God Has Left the Building

Then I looked, and behold, on the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in appearance like a throne. And he said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.”

And he went in before my eyes. Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.

And when he commanded the man clothed in linen, “Take fire from between the whirling wheels, from between the cherubim,” he went in and stood beside a wheel. And a cherub stretched out his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings.

And I looked, and behold, there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one beside each cherub, and the appearance of the wheels was like sparkling beryl. 10 And as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. 11 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went, but in whatever direction the front wheel faced, the others followed without turning as they went. 12 And their whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes all around—the wheels that the four of them had. 13 As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing “the whirling wheels.” 14 And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.

15 And the cherubim mounted up. These were the living creatures that I saw by the Chebar canal. 16 And when the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them. And when the cherubim lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the wheels did not turn from beside them. 17 When they stood still, these stood still, and when they mounted up, these mounted up with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in them.

18 Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 19 And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.

20 These were the living creatures that I saw underneath the God of Israel by the Chebar canal; and I knew that they were cherubim. 21 Each had four faces, and each four wings, and underneath their wings the likeness of human hands. 22 And as for the likeness of their faces, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the Chebar canal. Each one of them went straight forward. Ezekiel 10:1-22 ESV

As Ezekiel gazes in wonder, he sees a familiar sight; the glory of the Lord that had appeared to him on the banks of the Chebar River in Babylon. In his vision, he has been transported to the city of Jerusalem, and yet there, in the courtyard of the temple, he is given another glimpse of God’s holiness and majesty. The omnipotent, omnipresent God was not limited by time or space. He could appear to Ezekiel in the distant land of Babylon and still be present in the prophet’s homeland of Judah.

But all is not well in the capital city of Jerusalem. God has given Ezekiel an up close and personal glimpse of the sorry state of affairs back home. The sins of his countrymen are worse than he could have imagined. They have erected idols in the temple. They are clandestinely worshiping false gods in hidden rooms within the temple grounds. Their spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness have reached a whole new low – even for the people of Israel.

Now Ezekiel was about to witness a scene that would be devastating for him as a prophet of God. The glory of God was going to abandon the very temple designed as His dwelling place. All the way back on the day when Solomon had dedicated the Temple upon its completion, God had given this unique structure His Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval by filling it with His glory.

When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple. – 1 Kings 8:10-11 NLT

At that moment, God had taken up residence in the temple that Solomon had built for Him. He had filled it with His glory and, now, hundreds of years later, God was about to leave the premises. And with His exit, He would be making a not-so-subtle statement concerning the extent of Israel’s apostasy. Their sin had become so great that He could no longer dwell among them.

As Ezekiel watched, the glory of God transitioned from the courtyard to the main entrance of the temple. From there it moved to the east gate of the temple grounds. God was methodically moving further away from the Holy of Holies, the innermost section of the temple where the ark of the covenant was contained. His departure was well-orchestrated and intended to dramatize His dissatisfaction with His chosen people. He was no longer able to dwell in the house built for Him because it was no longer set aside for Him alone. The people had defiled it by erecting idols to false gods within its walls.

The temple of God was no longer the temple of God. Because the people had desecrated it with their idolatrous actions, it had lost its distinctiveness and so, God prepared to remove His presence. This symbolic representation of God’s majestic glory departing the temple was meant to drive home Israel’s pending doom. The God who had chosen them as His own was preparing to leave them on their own. They would be left to face the Babylonians without the presence and power of God Almighty on their side. They would have a temple filled with idols dedicated to false gods, but the one true God would have vacated the premises.

What a sad statement. What a chilling reality. The God of the universe was removing Himself from their midst. He was no longer willing to tolerate their rebellion and open rejection of His authority over their lives. This was a sad day for Israel. But it was not the first time the glory of God had left them. Back in the days before there were kings over Israel, the prophet Samuel witnessed another dark day in the life of the people of God. They were at war with the Philistines and things were not going well. So they decided to bring the ark of God from where it was kept in the tabernacle in Shiloh.

They treated it as some kind of magic talisman that could bring them victory over their enemies. They knew that God was enthroned above the cherubim that decorated the top of the ark, so they reasoned that if they could bring the ark to the battle, God would come along with it. They believed they could force God to do their will by physically hauling the ark from one spot to another. But they never asked God for permission or sought His advice about the war with the Philistines. They simply wanted a quick fix for their pressing problem. But it didn’t turn out well.

The ark was captured by the Philistines and more than 30,000 Jews were killed. The rest ran for their lives. Not only that, Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli the priest, were killed in the battle. When Eli received news that the battle had been lost, his sons were dead, and the Ark had been captured, he dropped dead. When Phinehas’ pregnant wife got word that her husband was dead, she went into early labor and died. But she stayed alive long enough to give birth to a son and she named him Ichabod, which means “the glory has departed.” Her son’s name would be a permanent reminder of Israel’s sad state of affairs.

“The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.” – 1 Samuel 4:22 NL

The glory had departed. God had left the building. All hope was lost. But wait. While these two stories are sad and leave us with a sense of impending doom, we can’t forget the fact that the Spirit of God indwells all those who have placed their faith in the saving work of His Son Jesus Christ.

As Christ-followers, our bodies serve as temples for the Holy Spirit. We have been indwelt with His presence. We have been set apart for His use. The very power of God resides within us, and it is a permanent condition. His glory will never depart from us. Yet, you and I can quench the Spirit. We can determine to live our lives outside of His control and refuse to listen to His voice. We can conduct our lives in such a way that we obscure the glory of God that is present in our lives. So, the apostle Paul exhorts us, “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:12-14 NLT).

We have the glory of God within us. But like the people of Israel, we must decide to allow our lives to be directed by God. It is not enough to have His indwelling presence. I must choose to obey His word and follow His will. I can’t treat the Holy Spirit of God as some magic talisman that I tap into when I need a quick spiritual fix or a fast solution to a problem. He is God and He is to be feared and obeyed. While He will never leave me, He can choose to leave me to myself, allowing me to walk in the flesh and suffer the consequences. He will continue speaking to me and attempt to convict and direct me. but I must choose to listen and obey. To not do so is to run the risk of missing out on the glory of God in my life. And the sad truth is, many of us as believers live as if the glory of God has departed. If we’re not careful, the story of our life could be named “Ichabod” – the glory has departed. But if we live in obedience to the Spirit’s presence and in submission to His power, we can experience the reality of “Immanuel” – God with us.

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

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

The Unbreakable Bond Between Belief and Behavior

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:8-11 ESV

Paul has just reminded Titus of the core message of the gospel: Jesus Christ appeared in human form as a visible expression of God’s goodness and love. And Jesus proved the love of God by offering His own life as payment for the sins of humanity. His death made salvation possible, not based on mankind’s efforts to live righteous lives, but because of the mercy of God the Father. The death of Jesus on the cross provided a means for sinful man to be forgiven, cleansed, and restored to a right relationship with God the Father. And after His resurrection and return to His Father’s side, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. The result was their “new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NLT). And the Holy Spirit’s presence within the life of each and every believer is a guarantee of the eternal life awaiting them.

And Paul tells Titus that this is a trustworthy saying. In Greek, the phrase is pistos logos. It means that these are words that can be relied upon and believed in. They are true and worthy of our trust because they hold the key to our present effectiveness and our future hope.

The reason Paul can place such high expectations upon the believers living on Crete is because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His death has made possible a life filled with a never-before-available power to live above and beyond the norms of everyday life. A Christian is a new creation whose purpose for life has been radically changed because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. And Paul expects Titus to hold the believers on Crete to the higher standard that comes with their newfound status as God’s children. Jesus died in order that sinful men might be saved but His death also makes possible their ongoing spiritual transformation. He doesn’t just provide them with a clean slate, wiped free from the sin debt they owed, but He also makes it possible for them to live righteous lives. So, Titus was to “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8 NLT).

The good news regarding Jesus Christ is not just about gaining entrance into heaven someday. It’s about the daily manifestation of our faith through tangible works that reveal the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Notice what Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

Paul insists that every believer is the handiwork of God. The Greek word he used is poiēma, and it refers to “the thing that is made.” Each believer is the work of God. No one saves themselves. No one becomes a Christian. The work of salvation is entirely up to God, from beginning to end, just as Jesus told the believers in Rome.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul was consistently emphatic when declaring man’s non-existent role in salvation.

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT

The believer owes his salvation entirely to God.

because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

But while man’s works cannot make him a Christian, they can certainly provide evidence that he is one. Which is the point of Paul’s letter to Titus. He wanted the believers on Crete to live their lives in the power of the Spirit, fulfilling the preordained plans God had in place for them. There was work to be done. There were lost individuals who needed to hear the gospel message. There was a divine strategy in place that called for all believers to live in obedience to God’s will and in total submission to His Spirit.

All that Paul has been sharing with Titus was to be considered good and beneficial. This wasn’t pie-in-the-sky-sometime rhetoric. Christianity wasn’t to be viewed as some future escape plan from eternal torment. It was to be the key to abundant life in the present, and Paul lived his life that way. This is why he could so boldly state:

I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul fully believed that his old self was crucified alongside Christ, “so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless” ªRomans 6:6 BSB). He regularly experienced the reality of his own teaching in his own life.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. – Galatians 5:24 NLT

And if those old passions and desires have been nailed to the cross, it is essential that they be replaced with new passions and desires. The believer’s new nature in Christ should come to the fore, giving evidence of the power of God’s Spirit residing in him. So, all that Paul has instructed Titus to teach the believers on Crete is tied to the good works God has created them to accomplish. That includes submission, self-control, love, patience, temperance, kindness, sacrifice, and a host of other qualities that are in short supply in this world. Paul wanted the behavior of all believers to reflect what they said they believed.

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

Paul expected them to believe and behave in a way that displayed their new status as God’s adopted sons and daughters. From God’s perspective, they were new creations, so why would they continue to live according to their old natures? God had new things for them to do. He had a radically different lifestyle in mind for them that was intended to prove the reality of their new identities.

Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:24 NLT

But the sad reality was that many of the believers on the island of Crete were struggling. There were those who were causing dissension by teaching unadulterated lies. Arguments were breaking out within their gatherings. Sides were being taken, damaging the unity of the church. And Paul makes it brutally clear what Titus was to do with those who caused divisions within the local church.

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him – Titus 3:10 ESV

Remember, the point of Paul’s letter is godly behavior. He is calling all professing Christians to live as who they are: The sons and daughters of God. As such, they were to reflect the character of Christ. They were to devote themselves to good works. Anything that distracted from the objective was to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who distorted or took away from that goal was to be rejected for being warped, sinful, and self-condemning. These people were guilty of twisting and perverting the trustworthy words of the gospel, and their actions condemned them. As a result, they were to be avoided like a plague. The spiritual well-being of the body of Christ was at risk and the believers on Crete would find it nearly impossible to accomplish the good works God had prepared for them to do as long as these individuals were allowed to remain in their midst. As Paul warned the believers in Galatia, there was no place for tolerance or complacency when it came to anything that threatened the truth of the gospel.

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. – Galatians 5:9-10 NLT

Paul had no tolerance for false teachers and neither should they. Right living becomes virtually impossible when wrong doctrines are allowed to exist. Accomplishing good works is difficult when bad teaching is left unchallenged in the church. The church must always take the truth seriously and deal with falsehood decisively. The world may be filled with lies, driven by deception, and motivated by selfishness, but the church of Jesus Christ is to be the rock-steady foundation of God’s truth. And Paul was providing Titus with the same powerful reminder that he had given Timothy, so that both men might “know how each one must conduct himself in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 BSB).

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

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

The New Has Come

1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:1-7 ESV

For the believers on Crete to consistently live godly lives, they were going to have to be constantly reminded of what that kind of life looked like. Their natural human tendency would be to fall back into their old habits and live according to the standards of this world. So, Paul charged Titus with the task of holding accountable the Christ-followers under his care. Christ-likeness would not come naturally or without effort. The believers on Crete would not become more like Christ without a willing desire to put to death the habits associated with their old way of life. Their new position in Christ should result in a determination to be like Christ. This is why Paul told the Colossian believers:

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT

But Paul knew that the task of putting to death the old nature was impossible without the supernatural assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:13 ESV

The Holy Spirit provides the power, but the believer must cooperate with and submit to the Spirit’s influence. In his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul referred to this partnership as walking, living, and being led “by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 18, 26). It is a relationship built on dependence and reliance. The believer supplies the desire to put away the patterns and behaviors associated with their former lifestyle, and the Spirit provides the power to make it possible. It is impossible to overcome the sinful desires of flesh without divine intervention. The Holy Spirit is indispensable when it comes to experiencing deliverance from the controlling power of sin.

But Paul knew that man’s sinful nature was a powerful foe, capable of deluding, distracting, and keeping believers mired in spiritual mediocrity.  That is why he put such a high priority on behavior. It wasn’t that their actions could earn them favor with God or make them more acceptable in His sight; it was that the full hope of the gospel message was to be experienced in the Christian’s daily victory over sin. The power of the gospel was to be visibly manifested in life change, and that life change was to have both positive and negative expressions.

As Christians, they were to willingly submit to the authorities in their lives, including those within the Roman government. They were to live lives marked by obedience, not just to God, but to those whom God had placed over them. This would include Titus, the elders of the church, and all governmental authorities. And they were to be constantly prepared to do the right thing – that which God would have them do. That is what it means to walk, live, and be led by the Spirit.

But godly behavior is also to be characterized by an absence of negative actions. And Paul points to slander and quarreling as examples. Speaking ill of anyone, especially those in authority, was not acceptable behavior for the Christian.

Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. – Titus 3:2 NLT 

One of the important distinctions Paul is making is that a lack of slander is not proof of gentleness or humility. The absence of quarreling in the life of a believer does not necessarily mean they are filled with love. Slander must be replaced with words of encouragement. The desire to quarrel, driven by the need to be right, must be superseded by the desire for unity, and the willingness to give up one’s rights.

Paul knew this call to righteous living was not easy, especially when surrounded by those who were outside of Christ and motivated by their sin natures. And Paul wanted the believers on Crete to know that the only thing that set them apart from their unbelieving neighbors was their relationship with Christ. Before coming to know Christ as Savior, they had all been hopelessly lost and incapable of living up to the high standard to which Paul was calling them.

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. – Titus 3:3 NLT

Their former, pre-salvation condition had not been a pretty one. But something had happened. They had been miraculously transformed by the message of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us – Titus 3:4-5 ESV

God saved them, and not because they had done anything to deserve or earn it. Their best deeds done on their best day and with the best of intentions were nothing to God. No, God saved them “according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 ESV). Their radical transformation had been the gracious work of God and not some kind of payment or reward for their good behavior. They had gone from being enemies of God to His children and heirs of His Kingdom. They had experienced the unbelievable miracle of redemption, made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf.

Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:7 NLT

That reality produced in Paul a visceral reaction. He couldn’t help but respond to the unbelievable truth of what God had done for him by doing everything in his power to live in grateful obedience to God’s expectations of him. He lived to please God. He wanted his life to be a constant expression of his thankfulness to God for the priceless gift of salvation. Because God had graciously provided eternal life for Paul, the least Paul could do was live in grateful submission to God’s will in this life. And it was this attitude of gratitude that led Paul to declare his unwavering allegiance to God.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul never got over the shock of what God had done for him. And he wanted the believers on the island of Crete to share his awe of God’s grace by living lives that demonstrated their gratefulness through Spirit-empowered acts of righteousness. God gave His Son so that sinful men and women might experience abundant life – not just in some future eternal state, but right here, right now. His Son died in order to pay the penalty for our sins. He was raised back to life to guarantee our future resurrection, but also as a sign that we have died to sin and have access to that same resurrection power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Paul was not calling the believers on Crete to do the impossible. Jesus had already done that. No, he was reminding them that God’s power to save them was also meant to sanctify them – to transform them into the likeness of His Son. They had been redeemed by Christ, and now they were expected to live like Christ.

…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

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

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

Wholly Holy

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. – Titus 2:1-10 ESV

They say the best defense is a good offense. So, in order to assist Titus in his battle against the false teachers and their heretical teaching, Paul told the young pastor to surround himself with qualified men who could help him lead the church. But Paul didn’t stop there. He also told Titus to be willing to rebuke his flock for their laziness and gluttony, so that they might be “sound in their faith” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

Now Paul gets specific. He gives Titus detailed and practical descriptions of how various groups within the body of Christ were to conduct their lives. First of all, Titus was to teach what “accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Sound doctrine was essential to Paul because it was the glue that held the body of Christ together. That is why he spent so much time writing letters to the churches he had helped to establish. He knew that the most difficult days for any believing congregation were those that followed their initial salvation experience. Salvation was to be followed by sanctification, and that was going to require sound doctrine and teaching that was in accord with the words of Jesus and the Old Testament Scriptures.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him that the law “is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9-10 ESV).

He went on to tell Timothy, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4 ESV). In his second letter to Timothy, he warned him that people would prove to be fickle and drawn to falsehood, desiring to hear teaching that condoned their behavior and excused their love of the world.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

But not only is Paul telling Titus to teach solid, reliable doctrine. He is encouraging him to get specific and show how that doctrine should apply to everyday life. The New Living Translation puts verse one this way: “promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching” (Titus 2:1 NLT).

Good doctrine should produce good behavior. The teachings of Jesus, expounded and expanded upon by the apostles, were to have a dramatic impact on the lives of those who placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior. Christ’s followers were to be Christ-like.

So, Paul begins by emphasizing the older men in the church. He tells Titus that they are to be characterized by sober-mindedness, an ability to think clearly, unhampered by alcohol, or anything else that would confuse their capacity to judge wisely. They are to be dignified, worthy of respect, and not act in childish or immature ways. Their lives are to be marked by self-control, the ability to manage their natural desires and passions. They are to have a healthy faith that shows up in how they live their lives. And they are to be characterized by a love for others and a willingness to patiently endure with those who are difficult to love.

Paul next moves his attention to older women in the church. Their lives were to be marked by behavior that reflected their holiness. In other words, their godliness should show up in tangible and visible ways. They were not to be addicted to gossip and slander or, for that matter, wine. And they were to teach the younger women by modeling for them what godliness looked like in the life of a believing woman. And while Paul provides a list of good behaviors that the older women were to teach to the younger women in the church, I don’t think he had a class in mind. This was to be teaching by example, not a lecture. Their lives were to be the primary lesson the younger women studied and from which they learned God’s expectations for holiness.

The younger women were to love their husbands and children well. While this sounds like a no-brainer, we know how difficult this can be in a normal relationship between a husband and wife. Marriage is not always a walk in the park. Raising children can be extremely challenging. And older women were to model what loving your husband and children looks like over the long haul. Their lives were to be a tangible example of living self-controlled and selfless lives.

Purity or wholesomeness was to be a powerful motivation for these young wives and mothers. They were to be diligent workers who ordered their homes well. This does not suggest that wives are not to work outside of the home. But in Paul’s day, that was a rare option for women. He was simply calling for an attitude of diligence and order in their responsibilities, that would apply in every area of their lives – either at home or at work.

And again, these older women were to have modeled what submission to their husbands looked like. It was not an issue of worth or value, power or weakness. It had to do with exhibiting a willing submission to God’s intended order of things. Paul was not saying that the husbands were better, smarter, or more deserving of the leadership role in the home. He was simply saying that God had a prescribed order of responsibility. He had placed the man as the head of the home and expected him to lead well. Many men don’t. That is an all-too-proven fact. But God intended for the wife to be an asset to her husband, encouraging and assisting him in his God-given role. There were to see themselves as partners in this thing called marriage. In fact, Jesus would say that a husband and wife are not really partners, but a single unit joined together by God through the marriage covenant. The two of them are to act as one, in loving unison, as they raise their family and conduct their lives on this earth.

And younger men, which includes younger fathers and husbands, as well as single men, were to be self-controlled as well. They were not to be driven by their passions or controlled by their lusts. And Titus, as a young man himself, was to be a model of godly behavior, using his own life as a teaching tool that revealed integrity, dignity, and godly speech. Young men were not to use their youth as an excuse to act like fools or shirk their responsibilities as Christ-followers. They were to take their faith seriously and live their lives in such a way that the outside world could not point a finger at them and call them hypocrites.

Paul closes his list of individuals within the church by addressing bond servants or slaves. In that day and age, there were many who found themselves operating as household slaves or servants because of unpaid debts. There were others that were outright slaves, taken captive as a result of war, and sold into slavery as servants. But many of these individuals had come to faith in Christ while living on Crete and they had become members of the local churches. So, Paul didn’t want to leave them out.

It’s interesting to note that Paul doesn’t address the institution of slavery. He neither condemns nor condones it. He was not out to change the unjust institutions set up by men that took advantage of the weak or helpless. He was out to change hearts. This is why he tells Titus that these individuals were to remain submissive to their masters in everything. He didn’t tell them to rebel or run away. In fact, he told them to use their enslavement as a platform from which to exhibit their faith in Christ. They were to obey and not argue. They were to refrain from stealing and show themselves to be trustworthy and reliable. And their overall behavior, even as slaves, was to bring glory and honor to God.

Good doctrine should result in good conduct. Belief that doesn’t impact behavior is to be questioned. An individual who claims to know Christ and declares themselves to be a follower of Christ, but whose life exhibits no qualifying characteristics, is to have his faith doubted. Paul would even say they are to be rebuked. The way we live our lives is one of the greatest testimonies to the life-transforming power of the gospel. It is to be practical proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power within us. All of these characteristics and behaviors that Paul has listed are Spirit-produced, not man-made. They come about as a result of reliance upon the Spirit and an adherence to good, solid teaching of sound doctrine.

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

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

Content to be Godly

1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.

Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. – 1 Timothy 6:1-10 ESV

As Paul begins to wrap up his letter to Timothy, he focuses his attention on godliness, a topic that was near and dear to his heart as a pastor. The Greek word for “godliness” is eusebeia (εὐσέβεια), and it refers to piety or reverence to God. In essence, godliness is the outward expression of one’s belief in God.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul declared his love for them and reminded them of his constant prayers for their spiritual well-being.

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. – Ephesians 1:16-17 NLT

He knew that the key to their spiritual health would be their continued growth in godliness; the increase in their knowledge of and reverence for God.

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 1:19-20 NLT

Their belief in God was to include their belief in the power He had made available to them. Through their faith in Jesus Christ, they had access to the very same power that had raised the crucified body of Jesus back to life. And that same power could and should produce similarly miraculous changes in their own lives.

Back in chapter 3, Paul referred to godliness as a mystery (mystērion). He was stating that there was a time when the key to attaining godliness was hidden from men. The ability for anyone to truly know and reverence God was hindered. It wasn’t that they couldn’t have a relationship with God, but it simply meant that their ability to draw near to God was always hampered by indwelling sin. That was the whole reason for the sacrificial system. Sin separated mankind from God and sacrifices were required to atone for those sins. But all that changed when Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. That was Paul’s point in chapter 3.

He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16 ESV

The sinless Son of God became a man and lived a perfectly godly life. He demonstrated His love and reverence for God by fully obeying His will. Paul emphasized Jesus’ godly behavior in his letter to the church in Philippi.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, 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 2:6-8 NLT

And Paul challenged the Philippians to “have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5 NLT). They were to model their lives after His humility, obedience, and the selfless sacrifice of His life for the good of others.

Pau firmly believed that true godliness should make a difference in the way the believers in Ephesus lived their lives. The same power that raised Jesus back to life was available to them through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. And to demonstrate the practical necessity of godliness, Paul addressed three different groups of people in the church in Ephesus.

His point was to remind Timothy that the Christian faith was to be a practical part of everyday life. It was to make a difference in the way believers lived and interacted with the world around them. First, he addressed slaves – specifically those slaves who had come to faith in Christ and were now part of the body of Christ. Slavery was a ubiquitous part of the Ephesian culture. There were all kinds of slaves living and working in the community and worshiping within the congregation in Ephesus. Some of them had been sold into slavery, while others had been forced into slavery because they had been unable to pay their debts.

These slaves would have come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. There would have been both Jewish and Gentile slaves. But the ones to whom Paul was referring were believing slaves – those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ and were now part of the local fellowship in Ephesus. Paul encouraged Timothy to teach them to show respect to their masters and to work diligently. Paul spends no time condemning slavery or attempting to disrupt the social fabric of his day. He doesn’t condone the practice but neither does he condemn it. He simply wanted those who found themselves impacted by it to live their lives in a way that would honor God and illustrate godly behavior.

In his letter to Philemon, a Christian slave owner, Paul asked him to receive back Onesimus, one of his slaves who had run away and become a believer. Paul encouraged Philemon to view Onesimus differently.

…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 1:16 NLT

Coming to faith in Christ had set Onesimus free from sin but not from slavery. In the cultural context of his day, Onesimus remained a slave and the legal property of Philemon. Faith in Christ does not always change our circumstances, but it does alter the way we should respond to them and live our lives in the midst of them. For Paul, the godly behavior of these believing slaves was of paramount importance.

slaves should show full respect for their masters so they will not bring shame on the name of God and his teaching. – 1 Timothy 6:1 NLT

The manner in which they responded to their circumstances as believers who happened to be slaves would demonstrate their reverence for God. It would reflect their belief in and reliance upon God.

The next group Paul addressed were false teachers – those who were contradicting his teaching and stirring up “arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4 NLT). These individuals were arrogant and lacked true understanding. They had turned their back on the truth of God and were concocting their own version of spiritual reality. And their motivation was purely selfish and financially motivated. Paul said, “to them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy” (1 Timothy 6:5 NLT). Their ministry was based on what they could get out of it and their godliness was all for show.

But Paul had a different understanding of godliness. It was the objective, not a means to an end. Godliness was not to be used as a device to gain respect, power, or financial gain. It was sufficient in and of itself. And when godliness was accompanied by contentment, it would prove more than profitable to an individual’s life.

true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. – 1 Timothy 6:6 NLT

That’s why a godly slave could remain a slave and be content with his lot in life. Circumstances have little or nothing to do with godliness and should have virtually no impact on the degree of our contentment. Godliness is not dependent upon material possessions. The godly individual does not rely upon the accumulation of things to find contentment. This is why Paul writes, “So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:8 NLT). The motivation of the false teachers was money. The motivation of the godly is Christ.

Paul ends up this section by talking about those who love money. Each of these three groups was part of the church in Ephesus. There were slaves, false teachers, and lovers of money participating in the body of Christ there. But not all of those who had a love affair with money were false teachers. There were obviously some in the church who had much and desired more, and there were those who had little and dreamed of becoming rich. In both cases, the love of money could prove to be dangerous.

…people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. – 1 Timothy 6:9 NLT

Their lives were not marked by contentment. They had made the accumulation of wealth their goal, rather than godliness. They had made money their provider and protector, putting it in place of God. But notice that Paul does not condemn money or wealth. He simply points out that the love of it and obsession with it are potentially harmful to the believer. The love of money can have devastating consequences on a believer’s pursuit of godliness.

True godliness is accompanied by contentment. The desire for more of anything other than Christ can be deadly to the believer. The desire for something other than Christ to fulfill our need for contentment, joy, and hope can also prove to be harmful to our spiritual maturity. Slaves needed to be content with their circumstances and live godly lives right where they were. The false teachers needed to be content with the truth of God’s Word and the message of Jesus Christ, just as it had been preached to them. And they needed to live godly lives without expecting any financial reward in return. Those who loved and longed for money were to be content with their current financial status and live godly lives regardless of how little or how much money they had.

Godliness combined with contentment is the real currency of God’s Kingdom. Like circumstances, money can be unsteady and unreliable. Both can change on a whim. And any version of the truth that doesn’t align with that of God will never produce godliness. And for Paul, a life without godliness was to be considered unthinkable for the child of God.

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

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

Faithfulness: The Key to Preventing Spiritual Failure

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:12-20 ESV

Paul was a man who was comfortable in his own skin. He was well aware of his past and not afraid to confess it or to come face to face with it. He regularly revisited the life he lived before coming to faith in Christ and recognized that his past was a vital part of his present identity. He unabashedly admits to Timothy, “I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT). 

There was a dark side to Paul’s past that he was more than willing to admit. He didn’t attempt to hide or gloss over it. In fact, it was his honest recognition of his past that made his present state of grace in Christ that much more amazing. It wasn’t that Paul had lived a life of moral degeneracy and spiritual bankruptcy. No, he had been a faithful adherent to the Hebrew religion and a committed member of one of the most strict religious sects of his day.

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

It had been his zeal for his religious faith that had led him to attack the followers of Jesus. Like most Jews of his day, Paul had viewed the disciples of Jesus as members of a dangerous religious sect that were falsely proclaiming that the Jewish Messiah had come. And Paul saw this rapidly growing religious movement as a threat to his Jewish faith. That led him to wage a one-man crusade against the followers of “the way.”

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. – Acts 22:3-4 NLT

Paul was brutally honest about his past, fully admitting the role he had played in trying to exterminate any and all Christians from the fact of the earth.

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. – Galatians 1:13 NLT

But Paul’s sordid past had not proved to be a problem for God Almighty. In fact, God had redeemed Paul in spite of his former way of life.

He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him – 1 Timothy 1:12 NLT

It was not Paul’s zeal that earned him a right standing with God. His well-intentioned but misguided efforts to purge the world of all Christians had failed miserably, because God had other plans for this hard-driving, high-energy crusader.

Paul regularly shared the story of how God transformed his life from a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 9). While on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison Christ-followers, Paul had an unexpected encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ that changed the entire trajectory of his life. Paul would later be discipled by a man named Ananias, who revealed to him his new God-ordained life’s 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

And Paul freely admitted to Timothy that his salvation had been the gracious work of God, who had sent His Son into the world to save sinners just like him.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. – 1 Timothy 1:15 NLT

Paul was still blown away by God’s unmerited favor and immeasurable grace.

God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 1:13-14 NLT

As far as Paul was concerned, his life was meant to be an example to others of just how gracious and forgiven God could be.

God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

Paul wanted Timothy to understand the magnitude of God’s power and undeserved goodness. It was essential that Timothy fully embrace the one-of-a-kind nature of God Almighty.

He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. – 1 Timothy 1:17 NLT

All of this was meant to be an introduction or preface to the primary point behind Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul knew that Timothy was in a difficult spot. He was a young man attempting to minister to a small congregation of believers living in the hostile environment of Ephesus. They were surrounded by pagan unbelievers and a vocal and sometimes violent contingent of local Jews who had targeted them as enemies.

So, Paul was desperate to prepare and encourage Timothy for the battle ahead. This young pastor was facing strong opposition from a zealous and determined foe. And Paul fully understood what it was like to have a strong opinion about something. He also knew that passion and zeal did not make someone right. The individuals who were negatively influencing the believers in Ephesus and causing problems for Timothy were all convinced that they were right. Paul describes them as wanting “to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently” (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT).

At one time, Paul had been much like them. He had been an expert in the law and a Pharisee. He described himself as “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” (Acts 26:3 NLT).

During that period of his life. Paul had done everything in a misguided attempt to honor God. He did what he did with confidence and a clear conscience, including blaspheming the name of Christ and persecuting the people of God. But as Paul looked back on his life, he recognized that it all had been done “in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT).

Paul wanted Timothy to know that even those individuals who were causing confusion and conflict within the church in Ephesus were not hopeless cases. They were not lost causes. If God could extend mercy and grace to Paul, He could certainly do the same with those who “have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions” (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT). It seems that Paul was attempting to encourage Timothy to trust in the grace and mercy of God in the midst of all that he was facing. God had been able to take a man like Paul and miraculously change his heart and his life through an encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ.

God had mercy. God extended grace. Paul’s life had not been beyond the reach of God. His life had not been too far gone for Jesus to transform. He had not been irredeemable. Paul’s life had become “a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:16b NLT).

Paul reminded Timothy to never lose sight of the fact that, despite all the opposition, confusion, setbacks, false teachers, uncommitted congregants, limited converts, and trying circumstances. He gave Timothy one simple directive: “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear” (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT).

Faith in what? Faith in Christ. Jesus Christ was the one who made it possible for men to be made right with God. He was the one who provided redemption and restoration with the Father. It was through Him that all men gain access to God’s incredible mercy, grace, power, presence, and provision. Paul wanted Timothy to remain faithful to Christ and faithfully fulfill his work as God’s minister of the Gospel. Some had failed to do so, and Paul used them as an example and a warning.  

Hymenaeus and Alexander, evidently believers and members of the local fellowship there in Ephesus, had not remained faithful to Christ. They had violated their consciences, somehow disobeying what they knew to be true and right, and, as a result, they had shipwrecked their faith. Their lives were spiritually “on the rocks,” out of commission, and under God’s discipline.

Faithfulness is the key to preventing spiritual failure. God was going to use Timothy in a powerful way, but Timothy would need to remain faithful to Christ and focused on God’s power to extend grace and mercy to all, even the worst of sinners. Timothy’s God was still on His throne.

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

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

The Justification of Works

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:14-26 ESV

For James, faith in Christ was to be a life-transforming experience that manifested itself in tangible and practical ways. He opened this section with the rhetorical question: “how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” (James 2:1 NLT). Saving faith should be sanctifying faith. It should change the way we live and how we interact with others. There is no place for favoritism or partiality in the life of a Christ follower.

James was concerned with the double standard that existed among his audience. As believers, they were claiming to “obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (James 2:8 NLT) But, in reality, they were guilty of favoring some people over others and, in doing so, they were guilty of breaking the law. In other words, they were practicing a hypocritical kind of faith. It was the same brand of faith Jesus accused the Pharisees of practicing.

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show.” – Matthew 23:2-5 NLT

According to Jesus, the Pharisees were guilty of being both law keepers and lawbreakers. They were looked up to for their expertise concerning the law of Moses but they regularly violated the very laws they were supposed to uphold. They said one thing and did another.

And James asks his audience a probing question designed to expose the hypocritical nature of their own relationship with the “royal law.” These people were familiar with “the golden rule.” They knew that they were expected to love their neighbor as they loved themselves. This was the clear teaching of Jesus. In fact, when the Jewish religious leaders had asked Jesus to expound on what He believed to be the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus replied, “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. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT).

Love God. Love others. Those were the two “greatest” or most important commandments of God. They were inseparable and completely interdependent. It all begins with love for God. Once we understand who He is and what He has done for us, the natural response is to express our love and appreciation to Him. But one of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our willingness to love all those whom He has made – especially our fellow believers.

The apostle John described the symbiotic relationship between our love for God and others.

We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. – 1 John 4:19-21 NLT

Faith is a lifestyle. It changes the way we live. It doesn’t simply save us from future condemnation and reserve a place for us in the Kingdom of God. Through the power of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, it transforms our behavior in the here-and-now. It frees us from our captivity to sin and empowers us to live as sons and daughters of God, exhibiting the new hearts and new natures He has bestowed upon us.

James believed that true saving faith would be impossible to hide. It would show up in everyday life and manifest itself through daily interactions with others. He even provides a hypothetical scenario where faith should show up but doesn’t.

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? – James 2:15-16 NLT

What we have to understand is that, for James, love for others is a tangible expression of a believer’s faith in God. If someone believes in God and knows that God requires that His children love one another, that individual will express His faith in God through obedience to His commands. He will love as he has been loved. He will demonstrate His love for God by becoming a conduit of God’s for others. But that love must be practical and not just a form of lip service.

Words of love are important but they won’t fill an empty stomach or clothe the naked. To claim to love your neighbor while failing to lift a finger to assist them is the highest form of hypocrisy and a blatant display of faithlessness. Why? Because it reveals a lack of transformation and a glaring absence of sanctification. Someone who claims to be a follower of Christ but who fails to model his life after Christ is living a lie.

That’s what leads James to state, “you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:17 NLT). And James knew that there would be those who blamed their lack of brotherly love on their temperament or personality type.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” – James 2:18 NLT

But James wasn’t buying that excuse. He countered, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds” (James 2:19 NLT). Without the evidence of outward love, faith remains invisible to the human eye. You can claim to believe in God but, for James, that was insufficient. Even demons believe that God exists but they have no capacity to live godly lives. They can fear Him for who He is but they are incapable of showing love for Him or anyone else.

There are some who claim that James is contradicting the teachings of the apostle Paul, who proclaimed, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). Paul makes it quite clear that no one can earn their way into God’s good graces through human effort. Salvation cannot be attained through obedience to the law or adherence to a set of religious standards. And James would fully agree.

But James is simply suggesting that saving faith produces fruit in the life of the believer. It results in a radical transformation of the heart that manifests itself in tangible expressions of sacrificial love and service to others. Saving faith shows up because the life-transforming power of God can’t be held back.

And to prove this point to his Jewish audience, James uses two Old Testament characters as illustrations. First, he directs their attention to Abraham, the patriarch of the nation of Israel. He recalls the fateful story of when God ordered Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice. And he notes that Abraham faithfully followed through on this difficult command, preparing to take the life of his only son and heir. But God intervened, sparing Isaac from death by providing a ram as a substitute. And James stresses that Abraham’s actions that day were an expression of his faith in God.

Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. – James 2:21-22 NLT

And quoting Genesis 15:6, James concludes, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Abraham’s faith in God showed up in an outward sign of obedience. He believed in God and was willing to do whatever God called him to do – even when it made no sense. And as James states, “his actions made his faith complete.”

Next, James uses the familiar story of Rahab the harlot. She was a pagan woman who expressed her belief in the God of Israel by providing protection for the two spies who sought refuge in her home. In return for her act of kindness, she asked that she and her family be spared when the city was destroyed by the Israelites. And what motivated her request was a belief in the superiority of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.

“…the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.” – Joshua 2:11-13 NLT

Rahab believed in God and put her faith to the test by trusting in the integrity and honesty of the two spies. She protected them and helped them escape and was rewarded for her efforts. Her faith had been accompanied by works, and she was saved.

And James sums up this whole lesson on faith and works with the statement: “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (James 2:26 NLT). He is not suggesting that his audience is made up of non-believers. He is not questioning their salvation. He is simply stating that their faith in Christ should be accompanied by good works that evidence the transformative power of the gospel. A lack of fruit is evidence of death, not life. An individual who claims to have been transformed by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit but whose life fails to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit is as good as dead spiritually. He is like a physical body without breath, a tree without fruit, or a cloud without rain.

For James, it was simple. Faith, while invisible to the human eye, could be easily demonstrated by outward actions. That’s why he so confidently asserted, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds” (James 2:18 NLT). According to James, works may not earn your way into heaven, but they will prove you belong there because they give evidence that you are a child of God.

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

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

The Heart of the Matter

1 Better is a dry morsel with quiet
    than a house full of feasting with strife.
A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully
    and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
    and the Lord tests hearts.
An evildoer listens to wicked lips,
    and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker;
    he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
    and the glory of children is their fathers.
Fine speech is not becoming to a fool;
    still less is false speech to a prince.
A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it;
    wherever he turns he prospers.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
    but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding
    than a hundred blows into a fool.
11 An evil man seeks only rebellion,
    and a cruel messenger will be sent against him.
12 Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs
    rather than a fool in his folly.
13 If anyone returns evil for good,
    evil will not depart from his house.
14 The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
    so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
    are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
– Proverbs 17:1-15 ESV

At first glance, the book of Proverbs seems to be all about good behavior versus bad behavior. It contrasts the life of a wise person with that of a foolish person, and it would appear that we are to choose one over the other. Solomon seems to suggest that we must make the decision as to which set of behaviors will characterize our lives. But there is an underlying assumption that Solomon goes back to time and time again. There is an important ingredient required, without which none of us will ever be able to enjoy a life marked by consistently good behavior. He hints at it in verse 3.

Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
    but the Lord tests the heart. – Proverbs 17:3 NLT

The source for ALL behavior, good or bad, is the heart. In the Hebrew mind, the heart referred to the inner man. It was the seat of his mind, will, desires, and emotions. The heart is what drives us. Our behavior is a direct reflection of our hearts. But here’s the problem.

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve. – Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

Our hearts are wicked. Our desires are naturally skewed toward evil, all as a result of the fall. Good behavior is achievable, but it is impossible to maintain long-term. It is not natural for us to do what is good because our hearts are bad. So any good behavior we attempt is short-lived because it is manufactured in the flesh. Yes, we may fool one another with our acts of compassion and deeds of apparent righteousness, but God knows our hearts.

Solomon describes a house full of feasting and conflict (verse 1). He laments the fate of a disgraceful son who forfeits his inheritance to a faithful servant (verse 2). He warns that those with evil intentions tend to surround themselves with like-minded individuals who provide evil advice (verse 4). The unwise tend to mock the poor and “rejoice at the misfortune of others” (verse 5). A fool may attempt to disguise his ignorance with eloquent words but, in time, the truth of his condition will become known to all.

God warned Samuel the prophet,  “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). We may even be able to fool ourselves into thinking we are good, because of all the “good things” we do. But Solomon gives us the bad news:

People may be right in their own eyes,
    but the Lord examines their heart.

The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
    than when we offer him sacrifices.Proverbs 21:2-3 NLT

Good behavior is only possible when our hearts are good. And none of us can produce a good heart apart from the intervention of God in our lives. He must change our hearts before we can see a change in our behavior. Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart” (Matthew 12:35 NLT).

A good heart is the work of God, not man. It is not a case of behavior modification, but heart transformation, which only God can accomplish. So when Solomon describes wrong-doers, liars, mockers, fools, the wicked, the unjust, quarrelers, the crooked, and deceivers, he is simply listing characteristics that naturally flow from a heart that remains unchanged.

Wisdom, love, common sense, understanding, and friendship are all the characteristics of a heart committed to and under the control of God. And with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, God provided a means by which sinful humanity can live in keeping with His divine will and righteous commands. Paul describes it this way:

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT

He told the Galatian Christians, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT).

And then he described what the fruit of a life lived under God’s control looks like: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).

It all begins in and flows from the heart, and only God can transform the heart. Reading the book of Proverbs should remind us that the behavior God desires from us is unnatural and impossible for us. We can’t do it without Him.

Without God’s assistance, sinful men and women will continue to behave like fools. And while they may appear to find success in their chosen way of life, God will judge them according to the condition of their hearts. Solomon indicates that it is only right for a fool to receive a hundred lashes as punishment for his crimes (verse 10). He should get what he deserves. And the evil person who eagerly seeks rebellion (verse 11) shouldn’t be surprised when the wickedness of his heart is exposed and his defiance is dealt with.

Yet, the good news is that because of the love of God as expressed through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross, we can live new lives because we have new hearts that are being daily transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Word of God reveals our need for God.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. – Hebrews 4:12 NLT

If you find your life more characterized by the negative characteristics outlined in Proverbs 17, thank God for showing you the true condition of your heart and ask Him to renew His work of transformation. Confess that you can’t change your behavior without His help. Submit to His Spirit’s control. Let Him produce in you what you can’t produce on your own.

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 Study in Contrasts

The proverbs of Solomon.

A wise son makes a glad father,
    but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.
Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
    but righteousness delivers from death.
The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,
    but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
A slack hand causes poverty,
    but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
He who gathers in summer is a prudent son,
    but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.
Blessings are on the head of the righteous,
    but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
The memory of the righteous is a blessing,
    but the name of the wicked will rot.
The wise of heart will receive commandments,
    but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
    but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.
10 Whoever winks the eye causes trouble,
    and a babbling fool will come to ruin.
11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
    but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
12 Hatred stirs up strife,
    but love covers all offenses.
13 On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found,
    but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.
14 The wise lay up knowledge,
    but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.
15 A rich man’s wealth is his strong city;
    the poverty of the poor is their ruin.
16 The wage of the righteous leads to life,
    the gain of the wicked to sin.
17 Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
    but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
18 The one who conceals hatred has lying lips,
    and whoever utters slander is a fool.
19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver;
    the heart of the wicked is of little worth.
21 The lips of the righteous feed many,
    but fools die for lack of sense.
22 The blessing of the Lord makes rich,
    and he adds no sorrow with it.
23 Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool,
    but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.
24 What the wicked dreads will come upon him,
    but the desire of the righteous will be granted.
25 When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more,
    but the righteous is established forever.
26 Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
    so is the sluggard to those who send him.
27 The fear of the Lord prolongs life,
    but the years of the wicked will be short.
28 The hope of the righteous brings joy,
    but the expectation of the wicked will perish.
29 The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the blameless,
    but destruction to evildoers.
30 The righteous will never be removed,
    but the wicked will not dwell in the land.
31 The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,
    but the perverse tongue will be cut off.
32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable,
    but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse. – Proverbs 10:1-32 ESV

In this chapter, Solomon introduces the writing style that we most commonly associate with the book of Proverbs. In it, he utilizes a series of contrasting couplets that juxtapose the righteous and the wicked. For nine chapters, Solomon has emphasized the need for wisdom and the preferred lifestyle that the way of wisdom provides to all who avail themselves of it.

Now, he begins to differentiate between God’s way and that of the world. He refers to the righteous 13 times and he mentions the wicked 11 times, and he goes out of his way to differentiate between the two. To Solomon, wisdom was far more than an intellectual commodity that one acquired over time. It was a way of life. And it stood in stark contrast to the more prevalent and popular way of the godless and worldly.

“Most of the proverbs in this section are one verse long and contain two lines each; they are couplets. The second line contrasts, compares, or completes the idea expressed in the first line. This is Hebrew parallelism.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Proverbs

Solomon starts off this Proverb by declaring his desire for his son to choose the way of wisdom. That would be the preference of any loving father. No parent wants to raise a fool. No father or mother finds joy in discovering that their son or daughter has chosen the path of wickedness and unrighteousness. But unless those parents make the determination to promote and model a lifestyle of wisdom, they may very well end up experiencing the sorrow of raising a wayward and foolish adult child.

A wise child brings joy to a father;
    a foolish child brings grief to a mother. – Proverbs 10:1 NLT

Parenting is hard work. It is not for the faint of heart or the weak-willed. It requires incredible energy and fortitude, limitless endurance, boundless courage, and a certain degree of blind faith. Raising children is a huge responsibility that can intimidate the bravest of souls. It can make the strong weak in the knees and turn the most confident of men into sniveling, teary-eyed basketcases.

But all the same, there is nothing more gratifying than to watch your children grow and mature, making the most of the gifts and abilities God has given them. It is a blessing to pour into their lives and see God use you in His grand scheme to mold them into the likeness of His Son. It does not always go well or even quite like you had imagined or expected. There are setbacks and heartaches along the way. Children have a mind and a will of their own, and their not afraid to use either one. They can be loving and frustrating. They can warm our hearts and try our patience. They can bring a smile to our faces and a tear to our eye – all within just a few minutes’ time span.

It seems that Solomon knew well the joys and sorrows of parenting. He talked about it a lot. And he dealt regularly with the topic of the foolish child. Here in verse one of Proverbs 10, he describes two different children. One is wise and the other is foolish. He says the wise child brings joy to his father. He makes him proud. But a foolish child makes his mother sad. He brings her to her knees in prayer and despair. The specific Hebrew word Solomon uses for fool is kecîyl and it means “fool, stupid fellow or dullard.”

This is a very specific kind of fool. He is not talking about the simple fool, that child-like fool who, because of his young age, doesn’t know how to make good choices and lacks good judgment. No, Solomon is describing an individual who is stubborn, arrogant, and set in his or her ways. They reject the discipline of their parents and all authorities in their lives. They seem determined to make wrong choices. They are sensual fools, driven by their passions and obsessed with immediate gratification. They refuse to deny themselves anything and lack the common sense to know better. These kinds of children don’t just happen; they get this way over time. They are that innocent, young boy who one day turns out to be that insolent, rebellious teenager whose parents barely recognize him. He is lazy, unreliable, unteachable, and will ultimately be destroyed for his lack of common sense.

The words of the godly encourage many,
    but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense. – Proverbs 10:21 NLT

They actually enjoy doing wrong.

Doing wrong is fun for a fool,
    but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible. – Proverbs 10:23 NLT

And they made a habit of making light of sin.

People who wink at wrong cause trouble,
    but a bold reproof promotes peace. – Proverbs 10:10 NLT

What mother wouldn’t cry over a child like that?

So, how do we keep our children from becoming sensual fools? The easy answer is that we expose them to the wisdom of God. We teach them the truth of God’s Word. We model what it means to fear God and honor Him with our actions. But in the end, there is no guarantee that our children will turn out either wise or godly. Proverb 22:6 says, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”

But that’s not a promise. Solomon is stating a proverb or maxim that contains a time-tested truth. It’s not a guarantee from God that our children will turn out well if we do our part. There are far too many examples that prove otherwise. Too many children raised by well-meaning parents have ended up turning their backs on wisdom and taking the way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

Throughout this Proverb, Solomon paints a stark, black-and-white picture that clearly distinguishes the way of the wise from the far-less-flattering way of the fool. And the descriptions he uses to differentiate the fool from the wise person are intended to make that lifestyle unappealing and unacceptable.

Lazy people are soon poor… – Proverbs 10:4 NLT

one who sleeps during harvest is a disgrace. – Proverbs 10:5 NLT

the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions. – Proverbs 10:6 NLT

the name of a wicked person rots away. – Proverbs 10:7 NLT

babbling fools fall flat on their faces. – Proverbs 10:8 NLT

those who follow crooked paths will be exposed. – Proverbs 10:9 NLT

People who wink at wrong cause trouble – Proverbs 10:10 NLT

And on and on it goes. Those who refuse the wisdom God offers and godly parents promote will likely end up with train-wrecked lives.

But God still calls on parents to do their part.  They have a God-given responsibility to teach their children well, to point them to Christ, and model Christlikeness in front of them. But when all said and done, every child has a will of their own. They each have to develop a faith of their own. They may make wrong choices. They may prefer to take a different path. They may become sensual fools and bring tears to the eyes of their mothers.

We can’t make godly children. Only God can do that. So, with all our effort at parenting, we must never forget that we need God’s help and our children will need His abundant mercy and grace. He alone can make our children wise. He alone can keep them on the right path. It is their relationship with God through Jesus Christ that will make them wise, not us. We have a part to play, but it is ultimately up to Him. So, we must turn them over to Him early in their lives. We must place them in His hands for safe keeping. We can do our job. We can love them, teach them, discipline them, and entrust them to God for their future well-being. We can point them to wisdom and provide them with godly counsel.

The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice – Proverbs 10:31 NLT

The lips of the godly speak helpful words – Proverbs 10:32 NLT

 But, ultimately, our children belong to the Lord and we must trust Him to do what needs to be done so that they might fear Him live in the wisdom that He alone provides.

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.

 

It All Begins With God

1 My son, if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
    he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
    and watching over the way of his saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
    and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 discretion will watch over you,
    understanding will guard you,
12 delivering you from the way of evil,
    from men of perverted speech,
13 who forsake the paths of uprightness
    to walk in the ways of darkness,
14 who rejoice in doing evil
    and delight in the perverseness of evil,
15 men whose paths are crooked,
    and who are devious in their ways.

16 So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words,
17 who forsakes the companion of her youth
    and forgets the covenant of her God;
18 for her house sinks down to death,
    and her paths to the departed;
19 none who go to her come back,
    nor do they regain the paths of life.

20 So you will walk in the way of the good
    and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will inhabit the land,
    and those with integrity will remain in it,
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. Proverbs 2:1-22 ESV

If…then.

Proverbs 2 opens up with a father presenting his young son with a series of conditional statements. Each entails a hypothetical situation in which the father imagines his son choosing the right path over the wrong one.

if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you

ifyour ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding…

if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding…

if you seek it like silver…

if you…search for it as for hidden treasures…

The father imagines five hypothetical, yet highly probable situations that optimistically portray his son as an enthusiastic seeker of wisdom. And he eagerly predicts the outcome of his son’s decision to choose the right path.

Thenyou will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.

But upon closer examination, it appears as if this conditional statement contradicts what was stated in Proverbs 1.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

These two proverbs seem to present inexplicable conundrum, similar to the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken of the egg?. Is a healthy fear of the Lord the pathway to wisdom, or is it the other way around? And to the author of Proverbs 2, the answer would seem to be, “Yes!” It’s both. The fear of the Lord and wisdom are inseparable. They go hand in hand. You don’t get one without the other.

Notice what Proverbs 2:5 says: “…then you will understand the fear of the Lord.”

It is not that wisdom produces or results in a healthy fear of the Lord, but that it helps us to comprehend what it means to fear the Lord. The NET Bible translates verse 5 this way: “then you will understand how to fear the Lord.”

The relentless pursuit of godly wisdom and understanding will reveal the will of God and show us how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. In other words, godly wisdom produces godliness – a lifestyle that honors and glorifies our Heavenly Father.  Jesus describes the godly life this way: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). And the apostle Peter put it in practical terms for believers living in the less-than-friendly environment of Asia Minor:

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. – 1 Peter 2:12 NLT

The fear of the Lord must show up in everyday life. It must be practical, tangible, and visible. And we learn how to model a proper reverence and awe for God through a relentless pursuit of godly wisdom and instruction. We are to treat God’s wisdom like a priceless treasure for which we search until we find it, and then risk our lives to protect and preserve.

And this pursuit of wisdom is not some shot-in-the-dark quest for the invisible and non-discoverable. It’s not like searching for hidden treasure without a map. No, the author tells us that “the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest” (Proverbs 2:6-7 NLT). He is the source of all wisdom and He makes it freely available to all who come to Him in humility and an honest assessment of our need for Him. 

The wisdom and insight needed to live the godly life comes from God Himself, and He reveals it through His written Word and with the enlightening power of His Holy Spirit. The apostle Peter provides us with a powerful reminder that God is the sole source of all that we need.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. – 2 Peter 1:2-3 NLT

The power is ours. But its availability to us is enhanced by our increasing knowledge of God and His Son. That’s a description of increasing wisdom or insight. As our knowledge of the Father and the Son increases, our insight into their sovereign will improves and our godliness increases. In the prayer that He prayed in the garden on the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus described what it means to have eternal life.

“…this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3 ESV

Think about what Jesus is saying. Eternal life is not just some future state in which believers will live in unending community with God the Father and God the Son. It is an actually an unveiled and undiminished awareness of the Godhead. There is a day coming when God’s children will know Him intimately and perfectly. The apostle Paul describes it this way:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

In the meantime, we can grow in our knowledge of God and His Son. We can increase in our understanding of who they are and what they expect of us. The author of Proverbs 2 assures us that “you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go” (Proverbs 2:9 NLT). He makes the confident assertion that “wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy” (Proverbs 2:10 NLT).

We will have the ability to make wise choices and avoid evil people. Wisdom will provide practical help in escaping the allure of immorality and promiscuity. And this kind of divine assistance is critical because life can be hard. Decisions have to be made. Difficulties must be dealt with. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or how to respond. We are bombarded by bad advice and the well-meaning counsel of friends who are just as confused as we are. So, the author encourages us to “cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures” (Proverbs 2:4 NLT). It appears that he expects us to put a fair amount of effort into the process. He seems to believe that we must want insight and understanding bad enough that we would expend some energy in order to get them. Cry out! Ask! Search! Seek! How badly do we want these things? How hard are we willing to pursue them until we find them?

As we go through life we encounter our desperate need for insight, understanding, wisdom, and knowledge.This world can be a confusing place. We don’t always know what to do. So the first step seems to be a recognition of our deficiencies. We have to come to an understanding of our lack of understanding. We are not the brightest bulbs in the box. But the sad truth seems to be that we don’t usually reach this point of awareness until something difficult happens that leaves us at a loss. It is in those times of desperation that we tend to turn to God, and that is the key – we have to turn to the one and only source where help and hope can be found.

God alone can equip us with much-needed common sense, integrity, and the ability to understand what is just, right and fair. In other words, God gives us discernment, direction, discipline, and discretion. He provides us with all we need to live life on this planet wisely, safely, and righteously. Rather than live according to the standards of this world. we learn to live God’s way. We learn to think like He thinks, love what He loves, hate what He hates, and view life from His perspective.

This life can be hard, but God has given us everything we need to not only survive, but to thrive. With His help, we can live our lives in 4-D, exhibiting discernment, direction, discipline and discretion. He will keep us on the right path. He will help us make wise decisions. He will protect us from the temptation of this world. He will give us the ability to see life from His perspective. But first we must come to the realization that we need what He has. We must desire His  understanding, knowledge, insight and wisdom more than anything else in the world. Then we must seek after it diligently, eagerly, and relentlessly.

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.

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