An Equal-Opportunity Savior.

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan. – Matthew 15:32-39 ESV

According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus left the region of Tyre and Sidon, where He had healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, and went to the region of Decapolis. The name of this area literaly meant “Ten Cities,” because it was based on an alliance form by ten cities located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. During Jesus’ day, these cities were predominantly Gentile and heavily influenced by the Greek culture. And it is most likely the Gentile character of the population that explains the disciples’ surprising behavior in this story.

For three days, the crowds had gathered around Jesus, many waiting their turn to receive healing from the hands of Jesus. Others were simply curious spectators who were drawn to the miracles of Jesus. Jesus, knowing that the people had grown hungry after three days in the desolate surroundings, expressed His concern to His disciples.

“I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they will faint along the way.” – Matthew 15:32 NLT

At first glance, the response of the disciples seems to indicate a remarkable lapse in memory.

And the disciples said to him, Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” – Matthew 15:33 ESV

This is very similar to what Philip had said when Jesus had commanded the disciples to feed the 5,000.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” – John 6:5 ESV

it’s seems highly unlikely that the disciples would have forgotten the earlier miracle. After all, they had each walked away from that experience carrying a basket full of leftover bread and fish. But this circumstance was different. They were in a Gentile region on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. In essence, they were in enemy territory and out of their comfort zone. The disciples were probably questioning the very fact that Jesus was performing miracles among non-Jews. And the thought of Him replicating what He had done for the Jewish crowds on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee was impossible for them to consider. After all, they had heard Jesus tell the Canaanite woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26 ESV). These people were non-Jews and, in the minds of the disciples, undeserving of Jesus’ compassion, let alone His miraculous feeding of them.

Recognizing His disciples reticence, but desiring to teach them yet another valuable lesson, Jesus asked them to report what they had in the way of food. Their meager supply included seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. This would have been their dinner. And the disciples could see what was coming. They had been through this drill before. But in this case, becaues of the location and the ethnic makeup of the crowd, they were not overly excited about the prospect of Jesus duplicating His earlier miracle. But Jesus took the loaves and fishes, broke them and gave them to the disciples to distribute among the people. To appreciate the full import of this scene, it is essential to recognize the extreme hatred that the Jews held toward Gentiles. Just coming into contact with a Gentile could make a Jew ceremonially unclean. And here was Jesus commanding His disciples to distribute their food to a crowd full of impure and unholy Gentiles.

But that was the whole point of the miracle. These were Gentiles and yet, Jesus was doing for them exactly what He had done for the Jews. And Matthew records that the people ate and were satisfied. Their need was met by the Messiah. Their racial background and religious affiliations did not matter. Jesus’ compassion was non-discriminatory. Not only had He been willing to heal their infirmities, He had chosen to satisfy their hunger. And it’s interesting to note that Matthew records no response on the part of the people. They didn’t thank Jesus. They didn’t marvel at what they had just witnessed. They simply ate and then Jesus sent them away.

This is in direct contrast to the reaction of the Jewish crowd in Jesus’ earlier miracle. When they had seen what Jesus had done, they exclaimed, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14 ESV). And John went on to explain that they desired to take Jesus by force and make Him their king. They weren’t grateful. They were simply greedy and wanting to see Jesus put His miraculous powers to work on a permanent basis on their behalf. But Jesus had simply walked away.

The Gentiles had no Messianic hopes and expectations. They weren’t looking for a Savior or anticipating the arrival of the Son of David. And yet, much to the chagrin of the disciples, Jesus treated these Gentiles the same way He had done the Jews. He showed them compassion and He fed them.

All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6 ESV). In these two miracles, Jesus had met the physical needs of the two crowds, filling their stomachs with food – and they had been satisfied. But in both cases, they had demonstrated no hunger or thirst for righteousness. Jews and Gentiles alike had come to Jesus in order to have their physical needs met, but they expressed no desire for or need of righteousness.

So much of what Jesus was doing was in order to teach His disciples. He was attempting to open their eyes to the reality of His real mission. Their eyes were focused on the here-and-now. They were still believing and hoping that Jesus was going to set up an earthly kingdom and restore the Jewish people to power and prominence. But Jesus was trying to reveal that His was a spiritual kingdom and it would be all-inclusive, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, the rich and poor, men and women, so-called saints and the sorriest of sinners.

After the feeding of the 5,000, the crowds showed up the next day and Jesus exposed the motivation behind their seeking of Him.

26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” – John 6:26-27 ESV

Then, Jesus went on to explain:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” – John 6:47-48 ESV

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:51 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:53-54 ESV

Jesus was revealing new truth to His disciples. He was attempting to get their focus off the temporal and on to the eternal. Their perspective was limited. They had a myopic view of life that centered on themselves as Jews. They were looking for a reestablished Jewish kingdom, made up of God-fearing Jews and ruled by their Messiah. But Jesus came to do far more than improve their lot in life. He came to offer eternal life. And not only to Jews, but to all mankind. But it was going to take time for the disciples to recognize the eternal nature of His kingdom and the ethnic diversity of its citizens.

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
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Giving To Get.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.– Matthew 6:1-4 ESV

Jesus has just dropped a bombshell on His listeners: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV). And as disconcerting and discomfiting as His words may have been, He was simply trying to explain to them about the true nature of godly righteousness – that alien, outside-of-yourself kind of righteousness that comes from God and can’t be manufactured, only faked. But how easily we trade in God’s view of perfection for man’s. How quickly we forget about what God expects of us and lower our standards. That is exactly what Jesus was confronting among the Jews in His audience. They had long ago traded internal holiness for external piety. They had learned to settle for the praise of men rather than the praise of God. They were stuck on a horizontal plain, viewing righteousness from a purely human standpoint, measuring themselves by comparing themselves with others. So, Jesus starts off this section of His message with a warning. He uses the word, “Beware.” In the Greek, it is prosoche, and it means “to beware, take heed, be attentive to.” Jesus used this word a lot.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” – Matthew 7:15 ESV

But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. – Matthew 10:17 NLT

“Watch out!” Jesus warned them. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6 NLT

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Luke 20:46 NLT

In essence, Jesus is telling His listeners to be perfect and to be careful. His use of the word, “beware” is designed to get their attention and to warn them to listen carefully to what He is about to say. Just as He had in the verses above, Jesus is trying to open the eyes of those sitting on the hillside, using stern words of warning to make His point.

If you recall, the word, “blessed” that Jesus used repeatedly in His opening remarks, really refers to the approval of God. So, those beatitudes or blessings could read like this:

Approved by God are the poor in spirit

Approved by God are those who mourn

Approved by God are the meek

Approved by God are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Approved by God are the merciful

Approved by God are the pure in heart

Approved by God are the peacemakers

Approved by God are the persecuted, reviled and slandered

We are to seek the approval of God, not men. We are to seek the reward of God, not men. Those who do will be part of the kingdom, be comforted, inherit the earth, be satisfied, receive mercy, see God and be called His Son, and enjoy a great reward in heaven. Jesus is speaking of the vast difference between man-made versus spirit-induced righteousness. Jesus says they are to beware of practicing their righteousness before other people. In other words, their motivation should not be recognition. Those who seek to do good things so that they will be deemed good people by those who see them, will have all the reward they are going to get. They’ll get the praise of men, but not the approval of God. That kind of man-pleasing, praise-seeking righteousness will get you no reward from God. Why? Because it is not the kind of righteousness He requires.

Now Jesus gives us three examples from real life. The first has to do with alms-giving, which was giving to the poor and needy as an act of mercy. The Greek word is eleēmosynē  and it refers to “a donation to the poor” and was sometimes called, “compassionateness.” Jesus is accusing His audience of giving to get merit, rather than giving out of mercy. Their giving to the poor was motivated by a desire for recognition. That was the reward they sought, and Jesus tells them that they will have the reward they seek: The praise and approval of men. But they will not receive the one reward they so desperately need: The approval and blessing of God.

The kind of man-made righteousness that Jesus is describing is done only to receive the praise of others. It is done to be seen and to garner recognition and reward. But Jesus tells them that, when you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In other words, keep your giving private. So private, that it will be like one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing. What a different mindset. Instead of seeking recognition, seek to keep your actions hidden. Do what you do, in secret – concealed, private, and hidden from the view of others. But know this, God will see what you are doing, and reward you – in His way and according to His own timing.

Jesus is not suggesting that there is anything wrong with alms-giving or charity. But anyone who thinks they are righteous because they give has missed the point and misunderstood what godly righteousness really is. In fact, giving in order to get recognition isn’t righteousness at all. At least, not according to God’s definition. And throughout this portion of His message, Jesus will emphasize that our greatest concern should be what God thinks and how He views our actions. In fact, Jesus will repeatedly emphasize that, when we give out of mercy, not in search of merit,  “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” While no one around us may know what we have done, God will and, more importantly, He will know why we have done it. He will know the motivation of our heart. And that is still the key behind what Jesus is trying to teach here. This is all about the heart. Giving to get noticed is about the head. It’s about ego, pride, self-esteem and measuring our worth by what others think of us.

But alms-giving was intended to be an act of mercy. It was giving to those in need, not so you could get something out of it. To give to those who do not have, just so you could have what you desire, is a twisted and warped way of life. It is ungodly and unrighteous. It reveals a love of self, but not a love of others. And Jesus warns, “Beware!” Don’t do it. That kind of giving is hypocritical, mere play-acting, intended to give the impression of mercy, but motivated out of the insatiable need for merit and men’s praise. And, Jesus says, practicing that kind of righteousness will get you exactly what you desire, but not what you need: God’s approval and blessing.

In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

We did nothing to earn our salvation. And we can do nothing to earn a right standing before God now. Our acts of righteousness do not earn us God’s favor. We perform acts of righteousness because we have already earned His favor and have His Spirit living within us. It is the righteousness of Christ, credited to us by God the Father, that allows us to do “the good things he planned for us long ago.” We have been made new so that we might live new lives, motivated not by merit and men’s praise, but out of willing obedience 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

Things Get Weird.

Thus says the Lord to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist. And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, “Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.” So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. And after many days the Lord said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.” Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

“You shall speak to them this word: ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Every jar shall be filled with wine.”’ And they will say to you, ‘Do we not indeed know that every jar will be filled with wine?’ Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will fill with drunkenness all the inhabitants of this land: the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will dash them one against another, fathers and sons together, declares the Lord. I will not pity or spare or have compassion, that I should not destroy them.’” –  Jeremiah 13:1-14 NLT

As if things weren’t already bad enough for Jeremiah, now God commands him to do something pretty bizarre, and it will be the first of a series of strange directives given to him by God. Jeremiah is told to buy a linen loincloth and put it on. Now, this is odd enough just from the standpoint that God is telling Jeremiah what to wear, but it nature of the item of clothing that makes this particularly odd. The Hebrew word is ‘ezowr and it referred to a “waist-cloth, the innermost piece of clothing” (“H232 – ‘ezowr – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It has been rendered a number of different ways by various Bible translation, including “girdle”, “waistband”, “waistcloth”, “sash”, “belt”, and “loincloth”. The bottom line was that was a personal piece of clothing, an undergarment as we might say. It was worn close to the skin and out of sight from anyone else’s view. It was an intimate, personal piece of clothing. And God has Jeremiah purchase a new linen loincloth and wear it. Then, Jeremiah was instructed to “go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock” (Jeremiah 13:4 ESV). There has been much debate over the years as to exactly where Jeremiah was instructed by God to hide the garment. The issue is the Hebrew word Pĕrath, which is translated here as “Euphrates”, and refers to the great river that flowed through the land of Babylon. If this is where God told Jeremiah to hide the loincloth, it would have required a 700-mile, round-trip journey to accomplish the task. And Jeremiah would have been required to make that long trek twice. Others believe that the word, “Perath” actually refers to a place known as Parah, not far from Jeremiah’s hometown. Regardless of where Jeremiah ended up going, he was told to hide the loincloth. And the important thing to note is that nowhere in all of this strange exchange between Jeremiah and God, did the prophet ever question the wisdom or instructions of God. He just did what he was told. And some time later, after the linen loincloth had had time to succumb to the elements, God instructed Jeremiah to go back and retrieve it. When he did, he discovered that it was ruined. The text tells us the garment was “was spoiled; it was good for nothing” (Jeremiah 13:7 ESV). The delicate fabric had rotted and decayed. The garment was useless. And that was God’s whole point.

“This shows how I will rot away the pride of Judah and Jerusalem. These wicked people refuse to listen to me. They stubbornly follow their own desires and worship other gods. Therefore, they will become like this loincloth—good for nothing!” – Jeremiah 13:9-10 NLT

Talk about an object lesson. This one spoke volumes. This intimate, highly personal garment, which Jeremiah had worn next to his own body, was now ruined, unrecognizable and completely worthless. It would no longer serve the original purpose for which it was created and bought. And God makes the connection quite clear.

“As a loincloth clings to a man’s waist, so I created Judah and Israel to cling to me, says the Lord. They were to be my people, my pride, my glory—an honor to my name. But they would not listen to me.” – Jeremiah 13:11 NLT

The people of Israel and Judah, the Hebrews, had been God’s chosen possession. They had enjoyed a personal and intimate relationship with Him. Like no other nation on the planet, they had been graced with the undeserved status as God’s children. But they had squandered that relationship, turning their backs on the very one who had chosen them. And now, God was going to remove them and hide them in the cleft of the rock, by the river Euphrates. They were going to be conquered by the Babylonians and taken captive. There they would “rot” away, suffering as slaves and no longer enjoying their intimate relationship with God Almighty. All because they had refused to listen to God.

Next, God moves from talking about linen loincloths to jars of wine. God tells Jeremiah to instruct the people of Judah to fill their wine jars with wine. And, of course, God knew that the people would respond sarcastically that they knew the wine jars were meant to hold wine. In other words, they would reject God’s command as unnecessary. They knew better. But God tells them that they didn’t know anything at all. They were missing the point.

“No, this is what the Lord means: I will fill everyone in this land with drunkenness—from the king sitting on David’s throne to the priests and the prophets, right down to the common people of Jerusalem. I will smash them against each other, even parents against children, says the Lord. I will not let my pity or mercy or compassion keep me from destroying them.” – Jeremiah 13:13-14 NLT

God was going to fill His people with the wine of His wrath. Just as wine jars were meant to hold wine, His people had shown that they were meant to hold His judgment. They would become like staggering drunks, inflicting harm on one another. And while God would still have compassion on them, He was not going to let it hinder His justice. They were not going to get away with their behavior. Their rebellion would be dealt with, once and for all. And the saddest part of it all, was that they had willingly given up their intimate connection with God and sacrificed their position as His chosen people, in exchange for idolatry and autonomy. Rather than submit to His will, they had chosen to live according to their own. Unwilling to accept the role He had chosen for them, they had decided to do things their way, and the result would be their own destruction. Like a ruined, worthless loincloth, they would lose their significance and value.

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

God’s Incomparable Compassion.

Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: “Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 12:14-17 ESV

One of the things we fail to realize when it comes to the sin and rebellion of Israel and Judah is that their behavior and God’s subsequent punishment of them had an impact on all those around them. They would not be the only ones to suffer as a result of their disobedience. When God sent the Babylonians as His disciplinary rod, they would prove to be non-discriminatory invaders, conquering anyone and everyone in their path, and taking them captive alongside the people of God. This would include Egyptians, Assyrians, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Arameans. The Babylonian invasion would have a devastating impact on all the nations surrounding Israel. And while many of these nations had played a role in Israel’s rebellion against God, intermarrying with the Hebrews and influencing them with their false gods, they would be shown compassion by God. These nations were all guilty of serving other gods and of being a continual source of temptation to the people of Israel. And they were not the only ones. The occupants of the land of Canaan, who were dwelling in the land when the people of Israel arrived, were also pagan idol worshipers. And God had warned His people about these nations and what they were to do to them:

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. 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 7:1-6 NLT

Of course, the Israelites had proven to be less-than-thorough in their obedience to God’s command. They ended up not eliminating those nations and were guilty of having intermarried with them and of worshiping their false gods. And many of these people would be conquered by the Babylonians and taken captive as well.

“Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. – Jeremiah 12:14 ESV

But the truly amazing thing is that God expresses His intent to show them all mercy, including the pagan nations who had led His people astray. He tells them:

“And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land.” – Jeremiah 12:15 ESV

After the 70 years in captivity that the people of Judah would have to endure, God would miraculously restore them to the land. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra, a remnant of the Israelites living in captivity would be given the opportunity to return home in order to repopulate the land and rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. And there would be others who would join them on their return home. But God had added an important caveat to His merciful restoration of these people to their former residences in the land of Canaan: They would have to learn to worship Him alone.

“And if these nations truly learn the ways of my people, and if they learn to swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’ (just as they taught my people to swear by the name of Baal), then they will be given a place among my people.” – Jeremiah 12:16 NLT

God was not going to allow them to return to the land and go back to their same old habits of worshiping false gods and leading His people astray. His rescue of them came with a price – acknowledgement of His status as the one true God. They would be required to learn the ways of Judaism and worship Yahweh with the same zeal and enthusiasm as they did their false gods. And their failure to do so would result in further discipline at the hands of God.

“But any nation who refuses to obey me will be uprooted and destroyed. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 12:17 NLT

God would prove Himself more than compassionate in allowing the Israelites and these other pagan nations to return from their captivity. They would have done nothing to have deserved it. In fact, the entire situation would be His doing. He would be the one to stir the heart of King Cyrus to send the people of Judah back to the land and, not only that, but to fund the entire trip.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:

“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:

“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:1-4 NLT

God had promised to restore them to the land and He would one day fulfill that promise. Not because they deserved it, but because He is the faithful, loving, compassionate and covenant-keeping God. And what God desired from His people was that they too be faithful, loving, compassionate and covenant-keepers. Even those who were from the pagan nations around Judah could enjoy the grace, mercy and compassion of God if they would only worship Him as the one true God. When God had placed Israel in the land of Canaan, He had told them:

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and worship him and cling to him. Your oaths must be in his name alone. He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes.” – Deuteronomy 10:17-21 NLT

God is impartial, just, loving, and compassionate to all. He expected His people to emulate His ways. And even in spite of Judah’s sins, God would still show them compassion, returning them to the land and restoring them to their former position as His children. And He was even willing to show compassion on those nations who had never worshiped Him as God. He would reveal to these godless nations just what a real God is like. He would prove Himself all-powerful, incredibly compassionate, and loving beyond measure. And all He asked in return was acknowledgement of His status as the one and only God.

There will always be those who want to make much of God’s wrath and harsh judgment. They will highlight God’s seeming injustice and bloodthirsty nature, questioning how a loving God could command the complete annihilation of entire people groups. But the God of the Bible is not one-dimensional. He cannot be caricatured as a vicious tyrant who loves to make people suffer. Yes, He is often portrayed in the Scriptures as a God of wrath who brings down His judgment in knee-shaking, seemingly merciless power. But that is an incomplete and inaccurate image of God. His incredible acts of mercy are not to be ignored or overlooked. His undeserved expressions of compassion are not to be minimized. He is the sovereign, holy and righteous God of the universe who has repeatedly and patiently put up with the sins of mankind. He has endured constant unfaithfulness and ingratitude. He has watched as those He has made have turned their backs on Him, while they cleverly come up with their own gods to worship in His place. He has showered grace upon grace, providing a planet on which to live, food, shelter, rain, heat, sunlight, and a host of other undeserved blessings – only to have those whom He has made to treat Him with disdain or to dismiss Him as non-existent. But His compassion remains incomparable. His love endures.

Where is another God like you,
    who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
    overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
    because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:18-20 NLT

 

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

Dead Plant and a Dead Heart.

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Jonah 4:5-11 ESV

Having spoken his mind with God, Jonah left the city and made himself a temporary lean-too under which he could rest. But he also anticipated being able to watch something happen back in the city. The text says that he wanted to “see what would become of the city” (Jonah 4:65 ESV). Perhaps Jonah believed that he had persuaded God to change His mind and destroy the city after all, because God had not taken him up on his request to kill him. Jonah was still alive and so he probably had hopes that their destruction might still come true. Or he could have been waiting to see if the Ninevites’ repentance would run its course and they would for right back to their evil ways. If that happened, he probably assumed God would either destroy them or send him back with another message of impending doom. Either way, Jonah was wanting to see God bring down His wrath on the people of Nineveh. But as before, Jonah was to learn some things about the God he thought he knew so well.

God created a plant to grow up around Jonah’s little shelter, to provide him with shade from the intense heat of the day. In the Hebrew, the word for “plant” is very specific. It refers to a gourd or cucumber-like plant that begins very small, but grows very quickly. According to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, it was “a tall biennial plant, beautiful and quick-growing, with a soft and succulent stalk, a slight injury of which would cause the plant to die.” In what was probably a miraculously short period of time, the plant had grown to such a degree that it provided Jonah with shade and what is described as salvation “from his discomfort.” What is interesting to note is that the word translated “discomfort” is actually the Hebrew word, ra`, which can be translated, “evil” or “wickedness”. The plant, small and insignificant as it started out to be, had become a source of God-ordained salvation from wickedness for Jonah. This point should not be overlooked. This was going to be part of God’s divine lesson for the stubborn, hate-filled prophet.

But what was the wickedness or evil from which the plant rescued Jonah? His own anger and hate. Jonah despised the Ninevites. He had from the very beginning and I believe it was for this very reason that God called Jonah to be the one to take the message to them. God knew full well the condition of Jonah’s heart when He commissioned him. He was aware of Jonah’s feelings for the people of Nineveh and the nation of Assyria in general. And it is just like God to take someone like Jonah and make him the messenger to a people he can’t stand. In a similar way, God took Paul, who had begun his career as a persecutor of the followers of Christ and made him the primary messenger of the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul had been a faithful Jew committed to the Hebrew faith and commissioned by the high priest to hunt down and arrest Christians. But God would convert Paul and recommission him, giving him a new job to perform: Taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike. God saved Paul from his wickedness and gave him a new heart and a new mission in life.

So, God sent the plant for Jonah, and he was very glad. But Jonah’s pleasure was based on his relief from physical discomfort alone. He was happy to have the shade and a break from the scorching heat. But Jonah was still oblivious to his real problem: His own evil attitude. Jonah had been guilty of accusing God of evil. Verse one of this chapter tells us of Jonah’s anger with God over His sparing of the people of Nineveh, and that verse could actually be translated, “It was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” According to Jonah, what God had done was wicked. And yet, God is trying to show Jonah that he is the one with the evil, wicked heart. God’s decision to spare Nineveh had left Jonah “exceedingly angry”. The arrival of the plant had made Jonah “exceedingly glad”. What an interesting and insightful contrast.

And when God sends a worm to attack the plant and destroy it, Jonah loses his shade and his will to live. We’re told that “he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live’” (Jonah 4:8 ESV). This would be the third time for Jonah to have a death wish. He had commanded the sailors to throw him overboard in order that he might die. When God had spared the Ninevites, he had asked God to take his life. And once again, he sees death as preferable to living with what he deems as unacceptable conditions. Jonah was a man who didn’t like it when things failed to go his way. I don’t think Jonah had a death wish, it is just that he had a strong aversion to having his will resisted or his desires fulfilled. 

So, God asks him a question that is very similar to one He had asked before: “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” (Jonah 4:9 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” He is once again asking Jonah if his anger is justified. Did he have a right to be angry about the plant? And Jonah responded, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die” (Jonah 4:9 ESV). Jonah had lost his shade and he was ready to die because of it. I would say that is a bit of an overreaction. Yes, he was suffering from the scorching wind and sun, sent by God, and he was feint from the experience, but was it enough reason to prefer death over life?

And God cuts to the chase, exposing Jonah’s real problem. He says, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly” (Jonah 4:10 NLT). Most likely, Jonah had been staring at the withered plant, his former protector from the sun, and was troubled with its demise. He lamented its untimely destruction. And God reveals to Jonah the absurdity of his emotions. Jonah was more upset over a dead plant than he would have been about the destruction of hundreds of thousands of people. He would have rejoiced at their deaths, but he mourned over the withering of a simple plant. And God puts it all in perspective for Jonah, telling him:

“But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” – Jonah 4:11 NLT

God confronted Jonah about the condition of his evil heart. He had no compassion for the people of Nineveh. In fact, Jonah didn’t even care about all the livestock within the walls of the city that would have died as a result of any destruction God had brought. It is as if God was saying, “You didn’t care about the people of Nineveh, but couldn’t you have at least asked for the livestock to be spared?” No, Jonah wanted everyone and everything within the walls of Nineveh destroyed. He wanted the entire city wiped out. He had no pity, mercy, or love for them. But God did. The people of Nineveh didn’t know their right hand from their left. In other words, they were morally ignorant. They were not the people of God. They didn’t know any better. They had not been given the laws of God. They had no Levitical priesthood or sacrificial system. They were pagans who were ignorant of the ways of God, and yet, they had believed God and repented of their wickedness. And God had showed them mercy.

Jonah had been willing to weep over the death of a plant, but had no problem wishing for the deaths of more than 100,000 people. He had a wrong perspective. He had a wicked and evil heart. He was not seeing things as God does. And yet, Jonah was the one who had admitted that God was “a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people” (Jonah 4:2 NLT). Jonah just wanted to be the one to decide who would be the beneficiaries of God’s mercy, compassion and kindness. He wanted to be the one who determined who got saved and who got destroyed. But that was God’s job. It was God who had told Moses, “For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose” (Exodus 33:19 NLT). And the apostle Paul would quote from that very same passage, when he wrote, “For God said to Moses, ‘I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.’ So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it” (Romans 9:15-16 NLT). It is up to God to decide who will receive His mercy. It is not earned or deserved. Jonah had done nothing to deserve the plant that had provided him with shade. In fact, what he had deserved was the wrath of God for his rebellion, insubordination and accusations of evil against God. But God had shown Him mercy. And God had shown mercy to the undeserving people of Nineveh.

The real message of the book of Jonah is not the repentance of the people of Nineveh. That was really an object lesson for Jonah and the people of Israel. They had been reluctant to listen to the prophets of God, refusing their warnings of coming destruction and calls to repentance. And yet, the wicked Assyrians, including their king, had heard the message of God, repented of their wickedness and mourned before Him in sorrow and fear. The people of Israel were no less deserving of God’s judgment, but they somehow felt they were immune from destruction. They were God’s chosen people. But God will show mercy on whom He will show mercy. He will spare those whom He chooses to spare. What He is looking for are repentant, broken hearts. As the great king, David, wrote after his sin with Bathsheba:

“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” – Psalm 51:17 NLT

 

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

No Room Or Reason For Pride.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. – Romans 12:3-8 ESV

Paul has spent the entire letter up to this point defending man’s justification based on the grace and goodness of God, not human effort. Both Jews and Gentiles are made right with God the same way – through faith in Christ alone. It is not based on heritage, race, background, income, achievement or any other human means of measurement. God has said, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15 ESV). So Paul concludes, “then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16 ESV). No one deserves God’s mercy. If we deserved it, it would no longer be mercy, because by definition, mercy is a choice, not an obligation. When Paul speaks of the mercy of God, he means “the mercy and clemency of God in providing and offering to men salvation by Christ” (“Greek Lexicon :: G1656 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Dec, 2015. <http://www.blueletterbible.orghttps://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm>). God’s mercy is undeserved. In fact, rather than giving us what we deserve, which is the essence of mercy, He gives us what we do NOT deserve: Grace, in the form of salvation and justification made possible through faith in His Son. And that grace is the work of God, not man. And Paul emphasizes that without God’s mercy, no man would ever experience a right relationship with Him. “For these is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is the Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:12-13 ESV).

So there is no reason for anyone to think more highly of himself. The Gentiles were not to become prideful because God had taken away the message of salvation from the Jews and given it to them. The Jewish believers were not to boast in their heritage as descendants of Abraham. None of that mattered. Instead, each was to “think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3 ESV). Our place in the body of Christ is not based on the amount of faith we conjure up. It is not a competition and it not intended to be a comparison. We are in Christ because of the mercy and grace of God. We have been placed in the body of Christ by God, each “having gifts that differ according to the grace give to us” (Romans 12:6 ESV). Even our spiritual gifts have been given to us by God. We didn’t bring them with us. Spiritual gifts are not human abilities on steroids. They are supernatural enablements, provided by the Spirit of God. And they are intended for the building up of the body of Christ. Paul told the Ephesian believers that God “makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT).

Our gifts are given to us by the grace of God, and we are to use them humbly and selflessly. They are given to us by God, not to boost our egos or inflate our sense of self-worth, but to build up the body of Christ. In the church in Corinth, Paul had to deal with a misuse and misunderstanding of the spiritual gifts, where they had turned them into badges of honor. The various gifts had become divisive, with members of the church bragging over the particular gifts that they had. Paul had to sternly remind them, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). Every one of them had a spiritual gift “empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11 ESV). There was no reason to boast or brag. In fact, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20 ESV).

Our salvation is the work of God. Our right standing before God is the result of His mercy, not our merit. Our place in the body of Christ was determined by Him, not us. Our spiritual gift was given to us by His Spirit and intended for the building up of the body of Christ. There is nothing about our relationship with Christ or our place in His family for which we have a right to boast. We should use our gifts “according to the grace given to us.” A recognition of God’s grace should always motivate our actions and attitudes. Like the psalmist, we should daily remind ourselves, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3 ESV). Not because we deserved it. But because of His marvelous grace.

Restore Compassionately.

If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). – 1 Kings 8:46-51 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

Solomon knew that sin was inevitable and unavoidable, “for there is no one who does not sin.” He was not naive enough to think that the nation of Israel could go on indefinitely without breaking God’s commands and experiencing His judgment. And he was well aware of the punishment reserved by God for repeated rebellion against Him. God had warned that failure to obey Him would result in exile from Him. “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away” (Deuteronomy 28:36-37 ESV). The repeated and unrepentant sins of the people would result in the fall of the nation of Israel and their eventual slavery to their captors. That scenario had to look extremely unlikely to Solomon as he stood in the splendor of Jerusalem surrounded by its protective walls, beautiful buildings and unprecedented affluence and peace. But Solomon was wise. He understood the nature of man and the character of God. Men were prone to sin and found faithfulness to God difficult to maintain. And God was true to His word. What He said He would do, He would do. His warnings were real and were to be taken seriously. So Solomon, as he prayed his prayer of dedication for the temple, gave yet another possible scenario – this one illustration a worst-case possibility. What would God do when His people, now in God-ordained captivity because of their sin, called out to Him in repentance, pleading for forgiveness. What will God do if His people call out to Him, saying, “we have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly?” It was Solomon’s hope that God would not only hear from heaven, but compassionately forgive and restore them. Solomon was counting on the unlimited mercy of God, that in spite of the unfaithfulness of the people, God would remain faithful, refusing to turn His back on those whom He had called out and made His own.

When Solomon finished praying this prayer of dedication, He got an answer. God responded to each and everyone one of his questions with a resounding, “Yes!” He would tell Solomon, “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT). When you think about it, Solomon was asking something incredibly bold. He was asking God to “forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you.” In other words, if the people found themselves in captivity, it would have been as a result of their repeated rebellion against God. They would be suffering the punishment they deserved. But Solomon was asking God to forgive and forget all that they had done to receive the punishment they so richly deserved. And amazingly, God said that if they would simply humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn from their sin, He would hear, forgive and restore them. What amazing compassion. What unbelievable mercy and grace. It reminds me of the wonderful words of Paul when he wrote, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). God knew sin was inevitable and unavoidable for man. That’s why He sent His own Son to pay the penalty for man’s rebellion. He sent Jesus to bear the punishment that mankind deserved. Jesus made it possible for man, once separated from God by sin, to be restored to a right relationship with Him. God showed compassion in the face of man’s rebellion. He did for us what we could never have done for ourselves. Just a few verses earlier in Romans, Paul wrote, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners” (Romans 5:6 NLT). And all we had to do was turn to Him in our weakness and acknowledge our need for Him. The result? He restored us compassionately. He heard our cry, forgave our sins, and made us right with Him. What an amazing, compassionate, loving, merciful God we serve.

Philippians 2:12-18

Shining Brighter Together.

Philippians 2:12-18

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world. – Philippians 2:14-15 NET

According to Paul, our lives should reflect the reality of our salvation. Jesus didn’t just reserve us a permanent place in the life to come. He provided a means by which we can experience abundant life in this life – right here, right now. He has placed His Spirit within us so that we have no excuse if our lives fail to reflect our new nature. But some of us are a bit surprised when we learn that living the Christian life is hard work. I’m not quite sure where we got the impression that becoming a Christ-follower was going to be easy. It certainly wasn’t for the disciples, Paul, or any of the members of the early church. Paul was brutally honest about the high call to commitment required of all believers. He told the Philippians, “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear” (Philippians 2:12b NLT). A more familiar translation of that passage might be, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Either way you look at it, there is a clear responsibility given to the believer to do his or her part in the process of sanctification. While it is true that we can no more sanctify ourselves than we can save ourselves, there is still a vital part that we are to play in the process of our transformation into Christ-likeness.

One of the key words left out in the New Living Translation’s reading of this passage is the word, “therefore” that appears at the very beginning of verse 12. It is the Greek word hoste, a word of transition that means, “now then.” It ties the verses to come with the ones that just preceded it. Paul had just finished talking about the mind of Christ. His was an attitude of humility, service and sacrifice. And as a result of His life of obedience, even unto death, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor. He is worthy of honor and glory. His name is above all other names. He is the Lord of all – the one who all will eventually recognize and kneel before. As a result of that fact, Paul tells the Philippians, their behavior should be different. They should want to put every effort into seeing to it that their salvation, placing their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, will produce fruit. Paul tells them to work out their salvation, not work for it. There’s a huge difference between those two phrases. Believers are to eagerly put effort into the cultivation of their new life in Christ. Paul told Titus, “all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good” (Titus 3:8 NLT). As always when reading the letters of Paul, we must constantly remind ourselves to keep the content within its context. Paul is writing to the church – the corporate body of believers in Philippi. He has been telling them to not live selfishly, focusing on their own interests, but instead they were to focus on the needs of one another. They were to love one another and work together with one mind and purpose. Paul is still addressing the body of believers. He is calling the church to display the reality of their salvation through tangible acts of kindness, compassion and love.

When Paul tells them to “do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world,” he is speaking to the entire body, not just to individuals. This passage is a call to Christ-like community. We shine the brightest as believers when we do so together, not alone. The Christian life is to be a corporate experience, not a solitary one. We are children of God together, not just individually. How sad it is when our earthly children can’t get along. Think about how much it saddens you as a parent when your own children can’t seem to get along. How much more so for God when His adopted children, who have been given so much, fail to love another and live in harmony with one another.

Paul tells his readers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. There should be a real sense of awe, reverence and legitimate fear in the lives of all believers when they consider what Christ has done for them. Paul describes Christ as being in the place of highest honor. He has the name that is above all other names. One day all men will kneel before Him, acknowledging His Lordship. The day is coming when every tongue in heaven and on earth will confess that He is the Lord. As believers, because of what has happened in our lives as a result of Christ’s work on the cross, we know exactly who He is right now. So we should pursue our own personal sanctification and that of the corporate body of Christ with a sense of awe, reverence and fear – for what He has done and what He is doing in our midst. Our lack of love and unity is a slap in the face of Christ Himself, reflecting our disdain for His sacrificial death on our behalf. Our failure to live as lights in the world discredit His redemptive work on the cross, giving the world the impression that His death was ineffectual. So because of who Christ is and what He has done, we should work out, pursue, and make as our highest priority, our ongoing transformation into His likeness. And nowhere does our Christ-like character show up best than in the community of fellow believers.

Father, Your Son has done so much for us, the least we can do for Him is to pursue our transformation into His likeness with a vengeance. Forgive us for making our transformation into His image a low priority, allowing too many other things to distract us. You have called us to be lights in this world, shining out and illuminating the darkness around us as we live out our lives in love and unity. We shine so much brighter when we shine together. Show us how to work out our salvation together. Show us how we can continue to grow in Christ-likeness together, not just alone. Amen.

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

Proverbs 11b

 

Generous Living.

“The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” – Proverbs 11:25 NLT

The true spirit of generosity is in short supply these days. Sure, there are still plenty of people giving money for worthy causes and writing checks to underwrite everything from political parties to homeless shelters, but biblical generosity seems to be something different altogether. There is a certain selflessness and sacrificial attitude that accompanies biblical generosity. It is not giving out of a surplus or for the tax benefits, it is having a heart of concern and care for those less fortunate and then doing something about it – willingly, gladly and generously. It is giving based on kindness, not coercion. “Your kindness will reward you…” (Proverbs 11:17 NLT). It is generosity that is motivated by compassion, not compensation. In other words, the truly generous person does not give to get. Yet, interestingly enough, God promises to reward those who give with blessings. They will prosper. They will be refreshed. Their willingness to give freely will result in a supernatural supply that allows them continue to do so. It reminds me of the old adage, “You can’t out give God.”

And the kind of generosity we are talking about here is not limited to money. We can be generous with our time, talents, energy, and other resources. Some people are generous with their possessions, making their homes, cars and other resources available to anyone and everyone, because they understand they are gifts from God to use for His glory and the good of others. Others give of their time, even though they are just as busy as the next person. They realize that people are more important than deadlines giving ourselves away for the good of others is more important than getting things done.

The opposite of generosity is stinginess, and stinginess is motivated by selfishness. The stingy person is unwilling to share because they are too self-consumed and self-centered to allow themselves to think about the needs of others. Stingy people tend to put their hope in their possessions. They fear losing them. They are convinced that if they were to share what they have, their worth would somehow be diminished. So they keep it all to themselves, hording their time, talents and treasures for their own use. But “riches won’t help in the day of judgment…” (Proverbs 11:4 NLT). “Be stingy and lose everything…” (Proverbs 11:24 NLT). “Trust in your money and down you go!” (Proverbs 11:28 NLT).

True generosity requires a regenerated heart. Only God can transform a naturally selfish heart into a selfless one. He alone can give us the capacity to give compassionately. Godly people are generous people. They are giving people. Because their God is a generous, giving God. They have a refreshing influence over others. Their generosity is contagious, spreading through the community and pointing others to the generosity of God Himself.

Father, You are a generous, giving God. You gave Your own Son so that we might have new life. You give us undeserved grace and mercy each and every day of our lives. Make us a generous people who gladly give of ourselves as a reflection of Your generosity to us. Amen

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

 

Proverbs 31b

Speak Up. Step Out.

“Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” – Proverbs 31:8 MSG

There are far worse traits than apathy. When we get to the point that we just don’t care or refuse to be bothered by anyone or anything, we have lost our purpose for existence. God created us to do good works. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT). But before we can do good, we have to care. We have to be willing to make a difference. This is a repetitive theme in Proverbs. “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, ‘Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you'” (Proverbs 3:27-28 NLT).

All men are made in the image of God. We have the ability to understand right from wrong. We are fully equipped to see injustice and acts of unrighteousness against those who can’t defend themselves. And those of us who are Christ followers should have a special affinity for the hopeless and helpless because it was “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8) that Christ came and died for us. It was when we were in our most helpless and hopeless condition that the Son of God came to save us and give us new life.

God loves all men, but He has a special place in His heart for poor, the downtrodden, the innocent, and those who find themselves suffering injustice in the world. He commands us to care for widows and orphans. He demands that we give special attention to the poor and needy. Here in Proverbs we are reminded, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed” (Proverbs 31:8 NLT). We have a God-given responsibility to care for those who find themselves incapable of helping or providing for themselves. To ignore them is to ignore the very heart of God. In his letter, James reminds us that “pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27 NLT). Isn’t it interesting that James lumps caring for orphans and widows together with refusal to be corrupted by the world? Why? Because the world we live in is antithetical to God and His ways. In our world the poor suffer in silence, the weak get run over, the helpless have no hope, and the needy receive no aid. They become the silent victims of injustice as the world looks on in apathy. But God calls us to speak up and step out. He expects us to do something about the poor in our midst. He wants us to use our voices and our hands to remedy the situation, not just notice it.

Once again, James gives us further insight into this issue. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ — but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:16-17 NLT). Awareness of need is useless without action to meet the need. Noticing poverty, but refusing to do anything about is not only cruel, it’s unrighteous. It’s unjust. But we are called to “ensure justice for those being crushed.” We need to speak up and step out on behalf of the poor and helpless. What will that look like for you today?

Father, this is a hard one for me. I confess that I am far more likely to say, “Have a good day, stay warn and eat well” than I am to do something about the poverty and need I see all around me. Too often I just assume that someone else will take care of it. Give me a special sensitivity to those I come into contact with today who fit into the category of poor and helpless. Let me look beyond just physical poverty and notice the spiritual poverty of those in my world. Let me step into the lives of those who are both physically and spiritually helpless and provide them with hope. Help me make a difference. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org