A Call and a Commitment

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter 12, Moses provides his Hebrew readers with an important history lesson that solidifies their unique role in God’s redemptive plan for all mankind. For generations, the Jews had rightfully viewed themselves as God’s chosen people. They considered themselves to be a people who had been set apart by God and declared to be His “treasured possession.” Those were the very words that Moses had communicated to them not long after God delivered them out of captivity in Egypt.

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” – Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

Years later, when the people of Israel were standing on the border of Canaan, preparing to enter into the land that God had promised to give them, Moses reminded them of their privileged position as God’s set-apart people.

For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

When reading the story of Abram’s call, it is essential to keep this unique relationship between God and the nation of Israel in mind. The original audience to whom Moses wrote would have relished this retelling of their storied history, but it’s likely that they missed some of the key messages that God had intended for them to hear. They would have brightened at the mention of Abram’s name. This would have been the part of the story where they sat up and took notice. God’s call of Abram had been the impetus for their very existence.

And while that was true, there is something far more significant in the story of Abram’s call than the formation of a single, set-apart nation. For generations, the descendants of Abram had missed the divine purpose behind their existence. They had not earned their favored status with God. The Almighty had not looked down from heaven, noticed their righteous behavior, and decided to reward them with a promotion. In fact, Moses had fully dispelled any thought of their favored status being a reward.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-8 NLT

That last line is the key to understanding Genesis 12. The Hebrews, as descendants of Abram, had been created by God. Despite their long and storied history, they had not always existed. There had been a time when not a single Jew walked the face of the earth. Even Abram was not of Jewish descent. He was a Chaldean. But from this one man came a people whom God would set apart. Like the rest of the universe in Genesis 1, the Hebrew people would be created by God, ex nihilo (out of nothing). And the 12th chapter of Genesis begins the story of this “new creation” by God.

The apostle Peter picked up on this theme when writing his first letter. He was addressing Christians who were living in Asia Minor and suffering persecution because of their faith. At one point in his letter, he describes them as “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11), living in the midst of the spiritual darkness that surrounded them. And he used language that compared them to the people of Israel.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

That last line is critical. At one time, these people had not been “a people.” Oh, they existed, but they lacked a relationship with God. The apostle Paul addressed the Gentile believers in Ephesus with a similar thought.

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:12 BSB

And Paul went on to remind them of the dramatic transformation that God had brought about in their lives.

Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household… – Ephesians 2:19 BSB

So, back to Genesis 12. With the opening line of the chapter, Moses describes God as sovereignly inserting Himself into the affairs of humanity once again. After all the genealogical lists describing the various lines of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, God focuses His attention on one man: Abram. And to this one individual, God issues a call and provides a promise.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

According to chapter 11, Abram had been born in Ur of the Chaldeans, located in the land of Shinar. But at one point, his father had made the decision to move his entire family to Canaan. The text provides is no explanation for this costly and difficult relocation. But it is not difficult to see the sovereign hand of God orchestrating this entire affair.

It would have taken a great deal of time and effort to make the long journey from Ur to Canaan. Because the arid and impassable Arabian Desert was located immediately east of Ur, Terah was forced to take a time-consuming detour that eventually led them to Haran. And, once in Haran, Terah had a change of heart and decided to settle down. but God had other plans for Abram. In time, Haran became home to Abram. He too settled down and began to put down roots. But at some point, God commanded him to leave everything behind.

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. – Genesis 12:1 NLT

This was a huge “ask” on God’s part. In those days, family ties were essential to survival. By this time in human history, the world had become a hostile place occupied by disparate people groups based on clans and tribal relationships. After God had scattered the nations across the face of the earth (Genesis 11:9), territorial boundaries and indigenous communities had become commonplace. Everyone had staked out their claims and was protecting their particular piece of the global pie. So, it would not have been easy for Abram to leave the safety and security of his clan behind.

But God’s command came with a promise. He was going to provide Abram with a new home in a new land. And it just happened to be the very same land that Terah had intended as his family’s destination. Perhaps Terah had given up on Canaan because he heard it was already occupied by other, more powerful clans. But this would prove to be no problem for God. For the first time since God had placed Adam in Eden, a man was going to be given a specific tract of land to occupy. And like Eden, Canaan was a beautiful and fruitful land, “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 ESV).

According to God, this new land would become the sole possession of Abram’s descendants. In a sense, Canaan had Abram’s name on the deed. And it would be in this land that God would bless Abram and produce through him “a great nation.”

But there is a problem. It was mentioned in chapter 11 but only in passing. In the listing of Terah’s descendants, Abram is described as taking a wife for himself – a woman named Sarai. And then, almost as an aside, the test reveals, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Genesis 11:30 ESV). Abram would have been completely unaware of Sarai’s condition. But God knew. And yet, knowing that Sarai was incapable of bearing children, God declared that Abram would become the father of a great nation. God was going to bless Abram by giving him offspring. And those offspring would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. An undeserving man and his barren wife would become the means by which God would pour out His blessings on all humanity.

And this is the point that the Hebrew people tended to miss. They considered themselves to be blessed by God because they were descendants of Abram. But they neglected to remember that their blessing came with a responsibility: They were to have been a blessing to the nations. God had set apart Abram and all his descendants so that they might serve as His representatives to the nations. God had promised to make them His “treasured possession among all peoples” (Exodus 19:5 ESV). But they had a job to do.

…you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation… – Exodus 19:6 ESV

Priests were intended to be the mediators between God and man. The Hebrew people had been set apart by God so that they might minister on His behalf to all the nations of the earth. But they had proved to be unfaithful priests and far from a holy nation. But God’s promise would still be fulfilled. Because it would be through the line of Abram that He would bring the offspring through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Jesus would accomplish what the nation of Israel had failed to do.

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations… ” – Isaiah 42:6 ESV

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

That is what sets this chapter apart. In it is contained the hope of all eternity. The coming of the Messiah is weaved into the fabric of Abram’s call and provides the underlying foundation for God’s promise of future blessing for all mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Future-Focused Living

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:8-11 ESV

Peter has encouraged his readers to supplement their faith in Christ with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. That’s quite a list and one that every follower of Christ should desire to see manifested in their own life. These are non-optional attributes that reflect the character of Christ and are available to every Christian through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. So, the only excuse for their absence is a refusal to, as Paul put it, “walk by the Spirit.”

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. – Galatians 5:16-17 ESV

And Paul went on to explain that those who live their lives in reliance upon the power of the Spirit will see the following fruit of the Spirit manifested in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

Peter picks up on this idea of fruitfulness when he writes, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ— (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). While his list is slightly different than that of Paul, the overlap is obvious. And when Peter states, “if these qualities are yours,” he is not suggesting that the believers to whom he is writing have somehow missed out on the Spirit’s distribution of fruit. Any absence of fruit in their lives is due to failure to live in obedience to the Spirit. As children of God, they had full access to these Spirit-imbued qualities through willing and humble submission to the Spirit.

It wasn’t a question of whether they had the Spirit or not. It was a matter of obedience.  The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Rome that their relationship with Christ had provided them with a formidable capacity to live differently.

…because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:2 NLT

Because the Spirit lives within the children of God, “these qualities” are theirs by right. But these Spirit-enabled attributes are only theirs in reality if they choose to live in submission to the Spirit’s life-altering power. That is exactly what the apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT

They were to submit to the Spirit’s leading and allow Him to begin His process of behavior modification from the inside out. It would start in the heart and mind. And when a child of God fails to allow the Spirit to renew their thoughts and attitudes, it will show up in the way they live their life. Their behavior will not reflect their beliefs and this grieves the Holy Spirit. That is why Paul went on to warn the Ephesian believers to seek proof of the Spirit’s presence in their outward behavior.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:30-32 NLT

And Peter picks up on this same idea when he writes: “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:9 ESV). Again, his point was not that they lacked the power to produce these qualities. They had the Holy Spirit living within them. Their problem was one of perspective. Peter describes it as a kind of spiritual myopia or nearsightedness. Unable to focus on the long-term implications of the Spirit’s presence, the believer can easily find themselves fixated on the present. They live for the here-and-now, allowing the circumstances of life to determine their actions. They compromise their convictions and fall back into the old habits that marked their former life.

Refusing to understand that sanctification is a long-term process, some believers run out of patience and take their eye off the prize. They develop a shortsighted mentality that demands quick results and immediate gratification. From the content of Peter’s first letter, it’s clear that the believers living in Asia Minor were suffering persecution for their faith, and they were looking for immediate relief. They wanted deliverance from the unexpected trials they were facing. And because their identification with Christ was the cause of their trouble, they were being tempted to alleviate their suffering by returning to their former way of life. Peter had addressed this natural tendency in the opening chapter of that letter.

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:13-14 NLT

Notice Peter’s emphasis on “the gracious salvation that will come.” He was challenging them to raise their eyes and to focus on the incredible future that God had in store for them. This future-focused way of living was a regular part of the apostles’ teaching. The apostle Paul told the believers in Galatia:

Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. – Galatians 6:8-9 NLT

This was the very message Peter had declared in his first letter.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. – 1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT

He wanted his readers to live with the end in mind. Yes, they were having to endure trials and testings that made their present life uncomfortable, but there was hope on the horizon that would make their “momentary light afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4:17) pale in comparison.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

In his second letter, Peter reminds his readers to stay the course. Regardless of what they may have been facing, they could rest in the knowledge that God was protecting and preserving them. And it was these Spirit-enabled qualities that would see them through the difficult days ahead.

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. – 2 Peter 1:10 ESV

Peter had opened up his letter with the timely reminder that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had all they needed to not only survive but thrive in this life. They were more than adequately equipped to handle whatever the world threw at them. But they were going to have to avail themselves of the power that God had provided. By living in the power of the Spirit they would confirm their identity as God’s children. Their Spirit-empowered lives would confirm their calling and help remind them of God’s future plans for them.

For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Fan the Flame of Faith

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:1-7 ESV

Over the course of his memorable and eventful life, the apostle Paul managed to write a number of letters, many of which would eventually form a large part of the New Testament canon of Scripture. His pastoral letters, like First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, were addressed to the churches in those communities which he had helped to start. Paul was, first and foremost, an evangelist, with a Christ-ordained mandate to take the good news of the Gospel to the Gentiles. In his former life, Paul had been a dedicated Pharisee on a personal crusade to eradicate every last vestige of “the Way,” the name given to those who had chosen to become followers of the former rabbi, Jesus, who had been crucified in Jerusalem years earlier.

Paul, as a faithful Jew and a zealous member of the Pharisees, had deemed the teachings of Jesus as radical and a threat to the Hebrew faith. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom and as part of His divine redemptive plan, had chosen to redirect Paul’s ambitions and turn him from antagonist to evangelist.

The story of his conversion from persecutor to church planter can be found in the ninth chapter of the book of Acts. It explains how Paul had an unexpected and life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ Himself. As a result of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Paul would come to realize that the rumors concerning Jesus, the itinerant rabbi who had been executed by the Romans, were actually true. He was alive and well, having been resurrected from the dead. And all as proof that Jesus was who He had claimed to be all along: the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah.

As a result of his roadside encounter with the risen Christ, the trajectory of Paul’s life was changed forever. He discovered a new purpose for his life and a much-improved focus for his ambitious nature and high-octane personality. Paul became one of the most outspoken proponents of the gospel, focusing his evangelistic efforts primarily on the Gentile world. Over the course of his life, he would lead countless individuals to Christ, helping them come to know the joy of salvation through faith in Christ.

Paul was an apostle, literally “a messenger” of Jesus Christ, who had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry the gospel to the far reaches of the known world. And Paul would take his commission seriously, eventually embarking on three extensive missionary journeys to the far corners of the Roman Empire. And along the way, he shared the gospel with both Jews and Gentiles, revealing the truth “that Christ was crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT) and “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV).

Paul faithfully preached this message in cities, synagogues, public squares, before governors and magistrates, and with a tireless passion to see the lost come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And along the way, he witnessed countless individuals come to faith in Christ, including the young man to whom this letter is addressed. Timothy was a disciple of Paul’s, having been hand-selected by the apostle to join him on his missionary journeys and assist him in the spread of the gospel. The tone of this letter reflects Paul’s deep and personal affection for Timothy. Written from Rome where Paul was under house arrest and awaiting a hearing before the Roman Emperor, the letter is a highly personal and intimate message from the apostle to his young protégé and friend.

Paul’s love for Timothy is reflected in his salutation: “To Timothy, my beloved child” (2 Timothy 1:2 ESV). Paul viewed Timothy as a son and this letter contains words of fatherly love in the form of encouragement and admonition. Paul was obviously proud of Timothy, and even complimented him for his “sincere faith.” He was thankful that God had placed Timothy in his life and longed to see his young friend again. But, since Paul was under house arrest in Rome, and Timothy was ministering in Ephesus, Paul could only pray for and write to his son in the faith. And, in part, this letter was intended to encourage Timothy to remain faithful in the face of opposition. Paul was determined to help his young coworker become all that God intended him to be. Physically separated but spiritually bound by a common belief in Christ and a shared calling to preach the gospel, Paul felt a personal responsibility for Timothy’s life and ministry. And this letter is his attempt to pour into this young man’s life by calling him to an ever-increasing commitment to his faith and his Christ-mandated mission.

Paul reminds Timothy to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you” (2 Timothy 1:6 NLT). We’re not told what “spiritual gift” Paul had in mind, but we know that he viewed Timothy as having been specially gifted by God and he longed to see him use every resource at his disposal to faithfully accomplish his work. And he wanted Timothy to know that because he was gifted by God, he had no reason to embrace thoughts of inadequacy or fear.  

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT

This was not the first time Paul had challenged Timothy to live in the power provided for him by God. In a previous letter, Paul had provided Timothy with strong words of encouragement aimed at countering any feelings of inadequacy or inability he may have felt.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. – 1 Timothy 4:12-16 NLT

Paul knew from his own experience just how difficult living the Christian life could be. And the added pressure of preaching the gospel and shepherding the flock of Jesus Christ made Timothy’s job that much more difficult. He was young, relatively inexperienced, and in a high-pressure career where he faced opposition of a spiritual nature.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Timothy had been blessed to have a mother and grandmother who had modeled the life of faith for him. But he was now having to “fan the flame” of his own faith, learning to trust in the power provided for him by Christ. Paul wanted Timothy to know that he had power, love, and self-control at his disposal. He had everything he needed to accomplish that task before him. His age, inexperience, and any feelings of inadequacy he may have felt were irrelevant. He had a saving relationship with Christ, a clear calling to the gospel ministry, and the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. And Paul wanted him to know that he had a responsibility to remain faithful to his commission as a minister of the gospel because it is a “holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Costly Calling

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” –  Matthew 16:21-28 ESV

In response to Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?,” Peter had been the first of the 12 to speak up.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” – Matthew 16:16 ESV

And Jesus had commended Peter for his answer, acknowledging that it had been revealed to him by God. Peter’s awareness of who Jesus was had come as a direct result of God’s revelation, not human intelligence or the teachings of men.

This common fisherman had been able to see something to which the learned scribes and Pharisees remained oblivious. They were experts in the Mosaic law and students of the Hebrew Scriptures but had failed to see what Peter had seen. They had accused Jesus of operating under the power and influence of Satan. To them, He was little more than a heretic and a man who willingly associated with prostitutes and sinners. They were spiritually blind and unable to see what Peter saw.

Peter was blessed for having been given the capacity to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but he was about to find out that the privilege of divinely-inspired insight came at a cost. The disciples were able to see Jesus for who He was – their Messiah and Savior – but now they were going to find out exactly what that meant. Their preconceived notions of the Messiah’s role were about to be rocked. Any hopes they had of watching Jesus set up His kingdom on earth and placing them in positions of power and authority were going to be shattered.

Following Peter’s confession came Jesus’ revelation.

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. – Matthew 16:16 ESV

And we don’t have to wonder how this pronouncement impacted the disciples, because Matthew makes it quite clear.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” – Matthew 16:22 ESV

Once again, Peter was the first to speak up. But this time, his words would reward him with a rebuke from Jesus, not a blessing. In the Greek, Peter’s response was essentially, “God have mercy on you!”

He was expressing his deep-felt desire that God would not allow the words of Jesus to come to fruition. Peter was speaking from his heart. He was appalled by what he had heard. The thought of Jesus suffering and dying was not something he could get his head around. It made no sense. It didn’t fit into his expectations concerning the Messiah. And he couldn’t imagine that God would allow something like this to happen.

While Peter had been shocked at Jesus’ announcement, he was about to be rocked by Jesus’ response to him.

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

Ouch! That had to have stung. Peter had just been pronounced as blessed because of his confession that Jesus was the Messiah. Now, Jesus was calling him “Satan.” What a dramatic turn of events. What an amazing fall from grace. Peter had gone from the teacher’s pet to a spiritual adversary.

But why did Jesus respond so harshly? Peter had meant well. He simply couldn’t imagine Jesus having to go through the things He had described. But Jesus saw Peter’s response for what it was: Satanically inspired.

Just as God had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah, Satan was attempting to influence Peter’s perception of what that meant. Satan wasn’t trying to dissuade Peter from believing Jesus was the Messiah. He simply wanted to confuse his understanding of the Messiah’s role. Like any good Jew, Peter’s view of the Messiah was somewhat self-centered and self-serving. He was interpreting his God-given awareness of Jesus as the Messiah through a man-made set of expectations. Notice what Jesus accused him of.

Peter was setting his mind on man’s interests, not God’s. He was thinking about what he wanted from the Messiah, not God’s purpose for the Messiah.

Peter was displaying a what’s-in-it-for-me mindset that viewed the Messiah as the answer to all of his personal problems. To Peter’s way of thinking, Jesus was no good to him dead. But what Peter failed to understand was that Jesus would not be the Messiah or Savior unless He died. Jesus had not come to fulfill the will of men, but the will of His Father in heaven. And Peter was going to have to learn that his personal expectations of the Messiah were going to have to take a backseat to God’s will concerning the Messiah.

This is why Jesus turned to all the disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). All of these men had experienced the call of Jesus, inviting them to follow Him. Now, Jesus was letting them know the cost of that calling. Their original motivation to follow Jesus had been self-serving. They had seen something in it for them. But now, Jesus was telling them that their calling came with a cost: Self-denial.

Jesus had just revealed that the role of Messiah came with a tremendous cost. He would suffer and die. In the same way, the role of disciple came with a cost. Just as Jesus would have to die to Himself, they would be required to die to their own self-interests. Jesus would go on to tell His disciples, “whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28 NLT).

Peter had simply wanted to save the life of Jesus. But Jesus told him, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 NLT). The model for true discipleship was that of self-sacrifice and selfless service, not self-centeredness. Jesus was attempting to focus the attention of His disciples on the eternal rather than the temporal. He wanted them to think about the kingdom to come, not their own kingdom on earth. Peter wanted it all here and now. But Jesus warned that getting all you desire in this life was worthless if you ended up losing your soul. Temporal treasures and earthly kingdoms will all pass away. But those who focus their eyes on the eternal will discover that their future reward far outweighs any pleasure they find in the present.

Jesus ends His address to His disciples with a somewhat confusing statement:

“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” – Matthew 16:28 ESV

These words must have left the disciples scratching their heads. They would have wondered what He meant. They would have wanted to know which of them He was referencing. And if we stop here, this verse will leave us just as confused as the disciples must have been. But we have the next chapter of Matthew’s gospel account to provide us with insight.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. – Matthew 17:1-12 ESV

The disciples would have to go six days without a clue as to what Jesus had meant. Fortunately, we’re given an immediate understanding of just what Jesus had been talking about. But more about that tomorrow.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Branches, Pots, Pillars and Walls.

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

The word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the Lord said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” – Jeremiah 1:11-19 ESV

Jeremiah must have looked like he needed a bit of convincing. Of course, God knew Jeremiah’s heart and was fully aware that just because Jeremiah was called didn’t mean he was convinced of and committed to that calling. So, God gave His reluctant prophet a few signs to confirm that what He was saying was true. These two signs are similar to what God did when Moses expressed reluctance at God’s call to be the deliver of Israel.  Moses had his doubts. He was unconvinced that the people of Israel would listen to what God had given him to say.

But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?” – Exodus 4:1 NLT

So, God gave Moses a sign. He asked Moses what he was holding in his hand and Moses, responded, “A shepherd’s staff” (Exodus 4:2 NLT).

“Throw it down on the ground,” the Lord told him. So Moses threw down the staff, and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back. – Exodus 4:3 NLT

Moses couldn’t believe his eyes. He jumped back in fright and astonishment. He hadn’t seen this one coming. But God was not done yet.

Then the Lord told him, “Reach out and grab its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand. – Exodus 4:4 NLT

In a similar way, God asked Jeremiah what he saw, and he responded, “I see an almond branch.” Whether this was a vision or an actual almond tree, we are not told. I tend to believe that God simply pointed out a nearby tree and almond trees were plentiful in that area of the world at that time. So Jeremiah saw the almond tree, which is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring. God was going to use this common sight and turn it into a constant reminder of His faithfulness to do what He has said He will do. The Hebrew word for almond is shaqed and it is very similar to a key word God uses in the very next line: shaqad. This Hebrew word mean “watch”. God told Jeremiah, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12 ESV). Every time Jeremiah saw an almond (shaqed) tree, he would be reminded that God is watchful (shaqad) and will do what He has promised to do. Jeremiah could trust God.

But God was not done. Once again, He asked Jeremiah, ““What do you see?” And Jeremiah responded, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north” (Jeremiah 1:13 ESV). This time, Jeremiah was shown a pot of boiling water that was tipped precariously, as if its scalding contents were about to spill out. And when Jeremiah told God what he saw, God provide its meaning: “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land” (Jeremiah 1:14 ESV). What followed was God’s description of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Judah. Remember, God had given Jeremiah a visual prompt in the form of the almond tree, that whatever He says will happen, will happen. And now, He was telling Jeremiah exactly what was going to happen. 

It is interesting to note that God simply tells Jeremiah, “ I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north … and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 1:15 ESV). We know that it was the Babylonians who would eventually come against Judah. But when God gave Jeremiah this prophetic word, they were not a threat. It was the Assyrians who were the bully on the block at the time Jeremiah received his call and commission. But they would eventually be replaced by the Babylonians. The Neo-Babylonians would actually be a confederation of northern tribes that join forces in a massive army under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar. They would come against the cities of Judah and eventually establish a siege against the capital, Jerusalem.

God provided Jeremiah a glimpse into Judah’s not-so-pretty future. And He tells Jeremiah exactly why this was going to be their fate.

And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. – Jeremiah 1:16 ESV

Unfaithfulness. That would be the ultimate cause of Judah’s fall, just as it had been for Israel, the northern kingdom. And it is important to note that this word of warning came to Jeremiah when Josiah was king of Judah. He was the reformer-king. Unlike most of the other kings of Judah, he was described in positive terms: “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right” (2 Kings 22:2 NLT). He ordered repairs to the temple and in the process of doing the work, a copy of the book of the law was found. When Josiah heard what was written in the law, he was devastated. He realized that the people of Judah had been living in disobedience to God’s commands for years. So, he set out to change all that. He instituted a series of important reforms, calling the people back to the worship of Yahweh. He had the law read to the people and then he “renewed the covenant in the Lord’s presence. He pledged to obey the Lord by keeping all his commands, laws, and decrees with all his heart and soul. In this way, he confirmed all the terms of the covenant that were written in the scroll, and all the people pledged themselves to the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3 NLT).

So, when God gave Jeremiah the vision of the boiling pot, and warned him of the destruction to come, it was at a time in Judah when things were a spiritual upswing. Josiah was making some real progress in bringing about change. But God knew better. He knew the hearts of the people and was fully aware that much of what was happening was external in nature. The hearts of the people had not and would not change. Their unfaithfulness was inevitable and God’s judgment was unavoidable.

And God gives Jeremiah his marching orders: “Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them” (Jeremiah 1:17 NLT). Not exactly what you might call a pep talk. God let Jeremiah know that this was not going to be a walk in the park. He was going to face opposition. The people were not going to like what he had to say. Jeremiah was not going to win any popularity contests or be invited to a lot of dinner parties. But God let’s Jeremiah know that he will not be alone or left on his own.

“I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 ESV

God was going to equip Jeremiah to handle the task ahead of him. God uses three images to assure Jeremiah that he will have what it takes to do what he has been called to do. God tells this reluctant and, probably shell-shocked young man that He will make him like a fortified city, able to resist the onslaught of the enemy. He will be like an iron pillar, strong and able to remain upright under the greatest of pressures. He will also be like a bronze wall, impervious to the arrows of those who would seek to do him harm. Jeremiah’s job was not going to be easy, but God was going to be with him.

It is not easy to speak the truth of God. It never has been. What Jeremiah was going to have to tell the people of Judah was not going to be easy to say and it would be even harder to receive. The idea that God would destroy them would be repugnant to the people of Judah. Any calls to reform or repentance would be met with deaf ears. The prophet of God is rarely ever met with open arms by the people of God. And that is true today as it was back in Jeremiah’s day. In fact, Vance Havener sarcastically describes the modern church as a “non-prophet organization” (Vance Havner, cited by Dennis J. Hester, compiler, in The Vance Havner Quotebook, p. 179.). We don’t like to hear the truth. We don’t want to be told that what we’re doing is wrong or out of step with God’s will. We don’t like to be called on the carpet or have our sins exposed. In fact, Paul told Timothy that a day was coming “when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). And that day is here.

Jeremiah had his work cut out for him. But God was going to be with him. He just needed to be obedient and faithful to his calling, and God would do the rest. Jeremiah was not to seek the favor of men, but to pursue faithfulness to God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Live Up To Your Calling.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV

The idea of the church had at one time been a mystery, but now that it had been revealed and begun to spread throughout the world, Paul was on a mission to make sure that it lived up to its calling. When he refers to walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, Paul is talking about lifestyle, not physical fitness. He is addressing the church’s need to conduct itself in the world according to the plan God has laid out for it. The NET Bible translates the first two verses as, “I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called.” The calling each believer has received is the same. It is the calling of the Holy Spirit that allowed each and every individual who was once dead in their sins and blind to the reality of the gospel, to be able to hear and respond to the offer of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. Jesus quite boldly and matter-of-factly claimed, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44 ESV). The Greek word John used is ἕλκω (helkō) and it means, “to draw by inward power, lead, impel” (“G1670 – helkō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It was God who had made it possible for those Jews and Gentiles in Paul’s audience to come to faith in Christ. He is the one who called, impelled and drew them. It was He who placed them in the body of Christ. Now Paul wanted them to live up to that calling. In other words, he expected them to reflect their new nature and standing.

And Paul gets quite specific. He lists out humility, gentleness, patience and love as four visible characteristics of those who have been called or set apart by God. Each of the four are other-oriented. They take into account those with whom we live within the body of Christ. They each require a high degree of selflessness. Paul told the “called ones” in Philippi, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT). Then he went on to tell them, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5 NLT). What kind of attitude or mindset did Jesus have? He was humble. He was willing to leave behind the glory of heaven and take on human flesh in order to provide redemption for mankind. He was a servant. Even though He was the Son of God and worthy of honor, He put aside His royalty and lived among humanity, so that He could serve those in bondage to sin and death. He was patient. He endured ridicule, rejection, taunts, false accusations and, ultimately, death at the hands of those He came to save. He could have destroyed them, but instead, He died for them. He was loving. As Paul will point on in the very next chapter of this letter, we are to emulate Christ’s example. “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT).

Paul wants his readers to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 ESV). There is a oneness and a unity within the church that is like nothing else in the world. We have all been called by God and not a one of us deserved that calling. We were all in the same place prior to hearing God’s call. We were lost. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were spiritually blind. We were separated from God. We were hopeless. And we were totally helpless to do anything about it. But God called and placed us within the body of Christ. He unified us, in spite of our differences. He gave us a common bond and a shared responsibility to live up to our new status as His children and heirs.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 6:26-28 NLT

Paul told the Colossian believers that he constantly prayed for them, asking God to give them complete knowledge of His will and spiritual wisdom and understanding. As a result of receiving those things, Paul said, “the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:9-10 NLT). The way they lived their lives would be honoring and glorifying to God. And that was Paul’s desire for the believers in Ephesus as well.

In verses 4-6, Paul uses the word, “one” seven different times. It would seem that he was trying to make a point. Those believers to whom he was writing all had one thing in common: Their calling by God. But that calling was multidimensional. They were all called by one and the same Spirit of God. They were all placed in one body: the body of Christ. They were all called to the very same hope – their future glorification and the promise of eternal life. They all worshiped one Lord, as a result of one factor: faith. They had all experienced the unity of baptism. And all of it had been made possible by the one God and Father of all.

One God. One calling. One hope. One Lord. One church. One response: Live up to your calling.

Saved by God.

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:4-10 ESV

These verses contain one of the most difficult and hotly debated doctrines found in the Bible. Even before the time of the Reformation in 1516, discussions concerning predestination had been typically heated and divided. There was little to no consensus on the topic because of the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between the topics of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. It was Augustine of Hippo who posited the idea that the doctrine of election taught that “all saved must be predestined to salvation … before they have committed any deed of any sort” (Diarmaid MacCullough, The Reformation: A History). Men who were on the same side of the Reformation rift, like John Calvin, Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, openly discussed and debated the doctrine of predestination. But even clerics on the Catholic side had strong opinions on the topic.

In the verses above, Paul somewhat casually introduces this issue without much fanfare and with little explanation. He simply writes, “In love he [God] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). The Greek word translated “predestined” is προορίζω (proorizō) which means “to predetermine, decide beforehand; to foreordain, appoint beforehand” (“G4309 – proorizō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It speaks of God’s sovereign role in man’s salvation. John Stott writes, “Now everybody finds the doctrine of election difficult. ‘Didn’t I choose God?’ somebody asks indignantly; to which we must answer ‘Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first chosen you.’ ‘Didn’t I decide for Christ?’ asks somebody else; to which we must reply ‘Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first decided for you’” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, p. 26). In Paul’s redemptive theology, mankind is in a terrible, irreconcilable state: dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), imprisoned under sin (Galatians 3:22), incapable of understanding God or seeking Him (Romans 3:11), incapable of doing anything good (Romans 3:11), and devoid of any righteousness (Romans 3:10).

The blind are incapable of seeing the light. The dead are unable to choose life. The deaf cannot hear the good news. Just as Jesus had to call Lazarus from the grave and give him the life he needed to obey Jesus’ command, so must the sinner be given new life (regeneration) by God in order that he might see the beauty of the gift being offered to him and accept it. Yes, as Dr. Stott so aptly put it, we do decide for Christ, but only after the Spirit of God has awakened us from death and given us the capacity to hear the good news and receive it.

Earlier in verse four, Paul had written, “he [God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” The word, “chose” is the Greek word ἐκλέγομαι (eklegomai), which means “to pick out, choose, to pick or choose out for one’s self” (“G1586 – eklegomai – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). God, in His divine will, has chosen to redeem some out of all those who have been condemned to eternal separation from Him because of their sin and rebellion against Him. Had God, in His grace and mercy, intervened and promised the coming Messiah as the answer to mankind’s sin problem, no one would have been saved. Adam’s sin condemned all mankind and left them in a helpless, hopeless state, unable to save themselves from the inevitability of their future condemnation. All were condemned because of their sin, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Men don’t suddenly wake up, see their sin and understand that they need a Savior. They must have their eyes opened by God. It is God who gives the spiritually dead life, the spiritually blind sight, and the spiritually deaf the capacity to hear for the first time in their life. Salvation is the work of God, from start to finish. Jesus claimed, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44 ESV). Later on in that same chapter, John records Jesus as saying, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:65 NIV).

Paul’s point is not to negate the role of man in his own salvation. We must believe. We must accept. We must turn from our own sin and to the saving work of Jesus Christ. But every aspect of that process is made possible by God Himself. He “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 4:4 ESV). And He chose us to “be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 4:4 ESV). He “predestined us for adoption as Sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” – not ours. (Ephesians 4:5 ESV). It is all due to the “praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 4:6 ESV). It is in Christ that we have redemption through his blood and the forgiveness of our sins. He is the one who has made known the mystery of His will. God is the one who has lavished His grace on us.

Salvation is a wonderful gift, provided by God for sinful men. There is not a man or woman who has ever lived who has deserved to be saved or who has ever had the capacity to save themselves. Paul paints a very bleak picture when he writes, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV). And yet, Paul reminds us of the good news: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). God’s sovereignty and man’s free will continues to be a paradox that is difficult for us to comprehend. ““It [election] involves a paradox that the New Testament does not seek to resolve, and that our finite minds cannot fathom. Paul emphasizes both the sovereign purpose of God and man’s free will” (Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, p. 46).

 

A Divine Calling.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:11-24 ESV

Paul will spend a great deal of time in this letter defending his apostleship in order to validate his message of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. There were those who were questioning his right to claim apostleship and were attempting to undermine his credibility. But Paul had no doubts about his calling or the commission he had received directly from the lips of Christ. So he provided his readers with a brief history of his salvation story. More than likely they had heard it story before, but Paul probably provided them with some extra added details. He began by clarifying that the message he preached was not given to him by any man. He hadn’t learned it from any human teacher. He had not been led to faith by anybody, but had been personally witnessed to by Jesus Himself. On that fateful day on the road leading to Damascus, Paul had had an intimate encounter with Jesus, the resurrected Christ. He had been struck blind by the very one he had been on a rampage to discredit and whose disciples he had been out to destroy.

The truly amazing thing about Paul’s testimony was the radical nature of his transformation. One day he had been on his way to the city of Damascus in order to arrest any Christians he found there, and then some days later, after his conversion, he was proclaiming Christ in the synagogues.

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. – Acts 9:19-22 ESV

Even the Jews who heard him preach in the synagogues of Damascus were shocked at the undeniable transformation that had taken place. Paul, the persecutor, had become a proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The self-appointed exterminator of Christianity had become its divinely-commissioned defender and proponent. There was nothing that could explain this radical change in his life other than the power of God. Up until that point, Paul had not met a single apostle. He had received no instruction of any kind. He had simply had a divine encounter with Jesus. And then he had spent three years in Arabia. We are not told exactly where Paul went or what he did while he was there. But it is likely that Paul, a student of the Old Testament Scriptures, spent his time reviewing all that he knew in light of what he had just experienced. His understanding of the Word of God was to be radically changed by the new revelation he had received from Jesus. It could be that Jesus did for Paul what He had done for the two disciples along the road to Emmaus when He had appeared to them immediately after His resurrection.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

And after Jesus had left them standing by the roadside, they said to one another,

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” – Luke 24:32 ESV

Whatever happened during those three years in Arabia, Paul was to return a dramatically changed man. He went immediately to Jerusalem, where he met with Peter and James. But he did not go to seek their approval or to get their permission. He was virtually unknown to the believers in Jerusalem, but his conversion had become the talk of the town. “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23 ESV).

Paul was a changed man. He not only had a new calling, but a new nature. His heart had been transformed. His passions and pursuits had been redeemed by God. Paul confessed that God, “who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Galatians 1:15-16 ESV). Paul’s conversion was God’s doing. His change of heart had been the work of God. And what he preached was the word of God concerning salvation through His Son.

It would seem that Paul’s greatest defense of his gospel message was his gospel transformation. His radically altered life was the greatest testimony to the validity of his message. It seems that far too often, what we proclaim about the gospel is not present in our own lives. We tell others of its transformational power, and yet our lives reveal little of that power at work. We talk of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, but our knowledge of Him has grown little since the day we first met Him. We can easily tell others about the day we came to faith in Christ, but we have a hard time telling them how we are living by faith on a day by day basis. Paul’s strongest proof for the authenticity of his message was his personal story of life change. The gospel was believable because his life made it visible. The transformative work of God in my life should be the greatest proof of the gospel’s power and veracity.

Judges 9-10, Acts 22

Called and Commissioned.

Judges 9-10, acts 22

And he said, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.” ­– Acts 22:14-15 ESV

Our two passages today present a stark contrast between two different men. In the book of Judges, we are introduced to Abimelech, the son of Gideon. He proves to be a conniving, murderous individual who will stop at nothing to see himself made king over the people of Israel. He was not appointed by God. He had no commission from God to seek the kingship. But after the death of his father, Gideon, Abimelech saw an opportunity to take advantage of. He knew that at one point the people of Israel had wanted to crown Gideon king. “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian’” (Judges 8:22 ESV). But Gideon had refused their offer to make him king, warning them, “The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23 ESV). But once Gideon was out of the way, Abimelech saw his opportunity. His father’s death had left a leadership void. But he had 69 brothers, all born to different mothers, with whom to contend. So took matters into his own hands and Abimelech murdered them all. Then his mother’s relatives, the Shechemites, crowned him king of Israel, and he reigned for three years. But his reign was not commissioned by God and it did not have the blessing of God. It would end in tragedy and with Abimelech’s violent death. And nothing Abimelech had done with his life left a lasting or positive impact on the nation of Israel. They remained unfaithful to God and continued their pattern of rebellion.

But in the book of Acts, we meet a man of a different sort. Actually, Paul was probably much like Abimelech at one point in his life. He was a self-made and ambitious man who was working his way to the top. Paul’s own story of his early life is quite transparent, revealing some of the more sordid details of his background. “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22:4-5 ESV). Paul was a professional bounty hunter whose job it was to round up Christians and thrown them in jail. But something happened. God got a hold on his life and transformed him from the inside out. That day on the road to Damascus, as Paul was making his way to carry out his original commission from the Jewish religious leadership, he received a new commission and calling from God Himself. “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15 ESV). Paul was given a clear charge by God to act as His spokesman and representative, carrying the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It is clear from the book of Judges that God uses men and women to accomplish His will. So far, we have seen Him call Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, and Gideon. These individuals were chosen by God to accomplish His divine will in the lives of His people. Each had a role to play in God’s plan. They were called and commissioned by God and had the hand of God on their lives and, as a result, they were able to deliver the people of God from oppression at the hands of their enemies. In the book of Acts, we see God call Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Timothy, Silas and John Mark. He chooses these men to accomplish His will and to carry out His work among both the Jews and the Gentiles. They did not aspire to their roles or seek them out. But God placed His hand on their lives and divinely empowered them to accomplish His will. Paul’s story is a vivid reminder of how God can take one man’s agenda and turn it on its ear. Paul had a plan for his life and he was working that plan out on a daily basis, doing what he felt was best for his own life. He even believed that his plan was well within God’s will, “being zealous for God” and persecuting “this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women” (Acts 22:3-4 ESV). But Paul’s way was not God’s way. He did not have the call of God on his life. But that would change. God would recommission him and reassign him for duty, providing him with new duties and responsibilities.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Like Abimelech, most of us can end up living our lives with a me-centered mindset that focuses on what is best for us. Abimelech didn’t really care about the people of Israel. And he most certainly didn’t care about his 69 brothers. He saw everyone as a potential roadblock to his own personal aspirations and plans. His desire for the crown was self-motivated and clearly not God-ordained. God had never called him to be king, but that didn’t stop Abimelech from doing everything in his power to see that it happen. At one point in his life, Paul believed he was doing the work and the will of God by arresting any and all who followed “The Way.” He saw this new-found sect called Christians as a nuisance and a potential threat to the one true religion: Judaism. He thought he was doing God a favor by wiping out this dangerous cult and had the blessing of the high priest and the whole council of elders. But he was wrong. He was not called by God. But his mistake would be rectified by God Himself. He would receive new marching orders and a new purpose for his life that would radically alter his future.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Every human being wants to know what the purpose of their life is – why they are on this planet. They seek to find significance and meaning for their existence. And without a clear calling from God, we all begin to slowly determine our own destiny. Abimelech was not content to be just one of the sons of Gideon and slowly fade into insignificance after the death of his father. He had grander aspirations, and if they included the murder of his brothers, so be it. Nothing was going to stand in his way. But he was not called or commissioned by God. He did not have the blessing or permission of God to do what he did, and it did not turn out well. As a believer in Jesus Christ, it is of utmost importance that I seek to know what it is that God would have me do. It is a dangerous thing to assume I know what is best for my life. God calls us and then commissions us. We are not free to establish out life plan and agenda. And yet, that is exactly what most of us do. We make life plans without consulting God. We determine and map out our destinies without giving God a second thought. It is as if we think God is somehow obligated to bless our decisions with His divine stamp of approval. But God doesn’t call without commissioning. He doesn’t choose without having a very good reason behind that choice. I am here for a reason. God didn’t just save me in order to guarantee a future place for me in heaven. He has work for me to do while I am here. The same thing is true of every believer. But are we seeking to know His will for our lives? Are we asking for Him to provide daily direction for our lives? Do we make plans without His input and set agendas without His permission? God calls. God commissions. Abimelech had no calling on his life from God. Paul did. And the outcome of their lives are radically different.

Father, You have called me and You have a job for me to do. Never let me forget that fact. Don’t let me waste my life living it according to my own agenda and plan. Help me to live with a constant ear to hear what You are saying. Give me a growing sensitivity to Your will and Your Spirit’s voice in my life. I want to live out my calling and my commission faithfully. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org