Power, Possessions and Prestige

1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” – Isaiah 39:1-8 ESV

There is little doubt that Hezekiah had a love for Yahweh. And he had a deep appreciation for the miraculous healing from his terminal illness and for Yahweh’s gracious pronouncement that his life would be extended an additional 15 years. Hezekiah had even ended his poem with the declaration:

“The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 ESV

But in the days that followed his healing, a darker side of Hezekiah’s personality becomes apparent. He struggled with pride, and this was not a new characteristic in his life. It had been a problem all along. In fact, the book of 2 Chronicles informs us that, even shortly after his healing, Hezekiah’s pride problem reared its ugly head.

But Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:25-26 ESV

While this rendering makes it appear as if Hezekiah’s pride suddenly appeared, the truth is, it was already there. The phrase, “he became proud” is actually one word in Hebrew, and it means “exalted” or “arrogant.” The passage literally reads, “his heart was haughty.” We aren’t told how Hezekiah’s pride manifested itself, but it could have been that he saw his healing by God as a sign of his value to God. There is a good chance that Hezekiah saw himself as somehow indispensable to God. The book of 2 Chronicles goes on to describe Hezekiah as very wealthy and successful. In the Jewish culture, material wealth was often viewed as a sign of God’s favor.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Now, with his health restored and a divine guarantee of an additional 15 years of life, Hezekiah must have considered himself a truly blessed man. He had it all: Health, wealth, power and prosperity. But he also had a problem: Pride. And God, knowing exactly what was in Hezekiah’s heart, determined to put the king to a test, in order to expose the true nature of his condition.

However, when ambassadors arrived from Babylon to ask about the remarkable events that had taken place in the land, God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart. – 2 Chronicles 32:31 NLT

And this is where Isaiah picks up the story. It seems that news of Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery had spread, and enjoys from Babylon showed up with a message of congratulations from Merodach-baladan, the son of the king. But this little expedition was probably far more than a goodwill gesture. Babylon was an up-and-coming force in the Middle East and shared a mutual dislike for the Assyrians with Judah. It is likely that Merodach-baladan was simply attempting to build an alliance with Hezekiah, presenting the king with gifts and convincing him of Babylon’s good intentions toward Judah.

And this is where Hezekiah’s pride goes on full display. Isaiah provides us with a not-so-flattering picture of Hezekiah’s giddy delight at showing off his great wealth to these visiting dignitaries.

Hezekiah was delighted with the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – Isaiah 39:2 NLT

Hezekiah was out to impress, and his pride took precedence over his prudence. He gave these Babylonian envoys a private viewing of every state secret concerning Judah’s wealth and military capabilities. It’s unclear whether these men had shown up with the intention of spying out Jerusalem’s power and prosperity. But it really didn’t matter, because Hezekiah showed them everything they would want to see.

And, when Isaiah approached Hezekiah and asked him who the men were and what they had seen, the king was blatantly honest.

“They saw everything,” Hezekiah replied. “I showed them everything I own—all my royal treasuries.” – Isaiah 39:4 NLT

You can almost sense Hezekiah’s giddy pride at having been able to impress his guests with his vast wealth. He was like a kid on Christmas day showing off all his presents to his friends in the hopes that they would be impressed and just a tad jealous at his good fortune. But God was not impressed. In fact, God was angry with Hezekiah’s blatant display of worldly affection, and He had Isaiah deliver a sobering message to the king.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’” – Isaiah 39:5-7 NLT

Hezekiah was going to learn the brutal reality of the truth found in the Proverbs.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace… – Proverbs 11:2 ESV

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. – Proverbs 18:12 ESV

Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. – Proverbs 29:23 NLT

The condition of Hezekiah’s heart had been exposed. He loved the things of this world more than he loved God. He took more pride in his material wealth and physical health than he did in his relationship with God Almighty. And Hezekiah was more concerned with impressing men than honoring God. The apostle John provides a powerful warning to avoid the mistake that Hezekiah made.

Don’t love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. – 1 John 2:15 CEV

Even Jesus warned of the danger of falling in love with material wealth.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

And the apostle James adds another stern warning that strongly discourages friendship with the world and all that it offers.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

There was nothing inherently wrong with Hezekiah’s possession of wealth. It had been given to him by God. But his wealth should have never become a substitute for God. His material possessions were never intended to replace his trust in and love for God. Hezekiah’s problem was that he saw himself as a self-made man. His identity was wrapped up in what he owned and how others viewed him. He had completely forgotten that his very life was a gift from God. He had been at the brink of death, and God had spared him. Had God allowed him to die, all his treasures and trinkets would have been left behind. God was not impressed with Hezekiah’s affluence. What God wanted from Hezekiah were his undivided attention and unwavering devotion. But Hezekiah worshiped wealth. He bowed down at the altar of worldly pleasure and temporal prosperity.

And the truly amazing thing is that Hezekiah took the report from Isaiah as good news.

“This message you have given me from the Lord is good.” For the king was thinking, “At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – Isaiah 39:8 NLT

While Judah may one day fall to the Babylonians and his own sons be taken captive, he was pleased to know that he would enjoy peace and security as long as he was alive. What a short-sighted and selfish outlook. He showed no concern for the future well-being of his own sons, let alone the nation for which he was responsible. Hezekiah was in it for himself. His love of things was directly tied to his love of self. Even the admiration of the Babylonian envoys fed his already swollen ego. Their delight in his vast wealth added fuel to the fire of Hezekiah’s raging pride.

One of the most telling proofs of Hezekiah’s pride problem was his refusal to repent of his actions. Rather than hear the word of God and turn to Him in prayer and repentance, Hezekiah simply rejoiced in the news that God’s judgment would be delayed. He would continue to enjoy his power, possessions, and prestige. And that was all that seemed to matter to him. And the book of 2 Chronicles provides the epitaph to Hezekiah’s life.

When Hezekiah died, he was buried in the upper area of the royal cemetery, and all Judah and Jerusalem honored him at his death. And his son Manasseh became the next king. – 2 Chronicles 32:33 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

 

 

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What Shall We Say?

And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, “The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.” – Ezra 9:10-12 ESV

Ezra 9:6-15

As far as Ezra was concerned, all the people could say was, “Guilty as charged.” They had clearly violated God’s command. It was right there in black and white. God had told them when they first took possession of the land He had promised them that they were NOT to intermarry with the people living in the land. But hundreds of years later, even after having just spent 70 years in captivity for their many violations of God’s laws, the people had broken this command once again. And there was nothing they could say. No amount of rationalizing or justifying could change the fact that they had disobeyed God. It was not just that they had intermarried with non-Jews, it was the dangerous spiritual outcome of their decision to do so. God had warned them, “You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4 NLT). Obviously, there was far more going on here than Jews and non-Jews being tied in wedlock. It was all about allegiance to God. The banned marriages had resulted in exactly what God had warned would happen: Forsaking of God and His ways.

There is no doubt that this was a different context than the one in which we live. But there are some fascinating parallels and some important lessons we can learn from this story. It was the apostle John who wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16 ESV). As believers, we live in a constant state of tension. We are to resist and reject the things of this world and yet we are called to live among and love those who make up this world. We are called to remain distinct and different, set apart from the influences of this fallen world; while at the same time sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who live in the world. Jesus prayed for us, saying, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15-17 ESV). We are not of this world. Yet we have been called to live in it and yet not become part of it. We must constantly walk the fine line between being those who influence and those who are being influenced. Our job is to be salt and light. Yet there are many believers today that seem to think that it is impossible to love while maintaining our saltiness and refraining from keeping our lights hidden. There is a growing sentiment that we must love others by loving what they love – regardless of whether those things are offensive to God or not. There is also a growing movement toward assimilation and acceptance of the culture. We are becoming increasingly “married” to the ways of this world – all in an attempt to love them. But Jesus, while loving the lost, never lowered His standards or compromised His convictions. He loved while demanding change. He would embrace and welcome sinners, all the while demanding, “Go and sin no more.” His mission was a transformation of the heart. He loved so that He could redeem and restore. At no point did He embrace the sins of those He came to save. As He did with the woman at the well, He exposed their sin. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18 ESV).

So what shall we say? Are we guilty of compromise? In our efforts to be relevant and relational, have we confused tolerance with love, diminishing the holiness of God? Have we lost our saltiness and hidden our lights under a basket, all in order to “love” the lost? For many of us, the acceptance of this world is far more important to us than the approval of God. We want to be thought of as tolerant, progressive, inclusive, and always in keeping with the times. But some things never change. We have been called to live lives that are set apart and distinct from the world. We are to live in the world while remaining apart from its influences. We are to love the lost while never accepting or approving of their sin. No one said that would be easy. No one said we would find a ready reception if we lived that way. In fact, we were told that the world would hate us. We would be called intolerant and inflexible. We would be accused of everything from radicalism to irrationalism. But the greatest expression of our love for the lost is our desire to tell them the truth – about God, their own sin, and the one and only source of salvation: Jesus Christ.

Left Behind, But Not Alone.

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. – John 17:13-16 ESV

John 17:1-26

As difficult as it was for the disciples to accept Jesus’ admission that He was going to die, it had to be even more unsettling when, after His resurrection, He told them He was going away. They had just gotten Him back from the dead, a fact that had been hard for them to accept initially. But once they had come to grips with the amazing realization that He was alive, He told them that He was leaving. They would be on their own. Left behind to continue the work He had begun. It all had to be a bit overwhelming and confusing. Jesus had known it would be, which is why His prayer for them contained a request that His Father keep them from the evil one. He knew they were going to face all kinds of opposition for His name’s sake. As His followers, they were no longer “of the world.” They had become citizens of another Kingdom. But for the foreseeable future they were going to be ambassadors for Christ in this world. Jesus was leaving them behind to continue spreading the news of salvation that His death was going to make possible. The apostle Paul understood that mission well. “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT). The disciples and all those who would follow them, have been given the ministry of reconciliation. It is our job to tell the world about how to be made right with God. We have been left behind for a reason. “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” (Matthew 29:19 ESV).

So we have a job to do. But we have not been left alone or defenseless. Jesus prayed for us. Yes, we are hated by the world because we are not of this world anymore. We are foreigners and sojourners. We are like aliens living in a strange land. We don’t really belong here anymore, but we have a mission to accomplish. And not only does the world hate us, the prince of this world, Satan, is out to destroy us. He despises and loathes us because we are children of God, which is why Jesus asked the Father to keep us from him. The two big threats we face as believers are complacency or compromise. If Satan can get us to lose the urgency of our God-given mission and make it a back-burner issue, he has won. If he can get our faith in Christ to become just another add-on to our already busy lives, he will have made us ineffective and essentially powerless. But another threat we face is compromise. If Satan can get us to fall in love with the world and seek our satisfaction and sufficiency from all that it offers, it will render us useless for the cause of Christ. The apostle John warned, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15 ESV). It is virtually impossible to effectively serve God’s Kingdom when we are in love with this one. Compromise and complacency are deadly temptations for each of us as believers. So Jesus prayed that God would keep us from the evil one. He wanted us to remain loyal to our God and faithful to our commission, right up until the end. We must constantly remind ourselves that we are not of this world. We are citizens of another Kingdom. We serve another King. We live according to a different set of standards or rules. But not only are we citizens of a different Kingdom, we are children of the King. In fact, Paul would have us remember, “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17 ESV).

Jesus knew that life on this earth for His followers would be difficult after His departure. That is why He gave us the Holy Spirit. He is to be our comforter, helper, guide, and source of spiritual strength. Jesus understood the dangers and difficulties His followers would face. But He also knew that His Father was fully capable of caring for them and keeping them safe. Our salvation was completely God’s doing. Our sanctification or growth in Christ-likeness is His doing as well. Our safekeeping and security as His children is up to God as well. He has not and will not lose a single one He has redeemed. Our faith is secure, not because we live up to a certain standard or keep ourselves from committing certain sins, but because God holds us in His hands and will never let us go. While we live in this world, we must constantly remind ourselves that our real home is with Him. He has saved us so that we might be with Him. Jesus even told His disciples, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1-4 ESV).

Love, Knowledge and Discernment.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11 ESV

It was Paul’s desire that the love of the believers in Philippi would grow more and more. He knew how important love was in the life of the believer. He fully understood that, because God has loved us, we are obligated to love others. God is love, and as His children, we are to express His nature. But Paul also qualified His request for increasing love by requesting that it be accompanied by knowledge and discernment. He was not asking for a sentimental sort of love, but a well-reasoned and Christ-like love founded on an understanding of the truth of God. Our love is not to be without discrimination or discernment. The psalmist writes, “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10 NLT). Paul himself wrote to the believers in Rome, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (Romans 12:9 ESV). In his prayer for the Philippian believers Paul gives his reason for requesting love accompanied by knowledge and discernment – “so that you may approve what is excellent.” The NET Bible translates that phrase as “so that you can decide what is best.” Our love, as it grows, if accompanied by knowledge and discernment, will help us establish right priorities and enable us to focus on what really matters. The problem today is that love has become non-discerning and indiscriminate. We love without thought or priority. We love food, cars,  entertainment, pleasure and people all equally and without considering what it is that God loves. What does His heart beat fast for?

There are things in life that we are NOT to love. God hates pride. So should we. God hates injustice. So should we. But there are also things that are not immoral or unethical, that we have made priorities or “loves” in our lives, that have taken the place of God. We love convenience more than God or others. We love our own comfort more than we love God or others. We love acceptance, the praise of men, the things of this world, our own agendas, and a host of other things more than we love God or others. But Paul prays that our love will be marked by knowledge of the truth and a Spirit-provided discernment that will allow us to see what really matters. True love can be costly. God showed His love for mankind by sending His own Son to die. It cost Him dearly. God knew what needed to be done and He did it. His love was driven by what was best. Jesus’ love for us was also driven by what was best – what His Father wanted. We are to love, but always on God’s terms. Sometimes, our brand of love can do more harm than good. In our day and age, we have confused tolerance with love. We are told to love everybody. But what we are really being told to do is approve of what everyone is doing. Our love is to be all-accepting and non-discriminatory. We are not to judge. We are not free to disapprove. But the Word of God would have us love – within reason and with truth as our standard. In the Proverbs we read, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV). God will not overlook sin. He can’t. So neither should we. That does not mean that we should refrain from showing grace. But at no point are we to show love without discernment. Sometimes the greatest form of love is that which points out the sin in another person’s life. If sin separates us from God, then letting someone know that what they are doing is putting a barrier between them and God is the most loving thing you could do for them. Telling them you love them while knowing that their behavior is an affront to God is anything but loving.

What if we prayed this prayer for one another today? Can you imagine what it might be like if each of us, as believers, were more knowledgeable and discerning in our love? What would it be like if we truly learned to love as God loves? Peter tells us, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV). But notice that he says, love covers a multitude of sins, not accepts or ignores them. Yes, we need to love more. But we need love that is based on knowledge and discernment. We need love that approves of and agrees with what is best – God’s best. How did God love us? While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God loved us at our worst, but He was not wiling to leave us that way. The apostle John reminds us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). God’s love was based on redeeming us and renewing us into the likeness of His Son. He didn’t love us by leaving us just like we were. He loved us so that He might justify and sanctify us. And we are to love in that very same way.

The Folly of What Is Fading.

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:17 ESV

This world is temporary and transient. But for most of us, it has become our only perception of what is real. Here in this world we can see, touch, smell and experience what appears to be reality. We can enjoy a good meal, watch a beautiful sunset, feel the love of another human being, and experience a thousand other moments of legitimate joy and pleasure. And there is nothing wrong with any of those things, until we allow them to replace or distract us from what is truly real. John’s whole point in this passage has been to warn believers of the danger of the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride we get from our possessions or positions. When we turn to those things in order to find our sense of worth and value or to feed our need for self-importance and self-indulgence, we have lost sight of reality. Those things we lust after, long for, and find satisfaction in are temporary and not timeless. John says they are fading away. Not only that, he indicates that our desire for them should be diminishing as well. As believers, we should have a growing sense of eternity, that our destiny is out ahead of us. This world is not our true home. We truly are just passing through on our way to somewhere else.

The writer of Hebrews spoke of this very attitude when he wrote about the saints of the Old Testament. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV). Abraham never got to live in a city with foundations – on this earth. But he does now. His faith was in something he couldn’t see. He trusted the promises of God in spite of the fact that those promises so often appeared to be unfulfilled. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV). Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Abel, Isaac, and Jacob – they all lived by faith, setting their hopes on things they could not see. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT).

The danger we all face is to confuse our present circumstances with future reality. Nothing here lasts. New cars become old ones. They lose their value as soon as you drive them off the lot. New outfits become outdated in no time at all. New homes slowly fall apart. New toys lose their novelty and appeal. Even the bodies we live in are growing old and giving out on us. But Paul would remind us that these bodies are indeed temporary. They are not built to last. But we are. We are eternal creatures. Our souls are eternal and not temporary. Paul refers to these bodies as tents – much like what Abraham lived in. They are not our permanent home. “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1 NLT). We are to live in this world with a sense of expectation in what is to come. Like Abraham, we are to see ourselves as temporary residents here. Our home is elsewhere. “So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9 NLT).

Our goal is to please Him. That is exactly John’s point when he says, “whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17 ESV). We are to live in this world with a determination to do what is pleasing to God, not ourselves. We are eternal creatures. We have an eternal destiny. This world is fading along with its desires. Which is why Paul warns us to live our time here wisely and carefully, with a full awareness that how we live our life in the here and now directly is directly tied to our view of the hereafter. “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT).

Misplaced Love.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 John 2:10 ESV

John has made it perfectly clear that, as children of God who enjoy the love of God, we are expected to share that love with one another. We are to love as we have been loved. When we allow the love of God to flow through us, His love is perfected or completed in us. We become conduits of His love to those around us. Paul tells us, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Jesus was the expression of God’s love. He made God’s love visible, tangible, touchable and knowable. In the garden on the night He would be betrayed, Jesus prayed to His Father, “I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them” (John 17:26 NLT). Jesus revealed God. That was an act of love. He shared God’s love with those who desperately needed it. And we are to do the same thing. But the problem is, we can easily misplace and misuse our love.

John warned his readers that love for their brothers and sisters was going to have competition. There was going to be the temptation to share their love in the wrong ways and in the wrong places. He wrote, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:15-16 NLT). In reality, he warns them, love of the world is not really misplaced love, it is an altogether different kind of love. It isn’t God’s love flowing through us. It is a self-centered, self-absorbed kind of love that uses and abuses. It is a love of self, not a love for others. And it is the greatest danger we face as believers. It is why Jesus prayed, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:15 NLT). Jesus knew that we would be under constant attack and face the unrelenting temptation to love this world and the things it has to offer. The enemy wants to keep our focus on ourselves, on our personal pleasures, rights, and needs, all the while feeding our sense of self-importance. While God wants us to learn to die to self, Satan wants to keep us self-obsessed. The three areas John warns us about all have to do with self – “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT). In essence, it isn’t really a love of the world as much as it is a love of self. It is all about self-gratification, feeding our sinful desires; self-indulgence, fulfilling our insatiable appetite for more; and self-glorification, making more of ourselves than we do of others, or even God.

When we love the world, we get something in return. It feeds our appetites. It fuels our desire for more. It makes us feel important, significant, and somehow accepted. But as John says, these things “are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16 NLT). This isn’t the love of God flowing through us. This is the love of self sucking anything and everything back into itself like a black hole. That kind of love becomes deadly and destructive. The Dead Sea is a beautiful body of water, but it is a beauty that is deceptive. It is a sea with fresh, clean water flowing in, but no outlet for the water to flow out. So it sits and stagnates, absorbing all the minerals and salts from the surrounding soil, creating a deadly environment where nothing grows. the water is undrinkable and incapable of sustaining life. What an apt illustration of the Christian who allows the life-giving love of God to flow into his life, but never shares it with those around him. His love of self motivates him to keep it to himself, and his desire for self-gratification, self-indulgence and self-glorification causes him to seek from the world a false kind of love that has no outlet and leads to death. We were meant to love. We were intended to share the love we have received with those around us. Jesus told the woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). Springs give life. They are fresh and refreshing to those around them. They restore and renew. They flow out, never becoming stale or stagnant, receiving a never-ending supply from a source that remains hidden from view. That is the life we have been called to live. But when we fall in love with self and allow ourselves to believe that the world loves us because it feeds our basest appetites, we misplace our love and run the risk of becoming life-robbing, rather than life-sustaining.

Isaiah 21-22, 1 John 2

Love of the World.

Isaiah 21-22, 1 John 2

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  1 John 2:15-16 NLT

Our love affair with the world comes in all kinds of shapes and forms. Sometimes we simply love what the world has to offer – its pleasures and attractions, promises and appeals to our pride. Other times we reveal our love of the world through our tendencies to turn to it for deliverance from difficulties and salvation from life’s sorrows. The people of Judah were guilty of forsaking God and replacing His role in their lives as their Savior, Lord and King. They had made a habit of turning to the world as the solution to their problems. Not only did they put their hope in foreign nations, they actually worshiped the false gods of those nations. The people of God in Isaiah’s day were addicted to and craved physical pleasure. They were driven by their senses. And they took tremendous pride in their own accomplishments and material attainments. But just as John warned his readers that “the world is passing away along with its desires,” so God warned the people of Judah that their world of false idols, replacements gods, and psuedo-saviors were going to be done away with. Babylon was going to fall. So would Edom and Arabia. Even the city of God, Jerusalem, would eventually fall at the hands of outside forces in 586 B.C.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God never intended for man to love this world. Even when the creation was free from the effects of sin, it was intended to remind mankind of the one who created it. In Romans, Paul makes it clear that man was never intended to worship the creation. “So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” (Romans 1:25 NLT). We are to love the Creator God, not the creation of God. But when John refers to our love affair with the world, he is not speaking of physical creation, but he uses the Greek word, kosmos. In this context, he seems to be referring to what Strong’s Concordance refers to as “the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ.” There is nothing inherently wrong with earthly goods, riches, or pleasures, but when we treat them as gods, we allow them to replace the one true God in our life. We expect from them what we should only expect from God Himself. The people of Judah had come to expect salvation from foreign nations. They had learned to seek pleasure from false gods and the immoral religions associated with them. They had made a habit out of seeking pleasure rather than holiness. They were driven more by their sensual desires than by spiritual appetites. And God was neither pleased nor tolerant. John so starkly reminds us, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him” (1 John 2:15 ESV). 

What does this passage reveal about man?

When we love the world and the things it offers, it manifests itself in desires that come from our sin nature, rather than the Holy Spirit. It shows up as a insatiable lust for things we see and can’t seem to live without. It also reveals itself in an unhealthy pride in our possessions. We tend to become what we own. Our identity becomes wrapped up in the outward accouterments of life. In other words, the phrase, “the clothes make the man” becomes a form of truth for us. We believe we are what we own, what we have accomplished and how we are perceived by the outside world. But God would have us remember, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). God is not impressed with our exterior. He is not swayed by what we wear, drive, or live in. He looks at the condition of our hearts. Even so-called religious acts do nothing to impress God if our hearts are not in them. Later on, in chapter 29 of the book of Isaiah, God will declare of the people of Judah, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that the outside is far more important than the inside. We have allowed ourselves to fall in love with the world’s version of the truth. We have listened to the lies of the enemy and bought in to his convincing offers of hope, healing, satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness. But God’s people are designed to turn to Him as their only source for all their needs. He alone can deliver what they are looking for.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

John goes on to remind us, “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28 ESV). We are to abide in Christ. That word, abide, literally means “to remain in” or “to be held, kept.” It carries the idea that we are to stay focused on and at rest in the saving work of Jesus Christ. We are to seek our satisfaction in Him and no one or nothing else. It is He who keeps us and sustains us in this life. The world will constantly offer false hope and a form of pseudo-salvation, but it will always disappoint and fall short. John would encourage us to remember that not only can we abide in Him now, we will be able to abide in Him for all eternity. “So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.” (1 John 2:24-25 NLT). Our hope is in Christ, right now and for eternity. We can abide in Him. We can rest in Him. We can find all that we need in Him. There is no need to love the world or the things it offers. Those things will pass away, but our relationship with God the Father through Christ the Son is eternal and everlasting, and worthy of our total trust and commitment.

Father, the world can be a pretty enticing place. The things of this world can be a huge distraction and cause us to lose our focus on You and Your Son. Help us to remain in You. Help us to find all our help, hope, happiness and ultimate satisfaction in Your Son and His saving work on the cross. There is nothing this world can offer that Christ has not already provided through His sacrificial death on my behalf. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Numbers 11-12, Luke 21

The Unattractiveness of Ungratefulness.

Numbers 11-12, Luke 21

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” – Numbers 11:4-62 ESV

Complaining, grumbling, dissatisfaction, and discontentment. These are all common characteristics of the human race. Even the people of God have been known to whine and moan about their lot in life on occasion. The book of Numbers records the journey of the people of Israel as they made their way from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan – the land promised to Abraham by God. And just three days into their trip, the people of Israel began to complain about their misfortunes. They moaned about how difficult their lives were. They had grown lazy during their stay at Mount Sinai, and now there were having to put effort into following God. No more sitting around camp while Moses did all the work up on Mount Sinai. Getting to the land of promise was going to take work on their part and, as a result, they complained. The source of their complaint was a “strong craving.” They desired something they didn’t have. They coveted something that was missing in their lives. The people wanted something that God had not chosen to give them. And they showed ingratitude for what God had provided. This is a danger for every child of God in every generation. God had led them and fed them. He had provided manna for them to meet their physical needs. But in their opinion, it lacked flavor and spice. They wanted more! They preferred the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlics of Egypt. Never mind the fact that their meals in Egypt were eaten as slaves. They wanted MORE than what God was providing. When it came to their well-being, they knew better than God. Their complaining revealed and underlying belief that they had been better off in Egypt. Their grumbling exposed their doubt in God’s love and wisdom regarding their lives.

What does this passage reveal about God?

So God gave them what they desired – in abundance. He gave them meat in the form of quail. “Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?’” (Numbers 11:18-20 ESV). God gave them exactly what they craved and, in time, it would prove loathsome. They would grow sick of it. Not only that, what would initially appear as a blessing from God would end up being a curse. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague” (Numbers 11:33 ESV). The psalmist would later write of this watershed event. “But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave then what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psalm 1-6:14-15 ESV). God graciously gave them what they didn’t deserve: meat. But He also justly gave them what they DID deserve: judgment. Sometimes God allows us to have what we crave, even though He knows it is not what we need. But He also allows us to learn the painful lesson that the things for which we crave tend to bring us disappointment and dissatisfaction. There is a natural human tendency to want more. We are naturally greedy and think the answer to all our problems lies in getting more of what we already have or somehow gaining access to what we believe is missing.

God had graciously provided for the people of Israel. He had chosen them, freed them, guided them, clothed them, fed them and led them. He had agreed to dwell among them – in spite of them. He had provided a means of receiving atonement and enjoying forgiveness of their sins. He had promised to bring them to a land of abundance where they would live in homes they didn’t build, harvest crops they didn’t plant and enjoy the safety of cities they hadn’t constructed. All He had asked was that they follow Him, trust Him and believe that He knew what was best for them. But they craved more. They knew best.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We must always be careful to mistake as God’s blessing the accumulation or acquisition of the things we crave for and lust after. A bigger house is not necessarily what God desires for us. More money could just as easily end up being a curse and not a blessing. Any time we crave what we do not have, it is a sign of dissatisfaction and discontentment with what God has already given us. Discontentment can spread like a cancer among God’s people, robbing them of vitality and joy, and causing them to doubt God’s goodness. We see in the story of Miriam and Aaron another brand of discontentment. They didn’t like the fact that Moses was the sole spokesman for God. They were jealous and dissatisfied with their status as second fiddles to their brother, Moses. So they complained. And their complaint revealed a deep-seated distrust in God’s sovereign will. In speaking against Moses, they had spoken against God. They revealed their belief that they knew better than God. “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed” (Numbers 12:9 ESV). Desiring greater glory for herself, Miriam ended up with leprosy instead. Her craving resulted in a cursing by God. She would eventually receive healing, but also carry with her a painful, yet powerful lesson on the danger in testing rather than trusting God. For seven long days she would find herself expelled from the people of God. Rather than enjoying a greater role as a leader of the people, she would find herself shunned by them – a reject rather than a ruler.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of 1 John, we read these sobering words: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life— is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17 ESV). Loving the world more than we love God is a constant temptation for us as His children. We can so easily view what this world has to offer as the solution to our problems and the source of missing satisfaction. More of anything that this world has to offer will always fall short of what God has already done for us. Yet when we crave more than what He has already given, we reveal our ingratitude and expose our desire to be our own god. Peter would remind us that, “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV). But as we saw with Miriam and Aaron, it isn’t always about money and material things. They desired power and more significance. They were discontent with their roles and desired greater visibility and more recognition. They were unwilling to serve where God had placed them. They craved more. They desired something different.

When Jesus came He exposed the status quo of His day. The rich were looked on as icons of virtue. The poor were seen as suffering at the hand of God for their sins. But Jesus taught that the poor were blessed and the rich would find it difficult to enter into His Kingdom. Their love for and dependence upon materialism and money would prove to be a formidable barrier to faith. They were placing their hope in the wrong things. The poor, who had nothing, would find it far more easier to trust in God, because they had no other options. Their need would prove to be a blessing. In Luke 21, we see Jesus preparing His disciples for life after His death and departure. He reveals to them what the end times will look like. Some of what He tells them will happen during their lifetimes. But much of it has yet to occur. But regardless of the timing, He warned them, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36 ESV). They were not to allow the things of this world to distract them from the reality that there is something more yet to come. The people of Israel had been promised a land of abundance. Yet they became distracted with thoughts of more – NOW. Unwilling to wait for the future outcome of God’s promises, they demanded His blessing according to their terms and their timing. They became weighed down with the cares of this life and took their eyes off the promise of God. I can do the same thing. I can find myself craving more of what this world has to offer and fail to recognize that God’s promise is not about me building a kingdom in this world, but enjoying the blessings of His Kingdom in a new world.

Father, thank You for this powerful reminder. And forgive me for loving and craving the things of this world. Help me see past their illusion and recognize their inability to deliver what they promise. Only you can provide me with joy, contentment, and satisfaction. More of what this world has to offer is not the answer. Help me to realize the truth of the statement that godliness with contentment is great gain. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org