Faith Over Facts

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel. And these were their names: From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; 10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; 11 from the tribe of Joseph (that is, from the tribe of Manasseh), Gaddi the son of Susi; 12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; 13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; 14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; 15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. 16 These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.

17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.

21 So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22 They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster that the people of Israel cut down from there. Numbers 13:1-24 ESV

After a brief seven-day delay in which Miriam was punished for attempting to lead a coup against her own brother, God led the people to Kadesh-Barnea. They were now on the edge of the land of Canaan. This had been their destination all along. It was the place that God had promised to give them as their inheritance and now they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, ready to cross over and begin their conquest of the land.

But before they could enter into the land that God had promised to give them, He instructed Moses to select one man from each of the twelve tribes and send them on a clandestine mission to spy out the enemy’s strength and to verify the agricultural quality of the land itself.

“Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.”  (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.) – Numbers 13:17-20 NLT

According to Moses’ account of this event, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, the sending of the spies had actually been the peoples’ idea.

“But you all came to me and said, ‘First, let’s send out scouts to explore the land for us. They will advise us on the best route to take and which towns we should enter.’

“This seemed like a good idea to me, so I chose twelve scouts, one from each of your tribes. They headed for the hill country and came to the valley of Eshcol and explored it. They picked some of its fruit and brought it back to us. And they reported, ‘The land the Lord our God has given us is indeed a good land.’”  – Deuteronomy 1:22-25 NLT

They petitioned Moses to send in spies and God went along with the plan. But it appears that God had a different agenda than the people did. Their reason for sending in spies was to determine whether there was any hope of defeating the nations that already occupied the land. But God agreed to send in spies so that they might give witness to the truth concerning the abundance and fruitfulness of the land. In other words, as far as God was concerned, this was a fact-finding mission. This was not a specially formed committee to determine or decide whether or not to go into the land. That was not an option. The conquest of the land was not up for debate.

So,the spies went and they saw. And when they returned they reported the facts just as they had witnessed them. They even brought back physical evidence of the land’s long-rumored fruitfulness: grape clusters so large that they had to be carried on a pole between two men.

When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs. – Numbers 16:23 NLT

But the 12 men who went in to spy out the land returned with two different opinions about the land. The majority affirmed its fruitfulness, but also said it was filled with giants and an abundance of well-armed foes living in fortified cities. Their conclusion? “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31 MSG).

Everything they said was true. The land was filled with giants. There was an abundance of well-armed people living in fortified cities. And they were far stronger than the Israelites. But in reporting what they had seen, these men left out one important fact: God was on their side, and He had promised to give them this land.

He had never told them it was going to be easy. From day one, He had warned them that the land would be filled with other inhabitants (Exodus 3:8, 17). He had told them that they would have to remove those inhabitants from the land. But He was going to give the victory.

“For my angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there. And I will destroy them.” –Exodus 23:23 NLT

God had never told them that this was going to be a cake-walk. But He did assure them of their victory – as long as they obeyed Him.

But it seems that, of the 12 spies, only Caleb and Joshua believed God. They saw the same things the others had seen. They didn’t deny the fact that there were giants in the land and fortified cities occupied by well-armed people. But their conclusion was very different: “Let’s go at once to take the land, we can certainly conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30 NLT).

We can do this! In spite of the odds, we can accomplish what God has told us to do. Faith can trump the facts. We can trust God because He promised us this land! It is as good as ours!

Every day we are faced with all kinds of facts that seem to contradict the faithfulness of God. Unpaid bills, financial uncertainty, illness, relational problems, job pressures, etc. We look around us and wonder if this is what God really promised us. And we lose heart. We let the facts determine our faith, instead of the other way around. We give in and give up. We fail to step out in faith in the face of the overwhelming facts and watch Him work.

God did not tell us the Christian life would be easy. He just promised to be with us. He gave us His Holy Spirit. He provided us with His Word. And He assured us of victory. We will have trials. We will face enemies. We will run into “giants” in the land. But God will go ahead of us. He will provide for us and protect us. We will still have to do battle, but He assures us of victory in the end. Like Caleb and Joshua, we must say, “We can do this, because God is 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.

A Lot to Learn

10 Do not slander a servant to his master,
    lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.

11 There are those who curse their fathers
    and do not bless their mothers.
12 There are those who are clean in their own eyes
    but are not washed of their filth.
13 There are those—how lofty are their eyes,
    how high their eyelids lift!
14 There are those whose teeth are swords,
    whose fangs are knives,
to devour the poor from off the earth,
    the needy from among mankind.

15 The leech has two daughters:
    Give and Give.
Three things are never satisfied;
    four never say, “Enough”:
16 Sheol, the barren womb,
    the land never satisfied with water,
    and the fire that never says, “Enough.”

17 The eye that mocks a father
    and scorns to obey a mother
will be picked out by the ravens of the valley
    and eaten by the vultures.

18 Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin.

20 This is the way of an adulteress:
    she eats and wipes her mouth
    and says, “I have done no wrong.”

21 Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
22 a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
23 an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.

24 Four things on earth are small,
    but they are exceedingly wise:
25 the ants are a people not strong,
    yet they provide their food in the summer;
26 the rock badgers are a people not mighty,
    yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
27 the locusts have no king,
    yet all of them march in rank;
28 the lizard you can take in your hands,
    yet it is in kings’ palaces.

29 Three things are stately in their tread;
    four are stately in their stride:
30 the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
    and does not turn back before any;
31 the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
    and a king whose army is with him.

32 If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
    or if you have been devising evil,
    put your hand on your mouth.
33 For pressing milk produces curds,
    pressing the nose produces blood,
    and pressing anger produces strife. – Proverbs 30:10-33 ESV

In this next section, Agur shifts the focus of his proverbs from his relationship with God to the need for wisdom when it comes to human interactions. Agur knew that a strong bond with God was essential to having healthy relationships with all those around him. He stresses the need for integrity and honesty. There is no place for slander or false accusations among the godly. Even if someone spread malicious rumors concerning a slave, their lies would only come back and expose them.

And worse yet is the sin of hypocrisy or disingenuous. He gives the example of someone who outwardly curses his father and displays ingratitude toward his mother, all the while considering himself pure in his own eyes. This individual ignores his own inner impurity and, filled with a false sense of pride, looks down on others in disdain. These kinds of people “have teeth like swords and fangs like knives. They devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among humanity” (Proverbs 30:14 NLT). In other words, they have no regard for the less fortunate. Viewing themselves as superior, they see nothing wrong with despising and even taking advantage of the poor and needy. Because they have no understanding of God and His ways, they develop a false view of their own self-importance and treat all others with disdain.

Agur describes their appetite for self-gratification as insatiable, comparing them to a blood-sucking leech.

The leech has two daughters:
    Give and Give. – Proverbs 30:15 ESV

The inference behind this verse is that greed is contagious. In a sense, it is hereditary and is passed down from one generation to another. The leech has two daughters who share the same name: Give. Their desire has become their identity. And Agur goes on to describe the sad reality of a life marked by avarice and gluttony. He uses four familiar illustrations to accentuate the futility of a life marked by dissatisfaction and greed.

There are three things that are never satisfied—
    no, four that never say, “Enough!”:
the grave,
    the barren womb,
    the thirsty desert,
    the blazing fire. – Proverbs 30:15-16 NLT

Sheol or the grave is never satisfied. Its gates never close and there is always room for more. A barren womb never experiences the one thing it most desires: A child. So, it remains unfulfilled and dissatisfied with life. A parched and barren desert will never receive enough rain to transform it into a garden. And a blazing fire will continue to consume wood as long as someone feeds its flames.

With these two verses, Agur introduces an interesting literary device. Five different times, he introduces one of his proverbs with some variation of the phrase:, “There are three things . . . even four.” It seems that Agur is stressing that these lists are not to be considered complete or exhaustive. He could add an endless number of entries to each one. It is almost as if he is inviting the reader to come up with their own illustrations so that they might better understand the message he is attempting to convey.

Agur seems to be stressing that there is a created order to God’s world. There is a way in which things can and should work so that we experience peace and not chaos, calm instead of confusion. And when God’s way is either ignored or rejected, the result can be catastrophic and earth-shattering. It may seem simple and innocent enough, but when we fail to do life according to God’s terms, it never turns out well. When we depart from God’s natural order or path of wisdom, it creates a hole in the fabric of the universe.

in this Proverb, Agur uses this series of “three-four” sayings to act as warnings against life lived outside of God’s prescribed plan. At first glance, they appear somewhat humorous, but upon closer examination, it becomes evident that these sayings are intended to be sobering warnings.

In verses 21-23 we find a list of four seemingly innocent and innocuous individuals who find themselves in improved situations.

There are three things that make the earth tremble—
    no, four it cannot endure:
a slave who becomes a king,
    an overbearing fool who prospers,
    a bitter woman who finally gets a husband,
    a servant girl who supplants her mistress. – Proverbs 30:21-23 NLT

You have a slave who winds up a king, a fool who has an endless supply of food, an unloved woman who lands herself a husband, and a servant girl who ends up taking the place of her master’s wife. Each of these individuals experiences an unexpected and elevated change in their social status that is unaccompanied by a change in their character.

Agur seems to intend them to represent events that are not in keeping with God’s natural order of things. A slave is not meant to become king. If he does, he will tend to take advantage of his newfound power and authority and lord it over those under his control. A fool who refuses to work and is inherently lazy, but who finds himself with an endless supply of food, will gorge himself on it and never learn that blessing is the result of diligence. A bitter, unloved, and unhappy woman who suddenly finds herself a husband will not automatically become satisfied and content. She will continue to struggle with the same issues, driving her husband insane and, ultimately, away. A servant girl who becomes the focus of her master’s affections, even taking the place of his wife, will fail to honor the one for whom she works.

Each of these people is pictured as getting what they long for: power, prosperity, affection, and position, yet they remain dissatisfied and discontent. They have attained their new status unfairly or even unnaturally. Their circumstances have changed apart from God’s natural order of things. It is like a poor couple winning the lottery and suddenly finding themselves rich beyond their wildest imaginations. The likelihood of their situation turning out well is less than ideal. It is likely that their newfound wealth will result in unwanted, but NOT unexpected consequences.

It’s interesting that these examples of unhealthy life changes are stuck between Agur’s statements regarding the blood-sucking leech who is never satisfied and a series of four other creatures that reflect diligence, hard work, and a reliance upon God’s creative order for all things. Get-rich-quick-schemes are warned against all throughout the Proverbs. Laziness is villainized. The expectation of reward without work is discouraged. Achieving the apparent blessings of God without living according to the expectations of God can be dangerous and is to be avoided at all costs. We must do things God’s way, with no shortcuts and no compromises. It has to be His way if you want to experience His blessing.

Even a look at nature reveals that God has created an order to His creation. Within the animal kingdom, there is a clear display of the divine mandate for hard work, organization, diligence, and cooperation. The humble and seemingly insignificant ant provides a compelling illustration of how God has blessed the smallest of His creation with life-sustaining attributes.

There is no place for pride and arrogance within the heart of a man. While men and women may represent the apex of God’s creative order, they are still nothing more than the byproduct of God’s grace. He has made them what they are. He has given them life and blessed them with the capacity to know and obey Him. Unlike insects or animals, humanity has been made in the likeness of God. We have been given the right and privilege of knowing Him. We can commune with the Almighty and enjoy the benefits of His fathomless wisdom. Yet, far too often, we view ourselves with an inordinate and unjustified sense of self-worth, failing to recognize that, without God, we are nothing. Apart from Him, our lives lack meaning and a sense of purpose. And without His wisdom, we become no better off than the rest of the animal kingdom.

So, Agur gives us a parting word of advice.

If you have been a fool by being proud or plotting evil,
    cover your mouth in shame. – Proverbs 30:32 NLT

May we listen to the words of Agur and respond like Job with humility and repentance.

“I know that you can do anything,
    and no one can stop you.
You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
    It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
    things far too wonderful for me.
You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
    I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.’
I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:2-6 NLT

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

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

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

Our All-Seeing, All-Knowing God

1 A soft answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
    keeping watch on the evil and the good.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
    but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
A fool despises his father’s instruction,
    but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
In the house of the righteous there is much treasure,
    but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.
The lips of the wise spread knowledge;
    not so the hearts of fools.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but he loves him who pursues righteousness.
10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way;
    whoever hates reproof will die.
11 Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord;
    how much more the hearts of the children of man!
12 A scoffer does not like to be reproved;
    he will not go to the wise.
13 A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
    but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
14 The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
15 All the days of the afflicted are evil,
    but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
    than great treasure and trouble with it.
17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
    than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
– Proverbs 15:1-17 ESV

When you apply pressure to a tube of toothpaste, what’s contained inside suddenly gets revealed. The once-hidden contents become visible for all to see. And the same concept applies to human beings. When we find ourselves under pressure, facing the difficulties and trials that come with life on this planet, the inner contents of our life suddenly get revealed. Our once-hidden fears get put on public display. The anger we kept so carefully concealed becomes visible for all to see and experience.

Not all fools are readily apparent. Some hide their foolishness behind a guise of respectability and apparent success. They carry themselves well and display an aura of sophistication and intelligence. But just put them under pressure and the fool inside comes out to play.

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness. – Proverbs 15:2 NLT

Jesus once said, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

When you boil it all down, all this talk about wisdom in the book of Proverbs is really about the condition of the heart. Verse 33 says, “Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom, humility precedes honor.” Fear of the Lord is a matter of the heart, not the head. It’s not about a cognitive understanding of or knowledge about God. The fear of the Lord manifests itself in a heart that is changed by what it sees, hears, and learns about God. It produces humility because the heart is awakened to the magnitude and majesty of God.

Fear of the Lord produces love because the heart is amazed that this great God would stoop down to show interest in the insignificant and unrighteous. Coming to grips with the reality of God changes our hearts and produces a change in our behavior and our words. In the passage above, Jesus teaches us that one of the greatest indicators of the level of our fear of the Lord and of our wisdom is what comes out of our mouths. The Proverbs spend a great deal of time dealing with the role our words play in both our relationship with God and with others.

Proverbs 15 talks about a gentle answer, harsh words, gentle words, evil words, the tongue, the mouth, lips, a fitting reply, saying the right thing, pure words, good news, and thinking carefully before speaking. What comes out of the mouth is so revealing. It indicates what’s in the heart. It is a window into our soul. We can try to fake it, attempting to fool everyone into thinking we’re filled with wisdom and righteousness,. But unexpectedly, when the pressure is on or our guard is down, the wrong words can spew out before we can stop them. We can react in anger. We can curse unexpectedly. We can respond negatively. We can gossip, slander, shout, ridicule, and verbally respond in a variety of destructive ways. And when we do, it reveals the true condition of our hearts.

The lips of the wise spread knowledge;
    not so the hearts of fools. – Proverbs 15:7 ESV

It exposes that we are more foolish than we are wise. We can blame our words on the circumstances or the pressure of the moment, but James makes it clear that the condition of our hearts is responsible for the quality of our words.

Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produces olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. – James 3:11-12 NLT

Our words flow from an internal source. They are generated from within and they are simply a reflection of what is going on inside our hearts. James goes on to say, “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good words with the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13 NLT). He differentiates between godly wisdom and earthly wisdom.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. – James 3:17-18 NLT

Our words are a byproduct of our wisdom. Our wisdom is a reflection of our hearts. Our hearts are radically changed by a healthy fear of God and a humble submission to Him. Watch carefully what comes out of your mouth when you get squeezed. It will provide a good indication of just how wise you really are. And, always remember that God is watching at all times.

The Lord is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

It’s amazing what we will do when we think no one is watching. Anonymity can be anesthetizing. It can lull us into a sense of false security, making us believe we are free to do what we want to do just because nobody can see us. But as believers, the reality is that we’re always being watched. Even if no one else is around, we always have an audience of One. God is never unaware or disinterested in what we’re doing or how we are behaving. He never sleeps or takes a break. He is constantly watching us and assessing not only our actions but the motives behind them. He sees all and knows all. The Psalmist put it this way:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence! – Psalms 139:1-7 NLT

That’s an amazing and somewhat intimidating thought, isn’t it? God knows our hearts, our thoughts, our actions, our attitudes – in short, He knows everything about us. He hears every word that comes out of our mouths and every thought that enters our minds. He knows our fears, hurts, heartaches, longings, disappointments, and dreams.

Even death and destruction hold no secrets from the Lord. How much more does he know the human heart. – Proverbs 15:11 NLT

There is nothing we can keep hidden or secret from God. So why do we try? Why do we mistakenly believe that just because we can fool our friends and family members, we can somehow fool God? There should be a certain comfort that comes from knowing that God knows. We don’t have to pretend. We don’t have to live in pretense, trying to trick God into believing we’re something we’re not. There is freedom that comes from knowing you are known. There is nothing to hide. Instead, there is only confession and an acceptance of God’s grace and forgiveness.

A big part of learning to fear God is understanding that He is all-knowing. It is an awareness that He is incapable of being deceived or hoodwinked. That awareness brings about an honest assessment of who we really are and an admission that we don’t measure up. It creates an increasing dependence on Him and ever-increasing transparency regarding our true spiritual condition. God sees our pride. He knows about the idols in our lives. He is fully aware of our fears and faults. He looks past our plastic facades and sees into our hearts. He is not impressed with our attempts at self-righteousness or swayed by our efforts at behavior modification.

He is watching, and He is waiting. He is waiting for us to give up the cover-up. Stop the pretense. Quit the pretending. Instead, He wants us to remember that all we do is for His glory. It is all to be done in His power. His strength is to be made evident in our weakness. God wants to produce in us what we cannot produce in ourselves. He is watching and He is waiting.

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 Godly Inheritance

1 Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
    do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
    tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
    keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
    do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
    love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
    and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
    she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
    she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

10 Hear, my son, and accept my words,
    that the years of your life may be many.
11 I have taught you the way of wisdom;
    I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered,
    and if you run, you will not stumble.
13 Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
    guard her, for she is your life.
14 Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of the evil.
15 Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on.
16 For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
    they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
17 For they eat the bread of wickedness
    and drink the wine of violence.
18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
    which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know over what they stumble. – Proverbs 4:1-19 ESV

One of the things that makes wisdom so unique and invaluable is that it can be passed down from one generation to another. It is like a priceless heirloom that is willed from grandmother to granddaughter, or a valuable piece of property that becomes a permanent part of the family’s inheritance. While wisdom itself isn’t communicable or transferable, a love for wisdom can be. And a parent that models a lifestyle based on the wisdom of God creates a strong incentive for their children to do the same. Wise parents tend to raise wise children.

Solomon inherited his high regard for wisdom from his own father, King David. Solomon had grown up in the royal household and while his father had been renowned for his exploits as a warrior, David had also been a poet, musician, and a man well acquainted with wisdom. He had learned a great deal from God over his long and prosperous reign. And some of his thoughts concerning wisdom were recorded in his psalms.

The godly offer good counsel;
    they teach right from wrong.
They have made God’s law their own,
    so they will never slip from his path. – Psalm 37:30-31 NLT

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. – Psalm 51:6 ESV

There is little doubt that David passed along his love for wisdom to all his children, but he was particularly diligent about preparing Solomon, the designated successor to his throne. He knew from firsthand experience just how difficult the job of ruling and reigning as God’s shepherd could be. He was leaving Solomon a thriving kingdom and a well-stocked treasury. The majority of Israel’s enemies had been conquered and there would be little need for Solomon to worry about going to war. He could simply lead the nation into further prosperity and help encourage them to honor and reverence God.

But David knew that Solomon would need wisdom in order to lead well, and wisdom was accessible only from God Almighty. So, when David was nearing death, he called in his son and issued a series of wise warnings.

Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

And David made sure that Solomon understood that wisdom was the byproduct of an intimate relationship with God.

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.  So take this seriously. – 1 Chronicles 28:9-10 NLT

Yahweh and wisdom are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. And, eventually, Solomon passed on this insight to his own son.

For I, too, was once my father’s son,
    tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.

My father taught me,
“Take my words to heart.
    Follow my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom; develop good judgment.
    Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.
Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.
    Love her, and she will guard you. – Proverbs 4:3-6 NLT

Notice how Solomon’s description of wisdom mirrors David’s words concerning God. They are almost interchangeable. Solomon knew that his own wisdom had been a gift from God. When he had ascended the throne, God had visited Solomon in a dream and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you” (2 Chronicles 1:7 ESV). Amazingly, God was offering to grant whatever Solomon wished for. He could have asked God for anything. But Solomon’s response reveals that David had done a good job of inculcating a love for wisdom into his life.

“You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” – 2 Chronicles 1:8-10 ESV

And God willingly and graciously granted Solomon’s request.

“Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king,  wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” – 2 Chronicles 1:11-12 ESV

In a sense, Proverbs 4 contains Solomon’s last will and testament to his own son. He is passing on what had been down to him by his own father. For Solomon, a love for wisdom was the greatest gift he could leave his son.

Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!
    And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
If you prize wisdom, she will make you great.
    Embrace her, and she will honor you. – Proverbs 4:7-8 NLT

He was leaving him a well-established kingdom, great wealth, and a good name. He would lack for nothing – except wisdom. Because that was the one thing Solomon couldn’t put in a vault for posterity or place in his son’s hand like a scepter or crown. All Solomon could do was pass on his love and appreciation for the wisdom God had given him. And he reminded his son that he had done his best to share all that he had come to know about wisdom.

I have taught you the way of wisdom;
    I have led you in the paths of uprightness. – Proverbs 4:11 ESV

Now it was going to be up to his son to use his inheritance – wisely.

Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
    guard her, for she is your life. – Proverbs 4:13 ESV

But Solomon knew that his son would face all kinds of temptations. His excessive wealth could make him self-sufficient and prideful, and lead him to no longer depend upon God. If he was not careful, his power could become an intoxicating brew that numbed his senses and blurred his spiritual vision. Rather than viewing his sovereignty as a gift from God, he could use it to abuse those under his care. That’s why Solomon strongly encourages his son to avoid taking the wrong path.

Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of the evil.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on. – Proverbs 4:14-15 ESV

Life is a matter of daily decisions. Each of us faces a never-ending succession of choices that must be made. We can choose the right path of the wrong one. We can pursue God and, therefore, the way of wisdom, or we can walk the path of the unrighteous and find ourselves going deeper and deeper into the dark woods of despair and wickedness.

For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day.
    They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble.
They eat the food of wickedness
    and drink the wine of violence! – Proverbs 4:16-17 NLT

Solomon greatly desired for his son to choose the right path – the way of righteousness, so he attempted to scare the “hell” out of him.

…the way of the wicked is like total darkness.
    They have no idea what they are stumbling over. – Proverbs 4:19 NLT

And he provided his son with a more attractive and preferable alternative.

The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,
    which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. – Proverbs 4:18 NLT

Like any good parent, Solomon knew he couldn’t make his son choose the right path. All he could do was remind him of all that he had tried to pass along and encourage him to stay the course. It is not unlike the words of encouragement that Paul passed on to Timothy, his young “son” in the faith.

But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance.

But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:10, 14-17 NLT

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

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.

 

Let’s Get Practical

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. Colossians 3:18-4:1 ESV

Paul now takes those other-oriented, selfless, and love-motivated character traits and applies them to everyday life. And since he was writing to believers living in Colossae, he customized his words for their particular context. He wanted them to know what seeking and setting their minds on things that are above would look like on a daily basis. He wasn’t promoting some kind of ethereal and impractical brand of religious pietism and asceticism. No, he was recommending a highly practical brand of faith that revealed the transformative nature of the gospel in everyday life. They were to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10 ESV). As chosen ones of God, they were to put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12 ESV). But none of these “add-ons” would be effective without love.

…put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony… – Colossians 3:14 ESV

And since God is love and He best expressed that love through the gift of His Son, Paul called the Colossians to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17 ESV). But what does that look like? How were they supposed to make these powerful admonitions practical? Well, Paul makes it plain and simple for them. And he begins with the family unit, one of the most foundational and universal arenas of relationship in this life.

The family was God’s idea. It was He who originated and ordained the union of one man and one woman, creating an indissoluble bond between them as husband and wife. The creation account found in the opening chapters of Genesis records God’s creation of the first marriage.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:21-24 ESV

And Jesus Himself confirmed the validity of the Genesis account by stating, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6 ESV).

So, Paul begins at the beginning, with the family unit. He calls believing wives to submit to their believing husbands. But he adds an important, yet often overlooked, distinction: “as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord.”

For Paul, the use of the word “submission” was directly linked to his call that all believers conduct themselves with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. If ever there was ever a relationship where those characteristics were necessary, it was that of a husband and wife. So, he calls wives to lovingly, humbly, meekly, and patiently relate to their husbands in such a way that honors their role as the God-appointed head of the household. Paul provided additional insight into the headship role of the husband when writing to the church in Ephesus.

…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. – Ephesians 5:21-24 NLT

The biblical concept of submission has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. Paul is not suggesting that women are somehow second-class citizens. He is simply articulating the divinely-ordained concept of headship within the family unit. Just as Christ is the head of the church, the believing husband is given responsibility for the well-being of his family. And that responsibility comes with a heavy dose of accountability.

Paul made it painfully clear that one of the primary leadership responsibilities of a godly husband was to selflessly love his wife. And, once again, Paul provides further clarity in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

…this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. – Ephesians 5:25-26 NLT

In order to lovingly, graciously submit to her husband, a wife would have to surrender her pride and natural desire for autonomy. In other words, she would have to “put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9 ESV). Submission doesn’t come naturally or easily. It requires a sacrifice of the human will. In order for anyone to submit in a way that “is fitting for those who belong to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 NLT), they will have to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within” (Colossians 3:18 NLT). And according to Peter, submission isn’t something that is reserved for wives alone.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God – 1 Peter 2:13-15 ESV

The life of a believer, regardless of their gender, is to be marked by an attitude of humble submission to others – for this is the will of God. And, according to Paul, one of the greatest displays of death-to-self was to be a husband’s selfless expression of love for his wife. He was to put his wife’s life ahead of his own. He was to be willing to die on her behalf.

At the core of Paul’s teaching on submission was the idea of humility versus pride. There was no place for self-aggrandizement in the life of a believer.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4 BSB

Even children had a part to play in God’s divine order for the home. They were to obey their parents in everything. Why? Because this was pleasing to the Lord. It was in keeping with His divine will. And a child’s obedience was a form of submission to the God-ordained authority of their parents. Again, this is not normal or natural. As the proverb states, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child…” (Proverbs 22:15 BSB).

And it’s interesting to note that disobedience to children was one of the characteristics Paul listed when describing the future state of the world in the last days.

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. – 2 Timothy 3:1-4 NLT

But, according to Paul, an obedient child is the byproduct of a loving and godly father.

Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. – Colossians 3:21 NLT

That same proverb goes on to say, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” Yet, too much discipline, done in an unloving and heavy-handed manner can do more harm than good. It can cause a child to become discouraged. Discipline that is unloving and lacking in compassion can lead a child to become disinterested in trying to obey. It can actually result in rebellion rather than submission. So, Paul warns fathers to use their role as heads of their households with care.

Next, Paul moves from addressing the family unit to dealing with another relationship that was a ubiquitous part of the Colossian community: Slavery. While we find this topic uncomfortable and somewhat off-putting, it was a normal part of everyday life for the citizens of Colossae.

Scholars estimate about 10% (but possibly up to 20%) of the Roman empire’s population were enslaved. This would mean, for an estimated Roman empire population of 50 million (in the first century AD) between five and ten million were enslaved. This number would have been unequally distributed across the empire, with a higher concentration of enslaved people in urban areas and in Italy. – © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Slavery was an everyday part of daily life in Colossae. Yet Paul doesn’t attempt to address the moral implications of slavery. Instead, he tried to show the Colossian believers how their new identity in Christ should impact every area of life. The reality was that slaves were coming to faith in Christ and becoming a part of the local congregation of believers. It was highly likely that the church in Colossae had slaves attending worship services with their own masters. And this presented a particularly difficult problem for Paul and the leadership of the church. How were these people supposed to relate to one another? How was their mutual relationship with Christ to impact their interpersonal relationship with one another?

Paul addresses both parties. He tells slaves, “obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord” (Colossians 3:22 NLT). And he tells masters, “be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master—in heaven” (Colossians 4:1 NLT).

Notice his emphasis on God. Both parties were to recognize that their earthly relationship with one another had been dramatically altered by their new identity in Christ. While nothing had changed regarding their earthly status, Paul wanted them to know that God viewed them in a whole new light.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT

There is an invaluable and universal lesson to be learned from Paul’s words to slaves. These were individuals who had no choice regarding their condition. Their position as slaves required that they submit, whether they wanted to or not. But Paul challenged them to take a different attitude.

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. – Colossians 3:23-24 NLT

And this applied to every believer in the local church in Colossae. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2 ESV). A slave was to live his life with an eternal perspective, knowing that his current circumstance was temporal. There was a reward awaiting him that made his present suffering pale in comparison. And that heavenly-minded, future-focused perspective was to motivate the life of every believer in Colossae, regardless of their gender, race, or social status.

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 Monument to Man’s Futility

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. Genesis 11:1-9 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter 11, Moses provides an explanation of an earlier comment he made regarding Peleg, a descendant of Shem.

To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided – Genesis 10:25 ESV

The genealogy of Shem found in chapter 10 contains no lineage for Peleg. It simply mentions his name, then moves on to his brother Joktan. But Moses had a good reason for leaving out Peleg. He wanted to emphasize another major turning point in mankind’s story of expansion and moral degeneration. The sons of Noah were filling the earth, just as God had commanded. But as the genealogy of Ham revealed, the spread of mankind was accompanied by a rising number of people groups who would later be characterized as idolatrous, licentious, and evil. The existence of nations like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon was the direct result of Noah’s sons fulfilling God’s mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Their efforts had been successful.

the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood. – Genesis 10:32 ESV

And Moses opens chapter 11 with a stunning revelation. There had been a time when all the nations of the earth shared a common language. This never-disclosed-before insight would have come as a shock to Moses’ Jewish audience. They were already having to deal with the fact that all mankind shared the same lineage. Their enemies, the Egyptians, Assyrians, Canaanites, and Babylonians, were actually their long-lost brothers. And now, they were learning for the first time, that there had been a point in time when all these disparate people groups had shared the same language.

One of the underlying and often overlooked themes in the book of Genesis is mankind’s reticence to obey God’s command to fill the earth. After the fall, the two sons of Adam and Eve chose domestication over migration and expansion.

Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. – Genesis 4:2 ESV

There is nothing inherently wrong with either of these professions. But it is apparent from the context that the two sons had both chosen to remain close to home. They had settled down not far from their mother and father. And their close proximity proved to be deadly. It was not long before “Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:8 ESV). And, as a result, God cursed Cain.

“When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” – Genesis 4:12 ESV

As part of his divine punishment, Cain was cast out of the comfort of his familial surroundings. He was forced to leave home. And his ban from his homeland is reminiscent of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:22-24 ESV

Adam and Eve had been cast out of Eden, but the divine mandate remained intact. They were to fill the earth. Ever since the fall, the trajectory of mankind was always intended to be away from Eden and into the world. But it seems that Adam and Eve didn’t wander far from the border of Eden. And their two sons chose to remain nearby as well. But after his sin, Cain was cursed to live the life of a wanderer – a nomad.

Yet, Cain ignored God’s edict and “settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16 ESV). He blatantly refused to live under God’s curse, choosing instead to settle down.

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. – Genesis 4:17 ESV

Rather than wander, Cain settled down once again. And this same predisposition to ignore God’s mandate can be seen in Noah. When the floodwaters had receded and Noah was able to exit the ark, he and his three sons were assigned the task of fulfilling the divine mandate to fill the earth. But Noah decided to settle down instead.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. – Genesis 9:20 ESV

And Noah’s seemingly innocuous decision had devasting consequences. It resulted in the cursing of his own grandson and a growing division among all his progeny.

As each new generation came into existence, they continued the slow but steady movement away from Eden. Moses indicates that “as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there” (Genesis 11:2 ESV). Whether they realized it or now, they were filling the earth. But, once again, mankind’s inherent desire for autonomy and self-determination raised its ugly head.

During Peleg’s lifetime, some of his relatives made the same fateful decision that Cain and Noah had made. They chose to settle down.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11: 4 ESV

These industrious individuals decided to make bricks and build a tower to the sky – intended as a monument to their own ingenuity and industry. Their ambitious building project was motivated by a desire to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). They wanted to be the determiners of their own fate and to control their collective destiny. Nowhere in this passage does Moses relate a command issued from God that they should construct a city. This had been their decision and it was purely self-centered and aimed at self-glorification. They wanted to make a name for themselves. Rather than choosing to glorify God, they attempted to glorify themselves. That same attitude is reflected in the words of one of their descendants, a powerful man who would build a great city and then one day proclaim:

“Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon, would attempt to rob glory from God and suffer the consequences. He gloried in his greatness as a self-made man. But God would give this egotistical king a painful lesson in humility and divine sovereignty.  Nebuchadnezzar would have to learn “that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses” (Daniel 4:32 NLT).

And the overly ambitious and egotistical builders of the tower would learn a similar lesson about God’s sovereignty. When the Almighty saw what they were doing, He reacted immediately.

“Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.” – Genesis 11:6-7 NLT

There are some who believe that these people were attempting to build a tower that would allow them to access God. But up until this point in the story, mankind had always considered Eden to be the home of God. It’s interesting to note that Adam and Eve had been banned from the garden, the place where they had enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God. And when their son, Cain, had been cursed by God, he “went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16 ESV).

The story of mankind is characterized by a constant movement away from God. Made in His image and designed to reflect His glory, humanity has made a habit out of distancing itself from God. And the apostle Paul paints a rather bleak portrait of the fallen state of mankind.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

In order to disrupt the self-aggrandizing efforts of the tower builders, God created an instant source of confusion by confounding their ability to communicate. In an instant, God turned their call to make a name for themselves into a cacophony of disparate languages. They could no longer understand one another. And with no common language, their ability to conspire against God evaporated.

Moses indicates that “the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8 NLT). This was a divine punishment that had sovereign consequences. God knew what He was doing. He was forcing humanity to obey His kingdom mandate and fill the earth. It was only in the fulfillment of that command that humanity could act as His image-bearers and bring glory to His name. His will would be done, whether they wanted to participate or not. And Moses states that “in this way, he scattered them all over the world” (Genesis 11:9 NLT).

But while the people dispersed, the tower and the city remained. The site became known as Babel. There is a powerful sense of irony in this story because the name Babel would become synonymous with the future nation of Babylon. In their language, Babel came to mean “the gate of God.” But in Hebrew, the word meant “confusion.” The site of Babel would become the future home of the mighty city of Babylon, the resplendent capital of Nebuchadnezzar’s vast domain. The very city over which he gazed and pridefully proclaimed, “Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.”

Man’s incessant pride is nothing more than misplaced glory that always results in confusion and conflict. Man’s consistent attempts to dethrone God have always produced nothing but chaos. The psalmist provides a sobering assessment of humanity’s ill-fated and futile attempts to replace God.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury. – Psalm 2:1-5 NLT

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

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

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

The Heights of Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the Scriptures say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In the Service of the King

24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:24-30 ESV

This passage leaves most people a bit stunned at the audacity of the disciples. How in the world could these men be so insensitive after all that Jesus had just said to them? He had just used elements from the Passover meal to describe His coming death on their behalf. Then He had followed that up with a disclosure that one of them was going to betray Him. But the gravity of His words didn’t seem to sink in. Oh, they spent some time discussing who the possible identity of the betrayer, but that quickly devolved into a pride-filled comparison. Upon close inspection, it becomes painfully evident that these men were debating about which of them mighty be capable doing such a thing. It conjures up images of the 11 remaining disciples (because Judas had already left the room) pointing fingers at one another in a perverse version of the blame-game.

In Matthew’s account of that fateful night, he indicates that each of the disciples had asked Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” (Luke 22:23 ESV). And while Jesus seems to have made the identity of His betrayer quite clear, them disciples missed it and continued to argue over who the culprit might be. This suggests that they had no suspicions about Judas. While he had left the room, they did not jump to conclusions and immediately assume he was the guilty party. 

And Luke seems to suggest that their debate soon turned into an argument about superiority. They went from distancing themselves from possible culpability for Jesus’ betrayal to bragging about their personal qualifications to to lay claim to the coveted title of “Greatest of all Disciples.”

It’s absolutely mind-boggling to think of these men having such an arrogant discussion in the very room where Jesus had just informed them, “This is my body, which is given for you” and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19, 20 NLT). Even if we assume they didn’t quite comprehend the meaning behind His words, there is no way they could have missed what He meant when He said, “…here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him” (Luke 22:21-22 NLT).

But rather than console Jesus and offer their commitment to stand by His side to the bitter end, they made the focus of the entire evening all about themselves.

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. – Luke 22:24 NLT

What makes their self-centered obsession so egregious is that the Messiah, the Anointed One of God was standing right in front of them. And to make matters worse, John reports that Jesus, the Son of God, had prefaced the Passover meal by washing the feet of His disciples.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. – John 13:3-5 ESV

And John indicates that immediately after Jesus had performed this lowly, selfless act of servanthood, He went out of His way to ensure that they understood the meaning behind His actions.

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” – John 13:12-17 ESV

Their Lord and teacher had just washed their feet, providing them with a vivid illustration of the ministry they would soon be commissioned to carry on in His absence. And yet, they seemed to have missed His point altogether. Jesus was not calling them to become washers of feet, but to become the servants of all. In other words, Jesus was asking them to carry on His ministry.

Amazingly, this was not the only time Jesus had to have this discussion with His disciples. Matthew records another occasion when the mother of James and John approached Jesus and asked, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Matthew 20:21 NLT). This rather presumptuous request was met with jealousy-fueled anger by the other disciples. They were convinced that James and John were behind this gratuitous act of self-promotion. But Jesus responded to their frustration with the same basic message about selflessness and service.

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. ” – Matthew 20:25-27 NLT

Then, to make sure they understand His meaning, Jesus used His own life as an example .

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mathew 28:28 NLT

The disciples had a worldly based perspective on leadership that promoted power, prominence, and position. The goal was to work your way to the top and then enjoy all the benefits your hard work afforded. But Jesus gave them a completely counter-cultural model to follow.

“…let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” – Luke 22:26 NLT

And, once again, Jesus reminded of them act of service He had just performed a few minutes earlier.

“For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” – Luke 22:27 ESV

There is no indication that the disciples answered Jesus’ question because it required none. He had just demonstrated that He, the greater one, had served those who were His inferiors in so many respects. He was their Lord and teacher. Not only that, He was the Son of God and yet, He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV).

Jesus declared, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27 ESV). That was the whole reason He had come to earth. And now, He was preparing them for the role they would play after He had given up His life in the ultimate act of selfless service.

Jesus wraps up this little lesson on leadership with a fascinating promise concerning the kingdom. It’s important to recognize that the kingdom is exactly what the disciples had been longing for ever since they began following Jesus. They had been hoping that He was their long-awaited Messiah and would set up the Kingdom of God on earth. But Jesus tells them something quite different.

“I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom…“ – Luke 22:29 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was giving them a mandate to have dominion over the world He had created. He was putting them in charge of His realm in His absence. But the kingdom to which He was assigning them authority would not be the final kingdom to come. It would not feature Jesus sitting on the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. It would not feature James and John sitting on Jesus’ right and left in the royal palace. No, for the time being, it would consist of the disciples continuing His carrying the good news of the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. But then Jesus promised them that their longing for an earthly kingdom would one day be fulfilled. He assured them that one day they would “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30 ESV). 

Now was not the time to argue about greatness. The days ahead would not be filled with power and prominence but with serving, suffering, and selfless obedience to the King and His mission.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

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

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

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

The Heart of a Child

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. – Luke 18:15-17 ESV

There are times when it appears as if the 12 disciples of Jesus are a few bricks short of a full load. And this is one of them. After reading this passage, it’s difficult not to draw one of two conclusions: Either the disciples are stubborn or simply stupid. They just don’t seem to get it. No matter how many times Jesus addresses an issue with them, the disciples fail to grasp His meaning. Even all His after-class, one-on-twelve tutoring sessions didn’t seem to help.

Before looking at the scene recorded in today’s passage, let’s revisit a few earlier exchanges between Jesus and His disciples that are closely related. First, while they were back in Galilee, Jesus had overheard the disciples arguing over which of them was the greatest. This debate came fast on the heels of Jesus’ announcement that He would soon be delivered into the hands of men and be killed (Mark 9:31). So, immediately after hearing Jesus announce that He was going to lay down His life, they had gotten into a heated argument over which of them was the greatest. This led Jesus to give them an object lesson.

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark 9:36-37 ESV

Jesus used this small, seemingly insignificant child to drive home an important point. With the pride-filled disciples gathered around Him, Jesus stood in the midst of them holding this unnamed child in His arms. He placed the one with the least significance in the place of greatest prominence. The child had done nothing to earn this special favor extended to Him by Jesus. He was not powerful, impressive, gifted, or even capable of repaying Jesus for His kindness. But the child was trusting and willing to place his full confidence in Jesus.

Yet, immediately after witnessing this living object lesson, John had chosen to bring up what he believed to be a more pressing matter. He reported that there was an unnamed individual who had been casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The discovery of this unidentified competitor had bothered the disciples enough that they had repeatedly tried to issue him cease-and-desist orders. But their efforts had failed. And much to John’s dismay, rather than seeking to reprimand this rogue exorcist, Jesus rebuked His own disciples.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. – Mark 9:42 ESV

The Greek word Mark used is mikros, which means “small” or “least.” Jesus seems to be referring to this unknown exorcist as one of His children. This man, while not one of the 12 disciples, was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. He was performing the same good deed that Jesus had commissioned His disciples to do. That’s why Jesus John, “Don’t stop him!…No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39 NLT). This man was on their side. 

Yet Jesus refers to him as one of the “least.” He was so insignificant that the disciples didn’t even know his name. But he was important to Jesus. 

This brings us back to the scene taking place in chapter 10. Jesus and His disciples are back in the region of Perea, just east of Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. And Mark opened this chapter by indicating that Jesus’ arrival in the region had attracted the usual large crowds. While many hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle, others had come out of curiosity because Jesus was a 1st-Century celebrity. But Mark indicates that some “were bringing children to him that he might touch them” (Mark 10:13 ESV). Evidently, parents were bringing their young children to Jesus so that He might bless them. But Mark states that “the disciples rebuked them” (Mark 9:13 ESV). These men took it upon themselves to restrict their access to Jesus. They wrongly assumed that they had the authority to determine who was worthy to come into Jesus’ presence. And this whole scene makes even more sense when you consider Luke’s account. He provides some essential details that make the actions of the disciples even more egregious.

Luke records a parable that Jesus told “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). In this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Luke 18:10 ESV). The Pharisee stood before God, and in a blatant display of self-promotion, bragged about his superior righteousness as evidenced by his unparalleled fasting and tithing. But the other man stood before God, eyes lowered, declaring his abject state of sinfulness and desperate need for mercy. And then Jesus said, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 ESV).

Superiority and inferiority. Pride and humility. Greatness and weakness. This parable set up the arrival of the parents with their children. And it explains why Jesus became so indignant with His disciples and demanded, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14 ESV). These little ones were being brought to Jesus by their parents. Too young to come on their own, they were completely at the mercy of others. These children represented complete dependency and trust. There was not an ounce of self-righteousness or moral superiority within them. But the disciples had decided that they were unworthy to come into Jesus’ presence. Had these men so quickly forgotten the scene of Jesus holding the young boy in His arms? Had the words Jesus had spoken to them simply gone in one ear and out the other?

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark9:37 ESV

Yet here was Jesus having to rebuke His disciples for their arrogant display of moral superiority. They didn’t get it. They were still harboring their own false conceptions about status in the Kingdom. In their eyes, these children were non-contributors. They had nothing to offer. They were takers, not givers. But Jesus had a completely different perspective. And to the shock and dismay of the disciples, Jesus “took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mark 10:16 NLT).

The disciples had been right. These “little ones” had nothing to offer Jesus. But Jesus had something to give them: His divine blessing. They came before Jesus as helpless and hopeless children, most likely carried in the arms of their parents. Some were probably too young to walk or talk. But each one, regardess of their age, intellect, family background, or future prospects of success; received the same undeserved gift from the hand of Jesus. Each was touched and blessed by the Son of God.

The Kingdom of God will not be comprised of the successful, gifted, morally exceptional, intellectually superior, or socially acceptable. In fact, Paul reminds every Christ-follower that their adoption into the family of God had nothing to do with them. They brought nothing to the table. They had done nothing to deserve the grace and mercy shown to them by God.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

Jesus had repeatedly shown His disciples that He had come to minister to the weak, the helpless, and the hopeless. He had gone out of His way to heal the sick and to minister to the outcasts and socially unacceptable. He had exposed the hypocrisy of the self-righteous religious leaders of Israel. He had willingly associated with tax collectors and prostitutes. And yet, His disciples still struggled with thoughts of their own superiority and harbored hopes of earning a place of honor and distinction in His coming Kingdom. But the lessons would continue, right up until the end. Even in the upper room on the night Jesus would be betrayed, He would provide them with yet another illustration of humility and service by washing their feet. And ultimately, Jesus would perform the greatest act of humility by offering His life as a ransom for many. The greatest of all would become the least of all so that the foolish, the powerless, the despised, and the unimportant might become children of God.

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

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

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

Unworthy, Yet Rewarded Servants

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” – Luke 17:7-10 ESV

These verses, if taken out of their context, will leave the reader scratching their head in confusion. Yet, it almost appears as if they have no context. Even when read as part of the overall narrative of chapters 14-17, they can still come across as shocking in tone and perplexing in terms of their meaning. The disciples have just asked Jesus to increase their faith. But He informed them that their problem was not the size of their faith, but the source of their power. They were thinking that it all revolved around them. With more faith, they believed they could accomplish more good works for God. And this mindset was not far from the attitude of the Pharisees, who believed their right standing with God was based on all that they had done for Him. They viewed themselves as faithful sons of God who diligently observed all of His laws and, therefore, deserved His blessings.

Throughout these four chapters, Luke has been faithfully chronicling Jesus’ ongoing lessons regarding the self-righteous and self-promoting mindset of the religious leaders of Israel. They were glory-seeking grand-standers who loved to parade their superior spirituality in front of the common people. They lived for the praise of men and were obsessed with social status and material gain. Luke described these icons of moral virtue as “lovers of money” (16:14 ESV). And Jesus accused them of caring more about the approval of men than the righteous appraisal of God.

“You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God. – Luke 16:15 NLT

They lived with their eyes focused solely on the rewards of this life. And those rewards took the form of praise, respectability, power, and prominence. Their lives were a living example of Jesus’ words in His sermon on the mount.

“Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 NLT

Jesus went on to say that those who “toot their own horns,“ calling attention to their acts of charity, will receive the reward of human praise, but will end up forfeiting their eternal reward. Jesus made it clear that His followers were to give without seeking a pat on the back or any other kind of earthly recognition.

“Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:4 NLT

And Jesus continued to reiterate this seemingly aberrant admonition.

“…when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6 NLT

“…when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:17-18 NLT

The Pharisees lived for earthly, temporal rewards. Their focus was on the here-and-now, and they expected to receive divine compensation for all their tithing, praying, and obeying. And Jesus knew that even His disciples had a difficult time accepting the idea of delayed gratification. They had each made the decision to follow Jesus, hoping that He might be the long-awaited Messiah. And they were eagerly anticipating the day when He would set up His kingdom on earth and reward them with places of prominence and power in His royal administration. They continued to maintain that hope right up to the literal end. In fact, after His resurrection, Jesus gathered His disciples together on a hillside to give them one last set of instructions before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But even at that momentous occasion, they couldn’t stop thinking about the one thing they desired more than anything else.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” – Acts 1:6 NLT

They were still waiting for Jesus to set up His kingdom on earth. This question expresses their collective hope that Jesus was finally going to do what they had been longing for Him to do all along: Re-establish Israel as a major force in that region of the world. They were longing to see Israel regain its former glory and power. And Jesus assured them that they would receive power, but not in the form they were expecting.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 6:8 NLT

They would receive a power far greater than anything they could have ever imagined or conceived, and it would be the key to their future success as the apostles of Jesus.

So, as we come to verses 7-10 of Luke 17, it is important that we keep all of this in mind, because Jesus is dealing with the expectation of rewards. Look closely at the question He poses:

“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? – Luke 17:7 NLT

This question was meant to be rhetorical. The answer is obvious. No servant or slave would ever expect to be rewarded with a seat at his master’s table just for doing his job. The very idea posed by this question was meant to be preposterous. No servant in his right mind would ever dream of being offered a place at his master’s table. Even if extended the invitation, he would likely refuse it, solely out of humility and an understanding of his own unworthiness.

Jesus answers His own question by describing what everyone knew would be the right and expected response of the master: “Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later” (Luke 17:8 NLT). The servant’s work was far from done. He may have completed his tasks in the field and among the flocks, but that did not mean he deserved a reward. And no servant would have expected one. His job was to serve his master. His needs came second. His reward, if any, would not come until his work was completed to the master’s satisfaction.

Then Jesus asks another rhetorical question: “And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do?” (Luke 17:9 NLT). Once again, no servant would have expected a thank you, let alone a word of praise or commendation. That would have been ridiculous. And Jesus affirms this when He answers His own question: “Of course not” (Luke 17:9 NLT).

But, just so His disciples don’t miss the point, Jesus clarifies it for them.

“In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’” – Luke 17:10 NLT

Unlike the Pharisees, the disciples of Jesus were to obey, not for the sake of reward, but out of respect for their Master.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly expressed His own willingness to fulfill His God-ordained role as the servant of God the Father.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” – John 4:34 ESV

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” – John 8:38-39 ESV

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

Jesus was asking nothing of His disciples that He was not willing to do Himself. And the apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus fulfilled His servant role all the way to the end.

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.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11 NLT

The religious leaders of Israel wrongly viewed themselves as somehow deserving of God’s rewards. They would have never considered themselves to be “unworthy servants.”  But that is exactly how Jesus expects His disciples to see themselves. And the apostle Paul would reinforce this humble mindset when he wrote to the arrogant and puffed-up believers in Corinth.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

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

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

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