Peace, Love, and Faith

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. Ephesians 6:21-24 ESV

For the first time in his letter, Paul turns his attention to himself. He has written the letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He had been arrested in Jerusalem having been accused by the Jews of allegedly bringing Gentiles into the temple and defiling it (Acts 21:28-30). The Jews had been so incensed at Paul that they wanted to kill him, but he had been rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul ended up having to defend himself before the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, and King Agrippa. Eventually, he was shipped off to Rome because, as a Roman citizen, he had appealed for a trial before Caesar. So, while under house arrest, he wrote this letter to the Ephesians. In fact, Paul wrote many of his letters while physically detained in Rome. He made very good use of his time and continued to minister to the churches he had helped to plant.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the believers in each of the cities to which he wrote. He saw them as his spiritual children. He had a pastor’s heart for them, worrying about their spiritual well-being because he knew they were under spiritual attack from the enemy. That is why he wrote his many letters. He wanted to educate, encourage, and instruct them in the faith. He desired to see them grow in Christ-likeness and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world.

Paul was also aware that the believers to whom he had ministered so faithfully worried about him as well. They were concerned with his well-being and felt a certain sense of dependency upon him as their spiritual mentor and father in the faith. So Paul regularly them about his circumstances. With everything else going on in their lives, he didn’t want them worrying about him. So, he told them he would send Tychicus, “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” to bring them up to speed. It seems that Paul used Tychicus in this way quite often (Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:12). He was one of Paul’s constant companions and was able to travel to these various cities and keep the believers there informed as to the current status of Paul’s imprisonment and trial. Paul’s main purpose in sending Tychicus was that they might be encouraged. He knew that they didn’t need any more distractions or discouragement than they already had.

Paul loved others. He cared deeply about them and was willing to do whatever it took to see that they grew in faith. He could be hard on them, pointing out their weaknesses and flaws. But he could also be deeply compassionate, encouraging them in their weaknesses, and calling them to remain faithful. Like a loving parent, Paul wanted what was best for his children, and he was willing to sacrifice his own life to see that the flock of God was healthy and whole. Paul was the consummate shepherd. He shared the heart of Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 ESV). As a matter of fact, prior to heading to Rome to await his trial before Caesar, Paul had called for the elders from Ephesus and told them, “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). And Paul had lived out that admonition in his own life – all the way from Rome. Paul had lived out the calling for elders penned by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

And in keeping with his role as a shepherd, Paul closed out his letter with a prayer for his flock in Ephesus. He prayed for three things: peace, love, and faith. Peace is not an absence of trouble, but an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trying times. Peace also can mean harmony between individuals. Paul knew that there would be plenty of potential for turmoil in the Ephesian church because churches are comprised of people. And he knew that peace was going to be necessary if they were going to grow together and experience the unity that God desired for them. But peace is only possible when love is present. Mutual love is what brings about peace. The sacrificial, selfless love for which Paul was praying is unifying, not dividing. It is healing, not hurtful. It is other-oriented, not self-centered. And that kind of love is only possible through faith in Christ. It is not a self-manufactured kind of love but is a natural expression of the love that God expressed to us by sending His own Son to die on our behalf.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

All three of these attributes – peace, love, and faith – come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are divine gifts to the church and they are to be used for the mutual edification of one another.

Paul closes his letter the same way he opened it, with an emphasis on the grace of God.

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. – Ephesians 6:24 ESV

The grace of God, His undeserved favor, is the most remarkable thing any of us have ever received. But it is easy to lose sight of His grace and mistakenly assume that we somehow deserved or earned His love. We can end up thinking that we are worthy of His forgiveness and capable of living the Christian life in our own strength. But Paul would have us remember that it is the grace of God that made our salvation possible and it is the grace of God that makes our sanctification achievable. It is the grace of God that makes loving Him and His Son feasible. All that we are and all that we do is made possible by the grace of God.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

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

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

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

 

A Man on a Mission

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:1-2 ESV

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is the second of four letters he wrote while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before the emperor. The four letters include Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. The first three were written to particular congregations located within those cities. The fourth letter was personal in nature, written by Paul to a man named Philemon, who was a member of the church in Colossae. The purpose of Paul’s letter to Philemon was to inform him that his runaway slave, Onesimus, had somehow made it to Rome, where Paul had led him to place his faith in Christ. Paul had convinced Onesimus to return home and make amends with his master. But in his letter, Paul begged Philemon to accept Onesimus with open and loving arms.

It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

Each of the four letters was written sometime between 60-62 AD, while Paul was confined to his home in the Roman capital. Unable to continue his missionary journeys, Paul used his time to interface to teach, preach, and write. He seems to have had many visitors, including Luke, Onesimus, Timothy, Aristarchus, Epaphras, Jesus Justus, Demas, and John Mark.

Luke accompanied Paul to Rome and records in the book of Acts the details concerning their arrival.

When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier. – Acts 28:16 NLT

News of Paul’s trip to Rome had preceded him, and he was greeted by a contingent of fellow Christians upon his arrival.

The brothers and sisters in Rome had heard we were coming, and they came to meet us at the Forum on the Appian Way. Others joined us at The Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God. – Acts 28:15 NLT

Just three days after his arrival, Paul invited members of the local Jewish community to visit him at his rented home. He was anxious that they know the reason for his arrest and confinement but, more importantly, that they hear the good news concerning Jesus Christ.

“I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and so I could explain to you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel—the Messiah—has already come.” – Acts 28:20 NLT

This initial meeting led to a later gathering that was attended by a much larger number of Jewish exiles to Rome.

…a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening.  Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe. – Acts 28:23-24 NLT

And while Paul’s evangelistic efforts among the Jews met with limited success, it did not dampen his enthusiasm or diminish his desire to spread the good news concerning Christ.

For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him. – Acts 28:30-31 NLT

This background is essential for understanding the nature of the letters Paul wrote while imprisoned in Rome. The documents themselves reveal a great deal about Paul’s missionary zeal and determination to help the fledgling congregations to whom he wrote reconcile their newfound faith in Christ with the less-than-ideal circumstances in which they lived. Paul could relate to their predicament. He knew what it was like to live in hostile conditions, and yet he never lost sight of his desire to accomplish the mission for which Christ had called him. In his letter to the church in Philippi, he expressed his confidence that his imprisonment in Rome was all part of the sovereign will of God.

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.– Philippians 1:12-14 NLT

Paul was a firm believer in the will of God. In fact, he opens his letter to the church in Ephesus by identifying himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Ephesians 1:1 ESV). This was not a role he had chosen for himself. He had been sovereignly ordained and commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself. At one point in his life, Paul had been a faithful member of the Pharisees, a religious sect of the Jews. And he had been charged by the high priest with the responsibility of persecuting all those who were members of “the Way,” the derogatory name given to those who followed the teachings of the dead Rabbi, Jesus. In the book of Acts, Luke records Paul’s description of his former occupation, before coming to faith in Christ.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.” – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

But Paul never made it to Damascus. Instead, he found himself confronted by the “dead” Rabbi whose name and memory he had so desperately tried to eradicate. Paul’s encounter with Jesus left him blind and confused, but he was directed to meet with a godly believer named Ananias, who told him, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:14-16 NLT).

After having his sight restored, Paul was baptized and returned to Jerusalem, where he had a second encounter with Jesus, who told him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!” (Acts 22:21 NLT). And Paul had spent the rest of his life obeying that commission, taking the gospel throughout the known world and helping to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to people of every tribe, nation, and tongue.

Now, years later, Paul found himself confined to rented quarters in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth. But his missionary zeal remained unabated and his dedication to his original commission was undeterred. He was committed to running the race well. He wanted to complete the mission given to him by Christ. And he was not about to let imprisonment deter or distract him from his God-appointed objective. Years later, while imprisoned in Rome a second time, Paul would write to his young protégé, Timothy:

Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:5-8 NLT

That unwavering commitment to the cause of Christ permeates all of Paul’s letters, including the one he wrote to the believers in Ephesus. In the salutation of his letter, Paul refers to them as “saints” or holy ones. He wanted them to understand their identity as those who had been set apart or consecrated by God. They were no longer citizens of Ephesus, but they were now members of the household of God and could count themselves as citizens of a new kingdom whose ruler was Jesus Christ the Lord.

As Paul begins his letter, he does so with a wish that the Ephesian believers will experience the grace and peace that are rightfully theirs because of God’s loving sacrifice of His Son. For Paul, grace (charis) was the undeserved expression of God’s favor that allowed them to partake in the blessing of salvation provided for them through faith in Jesus Christ. God had shown them grace, His unmerited favor, by opening their eyes to the reality of Jesus’ atoning work on their behalf. And because they had believed in the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death, they now enjoyed peace with God the Father. They had been reconciled and restored to a right relationship with God because of their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

And Paul will spend the rest of his letter expounding on the incredible nature of their new relationship with God and the influence it should have on their everyday lives.

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

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

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

 

A Letter of Love

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father. – Colossians 1:1-2 ESV

The ancient city of Colossae achieved its early prominence and prosperity due to its location along a major trade route that ran through the Lycus River Valley in the Roman province of Asia Minor (in what is today modern-day Turkey). But in time, the nearby and newer city of Laodicea replaced Colossae as the economic engine of the region. While the Co­lossians had made a name for themselves through the manufacture of the much-coveted crimson-colored wool cloth known as colossinum, the once-thriving metropolis became little more than a small village. It was in this environment that a small congregation of believers sprung up.

The founding of the Colossian church is unclear. At the time Paul wrote his letter, he had not been to the city of Colossae, but his missionary journeys had taken him to nearby Ephesus where he had spent an extended period of time spreading the gospel message and making converts. According to Acts 19:10, “This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” It could be that one of the new converts from Ephesus took the good news of Jesus Christ to Colossae or a visitor from Colossae had been in Ephesus to hear the preaching of Paul. But whatever the case, the gospel made its way to the Colossians and, in time, a small congregation had been formed.

Because of its location along a major trade route, the city of Colossae had a population comprised of Greek colonists and native Phrygians. There would have also been a fairly large number of Jews living in the area because Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.) had relocated hundreds of Jewish families from Mesopotamia to this region. So, this local congregation was likely a diverse mixture of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. This hybrid blend of diverse backgrounds, along with the influence of false teachers, was causing a great deal of confusion among the church’s young congregation.

It appears that Paul had received word of the situation in Colossae from Epaphras, a resident of the city. Whether Epaphras visited Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome is unclear, but the fellow minister of the gospel had somehow gotten word to the apostle about the state of affairs in his home city. According to verses 7-8 of chapter one, Epaphras had been instrumental in the spread of the gospel to his fellow Colossians.

You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave—a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf—who also told us of your love in the Spirit. – Colossians 1:7-8 NLT

But Epaphras had shared with Paul his concern for the spiritual well-being of the church. Without proper leadership and instruction, the fledgling congregation had found itself struggling to resist the temptation to syncretize their old religious ideologies with their new faith in Christ. And some of the Jewish converts were attempting to add their own blend of Judaistic ritualism and traditionalism. To top it all off, there were those who had infiltrated the church, posing as doctrinal experts and propagating a dangerous brand of false teaching that stood in direct opposition to the teachings of Paul and the other apostles. This is what led Paul to open his letter with a statement that established his apostolic credentials.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God… – Colossians 1:1 ESV

While Paul had not been one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, he had received his apostolic commission directly from the Lord Himself. Early on in his life, Paul had been a member of the Pharisees, a powerful and highly influentials sect of Judaism. At one point, he described himself as the poster boy for religious extremism and dedication.

“I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.” – Philippians 3:5-6 NLT

He was an up-and-coming member of the Pharisees who had been given a commission by the high priest to persecute and arrest members of “the way,” the name given to the cult of followers who worshiped the dead Rabbi, Jesus. As a devout Pharisee, Paul had been a zealous adherent to and defender of the Jewish faith, and he was determined to eradicate the memory of Jesus and eliminate every one of His followers. He would later describe to the Jews how he had been given a commission to hunt down and destroy Christians.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.” – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

But something remarkable had taken place as Paul made his way to Damascus. He had come face to face with the resurrected Jesus. A blinding light had stopped Paul in his tracks and a voice had spoken to him, saying, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting” (Acts 22:8 NLT). Unable to see but fully capable of hearing, Paul heard Jesus give him instructions to visit a man named Ananias, who would give him further instructions. And Ananias opened Paul’s eyes and revealed to him his new mission:

“The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.” – Acts 22:14-16 NLT

This “Damascus Road experience” transformed Paul’s life. He went from persecutor to proclaimer of the gospel. And he was appointed an official apostle or messenger of Jesus Christ, with specific instructions to take the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. And Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to understand that he had divine authority to speak to address the situation taking place within their local congregation. Paul spent a great deal of time defending his rights to speak on behalf of Christ because there were those who attacked his apostolic credentials. But Paul pushed back on these critics, declaring his God-given authority to speak on behalf of Jesus.

“I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.” – Galatians 1:1 NLT

So many of the churches that Paul helped establish were being targeted by men who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God but who were teaching false doctrines and leading the people away from the simplicity and integrity of the gospel. Many of these men were eloquent and influential speakers who derided Paul’s ministry and portrayed him as a charlatan. But Paul refused to let these individuals destroy what God had built.

“But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 11:12-13 NLT

So, as Paul wrote the believers in Colossae, he opened his letter with a declaration of his apostleship. He wanted them to know that what he was about to tell them was divinely inspired and not just the thoughts of a man they had never met. He was about to divulge to them the will of God concerning their situation, and it would pay for them to listen. And Paul let them know that he was not alone in his concern for them. His protégé and fellow minister of the gospel, Timothy, stood with him in his message of encouragement and admonition.

Paul refers to his audience as “saints,” using a Greek term (hagios), which means “those set apart to God.” He wanted to remind them that they had been consecrated by God for His use. They belonged to Him and had an obligation to live their lives in keeping with His will and according to His Word. They were not free to establish their own model for righteous living or to create their own system of religious rituals or creeds. They had been set apart by God and were to dedicate their lives to God. And the rest of his letter will address the specifics of their situation and the measures they must take to ensure that they continue to live faithful lives marked by God’s grace and peace.

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

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

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

 

The God of Israel

1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

12 Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you.” 13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

15 So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. Genesis 33:1-20 ESV

The fateful moment Jacob had been dreading for 20 years had finally arrived. His return to the land of Canaan would have to begin with an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous reunion between him and the brother he had wrongfully deceived so many years earlier. It was payback time and Jacob had no idea what to expect when Esau arrived on the scene. So, when he looked up and saw Esau headed his way with a large force of 400 men, Jacob assumed the worst. All his attempts to win Esau’s favor with gifts of livestock appeared to have failed. The horde headed his way did not appear to be a welcoming party. So, he prepared for the worst.

Revealing the order of importance that Jacob placed on his wives and their children,  organized his family into three separate groups. Bilhah and Zilpah, the two slave women through whom he had fathered four sons, were placed in the first group along with their children. Leah came next, accompanied by her seven children. Then, forming the final group was Rachel and her only son, Joseph.

It seems that Jacob harbored hopes that, by placing Rachel and Joseph in the back of the line, they might be spared if Esau was out for revenge. Perhaps his anger would be assuaged long before he made it to them. Jacob was not expecting a happy reunion with Esau. The best he could hope for was some form of leniency and mercy. And he still had the option of placating his brother’s anger with additional payments in livestock.

Having taken his place at the front of the line, Jacob nervously waited to see what was going to happen. When his brother rode and dismounted, Jacob held his breath.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. – Genesis 33:4 ESV

Jacob must have been shocked and relieved by this unexpected display of affection from Esau. And an audible sigh of relief must have come from the lips of the nervous retinue standing behind Jacob. They would be spared. And when Esau looked at the long line of four women and 12 children, he asked his brother for introductions. And Jacob replied, “These are the children God has graciously given to me, your servant” (Genesis 33:5 NLT).

Jacob was a clever man and even his words reveal his penchant for cleverness and resourcefulness. Notice how he includes the name of God in his introduction of his children. By referring to them as gifts from God, Jacob was letting Esau know that they were under divine protection. It seems he was still a tad suspicious of his brother’s true intentions. And then, in another subtle, but equally adroit move, Jacob refers to himself as Esau’s servant. The Hebrew term he used is עֶבֶד (ʿeḇeḏ) and it literally means “slave.” Jacob was verbally submitting himself as a bondservant to his older brother. What makes this particularly interesting is that Jacob had worked very hard to cheat Esau out of his birthright and blessing so that he could be the head of the family and the inheritor of all their father’s possessions. But, at this point, Jacob was willing to sacrifice it all to restore his relationship with Esau.

After meeting all of Jacob’s wives and children, Esau revealed his curiosity about all the livestock that Jacob had sent his way.

“And what were all the flocks and herds I met as I came?” – Genesis 33:8 NLT

Jacob explained that they had been intended as gifts for Esau, but his brother politely refused to accept them.

“My brother, I have plenty,” Esau answered. “Keep what you have for yourself.” – Genesis 33:9 NLT

There appears to be a bit of bartering going on in this exchange. Esau is playing the generous host who refuses any thought of reciprocity for his hospitality. And Jacob is the guest who insists on rewarding Esau for his kindness. So, the two brothers continued to barter over the gifts, with Jacob finally winning the day. He wanted Esau to know how grateful he was for the gracious greeting he received and told his brother, “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me” (Genesis 33:10 ESV). 

Jacob expresses his sincere desire to bless his brother. He assures Esau that God has greatly blessed him and he desires to share divide up his blessing with him. Once again, it is important to consider how much time and energy Jacob had spent attempting to steal away his brother’s birthright and blessing. But now, he is ready to share all that he has with the very one he had defrauded. The last 20 years have produced a dramatic change in Jacob.

Having successfully reunited with his brother, Jacob was determined to continue his journey to Canaan. But Esau was excited to host Jacob in his home in Seir, which was located in the land of Edom. But God had commanded Jacob to return to Canaan, the land he had promised to give him as his possession. So, when Esau offered to escort Jacob and his family to Seir, Jacob politely declined. He suggested that Esau and his men go on ahead because his flocks would need to travel at a much slower and time-consuming pace. Esau agreed to this plan and left Jacob and his retinue to continue the journey on their own.

But Jacob had no intentions of traveling to the land of Edom. He knew his destiny lie on the western side of the Jordan River in Canaan. His first stop was in Succoth, on the eastern side of the Jordan. Once there, he built a temporary dwelling place and shelters for his flocks. But his stay would not be permanent. He knew that his real home was in Canaan so, after some undisclosed time, he set out for the city of Shechem. But like his grandfather before him, Jacob didn’t take up residence in the city. Instead “he camped before the city” (Genesis 33:18 ESV). In time, he purchased the land on which he had pitched his tent, securing for himself and his family a permanent home in Canaan. And there he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel, which means “God, the God of Israel.”

In purchasing the land and erecting an altar to God, Jacob was staking his claim to Canaan and declaring his commitment to Yahweh. This was a watershed moment in Jacob’s life. And to commemorate it, he proudly used the new name given to him by God.

“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 ESV

The fortunes and the future of Jacob were about to undergo a remarkable change. Along with a new name and a new home, Jacob was about to experience a brand new way of relating to and relying upon God. He had managed to escape a potential landmine with his brother, but that did not mean his stay in Canaan was going to be a cakewalk. And, as chapter 34 will reveal, things are about to heat up for Jacob.

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

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

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

How Many Righteous Does it Take to Save the World?

22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. Genesis 18:22-33 ESV

As Abraham prepared to say goodbye to his divine visitors, two of them made their way to the city of Sodom, while one stayed behind. And Moses indicates that the one guest who stayed behind was actually Yahweh Himself, in human form. Abraham found himself standing face to face with God Almighty, and he decided to take full advantage of this unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The two angels who had left were headed to Sodom, and Abraham knew the purpose of their mission. God had make it perfectly clear.

So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.” – Genesis 18:20-21 NLT

It seems highly likely that Abraham was well aware of the goings on in Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities had a well-deserved reputation for being “dens of iniquity.” So, he was had little doubt that the two angels were going to find ample evidence of wickedness and full justification for God’s judgment. But Abraham had a problem. His nephew Lot was a resident of Sodom.

This passage reveals a lot about Abraham’s concept of God. He understood God to be holy, just, and righteous. He viewed Him as a just judge who sits in judgment over the affairs of men.

“Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” – Genesis 18:25 NLT

And Abraham also knew that mankind was made of two basic groups of people: The godly and the ungodly. Or, as he put it, the righteous and the wicked.

Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked?” – Genesis 18:23 NLT

Though by this time, the world consisted of a variety of diverse ethnic-based cultures and people groups, there were really only two categories of humanity: Those who believed in God and those who did not. The righteous (צַדִּיקṣadîq) were the just and lawful, the ones who lived in keeping with the will of God. They were considered Yahweh worshipers. We first learn of them in Genesis 3, when Eve gave birth to a son who would serve as a replacement for Abel, who had been murdered by his brother, Cain. Moses records, “When Seth grew up, he had a son and named him Enosh. At that time people first began to worship the Lord by name” (Genesis 3:26 NLT). Through the line of Seth came a group of people who would call upon the name of the Lord. The apostle Paul explains that ,because God’s “eternal power and divine nature” had been made visible through His creation (Romans 1:20 NLT), mankind had no excuse for failing to recognize and reverence their Creator. But Paul goes on to state that, despite their recognition of God presence, they chose to withhold their worship of Him. 

…they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

So, by the time this event takes place in the life of Abraham, there were those who considered themselves Yahweh worshipers, and there were those who had chosen to turn their back on Him. They were the righteous because they were aligned with the “right God.” This does not mean that their behavior was pure and sinless. The apostle Paul would later state that “No one is righteous— not even one” (Romans 3:10 NLT). And his less-from-flattering evaluation was based on the Old Testament Scriptures.

Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one! – Psalm 14:1-3 NLT

So, when Abraham differentiates between the righteous and the wicked (רָשָׁעrāšāʿ), he is really acknowledging that there are two kinds of people: The innocent and the guilty. And he is concerned that, in His determination to punish the guilty living in Sodom and Gomorrah, God is going to inadvertently take the life of Lot.

Of course, it is easy to question Abraham’s assessment of his prodigal nephew. After all, Lot is the one who made the fateful decision to trade in his tent in the Jordan Valley for the comforts and conveniences of Sodom. And, in doing so, he exposed his entire family to the wickedness that marked this godless community. Shouldn’t he be held responsible for his poor judgment and the unwise stewardship of his family?

And yet, the apostle Peter provides a rather surprising revelation concerning Lot.

God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people. But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. – 2 Peter 2:6-8 NLT

Peter is not suggesting that God saved Lot because he was a sinless and perfectly blameless man. No, he is differentiating between the “ungodly people” of Sodom and the “godly” or Yahweh-worshiping Lot. It was Lot’s relationship with Yahweh that formed the basis of his salvation.

Abraham wants to know if God is going to spare the innocent or allow them to die along with the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah. In doing what was just – punish the wicked – will God end up doing what was unjust – destroy the innocent? And to drive home his point, Abraham puts a number to his question.

Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? – Genesis 18:24 NLT

There is no way to determine how many people lived in the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but it is safe to say that 50 people would have made up a small percentage of their overall populations. Abraham wanted to know if there were as few as 50 innocent people in Sodom, would God spare the city? Notice that Abraham doesn’t ask whether God would save the 50. For some reason, he expected God to spare the guilty for the sake of the innocent. In his mind, the presence of even as few as 50 innocent people would justify the preservation of town’s entire population.  He is not denying the fact that the wicked deserve what’s coming to them, but he is questioning the potential destruction of those who are undeserving.

This passage has always fascinated me. I have wrestled with the motivation behind Abraham’s repeated requests, and I have wondered why God was willing to play this ridiculous game of “What if…?” But there is something very significant going on here, and the key to understanding it begins in verse 19. Consider what the Lord said to the two angels.

“I have singled him [Abraham] out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.” – Genesis 18:19 NLT

God had set apart Abraham and his descendants for a special purpose. They were to be His chosen people, and were expected to live distinctively different lives than all the other nations on earth. But at this point in the story, Abraham’s family was small in number. He had one son, Ishmael, born to him through his wife’s handmaid, Hagar. He had male and female servants. But compared to all the other people groups on earth, Abraham’s clan was quite small and insignificant.

Now, consider what must have been going through Abraham’s mind. As he thought about Sodom and the pending judgment of God, he couldn’t help but think about the insignificant, yet innocent family of Lot. And it seems highly likely that Abraham began to ponder his own family’s status as the innocent few living among the guilty masses. If God was willing to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, what would keep Him from wiping out the rest of Canaan and its godless inhabitants? Abraham wanted to know if God was going to spare the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah so that a righteous remnant might be spared.

Abraham would have been well aware of the flood story. And while he would have known about God’s promise to never destroy the earth by flood again, he would have understood that this left God a lot of other options for bringing judgment against the wicked. So, this led Abraham to question just how few of the “righteous” it would take to prevent God from wiping out humanity again. And he used Sodom as a case study.

But notice how Abraham keeps moving the goal post. He starts out with a quantity of 50 and then slowly works his way down. And notice that each time, as Abraham lowers the number, God continues to assure Abraham that He will spare the city.

“If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” – Genesis 18:26 NLT

He will spare the city, including all the wicked within it – all for the sake of 50 righteous people. But, hedging his bets, Abraham reduces the number from 50 to 45, from 45 to 40, from 40 to 30, and then, ultimately, all the way down to 10. And, once again, God confirms His commitment.

I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” – Genesis 18:32 NLT

Again, Abraham’s emphasis is on the city itself. He wants to know how many righteous it will take to save the city. And what appears to be driving his line of thinking is his awareness that the world in which he was living was growing increasingly wicked while the size of his family remained remarkably small. Abraham knew the story of Noah and would have recalled that he too had been a righteous man.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. – Genesis 6:9 ESV

And yet, despite that fact, God had ended up destroying the entire earth, sparing only Noah and his family. It seems that Abraham feared this happening again. Would he, like Noah, be forced to begin again? Or would the presence of a faithful few spare the earth from judgment?

As this story unfolds, it will become clear that there were far fewer innocents in the city of Sodom than Abraham could have known. Things were far worse than he thought possible.

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

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

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

The Battle is the Lord’s

1 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.

Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people. Genesis 14:1-16 ESV

Abram and Lot have separated, with Lot taking up residence near the city of Sodom, while Abram continued his nomadic lifestyle, setting up a temporary camp by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron. But Abram’s separation from Lot would not last long. His nephew’s presence in the land would come back to haunt him.

This new season of Abram’s more independent life was going to be rocked by unexpected events that were outside of his control. What chapter 14 reveals is that Abram was far from alone in the land of Canaan. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been little mention of other nations, but the story recorded in this chapter will reveal that Abram has company and lots of it.

The chapter opens with news of a coalition of four kings whose nations lie outside the boundaries of Canaan. It’s difficult to determine with any certainty the exact locations of these ancient realms, but it seems that they each were located within the fertile crescent, an area known as the land of Shinar. It is important to recall that Shinar was the location of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). It was there that God decided to confuse the language of the people who attempted to build a tower that would reach to the sky. As a result of the confusion caused by the proliferation of new languages, the region became known as “Babel,” a word that literally means “confusion.” This region would later bear the name of “Babylon” and play a vital role in the history of the Hebrew people.

These kings all hailed from the region of Mesopotamia that stretched from the northern tip of the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.  One of these kings, Chedorlaomer, had earlier invaded southern Canaan and forced its occupants to become his vassals. The people living in Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (Zoar), had found themselves subjugated to a foreign power for 13 long years. But at one point their kings had decided to throw off the yoke of this foreign oppressor. And their decision had forced King Chedorlaomer to form a coalition with three of his fellow kings from Mesopotamia and invade Canaan yet again.  

This entire scene is meant to display the interconnected nature of all that has gone on before. Every event that has happened up to this point is linked together in God’s plan. There are reasons for everything. And there are repercussions for every decision made by men and consequences for every act of a sovereign God. Nothing happens by chance. The ill-fated decision of the people to disobey God and construct a tower to glorify their own greatness had produced a myriad of nations that were dispersed across the earth. And the confusion created by their disparate languages would eventually turn into conflict.

In chapter 13, Moses recorded God’s reiteration of His promise to Abram.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. – Genesis 13:14-15 ESV

And yet, here we have nine different kings vying for the right to control the land that God had given to Abram and his descendants. Ever since the gates to Eden had been slammed shut, mankind had been busy trying to grab up the remaining territory. Rather than steward that which belonged to God, they had been attempting to claim it as their own. Instead of acknowledging God as King, they had chosen to set up their own petty kingdoms here on earth. And here in this story, nine of these would-be gods were facing off in a battle of will and weapons, all in an effort to control what really belonged to God.

This coalition of four Mesopotamian kings slowly made their way south, defeating various clans, tribes, and nations along the way. They were successfully demonstrating their superior strength and telegraphing to the five kings of southern Canaan that their prospects for victory were dim. But refusing to consider surrender, the five kings joined forces and faced their enemy in the Valley of Siddim. Things did not go well. The tar pits that covered the valley floor proved to be their undoing. Many of the soldiers became mired in the sticky muck and were captured. As a result, the five kings were unable to put up a fight and their forces were easily defeated. And Moses provides a summary of this demoralizing debacle.

So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way. – Genesis 14:11-12 ESV

What makes this rather brief recap of the battle stand out is its focus on Sodom and Gomorrah, and its mention of Lot, the nephew of Abram. If you recall, chapter 13 chronicled Lot’s decision to choose the well-watered lands near Zoar as the place to pasture his flocks. But he actually “settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). This nephew of Abram made a determined choice to seek refuge among “the men of Sodom,” who “were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV).

Somewhere along the way, Lot had given up his tent and sought shelter within the walls of Sodom. Moses makes it clear that he “was dwelling in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12 ESV). And that decision would prove to be far from wise. When the four Mesopotamian kings looted Sodom, Lot was taken captive along with all his possessions. He was enslaved.

But news of his capture eventually reached the ears of his uncle. Abram was about to discover that his separation from Lot had been anything but permanent. And his decision to give Lot his choice of the land as his own had probably been a mistake. Now, Abram had a decision to make. Would he intervene and rescue Lot from his predicament or allow him to suffer the consequences? Moses records that Abram spent no time deliberating over his decision.

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. – Genesis 14:14 ESV

One can debate the wisdom of Abram’s decision, but there is an overwhelming sense of God’s sovereignty woven throughout this entire event. The actions of the five kings, while autonomous and self-determined, are actually the byproducts of God’s providential will. Nothing happens outside His control or in opposition to His predetermined plan. These events came as no surprise to God. They were simply part of the sovereign strategy He was orchestrating so that His will might be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). What He had preordained was coming to fruition, just as He had planned.

Abram and his 318-man army went to battle against the coalition of kings and their superior forces, and he won. That outcome would have come as no surprise to Moses’ readership. They knew that, for them to exist as a people, Abram had to have won. His victory was assured because God had promised to make of him a great nation. And nothing was going to stand in the way of that promise being fulfilled. Whether the number of enemy kings was four or forty, it didn’t matter. Regardless of the size of the foe, God could give victory.

This story should bring to mind another battle fought by a servant of God against superior forces. Years later, Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, would find himself going up against the Midianites. He was outnumbered and outgunned. But much to Gideon’s surprise, God informed him that he had too many soldiers. In a series of bizarre events, God whittled down Gideon’s force until he only had 300 men left. And with that diminutive army, Gideon defeated the Midianites.

And, in a similar fashion, Abram defeated the five kings of Mesopotamia. His “surprising” victory allowed him to rescue Lot and bring back all the possessions that had been stolen. Lot had been redeemed by Abram. He didn’t deserve it and he hadn’t earned it. Abram simply extended unmerited mercy and grace to his young nephew. And this story provides a foreshadowing of another undeserved rescue that will take place in the lives of Abram’s descendants after another army from the north will invade Canaan and take God’s people captive. God will graciously and dramatically rescue them, returning them to the land and fulfilling the promise He had made to Abram.

This event is simply one of many illustrations of God’s goodness, grace, and sovereignty as displayed in the life of Abram. And there are many more 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.

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

Holiness is Not Contagious

10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. 15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord‘s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” Haggai 2:10-19 ESV

Back on the 24th day of the sixth month, after a 16-year delay, the people of Judah had finally decided to obey God and commence construction on the destroyed temple of God. Nearly a month later, God encouraged them to complete the project by giving them the promise of His abiding presence (Haggai 2:1-5). But after two months of labor on the project, the people began to question the veracity of God’s word and the profitability of their efforts. Despite all their hard work, their crop production had not increased. They had finally obeyed God and begun construction on the temple, and yet, the drought continued, and the fruit of their harvests remained slim. Where were God’s blessings? Why had He not ended the drought and rewarded them for their faithful service?

They fully expected their obedience to produce some form of compensation from God. They were like disgruntled employees demanding a raise for all their hard work. So, God had Haggai deliver a much-needed lesson on moral purity and holiness. And He did so by posing a series of simple scenarios that concerned matters of holiness and defilement. God laid out these credible case studies and asked that the priests provide a ruling.

The first involved meat that had been set apart for sacrifice. According to the Mosaic Law, any meat that remained after the sacrifice was complete belonged to the priests.

“Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the sin offering. The animal given as an offering for sin is a most holy offering, and it must be slaughtered in the LORD’s presence at the place where the burnt offerings are slaughtered. The priest who offers the sacrifice as a sin offering must eat his portion in a sacred place within the courtyard of the Tabernacle. Anyone or anything that touches the sacrificial meat will become holy. If any of the sacrificial blood spatters on a person’s clothing, the soiled garment must be washed in a sacred place.” – Leviticus 6:25-27 NLT

“Any male from a priest’s family may eat from this offering; it is most holy.” – Leviticus 6:29 NLT

Based on this commandment, God asks the priests, “If one of you is carrying some meat from a holy sacrifice in his robes and his robe happens to brush against some bread or stew, wine or olive oil, or any other kind of food, will it also become holy?” (Habbai 2:12 NLT). And their answer is an emphatic, “No!”

Their answer was based on their understanding that the meat, the priest, and his garments had all been set apart or made holy by God because they were each used in the sacrificial system. The animal that was sacrificed had to be without blemish before it could be offered to God. The priest had to be ritually purified before he could offer the meat as an offering to God. And he wore garments that had been specifically set apart for use in the sacrificial system. The meat, the priest, and his garments were considered holy because they had all been set apart for one purpose: The honoring of God through sacrifice.

But their holiness was not transferable. Their distinction as being “holy unto the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30) was reserved for them alone. Not just any animal could be sacrificed. Not just any man could offer the meat of that animal to God. And not just any garment could be worn when doing so.

The consecrated priest carrying the consecrated meat in the fold of his consecrated robe was not some kind of a holiness transmitter that could somehow make ordinary food products holy and sacred simply by contact. That’s not how it worked. And yet it seems that the people believed that they were somehow holy by association because they had been working on the construction of God’s holy temple. They expected there to be some kind of transference of holiness accompanied by the requisite blessings that holiness demands. But the answer to the first question put an end to that misguided assumption.

The second question poses a similar but opposite scenario. This time, the situation involves someone who has become ceremonially unclean or impure.

“If someone becomes ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person and then touches any of these foods, will the food be defiled?” – Haggaie 2:13 NLT

Once again, the priests were expected to provide their professional assessment and, as before, they respond, “No!” And this is where Haggai drops an unexpected bombshell on the people.

“That is how it is with this people and this nation, says the Lord. Everything they do and everything they offer is defiled by their sin. – Haggai 2:14 NLT

Yes, they had finally decided to obey God and, for the last few months, they had been making progress on the rebuilding of the temple. But their determination to obey had not absolved them of their track record of sin and guilt. In God’s eyes, they were guilty of sin and, therefore, unclean. Even their offerings were considered unclean by God. This is where the two scenarios come into play. While holiness was non-transferable, the same could not be said of impurity or uncleanness. Just as good health cannot be shared from one person to another, neither can holiness. But disease or illness can be easily transmitted from the sick to the healthy. And the same is true with moral impurity. It can spread like yeast in a lump of dough or cancer cells in the human body.

Ever since the people had returned to the land from their captivity in Babylon, they had been offering sacrifices on an altar they had constructed.

Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening. – Ezra 3:2-3 NLT

But while their intentions were pure, their lives were not. As the book of Ezra points out, they were offering sacrifices before they had even laid the foundation of the temple, where those sacrifices should have been made.

Fifteen days before the Festival of Shelters began, the priests had begun to sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. This was even before they had started to lay the foundation of the Lord’s Temple. – Ezra 3:6 NLT

And now, 16 years later, God lets them know that He considered their sacrifices to be impure and unacceptable because they were contaminated by sin. He reminds them that, prior to laying the foundation of the temple, they were suffering from poor harvests caused by the blight, mildew, and hail He had sent upon them. And, even then, they had refused to return to Him (Haggai 2:17).

But now, three months after they had begun to rebuild the temple, God had good news for them. Things were about to change because He had made a determination to bless them. But not because they deserved or had earned it. Up until this very day, they had continued to experience His judgment for their disobedience – despite their efforts at rebuilding the temple. Now, He had something different in store for them.

“But from this day on I will bless you.” – Haggai 2:19 ESV

God could not and would not overlook the 16 years of disobedience that allowed His house to remain a pile of rubble. The people had managed to build homes for themselves but had repeatedly come up with excuses to put off the one thing God had commanded them to do when they returned to the land: Rebuild the temple. In failing to carry out that command, they had dishonored God and brought judgment upon themselves. They had returned to a land that was “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3), but their fields remained fruitless, their cupboards bare, and their stomachs empty – all because of their unfaithfulness. Their past disobedience had to be punished. But now God was ready to pour out His blessings.

They had been set apart by God for His glory. He had chosen them to be His prized possession, a kingdom of priests who were to honor Him with their lives. But they had failed to do so. Amazingly, despite their 16 years of apathy and non-compliance and only three months of faithful service, God graciously determined to bless them.

And all of this was in keeping with the promise God had made to the people of  Israel long before they entered the land of Canaan. Moses had clearly warned them:

“…you must seek the LORD your God at the place of worship he himself will choose from among all the tribes—the place where his name will be honored. There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks. There you and your families will feast in the presence of the LORD your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the LORD your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 12:5-7 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.

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

Stand Firm and Stand Together

12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. 13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. 14 Greet one another with the kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ. 1 Peter 5:12-14 ESV

Even when attempting to close out his letter, Peter could not refrain from offering one more exhortation to his readers. You can sense his pastor’s heart as he expresses his care and concern for their spiritual well-being.

Peter mentions Silvanus, an individual he describes as “a faithful brother.” He is likely the same Silvanus who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. – 2 Corinthians 1:19 ESV

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. – 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV

Silvanus was a Greek name and its Roman form was Silas. In the book of Acts, Luke mentions Silas 12 different times and describes him as having been an apostolic emissary, carrying an important letter to the Gentile converts to Christianity.

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter – Acts 15:22-23 ESV

There has been much debate over the centuries as to what Silvanus’ exact role was in regards to this letter. There are some who believe that Silvanus acted as Peter’s personal secretary or amanuensis. When Peter states, “By Silvanus…I have written briefly to you…,” they interpret it to mean that Peter dictated his thoughts to Silvanus, who then wrote the actual letter that was read to the various church throughout Asia Minor. The apostle Paul was known to use this process with some of his letters. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Tertius, his amanuensis, identified himself.

I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. – Romans 16:22 ESV

So, it would not have been uncommon or unexpected for Peter to use someone like Silvanus to pen the actual message to the churches. This personal greeting from Peter at the end of the letter would have been a reminder to its readers that its content was from him.

There are others who believe that Silvanus was simply the messenger, chosen by Peter to take the letter to the churches located in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Peter’s reference to Silvanus as “a faithful brother” is meant to identify him as a trustworthy messenger who was carrying an actual letter from the apostle Peter. It was important to Peter that the recipients of the letter also receive Silvanus as more than just an errand boy tasked with hand-delivering Peter’s message. He was a proven and faithful co-worker who had served alongside the apostles and would be an invaluable asset to the churches in Asia Minor.

But regardless of whether Silvanus penned Peter’s letter or simply delivered it, Peter provided his reason for sending it in the first place.

My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. – 1 Peter 5:12 NLT

Their suffering for the sake of Christ was all part of God’s plan for their lives. Peter describes it as “God’s grace” for them – the true grace of God. This is the same grace he had mentioned just a few sentences earlier in his letter.

…after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

Yes, they were experiencing suffering, just as Jesus had in His earthly life. But Peter wanted them to know that their present suffering would result in their future glorification, just as it had for Jesus. The author of Hebrews provides much-needed encouragement when it comes to facing the trials and difficulties of this life.

…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

By focusing on the faithful suffering of Jesus and recognizing that His pain was our gain, we are better able to endure the difficulties we face in this life. He is seated in the place of honor beside His Heavenly Father. His suffering resulted in glorification. His humiliating and painful execution was followed by His glorious exaltation. And the same will be true of all those who place their hope and faith in Him. They too will one day be glorified, exalted, and enter into the presence of God Almighty. And Peter reminds his readers that, at that time, God will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10 ESV). That very thought led Peter to exclaim, “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:11 ESV).

There was nothing they would face in this life that could remove them from the protective power of God’s grace. He would watch over them and preserve them, guaranteeing that they would one day receive the future inheritance He had ordained for them. This was the very message Peter used to open up his letter.

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

Even if their suffering for the sake of Christ was to result in death, they could rest easy knowing that their death would usher them into God’s presence. But should they live and their suffering were to continue, they would see it come to an end with the Lord’s return. Their salvation was guaranteed. Their future was secure. The apostle Paul gave a powerful exhortation to the believers in Corinth, challenging them to never give up.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

He was encouraging them to live with the end in mind, and that was Peter’s point as well. He challenged his readers to “stand firm” in the grace of God. Their Heavenly Father could be trusted. His promises were true and He always kept His word.

As Peter wraps up his letter, he makes a rather interesting reference to “She who is at Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13 ESV). It is believed that Peter is using the name of the ancient and infamous city of Babylon to refer to Rome. At one time, Babylon had been the 800-pound gorilla in that part of the world, having dominated and defeated the other nations, including Israel. They had terrorized the world, establishing a far-reaching empire that spread their idolatry and immorality as far as the eye could see. And Peter sarcastically refers to Rome as nothing more than the latest version of ancient Babylon. Like Babylon, their 15-minutes of fame would come to an end. But in the meantime, Peter was writing his letter from Rome and sending greetings from the believers who lived right under the nose of the Roman emperor.

Peter refers to these believers as “likewise chosen” by God. This was the way he had addressed the recipients of his letter.

God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. – 1 Peter 1:1 NLT

They were not alone. There were other believers going through the same difficulties.

Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. – 1 Peter 5:9 NLT

These people did not live in the Internet age. They did not have access to social media and instant information. There was no way they could communicate with other believers and know what was going on in other cities or countries. News traveled slowly. And it would be easy for the various churches to assume that their particular difficulties were unique to them. But Peter assured them that their struggles were common to all.

After sending greetings from the church in Rome and from Mark, his ministry companion, Peter encourages the believers in these far-flung churches to “Greet one another with the kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14 ESV). It would seem odd that Peter was suggesting that the believers in the church located on Pontus should hug and kiss one another. Yes, brotherly love and affection are essential for every local body of believers. But it makes more sense to view Peter as calling on each of these believers, regardless of their location, to express love for their brothers and sisters all across the world. In a sense, Peter was encouraging them to send a “kiss of love” to one another, understanding that distance could not separate them from the other members of their God-ordained family. The Greek word for “greet” is aspazomai and it means “to embrace” or “to receive joyfully.” Peter wanted the churches in Asia Minor to see their family as far larger and more significant than just their local congregation. The body of Christ was growing and spreading and, while they could not physically see their brothers and sisters in Christ, they could “greet” them with expressions of love and mutual concern. And they could all share in the peace that was theirs through Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

 

The Heights of Humility

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7 ESV

The church needs godly leadership. So, Peter called on the elders of the local congregations in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia to step up and do their God-appointed duty well.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

But Peter knew it was almost impossible to lead those who refused to follow. That’s why he turned his attention to the members of those local congregations and urged them to live lives of humble submission and obedience, graciously and willingly submitting themselves to their elders and to one another. And he began by addressing the young men who, in every generation, sometimes find submission to authority to be a difficult and distasteful proposition. Naturally headstrong and strongly independent, young men inherently desire to come out from under the authority of their elders. They want to sow their oats, captain their own ship, and operate as the masters of their own fates. But Peter challenged them to “accept the authority of the elders” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT).

Peter knew that the health of the church was dependent upon the willingness of its members to lovingly submit to one another. There was no place for competition within the body of Christ. While the church requires a God-ordained hierarchy of leadership, there is no excuse for attitudes of superiority or favoritism. Paul addressed the unique nature of the body of Christ in his first letter to believers living  in the city of Corinth.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12 NLT

He went on to use the human body as an apt illustration of the spiritual body of Christ – the church.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? – 1 Corinthians 12:14-17 NLT

Each part of the body is necessary and serves its own unique purpose. It is only as they function in harmony that they all enjoy the mutual benefits inherent in their relationship. And the same is true of the church. That is why Paul insisted, “our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it” (1 Corinthians 12:18 NLT). Yes, there are those who are designated as elder and teachers, but that does not mean they have greater value or worth. It is as each member of the body of Christ learns to utilize its unique attributes for the benefit of the whole, that the church grows and thrives. And Paul insisted that it was all of God’s divine plan.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 NLT

Having addressed the younger generation within the church, Peter expanded the circumference of his message by including every “part” of the body.

…all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5 NLT

According to Peter, every member of a local congregation had the responsibility to adorn themselves with an attitude of humility. No one was to view themselves as irreplaceable or indispensable. An elder, while holding a leadership position within the body of Christ, was expected to be a servant of all. Every individual within a local fellowship was to maintain a humble evaluation of themselves. The apostle Paul put it a bit more bluntly.

I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:3-5 NLT

Peter was paraphrasing Proverbs 3:34 when he wrote “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” And James did the same thing in the letter that bears his name.

As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. – James 4:6-7 NLT

Humility is a non-negotiable characteristic of a Christ-follower. That’s why Paul told the believers in Philippi:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

And Paul went on to describe exactly what kind of attitude Jesus had.

…he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:7-8 NLT

Jesus was the Son of God and, yet, He did not think of Himself as too good to take on human flesh and live among sinful humanity. The co-creator of the entire universe willingly left His Father’s side and entered this world as the servant of all. He was the suffering servant and the good shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. And we are to follow His example. we are to share His mindset of humility and selfless service.

And with Jesus as the prime example, Peter urges his readers: “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor” (1 Peter 5:6 NLT). Slaves who submitted to their masters, wives who lived in loving submission to their husbands, husbands who submissively and sacrificially served their wives, and individual Christians who willingly submitted to one another would each be submitting to God. And He would eventually reward them just as He had rewarded His Son. Which is exactly what Paul had written about our humble and selfless Savior.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

As Peter states earlier, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. His grace is our reward. The grace of the gospel, made possible by the selfless sacrifice of Jesus rewards us with salvation, forgiveness, sanctification, and, ultimately, our future glorification. We can look forward to a future reward that will include eternal life in His unshakeable Kingdom.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. – Hebrews 12:28 NLT

Peter wanted his readers to live humbly, sacrificially, selflessly, and expectantly. Yes, they would suffer in this life. And yes, they were expected to live submissively in this life. And yet, one day, their humility will be richly rewarded.

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

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

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

 

To Love Like Christ

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV

Peter has just quoted from the book of Psalms in order to encourage his readers. He has used the Old Testament Scriptures to remind them that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous” (Psalm 34:15). But not only that, “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (Psalm 34:16). He wanted them to know that God the Father was watching over them and was on their side. The presence of difficulties and trials in the their lives was not a sign that God had abandoned them. The psalmist had called the people of God to live in obedience to the will of God, even in the face of opposition and the seeming absence of God’s presence. He was there. He was always there. And not only did God see their righteous response to the unrighteous actions of others, but the full weight of His righteous indignation was against those individuals. He would repay the wicked. Their only responsibility was to not return evil for evil. In fact, they were to turn away from evil and do good.

Then Peter follows up his quotation of Psalm 34 by paraphrasing yet another message found in the psalms.

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me? – Psalm 56:11 ESV

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. – Psalm 118:6-7 ESV

And the author of the book of Hebrews used these same passages as when trying to articulate God’s unwavering faithfulness and care for His own.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 ESV

Financial distress was no reason to worry or lose hope. And the love of or desire for money should never replace God as the believer’s sole source of sustenance and comfort. Material goods would make lousy substitutes for God. That is why Jesus warned in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

The love of money and the fear of man are two powerful forces that constantly pull on the followers of Christ. We are prone to believe that money can bring contentment and that men are our primary source of acceptance. The world teaches us that material wealth can make us happy, and that our peers can make us or break us. They can build us up or tear us down. Yet the psalmists, Jesus, and Peter teach something quite different. And Peter chooses to make his point by asking a rather strange question that is cleverly worded paraphrase of Psalm 56:11.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? – 1 Peter 3:13 ESV

To those hearing Peter’s letter being read to them, the obvious and logical answer might be: Everybody! As they looked at the very real circumstances surrounding their lives, they could easily confess that there were plenty of people ready, willing, and able to do them harm for doing what is good. So much of their suffering was a result of their decision to follow Jesus.

But Peter was trying to get them to understand that their reaction to their suffering was a key demonstration of their faith in Christ. Were they willing to remain committed to doing good, even in the face of opposition and oppression? Would their mistreatment at the hands of their enemies cause them to respond in like manner or would they be a mimētēs or an imitator of Jesus. Centuries before Jesus suffered persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Roman government, the prophet Isaiah prophesied how He would respond to their unjustified and unrighteous treatment of Him.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

And Matthew records how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. – Matthew 27:12 NLT

Jesus suffered for the sake of righteousness. He didn’t defend Himself. He didn’t lash out in anger or resentment. And Peter lets his readers know that they too would suffer for the sake of righteousness and, when it happened, they could know that their suffering would bring the blessing of God. They would one day be justly and rightly rewarded for their faithfulness, just as Jesus was.

God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. – 1 Peter 3:14 NLT

Jesus had told His disciples, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NLT). And He knew what He was talking about. Jesus was well aware that His future fate involved His own physical death at the hands of His enemies. They would kill His body, but fail to touch His soul. Jesus would die, but His body would be resurrected and reunited with His soul in its glorified form. His death was far from the end. It was just the beginning of God’s grand redemptive plan to reconcile lost humanity to Himself. It was on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, that Peter made the following statement to his Jewish audience.

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” – Acts 2:16 NLT

And it was some time later that Peter would stand before the high council of the Jews,  defending himself for having healed a lame man. And he would tell them:

“Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.” – Acts 4:10 NLT

Jesus had suffered the ultimate for of persecution: Death by crucifixion. And yet, He was raised to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and it was His resurrection power that enabled Peter, John, and the other disciples to do  “good deeds” even in the face of persecution. Peter knew from first-hand experience what suffering for the faith looked like. And he wanted his readers to know the secret to his ministry and resilience.

…worship Christ as Lord of your life. – 1 Peter 3:15 NLT

You might put it this way: Stop worrying and start worshiping. Rather than obsessing over what men might do to them, they needed to start praising Jesus for all that He had done for them. They were sons and daughters of God. They were heirs of the Kingdom. They were forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and had the Holy Spirit of God living within them. They had much for which to be grateful and plenty of cause to worship Jesus.

But along with praising Jesus for all that He had done for them, they were to tell others about the source of their hope, joy, and peace in the midst of life’s struggles.

if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

And as they shared their faith, even with their persecutors, they were to do so in love. They were not come across as judgmental or self-righteous. Their relationship with Christ was not to be a badge of honor or superiority that they flaunted before the less spiritual or ungodly. No, Peter told them they were to explain their faith  “in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:16 NLT). In doing so, they would maintain a clear conscience, free from hate and marked by gracious humility. And this Christ-like response to suffering for the sake of righteousness would have a remarkable impact on their enemies. 

Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

It’s one thing to be hated for doing what is wrong. That is to be expected. But it is another thing to be hated for doing what is right and righteous. And Peter wants the believers to whom he is writing to understand the difference. If they respond to mistreatment with hate, they will only receive more hate in return. But if they respond in love, in total contradiction to human nature, their enemies won’t know what to do with it. This is not a promise of immunity from further suffering or even death. It is a reminder that the believer’s power to show love to their enemies is evidence that they belong to Christ.

Jesus told His disciples that they would suffer. He warned them that the world would hate in the same way it hated Him. But Jesus loved the world enough to die for it. And as Jesus told the Pharisee, Nicodemus: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17 NLT). And, as His followers, we are love the world by sharing that message of divine love and salvation – even in the face of opposition, oppression, and the threat of death.

Remember,” Peter writes,  “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17 NLT).

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

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