Faith in Action

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:3-7 ESV

Peter has just offered a prayer that grace and peace be multiplied in the lives of his readers, based on their expanding knowledge of God and His Son. As their understanding of the Father and Son grew, so would their faith in and reliance upon them. Later in his letter, Peter provides a stern warning against the dangers of false teachers. These individuals were attempting to promote a different source of knowledge. But here, he opens up with an encouragement to know God. His simple prayer reflects the thoughts of Paul found in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. – Ephesians 1:15-18 NLT

Here in the opening chapter of his letter, Peter puts a heavy emphasis on spiritual growth and maturity. It echoes the words found in his first letter.

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT

While salvation is a one-time event in the life of a believer, it is far from a static process. It begins at a point in time but then carries on for a lifetime. This process is often referred to as sanctification. The apostle Paul sums up the God-ordained and Spirit-empowered process of sanctification in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

In God’s grand redemptive plan, our salvation is the opening act of a marvelous drama that will one day culminate with the final scene of our glorification. The apostle John describes this ongoing transformative process in his first letter.

Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as Christ is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 BSB

Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear that we are “saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” He went on to warn that it is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). Yet, Paul seems to be contradicting himself in his letter to the Philippian believers: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV). But Paul is not encouraging salvation by works. He is simply stating that the process of sanctification takes effort on our part. Our salvation was a gift. But our sanctification is a Spirit-empowered process that requires our cooperation and willing participation.

And Peter reminds his readers that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). In other words, they were not going to have to self-manufacture the energy to live godly lives. It had all been provided for them by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The “all things” to which Paul refers are the divine resources they had received when they came to know Christ. They were fully equipped for the sanctifying process God had in store for them. But it would require a constant reliance upon God’s Spirit and a desire to grow in their knowledge of God and His Son.

For Peter, it was essential that his readers understand that Jesus had called them to Himself by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had been attracted to the moral excellence and virtue of the God-man, Jesus. His sinless life and sacrificial death on their behalf had been the source of their belief. The gospel that had been preached to them had declared Jesus to be the Son of God and the sole source of salvation from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death. And they had believed. But now, Peter wanted them to know that there was much more in store for them. There were precious promises attached to their salvation.

…because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:4 NLT

Peter raises their expectations and focuses their attention on the ultimate outcome of their salvation: Their future glorification. But that pending promise had present implications. Yes, they would one day share in Christ’s divine nature and permanently escape the influence of the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. But they didn’t have to wait for the hereafter. Peter assured them that they could also live distinctively different lives in the here-and-now.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. – 2 Peter 1:5-7 NLT

God had promised to sanctify them and He would. But they would have a part to play in the process. Jesus had not only called them by His own glory and excellence, but He was calling them to share in His glory and excellence. They were to model their lives after His. And Peter gives them an extensive, yet not exhaustive, list of Christ-like qualities with which to supplement their faith. These are the “things” to which Peter referred back in verse three.

Peter begins with moral excellence. The Greek word is aretē, and it refers to “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Faith in Christ should result in a life that mirrors the character of Christ. If we will one day be like Him, then it only makes sense to begin the process now. It should be our greatest desire to emulate His life and mirror His moral excellence in all that we do.

Next, Peter encourages his readers to supplement their faith with knowledge. The Greek word is gnōsis, and it refers to the acquisition of information that can be beneficial to decision-making. In the early days of the church, there was a growing heresy that came to be known as Gnosticism. The proponents of this false doctrine taught that true salvation was based on the discovery of secret or hidden knowledge that was only discoverable by a fortunate few. This “higher truth” was declared to be essential for attaining divine status and achieving spiritual maturity. But Peter was suggesting something altogether different. He was promoting an ever-increasing knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. The kind of knowledge Peter had in mind was the same that Paul descrived to the believers in Philippi.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. – Philippians 1:9-10 NLT

Next, Peter adds the quality of self-control (egkrates), which is “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites” (Outline of Biblical Usage). One of the false teachings that had infiltrated the early church was dualism, which taught that the spirit was essentially holy, while the physical body was impure and defiled. This dualistic approach to life made allowances for ungodly behavior in the “body” because it didn’t matter. It propagated the idea that anything done in the body, even the grossest sin, was actually meaningless and, therefore, permissible. But Peter clarified that, for the Christian, there was no dichotomy between spirit and body. The new nature they had received by virtue of their faith in Christ was to be evidenced in every area of their lives.

And their visible exhibition of self-control was to be marked by steadfastness (hypomonē). In Greek, this word carries the idea of constancy and unswerving perseverance. According to the Outline of Biblical Usage, it is “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

Peter knew that his readers were facing increasing opposition and oppression for their faith in Christ. And even when they did what was right, they would suffer for doing so. That is why they needed to persevere in spite of the adversity they would face. And when they did, they would be following the example of Christ Himself.

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV

Suffering for the sake of Christ was part of their calling. But perseverance in the face of suffering would require godliness (eusebeia). And Peter used the life of Christ to describe exactly what this looked like in his first letter.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:22-23 ESV

Patient endurance will show up as godly behavior – that which reflects the character of God. And it is based on a desire to honor and please God through our actions.

According to Peter, one of those demonstrations of godliness would be brotherly affection (philadelphia). It was essential that Christians exhibit a demonstrative and distinctively different love for one another. It was Jesus who said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). Their love for one another was to be tangible and visible. It was to set them apart from the rest of society and provide living proof that God had transformed their hearts and lives.

But Peter adds one more essential and non-negotiable attribute: Love (agapē). This takes the concept of love one step further. Here, Peter is highlighting a love that is unbiased and non-partial. It goes beyond filial or familial love. This is the kind of love that Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48 NLT

The apostle Paul summed up this kind of love when he wrote: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT). This is the same kind of love they had experienced from God and they were expected to share that love with anyone and everyone, including their enemies and their friends. Even if it cost them their lives. For as Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV).

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

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

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

The Greatest Commandment

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” –  Matthew 22:34-40 ESV

Pharisees question Jesus.jpg

In this section of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is being bombarded by a relentless series of questions posed to Him by various factions of the religious elite. First, they questioned His authority, wanting to know what right He had to say and do the things He did. Then the Pharisees tried to trick Him with a question regarding the payment of taxes to the Roman government. When they failed, the Sadducees, the liberals of their day, asked Him a question regarding marriage and the resurrection. The fact was, they didn’t believe in the resurrection, and they wanted to show that Jesus was in opposition to their belief system. They viewed Jesus as a heretic and wanted to expose Him as such. But Jesus saw through their motives and easily handled their question.

Like a tag-team wrestling match, the Sadducees were quickly followed by the Pharisees, who once again posed a controversial question to Jesus. This time it concerned the Mosaic Law – their area of expertise.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”Matthew 22:34-36 NLT

This was a common topic of debate among rabbis. They were constantly arguing whether one commandment took precedence over another. And this was a significant issue to them because the Pharisees had codified the law into 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, many of which were man-made addendums to the law given by God to Moses. And the people of Israel were expected to keep this staggering list of 615 rules and precepts.

With that many laws, it wasn’t long before one seemed to contradict another. For instance, over in the book of Leviticus, the Law records, “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16 NLT). Yet, over in Exodus, it declares, “…but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on that day must be put to death. You must not even light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath” (Exodus 35:2-3 NLT). So, if your neighbor’s life was threatened on the Sabbath, what were you to do? Take action or rest?

This argument came up regularly between Jesus and the Pharisees because He seemed to make a habit of healing on the Sabbath, which they saw as a clear violation of the Law. In essence, by asking Jesus this question, they are testing Him to see if He had any greater insight into the Law than they did. And they had serious doubts about that.

The answer Jesus gave revealed His authority over the Scriptures.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” – Matthew 22:37-38 NLT

Jesus quoted from the Shema, a portion of Old Testament Scripture recited daily by all Jews.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:5-6 NIV

This is just the first part. The love of God was to dictate all their behavior. But Jesus points out that there was a second part to the command.

“A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:39 NLT

Here, Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 and reminds them that this second part was equally essential. While loving God was vital, so was loving your fellow man. And while this would not have been a revelation to the Pharisees, Jesus instilled these commands with new emphasis and meaning. While love for God was to be supreme, one of the greatest expressions of love for God shows up in our love for others. The apostle John reminds us:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? – 1 John 4:20 NLT

Why would this have been so revolutionary and revelatory to the religious leaders? THEY DIDN’T DO IT! They claimed to love God but actually hated their brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, Jesus was going to have some stinging things to say to them.

“For they crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” (Matthew 23:4 NLT

In His answer, Jesus was giving them a new way to see the Law of God. “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 23:40 NLT). Every other law was based on a love for God and a love for man. These two things were foundational to every other command given by God. The Ten Commandments themselves were divided into these two areas: A love for God and a love for others. There was to be a horizontal and vertical aspect to our love. You can’t have one without the other. They are meant to be reciprocal – and this Law of Love is found throughout the New Testament.

Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These — and other such commandments — are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8-10 NLT

But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14 NLT

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. – James 2:8-9 NLT

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:34-35 NLT

Jesus puts love for God and love for man on an equal footing. They are inseparable, and yet the Pharisees claimed to love God but hated their fellow man. They despised all those whom they considered to be sinners or law-breakers.

Fast-forward to Matthew 25:37-40. In this passage, Jesus talks about the future judgment of man. He uses the picture of a shepherd dividing his flock between the sheep and the goats. This is an image of what will take place at the end of the great period of tribulation that will mark the end of the age. With His story, Jesus alludes to those Gentiles who will have survived the tribulation, some having come to faith during that time. And their love for God will be evidenced by their actions and their treatment of the Jews who will also be going through intense persecution during the final half of the tribulation. These “sheep” will stand before God and receive recognition for their efforts. And they will ask God a question:

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:37-40 NLT

Their love for others will be proof of their love for God. Their capacity to love others will provide evidence that their hearts have been transformed by God. In fact, it will be the main criterion for judgment. Yet Jesus states that all those who fail to do the same will be condemned.

OUR LOVE OF OTHERS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO GOD. It gives visible, tangible evidence of our love for Him. It reveals that we understand and appreciate His love for us.

So, how are you doing with these two commandments today? Do you claim to love God but struggle with loving others? Since you can’t put your arms around God and show Him how much you love Him, why not express your love for Him by loving those He has made?

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. – John 13:35 NLT

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

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

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

Serve Like It.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV

Once again, Peter gives his readers, and us, some advice about our behavior as believers in Jesus Christ. He tells us to be “self-controlled and sober-minded.” But the odd thing about this statement is the two reasons he gives for living this way: Because the end of all things is at hand and for the sake of our prayers. What is he talking about? What is he referring to by “the end of all things”? Peter, like all the other apostles, lived with a constant sense that the coming of the Lord was eminent. They lived with a short-term, temporary mindset when it came to their time on this earth. Jesus had said He would come again for them, and they lived as if that promise would be fulfilled sooner, rather than later. Here are just a few of their statements regarding the end of the age:

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. – James 5:8 ESV

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. – Romans 13:11 ESV

…so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:28 ESV

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. – 1 John 2:18 ESV

By living with the end in mind, these men were able to keep their focus, even while surrounded by the cares and concerns of this life. They gained a different perspective about suffering and persecution keeping their eyes focused on the goal. That’s why Paul could say, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT).  The author of the letter to the Hebrews provides us with these powerful words that encourage us to keep our attention focused on the temporary nature of our existence here:

You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. – Hebrews 3:13-14 NLT

So, Peter warns us. He reminds us to be self-controlled and sober-minded, because the days are short. Was he lying? Was he misinformed? Obviously, he was wrong. Here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, and the end has not yet come. Jesus has not returned. Was Peter overly optimistic or just driven by wishful thinking? No, he lived with a sense of eager anticipation. He longed for the return of His Savior. He had no idea when it would happen, but he lived as if it could be any day, and it could be. Concerning His own second coming Jesus said, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 NLT). Jesus went on to tell His disciples, Peter being one of them, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 NLT). And He qualified this statement by adding, “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Matthew 24:44 NLT). So, you can see why Peter lived with this optimistic, it-could-happen-any-day-now attitude, and he wanted us to live the same way. 

But what about his statement regarding prayer? What does he mean when he says that we are to be “self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”? If prayer is the means by which we communicate with the Father, then it is important that we do so on a regular basis It’s likely that Peter had a special heart for prayer because of the words spoken to him by Jesus that night in the garden, just hours before Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Jesus had gone off to pray and had asked the disciples to keep watch.

Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:40-41 NLT

Peter, like the other disciples, had fallen asleep. He lacked diligence. He had allowed himself to fall asleep on the job. And just a few hours later, Peter would be the one to deny Jesus three times. That night would have stuck with him for years. And it radically changed his view regarding prayer. He knew that communication with God, the ability to share with the Father his innermost thoughts, and hear words of comfort and encouragement in return, were critical to living his life on this planet. And he wants us to know the very same truth. Prayer is not optional, it is vitally necessary.

Next, Peter highlights the necessity of love. It is another non-negotiable in the life of a believer. We are to love as we have been loved by Christ. And that love is to be ektenēs, a Greek word that means “stretched out” and conveys the idea of earnestness or ceaselessness. It is the kind of love by which the Father loves us. Over in Psalm 136, the phrase, “for his steadfast love endures forever” appears 26 times. God loves us tirelessly and unwaveringly. And we are to do the same. When we do, our love “covers a multitude of sins.” When we love it diminishes our capacity to hate. It keeps us from seeking revenge. It prevents us from suffering from jealousy and envy. Love keeps us from sinning against one another and allows us to react to those who persecute us in ways that “cover over” their sins against us. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us these sobering words that reflect life in His Kingdom:

44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. – Matthew 4:44-48 NLT

Peter adds hospitality to the list, encouraging us to open our hearts and our homes to others. And, we are to do it without complaining. Not only that, we are to use our God-given, Spirit-empowered gifts to serve one another. As children of God, chosen by Him and placed within His family, we are to live selflessly and sacrificially, treating others as more important than ourselves. Jesus came to serve, not be served, and we are to have that same mindset.

The use of our spiritual gifts is to build up the body of Christ, not our own reputation. We use our gifts to serve, not to impress others or to gain recognition for our superior spirituality. When we use our gifts properly, they bring glory to God. In fact, Peter tells us our gifts are given by God for good of the body of Christ, and they must be used properly so that “God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV). Paul told the believers in Corinth:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 NLT

Our goal in life is to bring glory to God. That’s why Peter wraps up this short section with the words: “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” He is the one who called us. He is the one who provided His own Son as the payment for our sins. He is the one who raised Jesus back to life. He is the one who provided the Spirit for us and placed Him within us. He is the one who instructed the Spirit to give us gifts so that we might build up one another. And He is the one who has loved us unceasingly and undeservedly. So, why would we not do the same for those around us? We are to serve like Christ. He served us by sacrificing His life. And He is the one who said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 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.

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

“I Shall Bear the Blame.”

When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.”

Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’

“When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. One left me, and I said, “Surely he has been torn to pieces,” and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.’

“Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.” – Genesis 44:14-34 ESV

The brothers of Joseph have been accused of stealing – again – and the evidence is not in their favor. They were caught with the money intended to pay for their grain still in their sacks. Not only that, the diviner’s cup that belonged to the governor was discovered in Benjamin’s sack. Of course, they had been set up by Joseph, but they were not yet aware of that fact. All they knew was that they were in deep trouble. They were non-resident aliens accused of stealing from the second-most powerful man in Egypt. And when they were brought before this man, it was Judah who did the talking. He felt a special responsibility because he had been the one to convince Jacob to allow them to return to Egypt with Benjamin, just as the governor had commanded.

Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.” – Genesis 43:8-9 ESV

Now everything had gone south. The worst that could happen had happened. They were standing before the governor accused of being thieves and the case against them was strong. Once again, the brothers found themselves bowing down before Joseph, just as his dreams had foreshadowed. When confronted by Joseph about their crime, Judah speaks up, but does not waste time trying to deny the facts of the case. He admits that they are guilty and all worthy of judgment. They deserve to be enslaved. Even though it was Benjamin in whose sack the governor’s goblet was found, Judah includes all the brothers in the guilt. They all agree to accept the blame and the punishment. But the governor has other plans.

“Far be it from me to do this! The man in whose hand the cup was found will become my slave, but the rest of you may go back to your father in peace.” – Genesis 44:17 NLT

As part of his test for his brothers, Joseph informs them that it is only Benjamin, their youngest brother who will remain behind as a slave. They are free to go and return to their father, Jacob. Again, this is a Joseph’s way of assessing the integrity of his brothers. Would they take advantage of the opportunity and hightail it out of town, leaving their brother a slave in Egypt? Or would they do the right thing and do whatever it took to protect their father’s favorite son? Judah provides the answer. He steps forward and takes the responsibility to appeal to the governor, keeping the commitment he had made to his father. He is going to do whatever he had to do to make sure Benjamin was returned to his father, even if it meant that he would take Benjamin’s place, remaining in Egypt as a slave. This selfless, sacrificial act should have a familiar ring to it. Judah was offering himself as a sin-substitute, willingly expressing his desire to suffer for the sins of another, so that they might set free from guilt and condemnation. Judah pleads with the governor:

“Indeed, your servant pledged security for the boy with my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame before my father all my life.’

“So now, please let your servant remain as my lord’s slave instead of the boy. As for the boy, let him go back with his brothers.” – Genesis 44:32-33 NLT

Judah was willing to become a slave for another. He was giving his life as a ransom, a payment for someone else. Sound familiar? It should. It would be Jesus, a descendant of Judah, who would say: “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45 NLT). Unknowingly, Judah was exhibiting the character of Christ, by leading through serving and loving through sacrifice. It would be a long time before the apostle John penned the following words, but they are exemplified in the life and actions of Judah:

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:10-11 NLT

Judah was loving his father and his brother the best way he knew how, by offering his life as a sacrifice. This action did not go unnoticed by Jacob or by God. Years later, on his deathbed, Jacob would bless Judah, making the following prediction: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10 ESV).  It would be through the tribe of Judah that the Messiah would come. King David would come from the line of Judah, as would Solomon. Israel’s greatest days would be under the reigns of these two kings. And it will be under the Messiah’s kingship that the people of Israel will rule and reign once again. Centuries later, the angel, Gabriel, would tell Mary:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1 30-33 ESV

Judah’s willingness to give his life as a ransom for his brother was a sign of something far greater to come. The Son of God coming to earth to give His life as a ransom for many – the sinless for the sinful. Unlike Jesus, Judah was a sinner and deserving of judgment. But his willingness to love his brother unconditionally and give his life sacrificially, is a picture of the love of Christ for mankind. As Jesus Himself would one day say, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV).