finances, and ministry to others. When I make good choices and live as He directs, it results in godly outcomes, which strengthens me internally to my daily tasks. I am encouraged when I spend regular time in God’s Word, in prayer, and in Christian fellowship. I’m also strengthened within when I properly manage my life and the resources God has given me. God designed my body—which is an extremely complex biological machine—and when I take care of it properly, maintaining adequate rest, good nutrition, hydration, exercise, and balancing my priorities of work and play, it helps me operate optimally as God intends. Good choices bring good results. Just as my car won’t drive for long if I neglect regular maintenance or put sugar in the gas tank, I will eventually pay a damaging price if I fail to be a good steward of my body, mind, and life.

It is an indicator of our spiritual maturity when we choose to be thankful for the difficulties that help us grow into virtuous persons. James said, “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; cf., Rom 5:3-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10). As Christians, we should expect trials (Jam 1:2-4), suffering (1 Pet 4:12-13), and persecution (John 15:20). Jesus told His disciples, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul wrote, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). Trials are inevitable, but how we respond is optional.

God directs us to “Do all things without complaining or arguing” (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). This is done by an act of the will, by faith, and never by feelings. It is a discipline of the will that we do not permit the difficulties of life to poison the well of our mind. Dr. Pentecost states, “A man who is occupied with God and occupied for God cannot at the same time very well be occupied with himself. We live with ourselves so much it is easy for us to become self-occupied; and unless we are occupied with God, our minds will drift unconsciously to ourselves and our needs, problems, defeats and discouragements, and we fall in the fray.”[10]

We prefer always to encourage others to make wise choices. Of course, there’s no wiser choice than to know God and walk with Him. For non-Christians, we educate them about the gospel of grace (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4), and encourage them to trust in Christ as their Savior so they can be forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7), receive eternal life (John 10:28), and join the family of God with all its blessings (John 1:12-13; Eph 1:3). For those who are saved, we encourage them to learn and live God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15; Jam 1:22; 1 Pet 2:2), to advance to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-13), and to pursue a life of righteousness and goodness (Rom 6:11-14; Gal 6:9-10; Tit 2:11-14). To become a righteous person requires time, as years of human viewpoint is replaced with divine viewpoint, and this by means of studying and applying God’s Word.

Worldly Positivity as a Substitute for Divine Viewpoint

Fear can create an unwarranted sense of uncertainty and anxiety; which, over time, can break down our mental state and weaken our confidence. I know people who try to be positive in the face of adversity, but their positivity is predicated on nothing more than humanistic reasoning or feelings, and is completely devoid of God and His Word. Operating purely from human viewpoint, many are positive because it benefits them personally and makes them feel good. Their positivity is their strength as well as their means of coping with the pressures of life. This works for them, as long as the pressures of life are not too great.

I once knew a man who was very positive in his thinking and disposition; but he was also locked into human viewpoint thinking, which handicapped his intellect.[11] I tried to share the gospel of grace with him, but he could not get past the discussion of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, as it was too upsetting to him. He did not like what the Bible said about his fallen state and helplessness to correct it. He could not receive God’s medicine, because he could not accept the Lord’s diagnosis of his spiritual malady. He stubbornly refused to let God’s Word get in the way of his arbitrary positivity. As a result, he remained a slave in Satan’s world-system, feeling good while traveling to hell. Sadly, others were drawn to his humanistic positivity, like a moth to a flame.

Bible With PenI too desire to be positive. It’s good for the soul to have an optimistic outlook on life as well as the future. But my positivity is rooted in God’s Word, not the faulty reasonings of fallen people. God’s Word is my reference point for reality. The Bible, plainly understood, is the ground upon which my reasoning ideally operates, as it provides an honest and true perspective on everything it addresses. It helps me to understand metaphysical issues concerning the origin of the universe (Gen 1:1), mankind (Gen 1:26-27), and that people are special because we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). The Bible teaches me about the reality of angels and demons (Eph 6:12), that everything is in a state of decay because of sin (Rom 8:30), and that God provides the only solution to sin in the person of Jesus (Acts 4:12), who offers redemption through His work on the cross (Rom 3:24; Col 1:13-14). The Bible helps me have hope for the future because I know Christ is coming back (Tit 2:13), and that He will rule the world in righteousness. Isaiah says of Messiah, “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isa 9:7; cf., Jer 23:5; 33:15; Dan 2:44). Finally, I know God will destroy the current heavens and earth and create a new heavens and earth (Rev 21:1—22:21); for “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13).

As a Christian, I want and need encouragement, but only as it lines up with God and His Word. I desire the positivity that is connected with Christianity. The positivity that is based on a relationship with God and a healthy walk in His Word. This positivity welcomes God’s corrective and perfective discipline, and even the suffering that comes from being persecuted for righteousness. This is connected with a divine joy that God gives, which operates independently of the vacillating circumstances of this life. Jesus is our prime example, as we are commanded to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). The cross was bearable because of something in Jesus’ soul, namely, divine joy.

Four Ways to Help Encourage Fellow Christians

I work to be an encouragement to others who are advancing in their spiritual walk with the Lord. As a Bible teacher, it’s important to impart God’s Word to others that they might operate according to divine viewpoint. I realize that studying and teaching the Bible on a regular basis circulates God’s Word into the stream of conscious thought; both my own and others. This strengthens the soul by getting us to think divine viewpoint rather than human viewpoint. This does not mean we ignore the situation we’re in; rather, we learn to frame it in the divine perspective, which helps us see reality with hope, because we know God is on His throne, that He “works all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28), and that He is for us and not against us (Rom 8:31). Christian courage is rooted in God’s Word, which is the right standard by which a Christian should think and operate. When I am operating by humanistic standards or sinful fear, I’m spiritually miscalibrated in my walk with the Lord and need to recalibrate my thinking and behavior to align with God and His Word. When properly calibrated, my mind and will operate optimally as God intends, and faith produces courage that strengthens me in a crisis. Below are four ways we can encourage others.

  1. Share uplifting Scripture. The Bible is “alive and powerful” (Heb 4:12), and when it goes forth, it is like “the rain and the snow which come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater” (Isa 55:10). When writing to the Christians at Rome, Paul referred to the “the encouragement of the Scriptures” which give hope (Rom 15:4). And these Scriptures derive from “the God who gives perseverance and encouragement” to those who receive them (Rom 15:5). As Christians who want to help others, we offer God’s Word with the confidence that it will bless and strengthen the heart that receives it. I have worked in jail and prison ministry for years, and on many occasions, I have seen the hearts of men lifted and encouraged at the preaching of God’s Word. Some of these men have turned their lives around and are now serving the Lord as Christian ministers in their environment, and I always try to encourage them with Scripture that helps them be successful.
  2. Give honest words of praise for work performed. Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, acknowledging their “faith in the Lord Jesus” as well as their “love for all the saints” (Eph 1:15). And to the believers in Colossae, he recognized their “faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints” (Col 1:4). And the saints at Thessalonica were praised for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th 1:3). To his friend, Philemon, Paul wrote, “I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints” (Phm 1:5). Honest words of praise help lift the troubled soul.
  3. Offer assistance to help in ministry. Sometimes we need to give more than words. Sometimes we need to give of our abilities and time to help in whatever way is needed. When writing to his friend, Titus, Paul said, “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (Tit 3:14). And to the Christians living in Rome, Paul mentioned the ministry of Phoebe, saying, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well” (Rom 16:1-2). I remember a time when I became overworked as a pastor because others in the church had abandoned their post, and in short time it led to burnout. I had to step down from being pastor because of fatigue and exhaustion. I simply could not continue the pace. The rule that many hands make light work is true.
  4. Give of personal finances to support the work of others. God gives us wealth, partly for personal enjoyment, but also that we might be good stewards and help support the ministry of others. Finances facilitate ministry and make it possible, and God tests the hearts of His people to see if they will give to support His work. David understood that riches and honor come from God (1 Ch 29:12-16), and that anything God’s people give to support ministry is simply an act of giving back to Him what is already His. For this reason, David said, “Since I know, O my God, that You try the heart and delight in uprightness, I, in the integrity of my heart, have willingly offered all these things; so now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here, make their offerings willingly to You” (1 Ch 29:17). In the Gospel of Luke, we learn about some women who traveled with Jesus and His disciples (Luke 8:1-2a). What’s interesting is that Luke tells us these women were funding Jesus’ ministry. Some of them included, “Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means” (Luke 8:2b-3). The apostle Paul instructed wealthy Christians “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim 6:18). Giving to support ministry always encourages those doing the Lord’s work. However, giving should always be done with the right attitude, with a cheerful heart. It’s better not to give at all, than to give for the wrong reason. Paul said, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

In summary, God’s people need ongoing encouragement in order to strengthen them within so they can continue to do His will. God encourages us directly, through His Word, and through His people. As Christians, we can help to strengthen our souls by ongoing study and application of Scripture, as this provides divine viewpoint and a basis for faith. And, we can make conscious choices to be an encouragement to others who are struggling to do God’s will in a fallen world.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] This is likely a Messianic passage that refers to Jesus who, as a young boy, received instruction from His Father. Arnold Fruchtenbaum writes, “During His boyhood in Nazareth, every morning, Jesus was awakened by His Father in the early hours of the morning to receive instruction. In this way Jesus learned who He was, what His mission was, and how to act and react accordingly.” (Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology, Ariel Ministries, p. 51).

[2] Merriam-Webster, “Discourage” in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Life’s Problems, God’s Solutions: Answers to Fifteen of Life’s Most Perplexing Problems (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1998), 86.

[4] I was greatly discouraged by a bully-boss who had placed a difficult project with unrealistic goals on my department. Her impossible goals produced fatigue and discouragement, which killed morale among the staff. When I tried to talk with her about the matter, she viewed my questions as insubordination and ramped up her attacks. She resorted to lies in an effort to manipulate me and control the outcome she desired. Originally, I trusted her in what she said, but her lies distorted my perception of certain people and circumstances, which had a damaging effect on me mentally and emotionally. Over time, what she could not control, she sought to destroy, and this by ongoing pokes and jabs which wore me down. Because of her unethical values and harmful practices, I lost confidence in her ability to lead effectively, and I was wounded as one who had been betrayed by a leader. I learned a painful lesson about the damage a controlling personality can have on others. It’s never valid to damage another person’s soul for the sake of self-interest and personal glory. I also learned how important it is to be honest with others, to be an encourager, to help strengthen others and build them up to do good work.

[5] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 302–303.

[6] William Arndt, et al, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 444.

[7] Ibid., 764.

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 449.

[9] The form of the verb in these passages is present, active, imperative. The present tense implies ongoing action, the active voice means the subject produces the action, and the imperative mood is a command which assumes thought, volition, and opportunity.

[10] J. Dwight Pentecost, Life’s Problems, God’s Solutions, 95.

[11] Divine viewpoint must be distinguished from humanistic positive thinking. The former operates from the greatest reality possible, a reality that starts with God and factors Him and His Word into our situations. God’s perspective is reality, whether we like it or not, whether it makes us feel good or bad, whether we see it as positive or negative. God’s infinite and perfect perspective surpasses our finite and imperfect perspective.

A Survey of Mobs and Riots in Scripture

[The content of this article was published in The Journal of Dispensational Theology, Volume 26, Number 72, Spring 2022. The copyright is retained by this author and published here as an article with the hope the material will reach a larger audience]

Mobs and riots have been part of the human sociological landscape for millennia. They are certainly a part of the human experience in America.[1] The purpose of this article is to review the history of mobs and riots throughout Scripture and to make observations about how they were handled.

A mob is “a large or disorderly crowd especially one bent on riotous or destructive action.”[2] A riot is a form of civil unrest in which a group causes a public disturbance by destroying property and/or harming innocent people. A mob, though bent on destruction, may be hindered or neutralized by psychological dissuasion or the legitimate use of physical force. Both mobs and riots are found throughout Scripture. In the OT, the verb קָהַל qahal means “to assemble…to call together, meet together.”[3] Though commonly used of an assembly of people (Ex 35:1; 1 Ki 12:21; 1 Ch 13:5; 15:3), it is used in Jeremiah 26:9 to describe a mob who demanded Jeremiah’s death (Jer 26:11). Also, ἐκκλησία ekklesia, which in most instances denotes an “assembly…community, [or] congregation”[4] is used in Acts 19:32, 41 to describe a mob. The word ὄχλος ochlos refers to a crowd, but denotes riotous behavior in Acts 14:19; 17:8; 21:34-35. The compound word ὀχλοποιέω ochlopoieo, is translated “form a mob”[5] in Acts 17:5. The noun θόρυβος thorubos is used to describe a riot in Matthew 26:5; 27:24, and Mark 14:2, and the verb θορυβέω thorubeo describes moblike behavior in Acts 17:5. Lastly, the word στάσις stasis, which primarily means a standing, is used in Acts 19:40 to describe an “uprising, riot, revolt, rebellion.”[6] In each of these occurrences, context determines the meaning of the word. It’s interesting that more riots were started against the apostle Paul than any other person in Scripture, as he was attacked in Philippi (Acts 16:19-24), Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-9), Ephesus (Acts 19:28-41), and Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-35).

Often there are corrupt individuals or groups who instigate a riot, either as a means of retaliation for some perceived injustice (real or imagined), or simply to cause disruption as a means of leveraging power within a community. For those leading the mob, it’s about intimidation and power and forcing others to submit to their demands. Because rioters are often more emotional than rational, it becomes very difficult to restrain a mob except by physical force. This is why a well-trained and properly funded police force is necessary for civil peace.[7]

Operating from a biblical worldview, one would be remiss to ignore the spiritual forces at work behind the human activity, as Satan and his demonic forces promote acts of evil and violence against God’s people and His divine institutions.[8] The challenge for Christians is to strive to be Christlike in word and action. And, when faced with the hostility of a mob, resolve not to bow to the enemy when they employ intimidation tactics. God always knows when a believer will face a crisis, and He is faithful to provide wisdom and grace in each situation. Below are examples of mobs and riots in the Bible and how they were handled.

Example #1 – Lot and Sodom (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 sexual degenerates 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).[9] 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). Ross states, “The men wanted to exploit the visitors sexually, and Lot was willing to sacrifice his two daughters’ virginity instead. Ironically, Lot offered them his daughters to do whatever seemed “good” (ṭôb) in their eyes, but even this perverted good was rejected by those bent on evil.”[10] 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).

Lot SodomWhen 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). The Hebrew verb נָכָה nakah “is often used for ‘hitting’ or ‘smiting’ an object with one, non-fatal strike.”[11] Here, we witness the angels employing a measured use of nonlethal force sufficient to stop the Sodomites 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).

Observations: First, Lot received divine assistance, being aided by angels who came to his defense. Lot was not equipped to handle the situation on his own, and others, more capable, had to step in and act on his behalf. Second, the angels used a nonlethal method of force to control the mob. Blinding the crowd was sufficient to deter them from advancing. Third, once the threat was neutralized, the angels then acted to get Lot and his willing family members out of the city. Once Lot and his family were removed from the hostile situation, God then rained down judgment upon the city and destroyed it (Gen 19:12-25).

Example #2 – Gideon and Baal (Judg 6:1-31). Gideon was a Judge in Israel who was called by God to deliver His people from Midianite oppressors who were attacking and raiding the cities and taking their food (Judg 6:1-24). Gideon was also called by God to tear down a pagan altar that was being used by Israelites to worship Baal and Asherah (Judg 6:25-27). Gideon’s act of destroying the altar was a divine provocation against Israelites who had been wrongly engaging in idolatry.

gideonWhen the idolaters in the city woke the next the morning, “they found Baal’s altar torn down, and the Asherah pole beside it cut down” (Judg 6:28). After a short inquiry, the men of the city learned the altar to Baal had been destroyed by Gideon (Judg 6:29), so they went to Joash, Gideon’s father, and said, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he tore down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it” (Judg 6:30). God’s Law for Israel required that pagan altars and idols be torn down and destroyed (Ex 34:13; Deut 7:5; Judg 2:2), and those who worshipped the idols were to be put to death (Deut 13:6-10). However, this account reveals how corrupt the Israelite community had become, as many were willing to defend Baal and kill God’s servant.

Like the previous illustration of Lot, surrounding the house was an intimidation tactic to cause fearful compliance. Pagan-minded Israelites were employing a pressure tactic against God’s servant. However, Gideon’s father, Joash, was not a man to be bullied. He was a man with strength of character. He defended his son, standing alone against the mob, saying, “Would you plead Baal’s case for him? Would you save him? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead his own case because someone tore down his altar” (Judg 6:31). Joash’s argument is solid. If Baal is a god, he should not need people to defend (רִיב rib) him and his altar so as to save him (יָשַׁע yasha) from Gideon’s attack. It could be that Joash’s argument persuaded the mob; however, it seems more likely that it was his threat of putting to death anyone who defended Baal that deterred the mob from advancing with their murderous intention against his son.

Observations: First, like the previous example with Lot, Gideon had someone come to his rescue. In this case, it was the help of Gideon’s father, Joash, who boldly confronted the mob that wanted to kill his son. Second, Joash met a threat of force with a threat of force. He said to the mob, “Whoever pleads his [Baal’s] case will be put to death by morning!” In effect, Joash was promising to kill anyone who defended Baal and tried to harm his son. In this situation it took someone with a strong personality and a blunt rebuke to quiet the mob. Surely God, Who called Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal, used Joash as His instrument to defend Gideon. In the end Gideon was not harmed (Judg 6:32), and went on to serve as God’s leader in Israel to defeat their enemies (Judg 6:33—7:25).

Example #3 – Jeremiah in Jerusalem (Jer 26:1-24). God called Jeremiah, His prophet, to warn the people of Jerusalem that unless they turned back to God in obedience, He would destroy the temple and the city (Jer 26:1-2). Through His prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Perhaps they will listen and return—each from his evil way of life—so that I might relent concerning the disaster that I plan to do to them because of the evil of their deeds” (Jer 26:3).

As God’s people, the Judahites were under judgment because they had turned away from the Lord and were living like the pagan nations. If God’s people did not turn back to Him, as He instructed (Jer 26:4-5), then God said, “I will make this temple like Shiloh. I will make this city [Jerusalem] an object of cursing for all the nations of the earth” (Jer 26:6). The Israelites were furious with what Jeremiah had spoken, and when he finished delivering his speech (Jer 26:7-8a), “the priests, the prophets, and all the people took hold of him, yelling, ‘You must surely die!’” (Jer 26:8b). They further stated, “How dare you prophesy in the name of Yahweh, saying, ‘This temple will become like Shiloh and this city will become an uninhabited ruin!’ Then all the people assembled against Jeremiah at the LORD’s temple” (Jer 26:9). The word assembled translates the Hebrew verb קָהַל qahal which means “to assemble…call together, meet together.”[12] Though commonly used of an assembly of people (Ex 35:1; 1 Ki 12:21; 1 Ch 13:5; 15:3), it is used here in Jeremiah 26:9 to describe a mob that gathered around Jeremiah, grabbed him by force, and demanded his death (cf., Jer 26:11). Fortunately, some of the city officials heard about what was happening and “went from the king’s palace to the LORD’s temple and sat at the entrance of the New Gate” (Jer 26:10). Once there, they mediated the situation and listened to the demands of the crowd (Jer 26:11), as well as Jeremiah the prophet (Jer 26:12-13).

Jeremiah submitted to these leaders, saying, “As for me, here I am in your hands; do to me what you think is good and right” (Jer 26:14). However, Jeremiah was not passive, and he spoke up for himself, saying to the leaders, “But know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, on this city, and on its residents, for it is certain the LORD has sent me to speak all these things directly to you” (Jer 26:15). The leaders of Judah were persuaded by Jeremiah, and they spoke to the priests and prophets on Jeremiah’s behalf, saying, “This man doesn’t deserve the death sentence, for he has spoken to us in the name of Yahweh our God!” (Jer 26:16). Huey states, “To their credit the officials, now joined by the people, made the right decision. Jeremiah’s eloquent defense convinced them, at least for the moment, that his message was not worthy of his death. They rejected the accusation of the priests and prophets by acquitting Jeremiah of the charges.”[13] These governmental leaders defended Jeremiah, as they should have, (Jer 26:16-23), and “so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death” (Jer 26:24). Jeremiah’s life was saved from the mob that wanted to kill him.

Observations: First, Jeremiah, when attacked by the mob, had city officials come to his rescue. These officials modeled good government which intervened and mediated the situation in an orderly and rational manner, listening to both sides of the case before rendering judgment. Second, Jeremiah did not sit quietly, but defended himself before the city officials, declaring that he was innocent. Third, Jeremiah brought God into the discussion, saying, “it is certain the LORD has sent me to speak all these things directly to you.” Here is an example of a believer thinking divine viewpoint, and bringing God into the discussion with the city’s leaders. This made the leaders aware that whatever they did, it was not just against Jeremiah, but against God who called him.

Example # 4 – Jesus in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). Early in Jesus’ earthly ministry, when He was becoming more widely known, He was entering and teaching in synagogues and having discussions with His fellow Jews (Luke 4:14-15). When Jesus came to Nazareth, “As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). After reading from the scroll of Isaiah (Luke 4:17-20), He identified Himself as the One whom Isaiah had written about, saying, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (Luke 4:21). At the beginning of His address, “They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth” (Luke 4:22). However, Jesus went on to reveal His hearers would reject Him (Luke 4:23), and that “no prophet is welcome in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). Jesus then cited two OT examples where God’s prophets—Elijah and Elisha—turned to Gentiles and demonstrated kindness (Luke 4:23-27). Jesus pointed out that Elijah had helped a Gentile widow in Sidon (1 Ki 17:8-16), and Elisha healed Naaman, a Syrian Gentile of his leprosy (2 Ki 5:1-15). This was a blow to Jewish exceptionalism, as Jesus revealed God’s goodness toward women, Gentiles, and lepers, three groups of people who were regarded by Jesus’ hearers to be at the bottom of Jewish society. Like many OT prophets, Jesus too would be rejected by recalcitrant Israelites and He would turn to the Gentiles.

This message upset Jesus’ hearers and their pride was wounded. “When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff” (Luke 4:28-29). Here was a religious and murderous mob that intended to kill Jesus, and He permitted Himself to be driven by them to a certain place. Surely, the mob handled Him roughly as they went through the town and to the edge of the hill where they intended to kill Him. However, once at the edge of the hill, He did not permit them to go any further. Luke informs us, “But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:30). It was not the Father’s time for Jesus to die, so a way of escape was provided.

Observations: Here, a hostile crowd had taken offense at Jesus’ teaching, perhaps because it accused them of rejecting Messiah, thus wounding their pride. Rather than operate by humility and reason, they formed a mob and were ready to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff. Jesus permitted Himself to be driven by the mob to a certain point; however, because it was not the Father’s time for Jesus to die, Jesus was able to walk away from the dangerous situation. Though the text does not say, divine intervention seems to be the reason Jesus was spared.

Jesus before PilateExample #5 – Jesus Before Pilate (Matt 27:1-26). By the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we have an example of how the religious leadership in Jerusalem manipulated a crowd in order to help bring about Jesus’ crucifixion. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are informed that “all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. [And] after tying Him up, they led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate, the [Roman] governor” (Matt 27:1-2). And when Jesus was brought before Pilate, He did not defend Himself against the charges because He knew His hour had come for Him to be crucified according to the Father’s will (Matt 27:10-14; cf. John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1; Acts 2:22-23; 4:25-28).

Pilate, knowing the Jews were operating on envy and hatred tried to dissuade the mob from demanding Jesus’ death. As a possible solution, Pilate offered to release Barabbas, a violent criminal, in place of Jesus (Matt 27:15-19). The “chief priests and the elders, however, persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to execute Jesus” (Matt 27:20). Here we observe corrupt leaders stirring up a mob as a pressure tactic to gain power. Pilate tried to defend Jesus by reasoning with the mob (Matt 27:21-23a), “But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify Him!’ all the more” (Matt 27:23).

The pressure of the mob had its intended effect, and the result was a breakdown in justice, for “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!’” (Matt 27:24). Pilate became aware that he could not reason with the crowd and realized a riot (θόρυβος thorubos) was about to take place.

Pilate was no novice when it came to mobs and riots. Wright correctly states, “Pilate had commanded troops. He had sent them to quell riots before and could do so again. He didn’t have to be pushed around. But, like all bullies, he was also a coward. He lurches from trying to play the high and mighty judge to listening a little too much to the growing noise of the crowd.”[14] The battle of the wills was over. Pilate had surrendered to the mob. The Jewish crowd took full responsibility for Jesus’ trial and death, saying, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt 27:25). But this was not their place to act this way, as they had no legitimate authority to make this sort of demand. However, Pilate caved in, and “after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified” (Matt 27:26).

Observations: The religious leaders of Israel acted corruptly against Jesus, their Messiah, tied Him up and led Him away to Pilate, the Roman Governor. Pilate saw what was happening and tried to quiet the mob by offering to release a corrupt criminal named Barabbas in place of Jesus. But the Jewish leadership wanted Jesus crucified, so they manipulated the mob to start shouting for Jesus to be crucified. Surprisingly, Jesus was not distracted by the hostility of the corrupt leadership, nor the demands of the mob, but remained focused on doing the Father’s will. Divine viewpoint strengthened Jesus to face his hostile attackers. Pilate, however, was moved by the pressure of the crowd and caved in to their unjust demands. In all this, God was sovereignly in control and permitted the mob to be used for His greater glory, as the breakdown of Jewish and Roman jurisprudence was used to bring about Jesus’ atoning death on the cross (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28). This was the Father’s will.

Example #6 – The Stoning of Stephen (Acts 6:8—7:60). Early in the development of the Church, Luke records the account of a mob that stoned Stephen to death. Stephen is described as a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Luke also tells us he was “full of grace and power, [and] was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). But Stephen had men who opposed him, “some from what is called the Freedmen’s Synagogue…came forward and disputed with Stephen” (Acts 6:9). Though these men argued with Stephen, “they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). Being immoral men, they began to tell lies about Stephen, persuading others, saying, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” (Acts 6:11). Unfortunately, these lies “stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, dragged him off, and took him to the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12). Stirred up (συγκινέω sugkineo) is a hapax legomenon that means “They shook the people together like an earthquake.”[15] Emotion follows thought, and here heated emotions were stirred by lies. The attackers also presented false witnesses to testify against Stephen, saying, “This man does not stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. For we heard him say that Jesus, this Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6:13-14). Another lie.

How did Stephen respond to this mob and their false charges? He verbally defended himself against the false charges. Stephen gave an impromptu and selective overview of Israel’s history (recalled from memory), in which he revealed their pattern of rejecting God’s chosen leaders, referencing Joseph, Moses and finally, Jesus (Acts 7:1-50).[16] Stephen defended himself based on a biblical worldview, citing Scripture as the basis for his argument. Many of the religious Israelites of Stephen’s day presented themselves as the keepers and defenders of the Mosaic Law, yet they actually perverted it to protect their place of power and religious authority and were willing to destroy God’s true servants when their self-interest and theological presuppositions were threatened. Stephen saw past their charade and knew the real issue behind their false accusations, and speaking boldly, he said:

You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it (Acts 7:51-53).

Stephen called them out on their hypocrisy and corruption, and “When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54). But Stephen did not react in kind; rather, he committed himself to the Lord. “But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (Acts 7:55-56). This further incited his audience, and “they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. They threw him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:57-58).

Stoning of StephenStephen did not have a way of escape, and rather than reacting with violence, he committed himself to the Lord. Luke wrote, “They were stoning Stephen as he called out: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin!’ And saying this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59-60). Stephen’s words and actions modeled the humility and love Jesus displayed toward His enemies while being crucified (Luke 23:34, 46).[17] In this situation, God permitted this mob to have their sinful way, and used this as the means of bringing His servant home to heaven. Jesus did not rescue Stephen from death, but sustained him by means of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:10) and stood in approval of his message and welcomed him as the first Christian martyr into heaven. The record of Stephen’s life was that he was a good man, full of faith, who helped the needy and preached the gospel.

Observations: In this account, Stephen’s ministry came to an abrupt end when he was murdered for preaching God’s Word with clarity and passion. Stephen, being sustained by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, defended himself against the false charges brought against him, arguing from a biblical worldview and citing Scripture as the basis for his argument, calling out his attackers on their hypocrisy and corruption. When attacked by the mob (with no way out), Stephen committed himself to the Lord, fell to his knees and prayed for them, asking they be forgiven for their sin. In this way, Stephen modeled the humility and love Jesus displayed toward His enemies while He was crucified. It was a gross injustice that Stephen died a violent death at the hands of wicked men; however, the God of heaven stands as “Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), and will see to it that divine retribution is rendered in His way and His time (Rom 12:17-19).

Example #7 – Paul and Silas in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). In this pericope we have an example of a mob attacking and beating Paul and Silas because their ministry threatened the economic livelihood of craftsmen who made idols. Luke, the author of Acts, records, “Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling” (Acts 16:16). Luke reveals the slave girl followed Paul and his companions, saying, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the slaves of the Most High God” (Acts 16:17), and that “she did this for many days” (Acts 16:17a).[18]

This slave girl’s behavior irritated Paul, with the result that “Paul was greatly aggravated, and turning to the spirit, said, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out right away” (Acts 16:18). Though Paul’s actions removed the irritant, it caused another situation to arise, for “When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities” (Acts 16:19). Here is an example where “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). The loss of their future financial wellbeing influenced them to violence, and “Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice’” (Acts 16:20-21). Of course, this was a lie, but they did not care about truth, only protecting their income.

Luke records, “Then the mob joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded” (Acts 16:22-23). The mob (ὁ ὄχλος) is literally the crowd; however, the context describes moblike behavior; hence, the CSB translation.

Paul in JailIt’s a sad commentary when city officials, who should have upheld law and order, actually joined the mob in their violence against innocent men. It’s interesting that God did not stop their unjust and violent behavior, but used it as an opportunity to have Paul and Silas placed into a jail where they shared the gospel with a jailer who came to faith in Jesus and was saved, along with his household (Acts 16:24-34). But the very next morning, “the chief magistrates sent the police to say, ‘Release those men!’” (Acts 16:35). And the chief jailer told Paul and Silas, “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace” (Acts 16:36). But Paul refused to let the illegality of the situation go unaddressed, saying, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out!” (Acts 16:37).

Paul and Silas had rights as Roman citizens and were justified in claiming those rights when treated illegally. “Then the police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them, and escorting them out, they urged them to leave town” (Acts 16:38-39). The Philippian magistrates were like many who operate primarily from power and only respect those who have power themselves and are not afraid to use it.[19] Though the Philippian magistrates urged Paul and Silas to leave town, they did not do so right away, but first “came to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and [then] departed” (Acts 16:40). Paul and Silas stayed focused on their Christian ministry and were not deterred by the hostility of the city’s residents nor their corrupt leaders.

Observations: In this account, Paul and Silas had been falsely accused of breaking the law by residents of Philippi who were threatened economically by Paul and Silas’ ministry. The accusers, along with a mob and city magistrates, had Paul and Silas stripped, beaten with rods and thrown into jail. The next morning, when Paul and Silas had opportunity, they exercised their rights as Roman citizens, demanding the city magistrates come and escort them out. The city magistrates were then fearful, knowing they’d acted inappropriately by mistreating those who had rights under Roman Law.

paul-preachingExample #8 – Paul and Silas in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Right after Paul and Silas left Philippi, having experience mob violence there, “they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue” (Acts 17:1). Luke informs us, “As usual, Paul went to the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, saying: ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah’” (Acts 17:2-3). Paul’s teaching was having a positive impact, and “some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a great number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women” (Acts 17:4).

Some of the unbelieving Jews in the synagogue felt threatened by Paul’s success in persuading people to turn to Christ and they “became jealous” (Acts 17:5a). Being motivated by sinful jealousy, “they brought together some scoundrels from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city” (Acts 17:5b). A mob translates the Greek verb ὀχλοποιέω ochlopoieo, a hapax legomenon, which literally means “making or getting a crowd.”[20] These Jewish synagogue leaders operated with intentionality as they picked scoundrels (πονηρός poneroswicked, evil, degenerate men) with the sole intention of starting “a riot in the city.” A riot translates the Greek verb θορυβέω thorubeo, which means to “throw into disorder…disturb, agitate”[21]

Here we see hot emotions directing aggressive behavior. The result was that the mob sought an outlet of destruction, and “Attacking Jason’s house, they searched for them to bring them out to the public assembly” (Acts 17:5c). Jason was the one hosting Paul and Silas while they were in Thessalonica. But when the attackers could not find Paul and Silas, “they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials” (Acts 17:6a). This mob assumed authority to drag Jason and others before the city council (πολιτάρχης politarches). And when they came before the city officials, they came shouting at them. The Greek verb βοάω boao means “to use one’s voice at high volume, call, shout, cry out…of emotionally charged cries”[22]

The tactic of this mob was to overpower the city officials with their sudden presence and high volume. And their argument was, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king—Jesus!” (Acts 17:6b-7). The charge was that Paul and Silas were known as troublemakers elsewhere in the world, and that one of the city residents, Jason, had received them as guests, implying his guilt. The charge also included sedition, saying that Paul and Silas were lawbreakers, violating Caesar’s decree, and advocating for another king, Jesus.

The tactic of the mob worked. The result was, “The Jews stirred up the crowd and the city officials who heard these things. So taking a security bond from Jason and the others, they released them” (Acts 17:8-9). Here, the city officials failed to handle the matter properly, allowing themselves to be caught up in the emotional fervor and acting without proper investigation. Not finding Paul or Silas, the city officials took a security bond from Jason and then let them go. Toussaint writes, “Probably the bond-posting was to guarantee that Paul and Silas would leave town and not return. If more trouble arose, Jason and the others would lose their money. This may explain why Paul was prohibited from returning (1 Th 2:18).”[23]

Observations: Having previously experienced mob violence in Philippi, Paul and Silas were not deterred from their ministry and continued to advance the gospel of grace, this time in Thessalonica. As was his practice, Paul went to the Jew first and shared the gospel in the local synagogue (Rom 1:16). The result was that many were coming to faith in Christ, including Jews, Gentiles, and prominent women in the city. However, some of the Jewish leaders in the synagogue felt threatened by the exodus of members and they resorted to evil tactics to protect their remaining congregation. Their strategy was to partner with some unethical men from the marketplace and form a mob and start a riot. Creating a crisis gave them the necessary leverage to deal with the perceived threat that Paul and Silas posed. When they could not find Paul and Silas, they attacked Jason—Paul’s host—and dragged him before the city officials with false charges of sedition. Their strategy worked. The city officials forced Jason to provide a security bond—presumably a large amount of money—that guaranteed Paul and Silas would not return to the city.

Example #9 – Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:21—20:1). Paul had received a positive response when he preached the gospel in Ephesus and many were believing in Jesus as Savior and turning away from their idolatry. In Acts 19:21-41, we learn that Paul’s preaching had a social and economic impact, and those who felt financially threatened formed a mob and sought to harm him and his companions. Luke informs us, “During that time there was a major disturbance about the Way” (Acts 19:23). The disturbance was started by a man named Demetrius, “a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, [and] provided a great deal of business for the craftsmen” (Acts 19:24). After gathering his fellow craftsmen together, Demetrius told them:

Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods! So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one all of Asia and the world adore. (Acts 19:25-27).

The appeal of Demetrius was first economic (Acts 19:25), and then theological (Acts 19:27). Money and religion are often tied together, and a threat to one is a threat to the other. Wiersbe states, “Paul did not arouse the opposition of the silversmiths by picketing the temple of Diana or staging anti-idolatry rallies. All he did was teach the truth daily and send out his converts to witness to the lost people in the city. As more and more people got converted, fewer and fewer customers were available.”[24]

Demetrius’ message had its desired effect, for “When they had heard this, they were filled with rage and began to cry out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Act 19:28). Their rage and shouting infected others who turned to violence, “So the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed all together into the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions” (Acts 19:29). Paul wanted to go into the amphitheater and defend the gospel message and his companions, but was prohibited by his friends (Acts 19:30). Luke records, “Even some of the provincial officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent word to him, pleading with him not to take a chance by going into the amphitheater” (Acts 19:31).

One wonders why some of these “provincial officials” did not exercise their authority and stop the mob from its violence. Perhaps they were intimidated. The riot grew in intensity, as “some were shouting one thing and some another, because the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together” (Acts 19:32). This would have been laughable, except for the possibility of serious harm that Paul’s companions faced at the hands of this angry mob.

At one point, there was a man named Alexander, who was pushed to the front of the crowd to give advice (Acts 19:33). However, when the crowd “recognized that he was a Jew, a united cry went up from all of them for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:34). Not only do we observe antisemitism, but more shouting from a highly emotional group. After the crowd had run out of energy, the city clerk began to reason with them (Acts 19:35-36a), saying, “you must keep calm and not do anything rash. For you have brought these men here who are not temple robbers or blasphemers of our goddess” (Acts 19:36b-37).

One can imagine Paul’s two friends, Gaius and Aristarchus, were afraid for their lives during this time and were perhaps relieved when the city clerk began to calm the crowd and reason with them, saying, “if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a case against anyone, the courts are in session, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you want something else, it must be decided in a legal assembly” (Acts 19:38-39). The matter should have been handled in the courts from the beginning. He also told them, “we run a risk of being charged with rioting for what happened today, since there is no justification that we can give as a reason for this disorderly gathering” (Acts 19:40). The word rioting translates the Greek word στάσις stasis, which primarily means a standing, but is here use to describe an “uprising, riot, revolt, rebellion.”[25] The mob had to run out of steam before reason could be applied to the situation, and then the crowd dispersed (Acts 19:41). Afterwards, Paul left the city for Macedonia (Acts 20:1).

Observations: In this situation, Paul had received a positive response to the gospel message when he was in Ephesus. The result was that many people in the city were turning from their idols and sorcery and serving Christ. However, the social and economic impact touched the local craftsmen who felt financially threatened. A leader by the name of Demetrius gathered his fellow craftsmen and stirred them up, forming a mob, and dragging two innocent companions of Paul into an amphitheater, where the crowd shouted for two hours, causing confusion, even forgetting why they had gathered in the first place. Eventually, after the crowd ran out of steam, a city clerk was able to address them reasonably, advising they bring their charges to the courts if anyone had a legal case. Because there was no strong leadership with the means to quiet the mob, the rioters had to wear themselves out before a city official could reason with the people and diffuse the situation.

Example #10 – Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17—22:30). In this account Paul had returned to Jerusalem and visited with some of the elders of the church (Acts 21:17-20), who informed him there were false rumors being spread about him, that he was teaching “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, by telling them not to circumcise their children or to walk in our customs” (Acts 21:21).[26]

Being concerned about Paul’s return and the possible problems it might cause, the church elders advised him to partner with “four men who have obligated themselves with a vow” (Acts 21:23). They told Paul, “Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law” (Acts 21:24). They thought this would correct any false ideas people had about Paul and assuage their fears. The elders would also advocate for Paul concerning the Gentiles who had believed, saying, “we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Act 21:25).

Wanting to keep the peace, Paul complied with their request and the very next day “took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering for each of them would be made” (Acts 21:26).[27] When possible, Paul accommodated others if it created an open door to share Christ (1 Cor 9:19-23). Next, we learn, “As the seven days were about to end, the Jews from Asia saw him in the temple complex, stirred up the whole crowd, and seized him, shouting, ‘Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What’s more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has profaned this holy place.’” (Acts 21:27-28)

These men stirred up the crowd with false charges and physically seized Paul. They also made some false assumptions, “For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple complex” (Acts 21:29). The result was, “The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple complex, and at once the gates were shut” (Acts 21:30). This mob resorted to violence and were beating Paul, but “As they were trying to kill him, word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos. Taking along soldiers and centurions, he immediately ran down to them. Seeing the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul” (Acts 21:31-32). This is an example of a mob that was quelled only by the use of force. The mob violence against Paul was stopped only because they feared the Romans.

The Roman commander arrested Paul and tried to assess the situation by questioning him (Acts 21:33). But while he was trying to get information, “Some in the mob were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar, he ordered him to be taken into the barracks” (Acts 21:34). The mob here translates the Greek noun ὄχλος ochlos, which commonly refers to a crowd, but is used here and in verse 35 to describe violent moblike behavior. But even getting Paul out of the situation proved difficult, for “When Paul got to the steps, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the mob’s violence, for the mass of people followed, yelling, ‘Take him away!’” (Acts 21:35-36).

Paul PreachingPaul requested the Roman commander allow him to address the crowd, which he was permitted to do (Acts 21:35-40), and Paul gave a defense of his ministry (Acts 22:1-20). The crowd listened to Paul until he mentioned his ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21), and that suddenly set them off. Luke records, “Then they raised their voices, shouting, ‘Wipe this person off the earth—it’s a disgrace for him to live!’” (Acts 22:22). The Roman commander saw things were getting out of control again, and as the mob “were yelling and flinging aside their robes and throwing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, directing that he be examined with the scourge, so he could discover the reason they were shouting against him like this” (Acts 22:23-24).

As Paul was about to be flogged—which might have killed him or crippled him for life—he defended himself by revealing he was a Roman citizen, which guaranteed his rights under Roman law (Acts 22:25-27). Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander, revealed he’d purchased his Roman citizenship by means of a large payment; however, Paul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28).[28] Luke states, “Therefore, those who were about to examine him withdrew from him at once. The commander too was alarmed when he realized Paul was a Roman citizen and he had bound him” (Acts 22:29). In this situation, Paul defended himself by exercising his legal rights as a Roman citizen in order to avoid unwarranted suffering or premature death.[29]

Observations: In this record, Paul had returned to Jerusalem and met with the elders of the church, who advised him to go to the temple and support some local men who had taken a vow. This was done to try to alleviate some false rumors that had spread about Paul. However, some Jews from Asia spread lies about Paul bringing Gentiles into the temple courtyard, and this resulted in a riot that would have led to Paul’s death if a Roman commander had not intervened with his soldiers. Here, strong leadership and physical force were necessary to protect Paul from a violent mob. However, the same leadership decided to have Paul flogged in an effort to get information out of him as to why his fellow Jews wanted to kill him. And like other occasions, Paul defended himself by exercising his legal rights as a Roman citizen.

Summary:

Mobs and riots are nothing new to human experience. What the Scriptures reveal is that sometimes they are the result of a larger reality that includes God, angels, demons, believers and unbelievers. Sometimes the conflicts arise when cherished but faulty theological ideas and livelihoods are threatened by the believer who advances the gospel of grace. Biblically, there is no example of a believer doing God’s will by means of forming a mob and starting a riot. Such ill behavior is indicative of those who operate on sinful values.

When encountering a mob, there may be times when God will supernaturally intervene and protect us, such as with Lot. Sometimes He will raise up another to defend us, such as with Gideon. But there may also be times we will face injury like Paul and Silas, or perhaps a martyr’s death, like Stephen. Whether God chooses to rescue us in the moment of potential harm or not, we are called to stand firm wearing the full armor of God. When possible, we should demand our rights under the law as citizens of whichever country we happen to live. It is biblical to do so.

As Christians living in a fallen world, we are under divine orders to share the gospel and biblical teaching with the hope that others will turn to God (Mark 16:15; 2 Tim 4:2). By such activity, Christians disrupt Satan’s kingdom of darkness as people respond to God’s Word and are rescued (Col 1:13-14). Biblically, we know the majority in this world will not turn to Christ (Matt 7:13-14) but will be hostile to Him and to His people (John 15:18-19). As Christians, we are called to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Luke 6:27-28).

Lastly, when sharing God’s Word with others, it’s helpful to know that not everyone wants to hear God’s truth, and even though we may not agree with them, their personal choices should be respected (Matt 10:14; Acts 13:50-51). 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 disruption and may even offend. The worldly-minded person will often try to control the content of every conversation, leading the Christian to talk only about worldly issues, as Scripture threatens his pagan presuppositions. We must not yield to him. Having the biblical worldview, the Christian should insert himself into daily conversations with others, and in so doing, be a light in a dark place. The Christian should strive to be respectful, conversational, and never have a fist-in-your-face attitude, as arrogance never helps advance biblical truth (2 Tim 2:24-26). The worldly-minded person may not want to hear what the Christian has to say, but he should never be under the false impression that he has the right to quiet the Christian and thereby exclude him from the conversation.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] In 2020, the United States witnessed riots across the country in cities such as Chicago, Kenosha, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, and Portland. Social media websites have become popular platforms for online mobs—cyber bullies—whose victims are judged on worldly and rigid ideological grounds without facts or concern for outcomes.

[2] Merriam-Webster, “Mob” in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

[3] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1078–1079.

[4] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303.

[5] Ibid., 745.

[6] Ibid., 940.

[7] In 2020 in the United States, there was a push by many organizations to defund the police on the grounds that police organizations are systemically racist and need to be dismantled. Some who were pushing for this reduction in police are noted Marxists who appear to be using this tactic to cause disruption in order to leverage power within the community.

[8] God has designed certain institutions to serve as the basis for personal and national stability. At a minimum, these include personal responsibility (Gen 1:27-28; 2:16-17), marriage (Gen 2:20-25; Col 3:18-21), family (Gen 1:28; 4:1-2; Eph 6:1-4), human government (Rom 13:1-6), and nations with sovereign borders (Acts 17:26-27).

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.

[10] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 360.

[11] Marvin R. Wilson, “1364 נָכָה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 578.

[12] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1078–1079.

[13] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, vol. 16, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 238.

[14] Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 179.

[15] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Acts 6:12.

[16] In this context I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, who told His disciples, “Whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what must be said” (Luke 12:11-12).

[17] The apostle Peter communicates this same truth when he wrote, “For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps. He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth; when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.” (1 Pet 2:21-23)

[18] It could be the demon was trying to provoke Paul to cast it out, thus depriving the slave girl’s owners of their economic wellbeing, and prompting them to force Paul out of town by means of violence. Satan and demons surely understand human psychology and social behavioral customs such that they can instigate mobs and riots when it serves their purposes.

[19] Paul exercised his legal rights on another occasion when he was facing an unjust trial and was in danger of physical harm in which he appealed to Caesar, hoping to gain a just trial (see Acts 25:7-12).

[20] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Ac 17:5.

[21] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 458.

[22] Ibid., 180.

[23] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 401.

[24] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Acts 19:21–41.

[25] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 940.

[26] Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has value before God for those under the New Covenant (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:16). This is also true of other matters that the Mosaic Law commanded or prohibited (such as animal sacrifices, keeping the Sabbath, dietary laws, feasts, etc.; see Rom 14:14-21; 1 Cor 8:8-13). By grace, believers could either abstain or observe the Mosaic Law. It was a matter of conscience and tradition. However, if they chose to observe the Law, they should never regard it as a means of salvation (Rom 3:28-30; 5:1-2; Gal 2:16, 20-21; 3:26), nor a way to be spiritual. Only the life of faith under the New Covenant pleases the Lord (Heb 7:19; 11:6).

[27] This was likely a Nazarite vow, which was voluntary, temporary, and required the person to abstain from wine (and grapes and raisins), not cut his hair, and have no contact with the dead (or anyone who has). After completion of the vow, there were to be sacrifices of a lamb, ram, and grain and drink offering (Num 6:13-17).

[28] Paul’s Roman citizenship—which he had by birth—was perhaps obtained by his father or grandfather who may have performed a benefit for a Roman official. A born citizen carried more respect than those who purchased citizenship, because it was conferred by respect rather than payment of money. Falsifying Roman citizenship was punishable by death.

[29] Paul knew his Christian walk would be coupled with suffering (Acts 9:15-16; cf. 2 Cor 11:23-30), and he was willing to bear the marks of persecution (Gal 6:17), and was even willing to die for the cause of Christ if necessary (Acts 21:13).

The Lesson in the Storm

During His time of ministry on earth, Jesus was constantly teaching His disciples and developing their walk with Him. This development required testing. Some of the situations the disciples faced were turbulent, which exposed their weaknesses and provided teachable moments. Because of positive volition, Jesus’ disciples would, over time, learn His lessons and advance to spiritual maturity. A good example of testing in adversity is found in the Gospel of Matthew, which reads as follows:

When Jesus got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. 25 And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” 26 He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. 27 The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matt 8:23-27)

Jesus on the Stormy SeaIn this pericope, we observe that following Jesus did not preclude the disciples from experiencing a turbulent storm that they perceived as life-threating (Matt 8:23-24a). God, who controls meteorological conditions (Psa 135:7; Jonah 1:4), used this storm as a means of testing and developing the disciples’ faith. Jesus, who was on the boat with them, was relaxed about the storm and “was asleep” (Matt 8:24b). But the disciples, in a state of panic, woke the Lord and requested He save them, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” (Matt 8:25). To their credit, the disciples had enough faith to cry out to the Lord in their perceived crisis. But though the disciples were concerned about the storm on the sea, Jesus was not; and when He was awakened, He addressed the storm that was raging in their souls. Jesus, standing face to face with His disciples on the ship, with strong winds blowing and violent waves crashing all about, said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matt 8:26a). Here was a contrast of perceived problems. The disciples thought the storm was the great issue at the moment, but Jesus thought their fear and little faith was the greater issue. Jesus’ perfect perception of the situation, which kept Him calm, was used to correct the disciples’ misperception, which caused them to fear. The implication of Jesus’ words was that if the disciples had possessed greater faith, they would not have experienced fear and panic. After Jesus addressed the true problem, “He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm” (Matt 8:26b). Just as Jesus could speak and calm the raging storm on the waters, so He could speak and calm the storm in the disciples’ souls, if they would heed His instruction. Being amazed at Jesus’ power over this great tempest, the disciples asked, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matt 8:27). Here, the disciples learn a deep Christological truth that Jesus, as the God-Man, has complete control over the universe He created.

FortressThe storm the disciples faced with Jesus on the sea would set a precedent for other problems they would face. Though the disciples failed the test at that moment—because of their little faith—they learned the lesson Jesus had for them as they witnessed His great power. Over time, the disciples would develop their faith and become some of the most courageous men in history. They would learn that faith in God and His Word produces a fortress within the soul that offers stability when life is upsetting. David understood this well and said, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid” (Psa 56:3-4a). And Isaiah said, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation” (Isa 12:2).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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The High Calling of God’s Servant

As Christians, we are to consider ourselves as God’s ambassadors who represent Him in a foreign land. At the moment of salvation, God rescues us from Satan’s “domain of darkness” and transfers us “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).[1] Furthermore, we have a new identity “in Christ” (1 Cor 1:30), a citizenship “in heaven” (Phil 3:20), and a tremendous portfolio of spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3). But once saved, God does not immediately pluck us from the devil’s world. Rather, it is God’s will that we continue to live in the world under His protection (John 17:15), to be sanctified by means of Scripture (John 17:17), and to serve as His divinely appointed representatives (John 17:18). And we know He provides all our needs while we’re here (Phil 4:19).

The Christian who properly represents the Lord Jesus Christ will possess certain qualities that are useful to the Lord, and these are developed over time. We are to be aware that many people are hostile toward God, and will naturally be hostile toward His representatives. Jesus said “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:19). Though we cannot control the attitudes and actions of others, we must not allow ourselves to be controlled by them. This can be difficult. Rather than react to the sinful behavior of others, we are to respond as God directs. As Christians, we are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), “with grace” (Col 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15-16). There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:20). This is how the Lord Jesus conducted Himself, for “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2:23). Paul handled himself this way too, saying, “When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we respond graciously” (1 Cor 4:12-13 CSB). The bar of Christian behavior is set very high, as it should be.

I must confess, learning to behave as the Lord directs has been an ongoing challenge for me. Though my grandmother led me to faith in Christ at age eight, there was little Christian education that followed. The ensuing thirteen years of my life were completely immersed in the ways of the world. Eight of those years were spent living in Las Vegas, which provided every opportunity for sin. By the summer of 1988, my lifestyle had eventuated in being homeless and suicidal. But the God who saved me at a young age humbled me through divine discipline (Heb 12:5-11), for “He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Dan 4:37). Though I was a reckless son for a period of time, I responded positively to His discipline (Psa 119:71), and like the prodigal son, He graciously welcomed me back (Luke 15:11-24). God is good. In the summer of 1988 I surrendered to Christ, and my Savior became my Lord. I’ve been studying and learning God’s Word since then, working to unseat a lifetime of human viewpoint and replace it with divine viewpoint. But learning and living God’s Word takes time. Practicing God’s Word is where the rubber hits the road. It means applying His directives to my life on an ongoing basis.[2] A key passage of Scripture that has helped me over the years is found in Paul’s second letter to his friend, Timothy. Here, Paul writes about the conduct of the Lord’s servant, saying:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24-26)

1054792All that follows in this article is an exposition of Paul’s statement. The Lord (κύριος kurios) is none other than Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, who added humanity to Himself and became the God-Man (John 1:1, 14). Jesus was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, and was “born of a woman, born under the Law (Gal 4:4). Throughout His life Jesus lived perfectly in the Father’s will (Matt 5:17-18). Scripture reveals Jesus lived His entire life “without sin” (Heb 4:15), that He “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21a), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). By the end of His life on earth, Jesus said to God the Father, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). Jesus then went to the cross and laid down His life as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice for us (Mark 10:45). Jesus “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). In this way, He was the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). After His death, Jesus was placed in a grave where He remained for three days, but afterwards was resurrected (Luke 24:1-7), seen by hundreds of people (1 Cor 15:3-8), and afterwards ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9), from where He currently directs His children until the time of His return (1 Th 4:13-18). Those who trust in Christ as Savior become His servants here on earth. We are those who carry out His will, live honorably as He expects, preach the gospel to the lost, and teach fellow Christians to live righteously.

Paul uses the term bond-servant (δοῦλος doulos), which is used here in a positive sense of “one who is solely committed to another.”[3] In this sense, it refers to one who is surrendered to the will of another. In this passage, it is the Lord Jesus Christ that we serve, and it is an honorable place of service to the King as we adhere to His royal standards of conduct. The title of bond-servant was held by such notables as Moses (2 Ki 18:12), Joshua (Judg 2:8), David (2 Sam 7:5; Psa 89:3), Elijah (2 Ki 10:10), Paul (Rom 1:1), James (Jam 1:1), and Peter (2 Pet 1:1).

Paul follows the designation of bond-servant with the verb must (δεῖ dei), which means “to be under necessity of happening.”[4] The word denotes compulsion, obligation, duty. And what is the Lord’s servant obligated to do? Paul states one negative directive followed by four positive ones. The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, and with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition to the Lord and His people. This behavior is not something that comes naturally to the Christian, otherwise these directives would be superfluous. But the directives are helpful.

First, the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome (μάχομαι machomai). This word is used of physical combat in Acts 7:26, but here Paul uses the word to describe someone who argues with others, who verbally engages “in heated dispute.”[5] To be clear, rebuking another is biblical (Luke 17:3; 2 Tim 4:2), but quarrelling is not. Even when addressing a trespass in another Christian, Paul instructs, “you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1). Sadly, many in the world operate by a fist-in-your-face attitude that seeks to destroy the other person, but this is not the Lord’s way. As Christians, we live in a fallen world and it is natural that we will encounter others who operate by different values.[6] Satan, the current ruler of this world,[7] has his values and modes of operation, and these include sinful acts of violence which are intended to silence the opposition. This division of humanity will continue until Christ returns (Matt 13:36-43). Living in a fallen world, the Lord’s bond-servants must be willing to engage others in conversations of disagreement. However, we must resist the temptation to engage worldly-minded people by the practices they employ against us. The Lord’s servant is a diplomat, a royal ambassador who represents the King of kings and Lord of lords, and as such, must be characterized by His noble qualities.

Paul then shifts to four positive qualities that should mark the Lord’s servant. The first is to be kind to all. To be kind (ἤπιος epios) means to be “gentle, mild, kind…soothing, assuaging.”[8] Elsewhere, the word “was frequently used by Greek writers as characterizing a nurse with trying children or a teacher with refractory scholars, or of parents toward their children.”[9] And Paul states we are to be kind to all (πρὸς πάντας), which in this context pertains to our opponents. As Christians, we are to stand firm on God’s truth and not abandon our position; however, unlike our opponents who operate with hostility, we are to be kind. Speaking God’s truth is vitally important, and so is the attitude and delivery, which God uses to break down Satan’s strongholds in the minds of those held captive by him.

Second, Paul states the Lord’s servant must be able to teach (διδακτικός didaktikos). This word refers to someone who can handle God’s Word correctly and is “skillful in teaching.”[10] It is normal that Christians will encounter others with heterodoxical views (i.e., contrary to sound biblical teaching), and to be influential, the Christian must be able to communicate the truth of God’s Word accurately, and in a clear and concise manner. Of course, being able to teach does not guarantee a positive response from the hearer. Remember, while on the earth, Jesus communicated perfect truth with love, however, the majority of those who heard Him rejected His message (John 3:19), even though He verified His claims with miracles (John 12:37). Sadly, the majority of those who saw and heard the Lord rejected Him and His message. These will someday pay a price. In teaching, the emphasis is always on biblical content clearly presented. And though a teacher may be passionate, he/she should avoid histrionics.

Third, Paul says the Christian must be patient when wronged (ἀνεξίκακος anexikakos). This word is a hapax legomenon (i.e., a word that occurs only once in the Bible) that refers to someone who bears “evil without resentment, patient, tolerant.”[11] It means God’s servant puts up with the evil actions of others and does not retaliate when personally attacked. I think Paul describes patient behavior in his letter to the Christians at Rome. He instructed, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (Rom 12:17a). Paul was a realist and knew that living in the devil’s world meant there would be opponents who would treat us in an evil manner. When such situations arise, we are to place the matter in the Lord’s hands, trusting He sees what’s happening and will act as our Judge. Being patient when wronged is not easy, as the knee-jerk response is to retaliate and attack our attacker. But Paul instructs, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). Paul goes on to say, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Rom 12:20). As Christians, we must “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). Being patient when wronged means trusting God will dispense justice in His time and way.

Fourth, the Lord’s servant must respond to opponents with gentleness (πραΰτης prautes). The term may be defined as “gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, [or] meekness.”[12] The opposite of gentle is harsh, brutal, or rough, and this we should not be. Unfortunately, many in the world see gentleness as weakness, but this is wrong. Remember, the Lord Himself was “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29), yet all the power of divinity was readily at His disposal. It’s not that the believer is in any way deficient in power or strength, but that he/she voluntarily forfeits the use of it, knowing that harsh behavior is nothing less than a bully tactic, which fails to recognize the other person’s right of self-determination. God does not force Himself on others, and neither should we. Others may not agree with our message, and we can shake the dust off our feet when we leave (Matt 10:14; Acts 13:51), but we have no right to ram, cram, or jam our message down their throats. Being gentle means we maintain composure in the face of opposition, mainly because we realize the opponent actually stands against God, the One we represent. We are to represent the Lord openly, accurately, and with dignity, but we do not have to defend Him any more than a mosquito needs to defend an elephant. We are to be gentle, knowing God will deal with His opponents as He sees fit, and the Lord tends to be very patient and gracious, until He’s not.

To correct (παιδεύω paideuo) means “to provide instruction for informed and responsible living.”[13] And who needs this divine instruction? It is those who oppose God and His people. The term for opposition (ἀντιδιατίθημι antidiatithemi) means “to oppose someone, involving not only a psychological attitude but also a corresponding behavior—to oppose, to be hostile toward, to show hostility.”[14] Experiencing opposition—even hostile opposition—should never be a surprise to the Lord’s servant. Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19; cf., 1 John 3:13). Though sometimes treated with hostility, the Christian is directed to offer gentle correction to those who will listen. In most instances the opposition does not realize they are under Satanic delusion and enslavement, and the most compassionate thing we can do is to share God’s liberating Word with them. With gentleness—as well as kindness and patience—the Christian seeks to educate or guide the other person into divine truth. This instruction can include the gospel of grace (1 Cor 15:3-4) that leads to forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Eph 1:7; John 10:28), or it can refer to biblical teaching that helps the immature Christian advance as a disciple of the Lord (1 Pet 2:2).

BibleHaving conducted ourselves as noble servants of the Lord, operating under His sovereignty, we then trust that He will work in the hearts of those who have heard His Word. We know it is God’s Word that transforms others from the inside out. We know His Word is “alive and powerful” (Heb 4:12) and accomplishes what He intends. The Lord said, “My word which goes forth from My mouth will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11). As Christians, we simply communicate God’s Word accurately and in a loving way, and then let it do its work in the hearts of those who hear it. I believe it was Spurgeon who 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 make them harder. We control the output of our message, but never the outcome. What the hearers—or readers—do with God’s Word is between them and the Lord.

Having done our part by following the Lord’s directives not to be quarrelsome, but kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, and with gentleness correcting those in opposition, we leave the matter knowing it is in God’s hands. And we know that the Lord is not willing “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9), and to those who are positive, He will “grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:25b). If the heart is willing, God will grant the person the opportunity to repent and receive salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. John wrote, for “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Repentance (μετάνοια metanoia) means “to change one’s mind or purpose.”[15] This change of mind occurs when one hears the gospel message and favorably responds to it. Paul states this positively when he speaks about “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Faith in Christ is the sole condition for salvation (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9; Acts 16:31), and true repentance means the unbeliever turns from trusting in anything and everyone and trusts solely in Christ to save. For “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” (Acts 4:12).

Christ-on-the-crossThe gospel is the good news that follows the bad news. The bad news—from our perspective—is that God is holy (Psa 99:9; Isa 6:3) and demands absolute righteousness from us in order for us to spend eternity with Him in heaven. Being perfectly righteous, God can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it (Hab 1:13; 1 John 1:5). God’s standard of righteousness is absolute moral perfection. This is bad news because we are egregious sinners in serious violation of God’s perfect standard. The Bible reveals we are sinners in Adam (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa 59:2; Jam 1:14-15). To further complicate the problem, we are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). 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), lived a perfectly righteous life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place—as our substitute—and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and 2) He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10). 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).  Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 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). This is good news.

As the Lord’s bond-servants, we are called to a high moral standard of conduct befitting the King we represent. We are His ambassadors to a fallen world. Our hope is that those trapped in Satan’s world-system will see their faulty way of thinking and living and “may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26). Those who accept God’s message will know freedom and eternal life. Those who reject God’s liberating truth continue as slaves to the devil, trapped as an animal in his cage, always doing his will because it agrees with their own sinful proclivities. God has opened a door of freedom for them, if they’ll respond positively to the gospel. Those who reject the gospel continue as slaves to Satan, and this by their own choice. But regardless of their choice, we are to conduct ourselves according to God’s standards of expectation. As Christians, we “must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, [and] with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim 2:24-25b). We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), “with grace” (Col 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15-16). There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:20).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

[2] Later, when I realized I had the gift of Teaching, I began to teach God’s Word to others. I later learned this three-step practice of learning, living, and teaching was Ezra’s model, as he “had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach” it to others (Ezra 7:10).

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 260.

[4] Ibid., 214.

[5] Ibid., 622.

[6] Some Christians are bothered by the fallen world and prefer hiding and pursue a monastic life of solitude. However, the Lord never calls us to hide our light, but to be in the world and let it shine so that others might see it. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). But living in a fallen world is dangerous business and can be upsetting to the sensitive soul.

[7] Three times Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Other passages of Scripture 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). Satan rules as a tyrant who has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12), and currently “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9).

[8] H.G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 354.

[9] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 263.

[10] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 240.

[11] Ibid., 77.

[12] Ibid., 861.

[13] Ibid., 749.

[14] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 491.

[15] W. E. Vine, et al., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 525.

Why God Judges Nations

sovereign-1140x760The Bible reveals “God is the King of all the earth…He reigns over the nations; He sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47:7-8). 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). 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), 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). As sovereign God, He judges His world in righteousness.

Fallen angel No serious student of the Bible ever questions God’s sovereign rule. But neither does the student of Scripture deny that Satan—a fallen angel—has been opposing God for millennia and has created a kingdom of darkness (Luke 4:6; Acts 26:18; Col 1:13), with subjects that consist of other fallen angels (Matt 25:41; Rev 12:7, 9), and unbelievers (Matt 13:36-38; John 8:44).[1] In a limited way God permits Satan to operate, just as He permits other fallen angels and people to resist His will in certain matters. Satan is a globalist who desires world control, and to a large degree he has it. Three times Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Other passages of Scripture call Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), and inform us “that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Because Satan cannot force people to do his will, he operates by means of deception and temptation—like he did in the Garden of Eden—and when individuals, groups, cities, or nations follow him rather than God, they place themselves under God’s judgment. Satan’s strategies are effective on a global scale, and he “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9; 20:3). Because of his deceptions and temptations, Satan has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12). He has certainly been effective at weakening America.

When individuals, groups, cities and nations turn away from God, He will judge them according to His righteous character and moral laws. We know from Scripture that “the LORD is righteous, [and] He loves righteousness” (Psa 11:7), and “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Psa 119:137). For God, righteousness is an attribute, an inherent quality, not the adherence to laws beyond Himself (of which there are none). The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. Righteousness and justice are related words. The former speaks of God’s moral character, whereas the latter speaks of the actions that flow out of His character. Whatever God’s righteousness requires, His justice executes; either to approve or reject, to bless or condemn. God is “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), and He “is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day” (Psa 7:11). It’s unimaginable to serve a God who cannot or will not judge sin.[2]

Merciful GodThough God judges, He is not One to judge quickly. It is written, “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 gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psa 145:8). Peter reveals that God “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). In this way, God is quick to warn and slow to judge. But God is not patient forever, and there are multiple accounts of judgment throughout Scripture. Biblically, we observe where God judged Adam and Eve (Gen 3:16-24), the antediluvian world (Gen 6:1-7, 11-13; 7:21-24), the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24-25), the Egyptians (Deut 26:6-8; cf. Gen 15:13-14), Canaanites (Lev 18:25; Deut 9:5)[3], and Babylonians (Jer 25:11-12). The book of Obadiah was written against the Edomites (Oba 1:1), and Nahum was written as a judgment against the Ninevites (Nah 1:1). When Jesus was on the earth at the time of His first coming, He judged the religious leaders of his day (Matt 23:1-36), and pronounced judgment upon nation of Israel for having rejected Him as their Messiah (Matt 23:37-39).[4] In the future, God will judge Gentiles based on how they treat persecuted Jewish believers during the Tribulation (Matt 25:31-46). And God will judge all unbelievers at the Great White Throne judgment and will cast them into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). God has also judged Satan (John 16:11), and will punish him in the future (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10).

On What Basis Does God Judge?

As a nation, Israel was and is unique in human history, for it’s the only nation that was created by God to serve as a theocracy. Speaking to Israel, God said, “I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isa 43:15; cf. Isa 43:1). Israel was a theocracy, and God was their King, Lawgiver, and Judge (Isa 33:22). As such, God gave Israel specific laws to direct their lives (Lev 27:34). The Mosaic Law was the standard by which Israel lived rightly before God and was the basis for blessing or cursing, depending on their obedience or disobedience (Lev 26, Deut 28). Moses said, “I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known” (Deut 11:26-28). Reading through Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, First and Second Kings, and all the OT prophets, one can see a consistent pattern of God blessing or cursing His people depending on whether they obeyed or disobeyed His written laws. God was extremely patient with His people when they disobeyed, repeatedly warning them about His coming judgments, but the historical trend was that of rebellion (Jer 25:4-7). Because of rampant idolatry, human sacrifice, and other egregious sins, God eventually destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:7-23), and the two southern tribes of Judah in 586 B.C. (Jer 25:8-11).[5]

The Gentile nations did not possess the Mosaic Law as Israel did; however, a Gentile nation could be blessed or judged, and this depended on at least two factors. First, God would bless or curse a Gentile nation depending on how it treated Israel. God told Abraham, the progenitor of Israel, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Gen 12:3). Allen Ross sates, “Those who blessed Abram would receive blessing from God; that is, those who supported and endorsed him in his faith would actually find enrichment. Conversely, if anyone treated Abram lightly, he must be cursed.”[6] God’s promise to bless or curse was based on an unconditional covenant that started with Abraham and extended to his descendants forever (Gen 17:7; Num 24:9).[7] Concerning the curse, Arnold Fruchtenbaum states:

The first word for curse is kalal, which means “to treat lightly,” “to hold in contempt,” or “to curse.” To merely treat Abram and the Jews lightly is to incur the curse of God. The second word for curse used in this phrase (him that curses you will I curse) is aor, from the Hebrew root arah, which means “to impose a barrier,” “to ban.” This is a much stronger word for curse than the first one in the phrase…Therefore, even a light curse against Abram or against the Jews will bring a heavier curse from God.[8]

Second, a Gentile nation could be blessed or cursed depending on whether they pursued godly virtues or wickedness. Biblically, there is a sense in which God’s laws are written on the hearts of all people. Paul wrote, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom 2:14-15).[9] God has placed within each person a moral sense of right and wrong. Everyone knows it’s right to be honest, kind, courteous, patient, helpful to the weak, honoring to parents, faithful to their spouse, etc. Alternatively, everyone knows it’s wrong to murder, steal, lie, commit adultery, etc.[10] Because each person possesses a moral sense of right and wrong and can choose how they behave, for this reason, “in every nation the man who fears God and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:35). And how people behave collectively has results upon their city or nation. The Lord told Jeremiah, “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it” (Jer 18:7-8). This is what happened when Jonah preached that God was going to judge the Ninevites (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-4), and when they repented (Jonah 3:5-9), He relented (Jonah 3:10). There is hope for any nation that has turned away from God, but only if the leadership and people turn to God and pursue righteousness in conformity with His character.

America is a Gentile nation, and as such, God will judge us like He has judged other nations. However, the principle is true that one to whom much is given, much is required. America has had a long and wonderful influence by Christians, and our nation has an abundance of Bibles and Christian literature. This means the light of divine revelation is greater in America than that of pagan nations that have not had such an influence. For this reason, God will judge us both for the light we have from conscience as well as the light of His special revelation found in Scripture. We have sinned against greater light; therefore, He will judge us more severely if we keep turning away from it. The ball is in our court. It’s up to us as individuals, groups, cities, and as a nation to turn to God and live morally as He expects. Satan will continue to entice and deceive people to sin (Gen 3:1-8; John 8:44; Acts 5:3; 2 Cor 11:3; 2 Tim 2:14), and he does this in order to weaken and subjugate that nation (Isa 14:12; 2 Tim 2:26; Rev 12:9; 20:8). If people follow Satan’s allurements and disobey the Lord, God will send judgment.

As Christians, God calls us to share the gospel of Christ (Mark 16:15; 1 Cor 15:3-4), and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20). We are never called to form a nation, and there is nothing in the NT that even hints at such a project. Rather, we are to learn God’s Word and live as He directs. In this way, God may use us to help shape a nation in godly ways, which will influence its educational, political, economic, and social views. We are, after all, to be a light to the world (Matt 5:14; Eph 5:8).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] 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 to help Satan advance his agenda by loving his world-system (2 Cor 11:3; Jam 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16).

[2] Sin occurs when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path. This was true of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7), and it is true of us as well. The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Sin is the expression of a creaturely will that is set against God. The sin we commit may be mental, verbal, or physical. It may be private or public, impacting one or many, with short or lasting results. God permits sin, but is never the author of it. One scholar writes: “The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. The lawgiver is God. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Rom 3:20; 4:15; 7:7; Jam 4:12, 17). The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen 39:9; Psa 51:4). (Merrill F. Unger, “Sin,”, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago: Moody Press, 1988, 1198)

[3] The Canaanites were exceptionally bad people whom God had marked out for judgment (Lev 18:25; Deut 9:5) after giving them four hundred years of grace (Gen 15:16). Some of the specific sins mentioned among the Canaanites included gross sexual immorality, such as incest (Lev 18:1-20; 20:10-12, 14, 17, 19-21), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and sex with animals (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16). They also engaged in the occult (Lev 20:6), were hostile toward parents (Lev 20:9), and offered their children as sacrifices to Molech (Lev 18:21; 20:1-5; cf. Deut 12:31; 18:10). God told Israel not to do these wicked things, for the Canaanites “did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them” (Lev 20:23; cf. Lev 18:25).

[4] God’s judgment on Israel will be removed when they accept Jesus as Messiah at the end of the Tribulation (Matt 23:39; cf. Rom 11:25-27).

[5] When Jesus was on the earth at the time of His first coming, He judged the religious leaders of his day (Matt 23:1-36), and pronounced judgment upon Israel for having rejected Him as their Messiah (Matt 23:37-38). God’s judgment on Israel will be removed when they accept Jesus as Messiah at the end of the Tribulation (Matt 23:39; cf. Rom 11:25-27).

[6] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 263.

[7] To love 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 promised blessing or cursing, based on their obedience to Him (Deut 28:1-68). Israel can and does fail, often rejecting God’s love for them and walking in the ways of the world (see 2 Ch 36:15-16; Jer 7:25-26; 25:4-7; Ezek 16; Matt 23:1-39; Acts 7:51-53; 1 Th 2:14-16). 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 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 2:22-23; 4:27-28).

[8] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel’s Bible Commentary: The Book of Genesis, 1st ed. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2008), 242.

[9] The human conscience, when working properly, serves as a moral compass. But because of willful and persistent sin, the conscience can become weak (1 Cor 8:7), callous (1 Tim 4:2), defiled (Tit 1:15), or evil (Heb 10:22). Persistent sin can damage the conscience so that it fails to operate properly.

[10] The unbeliever can live morally according to the dictates of a healthy conscience, and though not saved, can receive some blessings in this life. Conversely, a Christian can turn away from the faith and pursue wickedness, and this results in divine discipline and the forfeiture of eternal rewards.

When Christians Die

When Christians die, they go straight to heaven, and there they will live forever. God must let them in. He does not have a choice in the matter. The Lord has integrity, and He promised that whoever believes in Jesus as Savior will be forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7) and have eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28). He made the provision for salvation, and He will honor His Word. In fact, God is bound to His Word, for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf. Tit 1:2). By faith, we trust Him when He promises to do something, and we know that faith pleases Him (Heb 11:6).

When the Christian leaves this world for heaven, her last breath here is her first breath there, and what a breath that must be! Scripture reveals, “to be absent from the body” is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). Though it is a sad time for us, it is an improvement for the believer, as Scripture states, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). The advantage is that the believer gets to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, face to face, in heaven; and this joyous relationship is forever!

Christ our Hope in Life and DeathFurthermore, all believers anticipate a future time of resurrection in which God will reunite the soul with the body. Job said, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27). The body we have is perishable, but our resurrection body is imperishable. Paul compared our body to a seed that is sown into the ground that God will one day bring to life. Paul wrote, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44). Of course, Jesus makes this possible, as He told Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). To trust in Christ as Savior guarantees us eternal life right now, and the promise of a new body that will live forever, free from sin and decay. By God’s goodness and grace, heaven is open, and the free gift of eternal life is given to those who trust completely in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Our salvation is made possible by Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He paid our sin-debt and gives us eternal life at the moment we trust in Him.

I implore you to turn to Christ as your Savior. 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). Don’t wait another day. The Lord will forgive you all your sins and grant you eternal life. He promised, and He’ll keep His word. He has integrity and cannot do otherwise.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Where Satan is Attacking in America

God’s Word reveals there’s a divine drama unfolding, and the actors consist of angels and people, both good and bad, who operate in interlocking realms that are invisible and visible, both affecting the other. Failure to grasp this biblical truth limits our ability to understand what is transpiring in the world and what role we play. God desires that we live in reality, and His revelation is the blessing that provides insights we could never know except that He has spoken. What we do with that revelation determines whether we’re a force for good or evil. When believers know and live in God’s Word, it affords them the opportunity to make good choices that can bring blessing to those near them. But the opposite is true, that believers living outside of God’s will can bring suffering to those in their periphery. This was true of Jonah who was in disobedience and others suffered because of it (Jonah 1:11-12). But when Jonah obeyed God, many with positive volition were blessed and God’s judgment upon a nation was stayed (Jonah 3:1-10). As Christians, we should play our part well, sharing the gospel of grace and communicating God’s Word as best we can. But we must always keep in mind we’re not the only actors, and that Satan and his forces are at work, trying to weaken individuals, groups and nations. It is the work of Satan in America that motivates the writing of this article.

shutterstock_157520087.0.0.1485150217.0Satan is at work in America, like he is in all the nations of the world. He is currently promoting a pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-morality which is rooted in his world-system which is antithetical to God and His Word.[1] Because of Satan’s advances, America is in decline. This is no surprise, for he is a liar, a deceiver, and a destroyer. Most world leaders help advance Satan’s agenda, and many citizens follow along, or get caught in the cultural flow. Because we are fallen and inherently sinful, the natural proclivity of our hearts is pride, and Satan’s worldly values naturally resonate with each of us. Only the humble Christian who operates by divine viewpoint has the capacity to advance to spiritual maturity and to break free from Satan’s enslaving world-system. Furthermore, the advancing Christian helps others know about God’s liberating gospel of grace and biblical truths that form the basis for stability and purpose in life. However, as we advance spiritually, we continue to live in Satan’s world, which is systemically corrupt and always enticing or pressuring us to turn away from God. Satan’s world-system cannot be reformed or destroyed, but can only be resisted by the believer who is advancing to spiritual maturity. God will render Satan and his world-system inoperative at the Second Coming of Christ (Rev 19:11-21), at which time Jesus will rule over the earth for a thousand years (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 35-37; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Luke 1:26-33; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 20:1-7). After the millennial kingdom, God will cast Satan and his demonic forces into the Lake of Fire (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10), where they will never bother anyone again. However, until that time, Satan’s rule and world-system will continue, and he will employ every strategy at his disposal to render us inoperative. Satan’s tactics are employed globally, with all the nations of the world. His globalist mindset and tactics are intended to weaken nations in order to keep them under his control. America is an exception to most nations because it was founded—for the most part—on biblical values. As a result, God has blessed our country greatly. We know more freedom and prosperity than any other nation on the planet at this time. However, America is under attack, and if Satan can undermine the nation’s values, convincing the majority to turn from God and live selfishly and sinfully, then we’ll forfeit our freedoms and blessings. Much of this article will focus on those areas where Satan is attacking to undermine those biblical values that make for stability in a nation.

But why is Satan free to oppose God and Christians? Why is he given permission to advance his agenda in the world? The truth is, God desires a loving and meaningful relationship with His creatures, and this is why He originally created angels and people with intellect, volition, and freedom. He did not create robots that function according to coded instructions. Having intellect and volition is meaningless if there is no freedom and opportunity to act. In order for people to exercise their minds and wills, God provides them opportunity to make choices. This was true of Lucifer when he was in heaven, and true for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Lucifer became prideful and corrupted his reason and produced sin and evil from the source of his own volition (Ezek 28:12-18; Isa 14:12-14). Satan also convinced a third of the angels to follow him in his rebellion (Rev 12:4, 7), and his kingdom of darkness was expanded to include the earth when he persuaded Adam and Eve to follow him rather than God (Gen 3:1-8). At the time of the fall, the first humans—God’s theocratic administrators (Gen 1:26-28)—gave Satan the title deed to the earth (Luke 4:6). This explains why Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). And other passages of Scripture 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). But Satan is no benevolent dictator. Scripture reveals he 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.

But the Bible also reveals that Satan does not operate with absolute freedom. Scripture reveals God is sovereign over His creation. He made it and He’s managing it; even though it’s not operating according to His original design. Obviously, God permits sin; and here one must distinguish between His directive-will, permissive-will, and overruling-will. God’s directive-will refers to His actively directing us to do what He expects. For the Christian, God’s directive-will is found in Scripture. His permissive-will refers to what He permits us to do, either for or against His directive-will. All sin falls under the category of God’s permissive-will, for He permits us to resist His directive-will in some instances. This is also true for fallen angels who are granted a measure of freedom to sin. God’s overruling-will refers to those occasions when He hinders us from sinning, or from sinning further, because His greater purposes take priority. The fall of Adam and Eve provide a good example of these categories, for God directed them not to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-19), permitted them to disobey (Gen 3:1-7), and then drove them from the Garden of Eden, overruling their ability to go back in and eat from the tree of life (Gen 3:22-24).

Though God grants His creatures a modicum of freedom to resist His will, it should always be kept in mind that the sinfulness of fallen angels or people never threatens His sovereignty. Furthermore, God is never surprised, baffled, or frustrated by sin. According to God’s directive-will, He calls and empowers His people to live holy lives, separate from sin. In this way we are to partner with Him and help promote His solutions to this fallen world. Concerning God’s sovereignty, Louis Berkhof writes, “He is clothed with absolute authority over the hosts of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. He upholds all things with His almighty power, and determines the ends which they are destined to serve. He rules as King in the most absolute sense of the word, and all things are dependent on Him and subservient to Him.”[2] Though God is sovereign, He does not rule arbitrarily, but in accordance with His other attributes such as righteousness, justice, holiness, love, mercy, patience, and grace. As believers, we are encouraged that God is in sovereign control, for even though we experience sin, chaos, and evil (sometimes our own), we know He is directing history toward the return of Christ and His millennial kingdom, which is followed by the glorious eternal state. The Bible reveals “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a). 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), 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). Concerning God’s sovereignty and human volition, McChesney writes:

God is under no external restraint whatsoever. He is the Supreme Dispenser of all events. All forms of existence are within the scope of His dominion. And yet this is not to be viewed in any such way as to abridge the reality of the moral freedom of God’s responsible creatures or to make men anything else than the arbiters of their own eternal destinies. God has seen fit to create beings with the power of choice between good and evil. He rules over them in justice and wisdom and grace.[3]

sovereign-1140x760     From Genesis to Revelation, God governs the lives of people and nations. Human rulers exist because of His plan, for “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan 2:21). And people live and die as God decides, for “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam 2:6; cf. Acts 17:28). God has power over wealth and poverty, for “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam 2:7). And He controls when and where people live in history, for “He 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). In addition to this, Scripture reveals God controls nature (Jon 1:4; Mark 4:39-41), plagues (Ex 11:1; Rev 16:10-11), famines (Gen 41:25-32), the roll of dice (Pro 16:33), blessing and adversity (Job 2:10; Isa 45:7), suffering (Job 1:1-21), divine calling (Jer 1:4-5; Gal 1:15) and the development of Christian character (Rom 5:2-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Jam 1:2-4). Lastly, God allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but they never act beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Psa 105:12-15; 1 Ki 22:19-23; 2 Cor 12:7-10). We are free to act, but only within the spheres of opportunity He creates and controls. For example, when Jesus was on trial, Pilate told Him, “I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You” (John 19:10). But Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). Pilate had opportunity and authority to crucify Jesus, but only because heaven granted it to him. Ultimately, Pilate’s actions served the Father’s greater purpose of bringing His Son to the cross.

According to Scripture, we know there is a future hope, for God will eventually bring angelic and human rebellion to an end, and this will happen when Christ returns. God the Father has 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; cf. Isa 2:1-5; Dan 2:44; 7:14). This 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. 20:1-3). However, until that time, God permits Satan to have his way in the world, albeit in a limited manner and for a limited time.

As Christians, there is opportunity for freedom and purpose in this world right now, but only if we’ll follow God by learning and living His Word. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…[and] if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32, 36). The apostle Paul wrote, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery…[and] 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 5:1, 13). God offers us freedom from Satan and his kingdom of darkness. But this freedom exists only in relationship with God, and that because of the person and work of Christ who paid our sin debt and liberates us from our spiritual prison (Mark 10:45; Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14). But for those who reject God’s way, they will continue to reside in Satan’s system. Where God directs mankind, it is always for good and not evil. Satan is a disrupter and destroyer, and his world-system is set up to attack God’s people, the gospel of grace, biblical truths and divine institutions that make for stable and productive individuals and societies. As Christians, we must realize there will be touchpoints where we are at odds with the culture around us, and there we must stand, with absolute clarity on biblical teaching. The purpose of this lesson is to set forth those areas where Satan is currently attacking in America, so that we can stand on the truth of God’s Word and know how we should respond when questioned or pressured to abandon those truths. In this way, we will be a good influence on those whom God places in our path. We will serve as lights in a dark world. The areas where Satan is attacking in America are as follows:

  1. The Bible as Divinely Authoritative. The Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God and is the basis for faith and conduct (1 Th 2:13; cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17). It teaches us how God brought the universe into existence (Gen 1:1-31), why people are special (Gen 1:26-28), how sin and evil came into being (Gen 3:1-7; Rom 5:12), how God has provided a solution to the sin problem (Gen 3:15; John 3:16; Mark 10:45; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4), how to live righteously through spiritual growth and obedience to His commands (Psa 119:9-11; Rom 6:11-14; Eph 4:11-16; Tit 2:11-14), that our future is certain because Christ is coming back (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Th 4:13-18; Tit 2:13), Satan and his forces will be defeated (Rev 20:1-3; cf. Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10), Christ will rule on the earth for a thousand years (Luke 1:31-33; Rev 20:4), and afterwards God will create new heavens and a new earth (2 Pet 3:13). Satan’s world is systemically corrupt and hateful toward the Bible and seeks to suppress it, or pervert its meaning, to keep people enslaved in darkness.
  2. Christian Identity. As those who have believed in Jesus as Savior (1 Cor 15:3-4), we are no longer “in Adam”, but are “in Christ” (1 Cor 15:22; cf. 2 Cor 5:17). At the moment of faith in Christ, God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). As believers, we are “children of God” (John 1:12), brothers and sisters to the King of kings and Lord of lords, which means we belong to the royal family of God. In addition, we have a new citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20), we are a kingdom of priests to God (Rev 1:6), and ambassadors of Christ who represent Him to a fallen world (2 Cor 5:20). Because of our new position in Christ, we are encouraged “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). As Christians, our spiritual identity supersedes all other forms of identity; especially those that are artificially manufactured on humanistic philosophies and values that are antithetical to biblical teaching (i.e., an identity connected with a political party, social or economic status, racial group, etc.).
  3. Devotion to God and Learning His Word. God calls us to know His Word so that we will have the knowledge necessary to live His will (Psa 1:1-3; Ezra 7:10; 2 Tim 2:15). The world will use every pleasure or pressure as obstacles to keep us ignorant of God’s Word (2 Cor 11:3), in order to keep us spiritually malnourished and ineffective in our spiritual influence.
  4. Pursuit of Spiritual Growth. God desires that we mature as Christians by living His Word in all aspects of our lives (Eph 4:11-15; 1 Pet 2:2). Spiritual growth takes time, as we make consistent choices to gather together as Christians (Heb 10:24-25), study the Bible (Acts 2:42), and encourage each other to godly living (1 Th 5:11; Heb 3:13).
  5. Sharing the Gospel. We are to share the gospel that others might believe in Christ as Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4). Satan seeks to blind the minds of the unbelieving (2 Cor 4:3-4), who regard the good news as foolishness (1 Cor 1:18). However, “the gospel…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). And once saved, God rescues us “from the domain of darkness” and transfers us “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). Satan will promote religion, which convinces people that God requires good works to be saved. World religions—even those based on the Bible—help advance Satan’s evil agenda, because it keeps people ignorant of the gospel of grace and enslaved in his kingdom. Good works do not save. They never have and never will. Salvation is always by grace alone (Rom 3:23-24; Eph 2:8-9), and applied to ungodly sinners who, by faith alone, trust in Christ as Savior (Rom 3:28; 4:1-5; 5:6-10; Gal 3:26). Good works should follow salvation (Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14), but they are never the condition of it (Gal 2:16, 21; 3:11, 21).
  6. Personal Responsibility. As Christians, we are to live responsibly to the Lord (Gen 1:26-28; 2:15; 19-20; Jam 1:17; 1 Pet 4:10). Advancing to maturity begins when we own our lives and accept responsibility for the choices we make. Furthermore, we must accept those things that come into our lives by the providence of God. Some blessings and difficulties come to us, not because of choices we make, but because of God or other people. We welcome blessings, but often struggle with difficulties. Both are ultimately under God’s sovereign control (Job 2:10; Isa 45:5-7). It’s normal that we ask God to remove difficulties; however, what He does not remove, He intends for us to deal with (2 Cor 12:7-10). This requires a faith response (Heb 10:38; 11:6; Jam 1:2-4). However, we observe in American culture a victim mentality that tells us we are the products of evolution, history, culture, nature and/or nurture, and that we are not responsible for our desires, values, or behaviors. Christian maturity begins when we accept full responsibility for our lives and begin to make good choices to learn and live God’s Word on a consistent basis.
  7. Marriage as a Divine Institution. Marriage is clearly defined in Scripture as being between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:6). However, marriage is being redefined and modified as though it were merely a social construct to be tinkered with. This is why we see a rise in divorce, as well as the introduction of same-sex marriage and polyamorous relationships. Some wicked people may even push to normalize pedophilia and bestiality.
  8. Family as a Divine Institution. The family is the smallest social unit intended to train succeeding generations for godliness and authority orientation (Deut 6:6-7; Eph 6:4). However, many states are undermining parental authority and responsibility for the training of children, by which Christian values are transmitted.
  9. Human Government as a Divine Institution. Human government is a divine institution with delegated authority to promote freedom, order, and to protect citizens from evil (Gen 9:5-6; Rom 13:1-5; Tit 3:1-2; 1 Pet 2:13-17). We are directed to submit to good government; however, the American government is moving beyond its legitimate authority and human freedoms are diminishing.
  10. God’s Creation of the Universe, Earth, and People in Six Literal Days. The Bible, plainly read and understood, teaches that God created the universe, earth, plants, animals, and people in six literal days (Gen 1:1—2:4; Ex 20: 9-11; Isa 45:12). Everything was created perfect and in a state of maturity.
  11. People as Made in the Image of God. The Bible reveals we are special, made in the image of God (Gen 1:27; 9:6), with the ability to think, act, and feel in ways that place us above the rest of creation. Evolutionary teaching predominates in our culture, which promotes the idea that people are the product of matter, motion, time and chance. The result is that people are seen as purely material beings, biological entities whose thoughts, feelings, identity, and aspirations can be reduced to electro-chemical impulses in the brain and body. Mankind just becomes a naked ape, an animal with no greater value than a bird, a fish, or a worm on a hook. But Scripture reveals people are special, made in the image of God, and have greater value than the rest of creation (Matt 10:29-31).
  12. One Human Race. Biblically, there is only one human race (Gen 1:27; 9:18-19; Acts 17:26). The idea of multiple races confuses and divides people in harmful ways, allowing for racist ideologies. Certainly, there are different ethnic groups, languages, and cultures, but all humanity constitutes one race. This is true for the gospel, for Christ died for all people, and this assumes everyone is part of the same human race and savable.
  13. God Created Two Genders. Biblically, there are only two genders, male and female (Gen 1:27). However, today there are teachings that gender is a matter of personal choice, and not a matter of divine design.
  14. Life Begins in the Womb at Conception. The Bible teaches that human life begins at conception (Psa 139:13; Isa 44:24; Jer 1:5), not at a later time outside the womb. This means babies in the womb are full persons, and to abort a baby is a choice to end its human life prematurely. Abortion is murder, and murder is wrong.
  15. Israel as the Covenant People of God. God created Israel when He called Abraham and entered into a unilateral covenant with him, promising him and his descendants the land of Canaan (Gen 12:1-3; Isa 43:1; cf. Gen 15:18; 17:8; Josh 1:2-4). Israel was created by God and cannot cease to exist (Isa 43:1, 15; Jer 31:35-37). Though Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt 23:37-38), God has a future for His people and national Israel will be restored (Rom 9:1-5). Paul tells us, “a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so, all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:25b-26a).
  16. The Christian Church. The Christian Church was created by God and cannot be destroyed (Matt 16:18). The Church consists of born-again believers (Eph 1:22-23; 1 Pet 2:5), who assemble locally (Heb 10:25), have laws (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2), and leaders (1 Tim 5:17). The primary purpose of the church is to glorify God (Eph 1:12), share the Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-4), make disciples (Matt 28:18-20), edify believers through biblical teaching (Eph 4:11-16), and do good to others (Luke 6:35; Gal 6:10; 1 Tim 6:17-19). The two ordinances of the Church are baptism (Matt 28:19) and the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-34). However, the Christian Church is increasingly coming under attack by individuals, organizations, and states who desire to render it uninfluential or inoperative.
  17. Freedom. God desires that we be free, both physically and spiritually, as this provides us the opportunity to exercise our volitions in godly ways (Gal 5:1, 13; 1 Pet 2:16). However, some people prefer servitude to freedom because they fear personal responsibility and like the idea of someone else making choices for them, watching over and caring for them. This mindset opens the door for tyranny.
  18. Nationalism. God has separated the nations of the world in order to hinder the advancement of evil and human tyranny. He divided the nations by multiplying languages and confusing the efforts of defiant persons, as these tried to build the Tower of Babel by using His language and resources independently of His wishes (Gen 11:1-9). Today, many would like to see a one world government, but Christians should oppose it, realizing it’s God’s will that national boundaries exist (Acts 17:26).

As Christians, we are called to proclaim the message of Christianity and to win people with words, never social or political force. We have failed as Christians as soon as we seek to politicize our message and control others through legislative means. If Christians want to have a lasting impact on a nation, it must be done at the grassroots level through evangelization and biblical teaching, not legislation. It must be accomplished through sharing the gospel and teaching Christian virtues that are applied to all of life, not by a forced morality imposed through the halls of congress.

Historically, Christians in America have been a positive influence in society by promoting law and being charitable to the needy (Gal 2:10; Jam 1:27). They’ve built schools, hospitals, orphanages and other helpful organizations that lift man up. They’ve fed the hungry, cared for the sick, housed the homeless, provided for widows and orphans, and visited prisoners with the gospel. Christians have also promoted art, literature, music and science. Certainly, there have been abuses in the name of Christianity; however, the historical record speaks favorably about Christian service. For the most part, believers have obeyed Scripture and become law abiding citizens rather than rebels. Scripture teaches Christians to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom 13:4), to obey leaders (Rom 13:1, 5; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-15), pay taxes (Rom 13:6), regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom 13:2-4; 6-7). We do not blindly submit to their authority and should say no to governmental leaders when they command us to go against the commands of God (see Dan 3:1-18; 6:1-13; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29). The Christian obeys or defies human authority only as the Bible directs. Ultimately, those who obey God’s Word prove to be a blessing that promotes righteousness within a nation. Christians who are learning God’s Word and growing spiritually will prove to be the moral fabric of any community, and this will make a nation strong. Mature Christians will reflect the highest and best virtues within a country, not the lowest and worst.

Angelic Warfare    In closing, we should realize our primary battle is spiritual and not physical (Eph 6:12). Our responsibility is to keep ourselves unstained by the world (2 Cor 6:14-18; Jam 1:27), to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44), and witness for Christ that others might believe the gospel and be saved (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9). The Bible is our sword by which we destroy spiritual and intellectual strongholds, within ourselves and others (2 Cor 10:3-5). The Christian is to get along with others, showing tolerance (Rom 12:17-18), except when it comes to something that harms our walk with God, and then we must stand firm (Rom 13:13-14; 1 John 2:15-17). At times God will give us the ear of a human ruler (Dan 3:16-18; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29; 26:1-29), and we must take that opportunity to speak God’s truth and pray He moves the heart of the hearer. As American citizens we should vote for leaders that promote laws consistent with God’s values. And we should always pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-2), strive to be upstanding citizens (Rom 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-14), help the needy in our communities (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess. 5:14), and above all, share the gospel and preach God’s Word (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Tim 4:1-2). Just laws will align with regenerate and humble hearts. But if the majority with the country turn from God and His values, then it’s only a matter of time before corruption leads to destruction. Considering America’s spiritual and moral decline, the abortion of more than 65,000,000 babies, our national debt, lack of authority orientation, the advancement of Socialistic and Communistic ideologies, civil unrest, the normalization of sexual perversion, the undermining of the family, attacks on Christians and churches, and other problems, it seems only a matter of time before God’s judgment falls upon our nation. My prayer is that we may yet turn our nation back to God and begin to operate on the biblical values that made America exceptional. May God help us.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] An example is found in the Pharisees who saw themselves as children of God (John 8:41b), but Jesus correctly identified them as children of the devil (John 8:44a). The Pharisees learned Scripture (Matt 23:1-6); however, their application of it was evil, as they used it as a means of salvation, which God never intended (Gal 2:16, 21; 3:11, 21). Salvation is always by grace (Rom 3:23-24; Eph 2:8-9), and applied to ungodly sinners who, by faith alone, trust in Christ as Savior (Rom 3:28; 4:1-5; 5:6-10; Gal 3:26). God’s moral laws are intended for those who are saved. Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the cause of it. Because of their pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-morality, the Pharisees were “hypocrites” (Matt 23:13-15), “blind guides” (Matt 23:16-19), who “neglect justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23), and on the inside “are full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Matt 23:25), and “all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27), and “are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt 23:28).

[2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 76.

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

Faith Strengthening Techniques

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. (Pro 3:5-6)

Strengthen-your-faith     Fear is part of the human experience. It is first mentioned in Genesis chapter three after Adam and Eve sinned and then encountered the presence of the Lord (Gen 3:10). Since the historic fall, there exists healthy and unhealthy forms of fear. Fear of God that leads to righteous living is good. Fear of others that leads to sinful living is bad. When we live righteously, we have no reason to fear God (1 John 4:18) or righteous rulers (Rom 13:1-4). Satan, and those who align with him, will seek to intimidate others into conformity in order to frustrate the plan of God. When facing opposition to doing God’s will, the believer must stand on truth. When fear rises among believers, there are faith-strengthening techniques we can apply to our situation that will fortify our walk with God. These techniques are all learned from Scripture and applied by faith (see video at end of article).

     First, live in God’s Word – Scripture is the starting point for the Christian faith, as “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17 KJV). As Christians, we are to “have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor 5:9). God states, “my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38), for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Those who consistently live in God’s Word find stability for their souls (Psa 1:1-3; Jer 17:5-8). Scripture reveals that only God and His Word are absolutely true (Psa 119:160; John 17:17), and never fail (Matt 24:35; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). In contrast, we learn that people fail (Jer 17:5; cf. Pro 28:26), money fails (Psa 62:10), the government fails (Psa 146:3), and the creation fails (Matt 24:35).

     Second, look up to God – When believers encounter a stressful situation, the first action should be to place our focus on God for help. David wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psa 56:3-4; cf. Ex 14:1-14; Deut 20:1-4; 31:1-8). When Abraham considered God’s promise that he would have a son (Gen 15:1-6; 17:6), yet knew in his old age that neither he nor Sarah could produce an heir by human effort (Rom 4:18-19), “he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom 4:20-21). The proclivity of people is to look inward, outward, and downward; whereas God calls us to look to Him. Isaiah wrote, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isa 26:3-4). And Paul wrote, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).

     Third, look back on God’s faithfulness – Thinking back on God’s faithfulness will help us overcome fear and face current troubles with confidence. When facing a large population and military in Canaan, Moses told his people, “If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ You shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deut 7:17-19; cf. 8:1-4). And Jeremiah, when lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of his people, found hope by recalling God’s faithfulness. Jeremiah wrote, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23).

     Fourth, look forward to God’s future promises – Understanding and believing God’s prophetic promises will help strengthen our faith and alleviate fear. On one occasion Jesus knew His disciples were struggling with fear and He sought to strengthen their faith by instructing them to focus on eschatological certainties. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples He was leaving them (John 13:33), and this troubled them. But Jesus sought to stabilize their thinking by getting them to focus on God, Himself, and a promise of a future reunion. Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 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. 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 14:1-3).

     Fifth, live in God’s love – Abiding in God’s love will strengthen our faith and remove fear. John wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). God is perfect, and so is His love and care for us (Rom 8:28-39). As we walk with God, our immature love develops and grows strong, becoming like His love. When this happens, fear fades away, and we can be courageous and loving toward everyone, even those who identify as our enemies and seek our harm.

      Sixth, fellowship with growing believers – Godly believers will encourage each other and strengthen each other’s faith. Paul wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Rom 1:12). When writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (1 Th 3:1-2). Growing believers are marked by love for each other as we seek to encourage each other to love the Lord and to serve Him in humility and faithfulness.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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Satan’s Strategies to Defeat God’s People

The Bible reveals that Satan is the enemy of God and he attacks His people. Peter warns us, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).[1] In his efforts, Satan has strategies he sets forth to accomplish his purposes. A strategy is a plan of action one creates and employs in order to achieve an objective. Satan’s major objective is to make himself like God and rule in His place (Isa 14:12-14). But there is only one sovereign God (Isa 45:5-6), and He advances His own agenda, which cannot fail because He cannot fail. However, Satan’s desire, like his reasoning, has been corrupted by his pride (Ezek 28:17). Satan has been advancing his agenda for millennia and has become very knowledgeable and skilled in what works. Charles Ryrie states:

By his very longevity Satan has acquired a breadth and depth of experience which he matches against the limited knowledge of man. He has observed other believers in every conceivable situation, thus enabling him to predict with accuracy how we will respond to circumstances. Although Satan is not omniscient, his wide experience and observation of man throughout his entire history on earth give him knowledge which is far superior to anything any man could have.[2]

Satan attacks God’s people in order to hinder spiritual growth and ministry. Christians who are advancing spiritually and engaging in effective ministry pose a threat to Satan’s agenda. Naturally, he will oppose our efforts and try to hinder us. Because Satan cannot touch God Himself, he goes after His people, seeking to frustrate our efforts as best he can. Sometimes he’s permitted to have his way. For example, Paul wrote, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us” (1 Th 2:17-18). We’re not sure why Satan was permitted to hinder Paul and his companions. Though frustrated, Paul continued to seek the Lord and to minister where an open door presented itself (Acts 14:27; Rev 3:8). But an open door of ministry does not mean there will be no opposition. In fact, Christian ministry often means there will adversaries, as Paul wrote, “I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor 16:8-9). Thomas Constable states:

We know that Satan is behind all of our temptations having received permission to assail us from God (e.g., Job 1–2). He uses the world system and our flesh (sinful nature) as his tools. He also attacks us directly himself and through his angelic emissaries. God has given us specific instruction in Scripture about how to combat these attacks. We are to resist the devil (1 Pet 5:8–9), flee the temptations of the world system (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; 1 John 2:15–17), and deny the flesh (Rom 6:12–13; 7:18–24; 8:13)…Satan has consistently aimed his personal attacks at getting people to doubt, to deny, to disregard, and to disobey the revealed will of God (cf. Gen 3:1-7; Matt 4:1-11). The world system seeks to get people to believe that they do not need God but can get along very well without Him. The flesh tempts us to think that we can find satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment on the physical, material level of life alone.[3]

Spiritual advance means opposition, but nothing more or beyond what God permits. The Christian who learns God’s Word and lives by faith will have the greatest impact for God in this world. Living by faith means we learn God’s Word and consciously trust Him as we apply it to our lives (Rom 10:17; Heb 10:38; 11:6). God’s Word is powerful (Isa 55:7-11; Jer 23:29; Heb 4:12), transformative (Psa 119:9-11; John 17:17), and moves the hearts of those who are positive to God (Luke 24:27, 32). Living by faith is the basis for renovating our thinking (Rom 12:1-2; 2 Cor 10:3-5), and advancing to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-15; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).

The purpose of this study is to learn how Satan attacks, so that we “will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). Our enemy, the devil, is a brilliant commander who has manufactured schemes or strategies (μεθοδεία methodeia) he employs against the human race, and God’s people in particular. The same term—μεθοδεία methodeia—is used of false teachers who engage “in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14), in order to trap immature Christians with false doctrine. William MacDonald states, “The devil has various stratagems—discouragement, frustration, confusion, moral failure, and doctrinal error. He knows our weakest point and aims for it. If he cannot disable us by one method, he will try for another.”[4] Satan has many demons and carnally minded people on his side, and he fights dirty. As Christians, we don’t go hunting for the devil; rather, we stand firm (ἵστημι histemi) against his attacks when he comes against us.

Knowing Satan’s strategies enables us to identify an attack and to defend ourselves by taking up the armor of God. Learning God’s Word and living by faith is the key to victory. Wiersbe states, “Everybody in this world lives by faith. The difference between the Christian and the unconverted person is not the fact of faith, but the object of faith. The unsaved person trusts himself and other humans; the Christian trusts God. It is your faith in God that is the secret of victory and ministry.”[5]

Fallen angel

First, Satan promotes sinful pride. Sinful pride tempts us to think we don’t need God, believing we can operate independently of the Lord, not obeying His Word or seeking Him in prayer. God hates pride. Pride was the sin that brought Lucifer down, as we are told of him, “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; and you corrupted your wisdom on account of your splendor” (Ezek 28:17 NET). The angel, Lucifer, became Satan when he set his will against the will of God (Isa 14:12-14). Satan takes every opportunity he can to promote sinful pride in others. Solomon wrote, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD” (Pro 16:5a), and “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Pro 16:18). Uzziah was king of Judah and God had blessed him greatly. But Scripture tells us, “when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God” (2 Ch 26:16a). When David was king, we are told, “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” (1 Ch 21:1).[6] From the divine perspective, we know God was angry with Israel because of some unnamed sin (2 Sam 24:1), and He permitted Satan to have his way so that the nation might be judged and humbled. Satan was glad to initiate this attack, and David’s pride was the open door for national disaster (1 Ch 21:2-7). Afterwards, David humbled himself before the Lord (1 Ch 21:8-15), demonstrating humility by obedience and sacrifice (1 Ch 21:16-30). Another example of pride is seen in Nebuchadnezzar, who was a great king, but like others, sought to live independently of God. God came to him in a dream (Dan 4:1-18), which Daniel interpreted as a revelation about the king’s downfall if he did not humble himself (Dan 4:19-27). The dream was intended to help Nebuchadnezzar realize “that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan 4:25; cf. Dan 2:21). God’s revelation was a warning not to steal His glory. But Nebuchadnezzar’s pride kept him from accepting God’s message, and twelve months later (Dan 4:29), the king said to himself, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). Afterwards, God judged him with a mental disorder that drove him to live like an animal for seven years (Dan 4:31-33). After his period of suffering, Nebuchadnezzar obtained humility and recognized God’s sovereignty, and he praised Him as He deserved (Dan 4:34-37). Unfortunately, not everyone responds to God’s corrective suffering, and there are many who die in their pride (Rev 9:20-21; 16:9-11). Humility is what God wants in His people. Humility is a lowliness of mind in which we realize our impoverished condition to function apart from God, His provision and His power (2 Cor 12:7-10). The humble person seeks God and His will above all else and relies on Him in everything, praising Him for His goodness.

Second, Satan is a liar. Jesus said of Satan, “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44b). Satan’s lying influence is so great that he “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9). People lie for various reasons (i.e., to avoid conflict, avoid consequences, to promote self, etc.). Satan, like many people, lies as a means of controlling others and circumstances. The lie is a powerplay. It also destroys trust. Satan lied to Eve and deceived her to eat the forbidden fruit, and she gave some to Adam as well (Gen 3:1-7). Satan’s lie allowed him to gain control of the world (Luke 4:6; 1 John 5:19). Satan tried his lies with Jesus and failed (Matt 4:1-11). Satan sends false teachers into churches to cause deception and disruption (Matt 13:38-39; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Cor 11:4, 12-15; 2 Pet 2:1). John tells us, “Many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Through his false teachers Satan introduces “doctrines of demons” among God’s people (1 Tim 4:1). Paul was concerned about the Christians at Corinth that they would fall prey to Satan’s falsehoods and wrote to them, saying, “I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Several things are noteworthy about Paul’s statement. First, he treats the account between Satan and Eve as an actual historical event, not myth (as liberal theologians do). Second, he shows the mind is the battleground where Satan often attacks. Third, Satan’s intention was to lead the Christians away from “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” The immediate danger in Corinth was the Satan-supported false teachers who came with false messages (2 Cor 11:4; 12-15). Satan will use anything as an allurement to draw us away from our devotion to Christ, even things such as family, friends, a career, an education, entertainment, suffering, prosperity, etc. Satan’s lies are intended to warp our perception of reality and get us to turn from God and His will. Knowing God’s Word helps us identify Satan’s lies. Applying God’s Word by faith enables us to resist Satan’s attacks. The Christian mind is the battleground, and “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). Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Third, Satan promotes uncontrolled anger. Paul wrote, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph 4:26-27). By itself, anger is not sinful. Even God gets angry (Num 25:4; Deut 9:8, 20; Jer 4:8). Human anger is a natural response to an injustice, real or imagined. We get angry because we feel someone has wronged us, and the personal scales of justice need to be corrected. Ideally, this happens when the offender comes and apologizes and seeks forgiveness, or makes restitution for damage. However, we cannot always control other people’s thoughts, words, or actions, but we can control how we respond. Paul tells us not to let anger last beyond the day. If we let anger fester, then by our choice we give the devil an opportunity to turn it into something greater, which can enslave us in bitterness. Solomon wrote, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city (Pro 16:32), and “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Pro 19:11). James said, “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:19-20). Harold Hoehner comments:

While believers may at times be legitimately angry (with righteous anger against sin; cf. John 2:13–16), they are not to sin. The way to prevent such sin is to “keep short accounts,” dealing with the anger before the sun goes down. The reason is that the devil would like to intensify a Christian’s righteous anger against sin, causing it to become sin itself. This then gives the devil a foothold (lit., “a place”), an opportunity for leading that Christian into further sin. Then anger begins to control the believer rather than the believer controlling his anger.[7]

Apostle Paul

Fourth, Satan uses suffering to pressure us to turn from God. Satan can, on occasion, afflict God’s people with suffering (Job 1:1-2:10; Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38); but this is only done with the Lord’s permission. Satan’s use of suffering is intended to get us to turn away from God, who is the source of life, goodness, and strength. Job is the classic example of a believer who was attacked by Satan (Job 1:1-2:10). Though Job suffered greatly, he understood his life was in God’s hands and he kept faith, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). And on another occasion he said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15a). Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). Satan’s request was granted. But the Lord also told Peter, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Peter did return to the Lord and was strengthened (John 21:15-17). The key for us as Christians is to trust in God’s love and goodness when we face Satan’s attacks against our flesh. This is a faith response not born of feelings or circumstances (Rom 5:3-5; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6; 4:12-13; cf. 1 Thess 5:16-18).

sheep-wolf

Fifth, Satan masquerades as a messenger of light. Satan was created as a beautiful cherub (Ezek 28:12-14), and he retains all his outward attractiveness. Inwardly he is prideful (Ezek 28:15-17), and this is part of what makes him dangerous. Satan uses his outward appearance as a disguise to deceive others, and many of his messengers do the same. Paul wrote, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor 11:14-15). The Pharisees were satanic deceivers. They referred to themselves as God’s children, saying, “we have one father, God” (John 8:41b). But Jesus said of them, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44a). The Pharisees were very religious. They read the Scriptures, prayed, fasted, offered sacrifices, and spent much of their time at the temple. Jesus said they had “seated themselves in the chair of Moses” (Matt 23:2). This was because they coveted positions of power. Jesus said, they “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matt 23:4), they “do all their deeds to be noticed by men” (Matt 23:5), and they “love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men” (Matt 23:6-7). But Jesus also revealed their true identity as “hypocrites” (Matt 23:13-15), “blind guides” (Matt 23:16-19), and those who “neglect justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). Outwardly they look attractive, “but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Matt 23:25), and are “like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27), and “outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt 23:28). Jesus established policy for His disciples when He told them on a previous occasion, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt 15:14). He also warned them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16:6), by which His disciples understood leaven to refer to “the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16:12b). Knowing God’s Word helps us identify and avoid Satan’s beautiful messengers, who outwardly appear righteous, but twist Scripture and promote false doctrines.

Sixth, Satan empowers his false prophets to perform miracles in order to deceive. When Moses was executing God’s plagues upon Egypt, it is recorded that three times “the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts” (Ex 7:10-11; 7:21-22; 8:6-7). Moses warned the Israelites who were about to enter the land that they should guard themselves against false prophets and dreamers of dreams who arise and give them a “sign or wonder”, and then seek to lead them away from God (Deut 13:1-4). Jesus warned of “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24). And Paul spoke of the coming Antichrist, “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Th 2:9-10). Those who know God’s Word and live by it will guard themselves against the deceiving power of false miracle workers.

Satan desires that we turn from God and His Word and live independently of Him. He promotes sinful pride, lies, uncontrolled anger, uses suffering to pressure God’s people, masquerades as a messenger of light, and empowers false teachers to perform miracles in order to deceive. Knowledge of God’s Word informs us about Satan’s strategies, and the humble believer who lives by faith will be able to stand when he attacks.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. The Sovereignty of God
  3. Standing Against the Forces of Darkness  
  4. Satan as the Ruler of the World
  5. Satan’s Evil World-System
  6. Demons and How They Influence mankind
  7. Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind
  8. Restoring Fellowship With God
  9. Steps to Spiritual Growth
  10. The Filling of the Holy Spirit
  11. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

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

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian life (Chicago Ill., Moody Press, 1994), 130.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Eph 6:11.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1952.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Strategy of Satan: How to Detect and Defeat Him (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 95.

[6] Taking a census was permitted under the Mosaic Law (Ex 30:12); but God did not instruct David to do this thing, and David’s motivation was pride, so that he would have an idea about the military strength of his kingdom (1 Ch 21:5).

[7] Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 637.

The Life of Faith

Believe Living by faith is the Christian way. God expects us to trust Him at His word, which is plainly understood, believed, and applied. Studying the Bible and applying it to life are comparable to breathing in and breathing out, as both are necessary for living. Much of our mental and social stability depends on how well we know the Word of God and apply it to life. The Lord states, “My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38).[1] And we know that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). Scripture reveals that only God and His Word are absolutely true (Psa 119:160; John 17:17), and never fail (Matt 24:35; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18). In contrast, we learn that people fail (Jer 17:5; cf. Pro 28:26), money fails (Psa 62:10), the government fails (Psa 146:3), and the creation fails (Matt 24:35). As we look at the Greek New Testament, we see how the word faith is used three ways:

  1. Faith, as a verb (πιστεύω pisteuo),[2] means “to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one’s trust.”[3] It means to believe, trust, or have confidence in God (Heb 11:6; cf. Rom 4:3), Jesus (Acts 16:31; 1 Pet 1:8), and Scripture (John 2:22). Unreliable people should not be trusted (Matt 24:23, 26; John 2:24).
  2. Faith, as a noun (πίστις pistis), often refers to “that which evokes trust and faith…the state of being someone in whom confidence can be placed, faithfulness, reliability, fidelity.”[4] The word is used with reference to God who is trustworthy (Rom 3:3; 4:19-21), and of people who possess faith (Matt 9:2, 22; 21:21), which can be great (Matt 15:28; cf. Acts 6:5; 11:23-24), small (Matt 17:19-20), or absent (Mark 4:39-40; cf. Luke 8:25). It is also used of Scripture itself as a body of reliable teaching (i.e. Acts 14:22; 16:5; Rom 14:22; Gal 1:23; 2 Tim 4:7).
  3. Faith, as an adjective (πιστός pistos), describes someone “pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith.”[5] The word is used both of man (Matt 25:23; 1 Cor 4:17; Col 1:7; 1 Tim 1:12; 2 Tim 2:2; Heb 3:5), and God (1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 10:23; Rev 1:5).

Biblical facts about faith:

  1. Faith demands an object (Acts 16:30-31).
  2. Faith is exercised with a view to receiving a benefit (John 3:16).
  3. The object of faith gets the credit (Rom 4:19-21).
  4. Salvation comes by faith in Jesus (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Gal 3:26; Eph 2:8-9).
  5. Faith is the only thing that pleases God (Heb 11:6).
  6. God expects us to live by faith (Rom 1:17; Heb 10:38).
  7. Faith is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
  8. By faith we apply the word of God (Matt 7:24-25; John 13:17; Jam 1:22).
  9. By faith we claim promises (Heb 6:11-12; 2 Pet 1:4).
  10. It is possible to have God’s promises and not benefit from them (Heb 4:2).
  11. Our faith will be tested (1 Pet 1:6-7).
  12. Our faith overcomes fear (Deut 31:6-8; Isa 41:10-13).
  13. Trusting God produces mental stability (Isa 26:3; Phil 4:6-11).
  14. Faith can be strengthened by others (Acts 14:21-22; 16:5; Rom 1:12)

Faith in God results in a change of attitude and actions about everything. By faith, “we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb 11:3). By faith we have confidence that God controls the circumstances of our lives, that He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Even the trials we face help to produce humility (Dan 4:37; Matt 23:12), and develop the character of God in us (Rom 5:1-5). 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 perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam 1:2-4). Such a faith response makes us better rather than bitter. By faith we obey God’s commands to love and serve (Gal 5:13), be tolerant (Eph 4:2), kind, tenderhearted and forgiving (Eph 4:32), and to regard others as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3-4).

Satan, and his world-system, will strive to get the believer to rely upon anything and everything other than God and His Word. If the believer falls into this trap, he will experience worry, frustration, anxiety, and eventually a deep-rooted sense of despair. God wants us to have mental stability (Isa 26:3), love (1 John 4:16-17), contentment (Phil 4:11-13), and every other attitude that brings an abundant life (John 10:10). Only through a life of faith can we know the blessings that belong to every Christian.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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

[2] Though I’m looking at the Greek, it should be noted that the Hebrew אָמַן aman carries the same basic meaning as πιστεύω pisteuo. In fact, the LXX translates Genesis 15:6—a passage quoted by NT writers (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; Jam 2:23)—by using the Greek verb πιστεύω pisteuo.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 816.

[4] Ibid., 818.

[5] Ibid., 820.

Improving Culture – A NT Example

Culture represents the values, traditions and behaviors of a society, and though culture is improvable, it is not perfectible. And even where positive change occurs, it’s difficult to perpetuate, largely because the people needed to sustain the change are few, flawed and temporary. A society’s culture is no better or worse than its leaders and the citizenry who support them; and at the heart of every problem is the problem of the heart. Apart from regeneration and a transformed mind and will, people will default to selfishness and sin, and so social problems continue. Furthermore, if we did make great improvements, we cannot guarantee succeeding generations will follow the good pattern set for them. Below is a NT example in Acts 19 of how the city of Ephesus was improved culturally from the bottom up, as a result of the apostle Paul’s preaching the gospel and biblical teaching over several years.

ai8scsonp5sri42cdgth     The apostle Paul came to the city of Ephesus, and as was his custom, “he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Paul’s normal ministry pattern was to preach to Jews first, then to Gentiles (Rom. 1:16; cf. Acts 13:46; 17:2; 18:4, 19). However, there were some Jews with negative volition who rejected Paul’s teaching, who “were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people” (Acts 19:9a). Paul did not argue with them, nor did he try to force his teaching on them. Rather, “he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9b). It’s very possible Paul was renting a room at the school in order to host his daily Bible classes. Luke tells us, “This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). Though Paul was teaching, he continued to work with his hands to support himself and his traveling companions (Acts 20:34), and it’s possible the seven churches of Asia were started as a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10; Rev. 2-3). In addition to Paul’s teaching, we learn “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out” (Acts 19:11-12). In this way, God was authenticating Paul’s apostolic authority and validating him as a true servant of the Lord. Ephesus was a city known for its occult practices, and there were some unbelievers who thought they could borrow the name of Jesus and use it to advance their own agendas. We learn there were some “Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, [and] attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches’” (Acts 19:13). These men were identified as “Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this” (Acts 19:14). But the results were not what they expected, as “the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’” (Acts 19:15). The question implied they had no authority, “And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16). Though these exorcists tried to use the name of Jesus in the form of a verbal incantation to control evil spirits, it backfired on them and caused personal harm, and the event “became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified” (Acts 19:17). The failure of these Jewish exorcists became widely publicized and began to draw people to hear the Christian message. Furthermore, many of “those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices” (Acts 19:18). Those who “had believed” were Christians who had not completely let go of some of their pagan practices, but now they were willing. Luke records, “And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:19). Though it took nearly two years, these Christians were finally willing to let go of their past practices by burning their magic books and turning fully to the Lord. The value of these books totaled a large financial sum, as each piece of silver was probably equal to a day’s wage. “Ephesus was known for its magic, and apparently the Christians had not yet put away all such evil practices. So they brought their books and scrolls of magic and burned them as an open repudiation. Then—after the believers made their relationships with the Lord right—the Word of God grew and prevailed.”[1] The result was that people were being transformed from the inside out and Ephesian culture was positively impacted for Christ, as “the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (Acts 19:8-20). Here we see cultural improvement in the lives of those who were positive to gospel preaching and biblical teaching.

49Ephesians_500     These events marked the high point of Paul’s ministry in Asia. However, some pagan craftsmen who made their living selling statuettes of Artemis felt threatened by the cultural changes that were taking place (Acts 19:23-27). Acting out of rage and economic self-interest, they formed a mob and stormed the city theater, even dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s traveling companions, who undoubtedly felt threatened by the uproar (Acts 19:28-29). Paganism has no real answers to Christianity, and when threatened, many will resort to violence to suppress the advance of truth. Though Paul wanted to address the mob, he was prevented by friends who were concerned about his safety (Acts 19:30-31). The riot lasted for several hours with great intensity (Acts 19:32-34), until eventually the crowd tired out, at which time a city official reasoned with them to bring their complaints to the courts, where matters could be handled lawfully and peacefully (Acts 19:35-41). These events likely occurred between 52-55 AD. We know Paul was marked by these events (2 Cor 1:8-9), and by the end of his ministry around 62-64 AD, everyone who once supported him in Ephesus turned away from him (2 Tim 1:15). By 95 AD the church in Ephesus had grown cold and lost its “first love” (Rev 2:4).

In In Acts 19:8-41 we observe that gospel preaching and biblical teaching can, over time, bring about positive cultural change. However, we must keep our focus on evangelism and biblical teaching, and not reducing Christianity to a methodological system merely for the purpose of effecting social change (i.e. a social gospel). We also observe in Acts 19 that when Christianity does bring about positive cultural change, it threatens those who love and live by their paganism, and when this happens, people may resort to violence to suppress the biblical teaching. Lastly, gospel preaching and biblical teaching does not always yield large or lasting results. Remember that Noah preached for 120 years, but only seven persons besides himself were saved (2 Pet 2:5), and Jeremiah preached for 23 years to the same group of leaders in Israel, but they refused to listen (Jer 25:3). Jesus came as the Light into the world, but the majority of those who heard and saw Him rejected His message, as they “loved the darkness rather than the Light” (John 3:19). Jesus informed us that “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matt 7:13), whereas “the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt 7:14). The result is that there will continually be believers and unbelievers in the world, as the wheat and tares will grow side by side until Jesus returns and establishes His earthly millennial kingdom (Matt 13:36-42). Even Paul did not always get the same results in each city where he preached, for though he had many disciples in Iconium, Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe (read Acts 14), there were only two positive responses in Philippi, namely Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:27-34). As Christians, we are more concerned about our godly output rather than the responsive outcomes of those we interact with; for though we can control our godly life and good message, we cannot control how others will respond to it.

Lastly, we live in the reality that there will always be resistance to God’s work in every Christian ministry because the world is fallen and Satan desperately wants to keep everyone—both saved and lost—thinking and acting according to his world-system. New Christians will inevitably face many obstacles, because at the moment of salvation, their minds are not automatically filled with Scripture and their characters are not instantly changed to be like the character of Christ. The process of being transformed into the character of Christ and learning to think biblically involves many thousands of decisions over a lifetime, in which worldly viewpoint is driven from the mind as the believer’s thinking is renovated and brought into conformity with Scripture. Without regeneration and positive volition to God and His Word, biblical discussion is hindered and the appropriation of Christian values to culture is not possible. Christians who are learning God’s Word and growing spiritually will prove to be the moral fabric of any community, as they manifest the highest and best virtues within society, not the lowest and worst. And the Bible is our sword by which we destroy spiritual and intellectual strongholds, within ourselves and others (2 Cor 10:3-6), realizing true cultural change occurs through preaching the gospel and consistent biblical teaching. As Christians, we should always pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-2), strive to be upstanding citizens (Rom 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-14), help the needy in our communities (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess 5:14), and above all, share the gospel and preach God’s Word (1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Tim 4:1-2). As we grow spiritually and walk with God, we 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 Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-4), and influence the thoughts and lives of others through biblical discussion (Matt 28:18-20); which we do in love and grace (Eph 4:14-15; Col 4:6), not by argumentation (2 Tim 2:24-26).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Acts of the Apostles, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1961), 102.

The Effects of Sin Upon Our World

     There was a time when I was completely lost in sin and every thought and action supported Satan and his kingdom of darkness. For a time, I added trouble to the world. But now, as a Christian, I desire to serve the Lord as a good son who walks in the light of His truth. This does not mean I don’t fail from time to time and commit sin; Lord knows I do (every believer fails, and some more than others). I also realize relapse does not mean collapse, and my occasional sin is forgiven when I turn to the Lord, confess it, and move on in my Christian life (1 John 1:9). But sin remains, and I face ongoing spiritual battles. This present article is intended is to show how the historic fall of Adam and Eve fundamentally changed the human race and the world, resulting in disease, decay and death among all living things, and that the tendency of humanity is to behave in a spiritually and morally corrupt manner, suppressing God’s truth and rejecting His solutions to life’s problems. Understanding this helps us make sense of the world in which we live and why people behave the way they do. 

     Sin is a dominant theme from Genesis chapter three to the end of the Bible, at which time God will do away with sin and its effects, creating a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21:1). The word sin is found throughout Scripture, and both the Hebrew and Greek share the same basic meaning. The Hebrew word חָטָא chata means “to miss the target, or to lose the way,”[1] and the Greek ἁμαρτάνω hamartano is defined as “miss the mark, err, or do wrong.”[2] Sin is when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path.[3] The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). “The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. The lawgiver is God. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Rom 3:20; 4:15; 7:7; Jam 4:12, 17).”[4]

Sin     Sin impacts all things including family life, nature, economics, society, law, politics, science, education, etc. All sin and evil exist in connection with the willful creatures who manufacture it, and its effects can be short or long-lasting. Even the creation is cursed because of Adam’s sin, as the Lord told him, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen 3:17), to which Paul added, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom 8:20-22). Sin negatively impacts everyone and everything, and no one was impacted or hurt more by sin than God. On several occasions we read, “The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Gen 6:6), and though God loved Israel, their ongoing sin “grieved His Holy Spirit” (Isa 63:10). As Christians, we are commanded, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). Sin ultimately cost God His Son, who came into the world and died on a cross in order to atone for it (Mark 10:45; John 3:16; 10:14-18; Rom 8:32; 1 John 4:10), and to set us free from spiritual slavery (Rom 6:6; Gal 5:1; Heb 2:14-15).

     The Bible reveals we are sinners in Adam, sinners by nature, and sinners by choice. To be a sinner in Adam means we sinned when he sinned, that his fallen position is our fallen position, and his guilt is our guilt (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-24; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22). This is commonly referred to as original sin. Since the fall of Adam, every person is born with a sin nature (except Jesus),[5] and it is this nature that internally motivates people to rebel against all legitimate forms of authority, both human and divine. More so, the sin nature is not eradicated from the believer during his time on earth, nor is it ever reformed, as though it can be made to love God. To be a sinner by nature means it’s our innate tendency to sin (Jer 17:9; Matt 7:11; Rom 7:18-21; Eph 2:1-3). To be a sinner by choice means we personally choose to act contrary to God and His revealed will (1 Ki 8:46; Prov 20:9; Ecc 7:20; Isa 53:6; Rom 3:10-12; 1 John 1:10). Cumulatively these reveal that we are totally depraved, which means sin permeates and corrupts every aspect of our being, including our mind, will, sensibilities and flesh. Though we may be moral to the best of our ability and others may applaud us for our good deeds, our best efforts are tainted by sin and have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Rom 4:1-5; 5:6-10; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5).

Jeremiah 17=9     One of the major areas sin impacts us is in the mind, which theologians refer to as the noetic effects of sin. This means sin impacts our ability to think rationally, especially about God, who has made Himself known through general revelation (Psa 19:1-2; Rom 1:18-20) and special revelation (1 Cor 14:37; 1 Tim 5:18; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 3:16-17). The majority of people throughout history think evil thoughts and are consumed with themselves and their own agendas rather than God’s will. Of Noah’s generation it is said, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Later, Solomon declared, “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Eccl 9:3). And Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). And Jesus Himself spoke of the human condition, saying, “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, [and] slanders” (Matt 15:19). One would think that when Jesus came into the world that mankind would rejoice in His light; however, Scripture provides a different picture, telling us, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19; cf. 1:4-5). When talking to religious Pharisees, Jesus declared, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). This is true of all unbelievers, for “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor 2:14). Even something as simple as the Gospel message is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18), in whose case “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:3-4). The tendency of fallen people who operate on negative volition is to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18), and to operate by a worldly wisdom that is not “from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (Jam 3:15).

New Life in Christ     At the moment of salvation, God the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us a new nature that, for the first time in our lives, has the desire and capacity to obey God; however, the sin nature is not removed, and so we experience ongoing internal conflict between these opposing natures (Gal 5:17; Rom 7:14-23). As Christians, we are directed to “lay aside the old self…and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22, 24). Since we have been “born again” and given new life (1 Pet 1:3, 23), the sin nature no longer has domineering power over us, and we can choose a life of righteousness (Rom 6:5-13). As we grow spiritually, we will be transformed from the inside out and gradually become more and more righteous as we walk with God. Sinless perfection will not be attained until we leave this world, by death or by Rapture, and are “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29), who will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Phi 3:21). Until then, we are commanded to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14). We do this by choosing to live according to the Spirit’s guiding, and starving the monster that is our sin nature. To “make no provision for the flesh” means we stop exposing ourselves to the things of the world that excite the flesh and lead to sinful behavior. The positive action is to grow spiritually with biblical teaching (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), Christian fellowship (Heb 10:23-25), selfless living (Phil 2:3-4), prayer (1 Thess 5:17), worship (Heb 13:15), and doing good (Gal 6:10; Heb 13:16). It is only by spiritual growth and drawing closer to God that we learn to glorify the Lord and live in righteousness.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson for The Effects of Sin Upon Our World

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. Satan as the Ruler of the World
  3. Satan’s Evil World-System
  4. Demons and How They Influence mankind
  5. Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind
  6. Restoring Fellowship With God
  7. Steps to Spiritual Growth
  8. The Filling of the Holy Spirit
  9. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 305.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 49.

[3] In Judges 20:16 the Hebrew word is used of skilled soldiers who do not miss their target, and in Proverbs 19:2 of a man who hurries and misses his way.

[4] Merrill F. Unger and E. McChesney, “Sin,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[5] According to Scripture, Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). His sinless life qualified Him as a perfect sacrifice to go to the cross and die as a substitute for others (Rom 5:6-10; Heb 10:1-14; 1 Pet 3:18).

Demons and How They Influence Mankind

Angels are basically classified as either righteous or evil. The former retain their holy state and service to God and are called elect angels (1 Tim 5:21), whereas the latter have defected from their original state and continue in constant rebellion against God. Satan is the leader of all fallen angels (Matt 25:41; cf. Rev 12:7, 9), which Scripture designates as evil spirits (1 Sam 16:14; Luke 7:21), demons (Matt 8:31), and unclean spirits (Mark 5:1-4). These have been operating for millennia trying to frustrate the purposes of God.

d1b252dff75424a893f6282f2bb50ee5     All angels, whether good or bad, are organized for service and effectiveness. Michael is called an archangel (Jude 1:9), a chief prince (Dan 10:13), and is assigned the task of guarding Israel (Dan 12:1). Gabriel is a messenger angel who was sent to deliver important messages to God’s people (Dan 8:16; 9:21-22; Luke 1:19; 26-38). Both Michael and Gabriel are recorded in Scripture as battling fallen angels who appear as commanders of regions of the world (Dan 10:12-13, 21). One fallen angel is called “the prince of Persia” and the other “the prince of Greece” (Dan 10:20). These no doubt function as Satan’s emissaries to promote his purposes, and are part of a larger group that Paul called the forces of darkness (Eph 6:12). Demons can possess the bodies of men (Luke 11:24-26), animals (Gen 3:1-5; Mark 5:11-13; 2 Cor 11:3), and sometimes cause physical and mental illness (Matt 9:32-33; Luke 8:27).

Demons have some freedom, but not beyond the boundaries God has established (Job 1:1-21). God sometimes uses fallen angels to accomplish His sovereign purposes (1 Sam 16:14-16; 2 Cor 12:7-10), just as He sometimes uses sinful people to bring about His will (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28). The final destiny of Satan and demons will be the Lake of Fire, which God created as a special place of punishment for them (Matt 25:41). Those who reject Christ as Savior will join Satan in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). Those who accept Jesus as Savior are forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 10:10-14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and will spend forever in heaven (John 14:1-3).

Fallen angels are involved in the affairs of mankind. The person who operates by negative volition aligns himself with Satan and his forces. Negative volition leads to idolatry, and idolatry leads to immorality (Rom 1:18-32), both individually and nationally. The worship of idols is the worship of demons (Lev 17:7; Deut 32:17; 1 Cor 10:19-21). Demons generally led the pagan nations into idolatry, which God’s people were not to practice (Deut 18:9-14). However, when God’s people mingled with them, they learned their idolatrous practices (1 Ki 11:1-8), and even created their own idols (1 Ki 12:26-33), which eventuated in human sacrifice (2 Ki 17:7-23; Psa 106:35-38; cf. 2 Ki 16:1-4; 21:1-9; Jer 32:30-35; Ezek 16:20-21; 20:31; 23:37).

When rulers turned away from God, He would use evil spirits to discipline them (Judg 9:23; 1 Sam 16:14-15). This resulted in the disciplined person experiencing mental madness and murderous behavior (1 Sam 18:10-12; cf. 1 Sam 19:9-10). God used an evil spirit to bring about the military defeat and death of King Ahab (2 Chron 18:18-22).

Some angels who were once free, are now kept in “eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” and appear to have forfeited their freedom altogether due to some unnamed sinful violation (Jude 1:6), perhaps the account described in Genesis 6:1-5. And some very destructive angels (described as metal-like locusts) are now kept in the Abyss—a temporary spiritual prison—and will be released and led by a powerful angel whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek Apollyon (Rev 9:1-12). Four unnamed, but very dangerous angels, are said to be bound under the River Euphrates (Rev 9:13-16). These four angels will kill one third of mankind during the Great Tribulation. Other evil spirits will be used to gather world rulers and their armies together for the Battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:13-14; cf. Rev 19:11-21).

As Christians, we face social, political and religious attacks in our day, and there are dark spiritual forces at work driving much of what we see. Scripture is very clear when it says, “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). These demonic forces are behind every act of terror the world has ever known, and their activity is tireless. Thankfully, God has given us armor and a weapon to protect us, which also serve to aid in the rescue and defense of others who face spiritual attacks. This is described in Ephesians 6:13-18.

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph 6:13-18).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio lesson for Demons and How They Influence Mankind

Related Articles:

Satan’s Evil World-System

     The Bible recognizes Satan’s world-system and warns us not to love it (1 John 2:15-16). When John writes and tells the Christian “do not love the world”, he’s not talking about the physical planet. The Greek word κόσμος kosmos as it is used by the apostle John and others most often refers to “that which is hostile to God…lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved.”[1] Satan’s world-system consists of those philosophies and values that perpetually influence humanity to think and behave contrary to God and His Word. This operating apart from God is first and foremost a way of thinking that is antithetical to God and His Word, a way of thinking motivated by a desire to be free from God and the authority of Scripture, a freedom most will accept, even though it is accompanied by all sorts of inconsistencies and absurdities.

The kosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God-a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share; who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects, nor do they ascribe any causality to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies; its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled “The Satanic System” which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, kosmos.[2]

     People who live in Satan’s world-system exclude God and Scripture from their daily conversations. This is true in news, politics, academic communities, work and home life. God is nowhere in their thoughts, and therefore, nowhere in their discussions (Psa 10:4; 14:1). The growing Christian thinks about God and His Word all the time, as “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psa 1:2). The contrast between the growing Christian and the worldly person is stark, as their thoughts and words take them in completely different directions.

     At the core of Satan’s world-system is a directive for mankind to function apart from God, and when obeyed, people produce all forms of evil, both moral and immoral. We should understand that Satan’s system is a buffet that offers something for everyone who rejects God, whether that person is moral or immoral, religious or irreligious, educated or simple, rich or poor. Satan is careful to make sure there’s even something for the Christian in his world-system, which is why the Bible repeatedly warns the believer not to love the world or the things in the world. We are to be set apart (Col 2:8; Jam 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). “The world is the Christian’s enemy because it represents an anti-God system, a philosophy that is diametrically opposed to the will and plan of God. It is a system headed by the devil and therefore at odds with God (2 Cor 4:4).…It is in this wicked world we must rear our families and earn our livelihoods. We are in it, yet are not to be a part of it.”[3] It is important to understand that we cannot change Satan or his evil program; however, we must be on guard, for it can and will change us if we’re not careful to learn and live God’s Word.

From Darkness to Light     At the moment of salvation, God the Father “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). This transference is permanent and cannot be undone. Once this happens, we are hated by those who remain in Satan’s kingdom of darkness. For this reason, Jesus said to His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19; cf. John 16:33; 1 John 3:13). Love and hate in this context should be understood as accept or reject, which can be mild or severe in expression. When praying to the Father, Jesus said, “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14b), and went on to say, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). It is not God’s will that we be immediately removed from this world at the moment of salvation, but left here to serve as His representatives to the lost, that we “may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). We are not to participate in worldly affairs that exclude God, but are to “walk as children of Light” (Eph 5:8), manifesting the fruit of the Light “in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:9-10), and we are told, “do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph 5:11).

     The growing Christian faces real struggles as Satan’s world-system seeks to press him into its mold, demanding conformity, and persecuting him when he does not bend to its values. The world-system not only has human support, but is backed by demonic forces that operate in collaboration with Satan. Scripture tells us “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). The battlefront is more than what is seen with the human eye and is driven by unseen spiritual forces. As Christians living in the world we are to be careful not to be taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8). Realizing the battleground is the mind, we are to think biblically in everything, which is our only safeguard against the enemy (2 Cor 10:3-5).

     Christians face situations every day in which they are pressured to compromise God’s Word. They face difficulties at work, school, home, or other places, in which they are confronted by worldly-minded persons, both saved and unsaved, who demand and pressure them to abandon their biblical values. There is room for personal compromise where Scripture is silent on a matter; however, where Scripture speaks with absolute authority, there the believer must never compromise! “The world, or world-system, puts pressure on each person to try to get him to conform (Rom 12:2). Jesus Christ was not “of this world” and neither are His people (John 8:23; 17:14). But the unsaved person, either consciously or unconsciously, is controlled by the values and attitudes of this world.”[4]

     By promoting the gospel and biblical teaching, the church disrupts Satan’s domain of darkness by calling out of it a people for God. By learning God’s Word, Christians can identify worldly conversations and activities and either avoid them or seek to redirect them by interjecting biblical truth, which should never be done in hostility. When sharing God’s Word with others it’s proper to know that not everyone wants to hear God’s truth, and even though we may not agree with them, their personal choices should be respected (Matt 11:14; Acts 13:50-51). 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 disruption and may even offend. In this interaction, the growing Christian 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 the Christian only talk about worldly issues, as Scripture threatens his pagan presuppositions. Having the biblical worldview, the Christian should insert himself into daily conversations with others, and in so doing, be a light in a dark place. He 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). The worldly-minded person may not want to hear what the Christian has to say, but he should never be under the false impression that he has the right to quiet the Christian and thereby exclude him from the conversation.

     As we grow spiritually and walk with God, learning and living His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), we 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 gospel, “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). When anyone places their faith in Christ, trusting solely in Him as Savior, they are forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7), and gifted with eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and the righteousness of God (Rom 4:1-5; 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). They are rescued from Satan’s enslaving power, as God rescues them from the “domain of darkness” and transfers them into “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). The gospel is the only thing that will deliver a person 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 fellowship (Heb 10:23-25), prayer (Jam 5:16), edification (Eph 4:29), encouragement (1 Thess 5:11), love (1 Thess 4:9; cf. Eph 4:14-15), and words of grace (Col 4:6).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson for Satan’s Evil World-System:

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 562.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, “Angelology Part 4” Bibliotheca Sacra 99 (1942): 282-283.

[3] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology, p. 206.

[4] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 2, p. 18.

David – A Better King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

When Life Gets Tough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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

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

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

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

Choosing the Faithful Way – Psalm 119:25-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary:

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

 

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

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

When God Gives Us a Test

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Virtue of Humility  
  2. God’s Grace is Sufficient 
  3. Walking with God  
  4. God Wrestled with Jacob  
  5. Psalm 23  
  6. The Value of Suffering  
  7. Thoughts About Spiritual Growth  
  8. I am Barabbas  

Alexander the Coppersmith

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

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

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

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

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

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

Submission to Authority – Part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Submission to Authority – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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

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

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

[4] Ibid., 1042.

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

The Faithfulness of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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

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

When Believers Hide

     The hyphenated term Crypto-Christians is used to refer to believers who hide during times of persecution.  The English word crypto is derived from the Greek κρύπτω krupto, which means to hide, and the word is used in both a positive and negative sense in Scripture.  There have been, and are times when God’s people hide themselves, or were hidden by others, in the face of persecution.  Biblically, there appear to be both right and wrong reasons for hiding.

     By faith, Moses’ parents hid him from Pharaoh (Ex. 2:1-2).  The writer of Hebrews comments on this act, saying, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden [κρύπτω krupto] for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Heb. 11:23).  By faith, Rahab protected the two spies that came to her house, for “she had brought them up to the roof and hidden[1] them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof” (Josh. 2:6; cf. Heb. 11:31).  Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord and provided food and water for them (1 Ki. 18:1-4).  These were true prophets, for a false prophet would not have been afraid of the public hostility of Ahab and Jezebel.  It is recorded that Jesus “hid Himself” (κρύπτω krupto) from an attack by the Jewish leadership (John 8:59).  Certainly there was no sin in Jesus’ action.  There was another time when Jesus “hid Himself” (κρύπτω krupto), though the text does not say why (John 12:36). 

     There are examples of believers who hid themselves and the text neither justifies nor condemns their actions.  For example, Elijah ran for his life and hid in a cave (1 Ki. 19:1-2, 9-10).  God showed the prophet grace, providing for him during his journey (1 Ki. 19:4-8).  Elijah thought he was the last prophet in Israel, saying, “I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Ki. 19:10b).  However, Elijah was unaware of 7000 faithful Israelites who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Ki. 19:18).  One might question whether these 7000 believers were also concealing their faith for fear of persecution; otherwise, Elijah would have known about them and realized he was not the last of God’s prophets.  Scripture reveals Joseph of Arimathea was “a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one (κρύπτω krupto) for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38).  However, after the crucifixion, he exposed his faith for all to see and apparently did not fear oppression.

     There are believers whom the biblical text rebukes for hiding.  For example, some of the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day had “believed in Him” (John 12:42a); however, “because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue” (Joh 12:42b).  These believers chose to hide their faith for sinful reasons, because “they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43).  One could argue that Peter was hiding from persecution when he denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:33-35, 69-75). 

     In summary, there is Scriptural evidence of believers who hid from persecution.  For some, it was not wrong, but for others, it was.  How should we distinguish between them?  It seems permissible to hide oneself from persecution as long as it does not mean disobeying or dishonoring God.  A thorough knowledge of Scripture and strong faith in God will equip the believer to make good decisions in times of persecution.  The spiritually mature believer will be able to overcome fear and live confidently in God’s will, seeking His glory over personal protection.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] The Septuagint uses the Greek word κρύπτω krupto as a synonym for the Hebrew טָמַן taman.

The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53

       It is in the understanding of the suffering and death of Christ that the sinner appreciates God’s great love and the price that was paid for his salvation.  Christ suffered in place of the sinner, bearing the penalty that rightfully belonged to him.  Scripture tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18a).  Perhaps no section of Scripture in the Old Testament bears greater testimony to this truth than Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12, in which the prophet reveals the Messiah as the suffering Servant.  Isaiah 53 is mentioned eight times in the New Testament as specifically referring to Christ, so that there is no mistake in the minds of the New Testament writers that the passage points to Jesus.

The New Testament writers quote eight specific verses as having been fulfilled in Jesus.  Verse 1 (‘who has believed our message?’) is applied to Jesus by John (12:38).  Matthew sees the statement of verse 4 (‘he took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’) as fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry (8:17).  That we have gone astray like sheep (v. 6), but that by his wounds we have been healed (v. 5) are both echoed by Peter (1 Pet. 2:22-25), and so in the same passage are verse 9 (‘nor was any deceit found in his mouth’) and verse 11 (‘he will bear their iniquities’).  Then verses 7 and 8, about Jesus being led like a sheep to the slaughter and being deprived of justice and of life, were the verses the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in his chariot, which prompted Philip to share with him ‘the good news about Jesus’ (Acts 8:30-35).  Thus verses 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 – eight verses out of the chapter’s twelve – are all quite specifically referred to Jesus.[1]

       Though Isaiah 53 is quoted most often in the New Testament, the section about the suffering Servant actually starts in Isaiah 52:13 and runs through to the end of chapter 53.  Isaiah 52:13-15 appears to provide a summary of chapter 53, albeit in reverse order.  Isaiah 52:13-15 reveals the Lord’s Servant first as successful, and then reveals His suffering and the beneficial results that follow.  Then, in chapter 53, Isaiah reverses the order by first showing the Servant’s suffering in 53:1-9, and then His success and the beneficial results in 53:10-12. 

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand. (Isa. 52:13-15)

       God spoke through His prophet Isaiah and declared, “My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13).  Christ came as God’s perfect Servant, as the One who always accomplished His will.  A servant is one who faithfully executes the will of another, and Christ perfectly executed the will of God the Father.  When God the Son came into the world and added to Himself perfect humanity, He declared “a body Thou hast prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5); and once in hypostatic union, declared to His Father, “I have come to do your will” (Heb. 10:9).  Regarding the Father’s will, Jesus stated, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:29).  On the evening before His crucifixion Jesus declared, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).  And, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42b).  There has been only one perfect Servant in the history of the human race that has accomplished the will of God the Father in every way, and that is Jesus Christ. 

       The word “prosper” (Heb. sakal) has the idea of success based on prudence.  It is God who declares His Servant a success, because His Servant accomplished His will, His way.  From the world’s perspective, Jesus died as a common criminal, defeated and crucified by Roman soldiers.  From God’s perspective, the cross was a planned and controlled event, as Christ was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23a).  Christ knew He was accomplishing the Father’s will when facing His death, and “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).  The result of Christ’s humble obedience to the Father was that “God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9).  Jesus’ death was an intelligent sacrifice, humbly executed.  As a result of His obedience, “He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13).

       The Scourging of ChristAfter declaring that God’s Servant will “prosper…be high and lifted up and greatly exalted”, Isaiah then gave a stark contrast by saying, “His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14).  The word “marred” (Heb. mishchath) means to be disfigured.  Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus endured beatings and a scourging that so radically changed His appearance that had we stood at the foot of the cross and looked up, we would not have recognized Him.  It is reported in the Gospel of Mark that when Jesus was arrested that “Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers received Him with slaps in the face” (Mark 14:65).  Jesus then faced a corrupt trial before Pilate and “after having Jesus scourged, he [Pilate] handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).  Jesus was then given to the Roman soldiers for more beatings before finally being nailed to the cross. 

The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. (Mark 15:16-20)

       Jesus’ face was bloody and swollen from His beatings and torn ribbons of flesh hung from His body as a result of the scourging.  However, as brutal as it was, it was not His physical suffering that secured our salvation, but His spiritual suffering, in which He bore the sin of all mankind and died in our place.  It should be remembered that Christ made no sound while being beaten, scourged and nailed to the cross (Isa. 53:7) and that it was not until He was on the cross bearing our sin that He cried out to His Father (Matt. 27:46). 

       The result of Christ’s suffering is that “He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand” (Isa. 52:15).  Here is the work of Christ as Priest, cleansing many as the result of His suffering.  The word “sprinkle” (Heb. nazah) was commonly used in connection with the Jewish priests concerning the consecration of objects and the cleansing of people (Lev. 8:11; 14:7).  Through His suffering, Christ will provide cleansing and consecration to the “nations” (Heb. goyim), which is a reference to the Gentile nations of the world.  “Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we can tell all the nations that forgiveness and redemption are offered free to all who will receive Him (1 Peter 1:1–2).”[2]  The rulers of the earth are silenced at the success of God’s humble Servant.  This will be especially true at His Second Coming when Christ returns to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. 

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isa. 53:1-3)

       Human reason leads to incredulity by those who seek to understand God’s strength through the weakness of His Servant.  God’s thoughts and ways are infinitely higher than the thoughts and ways of men (Isa. 55:8-9), and the wisdom and power of God shines through the frailty of His Servant who surrenders Himself to accomplish His will.  God displays His great power through an unassuming Man, His Servant, who is “like a tender shoot…a root out of parched ground” (Isa. 53:2a).

There is quite a contrast between “the arm of the Lord,” which speaks of mighty power, and “a root out of a dry ground,” which is an image of humiliation and weakness. When God made the universe, He used His fingers (Ps. 8:3); and when He delivered Israel from Egypt, it was by His strong hand (Ex. 13:3). But to save lost sinners, He had to bare His mighty arm! Yet people still refuse to believe this great demonstration of God’s power (Rom. 1:16; John 12:37–40).[3]

       A “root out of dry ground” means Jesus had no sustaining benefit from the soil of His human life.  There was nothing in His environment that benefited or carried Him along from day to day.  Jesus found no nourishment or support socially, politically, or even from His human family; God sustained His Servant by the Holy Spirit and the power of His Word (Matt. 3:16; 4:1-11).  This is true for God’s children today, as the world provides no nourishment or sustaining benefit to the believer.  The Christian is nourished spiritually by God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), and sustained by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:18).

       Isaiah tells us Jesus had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa. 53:2b).  It seems from this passage that there was nothing in Jesus’ natural appearance that caused men to see anything exceptional in Him.  He apparently had none of the outward qualities one might expect to see in royalty.  He would never catch your eye if you passed Him on the street.  Scripture reveals Jesus was born in a humble place and His youthful years were spent in the uncultured district of Nazareth (Luke 2:7-16; John 1:46), working in a dusty carpenter’s shop (Matt. 13:55).  His poor cultural and educational background, coupled with his average human features, disqualified Him from advancing into any of the human systems of the time in which He lived, a time that put great stock in one’s appearance and education.  One had to hear His words and see His miracles to comprehend His divine essence.  It was only the eye of faith that revealed this “tender shoot” as God’s special Servant.  There were some who accepted Christ during His time on earth, when He came in hypostatic union; however, He was rejected by the majority of those who heard and saw Him.  The simple teaching of Scripture is that Jesus “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isa. 53:3).  For the most part, Jesus was met with unbelief and rejection throughout His life, and this is still true today. 

The unbelief that Isaiah here depicts is the same unbelief found all about us today. Men say pleasant and complimentary things about the Lord of Glory. They will praise His ethics, His teaching, declare that He was a good man and a great prophet, the only one who has answers to the social problems that today confront the world. They will not, however, acknowledge that they are sinners, deserving everlasting punishment, and that the death of Christ was a vicarious sacrifice, designed to satisfy the justice of God and to reconcile an offended God to the sinner. Men will not receive what God says concerning His Son. Today also, the Servant is despised and rejected of men, and men do not esteem Him.[4]

       When Christ came into the world, He came into a place of darkness and hostility, and in this place “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).  Christ “came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).  Jesus came as God’s perfect Light into the world, but “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19b).  However, the rejection of God’s perfect Servant by evil men did not stop the Savior from dying for their sins, and this is the grace of God. 

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isa. 53:4-6)

       Here, the prophet begins to reveal the idea of substitutionary atonement by stating, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (Isa. 53:4).  On the cross, Jesus bore our sins, but here the prophet reveals He bore our griefs and our sorrows, which are the consequences of our sins.  “The emphasis in verses 4–6 is on the plural pronouns: our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities, our transgressions…He did not die because of anything He had done but because of what we had done.”[5]

It should be noted that the consequence of sin and not the sin itself is mentioned. Nevertheless, when it is said that he bore our sicknesses, what is meant is not that he became a fellow sufferer with us, but that he bore the sin that is the cause of the evil consequences, and thus became our substitute.[6]

       What is difficult for some to accept is the fact that Christ suffered by the hand of His Father to satisfy His righteous demands toward the guilt of our sin.  Isaiah declares “yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4).  God the Father struck Jesus Christ while He was on the cross with the blows of punishment that rightfully belonged to us. 

When the Servant bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due to us because of those sins, and that is to say that he was our substitute. His punishment was vicarious. Because we had transgressed, he was pierced to death; and being pierced and crushed was the punishment that he bore in our stead.[7]

       Isaiah then tells us that “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:4b, 5).  The healing here is primarily spiritual, restoring a broken relationship that has been fractured by sin.  The suffering of Christ healed our relationship with the Father, as His death is the basis for the forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 1:7).  The substitutionary death of Christ, that brings glory to God and saves sinners, is a revelation from heaven and not an invention of man.  Paul tells his readers that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). 

       Isaiah speaks of Israel and all humanity when he says, “all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a).  Each of us has failed God; but Christ, God’s sinless Servant, is the only One who has ever perfectly executed His will in everything.  God could have easily judged and condemned us all and been absolutely justified in His actions.  However, God loves us greatly, and so “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b).  Here is righteousness and love on display at the same time.  In righteousness, God judged all our sin in Christ while He was on the cross.  In love, God offers complete forgiveness and reconciliation to those who are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-9).  God perfectly deals with sin and seeks to reconcile the sinner, and this is done through the substitutionary death of His Servant who died on the cross in our place.  We deserve God’s wrath but have been shown great mercy through the vicarious and voluntary atoning work of His Son, in whom “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b).  While on the cross, Christ absorbed God’s wrath that belonged to us, so that “the iniquity of which we are guilty does not come back to us to meet and strike us as we might rightly expect, but rather strikes him in our stead.”[8]  This is great grace! 

Sin is serious. The prophet calls it transgression, which means rebellion against God, daring to cross the line that God has drawn (Isa. 53:5, 8). He also calls it iniquity, which refers to the crookedness of our sinful nature (vv. 5–6). In other words, we are sinners by choice and by nature. Like sheep, we are born with a nature that prompts us to go astray; and, like sheep, we foolishly decide to go our own way. By nature, we are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3); and by choice, we become children of disobedience (2:2). Under the Law of Moses, the sheep died for the shepherd; but under grace, the Good Shepherd died for the sheep (John 10:1–18).[9]

       God’s righteousness and love simultaneously intersect at the cross.  In perfect righteousness God the Father judged our sins completely in His Servant who willingly died in our place.  In love, God now offers perfect salvation to sinners who deserve only death, and this free gift of eternal life is based on the finished work of Christ who died in our place. 

We were sick unto death because of our sins; but He, the sinless one, took upon Himself a suffering unto death, which was, as it were, the concentration and essence of the woes that we had deserved; and this voluntary endurance, this submission to the justice of the Holy One, in accordance with the counsels of divine love, became the source of our healing.[10]

       The matter of our sin is resolved by the suffering of Christ at the cross.  Jesus paid the price for our sin, and now we can come to God and accept His free gift of eternal life by grace alone through faith alone.  God, who is satisfied with Christ’s death regarding our sin, has opened the gates of heaven to accept sinners as His children.  This is all made possible because of the work of Christ on the cross who suffered for our sin. 

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. (Isa. 53:7-9)

       Jesus made no effort to rescue Himself from those who illegally tried Him, beat Him, and nailed Him to the cross.  Jesus had already appealed to the supreme court of heaven, asking, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).  There was nothing for Jesus to say to His judges and attackers, for He knew it was His Father’s will for Him to go to the cross and die.  Jesus declared, “the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

Jesus Christ was silent before those who accused Him as well as those who afflicted Him. He was silent before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:62–63), the chief priests and elders (27:12), Pilate (27:14; John 19:9) and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9). He did not speak when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him (1 Peter 2:21–23).[11]

       Faced with illegal trials and severe beatings, Isaiah reveals that it was by “oppression and judgment” that Jesus was “taken away” and put to death (Isa. 53:8a).  And, after Jesus was put to death between two criminals, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (Isa. 53:9). 

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors. (Isa. 53:10-12)

       Jesus nailed to CrossThe language is plain, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10a).  God must punish sin as His righteousness requires, before He can save the sinner as His love desires.  It was the Father’s will for the Son to go to the cross to die for sinners, but we must also realize that Christ willingly went to His death and bore the Father’s wrath in our place.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Christ was willing to be put to death in our place, for the Scripture declares “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18).  Several times the Scripture states that Christ offered Himself up to the Father as a willing sacrifice.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Eph. 5:25)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Gal. 2:20)

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Heb. 7:26-27)

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:13-14)

       Christ was not forced upon the cross, but willingly, through love, surrendered His life and died in our place.  And, as a result of bearing the sin of many, “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isa. 53:10b).  When Isaiah says “He will see His offspring”, it means that Christ’s death will bear the fruit of spiritual offspring as people turn to Him as Savior and are born again (cf. John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  Christ was resurrected, never to die again, therefore, “He will prolong His days” (cf. Acts 2:30-32; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The “good pleasure of the LORD” most likely speaks of heaven’s prosperity that will be known to those whom Christ will justify and who will share in His riches and heavenly estate (John 14:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:3-4).

       “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11a).  Satisfaction through suffering is the message of Isaiah 53:11.  Isaiah reveals that “by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11b).  Peter also reveals the doctrine of substitution when he states “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).  It is always important to keep clear in our thinking that Christ bore our sin as well as the penalty for our sin, but this did not make Him a sinner.  On the other hand, sinners are declared righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them at the moment of salvation.  God gives us the gift of perfect righteousness at the moment we trust Christ as our Savior.  This is what Paul meant when he stated, “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).  Paul understood the doctrine of substitution, that Christ died in the place of sinners and that sinners are declared righteous because of the work of Christ credited to their account.  This explains Paul’s words when he expressed his desire to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). 

When the servant bears the iniquities of the many and has been punished for the guilt of these iniquities, the act of bearing the iniquities in itself has not changed the character of those whose iniquities are borne. When the iniquities are borne, i.e. when the guilt those iniquities involved has been punished, the servant may declare that the many stand in right relationship with God. Their iniquities will no longer be able to rise up and accuse them, for the guilt of those iniquities has been punished. Thus, they are justified. They are declared to be righteous, for they have received the righteousness of the servant and they are received and accepted by God Himself. Of them God says that they no longer have iniquities, but they do have the righteousness of the servant. This can only be a forensic justification.[12]

       Justification by imputation is always a matter of grace.  The sinner is declared righteous in the eyes of God, not because of any works which he has performed, but because of the work of Jesus Christ who has died in his place.  God’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner at the moment of salvation, and Paul states this with absolute clarity when he says:

Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation [Grk. hilasterion – i.e. a sacrifice that brings satisfaction] in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)

       Paul states at another point, “the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5).  It is Christ’s death that secures our so great salvation. 

Grace is love that has paid a price, and sinners are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8–10). Justice can only condemn the wicked and justify the righteous (1 Kings 8:32), but grace justifies the ungodly when they trust Jesus Christ! (Isa. 53:11; Rom. 4:5) To justify means “to declare righteous.” He took our sins that we might receive the gift of His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17). Justification means that God declares believing sinners righteous in Christ and never again keeps a record of their sins. (See Ps. 32:1–2 and Rom. 4:1–8)[13]

       As a result of Christ’s victory at the cross, the Father speaks of reward, saying, “I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong” (Isa. 53:12a).  Christ is the champion, and He will divide the spoils of war, in which He has overcome sin and death and become the Savior of many.  His victory came “because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12b).  Here is victory in death; victory at the cross. 

       If we had stood at the trials of Jesus, seen His beatings, seen His crucifixion and sat at the foot of the cross, surely we would weep at the injustice and inhumanity of it all.  However, the Scripture reveals that it was the will of God that Christ go to the cross and die for sinners (Acts 2:23; 4:28), for His death is an atoning sacrifice that satisfied every righteous demand of the Father (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jo. 2:2).  As stated previously, the Father sent, and Christ went.  In the willing death of Christ, we have the Father’s righteous anger displayed toward our sin as well as His love toward us, the sinner, whom He seeks to save. 

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom. 5:6-10)

       There is a purpose to the suffering of Christ.  He suffered that we might have eternal life.  His substitutionary death propitiated the Father’s righteous anger toward our sin and now we can come to God with the empty hands of faith and receive the free gift of eternal life and be clothed in perfect righteousness.  This was accomplished while were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God (Rom. 5:6-10).  God graciously acted toward us to reconcile us to Himself, and this was accomplished through the suffering of the cross. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

This article is an excerpt from my book, Suffering: A Biblical Consideration

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill. Intervarsity Press, 1986), 145.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, An Old Testament study (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996), 134.

[3] Ibid., 135.

[4] Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich., W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 344.

[5] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 136.

[6] Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, 346.

[7] Ibid., 348.

[8] Ibid., 350.

[9] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 137.

[10] C. F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Isaiah, Vol. 7, trans. James Martin, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 510.

[11] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 137-138.

[12] Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, 358.

[13] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 140.

God Wrestled With Jacob

       God blesses and disciplines.  He comforts and corrects.  He meddles in our affairs.  He never leaves us alone.  Why should He?  He loves us too much to leave us where we are.  He wants the best in us and from us.  He wants to mature us.  Sometimes we resist Him, like a child wanting our own way; we fight Him, thinking we know best.  I’m talking about believers.  I’m talking about myself. 

       Jacob was a man with a strong will.  His name in Hebrew means heel grabber, or supplanter.  Jacob’s life had been marked by self-reliance as he supplanted others for selfish ends.  He wanted his way and pushed to get it by whatever means necessary (read Gen. 25-36).  God permitted Jacob to have his way for much of his life, but there were turning points where God humbled His servant.  Genesis 32 records a turning point where God physically crippled and humbled Jacob. 

Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man [theophany – God in human form] wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him [God crippled Jacob for life]. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel [Heb. God fights]; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel [Heb. face of God], for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (Gen. 32:22-30)

     Jacob fought a “man” that night, not realizing he was wrestling with God (Gen. 32:28-30).  It was God—in human form—who started the fight, and Jacob might have declined the match if he had actually known his opponent.  Jacob was accustomed to defeating others, but he lost this time.  He lost in a way that together hurt and helped him.  He was both crippled and blessed by his Victor.  Jacob limped away a better man. 

       Jacob memorialized the place where God changed his life.  He called it “Peniel”, which in Hebrew means “the face of God.”  He knew, deep down inside that his encounter with God could have ended his life, and in humility said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (Gen. 32:30).

       I think the fight shows something about God and believers and the way we are with each other.  God sometimes cripples us before He blesses us, and sometimes we fight with God before we realize He’s on our side to help us.  We can be so stubborn at times! 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

The Apostle Paul – Chosen to Suffer for Christ

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

     Christianity, as it was spreading its gospel message of Christ and grace, posed a real threat to Saul’s religious tradition.  Feeling that the church must be stopped, Saul sought permission from the Jewish high priest to search out and arrest Christians in Damascus, a city in Syria, in order to bring them to Jerusalem to be tried before Jewish courts.  Little did Saul know that when he set his will against the church to attack it, he was attacking the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. 

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:3-6)

Saul on road to Damascus     Saul was completely caught off guard.  The word “Lord” in Acts 9:5 translates the Greek word kurios and was most likely used by Saul as a synonym for God, as Saul probably knew this was a divine encounter due to the supernatural “light from heaven” that knocked him to the ground.  In the OT, the proper name of God is YHWH—sometimes used with vowels as Yahweh—and is translated LORD, using all capital letters.  When the Septuagint was written around 250 B.C.—the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT—the translators chose the Greek word kurios as a substitute for the Hebrew word YHWH.  Though the word is sometimes used in the NT to mean sir (John 4:11; Acts 16:30), and master (Col. 3:22), it is also used to refer to the deity of Jesus Christ (compare Isa. 40:3 and John 1:23; or Deut. 6:16 and Matt. 4:7; cf. John 20:28; Rom. 10:11; Phil. 2:11).  Surely Saul was surprised to learn that he was talking with the resurrected Lord Jesus.  More so, by attacking the church, Saul learned he was attacking Christ Himself, who is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23).  Jesus did not ask “why are you persecuting My church?”  Rather, the Lord said “why are you persecuting Me?”  At the moment of salvation, a believer is in union with the resurrected Christ, and when one attacks a Christian, it is an attack on the Lord Himself. 

The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:7-9)

     Though there were men traveling with Saul, the divine encounter with the risen Lord Jesus was meant primarily for him.  Rising from the earth, Saul realized “he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus” (Acts 9:8).  The brazen Saul who had originally rushed to Damascus on horseback, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1), ultimately reached his destination blind, on foot, and perhaps a little bruised from his fall.  His cohorts led him like a helpless little child to the city he intended to crash with waves of violence.  Once there, Saul “was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9).   I suspect Saul was anxiously waiting for the Lord’s next instruction, since the Lord had commanded him to “get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do” (Acts 9:6).

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” (Acts 9:10-14)

Paul-Praying     Saul had come to Damascus to attack the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1); yet God’s grace was upon Saul, for it was through “a disciple at Damascus named Ananias” that God would heal Saul of his blindness and show him love he did not deserve.  The Lord spoke to His servant Ananias and commanded him to “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying” (Acts 9:11).  This verse gives us the first glimpse into Saul’s background, for we learn that he was born in the city of Tarsus.  More importantly, Saul was praying to the Lord at this time, seeking Him from the place where the Lord had brought him, a place of helplessness.  The Lord went on to reveal to Ananias that Saul had “seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight” (Acts 9:12).  It’s interesting that God had given Saul a vision of something that was certain to happen, involving the volition of Ananias, even before the Lord had asked Ananias to go and lay hands on Saul.  At first, Ananias offers fearful resistance to the Lord’s command.  Ananias was genuinely afraid of Saul, citing previous acts of violence against Christians in Jerusalem, and stating that he had religious authority from the chief priests to persecute the Lord’s disciples even in Damascus (Acts 9:13-14).  The Lord did not rebuke Ananias for his fears, but offered him kind reassurance. 

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)

     Here is divine revelation into the eternal counsel of God, who revealed to Ananias that Saul was His “chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15).  The word chosen translates the Greek word ekloge which means to select for one’s own purpose.  God chooses—or elects—to salvation (Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:3), spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3-6), holy and righteous living (Col. 3:12; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 2:9), and service for the Lord (Jer. 1:4-5; Gal. 1:15-16; cf. Acts 9:15).  Election is always the free choice of God, based on His sovereignty (Rom. 9:10-21), and never based of the worthiness of the object (Deut. 7:7-8; 1 Cor. 1:26-31; Rom. 9:11).  God chose Saul, not because he was sweet and lovely and doing all the right things; rather, the Lord chose Saul in order to demonstrate His grace, His love and His power.  As the “chosen instrument” of the Lord, Saul was to carry the Lord’s name “before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  Thank God for His sovereign grace!

The Lord assured Ananias … This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. Saul was to become Paul, the apostle to the uncircumcised (Rom. 11:13; Gal. 2:2, 7-8; Eph. 3:8), including kings (cf. Governor Felix [Acts 24:1-23], Governor Porcius Festus [24:27-25:12], King Herod Agrippa II [25:13-26:32], and possibly Emperor Nero [25:11]). The apostle, of course, also ministered to “the people of Israel” (cf. 9:20; 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 10, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8; 26:17-20; Rom. 1:16). How amazing that the one who persecuted Christians so violently should himself be transformed into a witness of the gospel—and such a dynamic, forceful witness at that![1]

     Attached to Saul’s divine calling were the Lord’s words to Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).  The persecutor will now be the persecuted.  Saul, who inflicted suffering on Christians, will now suffer as a Christian.  Saul had the pronouncement of a lifetime of suffering from the very beginning of his call to ministry.  Saul was no coward.  He received the word of the Lord and accepted his commission to Christian service knowing fully it would be marked by a life of suffering wherever he went. 

Paul and Annanias     Ananias went to the house of Judas where Saul was staying and spoke the words of the Lord to him, and Saul received his sight again, and after eating and visiting with the disciples for several days, “immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (Acts 9:20).  Because of Saul’s conversion, “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:30).  Even though the church enjoyed peace for a while, not having to fear their greatest persecutor, the Lord’s new servant would begin his life of suffering for Christ.

     Saul, who eventually came to be known as Paul after Acts 13:9, would serve three missionary journeys for the Lord and share the gospel with many who would be saved.  Paul’s missionary journeys started in Acts 13 in the city of Antioch and concluded in Acts 28 in the city Rome.  Between these chapters, Paul experienced much persecution.

     Paul’s life was marked by suffering and persecution from the time he was saved on the Damascus road until he arrived in Rome.  This was all in fulfillment of what was spoken by Jesus to Ananias when He said of Paul, “he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).  In addition to what is recorded in the book of Acts, Paul tells us of more sufferings he endured:

Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11:23-28)

Paul-3     Paul knew suffering like few others in this world.  His suffering was the result of his service for Christ, as one who boldly preached the gospel message and taught others from the Scriptures.  Paul experienced hostility primarily from his own people, the Jews, but also from Greeks and Romans.  Apart from the external hardships Paul faced throughout his life, he also had “the daily pressure…of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28).  Paul was often internally distressed over the church because he knew that Christians were in real danger of false teachers who might lead them astray from Christ and from sound teaching (Acts 20:18-32; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 2:4-5; Phil. 3:2).  In addition to all that he suffered during his time of ministry, there was a special form of suffering that came to Paul, a “thorn in the flesh” as he called it.  Regarding this special form of suffering, Paul said,

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10)

     Paul had personally received divine revelation from the Lord, and there was a real temptation that Paul might get prideful over having received such revelation, so the Lord gifted him with a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble and effective in ministry.  It was unimportant for Paul to tell us what his thorn was, but rather that it kept him humble, which was his purpose in revealing his “thorn” to us.  At first, Paul did not want his painful thorn, and even petitioned the Lord three times to take it away.  God, in His great wisdom, denied Paul’s prayer request, informing Paul that He would give him the grace—or divine enablement—to cope with his new weakness.  God loved Paul enough to give him what he needed, and the Lord needed Paul to be weak, so that he would learn to rely on the Lord and not himself.  Paul’s pain kept him close to God.  The wisdom and greatness of Paul is seen in his response to the Lord’s refusal to his prayer request, for Paul declared “most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9).  Such declarations are contrary to human nature, since our first inclination is to complain about the things that cause us pain.  However, we must fight against our human nature and live by faith, trusting God at His Word and believing that when He causes us to have pain—like He did with Paul—that it serves some purpose in us and benefits us as well as others.  This requires faith.  May we all learn to say with the apostle Paul, “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).

     For Paul, pain and suffering were not anomalies that occasionally popped into his life; rather, they were a regular part of the fabric of his life and ministry.  Too often Christian ministers sell Christianity as a way to escape pain and suffering, teaching others that if they’ll only come to Christ and live godly lives their troubles will go away.  Such teaching is false; for “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).  The Lord Jesus stated:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)

     Not every Christian will suffer for their faith.  Certainly there are Christians whom the Lord has blessed with a life of peace and prosperity.  However, when looking through Scripture as well as through history, suffering is more the norm rather than the exception.  For the Christian, joy is not found in the absence of suffering, but in doing God’s will and being found pleasing in His sight.  This requires biblical understanding and a lifetime of learning to walk in God’s truth (Phil. 4:11-13).

 

This article is an edited excerpt from my book, Suffering: A Biblical Consideration (pages 91-117). 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.


[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, eds. Walvoord & Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 377.

The House of Mourning

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure. (Eccl. 7:2-4, NASB)

       When I was younger (in the 80’s) I spent a lot of time partying.  Feasting and laughter was all I wanted.  I never spent a day mourning for anyone or anything, but then I never thought about the end of life either.  Solomon says, “The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure” (Eccl. 7:4).  “The fool is one who thinks only of the present; he lives for the hour. He shuns places of sadness and death, because they contradict his lifestyle.”[1]  I was a fool.

     woman mourningThere is a place for laughter and joy and celebration, and there is a place for weeping and mourning.  “Laughter can be like medicine that heals the broken heart, but sorrow can be like nourishing food that strengthens the inner person. It takes both for a balanced life, but few people realize this.”[2]  Earlier in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon declared there’s “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:4).  The Bible clearly recognizes both.  However, when comparing mourning with feasting, and sorrow with laughter, Solomon says, “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (Eccl. 7:2), and “sorrow is better than laughter” (Eccl. 7:3).

       When a man enters the house of mourning he is faced with the reality that someday he will die, and this experience can be healthy, when viewed from the divine perspective.  Solomon wants us to know that death is “the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (Eccl. 7:2).  “Such a perspective forces the individual to face the reality of death toward which all life inevitably points.”[3]  Not only does the house of mourning make us think about the day of our death, but it can also draw our thoughts toward heaven and make us think about God and where we will spend eternity.  When a man is on his deathbed, he does not ask for a book on science, or a book on history, or a book on mathematics, rather he asks for THE BOOK, because he knows his days are near.  May the fear of the Lord “teach us to consider our mortality, so that we might live wisely” (Ps. 90:12, NET).

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And not a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!

Robert Browning Hamilton

 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Suffering and Depression  
  2. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53  
  3. God Wrestled with Jacob  
  4. Early Church Persecutions  

[1] James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), Eccl. 7:2–4.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 19.

[3] Barry C. Davis, “Ecclesiastes 12:1-8—Death, an Impetus for Life” Bibliotheca Sacra, 148 (1991): 301.

O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head! – Anne Ross Cousin

Anne Ross Cousin

O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head! 
Our load was laid on Thee; 
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead – 
To bear all ill for me. 
A victim led, Thy blood was shed; 
Now there’s no load for me. 

Death and the curse were in our cup – 
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee! 
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop, 
‘Tis empty now for me. 
That bitter cup – love drank it up; 
Left but the love for me. 

Jehovah lifted up His rod – 
O Christ, it fell on Thee! 
Thou wast forsaken of Thy God; 
No distance now for me. 
Thy blood beneath that rod has flowed: 
Thy bruising healeth me. 

The tempest’s awful voice was heard, 
O Christ, it broke on Thee; 
Thy open bosom was my ward; 
It bore the storm for me. 
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred; 
Now cloudless peace for me. 

For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died, 
And I have died in Thee; 
Thou’rt risen: my bands are all untied; 
And now Thou liv’st in me. 
The Father’s face of radiant grace 
Shines now in light on me.

Anne Ross Cousin

Dr. Steven R. Cook

The Lord’s Day of Vengeance

       Many in the world today look to gods and religions that are ultimately no greater than those who support them. Sadly, many who defend them often resort to violence when their theological presuppositions are threatened. Unlike those who feel they must rise in violence to defend their religious beliefs, the mature Christian knows that God needs no defense, for He is the sovereign Lord of the universe, the Creator of all things, and He never feels threatened by the activities of mankind. When people speak out against Christ or Christianity, Christians do not take up arms in violent defense of God. The Lord is able to defend Himself, and indeed He does. When men rise and take their stand against God, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps. 2:4), for “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan. 4:35). Christianity is inherently strong, because it is God who supports and defends the Christian, not the Christian who supports and defends God.

       Unbelievers often attack God because they are totally depraved and reside in a state of spiritual darkness. Total depravity means that every part of man’s being (mind, will, and emotions) is corrupted by sin, so that his natural tendency is toward self and sin. Man, by his very nature tends toward evil. We should not think solely of the immoral man, but also of the moral degenerates who have substituted works-religion in place a genuine relationship with God. The Bible tells us men are lost, and the heart of man is wicked to its core, for “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, [and] slanders” (Matt. 15:19). It was not too long after the fall of Adam and Eve that “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The Scripture reveals that the heart of every man is bent toward evil and “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9a). Most Christians in America seem regularly surprised at the ungodly behavior of unbelievers in the world. This surprise is due to the poor theology that streams from our weak pulpits where ignorant or cowardly pastors fail to teach the dynamic truths of God’s Word that should give Christians a correct view of the world that helps them orient to reality as God’s Word defines it. Unfortunately, solid theology is traded for tinsel teaching set to organ music, theatrically presented with colorful lights, and an orchestra and choir.

       The world is an evil place, and those who have given themselves over to Satan’s evil system often demand that others in their periphery do the same. Failure to conform brings pressure and persecution. Persecution often comes in stages and is defined as “the suffering or pressure, mental, moral, or physical, which authorities, individuals, or crowds inflict on others, especially for opinions or beliefs, with a view to their subjection by recantation, silencing, or, as a last resort, execution” (G. W. Bromily, “Persecution,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, 771). Evil men often employ pressure tactics of all sorts, including violence, in order to obtain their objective. Paul wrote to Christians who were facing evil persecution and told them they must “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

       Because persecution was part of the normal Christian experience in the early church, Paul knew they would be tempted to retaliate against their attackers and return evil for evil. Unjustified attacks naturally stimulate the sin nature within the Christian. Because the sin nature is usually the first responder in evil situations, the Christian must be careful to exercise self-restraint and not act impulsively, but control his emotions. The Christian must be governed by God’s Word and never by his emotions, as the Scripture tells him to “be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). The Christian will face evil his entire life, so he should prepare for it. More so, he should ready himself mentally to respond as God would have him to respond, as a dignified ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). And how should the Christian respond to evil?

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)

       It’s easy to retaliate and kick the one who kicked you, or hit the one who hit you, or curse the one who cursed you. But this is not the Christian way. Jesus suffered unjustly many times throughout His life, and especially during the illegal trials which led to His crucifixion. And even though He was verbally reviled, “He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).

As children of God, we must live on the highest level—returning good for evil. Anyone can return good for good and evil for evil. The only way to overcome evil is with good. If we return evil for evil, we only add fuel to the fire. And even if our enemy is not converted, we have still experienced the love of God in our own hearts and have grown in grace. (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 1, 556)

       As Christians, we cannot stop the injustice or violence that often comes our way, but we can control our response to it by thinking and living biblically. I cannot help but think of Stephen who, when being falsely accused and stoned by his attackers, cried out to the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” and then prayed for his attackers, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:59-60). God sovereignly controlled the circumstances of Stephen’s martyrdom, and Stephen glorified the Lord by facing his death with an attitude of faith and love, looking to the Lord and trusting Him in the face of violent opposition.

       By faith, the Christian has confidence in the face of suffering because he knows “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”(Rom. 8:28). Even if the Christian should face violent death, he knows he will leave this world and come immediately into the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), have a new home in heaven (John 14:1-6), receive his resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:51-57; Phil. 3:21), obtain his eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4-5), and enjoy the reality of the eternal life he received at the moment of he trusted Christ as his Savior (John 3:16; 10:28; 1 John 5:10). Jesus Himself stated “do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

       Living in God’s will is not always easy, and it does not guarantee a positive response from those who follow worldly values. The teaching of Scripture is that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Sadly, there are many Christians who suffer for sinful reasons and it is good that they suffer, if it teaches them humility and respect for legitimate authority. The Apostle Peter tells Christians to “make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Pet. 4:15-16). We cannot stop suffering in this life, but “it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (1 Pet. 3:17). We cannot control what other people think or how they behave, but we can control our response to them, and we can make sure that what we do is pleasing to the Lord by being obedient-to-the-Word believers. In this way, we can overcome evil by doing God’s will for our lives; and this is good.

       The Christian cannot control much of the suffering that comes into his life, but he does not have to be overcome by that suffering, as he can look to God and maintain faith in His Word. Jesus was not overcome by the cruelty and suffering he endured, but showed love and forgiveness to His attackers (Luke 23:34), and “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Stephen, who spoke strong words of truth while filled with the Holy Spirit, prayed and asked God to forgive those who were stoning him (Acts 7:60). Paul and Silas demonstrated loving concern for the jailer who kept them in chains, sharing the gospel with him when given the opportunity (Acts 16:22-32). Our lives may be vulnerable to the unjust pain and suffering caused by others, but we must look beyond the suffering and be willing to love even our attackers for the sake of Christ in the hope that they may come to know the gospel and be saved.

       Rejoicing in the midst of Christian suffering is an act of the will, not a natural emotional response. By faith the Christian chooses to praise God in the midst of his suffering because he knows God is using that suffering to produce the character of Christ in him (John 16:33; Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4). Even when the Christian faces death at the hands of violent attackers, he is to continually entrust himself to God as the keeper of his soul (Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59). The Christian overcomes evil when he adopts God’s will for his life and follows it, no matter the cost. The Christian overcomes evil by committing himself to doing God’s will according to Scripture and refusing to bow down to the evil pressures of weak people who have surrendered themselves to Satan’s worldly system. To be sure, overcoming evil is not a onetime event, but a lifetime activity that has application to every aspect of life wherever evil is encountered.

       Turning now to the matter of God’s vengeance, let me be clear that God has not ignored the fact that His children are being wrongly treated everywhere. The above section was presented first to show the believer that God is aware of the unjust suffering that His people face and to make the Christian aware that the Lord has provided everything he needs to overcome every adversity this world will present, so that that he might face it with courage and honor (Rom. 5:3-5; 8:28; Eph. 1:3; Jam. 1:2-4). At the present, God is being patient with sinful men, withholding His wrath and graciously drawing them to Himself and saving many (2 Pet. 3:9). However, though the grace of God is infinite in scope, it is not eternal in its duration, and there will come a day when the Lord’s grace will largely be withdrawn from this world, and He will pour forth His wrath upon mankind (Rev. 6-19). In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John had a vision in which he saw underneath an altar, “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev. 6:9). These are the souls of martyred saints who will be persecuted and put to death unjustly at the hands of violent men because of their faith in Christ. John heard them crying out to God and asking, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). The answer that came in heaven was, “…they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (Rev. 6:11). Patience was required. God has in His mind a set number of martyrs who must die for their faith before the measure of the world’s sinful cup becomes full, and then He will pour forth His righteous wrath upon the world and bring about the judgment it so richly deserves.

       Christians who look to the Lord for justice have every right to call out to Him in expectation that He will judge and avenge them for their mistreatment in the world. Even though Scripture tells the believer, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God”, it also assures him that vengeance will come, for the Lord says, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY” (Rom. 12:19). God will execute vengeance on the earth, and that day of retribution will ultimately come when the Lord Jesus Christ personally returns to earth at His second coming. At this time He will put down all human rebellion and establish His millennial kingdom (Rev. 19:11-21; 20:1-6). John saw in a vision the return of the Lord Jesus Christ at His second coming and described it as follows:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He [Jesus Christ] who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations [who oppose Him], and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty [cf. Isa. 63:1-6]. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast [i.e. the Antichrist of the Tribulation] was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Rev. 19:11-21)

       Rest assured, there is a day of vengeance coming upon this world, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will personally bring it to pass (Rev. 19:11-21; cf. Isa. 63:1-6). After the millennial reign of Christ, all unbelievers of human history will stand before the Great White Throne of Christ and be judged because they had rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior (Rev. 20:11-15). Because their names were “not found written in the book of life,” they will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). A day of judgment follows a day of vengeance. Until then, believers must stay the course and be faithful to the Lord as His ambassadors to a lost and hostile world He desires to save (2 Pet. 3:9).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

God Allows Suffering

       A truth of Scripture is that living by faith may result in great blessing, and other times may result in great suffering. The believer is not to concern himself with the end result of either blessing or suffering, but is to live by faith and advance toward spiritual maturity. In Hebrews chapter 11, the writer shares both the blessing and suffering aspects of those who lived by faith. Regarding some of the blessings he says:

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, [and] put foreign armies to flight. (Heb. 11:32-34)

      Every Christian loves to hear the victory stories of those who lived by faith and overcame the adversities of life as God rescued them from their trouble. The Bible is encouraging because there are many victory stories and the Christian needs to hear them. God blesses the believer with many victories that result in deliverance and blessing. However, there are times when the Christian lives by faith in God and is obedient to His Word and suffers great persecution and dies at the hands of violent men. Regarding those who suffered for their faith the writer of Hebrews states:

others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, 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. 11:35-38)

       Faith in God is no guarantee the believer will live a life free from suffering or persecution. Too many preachers speak of the blessings of the Lord and the victories to be had while dismissing those clear passages in Scripture that speak about Christian suffering which is according to the will of God (1 Pet. 2:19-21; 3:14, 17; 4:19). The growing Christian lives by faith in God, trusting His promises and obeying His commands, whether it requires him to sit still or be active. Sometimes being quiet and doing nothing is just as much an act of faith as speaking out and being busy (Ps. 46:10; Jam. 1:19). The believer learns discernment as he grows in wisdom. (excerpt from, Overcoming Evil in Prison, p, 96-98)

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.



A Theological Look at Suffering

     Everyone suffers. It’s not really a question of who will and who won’t, but how much and how often? Most people want to know why they suffer, if there’s any purpose to suffering, or if there’s anything they can do to minimize it. Suffering is a perpetual and universal feature of the human race that will last as long as we live in a fallen world with fallen people. According to Scripture, God not only allows suffering, but causes it for our good (Ps. 119:71; Isa. 45:7; Heb. 12:5-11). The presence of suffering does not necessarily mean something is wrong in the Christian’s life, and the absence of suffering does not necessarily mean God is pleased with him. One can be completely in the will of God and experience great suffering (1 Pet. 4:19), whereas one can be completely in sin and be free from any form of suffering at all (Ps. 73:1-12). Suffering by itself proves neither godliness nor sin.

       Suffering is all around us, both visible and invisible. Some is bearable and some is beyond our natural ability to cope. It can be physical, mental, and/or emotional. It can be short lived or last a lifetime. It can leave scars. It can influence behavior either positively or negatively, either making us stronger or tearing us down. Suffering can be self-induced or brought on by others. Some suffering is deserved (Dan. 4:1-37; Luke 23:41), and some undeserved (Matt. 16:21; 17:12; Mark 9:22; Acts 5:41; 9:15-16; 2 Tim. 2:3-9; 1 Pet. 2:20; 3:14-17; 4:19). I’ve learned not to turn away from suffering so quickly (though it is my natural tendency to do so), but to question its value and ask whether it serves some good purpose. I am convinced that God wants me to know some suffering because it helps me mature, both in my natural human development as well as my spiritual life. No pain, no gain as the adage goes.

       In the Old Testament, suffering is commonly identified by the Hebrew word oni which is translated as “affliction, poverty” and at times “frustration.” Familiar Old Testament passages where oni is found include: Gen. 16:11; 29:32; 31:42; Ex. 3:7, 17; 4:31; 1 Sam. 1:11; 16:12; Job 30:16, 27; 36:15; Ps. 9:13; 25:18; 119:50, 92, 153; Isa. 48:10; Lam. 1:3, 7, 9. In the New Testament, the common Greek word for suffering is thlipsis, which is translated as “trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation.” New Testament passages where thlipsis is found include: Matt. 13:21; Rom. 2:9; 2 Cor. 1:4; 2:4; 4:17; 7:4; 8:2; Phil. 4:14; Col. 1:24; 1 Thess. 3:7; 2 Thess. 1:6; Rev. 2:10. Numerous theological truths are gleaned from these passages; truths which help the Christian orient to reality and live within the biblical framework.

       Though many have wrestled with the biblical subject of suffering, no one has a complete understanding of it. There are often more questions than answers. We struggle to grasp our own pain and the pain of others. As humans, we wrestle to produce some good in the world to offset the sorrow of suffering, but our limited abilities and resources constantly hinder our best efforts. Even the good we do for others is short-lived; leaving only a memory of kindness in hearts that perpetually face new needs and struggles. Frustration abounds. At present, there is no lasting solution to suffering among men, and it will not cease to be part of the human experience until God destroys the current heavens and earth and creates a new heavens and a new earth that is free from sin and all its destructive influences (Rev. 21-22). God alone must save us from our current condition, as men are drowning in a sea of sorrows. Sin is the major reason for suffering, and though we counterbalance some of sin’s effects by good works, in the end it is God alone who must ultimately deal with the sin problem.

       The Bible gives the divine perspective that helps us to make sense of suffering. Having the divine perspective does not always lesson the pain associated with suffering, but it gives us an answer for suffering and, I believe, makes it bearable. One such answer is that God wants to mature us as Christians, and suffering is a vehicle that He uses to advance our spiritual life. It’s not suffering by itself that gets the job done, but our biblical response to it that brings the outcome God desires. He wants us to respond properly to the difficult situations He’s permitted or caused in our lives. We cannot control many of the difficult circumstances that come our way, but we can respond to them biblically, and in this way we can please the Lord and grow to be mature believers.

       Among Christians, I’ve met some who regard all forms of suffering as bad, rooted in evil, and who seek to expunge it from their lives when possible. Others accept suffering, seeing it as purposeful, even welcoming it because they believe it will help develop their Christian character and bring about the spiritual maturity they desire. God can use suffering to break down pride and humble us (Dan. 4:37), or He can use it to build us up and make us stronger (1 Pet. 5:10), but He never leaves us alone, and suffering is just one of the many tools He uses to mold us into the character of Christ; if we’ll let ourselves be molded by His hand.

       Everything we experience in this life is designed to prepare us for the life we will come to know when we leave this world and enter into God’s eternal presence. The challenge before every Christian, especially during times of suffering, is to view all aspects of life in the light of eternity. We must constantly live in the eternal-now, never divorcing our current experiences from our eternal destiny that is assured to us who are in Christ. The apostle Peter tells us “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Pet. 4:13). The apostle Paul shares a similar mindset when he says “for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18); for “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Suffering becomes bearable when the Christian sees it in the proper context of eternity to which he belongs right now. I say he belongs to eternity “right now” because as a Christian he possesses eternal life at the very moment he believes in Christ as his Savior (John 10:28). Eternal life is not what the Christian can have, but what he does have at the moment of salvation. However, it is only at the moment he leaves this world and all its sorrows and enters into the presence of God in heaven that eternal life has its greatest experiential expression. The flow of time ceases at death, and all life’s sufferings associated with this world come to an end when the believer passes into eternity. More so, at the end of time itself, God will put an end to all suffering and evil when He destroys the existing universe and earth and creates a new universe and new earth (Rev. 21:1). At such a time “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes [believers who have suffered]; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Until then, we must look to the Lord.

       When considering the subject of suffering from a biblical perspective, it’s beneficial to start with a proper understanding of God and His character. The Bible teaches that God exists as a Trinity: God the Father (Matt. 6:9; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14; 20:28), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). All three Persons of the Trinity are co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal, and though they have differing roles in how they relate to each other and the creation, they are perfectly equal in essence (John 10:30). Being equal in essence means that all three Persons of the Godhead share the same attributes. According to Scripture God is:

  1. Sovereign – He rules His universe as He pleases (1 Chron. 29:11; Dan. 4:35; Acts 17:24-25).
  2. Righteous – He is upright in character (Ps. 11:7; 119:137).
  3. Just – He is upright in all His actions (Ps. 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11).
  4. Holy – He is positively good and completely set apart from sin (Ps. 99:9).
  5. Omniscient – He knows all things (Ps. 139:1-6; Matt. 6:31-33).
  6. Omnipresent – He is everywhere (Ps. 139:7-12; Heb. 13:5).
  7. Omnipotent – He is all powerful (Job 42:2; Isa. 40:28-29).
  8. Immutable – He never changes (Ps. 102:26, 27; Mal. 3:6).
  9. Truth – He is truth and reveals truth (2 Sam. 7:28; John 14:6; 17:17; 1 John 5:20).
  10. Loving – He acts in the best interest of others (Jer. 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16).
  11. Faithful – He is consistent to fulfill His promises (Deut. 7:9; Lam. 3:23; 1 John 1:9).
  12. Merciful – He is compassionate to the needy (Ps. 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit. 3:5).
  13. Gracious – He is kind to the undeserving and humble (Ps. 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet. 5:5, 10).
  14. Eternal – He has endless existence (Deut. 33:27; 1 Tim. 1:17).

       God controls suffering. Even the wickedness of men and the suffering they cause is used by God to display His grace and love. King David had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah and the Lord caused David to suffer for his sin (2 Sam. 11:1-12:24); yet, by God’s grace, it was through David and Bathsheba that the baby Jesus was eventually born into this world (Matt. 1:6, 16). David’s sinful relationship with Bathsheba was sovereignly used by God to bring about the birth of His Messiah! At the end of His earthly ministry, Christ suffered at the hands of godless men who nailed Him to the cross, yet His suffering was “by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” in order to bring about our salvation (Acts 2:23a; cf. John 3:16). Wicked men willfully raised their hands against the Son of God and crucified Him, but what they accomplished was exactly what God “predestined to occur” (Acts 4:28), and the outcome is eternal life to us who have trusted in Jesus as our Savior. By His infinite wisdom and sovereignty “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Historically, God has used suffering to bring about His will and this is most obvious in His provision of salvation to a fallen world He wants to save.

       On the negative side, men who reject God and the biblical perspective are forced to live in a naturalistic mindset in which their very existence is the product of chance. If there is no God, then men are the product of chance, the accidental collection of molecules over time, and the suffering they experience is simply a part of the natural order of things, neither good nor evil, neither purposeful nor meaningful. More so, morals and values become arbitrary, and people like Hitler and Stalin are no better or worse than Mother Theresa. If there is no God, then evil itself must be regarded as a natural part of the fabric of the universe, self-existent in its own way. The cruelty of man then becomes no better or worse than the cruelty of animals, for all is part of the same natural universe. Without God, life simply is what it is; and conversations about right and wrong really become power-plays as men seek dominion over each other through the use of clever and forceful rhetoric.

       Biblically, sin originated in heaven with Lucifer, an angelic being of the order of Cherubim, who rebelled against God and convinced many angels to follow him (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-18; Rev. 12:4). Shortly afterward (no one knows exactly when), Satan convinced Adam and Eve to set their wills against God, and the heavenly rebellion moved to earth. Suffering, as we know it on earth, is the result of sin, and sin in humans originated in the disobedience of Adam and Eve when they rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-8). Both sin and suffering are connected. A perfect world was cursed, thorns and thistles introduced, and pain in childbirth increased, all as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:16-18). The major hammer blow of sin was death, which was pronounced on Adam and Eve and extended to all their descendants who were born after them (Gen. 3:19; cf. Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). The children of Adam and Eve have only known the struggle of life’s decay that eventuates in death (the removal of the soul from the body). Death is unnatural to the creation, and this is why it hurts when someone we love dies. However, death can also be a display of God’s mercy and grace, for it keeps man from suffering forever in a fallen world plagued by sin.

       Since the fall of Satan, as well as the fall of Adam and Eve, the major sources of suffering include oneself (Prov. 1:22; 8:36; 15:32; Isa. 3:9; ; 2 Pet. 2:12-15); other people (Gen. 3:1-18; 1 Chron. 21:14-17; Jonah 1:12), Satan (Job 1:1-21); demons (Luke 8:29); and God Himself (1 Sam. 16:14-16; Job 1:21; 2:10; Eccl. 7:14; Isa. 45:7; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Rev. 19:11-21). Suffering exists mainly in connection with willful creatures and the choices they’ve made in the past or are making in the present.

       The main causes of suffering are righteous living (1 Pet. 3:13-17; 4:12-19), fellowship with Christ (Phil. 1:29-30), membership in the Kingdom of God (2 Thess. 1:3-6), sinful choices as believers (Gal. 6:7-8; 1 Pet. 4:15; 2 Pet. 2:12-16); the sinful unfaithfulness of others (Num. 14:32-33), the ravages of disease (Matt. 4:24; 9:20; Luke 4:38), and the will of God (1 Pet. 4:19).

       From the biblical perspective, some of the major purposes for suffering include bringing the unbeliever to salvation (Dan. 4:28-37; Acts 9:1-9), moving people geographically to accomplish God’s will (i.e. the famine that moved Joseph’s family to Egypt: Gen. 15:13-14; 37:1-50:21), humbling the arrogant believer (Jon. 2:1-10; 1 Pet. 5:5), teaching Christians to have sympathy for others (2 Cor. 1:5-7), helping advance Christian character (Rom. 5:1-5; Jam. 1:2-4), warning against sin (1 Cor. 11:27-32), teaching obedience to God’s laws (Ps. 119:71; Heb. 5:8), correcting from sin (Ps. 32:1-5), teaching that God is faithful to strengthen in times of adversity (Phil. 4:11-13), providing an opportunity to share your Christian hope (1 Pet. 3:14-15), serving as a godly example to others (Jam. 5:10-11), displaying the works of God (John 9:1-3), and for God’s glory (John 11:1-4; 21:18-19; 2 Cor. 4:17-18).

       Jesus Himself is the greatest example of suffering for the believer, as the Scripture plainly states He “suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). And what is the example the Christian is to follow? That even though Christ suffered unjustly and was physically and verbally attacked, “He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). It is because of Christ’s example that Paul tells Christians “never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).

       Suffering is inevitable in life, but the believer who lives by faith in God and clings to His Word has an anchor for the soul that sustains him during difficult times. The believer who lives by faith can have joy in the midst of trials (Isa. 26:3; Acts 5:40-41; 16:22-30; 1 Cor. 10:13; Phil. 4:10-13). To Christians who were facing persecution, the apostle Peter wrote “in this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials” (1 Pet. 1:6). These Christians could rejoice because the trial itself would prove the genuineness of their faith, and “though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). And Christians who were suffering in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul declared had “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6). The truth is that Christians are complex and can simultaneously know tribulation and joy, as these are not mutually exclusive experiences. The apostle Paul made this clear when he stated:

…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5)

       Paul could “exult” in his tribulations because he saw them as purposeful, being used by God to bring about “perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” Paul’s objective was to glorify God and advance to spiritual maturity, and he knew that God often used suffering as the means to accomplish that goal, and was therefore willing to rejoice in such hardships. James uses similar language when he writes:

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 perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jam. 1:2-4)

       As Christians, we will face trials, but how we respond to them is a matter of choice. No one likes suffering, and our first response is usually to complain and turn away from it. However, we must be mindful of our natural inclinations and fight the weakening instinct that compels us to grumble at our troubles rather than look to the Lord and live by faith. James tells us to “consider it all joy” when we face trials, because those trials will help us advance in our Christian character. To “consider it all joy” is purely an act of faith, because our feelings are usually down in the dirt when trials come. When we’re facing a trial, our feelings aren’t up to praising God, but faith must rise above our circumstance and feelings if we’re to live spiritually and benefit from the promises God has provided. The apostle Paul demonstrated this magnificently when he faced a time of suffering he called his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7).

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:7-8)

       Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” caused him great pain, and he knew the suffering was to produce humility and keep “from exalting myself.” Paul’s first reaction was to pray to the Lord several times to take it away, and we can all identify with Paul in his prayer. However, God refused to remove Paul’s suffering, and informed him that He would give him the strength necessary to live with the hardship, saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Now, upon hearing this news, I suspect many believers would double-up on their prayers and beg God even more to take away their “thorn in the flesh.” Some might even get angry with God and perhaps accuse him of being cruel or unloving. But notice, the apostle Paul handles the news well and by faith declares:

Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

       These are the words of a believer who is sold out for God! He’s totally committed to the Lord and has surrendered his life to Him! Paul is essentially saying “God, I trust Your actions in my life no matter what, and am convinced that the suffering you send my way is for my good, and I will cling to You in the midst of my stormy life, for You are my strength.” I have read the above passage many times, and by faith have stated those words in my own trials. I’ve not been consistent in every hardship, and I don’t know any Christian who has, but Paul’s words reflect the proper biblical attitude we ought to have in every trial.

       Coping with suffering is possible when the believer learns to look to the Lord and utilize His spiritual provisions (Eph. 1:3). This primarily means living by faith, moment by moment, and trusting God at His Word (Rom. 1:17; 10:17; Heb. 11:6). The world and those who live in it are dominated by thoughts that exclude God, and so they think about anything and everything except God and His Word. The believer has a choice to include or exclude God in his thoughts, words, and daily activities. This daily choice determines whether the believer will live in the house of faith or the house of fear. If he lives in the house of faith, he will be able to cope with the pressures of life and stand for God and His will in the midst of life’s storms. If he’s living in the house of fear, then life’s trials and pressures will overrun his soul and he will only know perpetual anxiety. Sometimes the believer goes back and forth on a daily basis, living in one house or the other. As we advance in our spiritual walk, we learn to live more and more in the house of faith and benefit from the blessings God has provided to those who take refuge in Him and His promises (Deut. 31:6; Isa. 26:3; Prov. 3:5-6; 25-26; Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:10-14).

       The Christian who learns God’s Word on a daily basis increases his capacity to live by faith and enjoy the many blessings of God. As goes his knowledge of God’s Word, so goes his capacity for understanding and enjoying life, even in the midst of suffering. The reality is that the Christian will face many hardships beyond his control, and God does not promise to take them away. In fact, some trials are sent by Him to humble us and to develop our character to be more like Christ. Some ask God to remove their trial, but God will never remove that which produces humility and keeps us close to Him.

An excerpt from my book – Suffering: A Biblical Consideration.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Suffering and Depression

     It was early January and I was dining after dark with friends when I heard faint cries coming from outside.  Standing and looking out the nearby window, I saw a young man who looked to be in his early twenties, stagger down the sidewalk and collapse about ten feet from the building.  I rushed outside and knelt on the ground next to him while others inside called for medical help (which took about five minutes to arrive).  He lay on the cold asphalt, shivering and sobbing, and appeared to be more in emotional distress than physical pain.  He looked at me, a total stranger, and through his tears said he was on the verge of losing his girlfriend and newborn baby and that his life had been ruined by bad choices and the use of cocaine and other drugs.  After saying these things he turned his head and cried uncontrollably.  His life had not always been marked by bad choices.  Phantom memories surfaced and he spoke of a Christian childhood when Christ was Lord of his life and all his friends were wholesome believers.  Somewhere in his teenage years he had turned away from the Lord and the suffering of bad choices and worldly friends helped bring about his present sorrow.  I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed quietly as I sat next to him.  He cried out to the Lord, and not knowing what to say, he started praying the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name…” (Matt. 6:9, KJV).  I verbally joined him in his prayer so that he would not feel alone, but would know he was in the presence of a caring Christian.  He heard me praying with him, and through teary eyes stared for a moment.  For a brief instant we connected, but a minute later an ambulance pulled into the motel parking lot and I was moved aside so they could perform their necessary service.  Apparently he had been using harmful illegal drugs and was in need of medical attention.  The young man called out to me as he was put on the stretcher and placed in the ambulance and I could only watch and pray for him as he was taken away.  I never saw him again, though I’ve prayed for him many times. 

     I was marked by that brief encounter.  That young man was at a place of personal brokenness when the paths of our lives crossed.  There seemed to be sorrow and repentance on his lips.  It mattered little to me that much of his pain was self-induced, but only that he was crying out to the Lord for help.  To turn away from him at such a moment would betray a spiritual poverty and sickness within my own soul.  More so, it would ignore the sovereign hand of God who creates such opportunities for us to show grace and love to others.  A year earlier I was in a similar place of personal brokenness, for my life had been ruined by many bad choices and I knew what it meant to have others praying for me and showing grace and love when I needed it most. 

Jeremiah     Looking into Scripture, we find the greatest examples of suffering anywhere.  Job and Jeremiah were two men who suffered greatly.  Both were sensitive men who knew depression as a result of their suffering, and as we read about their lives we can cry with them.  In the midst of his sadness Job said, “why then hast Thou brought me out of the womb? Would that I had died and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been, carried from womb to tomb” (Job 10:18-19).  Because of his sorrow, Job saw his life as a “land of darkness and deep shadow; the land of utter gloom as darkness itself, of deep shadow without order” (Job 10:21-22a).  During his time of sadness, the prophet Jeremiah wished that his “mother would have been [his] grave, and her womb ever pregnant” and in his great anguish went on to ask, “why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow, so that my days have been spent in shame?” (Jer. 20:17-18). 

     What shall we say to Job and Jeremiah?  Shall we ask them to be silent and not use such language because it makes us feel uncomfortable?  Shall we be callous and accuse them of hidden sin or not having enough faith?  Shall we fault them because they are not expressing joy in the midst of their sorrow?  There is a joy to be had in life, but let’s not rob these godly men of their sorrow, or turn away from them for expressing themselves with such grief-laden language because it makes us feel uncomfortable.  Let’s not turn away from them for at least two reasons:

  1. Because their response to suffering reveals their humanness. Job and Jeremiah were real people living in a real world who were touched by real circumstances.  Though most of us will never know the depth of suffering and sorrow that Job and Jeremiah knew in their lifetime, we can identify with their pain and cry with them because we understand in a smaller way what it means to suffer, and this is our connection with them.  Suffering connects us all together.
  2. Because despair was not their only perspective on life. Job and Jeremiah also had the divine perspective on life and at times spoke words of truth and hope, and this gives us truth and hope as well.  Though they suffered in the furnace of affliction, they proved God and His Word to be reliable and more than sufficient to sustain them.  During and after their time of suffering they spoke words of praise to the One in whom they had placed all their confidence.  Worshipping God as the One who sustains and gives us hope in the midst of our trials is what binds us together with other believers, even those who lived long ago in a foreign land and who spoke a different language.  God and His Word connect believers together.

     Job was a righteous man who loved the Lord and turned away from evil (Job. 1:1-5).  In one day Job was confronted with the sudden death of all his sons and daughters, the destruction of his business, and the loss of his personal health (Job 1:6-19; 2:1-8).  Though he could have cursed God as his wife suggested (Job. 2:9), Job kept his faith and continued to trust the Lord (Job 1:20-22; 2:10).  In the midst of grief Job said:

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes shall see and not another. My heart faints within me. (Job 19:25-27)

     Jeremiah had witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army.  The city had been burned, tens of thousands of men and woman put to death, and many taken away into slavery to Babylon as Jeremiah watched.  One can see why he is often referred to as the weeping prophet (cf. Jer. 9:1; 13:17; 14:17).  Yet, even after witnessing Jerusalem’s destruction and enduring personal persecution, Jeremiah stated:

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him. (Lam. 3:21-24)

     Other men in Scripture such as David, Elijah, Peter and Paul all knew suffering and sorrow, yet expressed words of hope and faith in God.  Of course, no one knew suffering more than the Lord Jesus Christ, who throughout His life was “despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).  During the time of His public ministry, Jesus knew He would suffer and die upon the cross, and He declared, “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Luke 9:22).  And just hours before His crucifixion, Jesus “began to be grieved and distressed” (Matt. 26:37), telling a few of His disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38).  In spite of His personal pain, Jesus was willing to suffer and die for the benefit of the salvation of others.  The Scripture declares that “as a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11).  The death of Christ had meaning, because God’s righteousness was satisfied and others were blessed to enjoy the gift of eternal life (Rom. 3:21-26). 

     Suffering touches us all.  It moves and shapes us in ways we never imagine.  It breaks us down and builds us up, but it never leaves us where it finds us.  In Scripture we learn that God’s power is magnified in our weaknesses and that suffering reveals our true state as weak creatures who need the Lord in our lives for strength and guidance (2 Cor. 12:7-10).  As we develop spiritually, we learn to keep our eyes more and more on heaven, knowing that ultimate relief from suffering will only come when the Lord returns and establishes righteousness on the earth (Rev. 20-22).  There is much Scripture on the subject of suffering and there is hope and strength in God for those who turn to Him in the midst of life’s sorrows.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

An excerpt from my book – Suffering: A Biblical Consideration 

Early Church Persecutions

Persecution is the suffering or pressure, mental, moral, or physical, which authorities, individuals, or crowds inflict on others, especially for opinions or beliefs, with a view to their subjection by recantation, silencing, or, as a last resort, execution. (G. W. Bromily, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, 1986, p. 771)

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God…For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13).

       Paul both persecuted the Church and later was persecuted for it. He became an example of living and dying for Christ. Persecution for the believer is a sign of his position and life in Christ (Jo. 15:18-19; 1 Jo. 3:13), and Paul taught that Christians—like Christ—should be willing to be “obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8). Paul described some of the persecutions and sufferings he underwent:

Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far ore imprisonment, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from countrymen, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (1. Cor. 11:23-27).

       Some Christians live under the false notion that once they become saved, life’s troubles will dissipate, and all roads will become smooth. “Paul strongly opposed any notion of the Christian life as free from suffering. Quite on the contrary, for Paul suffering was one of the marks of true gospel ministry (2 Cor. 4:7-17; 11: 23-28) and discipleship (Phil. 3:10-11; Col. 1:24).” (David S. Dockery, Holman Bible Handbook, p. 683)

       In the first century A.D. Christians suffered some of the most horrible persecutions imaginable. Around the summer of A.D. 64 there was a massive fire in Rome and tradition holds that it might have been started by the emperor Nero in an attempt to do away with a rotting part of the city. Nero blamed Christians for the fire, and without investigation the fury of Rome exploded upon the church. Nero was glad to lead the persecutions because it kept all eyes away from himself as a possible candidate of the disaster. The persecutions under Nero are reported to be among some of the worst in early Church history, and he is reported to have killed both the apostles Peter and Paul.

       The Roman emperor Domitian followed in the footsteps of Nero as was one of the cruelest persecutors of Christians. It’s possible that Domitian wanted to snuff out Christianity altogether because he thought it lead to sedition. Rome would tolerate any religion as long as it could be set aside for the sake of obedience to the emperor. Early Christians were willing to serve an emperor, but not when he claimed to be deity, or when obedience to him contradicted an obedient life to God. Domitian interpreted the Christian behavior as a challenge to his authority and the authority of Rome. Domitian vigorously moved to destroy Christians because he was afraid their views might spread and Rome might become weak and divided. He was afraid of internal disintegration. One Bible scholar describes some of the persecutions as follows:

Some, suffering the punishment of parricides, were shut up in a sack with snakes and thrown into the sea; others were tied to huge stones and cast into a river. For Christians the cross itself was not deemed sufficient agony; hanging on the tree, they were beaten with rods until their bowels gushed out, while vinegar and salt were rubbed into their wounds…Christians were tied to catapults, and so wrenched from limb to limb. Some…were thrown to the beasts; others were tied to their horns. Women were stripped, enclosed in nets, and exposed to the attacks of furious bulls. Many were made to lie on sharp shells, and tortured with scrapers, claws, and pincers, before being delivered to the mercy of the flames. Not a few were broken on the wheel, or torn in pieces by wild horses. Of some the feet were slowly burned away, cold water being dowsed over them the while lest the victims should expire too rapidly…Down the backs of others melted lead, hissing and bubbling, was poured; while a few ‘by the clemency of the emperor’ escaped with the searing out of their eyes, or the tearing off of their legs. (Herbert B. Workman, Persecution in the Early Church, 1906, p. 299-300)

       Some might argue that it would have been better to give recognition to an emperor rather than to suffer greatly or to watch family members be put to death. However, the demands of Christianity (now, as well as then) are such that a believer can never worship a substitute for the living Christ. When confronted with persecution, any compromise of faith, no matter how small, is shameful in the face of those who had testified of Christ with their life. The early Christians understood that there was never a time when they could deny the Lord and ever be justified in doing so. Just as three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel stood before a mighty king and were willing to face suffering rather than deny the only true God, so thousands of early Christians where willing to face Roman persecution even if it eventuated in their death.

       The Christian can be confident in the face of persecution and death knowing that God is in control of every circumstance surrounding his life. He knows that God is good, and trusts that He is in control of all things—even persecution—and will sustain him to end of his life (Romans 8:28). The following biblical truths apply to every Christian who faces death:

  1. No appointment with judgment (Heb. 9:27, 28; Rom. 8:1a).
  2. Face to face with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).
  3. No more sorrow, pain, tears, death, regrets or embarrassment (Rev. 21:4).
  4. An eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4, 5).
  5. A New Home (John 14:1-6).
  6. The perpetuation of eternal life (1 John 5:11, 12; John 10 3.
  7. Resurrection body (Job 19:25, 26; John 11:25; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:1, 2; 1 Cor. 15:51-57).
  8. Removal of the old sin nature (1 Cor. 1:8, 15:55-57; Phil. 3:20, 21; 1 Thess. 5:23).
  9. Removal of human good and evil (1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). (R. B. Thieme Jr. Dying Grace, 1977, p. 8)

       “The meaning of the word martyr…is one who has proven the strength and genuineness of his faith in Christ by undergoing a violent death” (Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 882). Believers can face any type of persecution and death with an attitude of confidence and peace if they will claim the promises of God and keep their focus on Him who gives strength to His children. Whether peaceful or violent, the Christian’s death is an event to be embraced with confidence and peace of mind. The believer’s flesh will fail him in time as death approaches; however, there is something greater than his flesh to which he can look and find strength in his hour of need: the WORD OF GOD! “For all flesh is as grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24, 25).

       Christians face the very real threat of persecution if they choose to live by faith in God’s word rather than conform to the devil’s world. Some may bow the knee rather than endure suffering, but they do so their own shame. Some things are worth suffering and dying for; things such as honor, integrity, love, and above all, a wonderful relationship with God who gives eternal life and purpose to His children. I pray all Christians will be faithful to God when facing persecution for living His word.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

 

The Value of Suffering

Romans 5:1-5 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

       Adversity helps the obedient-believer grow spiritually, when he responds properly in faith (Rom. 5:3-5; Jas. 1:2-4). Suffering by itself does not advance growth, but rather, the believer’s faith-response to it. The obedient-believer knows God is in control of every aspect of his life and that He produces the events that help the believer reach maturity (Rom. 8:28). There are no chance events in the believers’ life.

       Adversity serves to bring the rebellious-believer back to fellowship with God (Ps. 32:1-5; Heb. 12:5-11; 1 Jo. 1:9). However, if the rebellious believer rejects warning and intensive discipline, God will remove him from earth to heaven through the “sin unto death” (1 Jo. 5:16). The three stages of discipline for the rebellious-believer are:

  1. Warning (Dan. 4:4-27; 1 Cor. 11:30).
  2. Intensive (Dan. 4:28-37; 1 Cor. 11:30).
  3. Death (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 5:5; 11:30; 1 Jo. 5:16).

       For the growing believer, divine pressure produces humility by helping him realize his weaknesses and overall inability to cope with life (2 Cor. 12:7-10). As a result, the growing believer looks to God to sustain him, and lives by faith in His word (Isa. 26:3; 2 Cor. 12:7-10). The pressures of life help the believer grow in dependence on the Lord. God is glorified, and the believer is benefitted, when God’s resources are utilized in pursuit of spiritual maturity.  The process of growing into spiritual maturity never ends so long as the believer is alive. There’s never a time when the believer can say “I don’t need to grow anymore. You can stop now God; I’ve arrived!”

       The power of God is available to the growing obedient-believer. Once the believer turns away from God, he grieves/quenches the Holy Spirit and cuts off the source of divine strength. Relying on others and/or self will bring disaster when the pressures of life become too great. Francis Schaeffer illustrates this truth as follows:

“A culture or an individual with a weak base can stand only when the pressure on it is not too great. As an illustration, let us think of a Roman bridge. The Romans built little humpbacked bridges over many of the streams of Europe. People and wagons went over these structures safely for centuries, for two millennia. But if people today drove heavily loaded trucks over these bridges, they would break. It is this way with the lives and value systems of individuals and cultures when they have nothing stronger to build on than their own limitedness, their own finiteness. They can stand when the pressures are not too great, but when the pressures mount, if then they do not have a sufficient base, they crash—just as a Roman bridge would cave in under the weight of a modern six-wheeled truck. Culture and the freedoms of people are fragile. Without a sufficient base, when such pressures come only time is needed—and often not a great deal of time—before they collapse.” (Francis Schaeffer, How Should we then Live? page 23)

       Adversity comes to everyone, but only the believer – armed with Scripture – has a sufficient base with which to handle to pressures of life. Mental and emotional stability comes from learning and living God’s word on a regular basis. This means the believer must submit every area of his life to God, and be willing to do His will no matter the cost. Many Christians compartmentalize, giving God some areas of their life, while holding on to other areas. Those areas of life that are kept from God are used by Satan to defeat the believer. There is no middle ground. The believer who compartmentalizes wants to keep control of his life, and comes to God only as he feels safe. In such an immature life, Christianity becomes a self-serving religion in which God is allowed control so long as He blesses and does not cause discomfort. Blessing and safety becomes the all consuming concern in the life of the baby Christian. The growing believer “exult[s] in tribulation” (Rom. 5:3) because he knows God is working in Him to form the character of Christ, and that’s what he wants more than anything. The growing believer accepts suffering as means of becoming more like Christ. It is important to stress that there is no real value inherent in suffering, but rather in how the believer handles the suffering by living by faith in God’s word.

       Divine suffering tests the believer’s faith, exposing those areas where he is weak and in which he needs to trust more in God; obeying His word. The believer who loves God wants to mature and become more like Christ, and praises God for the fire of suffering that burns away that which is worthless.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.