When Things Get Personal.

Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.”

Hear me, O Lord,
    and listen to the voice of my adversaries.
Should good be repaid with evil?
    Yet they have dug a pit for my life.
Remember how I stood before you
    to speak good for them,
    to turn away your wrath from them.
Therefore deliver up their children to famine;
    give them over to the power of the sword;
let their wives become childless and widowed.
    May their men meet death by pestilence,
    their youths be struck down by the sword in battle.
May a cry be heard from their houses,
    when you bring the plunderer suddenly upon them!
For they have dug a pit to take me
    and laid snares for my feet.
Yet you, O Lord, know
    all their plotting to kill me.
Forgive not their iniquity,
    nor blot out their sin from your sight.
Let them be overthrown before you;
    deal with them in the time of your anger. Jeremiah 18:18-23 ESV

There is a fine balance that each follower of Christ must maintain while living in this fallen world. We are surrounded by the presence of sin and by those who commit sin. It’s impossible to go a single day without being exposed to the reality of sin’s pervasive presence in our society. It is everywhere. And one of the risks we face is becoming immune to it. In essence, we become anesthetized to all the sin from our constant exposure to it and our failure to confess its presence in our own lives. So, we find ourselves complacent about sin and adopt the attitude: “Boys will be boys”. In our hearts, we know that God hates sin, but we can find ourselves developing a soft spot in our hearts for it. We watch TV shows that glorify and glamorize sinful behavior. We get exposed to a daily avalanche of news graphically describing and depicting sinful activity in our community and world, leaving us numb and desensitized to its gravity. News footage of wars, bombings, murders, and violence of all kinds are a normal part of our day. And it no longer shocks or grieves us. It doesn’t impact us. And it doesn’t seem to bother us that all the sin in our world, including our own, is a frontal assault against God. It is an orchestrated attempt by the prince of this world, Satan, to undermine and overthrow the sovereign rule of God over His creation. Sin bothers God, but why doesn’t it seem to bother us? And why is it that we can’t seem to grasp the concept that all sin flies in the face of God’s authority as creator. It is rebellion against Him. It is lawlessness – a willful breaking of His ordained will for mankind. But far too often, believers find themselves living in self-imposed silence, refusing to speak up about the sin in the camp. We are called to expose sin, not tolerate it. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible… – Ephesians 5:11-13 ESV

God warned his prophet, Ezekiel:

“If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.” – Ezekiel 3:18 NLT

God held Ezekiel to a high standard. He was God’s spokesman, commissioned to deliver the word of God to the people of God. His job was not an easy one. He suffered with the same struggles as Jeremiah, finding himself living as a social outcast and pariah. No one wanted to hear what he had to say. They loathed him and his message. But as God’s prophet, Ezekiel was obligated to speak up. So was Jeremiah. And so are we. Paul reminds us of our God-ordained responsibility to act as His representatives and mouthpieces in the midst of this sin-filled world.

And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT

It’s difficult to be a reconciler and confront people with their sin if you’re constantly conforming to sin yourself. And an attitude of complacency about sin makes it hard to convince others of the need for a Savior from sin.

So, there is always the problem of not taking sin seriously. But then, there is another risk of taking all sin personally. That seems to be what Jeremiah is wrestling with in this passage. He expresses a heart-felt prayer to God revealing his very real and intense desire that the people of Judah get exactly what they deserve, and he pulls no punches.

let their children starve! (vs 21 NLT)

Let them die by the sword! (vs 21 NLT)

…Let their wives become childless widows. (vs 21 NLT)

…Let their old men die in a plague… (vs 21 NLT)

…let their young men be killed in battle! (vs 21 NLT)

…Let screaming be heard from their homes as warriors come suddenly upon them. (vs 22 NLT)

…Don’t forgive their crimes and blot out their sins. (vs 23 NLT)

…Let them die before you. (vs 23 NLT)

…Deal with them in your anger. (vs 23 NLT)

Wow! I would say it’s safe to say that Jeremiah was taking things a bit personally. He was calling down the judgment of God on the people of Judah. But it’s important to note why he was doing so. Listen to what he says:

They have dug a pit to kill me,
though I pleaded for them
    and tried to protect them from your anger. – Jeremiah 18:20 NLT

For they have dug a pit for me
    and have hidden traps along my path. – Jeremiah 18:22 NLT

Lord, you know all about their murderous plots against me. – Jeremiah 18:23 NLT

Things had gotten a bit too personal for Jeremiah. And his calls for judgment seem to have had less to do with their sins against God than their sins against him. He was angry and upset with all the personal threats. He reminded God that he had just been doing his job. He self-righteously claims, “I pleaded for them and tried to protect them from your anger” (Jeremiah 18:20 NLT). And how had they responded to his good efforts? By repaying him with evil. So, he was done with them. He was ready for God to do every single thing He had threatened to do and, as far as Jeremiah was concerned, the sooner, the better. Wipe them all out.

But wait a minute. When had this become all about Jeremiah? At what point did the sins of the people become transgressions against the prophet of God rather than God Himself? Jeremiah had let this all become personal. And it began when the sins of the people started affecting him personally. As long as their sins were against one another, Jeremiah was far more tolerant. He was content to keep speaking on behalf of God and warning the people about God’s pending judgment. But when their attention was turned on him and he began to feel the white-hot rage or their resentment, he suddenly became God’s champion for righteous judgment. Gone were his pleas for mercy. He was no longer interceding on behalf of the people, asking God to forgive them for their sins. Once it got personal, Jeremiah demanded judgment. He wanted payback.

And the two extremes we’ve just looked at are ones we must avoid at all costs as Christ-followers. We cannot afford to become complacent with sin, in our lives or in the world around us. Sin is a personal affront against God. And we know what the outcome of all sin is: Death. Eternal separation from God. So, as Paul told us, we are to always keep in mind that we have been given a task by God to reconcile lost people to Himself. We have been given this wonderful message of reconciliation: that God is no longer counting people’s sins against them. Instead, when they accept His Son as their Savior and the one who paid their sin debt, they are made right with God. Their sins are forgiven and they become like we are: children of God. So, we are to constantly spread the message: Come back to God! We are to call people to repentance. Rather than complacency, we are to show compassion.

And instead of taking the sins of others personally, we are to recognize that their sin is against God. While we may suffer personally as a result of the sins of others, we are not to seek vengeance. Instead, Paul reminds us:

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 4:21-32 NLT

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. – Romans 12:17-19 NLT

Jeremiah was angry, and his anger had become personal. He wasn’t upset with how the people were treating God. This had become all about him. He wasn’t interested in reconciliation. He wanted revenge and retribution. But all sin is ultimately against God. And all sinners are equally rebellious to God. It does no good to ignore their sin. But it also does no good to take their sin personally. Their sin is the result of a broken relationship with God. They need reconciliation and restoration with God. And like Jeremiah, we have been given the only message that counts: Come back 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. Petersoz

The Pervasive Presence of Pride.

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. – 1 Corinthians 4:6-13 ESV

While some may have preferred the rhetoric of Apollos over that of Paul, there is little doubt that Paul had a way with words. He could craft a sentence with the best of them, choosing his words carefully and cleverly, to see that his point was clearly received. He was adept at using sarcasm if he deemed it necessary to get his message across. And in this passage, he wield his words like a sword to cut his audience down to size, because they had a formidable pride problem. Multiple times in this letter, he uses the Greek word,  φυσιόω (physioō), which means “to be puffed up, to bear one’s self loftily, be proud” (“G5448 – physioō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). The problem within the church in Corinth wasn’t just that they were taking sides by preferring one spiritual leader over another, it was that their motivation was based on pride. It was an inherent desire to see themselves as somehow better or spiritually superior to one another. The very moment they chose to follow a particular leader, deeming him somehow better than the other, they were guilty of judging one another. If a fellow member of the church didn’t side with them in their choice of spiritual leader, they would deem him as less enlightened. We already know that their factionalism was causing quarrels within the church. So Paul boldly and bluntly confronts their pride problem.

Paul says, with tongue planted firmly in his cheek, “You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in God’s kingdom without us!” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). They were acting as if they had already arrived. They had nothing more to learn. Nothing to gain. Rather than acting as humble servants and stewards, they were pridefully posturing themselves as spiritually superior over their brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s words remind me of those spoken by Jesus against the church in Laodicea: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17 ESV). Jesus went on to tell them, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Revelation 3:18 ESV). Like the church in Corinth, they had a pride problem as well

Paul goes on to contrast the attitude of the Corinthians with that of the men who had been ministering the gospel to them.

Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ!

We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed.

Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm.

We are often beaten and have no home.

We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living.

We bless those who curse us.

We are patient with those who abuse us.

We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment. – 1 Corinthians 4:10-13 NLT

In a way, the Corinthians were living as if their future reward was to be experienced in this life. They were acting as if they had already arrived spiritually. They saw themselves as wise and powerful. They put a high value in honor and esteem. Material things were important to them. And yet Paul paints a very different picture of what the life of a believer should look like. Our time on this earth should be marked by humility, service, and even suffering, as we follow Christ. Our relationship with Christ will lead to us being despised, rejected, and ridiculed. We will be misunderstood and misrepresented. Paul displays a high degree of transparency when he states, “ I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike” (1 Corinthians 4:9 NLT). He didn’t seen himself at the head of the parade, marching in triumph and being lauded as a victorious general, but as a captive prisoner, being dragged in chains and humiliation before the cheers and jeers of the enemy.

Following Christ is not about pride and prominence. It should not lead to arrogance and a sense of having arrived. Our journey to heaven will be marked by pain and suffering, even loss. Like Jesus, our glorification must be preceded by humiliation. Suffering must come before glory. But the Corinthians had chosen to reverse the order. They wanted to lead the parade. They desired to be recognized and rewarded now, not later. They were choosing honor over humility, present recognition over future reward, the praise of men over the praise of God. Which brings us back to the words of Jesus spoken against the church in Laodicea:

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”  – Revelation 3:15-16 NLT

Their love for God was lukewarm. Their attitude toward their call as followers of Christ was apathetic. Like the Corinthian believers, they had become dangerously satisfied with who they were and how far they had come. But Paul, like Jesus, was not willing to allow them to remain in a state of spiritual complacency marked by misplaced pride. He desired more for them. He demanded more of them. Because God was not done with them.

Stirred Up To Grow Up.

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. – 2 Peter 1:12-18 ESV

Peter wrote with a sense of urgency. He somehow knew that his days were numbered, so he wanted to make sure his audience got his message loud and clear. Essentially, Peter was going to use every moment he had to “stir up” those to whom he was writing. The Greek word Peter used is διεγείρω (diegeirō) and it means “to wake up, awaken, arouse (from sleep)” (“G1326 – diegeirō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). It could also be used metaphorically to refer to arousing or stirring up the mind. He wanted them to think about and constantly consider the qualities he had just mentioned: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. He wanted them to “practice these qualities” so that they would not fall (2 Peter 1:10). Peter knew that they were going to face difficult times. He was well aware that, after his departure, they would be on their own. His letter was intended to be a lasting reminder and source of constant encouragement for them to persevere. He wanted them to be able to “recall these things” long after he was gone, so that they would not become “ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). He knew that “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). Failing to think about and to supplement these qualities to one’s faith would eventually lead to spiritual apathy and regression rather than transformation.

So as long as Peter had life and breath, he was going to harp on the need for his brothers and sisters in Christ to live their lives in such a way that the “divine power” granted to them by God would show up in these ever-increasing qualities. He fully expected them to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). And what he had been writing to them was not something he had made up. They were not the teachings of a man, but the divinely inspired words of God. One of Peter’s greatest concerns for his audience was that there were already those who were teaching them “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV). They were claiming to be prophets of God and teachers sent from God. So it was essential that Peter establish his credentials and defend his credibility. He had been a disciple of Jesus Christ. He had been an eye-witness to His miracles, a partner in His ministry, and a recipient of Christ’s great commission. Not only that, Peter had been given a personal directive from Jesus Himself to “Feed my sheep” (John 21:18 ESV). Peter reminded his readers that it was he, James and John who had been “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV). The three of them had been with Jesus on the mountain top when He underwent His transfiguration.

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. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. – Matthew 17:1-3 ESV

It was at that time when God spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV). Peter says, “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18 ESV). He wasn’t some self-appointed prophet spouting his personal opinions. He was a hand-picked disciple of Jesus Christ who had been received the following commission from Him after His resurrection: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV). And that is exactly what Peter had been doing. He had been teaching them what he had learned from Jesus. He had been passing on what he had received from his three years with the Savior. He wanted his readers to enjoy the abundant life Jesus had promised (John 10:10). He desired for them to experience the rest Jesus had offered (Matthew 11:28 ESV). He so wanted them to know the fullness of joy Jesus had talked about (John 15:11) and the powerful presence of the Spirit Jesus had told them about (John 14:26). 

Peter’s call to add to their faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love was not some kind of motivational talk designed to bolster his readers’ flagging faith. It was a divinely inspired word of God. Peter knew that saving faith was transformative in nature. God has “called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). He has “granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). Our salvation is intended to result in our sanctification. We have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV), so we should live like it. Our lives should reflect our new nature. Our character should be increasingly more like that of Christ. What Paul told the believers in Corinth should also be true of us. “And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). There is no place for complacency in the life of a follower of Christ.

The Message of Righteousness.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV

The author of Hebrews admits that what he has been writing about is difficult to explain and just a difficult to understand. But it doesn’t help that his audience has “become dull hearing.” The Greek word the author used literally means “slow” and was used in the figurative sense to refer to someone as “stupid”. The Hebrew believers to whom he wrote had become unaccustomed to hearing difficult doctrine and deeper truths. And the topic he has been trying to explain is the message of righteousness. All of his talk about the Jesus’ sonship, deity, priesthood, suffering, sacrifice and glory have been designed to remind his readers of the righteousness that is found in Christ alone. He does not want them to fall back into their old habits of trying to gain a right standing with God through the keeping of the law. Their heritage as Hebrews, while a blessing, could become a curse, if they let it lead them back into a works-based form of righteousness. Paul made it clear that this path was futile and a waste of time. “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). The fear the author of Hebrews had was that his readers had regressed. He told them, “you have gone back to needing milk” (Hebrews 5:12 NET). Their lack of knowledge regarding the things about which he has been writing reveals that they were “unskilled in the word of righteousness.” They were tempted to fall back on the old truths associated with Moses, the Law, temple worship, and all that was associated with their old way of life.

Their problem was that they had not moved on to solid food. They had become stuck, stagnant. And their lack of progression had led to regression. For the Christian, there really is no middle ground. You are either growing in maturity or you are going backwards. These people, who had evidently known the Lord long enough that the author believed they should have been ready to teach others, were unprepared and unequipped for the job. They were stuck on the basics and unskilled when it came to the word or message regarding the righteousness found in Christ alone. They knew the elementary truths of the faith, such as how one is saved, but they had failed to go deeper in their knowledge. Peter provided his readers with this word of encouragement: “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). In his second letter, Peter tells us we “must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). There is no place for stagnancy or complacency in the life of the believer. As we grow in Christ, we become increasingly aware of just what He has done for us. We become more and more cognizant of our sin and just how great a salvation we have received. Spiritual growth requires spiritual food. We must develop a hunger for the deeper things of God found in His Word and explained by the help of His Spirit. We can’t stay on spiritual pablum and expect to grow in maturity. “Jesus love me this I know for the Bible tells me so” is true, but not a sufficient source of spiritual sustenance for the growing Christian.

There comes a time in all of our lives when we must become givers, not just receivers. The author told his audience “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12 ESV), but they were still having to be spoon fed themselves. They had become comfortably content with their current status as believers in Christ. But one of the non-negotiable realities regarding faith in Christ was the fact that God expects His children to grow. Again, the apostle Peter had some strong words regarding this matter:

Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9 NLT

Coming to faith in Christ should result in our coming to be increasingly more like Him in character. The apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus that God had given the church leaders whose responsibility it was to equip the body of Christ so that they could build one another up. And then he told them…

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:13-15 NLT

Spiritual maturity is not a solo sport. It is a group activity. We grow in Christ-likeness as we share with one another, as we encourage one another, as we use our spiritual gifts on behalf of one another. As we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, we receive insight into God’s will. As we share what we are learning with others, they are encouraged and our faith is strengthened. Growth requires interaction with others. Isolation is deadly to spiritual maturity. Complacency is as well. The message of righteousness is not just that we have been made right with God through faith in Christ, but that we are being made righteous in our attitudes and actions as we grow up in our salvation and in our dependence upon the body of Christ.

Genesis 19-20, Matthew 10

Our Multidimensional God.

Genesis 19-20, Matthew 10

So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. – Genesis 19:29 ESV

Too often, we avoid the Old Testament because the image it seems to portray of God is one we find uncomfortable and seemingly at odds with that of the New Testament. God comes across as harsh, judgmental, vengeful and angry in the Old Testament. Yet, from the more familiar stories of the New Testament, we have come to understand Him to be loving, kind, gentle and full or mercy. But the truth is, the God of the Old and New Testaments is one God, and the two testaments simply portray the multidimensionality of His nature. Together they reveal His divine character in all its glory. They also give us a glimpse into God’s ever-changing and evolving relationship with mankind over the centuries. God does not change, but the manner in which He reveals Himself to mankind and the way in which He responds to their sin does change. God has already had to destroy the earth and all its inhabitants, except for Noah and his family – a devastating event He pledged to never repeat again.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But that does mean God was done punishing sin. He remained righteous and holy and, therefore, was obligated by His very nature to deal with the sin of mankind. God cannot simply tolerate sin or turn a blind on to the rebelliousness of mankind. Because He is righteous, He must always do the right thing. For Him to ignore sin would be for Him to cease to be God. So we have in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, an illustration of God’s righteous and completely justified wrath against the sins of man. When Lot separated from Abraham and chose the rich valley of the Jordan for himself, we are told that “Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). By the time we get to chapter 19, we find Lot “sitting in the gate of Sodom” (Genesis 19:1 ESV).

In chapter 18, Abraham was visited by three angels disguised as men. They informed him that God was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, “because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave” (Genesis 18:20 ESV). Abraham, evidently knowing that his nephew and his family had moved into Sodom, intercedes on their behalf and begins to bargain for their salvation. As a result, God agrees to spare the cities if He can find tend righteous people living in them. What we have in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is a vivid reminder of the inevitable state of man without God. Things had become so bad in these two cities that God was unable to find even ten righteous people. But He does spare Lot, his wife and two daughters.

This story is a reminder of God’s well-deserved wrath against sin and His undeserved mercy toward mankind. It exists to teach us that God can and must respond to sin. As a righteous judge, He must judge righteously. But it also reassures us that God can and does show mercy. Peter tells us,  “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into helland committed them to chainsof gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials,and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:4-9 ESV).

When we read this stories from the Old Testament, they should reinforce for us the holy nature of God. They should remind us of just how wicked men can be apart from God. But they should also create in us a tremendous amount of gratitude for the grace that God has showered on us who have received His Son as our salvation from judgment. Like Lot, we have been spared. We have been rescued. Like Noah, we have been shown mercy and grace from God. The Old Testament portrays a less-than-flattering portrait of mankind as they continue to reject God and embrace the world. We see revealed a steadily growing stubborn streak, accompanied by an unhealthy self-sufficiency that causes mankind to live as if God does not exist. And the trend continues today. Yet, God also continues to show His mercy and grace to men by rescuing the godly from trials and preserving them from the judgment to come.

What does this passage reveal about man?

From the time Noah and his family stepped out of the ark onto dry ground, men spread throughout the earth, and with them, sin. God’s merciful sparing of a few did not eliminate the presence of sin. So by the time we get to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, things had gotten progressively worse. Once again, God is forced to deal with the sins of mankind. The story of the destruction of these two cities is a reminder to us of just how wicked men can become without God. Left to their own devices, mankind will always degenerate into godlessness of all kinds. Lot, while obviously a worshiper of God just as his uncle had been, had chosen to become part of the world around him. He had moved in and gotten comfortable with the world. And while Peter tells us that Lot was uncomfortable with the sins being committed around him, he was not willing to separate himself from the situation. He chose to remain in Sodom, exposing his family to the constant influence of ungodly people. And while he was there, he had had little influence on the citizens of Sodom. Even his sons-in-laws to be refused to heed his warnings and flee from the judgment to come. Lot was far from salt and light in the city of Sodom.

Lot loved the world. He loved what the world had to offer. Even when given the chance to save his life, Lot begged the angels to let him move to yet another city. He enjoyed all the amenities of city life. In the time he had lived in Sodom, he had grown comfortable and complacent with the world. Yes, he was bothered by the sins around him, but not enough to do anything about it. Such is the picture of far too many of us as Christians today.

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

When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples on their first missionary journey, He gave them detailed instructions and told them to be highly selective in terms of the villages they visited and homes they stayed in. Jesus sent them to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, they were to focus their attention on the descendants of Abraham. They were to announce the coming of the Messiah. They were to tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived. But to those towns where this message was rejected, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, ‘it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:15 ESV). The pagan, Gentile citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed for their godlessness. The Jewish inhabitants of the towns and villages the disciples visited would be guilty of rejecting the very one who was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. The Jews knew the covenant promise made to Abraham by God. They had been expecting a Messiah for generations. But they would reject Him when He came. And their judgment would be far greater than that imposed on the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

I have been given a chance to become part of the family of God through the merciful gift of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been placed into the household of faith and grafted into the family tree of Abraham. And yet, like righteous Lot, I can find myself growing comfortable and complacent in this world, tolerating the wickedness all around me. And while I will be spared ultimate judgment to come because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I can still suffer the consequences of love affair with the world. Like Abraham, I have been called to live a life set apart from the world. I am a sojourner here, just passing through on my way to someplace far better. I am not to “pitch my tent toward Sodom” and gradually settle into the midst of the wickedness all around me. I must be in the world, but not of it. I must live as salt and light, an agent of change and influence in the midst of the darkness that exists all around me. I must recognize God’s hatred of sin, and appreciate His mercy toward me, a sinner. I am not to allow myself to grow comfortable and complacent with sin, any more than He does. My God is holy, set apart and distinctively different. So should I be.

Father, You are a God of judgment because You have to deal righteously with sin. But You are also a God of love, grace and mercy. In Your love, You came up with a way to deal justly with sin and deal mercifully with sinners. Thank You for sending Your Son as the Savior of the world. Thank You for revealing Your mercy and grace to me. Show me how to live my life in gratitude for Your love by living set apart from the world around me. Help me live in this world but not become part of it. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

No Place For Cockiness.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to e more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. – 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 NLT

There was a group of believers at Corinth who viewed themselves as having a superior knowledge. They had become a bit prideful and cocky over the subject of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. This was a common practice among the pagans in Corinth, but some of those who had converted to Christianity were continuing the practice even as believers. Their justification was that they knew that the idols to whom this meat had been sacrificed were not really gods at all – because there were no other gods besides Yahweh. They also seemed to believe that they were protected from any harm because they had a special relationship with God. From this section of Paul’s letter, it would appear that they also believed that believed their participation in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper provided some kind of supernatural immunity to them. So Paul gave them a brief history lesson, using the people of Israel as an illustration of what can happen when you let your guard down and assume you are immune from or impervious to temptation or sin. Paul recounted the story of the Israelite’s days wandering in the wilderness after God had freed them from captivity in Egypt. He wrote about the pillars or fire and smoke that guided the Israelites night and day. He wrote about their miraculous crossing of the sea on dry ground. He recounted God’s provision of manna and the water from the rock. He spoke of God’s appointment of Moses as their leader and the requirement of the Israelites to follow him faithfully. In all of this, Paul was trying to compare the situation of the Corinthian Christians with that of the Israelites. Both had been freed by God. They had been provided leadership by God. Since baptism is an outward express of faith, the act of the Israelites walking through the sea, following the cloud and accepting Moses’ leadership, were in essence a waterless form of baptism – an expression of their faith. The manna they ate and the water they drank from the rock were symbols of God’s supernatural provision – much like the Lord’s Supper. The bread and water were provided by God. The rock from which the water flowed was representative of Christ Himself. Just as the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper represent the body and blood of Christ and His provision for our spiritual needs, the manna and water represented the supernatural provision by God of the Israelite’s physical needs.

And yet, in spite of their status as God’s chosen people and God’s miraculous provision of food and water, the people ended up in idolatry. That was Paul’s whole point with this little history lesson. He was warning the believers in Corinth not to get cocky and too sure of themselves just because of their unique relationship with God made available through Christ. Paul reminded them that “these things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did” (1 Corinthians 10:6-7 NLT). The Israelites were guilty of idolatry, immorality, unbelief, grumbling, complaining, and unfaithfulness. All in spite of the fact that they were the chosen people of God. They had been delivered by God. They had been led by God. They had been fed by God. But in the end. God was not pleased with some of them. They had rebelled against Him and they never made it to the Promised Land, having died in the wilderness instead. Again, Paul warned the Corinthians that “these things happened to them as examples for us” (1 Corinthians 10:11 NLT). Then Paul writes those memorable words: “If you think are standing strong, be careful not to fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NLT). Like the Israelites, believers will face temptations along the way. Despite their position as God’s chosen people, they will find themselves facing all kinds of opportunities to rebel against God and practice both idolatry and immorality – either literally or spiritually. And when we become cocky and sure of ourselves, that is when we are the most vulnerable. Remember the Israelites. They had miracles, manna, clouds of fire and smoke, water from a rock, sandals that never wore out, and countless other signs of God’s presence and power – and yet, they sinned. They turned away from God. It could happen to anyone. But God is faithful, even when we are not. He will not allow the temptations in our lives to be more than we can handle. He always provides a way of escape – an exit strategy. But we have to be aware of our vulnerability and susceptibility at all times. It is when we think we are “strong” that we are in the greatest danger. Self-confidence can be a dangerous thing for a believer. We must place our confidence in God, not ourselves. The Corinthian believers were running the risk of placing too much confidence in their position as God’s chosen people. Like the Israelites of old, they were setting themselves up for a dangerous fall. No one is immune to idolatry or spiritual unfaithfulness. They are a constant threat to all believers – at all times. But we must always turn to God for help. We must recognize our own weakness and His sufficiency. He will show us a way out so that we can endure. Because He is faithful.

Father, never let me become cocky or complacent. Keep me fully aware at all times of my propensity and capacity to become unfaithful. I don’t want to become so self-assured that I let my guard down and end up failing and falling. I don’t want to take my position as Your child for granted or allow my eternal security to let me live carelessly in this lifetime. Failure and unfaithfulness is always a real possibility. But You are faithful. You provide a way of escape at all times. Thank You for that assurance. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Spiritual Maturity.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter. – 2 Thessalonians 2:15 NLT

Have you ever wondered why Paul took the time to write so many letters? What was he trying to accomplish? What was his purpose? He wrote 13 letters in all. Some of them were personal letters written to individuals, like Timothy and Titus. But most were written to the early churches in places like Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica and Rome. But virtually all these letters were intended to be shared. They were circulated around the regions in which these churches existed, and shared with other fledgling congregations. And Paul’s purpose was simple. He wanted to encourage and sometimes admonish these new believers in their walk with Christ. He wanted to provide them with sound teaching, refute false doctrine, encourage them to remain faithful and do whatever he could do to make sure these young believers matured in their faith. Paul was not just content to see people come to salvation, he wanted them to experience sanctification – ongoing spiritual maturity and growth in Christ-likeness.

Paul was grateful to God that the Thessalonians to whom he was writing were among the first to experience salvation. This was a work of God “through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13b NET). Their salvation had taken place as a result of the Gospel message proclaimed by Paul and Silas on their first visit to Thessalonica. And as a result of their having accepted God’s call, they were assured of getting to share in Christ’s glory. For Paul, there was salvation and, ultimately, our glorification – the future time in which we will be fully transformed into the likeness of Christ when we go to be with Him. But in the meantime, there is our sanctification. That was the basic gist of all of Paul’s letters. He wanted to see these new believers grow up in their salvation. Peter had a similar desire and expressed it in his letter. “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT).

Paul wanted to see all believers grow in their faith, and he knew that it was essential that they be taught sound doctrine and truth based on the Word of God. If left to themselves, they would be easily deceived. Without sound teaching, they would have remained immature and unspiritual – saved, but unsanctified. Paul expressed this concern to the believers living in Corinth. “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to fee you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready to anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). Pretty harsh words, but they reflect Paul’s passion for and belief in the non-negotiable nature of spiritual growth and maturity. For Paul, it was non-optional. So he wrote these letters with the full expectation that those who read them would take the truth written in them and grow. He told them to “stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NLT). They were to hang on to the words of Paul. They were to apply them to their lives. Those things he had taught them in person and expressed through his letters were essential to their growth from gullible spiritual infants to maturing believers. But Paul also knew that it was ultimately up to God to bring about their sanctification, just as He had their salvation. So he prayed, “may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NLT). Ultimately, it is God who brings about our spiritual new birth and our spiritual growth. But He does it through sound teaching and the indwelling presence of His Spirit, who uses the truth to convict, encourage, and direct our lives to reflect the nature of Christ Himself.

Father, You want me to grow. While I might be content with salvation alone, Your desire is that I grow up. You saved me so that I might become increasingly more like Your Son. Your obsession is my holiness. You want me to go from spiritual infancy to adulthood. You have given me Your Word and placed Your Spirit within me. You have surrounded me with other believers. There is no place for complacency in my spiritual life. Keep me growing Father. Never let me become satisfied or complacent when it comes to my spiritual growth. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men