Glorified in You

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 ESV

Paul has just commended the Thessalonian believers for their steadfastness and faith in the face of persecution, which was evidenced by their ability to endure the suffering well. Their faith under fire was something Paul admired because he knew first-hand what it was like to live for Christ in a fallen world. He too had suffered persecution and been forced to endure all kinds of affliction and pain for the cause of Christ.

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

And Paul wants them to know that their suffering for Christ, while far from enjoyable, did have a purpose. He tells them that it is “evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). Now, it’s important that we keep this statement within the context of Paul’s entire thought. He is not suggesting that their suffering is the result of God’s judgment of them. He is trying to get them to view their current suffering in the larger context of God’s redemptive plan. With the phrase, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,” Paul is directing their attention to the second coming of Christ. While the suffering they had to endure made little sense to them now, it would be on that day. Paul pointed the believers in Rome to this future event as well.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18 ESV

It is when the Lord returns that He will rectify the injustices that have taken place in the world. He will make all things right. And Paul assures them that Jesus will “repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV). The day is coming when the tables will be turned, and the victims will become the victors. With His return to earth at the end of the period of Tribulation, Jesus will judge the nations of the earth, including Babylon, the kingdom of the Antichrist. In his book of Revelation, John records God’s pronouncement of judgment against this end-times capital of wickedness.

…for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. – Revelation 18:5-6 ESV

The very fact that Christians suffer in this life is proof or evidence of the injustice caused by the presence of sin. The wicked attack the righteous.

The wicked plots against the righteous
    and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that his day is coming. – Psalm 37:12-13 ESV

But Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that their present suffering is not in vain. The day is coming when God will reward the righteous and repay the wicked.

When the wicked see this, they will worry;
they will grind their teeth in frustration and melt away;
the desire of the wicked will perish. – Psalm 112:10 NLT

And Paul assures them that God will “grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us” (2 Thessalonians 1:7 ESV). The reality of their future glorification was what they were to focus on. Present suffering pales in comparison to future glory. And the apostle Peter points out that suffering brings us into communion with Christ. He suffered in His earthly life, and so do His followers. And because He was raised to new life, every one of His followers will be as well.

Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 3:17-18 NLT

The key to understanding suffering is perspective. This life is not all there is. Present pain is a poor indicator of God’s mercy and grace. Persecution that results in affliction can cause us to question God’s goodness or to doubt His power. But Paul would have us focus on the future “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV). It is easy to wonder whether God is just when immersed in seemingly unjust circumstances. But God operates on a different timeline than we do. And any delay in His judgment or unwelcome pause in the meting out of His vengeance is not to be viewed as inability on His part. He will act.

The point Paul is trying to make is that the suffering of the Thessalonian believers is temporal. But the suffering of the wicked will be eternal. They may appear to be on the winning side at the moment, but the day is coming when they will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV). They will find themselves enduring an eternity of separation from God’s glory, goodness, mercy, and grace. But when Jesus returns, He will “be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT). Their future reward far outweighs their present suffering.

So, in the meantime, while they were having to endure suffering and enduring in this life, Paul encourages them to keep on keeping on. He wants them to remain committed to their faith in Christ. And that was his constant prayer concerning them, that God would make them worthy of His calling of them. In other words, that their present lives would reflect the reality of their future hope in Christ. Rather than sitting around waiting for the Lord to return, they were to make it their goal to live for Him in this life, that His name might be glorified through them.

They had the ability to glorify Jesus Christ because they had the Spirit of Christ living within them. The very same power that raised Jesus from the dead was present in them and able to empower them to not only survive but thrive in this life.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-10 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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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If Only Achan Had Waited.

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” Joshua 8:1-2 ESV

Achan saw and he took. He violated the command of God by greedily grabbing what God had expressly ordered to be given to the treasury of the Lord. Achan let the lust of his eyes get the best of him and he ended up being stoned to death for his efforts. But if only he had waited. At the battle of Jericho, God had made it clear that no one was to take anything of value away from the city. There was to be no plunder. No livestock was to be taken. Every single living thing was to be put to the sword. And all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron were to be dedicated to God. The victory at Jericho was to be seen as God’s alone. He had brought it all about. And, in a way, it was a test for the people of Israel, to see if they would remain obedient to His command. But they had failed the test because of the actions of one man.

But when God exposed the sin of Achan and commanded Joshua to deal with it severely, the people followed Joshua’s lead and removed the sin from their midst. They cleansed themselves from the impurity created by Achan’s actions, reconsecrating themselves to God. And God, knowing that all of this had been a blow to the confidence of Joshua, encouraged him to stay strong.

“Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Take the whole army with you and march against Ai! See, I am handing over to you the king of Ai, along with his people, city, and land. – Joshua 8:1 NLT

This is similar to the words spoken by God to Moses when the people of Israel were preparing to attack King Og and the nation of Bashan.

But the Lord said to me, “Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” – Deuteronomy 3:2 ESV

Joshua had been a part of that battle and God was reminding him that just as the people of Israel had enjoyed victories over Bashan and the Amorites, they would defeat the people of Ai. Their set-back had been temporary and due to disobedience. But now that they had purged the sin from their midst, God would deliver the city of Ai into their hands. Victory in the life of the child of God does not come through self-effort and is never the product of self-confidence. And anytime covetousness or greed enters into the equation, the outcome will result in failure. Achan had allowed the things of this world to influence his decision-making, and his desire for material wealth clouded his thinking. He sought an earthy reward and was not satisfied with the God-given reward of victory over a more power enemy. But here is the important lesson in all of this: Had Achan been willing to wait, he would have received all the plunder he could have taken. Had he been patient, God would have allowed he and all the Israelites to enjoy all the tangible benefits of their victory. Look closely at the instructions God gave to Joshua.

Do to Ai and its king what you did to Jericho and its king, except you may plunder its goods and cattle. – Joshua 8:2 NLT

This time, things would be different. Whereas at Jericho, God had forbidden the taking of any plunder and had commanded the destruction of all livestock, in this case He gave different instructions. They could plunder all the goods and keep all the animals for themselves. There was no command to dedicate all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron to God. There was no prohibition on taking the livestock. God was allowing them to take the treasures of Ai as their own. He was rewarding them for their willingness to do things His way and not their own. If only Achan had been willing to wait, he would have enjoyed the blessings of God. But oftentimes, man’s disobedience is fueled by his impatience. We are not willing to wait on God. We seek immediate self-gratification. We want instant results. But God would use wait. He would ask that we place a higher priority on obedience than on personal reward.

There is a well-known verse in the book of Malachi that speaks of this principle of obedience and blessing.

“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” – Malachi 3:10 NLT

At Jericho, God had put the people of Israel to the test, and they had failed. At Ai, God was once again testing the people of Israel, but in a way, they were being given an opportunity to test the faithfulness of God. By doing exactly what Joshua commanded them to do and doing it according to the will of God, they would discover the goodness of God. They would learn that doing things God’s way comes with remarkable benefits.

Achan had stolen from God. He had squirreled away “a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels” (Joshua 7:21 ESV). But his guilt was evident because he had buried them in the ground inside his tent. He couldn’t enjoy what he had taken. His crime had saddled him with a guilty conscience. What he thought would bring him joy, brought him misery and, ultimately, death. But had he waited, he would have had all the plunder he could carry and the clear conscience that comes with living in obedience to the will of God. The Bible has quite a lot to say about ill-gotten gain.

Tainted wealth has no lasting value,
    but right living can save your life. – Proverbs 10:2 NLT

Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. – Proverbs 1:19 ESV

1 What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night,
    thinking up evil plans.
You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out,
    simply because you have the power to do so.
When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance.

But this is what the Lord says:
“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:1-3 NLT

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). God was calling the people of Israel to have faith in Him, to believe that He exists and that He will reward them at just the right time and in just the right way. They simply must believe. But they must also obey. God gave Joshua very simple, but clear instructions: “Lay an ambush against the city, behind it” (Joshua 8:2 ESV). Their victory at Ai was going to be dependent on their willingness to do things God’s way. Their blessing, in the form of plunder, would be directly tied to their obedience. Just as marching around the walls of Jericho for seven days had made no sense, the battle plan that God gave Joshua for the defeat of Ai would seem illogical and unnecessary. But they were learning the invaluable lesson that doing things God’s way always comes with God’s blessings.

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

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

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

 

Spiritual Supplements.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.   – 2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV

If God has supplied everything we need for living the godly life to which He has called us, are we free from having to bring anything to the table? Do we play any part at all? Peter quickly eliminates any notion that we have no responsibility in our own spiritual growth. He has just reminded his readers that they have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). This is because God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). And it is through those promises that we “may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). So, with that reality in mind, Peter encourages his audience to “make every effort”. The Greek could be translated, “giving all diligence”. They are to contribute something, in addition to or alongside of, that which God has supplied. And they are to do so diligently and earnestly. There is a sense of urgency to Peter’s words. He is not making a suggestion, but communicating a non-optional necessity. This is something they must do and the sooner, the better. He is going to provide them with a list of seven character qualities that should mark the life of every believer. And Peter points out that we are not born with them. We are not even “born again” with them. He says that we are to “supplement” our faith with them. The Greek word Peter uses is interesting. It is epichorēgeō, and it comes from another Greek word, chorēgeō, that means, “to furnish the chorus at one’s own expense”. The preposition, epi, seems to convey the idea of time, place or order. Faith is the necessary ingredient and the only prerequisite for salvation, but it is to be followed in close order by this chorus of qualities, and they are to be added “at one’s own expense”. This doesn’t mean we self-manufacture them or develop them out of thin air based on our own human effort. But we must strive, alongside the Spirit and with His help, to see that this things are added to our faith. In essence, our faith is to grow and produce fruit in the form of tangible, visible character traits.

Peter begins with virtue. The New Living Translation calls it “moral excellence”. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action”. This ties back to Peter’s admonition in his first letter, “be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15 ESV). This moral purity or excellence of character is to show up in every area of life. It is to be internal as well as external. Virtue is not to be a facade we manufacture to fool those around us. It is to flow from the inside-out. Next, Peter adds knowledge. His idea here seems to be moral wisdom, the ability to know what is right and wrong. Good behavior is dependent on a solid understanding of what God demands and expects. Paul talks about this very thing in his letter to the Romans.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NLT

God wants to change the way you think. The word, orthodoxy, refers to right beliefs. But the word, orthopraxy, refers to right behavior. Moral knowledge or wisdom that does not show up in moral purity is worthless.

Next on Peter’s list is self-control. This has to do with temperance or moderation. It is the ability to master one’s desires and passions, especially sensual desires. Paul put it this way:

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT

Knowing what to do is of no use if we lack the self-control to follow through on that knowledge. The night that Jesus was going to be betrayed, he prayed in the garden and was forced to confront His disciples about their inability to stay awake. They lacked self-control, so He said to them, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41 NLT). Paul confessed, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” (1 Corinthians 9:27 NLT).

The next characteristic on Peter’s list is steadfastness. It is a word that conveys patient endurance and perseverance, even in the face of difficulties and trials. The journey of faith is a long-term, life-long commitment. Knowing what is right and having the self-control to do it is great, but not if it cannot be maintained over an extended period of time. Jesus described this kind of short-term, impatient person in a parable He told to the disciples.

20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. – Matthew 13:20-21 NLT

No endurance. As soon as the trials of life show up, they give up. But our faith is going to require an ongoing, steadfast, never-give-up-no-matter-what kind of endurance that lasts to the end. Jesus told us “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13 NLT). He was not inferring that some will lose their salvation. But He was stressing that endurance is a hallmark characteristic of those who have placed their faith in Him, and within whom He has placed His Spirit.

It should come as no surprise that Peter adds godliness to the mix. After all, he clearly stated in his first letter, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT). Godliness is nothing more than behavior that reflects the character of God. As His children, we should emulate His nature. We are sons and daughters of God, so our behavior should reflect that reality. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned him of the state of affairs that would mark the end times.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… – 2 Timothy 3:2-4 ESV

What’s interesting is that Paul goes on to say that these very same people will have “the appearance of godliness” but will deny its power. What a minute? Look at that list again. Do any of those characteristics even remotely come across as godly? No. But we have to keep in mind that they are qualities that issue from the heart. They can remain hidden from view. So, these people were capable of appearing one way, but on the inside, they were something completely different. Godliness is not just an outward action, but it stems from an inward disposition that is determined to do what God desires. It stems from a desire to please God in every area of life.

What does Peter mean by “brotherly affection”? It is the Greek word, philadelphia, and it literally refers to the love of one brother for another. Jesus matter-of-factly stated, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). John expands on the words of Jesus, providing us with even further insight into what this kind of love entails.

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness. – 1 John 2:9-11 NLT

The kind of love John and Jesus are describing is a tangible expression of love that can be seen and felt. It is not a sentimental, Hallmark-card kind of love that shows up in words only. It gets fleshed out in acts of mercy, compassion, and kindness.

And on top of this brotherly-focused love is to be added agape love. That’s the Greek word Peter uses. And it is the highest expression of love. It is the way in which God has loved us. It entails selfless sacrifice. It is a love that expects nothing in return. In other words, it is not self-serving. This is not a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of love. Jesus described this kind of love in stark terms.

12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:12-13 NLT

Jesus loved us enough to die for us. He gave His life for us. And that is the kind of love that is to characterize our lives. Jesus came to serve, not be served. He came to sacrifice His life for those who hated Him. Jesus didn’t love the lovely, the lovable, or those who loved Him back. And John reminds us that our love should emulate that of Jesus.

16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. – 1 John 3:16-18 NLT

These things are essential to healthy spiritual life. They are like supplements to aid in our spiritual development and formation. Like vitamins and minerals are necessary for our physical well-being, these seven characteristics need to be added to our faith on a daily basis, so that we might grow stronger and more vibrant in our faith. Having a bottle of vitamins in the cabinet will not make you healthier. You have to take them, regularly and over the long-term. Having these seven characteristics pointed out to you is pointless if you are not going to add them to your spiritual life. Which is why Peter said we are to make every effort to supplement our faith with these things. They don’t replace our faith. And we do not add them apart from faith. But they are the fruit of our faith. We must believe that God desires these things for us and that He will empower us as we strive to make them a permanent part of our lives.

 

 

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

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

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

God’s Incomparable Compassion.

Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: “Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 12:14-17 ESV

One of the things we fail to realize when it comes to the sin and rebellion of Israel and Judah is that their behavior and God’s subsequent punishment of them had an impact on all those around them. They would not be the only ones to suffer as a result of their disobedience. When God sent the Babylonians as His disciplinary rod, they would prove to be non-discriminatory invaders, conquering anyone and everyone in their path, and taking them captive alongside the people of God. This would include Egyptians, Assyrians, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Arameans. The Babylonian invasion would have a devastating impact on all the nations surrounding Israel. And while many of these nations had played a role in Israel’s rebellion against God, intermarrying with the Hebrews and influencing them with their false gods, they would be shown compassion by God. These nations were all guilty of serving other gods and of being a continual source of temptation to the people of Israel. And they were not the only ones. The occupants of the land of Canaan, who were dwelling in the land when the people of Israel arrived, were also pagan idol worshipers. And God had warned His people about these nations and what they were to do to them:

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. 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. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-6 NLT

Of course, the Israelites had proven to be less-than-thorough in their obedience to God’s command. They ended up not eliminating those nations and were guilty of having intermarried with them and of worshiping their false gods. And many of these people would be conquered by the Babylonians and taken captive as well.

“Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. – Jeremiah 12:14 ESV

But the truly amazing thing is that God expresses His intent to show them all mercy, including the pagan nations who had led His people astray. He tells them:

“And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land.” – Jeremiah 12:15 ESV

After the 70 years in captivity that the people of Judah would have to endure, God would miraculously restore them to the land. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra, a remnant of the Israelites living in captivity would be given the opportunity to return home in order to repopulate the land and rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. And there would be others who would join them on their return home. But God had added an important caveat to His merciful restoration of these people to their former residences in the land of Canaan: They would have to learn to worship Him alone.

“And if these nations truly learn the ways of my people, and if they learn to swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’ (just as they taught my people to swear by the name of Baal), then they will be given a place among my people.” – Jeremiah 12:16 NLT

God was not going to allow them to return to the land and go back to their same old habits of worshiping false gods and leading His people astray. His rescue of them came with a price – acknowledgement of His status as the one true God. They would be required to learn the ways of Judaism and worship Yahweh with the same zeal and enthusiasm as they did their false gods. And their failure to do so would result in further discipline at the hands of God.

“But any nation who refuses to obey me will be uprooted and destroyed. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 12:17 NLT

God would prove Himself more than compassionate in allowing the Israelites and these other pagan nations to return from their captivity. They would have done nothing to have deserved it. In fact, the entire situation would be His doing. He would be the one to stir the heart of King Cyrus to send the people of Judah back to the land and, not only that, but to fund the entire trip.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:

“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:

“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:1-4 NLT

God had promised to restore them to the land and He would one day fulfill that promise. Not because they deserved it, but because He is the faithful, loving, compassionate and covenant-keeping God. And what God desired from His people was that they too be faithful, loving, compassionate and covenant-keepers. Even those who were from the pagan nations around Judah could enjoy the grace, mercy and compassion of God if they would only worship Him as the one true God. When God had placed Israel in the land of Canaan, He had told them:

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and worship him and cling to him. Your oaths must be in his name alone. He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes.” – Deuteronomy 10:17-21 NLT

God is impartial, just, loving, and compassionate to all. He expected His people to emulate His ways. And even in spite of Judah’s sins, God would still show them compassion, returning them to the land and restoring them to their former position as His children. And He was even willing to show compassion on those nations who had never worshiped Him as God. He would reveal to these godless nations just what a real God is like. He would prove Himself all-powerful, incredibly compassionate, and loving beyond measure. And all He asked in return was acknowledgement of His status as the one and only God.

There will always be those who want to make much of God’s wrath and harsh judgment. They will highlight God’s seeming injustice and bloodthirsty nature, questioning how a loving God could command the complete annihilation of entire people groups. But the God of the Bible is not one-dimensional. He cannot be caricatured as a vicious tyrant who loves to make people suffer. Yes, He is often portrayed in the Scriptures as a God of wrath who brings down His judgment in knee-shaking, seemingly merciless power. But that is an incomplete and inaccurate image of God. His incredible acts of mercy are not to be ignored or overlooked. His undeserved expressions of compassion are not to be minimized. He is the sovereign, holy and righteous God of the universe who has repeatedly and patiently put up with the sins of mankind. He has endured constant unfaithfulness and ingratitude. He has watched as those He has made have turned their backs on Him, while they cleverly come up with their own gods to worship in His place. He has showered grace upon grace, providing a planet on which to live, food, shelter, rain, heat, sunlight, and a host of other undeserved blessings – only to have those whom He has made to treat Him with disdain or to dismiss Him as non-existent. But His compassion remains incomparable. His love endures.

Where is another God like you,
    who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
    overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
    because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:18-20 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

How Long?

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted. 
Habakkuk 1:1-4 ESV

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Nahum and Zephaniah, two other prophets of God. Like his counterparts, Habakkuk was a pre-exilic prophet, who was sent by God to the deliver His message regarding their coming fall at the hands of the Babylonians. Like all the prophets of God, He was to call the people to return to God or face the consequences of God’s just and righteous wrath. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., but their demise had done nothing to persuade the people of Judah to change their ways. In fact, God had some serious charges that He leveled against them:

“Have you seen what fickle Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every green tree. I thought, ‘After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return, and her faithless sister Judah saw this. She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. But that treacherous sister Judah had no fear, and now she, too, has left me and given herself to prostitution. Israel treated it all so lightly—she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. But despite all this, her faithless sister Judah has never sincerely returned to me. She has only pretended to be sorry. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 3:6-10 ESV

Israel had refused to return to the Lord and had been delivered into the hands of the Babylonians by God. Now, Judah and the royal city of Jerusalem was facing a similar fate if they did not repent of their sins and return to God. More than likely, Habakkuk ministered during the reign of King Jehoiakim. During that time, the people of Judah knew that they were facing the threat of attack by Babylon because they had made their presence known throughout the region. But rather than return to God and place their faith in Him, the people had decided to place their trust in other nations, seeking the help of Assyria and Egypt.

Habakkuk provides us with an unparalleled glimpse into the heart of a prophet of God. Like the other prophets, his ministry had met with little success. The people were stubbornly refusing to listen to his message. They remained obstinate and stuck in their sinful ways. And Habakkuk was frustrated and angry. So, he took his concerns to God in the form of a very blunt and heart-felt prayer.

What is especially revealing about this man’s prayer is its boldness. He pull no punches, even though He is addressing God Almighty. In essence, he accuses God of apathy and indifference. He asks God, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2 ESV). This was not Habakkuk’s first prayer to God. He had expressed his need for help on more than one occasion, but he had not received what he was looking for. He felt like God was ignoring his pleas for help. From his perspective, God was deaf to his cries for help or didn’t fully understand how bad things really were. So, Habakkuk attempted to bring God up to speed. He lets God know that violence is everywhere. Judah has become a wicked place where sin is rampant and the people. The Hebrew word for “violence” that Habakkuk used is hamas and it refers to cruelty, injustice and oppression. Habakkuk will use this word six times in this book. What he saw taking place in Judah was a rampant disregard for the laws of God. The people saw no repercussions for their sins. They were practicing all kinds of injustice and immorality. They were oppressing the needy and the weak. From Habakkuk’s perspective, there was an overwhelming flood of injustice taking place in Judah, and as far as he could tell, God was doing nothing about it. He has reached the breaking point.

Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise. – Habakkuk 1:3 ESV

It’s all more than he can bear. He wants to see change. He longs to see God do something. God’s law is powerless to stop the people. They simply ignore it. Justice is nowhere to be found. The wicked get away with murder, both figuratively and literally. The wicked outnumber the righteous and any kind of justice that does occur is a twisted, ungodly version that leaves the righteous on the wrong side of the ledger.

Habakkuk’s prayer is not unique. His cry is not an isolated one and his questions for God are not unprecedented. Even King David had expressed similar complaints to God.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

Abraham and Sarah struggled with how long was going to wait until He fulfilled His promise to give them a son and an heir. Moses struggled with how long he was going to have to put up with the people of Israel as they bickered, whined and complained their way through the wilderness. The other prophets of God wrestled with the seeming futility of their roles, wondering when God would do something deliver His people. We all struggle with what appears to be God’s indifference and invisibility at times. We call out and He doesn’t seem to hear us. We share our hurts, needs and concerns, and it feels like He is ignoring us. The wicked seem to prosper while the righteous appear to be in the minority and on the receiving end of all the injustice. And God sits idly by.

But one of the things that Habakkuk will learn is that God has a different perspective on things. He has a different viewpoint on what is going on, because He has a divine awareness of the outcome to which Habakkuk is oblivious. There is a method to God’s seeming madness. There is a purpose behind His apparent delay. He knows what He is doing. But Habakkuk was stuck on a horizontal plane, seeing things from his limited, earth-bound perspective. He could not see what God saw. He did not know what God knew. It reminds me of the prophet Elijah when he faced wicked King Ahaz and his queen, Jezebel. He had to go up against these two evil individuals and face off with their false prophets. And when he did, Elijah complained, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets” (1 Kings 18:22 NLT). God gave Elijah victory that day and he defeated the prophets of Baal, but then, out of fear of Jezebel’s revenge, he ran for his life. And when God confronted him, Elijah said to God, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too” (1 Kings 19:10 NLT). From Elijah’s perspective, he was all alone. He was the last righteous man left standing. But God let him know that he was wrong. He told Elijah to go and anoint his replacement: Elisha. Not only that, God told him, “Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” (1 Kings 19:18 NLT). He had not been alone. There had been others all along.

Habakkuk was frustrated. He was confused. And he was more than a little angry with God over His seeming indifference to all that was going on. But perception is not always reality, especially when it comes to God and His ways. Habakkuk was going to learn an invaluable lesson regarding God and His faithfulness. What appeared to be a delay from Habakkuk’s perspective was all part of God’s sovereign plan. God’s awareness of what was going on in Judah was comprehensive and complete. And His plans regarding them were flawless and right on time. Peter provides us with a timely reminder regarding the ways of God and our frustration over what appear to be His delays or indifference.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:8-9 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

The Fruit of Righteousness.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. – Galatians 5:22-26 ESV

When we live according to or under the control of the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to worry about producing the works of the flesh. His power can only produce good fruit, those characteristics and manifestations that align with God’s will and reflect godliness. Living dependent upon and in obedience to the Holy Spirit never results in either legalism or license, the two dangers facing the believers in Galatia.  And yet, like them, we can find it so easy to live according to our own sinful nature and end up trying to work our way into God’s good graces or taking advantage of His grace by living in sin and expecting Him to simply forgive and forget.

When we live according to our sinful nature, the outcome is always destructive, not constructive. Driven by selfishness and pride, we make ourselves the highest priority and end up using and, at times, abusing others. We tend to view others as competition. We struggle with envy and jealousy, anger and distrust. People become tools to get what we want and to satisfy our own self-centered agendas. Our sinful flesh has no love for God or others. It only loves self. Unknowingly, we become our own god, expecting the world to revolve around our wants, needs and desires.

But when we live in willful submission to the Spirit of God, we find ourselves with a supernatural capacity to live in love with God and in harmony with others. We suddenly want what He wants. We see others as more important than ourselves. We look for opportunities to extend grace and express love. The fruit produced in our lives becomes other-oriented instead of self-centered. It becomes uplifting and edifying, meeting the needs of others rather than feeding the insatiable appetite of self. What the Holy Spirit produces in us and through us is fully pleasing to God and there are no laws prohibiting its presence in our lives. Yet the works of the flesh are all in contradiction to the will of God and are specifically prohibited by the law of God. When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the law, because our lives produce fruit that is free from condemnation. Paul elaborated on this very thought in his letter to the Romans:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4 ESV

Paul encouraged the Galatians to live by the Spirit – to live under His control. They could either live under the influence of their old sin nature or that of the Spirit. And he wanted them to remember that those “who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24 ESV). Those sinful passions and desires, while not completely gone, no longer have to control us. We have an alternative resource – the Holy Spirit. Again, Paul told the Romans, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6 ESV). If we try to live according to the law, we will be depending upon the flesh again. And if we assume that we can practice license, doing whatever we want, because we are guaranteed eternal life, then we are also allowing the flesh to control our lives. And the end result of both legalism and license is death. Our lives will be characterized by rotten fruit that does no one any good. But if we set our mind on the Spirit and His will for us, our lives will be characterized by life and peace, fruitfulness and selflessness, and a love for God that finds expression in our love for others.

Paul gives the Galatians an important insight into living according to the Spirit. “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). No compartmentalization. No hidden areas. No secular/sacred split. The Holy Spirit wants to influence and infiltrate every area of our lives. He wants to control every aspect of our character, eliminating the vestiges of our old nature and replacing it with the nature of Christ. And it will show up in the form of fruit that is God-produced and edifying to everyone around us: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do – He has provided a way for sinful men and women to live lives characterized by the fruit of righteousness. His Spirit within us is the key to seeing His righteousness flow out of us. The Spirit of God is the means by which we live as children of God.

The fruit of the Spirit is the character of Christ lived out in our lives for any and all to see. It is not hidden, but visible. Their display in our lives is evidence of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. They are supernatural and impossible to duplicate in our own strength. We can attempt to mimic them, but we can’t manufacture them. We can fake them, but not make them. And if we try to emulate them without the Holy Spirit’s help, we will end up producing nothing more than conceit, anger and jealousy. Our self-made love will be insincere and self-serving. Our flesh-produced joy will be short-lived. Our self-manufactured peace and patience will last only as long as our troubles stay away. Only the Spirit of God can produce in us the righteousness of Christ. And when He does, God is glorified, we are sanctified and the lost are impacted by the love of God.

Testing God’s Patience.

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” – Hosea 1:2-5 ESV

Talk about a tough assignment. Hosea had been chosen by God to be his mouthpiece to the ten northern tribes of Israel. Being a prophet of God was a hard enough job without the special added task that Hosea was given by God. God instructed Hosea to “take for yourself a wife of whoredom.” This poses all kinds of ethical questions. Would God really command His prophet to marry a prostitute and, by doing so, defile himself? God had warned concerning the Levitical priests, “They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God” (Leviticus 21:7 ESV). It seems unlikely that God would ask one of His prophets to violate the same command He had given to priests. So it would see that God was speaking prophetically about what was going to happen between Hosea and his future wife. This interpretation seems to make the most sense and would parallel the experience between God and the people of Israel. When Hosea married Gomer, she would initially be faithful, just as Israel had been to God, but in time she would sell herself like a prostitute, proving unfaithful to Hosea. God was going to use Hosea’s family as a visual illustration of the blatant unfaithfulness of the people of Israel, as is clear by his words to Hosea: “for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”

Can you imagine the impact these words had on Hosea when he heard them? And yet, amazing, we read of no dissent or disagreement from Hosea. In fact, the text reads, “So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son” (Hosea 1:3 ESV). Knowing what he knew, Hosea still obeyed God. Hosea and Gomer were blessed by the birth of a son, but as God had warned, he would be a child of whoredom. What this most likely means is that when Gomer eventually turned to prostitution, her children would be recognized as children of a prostitute. Their character would be questioned because of their mother’s immoral actions. Just as generations of Israelites were saddled with the legacy left by their ancestors – a legacy of immorality and unfaithfulness to God.

God commanded Hosea to name his new son, Jezreel, which means, “God sows.” It refers to the scattering of seed by a farmer. But the real significance of the boy’s name would be linked to the Valley of Jezreel, where God said He was going “to punish King Jehu’s dynasty to avenge the murders he committed at Jezreel. In fact, I will bring an end to Israel’s independence. I will break its military power in the Jezreel Valley” (Hosea 1:4-5 NLT). It was years earlier, in the Valley of Jezreel, that Jehu, the newly anointed king of Israel murdered the reigning king, Joram. But not only that, he took the life of Ahaziah, the king of Judah. Jehu would go on a killing spree, taking the life of Jezebel, and slaughtering the 42 family members of King Ahaziah. He also wiped out any of the prophets of Baal that were left after Elijah’s encounter with them on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Jehu seemed to enjoy his killing spree and saw himself as acting on behalf of God. But God made it clear to Hosea that He was going to avenge the slaughter committed by Jehu in the Valley of Jezreel. He was going to bring an end to the dynasty of Jehu in Israel. It would occur some years later when Shallum murdered Zechariah, a descendant of Jehu, and made himself king of Israel. 

So what’s the point of all this? God takes sin seriously. He will not tolerate the sins of those who even believe they are acting on His behalf. Jehu thought he was doing God a favor by wiping out Jezebel and the prophets of Baal, but he overstepped his authority. He made himself judge, jury and executioner, and he would answer to God for his actions.

The incredible thing about this passage is that Hosea was going to have to watch as his wife and children became visual illustrations of God’s indictment of the people of Israel for their unfaithfulness. But as we will soon discover, they would also prove to be living examples of God’s steadfast love and forgiveness. Hosea would be allowed to play the part of God in the life of his rebellious wife. This real-life scenario would have a dramatic impact on those who watched God’s prophet wrestle with the unrequited love of his unfaithful wife. But he would persevere. He would patiently reach out to her and love her, in spite of her. Just as God had done for years with the people of Israel.

But there would be a limit to God’s patience. He would not tolerate Israel’s unfaithfulness forever. And in 733 B.C., the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pilesar would destroy Israel and take the people into captivity, never to return. In the meantime, God was calling His people to return to Him. He used the prophets to warn them of the danger to come. He begged them to give up their idolatry and return to Him, just as Hosea would beg his wife to return to him and remain faithful. God is loving. He is kind. He is patient. But He is also holy and will not tolerate unfaithfulness forever. The judgment and justice of God are not to be taken lightly. He sent His Son into the world to provide salvation. But there are those who reject His offer and spurn His attempt to love them through the redemptive death of His Son. The day is coming when the offer will be removed and the opportunity to be saved is no more. The apostle Paul would have everyone come to grips with the incredible kindness and patience of God, so that they would not refuse His offer of salvation.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. – Romans 2:4-8 NLT

 

Good Fruit.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. – Galatians 5:22-26 ESV

When we live according to or under the control of the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to worry about producing the works of the flesh. His power can only produce good fruit, those characteristics and manifestations that align with God’s will and reflect godliness. Living dependent upon and in obedience to the Holy Spirit never results in legalism and license, the two dangers facing the believers in Galatia.  And yet, like them, we can find it so easy to live according to our own sinful nature and end up trying to work our way into God’s good graces or taking advantage of His grace by living in sin and expecting Him to simply forgive and forget.

When we live according to our sinful nature, the outcome is always destructive, not constructive. Driven by selfishness and pride, we make ourselves the highest priority and end up using and at times, abusing others. We tend view others as competition. We struggle with envy and jealousy, anger and distrust. People become tools to get what we want and to satisfy our own self-centered agendas. Our sinful flesh has no love for God or others. It only loves self. Unknowingly, we become our own god, expecting the world to revolve around our wants, needs and desires.

But when we live in willful submission to the Spirit of God, we find ourselves with a supernatural capacity to live in love with God and in harmony with others. We suddenly want what He wants. We see others as more important than ourselves. We look for opportunities to extend grace and express love. The fruit produced in our lives becomes other-oriented instead of self-centered. It becomes uplifting and edifying, meeting the needs of others rather than feeding the insatiable appetite of self. What the Holy Spirit produces in us and through us is fully pleasing to God and there is no law prohibiting its presence in our lives. Yet the works of the flesh, the bad fruit our sin nature produces, are all in contradiction to the will of God and are specifically prohibited by the law of God. When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the law, because our lives produce fruit that is free from condemnation. Paul elaborated on this very thought in his letter to the Romans:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4 ESV

Paul encouraged the Galatians to live by the Spirit – to live under His control. They could either live according to, under the influence of, their old sin nature or the Spirit. And he wanted them to remember that those “who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24 ESV). Those sinful passions and desires, while not gone, no longer have to control us. We have an alternative resource – the Holy Spirit. Again, Paul told the Romans, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6 ESV). If we try to live according to the law, we are depending upon the flesh again. If we assume that we can practice license, doing whatever we want, because we are guaranteed eternal life, then we are allowing the flesh to control our lives. And the end result of both legalism and license is death. Our lives will be characterized by rotten fruit that does no one any good. But if we set our mind on the Spirit and His will for us, our lives will be characterized by life and peace, fruitfulness and selflessness, and a love for God that finds expression in our love for others.

Paul gives the Galatians an important insight into living according to the Spirit. “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). No compartmentalization. No hidden areas. The Holy Spirit wants to influence and infiltrate every area of our lives. He wants to control every aspect of our character, eliminating the vestiges of our old nature and replacing it with the nature of Christ. And it will show up in the form of fruit that is God-produced and edifying to everyone around us: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do – He has provided a way for sinful men and women to live lives characterized the fruit of righteousness. His Spirit within us is the key to seeing His righteousness flow out of us. The Spirit of God is the means by which we live as children of God.

Stand Firm in God’s Grace.

Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ. – 1 Peter 5:12-14 ESV

At this point in his letter, Peter begins his closing. It would appear that he has had help in putting his thoughts in writing from Sylvanus, which is probably a reference to Silas. Sylvanus is the Roman form of the Greek name, Silas. So as Paul had done in many of his other letters, he dictated his thoughts to Silas and he wrote them all out. But it seems that Paul took up quill in hand and wrote these final sentences on his own. He states, “I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12 ESV). HIs personal, handwritten conclusion to the letter was to act as his seal of approval, affirming its content. And the “true grace of God” to which he refers encompasses all that he has said in the last five chapters.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. – 1 Peter 3:8-9 ESV

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. – 1 Peter 3:18, 22 ESV

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4:1-2 ESV

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. – 1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV

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 5:6-7 ESV

Peter has exhorted and declared that all of what he has written in this letter is the true grace of God. And he tells them one last time, “Stand firm in it!” The grace, mercy, love, power, faithfulness and sovereignty of God are to be the foundation on which we stand. It is God’s unfailing plan of redemption, as made possible through His Son’s death and resurrection, that forms the solid ground on which we are to find the firm footing for our faith. We will suffer for the sake of righteousness in this life. We will discover that living for Christ in a fallen world is difficult and requires confidence in the presence and promises of God. Our motivation and inspiration must come from our belief in the grace and mercy of God. We must believe as Paul did. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). We must listen to the words of Paul when he wrote, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV).

It is by or according to God’s grace that we were saved. His grace is the means by which we are being sanctified. His grace, His undeserved, unmerited favor towards us, keeps us safely and permanently as His children. All that we are and all that we have is according to the grace of God. And it is on that grace we are to stand. He is not yet done extending His grace to us. There are more blessings to come, more promises to be fulfilled. We must constantly remember the words of Peter as he closed out this letter.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 5:10-11 ESV

When reading this final paragraph from Peter’s letter, I can’t help but recall the words from the old hymn, My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

 

At An Acceptable Time.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. – Psalm 69:13 ESV

The primary purpose of prayer is not to get something from God. But for many of us, that is what we have made it. That is how we understand it and approach it. We pray primarily to receive something we need or want. And while we are encouraged to ask from and offer petitions to God, there is far more to the act of prayer than simply receiving our requests. Prayer is an act of humble submission to a holy, all-powerful God. It conveys our dependence upon Him and acknowledges our understanding that He is the giver of all good things. Jesus said of the Father, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11 ESV). The psalmist reminds us that “the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11 ESV). God loves to give to His children. But there is more to prayer than getting from God. It is an experience in getting to know God. Through prayer we discover the will of God. We experience the nature of God. We begin to understand the attributes of God. We learn the valuable lesson of trusting God. And over time, as we wait for His answer, we grow in our willingness to wait on God.

In this psalm, David makes it clear that his prayer was to God. He wasn’t going to turn to anyone or anything else. His request was going to be made to the only one who could do anything to help him. David was up to his neck in trouble, and he had been for some time. His prayers had been constant and urgent. “ I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God” (Psalm 69:3 ESV). David longed to see God intervene and deliver him from all his difficulties. He wanted to be a living example of God’s saving power. He cried out, “Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies,and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me” (Psalm 69:13-14 ESV).

But David was willing to wait. His prayer was based on his understanding of God’s love and faithfulness. While he would have loved an immediate answer to his prayer and a quick deliverance from his trials, he was willing to wait on God, because he trusted God. He knew that God was there and that He cared. His petition was based on what he knew about God. “Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me” (Psalm 69:16 ESV). We sometimes pray and our focus is more on what we want than on the one to whom we are praying. We can become obsessed with our request and fail to give much thought to God and His love, mercy, grace and power. David went to God because he loved God. David made his request to God because he trusted God. David prayed to God because he was completely dependent upon God. And he knew that God would answer him “at an acceptable time.” The Hebrew literally means, “in a time of favor.” David was willing to wait on God to answer his request when He deemed the timing was right – based on His unfailing love, faithfulness, and mercy.

We are welcome and encouraged to make our requests known to God. Paul writes, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5-7 ESV). Notice that Paul says the result of our petition will be peace – the peace of God. In other words, the peace we will receive will be a God-based peace, not an answer-based peace. We will not experience peace because we got what we wanted, but because our God has heard our request and loves us deeply and cares about us greatly. The peace will be founded on the character of God. He is sovereign. He hears. He loves us. He is faithful. He is all-powerful. He will always do the right thing. And He will provide His answer at an acceptable time and in the appropriate manner.

Paul said, “The Lord is at hand.” He is near. He is not distant or disengaged from our experiences. He is as near as our next prayer. But rather than simply pray to get from Him, we should pray to get to know Him, to discover His character, to become more convinced of His love and faithfulness. David was so confident of God’s deliverance that he was able to say, “I will praise the name of God with a song;I will magnify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:30 ESV). He knew His God. He trusted Him. He was willing to wait on Him. Because He knew His answer would come at just the right time and in just the right way.