No Condemnation

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:1-11 ESV

No condemnation. Let those two words sink in.

Don’t allow yourself to blow past them by treating them with that brand of apathy that so often accompanies over-familiarity. Many of us have read this passage so many times that it no longer carries any meaning for us. But if you keep in mind all that Paul has said in the first seven chapters of his letter to the Romans, the words, “no condemnation” should carry much greater significance for us.

Paul opened his letter with the sobering words: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). The truth they suppressed was God’s revelation of Himself through creation. People had no excuse for refusing to acknowledge God because He had made Himself visible and knowable through all that He had made. But mankind chose to ignore God. And Paul states that “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28 ESV). And Paul provides a less-than-flattering list of the things they did that “ought not to be done.” It includes every kind of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, slander, insolence, pride, disobedience, foolishness, faithlessness, and gossiping. And in chapter two, Paul drops the bombshell that “the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things” (Romans 2:2 ESV). And just so there’s no question as to what Paul means by judgment, he states, “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil” (Romans 2:9 ESV).

So, who does evil? According to Paul, everyone. There is no one who will escape God’s judgment because all stand before God as guilty.

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

No one will escape God’s judgment, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). And just so we understand what that judgment entails, Paul tells us: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV).

Now, look at those two words again: No condemnation.

Those who are in Christ Jesus are no longer under God’s righteous and just condemnation. Which means that His judgment of guilt, which brings with it a mandatory penalty of death, has been lifted. We stand before God, the judge of the universe, as those who are no longer condemned because of our sin. But why? Is it because we got our proverbial act together? Has God removed our guilty sentence because we have somehow reversed our behavior and made ourselves more acceptable in His sight? Of course not.

Paul’s whole point is that we stand uncondemned because we are in Christ. At one point, we stood before God as His enemies, but “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10 ESV). We were made right with God, not because of anything we did to earn or deserve it, but because of what Jesus did on our behalf.

We now enjoy “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 ESV). His death paid the penalty for our sin. He gave His life in our place, presenting Himself as the sacrificial substitute who took away the sins of the world. And His death was necessary because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

His death on our behalf has provided release from condemnation, complete forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, and the promise of eternal life instead of eternal judgment.

But what does this have to do with sanctification? Everything. Notice how Paul links our release from condemnation to our freedom from the law of sin and death. That word “freedom” is vitally important to understanding what it means to stand as uncondemned before God. Our release from condemnation was not temporary or limited to a point in time. We weren’t released for a moment and then left to live under the threat of future condemnation. And yet, that is how many of us view the Christian life. We live under the constant fear of falling back under God’s condemnation based on what we do or don’t do. In other words, we see our behavior as the determiner of our status before God. And in doing so, we display a flawed understanding of what it means to stand uncondemned before God.

But look closely at what Paul says:

By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he [God] condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 ESV

Back in chapter three, Paul told us the sobering news that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20 ESV). No one can be made right with God through adherence to the law. Why? Because the law was designed to make man aware of God’s holy requirements. It told us what God expected, but had no power to assist us in living up to those expectations. Like a speed limit sign on the side of the road, the law displayed God’s expectations and condemned our violation of them. It couldn’t make us obey, but it could expose us when we failed to do so.

But Paul says there is a new law at work in our lives. He describes it as “the law of the Spirit of life.” When we hear the word, “law,” we tend to think in terms of restrictions and binding requirements that keep us from doing what we want to do. But the Greek word Paul uses is nómos, and it has a much broader and more pleasant meaning behind it. According to Strong’s Concordance, it is derived from the Greek word “νέμω némō (to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals). The law was intended to be prescriptive, not restrictive. The Mosaic law had benefits. It gave directions for life and provided God’s prescribed way for living in unbroken fellowship with Him. In the 23rd Psalm, David describes this prescriptive nature of God’s law. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3 ESV). Through the law, God guided, directed, and protected His people. But the law was weakened by man’s flesh or sin nature. Man couldn’t follow willingly or obediently.

So when Paul speaks of “the law of the Spirit of life,” he is telling us that God has provided us with a new way to live in fellowship with Him. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV). The key is the last phrase in these verses. We are to walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh. We are to live our lives in obedience to and dependence upon the Spirit of God. He is the nómos or prescribed way to live in fellowship with and obedience to God. And Paul provides us with a vivid contrast of the choice that lies before us each and every day as God’s children. “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God” (Romans 8:5-8 NLT). 

Our sinful nature is alive and active. But we are no longer slaves to it. We have been set free from its control. We now have the Spirit of God also living within us, providing us with direction for living a God-honoring life and the power to accomplish it. But we must choose to live under His control and not our own. We must submit to His leadership. We must desire what He desires and long for those things that He has determined as best for us. But in his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul reminds us of the constant battle going on within us. “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other…” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). If we try to please God through our flesh, we will fail. But if we live our lives in dependence upon the Spirit of God, His prescribed means of living a godly life, we will experience life, peace, joy, contentment, and the transformation of our lives into the likeness of Christ. And no threat of condemnation.

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

 

Advertisements

A Constant Obsession

14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.Hebrews 12:14-17 ESV

The Scriptures clearly teach that followers of Christ have been sanctified by God. They enjoy a new status as His chosen ones, having been set apart by Him and deemed righteous in His eyes, due to the blood of Jesus Christ shed on their behalf. As a result of Christ’s sinless life and selfless sacrifice of that life, those who place their faith in Him as their Savior receive wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption… – 1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV

But there is far more to the doctrine of sanctification than the believer’s change in status. Yes, God sets each and every believer apart as His own, but He also fills them with His Holy Spirit. Through the divine presence of the Spirit of God, every believer is equipped with the power they need to live as who they are: A saint or holy one of God. And this power is essential because believers, though set apart by God, still find themselves living in a fallen world and dealing with the reality of their old sin natures. Coming to faith in Christ eliminates the penalty for sin, but it does not eradicate the potential to commit future sins. The truth of this statement is lived out in daily life and supported by the New Testament writers.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10 ESV

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:1-2 ESV

It is the daily experience of every follower of Christ that sanctification does not provide an escape from the temptation to sin. Even Jesus Himself, the God-man and the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of man, was faced with the temptation to sin, as the author of Hebrews makes clear:

…he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.
– Matthew 4:1 NLT

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. – Mark 1:13 ESV

But Jesus had no sin nature with which to contend. He was not born into sin like the rest of mankind. He came into the world as holy and remained so throughout the entirety of His life. But the same is not true of us. We are born in sin and were imputed the same sinful disposition that Adam and Eve possessed. And as A. W. Pink so aptly puts it, our relationship with Christ does not eliminate our potential for sin.

…scriptural sanctification is neither the eradication of sin, the purification of the carnal nature, nor even the partial putting to sleep of the “flesh”; still less does it secure an exemption from the attackes and harassments of Satan. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

We must not think of sanctification as a freedom from the capacity to sin, but as a God-endowed power to resist the temptation to sin. Paul reminded the believers in Rome that they had been set free from their former slavery to sin.

Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. – Romans 6:17-18 NLT

Before coming to faith in Christ, they were incapable of resisting the constant temptations thrown at them by Satan and the world, let alone the passions of their own sinful flesh. But now, as those set apart by God and possessing the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, they could say no to sin and yes to righteous living. But Paul goes on to tell them that they face a daily decision regarding their choice of lifestyle.

Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. – Romans 6:19 NLT

The believer has been sanctified by God, but he faces a daily decision to live as one who has been set apart as belonging to God. That is why Paul so strongly emphasized the believer’s obligation to live according to his or her status as God’s chosen possession.

Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:13 NLT

This pursuit of holiness is not intended to be meritorious in nature. In other words, Paul is not instructing the Roman believers to earn favor with God through their actions. They had already been sanctified by God. Jesus had paid the price for their sins – in full. They had already been declared righteous by God because He had imputed the righteousness of Christ to their account. But Paul was clearly teaching that the believer’s new standing before God came with an obligation to live in keeping with His divine will so that their lives would give Him glory. Notice what Paul says: “So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.”

One of the amazing realities of the doctrine of sanctification is that it reveals how God has chosen to restore His image in man. Adam was made in the image of God, but sin marred that image. It damaged Adam’s likeness to his Creator. No longer could Adam’s actions bring glory to God by reflecting His glorious character. But Jesus came to earth as the second Adam, and He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). Paul described Jesus as “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT) and the apostle John said Jesus made God known and knowable (John 1:18).

And when sinful men place their faith in the Son of God, they become one with Him.

 …he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. – 1 Corinthians 6:17 NLT

Christ-followers are united with Him in His death, having had their sins nailed to the cross and crucified alongside Him. And believers are united with Christ in His resurrection, having received a new nature like His. Those men and women who place their faith in Christ are made new and receive the capacity to once again reflect the image of God. Their union with Christ provides release from slavery to sin and the restored freedom to serve God faithfully as His obedient servants.

But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. – Romans 6:22 NLT

But again, each and every Christ-follower faces the daily choice to live in their new-found freedom, made possible by the death of Christ. They can still choose to sin, or they can choose to pursue a life of sanctification. But this choice is only possible because of their relationship with Christ. It was not possible in their former fallen state. But because of Christ’s death on the cross and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, believers have the capacity to live godly lives. They can and should pursue righteousness. They should desire to live in keeping with the will of God and according to the example that Jesus left them.

And the New Testament is filled with countless calls to forsake the old way of living for the new life made possible in Jesus Christ.

…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

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 4:31-32 NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. – Colossians 3:8 NLT

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. – 1 Peter 2:1-2 NLT

Sanctification is to be the believer’s constant obsession. There is no place for complacency in the life of the Christ-follower. The status quo is to be avoided at all costs. Growing in Christ-likeness is to be the goal of each and every person who claims Christ as their Savior. And the joy of watching God transform their life from the inside out, through the power of His indwelling Spirit, is the reward of a life of sanctification. And it will continue until we see Him as He is.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 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

 

The Jailer Who Was Set Free.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed. Acts 16:25-40 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyPaul, Silas and Timothy were in Philippi. While there, they had two divine encounters, one with a Gentile businesswoman named Lydia who came to faith in Christ. The other was with a young slave girl from whom Paul cast out a demon. The second, more visible and public encounter, ended up getting Paul and Silas in a lot of trouble. The slave girl had used her demon-possession to tell people’s fortunes, and her owners made a great deal of money from her unique abilities. So, with her demon gone, she was worthless to her owners and they were incensed. They falsely accused Paul and Silas of trying to convert Roman citizens to Judaism, which was a capital offense. The crowds turned on them, and the local magistrates had them severely beaten and thrown in jail. That would lead to yet another divine encounter.

In this case, Paul and Silas, finding themselves in jail, made the most of the situation. Luke records that, at midnight, the two of them were occupying their time by praying and singing hymns, with the rest of the prisoners as their (excuse the pun) captive audience. As per his usual style, Luke does not tell us what they were praying or the hymns they were singing. Were they praying for release? Perhaps. Or were they praying for the spiritual well-being of Lydia and those in her household who had come to faith? Possibly. Were they praising God for His power and for the privilege of suffering for the cause of Christ? I would say, yes. But whatever it was that they were praying and singing, right in the middle of it all, God showed up. Probably not in the way Paul and Silas were expecting. But He showed up in the form of a powerful earthquake that shook the building where they were being kept. It was so violent that it rocked the very foundations of the structure, forced open the locked doors of all the cells and, even more amazingly, broke the bonds that held every prisoner in the jail captive. It was a literal get-out-of-jail-free card – for everyone. And the poor jailer realized it. Luke says that, when this man was startled awake by the noise and saw what had happened, “he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped” (Acts 16:27 ESV). He most likely assumed that the prisoners were going to kill him. And even if they didn’t, the Roman magistrates would have him killed for letting all the prisoners escape. And this is where the truly amazing part of the story takes place. Paul called out to the man, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28 ESV). Think about that. Paul and Silas had been praying, and in the midst of their prayer an earthquake had taken place. An earthquake so powerful that it opened cell doors and broke chains from the moorings in the walls. And yet, Paul and Silas were still there. They hadn’t taken off. And even more incredibly, neither had any of the other prisoners. Now, compare this event with one that had taken place earlier and is describe for us by Luke in Acts 12.

The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered.

So Peter left the cell, following the angel. – Acts 12:6-9 NLT

Peter was in jail and he doing nothing but sleeping. No prayers. No hymns. Yet, God sent an angel who miraculously released Peter from his chains and led him out of the prison and into the streets – a free man.

But Paul and Silas, their chains off and the doors of the prison wide open, stood there. And somehow, the other prisoners were standing there with them. Just consider how preposterous that sounds. Every single prisoner, when given the chance to have their freedom and escape whatever sentence hung over them, had chosen to stay. That, in and of itself, is a miracle, an act of God. But what happens next is the real point of the story. This was not about Paul and Silas becoming free men. In fact, the next morning, when the magistrates attempted to let them go, Paul and Silas refused to leave. They were both Roman citizens and had been wrongly beaten and imprisoned, and they were going to demand justice.

But back to the jailer. He was in shock “and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas” (Acts 16:29 ESV). Somehow he knew that these two men were responsible for all that had happened. They were the ones in charge. And it’s interesting to note that the very first question he asked them was “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” He didn’t ask them to explain what had happened. He didn’t want to know the source of the power behind what had happened. No, he simply asked what he had to do to be saved. As 21st-Century Christians, who are on this side of the resurrection and who have available to us the rest of the story, we tend to read into these words something that is probably not there. We hear this man asking how he can be saved or born again. We interpret his words as a request to have the plan of salvation explained to him. But keep in mind, this man was an employee of the Romans. It is most likely that he was a Roman himself, possibly a former Roman soldier. Philippi, as a Roman colony, was heavily populated by Romans. But even if this man was a Macedonian who was employed by the Romans, he would have been a pagan. There is no indication that he had heard the gospel before. And when Paul and Silas had been praying and singing, he had been fast asleep. So, it is most likely that he was asking Paul and Silas what he needed to do to keep them from killing him. To him, they were two powerful Jewish magicians or sorcerers who had cast a demon out of a slave girl. Now, they had somehow caused a massive earthquake and opened up the doors of the prison and set themselves free. He was petrified.

But Paul takes advantage of the man’s question and gives him an answer he would have never expected. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31 ESV). It is doubtful that this man understood what any of this meant. And Luke tells us that Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:32 ESV). They explained what it meant to believe in the Lord Jesus. They described the nature of God’s saving grace, made possible through faith in His Son’s death and resurrection. And the man believed, along with those in his household, and they were all baptized – right there in the prison compound where the man most likely lived. After providing Paul and Silas with food and treatment for their wounds, the man “rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (Acts 16:34 ESV).

Paul and Silas had not been the ones to find freedom. It was this man and the members of his household were set free by God. Jesus had once said, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free” (Luke 4:18 NLT). This story is a fulfillment of that statement by Jesus. Those who had been held captive by sin and death found freedom in Christ. They had been set free from the penalty of sin: death, and been given new life in Christ. Their spiritual chains had been broken. Paul would later write to Timothy, one of his companions on this journey.

25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. – 2 Timothy 2:25-26 NLT

The Philippian jailer, whose job it had been to hold men captive in prison, had been provided with release from the prison cell of sin and the death sentence that hung over his head as a result of his rebellion against God. The imprisonment of Paul and Silas had been yet another divine encounter, orchestrated by God and intended for the spread of the gospel. These two men could have walked out that night, but they hadn’t. They were not obsessed with their own freedom. They were captive to the will of God and their commission from Jesus, to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth – even in the less-than-pleasant confines of a prison.

The ending of this story is what really makes it special. With all that happened the night before, God confirms that none of it had happened to set Paul and Silas free. That wasn’t going to be necessary. The entire event had been in order for the jailer and his household to come to faith in Jesus. Because the very next morning the magistrates attempted to set Paul and Silas free. We are not told why. But somewhere along the way, the magisrates had made the determination to release them. And when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were terrified. As Roman citizens, Paul and Silas were guaranteed a just trial and protection from any kind of degrading punishment, such as beatings. The magistrates could do nothing but beg for forgiveness and ask that Paul and Silas leave town. They knew that the locals were still up in arms and that harm might come to Paul and Silas if they stayed. So, after visiting with Lydia and encouraging the local believers, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke departed. But they left behind the first-fruits of what would become a growing congregation of believers.

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

 

The Best Is Yet To Come.

And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest and the three keepers of the threshold; and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the men of war, and seven men of the king’s council, who were found in the city; and the secretary of the commander of the army, who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the midst of the city. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. And the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was taken into exile out of its land.

This is the number of the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive: in the seventh year, 3,023 Judeans; in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar he carried away captive from Jerusalem 832 persons; in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive of the Judeans 745 persons; all the persons were 4,600.

And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived. – Jeremiah 52:23-34 ESV

In the closing verses of this chapter, and as way of a wrap-up to the entire book, Jeremiah logs the number of individuals who were taken captive by the Babylonians. But first, he mentions the name of Seraiah, the chief priest. This is evidently a different Seraiah than the one mentioned in chapter 51. This Seraiah, will provide a link back to the reign of Josiah, the last godly king of Judah who had attempted to institute religious reforms in the land. Seraiah’s grandfather, Hilkiah, had been King Josiah’s high priest. It was Hilkiah who had discovered the book of the Law, while supervising renovations to the temple in Jerusalem. And it was this discovery that radically changed the spiritual climate of Judah during the days of King Josiah. But after Josiah’s death, things had taken a markedly negative turn for the worse. The kings who followed Josiah overturned most of his reforms and, once again, led the people in apostasy and idolatry. Hilkiah’s grandson, Seraiah, is listed as one of those murdered by King Nebuchadnezzar. As the high priest, he had failed to live in accordance with the will of God and had not led the people of God to remain faithful. And yet, we know that Seraiah’s sons would be spared and be transported to Babylon along with the other exiles.

Many years later, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, there was a man named Ezra. He was the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah – Ezra 7:1 NLT

Ezra would become a reformer, leading the people of Judah from exile in the land of Babylon, back to the land of Canaan. And it would be another grandson of Seraiah, named Jeshua, born to his son Jehozadak, who would become high priest and, alongside Zerubbabel, lead the people in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jehozadak responded by starting again to rebuild the Temple of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them and helped them. – Ezra 5:2 NLT

So, while Seraiah would die an ignoble death, his sons, descendants of Aaron, the original priest of God, would play significant roles in the reestablishment of the nation of Judah. God punished those who had played roles in leading the people astray. But God would raise up future leaders who would play significant parts in the restoration of the nation of Judah, the repopulating of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. He would start with a new generation.

But Jeremiah makes it clear that there were thousands who found themselves bound as prisoners and deported to a life of slavery in Babylon. He states the number of exiles as 4,600, but the book of 2 Kings says the figure was 10, 800. The discrepancy is probably a case of Jeremiah counting only the males and not the women and children who were also taken captive. But suffice it to say, there were many who found their lives radically and irrevocably changed due to the fall of Jerusalem. The emphasis Jeremiah seems to be making is that the number of Jews taken captive was relatively small. This remnant would be transported to Babylon, where they would remain for 70 long years. But at the end of that time, more than 97,000 will return to the land of Judah to rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and restore the former glory of the temple of God. They would experience the blessings of God, even as they lived in exile. He would multiply them and create a remnant to return that far outnumbered those who had been taken captive. Even in the midst of their disobedience and God’s discipline, He would prosper them.

The final section of the book chronicles the fate of Jehoiachin, the former king of Judah. He has the somewhat sad distinction of having been king for only three months.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan from Jerusalem. Jehoiachin did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his father had done.

During Jehoiachin’s reign, the officers of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up against Jerusalem and besieged it. Nebuchadnezzar himself arrived at the city during the siege. Then King Jehoiachin, along with the queen mother, his advisers, his commanders, and his officials, surrendered to the Babylonians.

In the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, he took Jehoiachin prisoner. – 2 Kings 24:8-12 NLT

So, Jehoiachin had been a prisoner of the Babylonians since 597 B.C., a total of 35 years. But the time came when the new king of Babylon, Evil-merodach, showed him mercy and released him from prison. He replaced his prison clothes with royal robes. He made Jehoiachin a permanent guest at his table and provided him with a regular allowance. In essence, he treated Jehoiachin as the king of Judah, showing him respect, deference and honor, in spite of his defeated status and the non-existent state of his kingdom. So, here is where the book of Jeremiah ends. The king of Judah is in exile and the throne in Jerusalem remains empty. The city is a ghost town. The nation is in disarray. The people are dispersed and disheartened. And for 70 long years, that would remain the state of the people of Judah. But God was not done yet. He had further plans for His people. He would raise up a new high priest. He would call on Zerubbabel and Ezra to lead His people back to the land. Later on, He would raise up Nehemiah to return to Judah and carry on the work. At the close of the book of Jeremiah, things are left in a confused and uncertain state. But God is behind the scenes, working out His divine plan and orchestrating events in such a way that the former exiles would take part in a second exodus, be set free from bondage and miraculously returned to the land of promise. God was far from finished. The story was not yet complete. And the book of Ezra opens up with the next chapter of God’s sovereign plan for His people.

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 1:2-4 NLT

The best was yet to come.

 

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Slaves to Sin.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them, that everyone should set free his Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should enslave a Jew, his brother. And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that everyone would set free his slave, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again. They obeyed and set them free. But afterward they turned around and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them into subjection as slaves. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, saying, ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service.’ But your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me. You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves.

“Therefore, thus says the Lord: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. And Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has withdrawn from you. Behold, I will command, declares the Lord, and will bring them back to this city. And they will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire. I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.” – Jeremiah 34:8-22 ESV

It is approximately 588 B.C. and the city of Jerusalem is surrounded. Things are not looking good. Outside the walls of the city, the Babylonian troops can be seen busily at work building siege walls and preparing to assault the city. In the midst of all the chaos and with the words of Jeremiah the prophet ringing in his ears, Zedekiah, the king of Judah, convinces the people to make a covenant with him to release any and all their fellow Hebrews that they owned as slaves. Now, it makes sense to ask why any Hebrew would have a fellow Hebrew as a slave. This was actually quite common in those days. In most cases, the enslavement or servitude was linked to indebtedness. If a Hebrew borrowed money from another Hebrew and could not pay the debt, he become the servant or slave of the lender until the debt was paid off. The book of Proverbs speaks to this situation, warning: “the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:17 ESV). We find some strong words from God regarding the abuse of this system in the book of Amos.

“The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They sell honorable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals.” – Amos 2:6 NLT

The people of Judah and Israel had taken advantage of the poor and needy within their midst. Once again, the book of Proverbs speaks to this problem.

Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. – Proverbs 22:16 NLT

Don’t rob the poor just because you can, or exploit the needy in court. – Proverbs 22:22 NLT

God had made provision for those who found themselves in debt and in need of help. A Jew who found themselves with no means of income could voluntarily offer themselves as a servant to another Jew. If they owed a debt they could not pay, they could voluntarily become the lenders servant.

“If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant and serves you for six years, in the seventh year you must set that servant free.

“When you release a male servant, do not send him away empty-handed. Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you! That is why I am giving you this command. – Deuteronomy 15:12-15 NLT

But notice that God made provision for their release. They were not to remain in servitude indefinitely. And the lender had no right to sell the debtor in order to profit from their sale. At the seventh year, all Hebrews were to release their Hebrew slaves or servants. Their debt was to be considered paid. And the lender was not to send them away empty handed. So, in this chapter, we see Zedekiah making a covenant with the people to release all their Hebrew slaves. We are not told why Zedekiah made this announcement, but we can speculate that he was hoping this action might appease God in some way. Perhaps it was an attempt to increase the number of free men able to serve in the army in the defense of the city. Whatever his motivation, Zedekiah convinces the people to agree to the conditions of the release. But then they change their minds. They renege on their commitment.

but later they changed their minds. They took back the men and women they had freed, forcing them to be slaves again. – Jeremiah 34:11 NLT

We do know from verses 21 and 22, that the Babylonians had evidently disappeared for a period of time. It could be that their unexpected departure led the people to change their minds. They could have believed that the siege was over and they had been delivered from destruction. So, they decided not to keep their commitment. What had appeared to be an act of repentance turned out to be nothing of the sort. Even though they had been faced with their own destruction and possible enslavement themselves, the people were not willing to set free their fellow Hebrews. This all reminds me of a parable that Jesus told in response to a question from Peter regarding the topic of forgiveness.

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” – Matthew 18:23-35 NLT

The people of Judah were indebted to God. They owed Him for the sins they had committed against Him. And they would have longed for Him to show them mercy and forgive their sins. But here they were, refusing to forgive the debts of those who owed them so much less. It should bring to mind the words of Jesus in His model prayer found in His Sermon on the Mount: “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 ESV). And Jesus would go on to comment about the issue of forgiveness of debts. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).

God reminds Zedekiah and the people that their actions were reminiscent of the sins of their ancestors. God had given them the command regarding the seventh year, but they had refused to obey. Now, the people of Judah had made a covenant with God and were breaking it.

“Recently you repented and did what was right, following my command. You freed your slaves and made a solemn covenant with me in the Temple that bears my name. But now you have shrugged off your oath and defiled my name by taking back the men and women you had freed, forcing them to be slaves once again.” – Jeremiah 34:15-16 NLT

So, God gives them the bad news. Since they didn’t keep their vow and set their fellow Hebrews free, God was going to set the offenders free to suffer at the hands of the Babylonians. “I will set you free to be destroyed by war, disease, and famine” (Jeremiah 34:17 NLT). At the end of the day, the people of Judah were slaves to sin. They were addicted to wrongdoing. They just couldn’t give up their love affair with evil, even when faced with their own destruction. And they would learn the hard way, that the wages of sin is death.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

The Tables Are Turned.

Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them. The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples. All the officials of the provinces and the satraps and the governors and the royal agents also helped the Jews, for the fear of Mordecai had fallen on them. For Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces, for the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. In Susa the citadel itself the Jews killed and destroyed 500 men, and also killed Parshandatha and Dalphon and Aspatha and Poratha and Adalia and Aridatha and Parmashta and Arisai and Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, but they laid no hand on the plunder. – Esther 9:1-10 ESV

When the fateful day arrived, the one for which Haman had planned and the Jews had dreaded for almost a year, the outcome was much different than anyone had anticipated. The 13th day of the month of Adar would be marked by death as Haman had desired. But it would not be the Jews whose lives were taken. It would not be their blood that was spilled. This day would feature a complete reversal of fortunes and the author of the book of Esther makes it quite clear.

The Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.

And no one could stand against them…

…the fear of them had fallen on all the peoples.

…the governors and royal agents also helped the Jews…

…the fear of Mordecai had fallen on them.

…for Mordecai grew more and more powerful.

…the Jews struck all their enemies with the sword…

…the Jews killed and destroyed 500 men…

…and also killed…the ten sons of Haman.

…but they laid no hand on the plunder.

The author tells us, “on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred” (Esther 9:1b ESV). In the roughly eight months since the issuing of the second decree, Mordecai’s influence in the kingdom had grown. The peoples’ respect for him and for the Jews had increased greatly. And the Jews had been given ample time to prepare themselves for the looming day of slaughter. So when that day arrived, things turned out dramatically different than anticipated. The enemies of the people of God found themselves on the short end of the stick. The playground bully found himself on the receiving end, getting a taste of his own medicine.

Once again, as has been the case throughout the book of Esther, God is no where mentioned in the events of the 13th day of Adar. But this entire reversal of fortune is the clear result of the sovereign will of God. It is important to note that the Jews mentioned in this chapter are made up of those who chose to stay behind in Persia rather than return to the land of Canaan under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. Years earlier, during the reign of King Cyrus, he had decreed the return of the Jews to their land in order to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple.

Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. – Ezra 1:3-4 ESV

But not everyone returned. Many of the Jews had chosen to stay in Persia. Perhaps the journey was too risky. The thought of having to return to the scene of so much destruction could have been too much for them to consider. Or maybe some of them had become content in Persia, enjoying their new land and acclimating themselves to their new lifestyle. But whatever the case, Mordecai, Esther and the rest of the Jews living in the capital of Susa and throughout the 127 provinces of Persia, were those who had chosen to remain and not return. But God had not abandoned them. While their fellow Jews were busy rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and restoring the temple so that the Jews could worship once again, they were living in relative comfort and ease in Persia. That is, until Haman had issued the first decree. Then, their world had become darkened and their hearts had been filled with despair. They had mourned. They had feared. But God had acted on their behalf. Mordecai had confronted Esther. She had boldly approached the king. Haman had been exposed. The second edict had been issued. And when the day arrived, the Jews gained the upper hand on their enemies. This was all an act of God. It was the sovereign, providential work of God Almighty. Even His rebellious children living in the land of Persia would know what it means to experience the faithful love of God and to enjoy His undeserved mercy and grace.

The prophet, Ezekiel, tells us why God would do such a thing. He tells of the day when God will rescue all His people, the Jews, from their exile throughout the world.

Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. – Ezekiel 36:22-24 NLT

Why is God going to do this? What would motivate Him to rescue a people who have proven to be unfaithful to Him? The holiness of His own name. God is protective of His own reputation. He has made the Jews His chosen people. He has called them His very own. And while they may have proven unfaithful to Him, rejecting His Son as their Messiah and refusing to accept God’s repeated calls to repent and return to Him, He has remained faithful. He has kept His promises. And He will one day restore them. All one has to do is look at the history of Israel to realize that God has been preserving and protecting them for centuries. Their very existence is the handiwork of God. Despite repeated attempts by dictators, despots, nations and movements to eradicate the Jews, they remain. This is not the result of their own stamina and strength, but because God is not done with them yet. During the days of Mordecai and Esther, God was preserving a remnant in Persia. And God is still protecting His people all across the world. And one day, He will restore them to a right relationship with Him. He will return them to the land of Canaan. He will place His Son on the throne of David where He will rule and reign. The story of Esther is a small glimpse into the story of God’s redemptive plan for Israel and for the world. The tables will be turned. The fortunes of God’s people will be reversed. The righteous will win. The name of God will be revered. The King will reign.

When Love Trumps Liberty.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 ESV

Paul revisits an point he made back in chapter six. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV). The Corinthians had made a big deal out of their liberties or freedoms in Christ. They were convinced that there were certain things that they were at liberty to do because of their newfound freedom in Christ. And Paul doesn’t contradict their conclusion. He simply argues with their motivation. They were only looking at things from self-centered perspective. They were motivated by their own rights and focused on their own selfish pleasures. Which is why Paul repeats their point of reference back to them again. “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV). Yes, they had certain freedoms in Christ, but they were not to let those freedoms be driven by selfish desires or motivated by self-centeredness. They were to ask themselves whether those freedoms were helpful and edifying. Paul’s emphasis is on others. In the very next verse, he writes, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24 ESV). Paul was elevating compassion over lawfulness. He was promoting selflessness over selfishness.

Paul concedes that they were free to eat any meat offered for sale in the marketplace. “For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’” (1 Corinthians 10:26 ESV). Even if they were invited to an unbeliever’s house, they were free to eat whatever was served. But should that friend acknowledge that the meat had been sacrificed to idols, the circumstances took on a different light. They were no longer “free” to eat what was served. Why? For the sake of conscience. Not their conscience, Paul asserts, but the conscience of their lost friend and anyone else who might be in attendance. The lost friend would not know of or understand the concept of freedom in Christ. In telling their Christian guests that the meat had been sacrificed to idols, they would be assuming Christians would not want to eat such meat because it would violate their faith. Should the Christian go ahead and eat the meat, the message conveyed to their pagan friend would be confusing. Should a less mature believer be in attendance at that same dinner and see the more mature believer eat meat sacrificed to idols, he or she might be caused to follow their lead, even though their conscience told them it was wrong. 

Paul follows all of this with two logical questions that he knew the Corinthians would ask. “For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?” (1 Corinthians 10:29-30 NLT). In other words, why should a Christian let the conscience of a lost person dictate their behavior? Or why should a more mature believer allow the ignorance or a less mature believer determine their actions? Paul answers both questions with a single answer. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT). We are to always ask the question: What would bring glory to God? Not, what would bring pleasure to me? The bottom line for Paul was God’s glory and man’s salvation. “I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33 NLT). He was willing to give up his freedoms so that others might know what it means to be free in Christ. He was willing to die to his rights so that others might be made right with God. Later on, in chapter 13, the great “love chapter”, Paul says that love “does not insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5 ESV). Love cares about others. It focuses on building up and edifying others, even at the expense of self. Christ-like love focuses on the good of others and the glory of God. It is selfless, not selfish. It is sacrificial, not self-centered. Jesus gave Himself as the example to follow. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). Jesus died so that we might live. All He is asking us to do is die to self. Love trumps liberty every time. Giving up our rights for the sake of others and for the glory of God is well worth any sacrifice we may have to make.

A Change of Heart, Not Circumstance.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. – 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 ESV

Three times in this passage Paul tells the Corinthians to remain as they were when God called them. He is really addressing the issue of contentment, of remaining in the circumstances of life in which they found themselves when they first came to faith in Christ. The change that God is interested in most is internal, not external. Divorcing your spouse because they are an unbeliever will not make you more spiritual. For a believing slave to somehow get out from under his master’s rule would not make him any more free than he already is in Christ. God is interested in heart change. But as human beings, we tend to deal with externals. We think a change of circumstances is the answer to all of life’s problems. If our marriage is less-than-satisfactory, divorce seems to be the best option to us. If our job is not as fulfilling as we would like, a change in employment is the answer. This was especially true for the believers in Corinth who seemed to believe that their new faith in Christ was a license to start all over. Social status was an important concept within the Greek community. It would have been easy for a slave who came to faith in Christ to immediately assume that his salvation gave him a right to experience freedom just like all the other believers in the church. But Paul would have them understand that their “calling” has nothing to do with their career choice, social standing, marital status, financial outlook, or any other circumstantial condition. God’s call on their life was to live in obedience and submission to Him regardless of what their external circumstances might be. If God called them while they were a slave, He had a perfectly good reason for doing so. His Son did not die in order to set them free from physical slavery, but from bondage to sin. If they were married when they came to Christ, they should remain so. Jesus did not give His life so that they might experience freedom from the demands of marriage, but so that they might love their spouse sacrificially and selflessly. Their calling was to Christ-likeness, not a radical change in their heart that would have a dramatic impact on their behavior. Paul told the church in Ephesus, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV). He prayed for the Colossian believers that they would “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10 ESV).

Like most of us, the Corinthians were convinced that a change in circumstances was the key to contentment. But Paul wanted them to understand that God called them where they were so they He might change who they are. His Son died so that they might be new creations and experience a new nature, not get a new lease on life through a change in circumstances. The Philippian jailer, after coming to faith in Christ, more than likely continued to be a jailer. The Ethiopian eunech, after accepting Christ as his Savior, was no less a eunech than he was before. Zacchaeus didn’t give up being a tax collector after having met Jesus, he simply became an honest one.

One of the most important lines in this passage is the first one: “ Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” This has nothing to do with our career path. Paul isn’t talking about job titles or employment opportunities. God has a unique calling on each of our lives as believers. He has redeemed us for a reason. And rather than worrying so much about what we do for a living, we would do well to think about what God has for us to do on behalf of His Kingdom. Our jobs are simply opportunities to live out our faith in daily life. Our marriages are to be less about self-satisfaction than they are about self-sacrifice and contexts within which we can model our Christ-likeness in tangible ways.

A new job may make you happy, but it won’t make you a better Christian. The idea of a new marriage partner may sound appealing, but God would rather make you a godly spouse and teach you to love the one you’re with selflessly and sacrificially.

All of this does not preclude the fact that God sometimes changes our circumstances. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11 ESV). A change in circumstances was required. Jesus changed the career paths of several of the disciples, making them fishers of men rather than fishermen. Paul himself experienced a radical change in his occupational focus, going from persecutor of the church to proclaimer of the gospel. There are times when God calls us to new circumstances. But His greatest desire is to give us a new heart and to create in us a new desire to live for Him wherever we find ourselves. We need godly husbands and wives, Christ-like politician and plumbers, Spirit-filled teachers and selfless lawyers. To Paul, it would be better to be a godly slave than an ungodly master. He considered it far more important to pursue holiness in less-than-ideal circumstances than happiness in the best of conditions. That is why he could say, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT). Our circumstances must take a back seat to our submission to the will of God for our lives: our holiness.

 

Free To Obey.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. – Galatians 3:19-22 ESV

There’s that word, “offspring” again. Paul continues to unpack the true meaning behind Genesis 22:18 where God made His promise to Abraham: “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” According to Paul, the “offspring” to whom God referred in His promise was Jesus. It would be through Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And the law was given by God after He had made the promise to Abraham. Why? In order to expose the extent of mankind’s sinfulness. God gave His chosen people the law “because of transgressions.” The law clearly articulated God’s holy and righteous expectations of men. There could be no debate. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7 ESV). Prior to the giving of the law, man could have rationalized away his sin or simply claimed ignorance. But the law made it perfectly clear what God expected and demanded of mankind, especially His chosen people. In Romans, Paul indicates that the very presence of the law acted as an impetus to sin, not causing man to sin, but provoking man’s sin nature to rebel against it. When the law said, “Do not…”, man’s sin nature automatically and reflexively responded, “But I will…”. Paul went on to say, “sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:8 ESV). Indwelling sin, which opposes God, stands opposed to His holy law. It rejects the law and entices man’s fleshly, sinful nature to disobey it. Like a parent telling their child not to touch a hot stove, the prohibition creates in the child an even deeper desire and curiosity to do that which has been denied.

In verse 19, Paul says the law “was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Moses provides us with some insight into the meaning behind Paul’s statement. Just prior to his death, Moses gave a blessing to the people of Israel, saying, “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand” (Deuteronomy 33:2 ESV). Angels played a mediatory role, while Moses played an intermediatory role. The law was given and it placed responsibilities on God and upon man. God was obligated and committed to bless when men obeyed His law.

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

But He was also required to curse or punish when man disobeyed.

But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

In contrast, when it came to the Abrahamic covenant, the promise God made to Him regarding his “offspring”, the sole responsibility of the covenant fell upon God. There was no intermediary. It was a unilateral covenant. The promise was made by God and would be fulfilled by Him. Moses could add nothing to the equation. He was simply required to believe God, and Paul writes in Romans, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:20-22 ESV).

The law did not stand opposed to or somehow replace the promise of God. It was not intended to be a substitute for the promise. And it was never designed to produce in man a righteousness that could restore him to a right relationship with God. What it did was show men just how sinful and helpless they really were. Whether motivated by genuine love for or fear of God, men were incapable of keeping His righteous decrees. The law simply confirmed that they were law breakers.

Paul tells us the law was designed to be temporary in nature. It was to be in effect until the promise was fulfilled and “the offspring” came. With the coming of Jesus and His death on the cross, the law’s binding hold on man was released. Jesus became the fulfillment of the law, having obediently kept every single requirement. He did what no other man had ever done. And His sinless perfection made Him the perfect, blameless sacrifice that God required to atone for the sins of mankind. Jesus paid it all. His sinless, unselfish sacrifice of His own life satisfied the just demands of a holy God.

In Romans, Paul writes of the unbelievable impact of Jesus’ death on our behalf:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. – Romans 5:6-9 ESV

Law-keeping is not the answer to man’s sin problem. The law was never intended to provide salvation. It was designed to show man His sin and place him under God’s holy, just condemnation. The law was not even capable of driving men to God. As Paul indicated, it actually inflamed man’s sin nature and drove him further from God. Law-breakers hate the law. They look for ways to disobey it and get around it. They see the law as oppressive and unnecessary. But Jesus came to free men from the law. He came to provide a means by which they could be made right with God apart from the law. And Paul makes it very clear that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. We didn’t see our need for a Savior and run to Him. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were blinded by our own sin natures and by Satan himself. And yet God, in His grace, opened our eyes to see the glory of the offer of the gift of His Son’s death. The scales fell off our eyes and His Spirit gave us the supernatural ability to say yes to that which we, if left to ourselves, we would have always said no.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV

Even our faith is a gift from God, otherwise it would be a work. It is not our doing, but a gift from God.  Our salvation is the sovereign work of God, from beginning to end. As when Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, shouting, “Lazarus, come forth!”, God calls us out of the death and darkness of sin, providing us with not only life but the capacity to obey. That is truly amazing grace.

It’s An Inside Job.

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. – Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV

As Paul continues to discuss the application of walking as children of light, in love and in submission to one another, he brings up a particularly difficult relationship for us as modern believers to understand. He has already addressed husbands and wives, and children and their parents. But now he takes on the relationship between slaves and their masters. There are those who would label Paul as a proponent of the institution of slavery, because he does not speak out against it. But Paul, like Christ, was not out to revolutionize civil institutions or bring about social upheaval. He was interested in redeeming the lives of those who made up the society. So while it is true that Paul does not speak out against or condemn the socially accepted practice of slavery in his day, this does not mean he was a supporter of it. In fact, in his letter to Philemon, he appeals to his brother in Christ regarding one of his slaves, a man called Onesimus. Evidently Onesimus had run away from Philemon and had somehow ended up meeting Paul and, under his influence, had become a believer. He ended up ministering to Paul while he was a prisoner there. And Paul had encouraged Onesimus to do the right thing and return to Philemon, his master. Slavery was legal in Paul’s day and Onesimus was obligated to return to Philemon or face severe punishment. But Paul wrote his letter to Philemon to explain the change that had taken place in the life of Onesimus and to ask Philemon to see his former slave as what he now was, a brother in Christ.

For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

This is exactly the kind of context Paul is addressing in his letter to the Ephesians. Slavery was a socially accepted, legally sanctioned part of the culture of the day. And yet Paul was calling slaves and masters who came to know Christ to radically change their perspective regarding this institution – from the inside out. The interesting thing is that slaves, who were viewed as property and sub-human in many ways, were coming to faith in Christ. Not only that, they were becoming members of the local churches. It was not uncommon for a 1st-Century church to have slaves and their masters as part of its congregation. And within the context of the church, there was a unity and equality that was unheard of anywhere else in the culture of that day. Which is why Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia: “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT). In the context of the body of Christ, everyone was on an equal footing. But while coming to faith in Christ set someone like Onesimus free from sin, it did not free him from slavery. In fact, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them, “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ” (1 Corinthians 7:20-22 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern was the behavior of believers. He was focused on their walk – the daily living out of their faith within the context of their existing social relationships. Which he wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ” (Ephesians 6:5 NLT). We see once again, that their motivation was to be Christ-centered, as if they were serving Christ. He became a slave, a servant on their behalf, even dying in their place so that they might be freed from slavery to sin. Now He was calling them to serve their earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Rather than forced subservience, Paul was calling them to willing submission. Paul gives them some very specific instruction about how their faith should manifest itself in their relationship with their masters.

Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Ephesians 6:6-7 NLT

Notice that Paul encourages them to do the will of God with all their heart. What would the will of God be in their particular situation? To walk as children of light. To walk in love. To walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Yes, even within their context as slaves. Because in reality, they were slaves of Christ. Their earthly situation was temporary. So they could work with enthusiasm, performing their earthly responsibilities as if they were doing it for the Lord, knowing that “the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free” (Ephesians 6:8 NLT).

But Paul is not done. He also addresses those individuals in the churches in Ephesus who happened to be masters. He tells them, “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). Their faith in Christ was to have a relationship-altering impact on their lives. Their slaves were now their brothers. And everything they did was to be done as to the Lord. This was a game-changing, life-altering moment in the lives of these individuals. Can you imagine what kinds of renewing of the mind and shifting of their paradigm was taking place as they wrestled with the new-found faith in Christ and the reality of the social construct in which they found themselves? This particular relationship between slaves and masters would put the daily application of faith in Christ to the test like no other. 

Jesus did not come to revolutionize the structures of society, but the lives of the people who make up that society. He did not come to radically alter institutions, but to redeem individuals. Political change or legal sanctions do nothing to remedy the condition of the heart. Overthrowing the evil social structures of a society through rebellion or civil disobedience may bring about external change, but it will never fix the problem of sin. Believers living as children of light in the midst of darkness, loving unconditionally, submitting to one another willingly, and obeying Christ joyfully are the true change-agents in the world.