The Sovereign Hand of God

12 Of Benjamin he said,

“The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety.
The High God surrounds him all day long,
    and dwells between his shoulders.”

13 And of Joseph he said,

“Blessed by the Lord be his land,
    with the choicest gifts of heaven above,
    and of the deep that crouches beneath,
14 with the choicest fruits of the sun
    and the rich yield of the months,
15 with the finest produce of the ancient mountains
    and the abundance of the everlasting hills,
16 with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness
    and the favor of him who dwells in the bush.
May these rest on the head of Joseph,
    on the pate of him who is prince among his brothers.
17 A firstborn bull—he has majesty,
    and his horns are the horns of a wild ox;
with them he shall gore the peoples,
    all of them, to the ends of the earth;
they are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
    and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” Deuteronomy 33:12-17 ESV

A quick comparison between the blessings given by Jacob to his 12 sons and those given by Moses to the 12 tribes of Israel reveal some interesting differences. For instance, Jacob referred to his youngest son, Benajamin, as a ravenous wolf who plunders his enemies at night.

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
    devouring his enemies in the morning
    and dividing his plunder in the evening.” – Genesis 49:27 NLT

Yet, Moses seems to refer to the tribe of Benjamin as “the beloved of the Lord.” But the words of Moses can and have been translated in two different ways. The New English Translation renders verse 12 as follows:

“Of Benjamin he said:
The beloved of the Lord will live safely by him;
he protects him all the time,
and the Lord places him on his chest.” – Deuteronomy 33:12 NET

The New American Standard Version takes a similar approach.

“May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him,
Who shields him all the day,
And he dwells between His shoulders.”

In these translations, the “beloved of the Lord” is clearly not a reference to Benjamin, but to somone or something else. It could be speaking of the tribe of Judah, the tribe from which the Messiah would come. Recall the words of Jacob’s blessing to his son, Judah.

“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.” – Genesis 49:10 NLT

The term, “the beloved of the Lord” could also be a reference to Jesus Himself. But it is seems more likely that the tribe of Judah is the focus of Moses’ words. These two tribes, Benjamin and Judah would enjoy close ties, even sharing a common border in the land of Canaan.

The first allotment of land went to the clans of the tribe of Benjamin. It lay between the territory assigned to the tribes of Judah and Joseph. – Joshua 18:11 NLT

Years later, when God split the kingdom of Israel in half, the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin would form the new southern kingdom of Judah. And the larger, more powerful tribe of Judah would provide protection for its smaller neighbor and ally. The territory alloted to Benjamin also contained the city of Jerusalem, which would become the capital of Judah, later known as the city of David, and the place where Solomon built the temple of God.

Jacob predicted that his son, Benjamin, would produce a people who were warlike and reknowned for their success in battle. But the book of Judges reveals that the Benjamites would eventually use their propensity for battle in a civil war against the other 11 tribes of Israel. It would end in their defeat at the hands of their brothers.

And the Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All these were men who drew the sword. So the people of Benjamin saw that they were defeated. – Judges 20:35-36 ESV

These were dark days for the tribe of Benjamin and for the people of God, with the 21st chapter of the book of Judges closing with the sobering words:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 21:25 ESV

But the first king of Israel came from the tribe of Benjamin, a man named Saul, who would prove to be a great warrior, but a lousy king. And God would eventually reject him as king, replacing him with a man after His own heart, a man named David. And David, from the tribe of Judah, and Jonathan, the son of Saul from the tribe of Benjamin, would become the closest of friends. So, we see this bound between these two tribes lived out over time. And eventually, the apostle Paul would come from the tribe of Benjamin.

“I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” – Romans 11:1 ESV

This small tribe would play a significant role in the history of Israel, for both good and bad. But God would use them to accomplish His divine will for His people and for the world. From this somewhat irrelevant tribe would come Saul, the first king of Israel. But hundreds of years later, there would come another Saul, the one known as the apostle Paul, whom God would use to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. And all because Paul would have his life transformed by an encounter with Jesus, the Son of God and a member of the tribe of Judah.

Next, Moses turns his attention to the tribe of Joseph. He was the son Jacob thought had been killed by wild animals, but later discovered had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. Jacob and Joseph were reunited in Egypt, where Joseph had become a powerful ruler in the kingdom of Pharaoh. And Joseph was able to use his authority to provide protection and provision for his family when the were forced to flee from the famine taking place in Canaan. So, Jacob held a special place in his heart for Joseph, as revealed in the words of the blessing he pronounced over him.

“Joseph is a fruitful bough,
    a fruitful bough by a spring;
    his branches run over the wall.
The archers bitterly attacked him,
    shot at him, and harassed him severely,
yet his bow remained unmoved;
    his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
    (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
by the God of your father who will help you,
    by the Almighty who will bless you
    with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath,
    blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
The blessings of your father
    are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
    up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
    and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.” – Genesis 49:22-26 ESV

Moses picks up on Jacob’s high honor of Joseph, referring to him as “him who is prince among his brothers” (Deuteronomy 33:16 ESV). And when Moses speaks of Joseph, he clarifies that he is really addressing the tribes of the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. Eventually, the name Ephraim would become closely associated with the ten tribes that comprised the northern kingdom of Israel. Just as Joseph was “set apart from his brothers” (Deuteronomy 49:26 ESV), Ephraim, Manasseh, and the other eight tribes would be set apart from Judah and Benjamin, dividing the once unified nation in two.

Moses pronounces a blessing on Joseph and his descendants, calling on God to provide them with “the choicest gifts of heaven above” (Deuteronomy 33:13 ESV) and:

“the choicest fruits of the sun
    and the rich yield of the months,
with the finest produce of the ancient mountains
    and the abundance of the everlasting hills,
with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness
    and the favor of him who dwells in the bush.” – Deuteronomy 33:14-16 ESV

God would continue to bless Joseph’s descendants, providing them with good land and and an abundance of blessings. But they would prove to be rebellious and spiritual unfaithful to God. They would turn their backs on God by worshiping false gods of their own making. And yet, they would enjoy great success and grow in number.

“…they are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
    and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” – Genesis 49:17 ESV

God would bless them, in spite of them. But the day would come when God would punish them for their sins, bringing judgment upon them in the form of the Assyrian army and allowing them to be defeated and deported as slaves. God would reward the descendants of Joseph for their forefather’s faithfulness while living in Egypt. But, eventually, He would punish them for their own unfaithfulness while living in the land of promise.

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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Mr. Worldly Wiseman

1 Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. – Philippians 3:18-20 NLT

1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3 NLT

In his classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan recounts the efforts of a new believer in Christ who embarks on a journey to the Celestial City, a metaphor for heaven. On his way, Christian, the book’s main character, encounters a wide array of characters, many of whom try to distract and detour from his destination. Bunyan gave each a name that reflects their particular character. One of these individuals is a gentleman named Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Here is Bunyan’s description of their encounter.

Now as Christian was walking solitarily by himself, he spied one afar off come crossing over the field to meet him and their hap was to meet just as they were crossing the way of each other. The gentleman’s name that met him was Mr. Worldly Wiseman: he dwelt in the town of Carnal Policy ; a very great town, and also hard by from whence Christian came. This man, then, meeting with Christian, and having some inkling of him – for Christian’s setting forth from the city of Destruction was much noised abroad, not only in the town where he dwelt, but also it began to be the town talk in some other places – Master Worldly Wiseman, therefore, having some guess of him, by beholding his laborious going, by observing his sighs and groans and the like, began thus to enter into some talk with Christian. – John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

This well-dressed gentleman engages Christian in conversation and it doesn’t take long for his intentions to become evident. Seeing the burden Christian carries on his back, he offers to give his new-found friend “good counsel.”

I would advise thee, then, that thou with all speed get thyself rid of thy burden: for thou wilt never be settled in thy mind till then: nor canst thou enjoy the benefits of the blessing which God hath bestowed upon thee till then.

When Christian responds that he is on his way to the Celestial City in order to have his burden removed, Mr. Worldly Wiseman responds: “it has happened unto thee as to other weak men, who, meddling with things too high for them, do suddenly fall into thy distractions; which distractions do not only unman men (as thine I perceive has done thee), but they run them upon desperate ventures, to obtain they know not what.”

His solution is for Christian to seek aid in the nearby city of Morality where there lives a man named, Legality, “a very judicious man, and a man of a very good name, that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine are from their shoulders.”

Mr. Worldly Wiseman assures Christian that his burden can be removed in the city of Morality with the help of Mr. Legality and his friend, Mr. Civility.

There, I say, thou mayest be eased of thy burden; and if thou art not minded to go back to thy former habitation, as indeed I would not wish thee, thou mayest send for thy wife and children to come to thee to this village, where there are houses now stand empty, one of which thou mayest have at reasonable rates: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy is there to be sure, for thou shalt live by honest neighbours, in credit and good fashion.

In his own inimitable and timeless way, John Bunyan has painted a picture of the many dangers that face the believer as he makes his way through this life. As Paul told the believers in Philippi, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20 ESV). We don’t belong to this world anymore. In fact, Peter describes us as “temporary residents and foreigners” and he urges us “to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). Paul tells to “set your sights on the realities of heaven” and to “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth” (Colossians 3:1, 2 NLT).

Yet, like Christian, we find ourselves surrounded by those who want to distract our focus from the reality of heaven and deceive us into believing that our hope and help can be found in this world. But Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and all those like him, is deadly wrong when he counsels Christian to take his eyes off of the Celestial City. Paul had some strong words for the worldly wise of his day.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-21 BSB

Paul pulled no punches when he stated, “If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19 BSB).

Yet, the temptation to listen to the sage advice of the worldly wise is always there. If we’re not careful, we can easily find ourselves focusing our attention on the things of this earth, rather than the things of heaven. And, as a result, we end up living like the people of this world. We seek comfort and contentment from the things this world offers.

Mr. Worldly Wiseman attempted to get Christian to settle in the village of Morality “where there are houses now stand empty, one of which thou mayest have at reasonable rates: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy.” He tempted him with comfortable accommodations, ample material goods to meet his needs, and a life of happiness. But his advice runs counter to that of Paul, who said, “set your sights on the realities of heaven” and “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”

As the old hymn so aptly states:

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

(Songwriter: MARY REEVES DAVIS© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

As citizens of heaven, we are to constantly remind ourselves that this world is not our home. It is a temporary assignment. We are strangers in an alien land. Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we are to remember that our final destination is the Promised Land. The wilderness was not intended to be their home. And while God met all their needs while they were in the wilderness, He had far greater things in store for them on the other side of the Jordan River.

How easy it is to forget that what God has prepared for us is far better than what the world offers us. The things of this world are temporary and destined for the trash heap. They can’t hold a candle to the glorious future God has in mind. And the apostle John warns us to avoid a love affair with this world and all it offers. His advice stands in direct opposition to that of Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

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. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

This world is fading away, along with all the things it offers us that are nothing more than poor counterfeits to the glories awaiting us heaven. But the worldly wisemen of our day would have us believe something quite different. They want us to believe that by focusing our sights on this world, we will get the blessings of heaven in this life. But John Bunyan, speaking through his character, Evangelist, paints quite a different picture. Evangelist warned Christian about the dangers lying behind the message of Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

The man that met thee is one Worldly Wiseman: and rightly is he so called; partly because he savours only the doctrine of this world (therefore he always goes to the town of Morality to Church) and partly because he loves that doctrine best, for it saves him from the cross; and because he is of this carnal temper, therefore he seeks to pervert my ways, though right. Now there are three things in this man’s counsel that thou must utterly abhor:

1. His turning thee out of the way.

2. His labouring to render the cross odious to thee.

3. And his setting thy feet in that way that leads unto the administration of death.

As the psalmist wrote: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV). By focusing all our attention on this world and demanding that the glories of heaven be experienced in this life, we take our eyes off the prize. We miss the point of our salvation. God didn’t save us so that we might enjoy our best life now, but so that we might experience the fully glorified, sin-free, and righteousness-filled life He has in store for us in the age to come.

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

 

Misdirected Effort

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. – Philippians 3:12-21 ESV

As we saw in yesterday’s post, our faith in Christ is meant to be practical and visible. It should show up in the way we live our lives and give proof of the Spirit’s presence within us. Our faith can manifest itself in the fruit of the Spirit flowing out from us and through the supernatural abilities with which He has gifted us. Leading and loving are both evidence of the Spirit’s presence. His power can show up in the capacity to provide spiritual nourishment to God’s people or by meeting their physical needs with food, clothing, and shelter. But regardless of what we do, we are to recognize that we do it in the strength of the Spirit of God and for the glory of God. As Peter puts it…

If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. – 1 Peter 4:11 BSB

But there is another important factor that should influence what we do, and Paul addresses it in his letter to the believers in Philippi.

There is little debate over the fact that Paul was a man on a mission. He was driven. He was almost obsessive-compulsive in his desire to obey the command of Christ to carry the gospel message to the Gentiles. He had done so in the face of all kinds of obstacles, including shipwreck, beatings, a stoning, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, and constant opposition to his message and ministry. But, like the Energizer Bunny, he just kept going and going. But why? What was his motivation? How did he manage to maintain his enthusiasm and not lose hope when faced with constant threats to his life and unceasing attacks on the churches he had worked so hard to plant?

He provides us with the answer in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. And it is in the form of a personal glimpse into his own approach to his spiritual life and ministry.

First of all, Paul admits that he’s a work in process. He’s not some kind of religious rock star or spiritual superhero. In fact, he confesses to the Philippians, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). When it came to spiritual maturity, Paul flatly denied that he had “arrived.” Instead, he tells the Philippians, “I press on.” Then he claims to be “straining forward to what lies ahead.” Paul had an objective in mind. But what was it? Was he attempting to achieve a state of fully realized spiritual maturity in this life? Did he believe that he could somehow work his way toward sinless perfection this side of heaven?

The answer to those questions is “No.” Look closely at his choice of words. He said that he was “straining forward to what lies ahead.” He claimed to be pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul had an objective in mind. He lived with a sense of purpose that was based on a well-defined outcome or destiny. Some might say that Paul lived with his eyes set on heaven, but I think there was more to it than that. Look at how he describes his goal for living.

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:10-11 NET

Paul had been around long enough to know that the Christian life, this side of heaven, was going to be marked by suffering. But he also knew that the end result of any suffering we experience in this life was nothing when compared to our future glorification or resurrection. Which is exactly what he told the believers in Rome:

…what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 NLT

For Paul, this life was temporary. It was a path that led to a preferred future in a much better environment. And he lived with the reality of that future constantly on his mind and permanently in his line of sight.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

Paul lived with the end in mind. He viewed the Christian life like a race or a journey. In a race, each runner has his eye focused on the finish line. They share a common objective. Every one of them is running with the finish line as their final goal. Everyone can’t  win, but they all need to run in order to complete the course. And Paul used this racing analogy to encourage the Corinthian believers.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! – 1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT

Paul was a man who ran to win. He understood the reason behind Jesus’ calling of him. Yes, he had been called to be an apostle, a messenger of the good news of Jesus Christ. But more importantly, he had been called so that one day he might experience the sinless perfection promised to him by Jesus Christ and made possible by His sacrificial death on the cross. This is why Paul said, “I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). Glorification is God’s goal for every believer, so it should be our goal as well. We should settle for nothing less than that for which Jesus Christ died, our ultimate transformation into His likeness, complete with a glorified body and a sinless, perfectly holy character.

This entire passage is like a donut. Verses 12-17 and 20-21 surround verses 18-19. Those two verses in the middle form a kind of hole in the passage in which Paul places a negative example for the Philippians to avoid. In verse 17, Paul invites the Philippians to imitate him and to learn from anyone else in the church who follows his example. But then he warns of another group within the church whose behavior was not to be emulated. He describes these people in harsh terms, calling them “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18 ESV). That’s not exactly politically correct terminology. But Paul sees these individuals as dangerous because their behavior was actually anti-gospel. Their lives were focused on the wrong thing. Rather than fixing their eyes on the prize to come, they were looking to enjoy all their blessings in this life. That is what Paul means when he states that “their god is their belly” (Philippians 3:19 ESV). They were all about satisfying their physical desires and appetites. They wanted “the good life” in this life, not the one to come. They wanted heaven on earth.

Rather than recognizing that Jesus had died so that they might live with the end in mind, with their hopes focused on their future glorification, they preferred to live in the moment. They lived with their minds set on earthly things, rather than as citizens of heaven. And Paul states that “their end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19 ESV). In other words, what they had chosen to pursue was not going to produce what they were expecting.

But Paul reminds the Philippians that their citizenship is in heaven. That is their destiny and their final destination. But Paul is emphasizing much more than a change of address. He is stressing a change that will take place in our nature.

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own. – Philippians 3:21 NLT

That is the goal. That is the objective. That is what God has in store for each and every believer and Paul would have us live our lives with that end in mind. We will not achieve that glorious state in this life, but if that is what God has in store for us, shouldn’t we make that our life’s focus? Wouldn’t it make sense to run the race with the actual finish line in mind? If not, we will run aimlessly, focusing our energies on the wrong goals and wondering why the promised prize remains beyond our grasp.

Yes, we have been saved, but as Paul reminds us, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is coming back one day and He will finish what He started. He will complete what He began. And we are to live with that end in mind.

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

 

Fruitful Faith

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? – James 2:14-2 0NLT

Without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the Christian life would be impossible to pull off. Not only that, without the Holy Spirit, the hope of anyone becoming a Christian would be impossible. It is only by the work of the Spirit that anyone is transformed from darkness to light, from death to life, and from condemned sinner to forgiven saint. Paul told Titus that prior to the Spirit’s divine help, “we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. ” (Titus 3:3 NLT). But Paul followed up this less-than-flattering portrait of our pre-salvation condition with some very good news.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. – Titus 3:4-6 ESV

God saved us, out of His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit was made possible because of the sacrificial death of Jesus. His perfect obedience to the will of His Father, demonstrated by His incarnation and, ultimately, His crucifixion, is what made the Holy Spirit available to sinful men and women. And it is the Holy Spirit who gives new life to those dead in their trespasses and sins, enabling them to see for the very first time the wonderful gift of God’s grace as expressed through the sacrifice of His own Son for the sins of mankind.

Yet, the Spirit is often treated like the red-headed stepchild of the Trinity. We can easily overlook His significance and underappreciate His role in our spiritual lives. Or we can over-emphasize those aspects of the Spirit’s presence and power that are more flamboyant and fantastic. The gifts of the Spirit can suddenly become our primary focus, causing us to seek those gifts that come with greater authority, increased visibility, and that give us an air of superior spirituality. This was the problem Paul confronted among the believers in Corinth.

It seems that the congregation in Corinth was using the gifts of the Spirit as a litmus test for measuring spirituality. There were those who were guilty of viewing their particular gift as a badge of honor, rather than seeing it as an undeserved byproduct of the Spirit’s presence within them. And those who had the more pretentious and visible gifts, such as tongues or prophecy, were wrongly assuming that their more ostentatious gifts were proof of their superior spirituality. But Paul corrected this misperception.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NLT

Each and every gift present within the church in Corinth had been given by the Spirit, based on His divine determination alone. It had nothing to do with the spirituality of the one receiving the gift. And just as with the fruit of the Spirit, the spiritual gift given by the Spirit was not intended for the blessing of the recipient. As Paul makes clear…

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

And every gift was necessary. There was no particular gift that carried greater weight or worth. The gifts, made possible by the Holy Spirit and meted out at His discretion, were intended to bless the body of Christ, not the individuals who possessed the gifts.

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. – 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 NLT

Don’t miss what Paul is saying here. Notice how many times he writes, “the Spirit gives.” There is no indication that any of the gifts are given based on merit. No, Paul states that it is the Spirit who distributes all these gifts and He alone decides which gift each person should have. It’s not based on personality, spirituality, or inherent capability. It is a gift, and it is intended for the well-being of the body of Christ.

So, what does this any of this have to do with the words of James concerning faith and works? Paul is talking about gifts given by the Spirit, and James seems to be talking about practical expressions of faith. Paul mentions such things as tongues, prophecy, healing, wisdom, and discernment, but James focuses on what appear to be more mundane and practical expressions of faith like sharing food or clothing with a brother or sister in need.

But there is a common thread between these two passages, and it has to do with our outward behavior. Both men are dealing with the outer expressions of an inner faith. Paul is discussing spiritual gifts, and James is dealing with practical manifestations of faith. And both men would strongly assert that any hope we have of doing either is based on God, not us. As Paul told the church in Philippi: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13 NLT).

And James told the believers to whom he wrote, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you” (James 1:5 NLT). James wanted them to know that God was the source of all their needs. Which is why he reminded them, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17 NLT).

Both of these men are dealing with the reality of the Spirit’s presence within us flowing out of us in practical ways that end up blessing all those around us. For James, a declaration of faith in Christ that wasn’t accompanied by Christ-like behavior was worthless. It wasn’t true, saving faith. Because saving faith results in the Spirit’s presence and power. And that power is practical, producing spiritual fruit that blesses all those around us and gifts that minister to the body of Christ. And not only that, the power of the Spirit is evidenced by the simple, yet practical ways in which we love and care for those around us.

James will not allow us to over-spiritualize our faith. He will not let us become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Which is why he uses a very practical, real-life illustration to keep us grounded.

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

In Corinth, the believers were bickering over who had the most important spiritual gift. They were jockeying for position within the church based on what they believed to be the perceived importance of the various gifts. And, in doing so, they were missing the point entirely.

James was dealing with people who were putting way too much emphasize on their displays of religiosity. They were consumed with impressing one another and intent of giving the appearance of spirituality. But James wouldn’t let them get away with it.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:26 NLT

They were guilty of showing partiality by showing preference for the haves over the have-nots. In doing so, they were violating the royal law: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8 NLT).

The practice of partiality, the desire for prominence, the jockeying for spiritual stature, and the fruitlessness of faith are all constant dangers we face as believers. And Paul and James would both have us understand that any hope we have of avoiding these pitfalls begins with an awareness of our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. He has given us gifts, and they are meant to bless others. He will produce fruit that is meant for the good of others. And His power will result in good deeds being done by us – giving ample evidence that our faith is real.

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

 

Consider Yourselves…

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. – Romans 6:8-14 ESV

Salvation, is a work of God, from beginning to end. But that doesn’t mean that man plays no part. In response to the Philippian jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?”, Paul stated, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 ESV). The free gift of salvation made available by God must be accepted or received. When Jesus stated, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV), He was offering an invitation that required acceptance. For anyone to receive the rest He offered, they would have to acknowledge their weariness, confess their heavy-heartedness, and come to Him.

Paul makes it clear, all throughout his writings, that faith is required for the free gift of salvation to be received. But even the act of faith is a gift from God, as His Spirit graciously opens the eyes of the spiritually blind and infuses life into the spiritually dead, allowing them to see the light of the gospel for the first time. And as a result, they are saved.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

And in much the same way, sanctification is a gift of God, provided for by His grace, made possible by His Son, and powered by His indwelling Holy Spirit. Look closely at what Paul told the believers in Ephesus: “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” God has sanctified a group of people who He has deemed His own, raising them from death to life, and providing them with a power to live in such a way that they bring glory to Him and reflect His personal emissaries, sharing His message of reconciliation to others.

But each and every believer must avail himself of the new life made available to Him through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and made possible by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Like Jesus’ invitation to come and find rest, the Holy Spirit cries for believers to rest in Him and find power.

One of the last things Jesus shared with His disciple before He departed this earth was His promise of the coming Holy Spirit.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT

And just as Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit came. He took possession of the disciples, providing with power like they had never experienced before. He transformed them from a small crowd of timid, crestfallen men and women into a powerful force that rocked the world. In a matter of minutes, these people were radically changed from the inside-out and equipped with gifts they had never experienced before. They spoke in languages they didn’t know. They displayed a boldness that had been non-existent just a few minutes earlier. But while we tend to focus on the miraculous nature of the flames of fire hovering over their heads and the gift of tongues emanating from their lips, the real point of the story is that, with the Spirit’s coming, these people were forever changed. Pentecost was a once-in-a-lifetime event, but each and every one of them would go on to experience the life-transformative power of the Spirit in a thousand different ways.

The spectacular and heady days immediately following the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost would not last forever. Yes, there would be many more miraculous moments in the lives of the disciples. They would perform miracles and see many people come to faith in Christ. They would witness Jews and Gentiles receiving the power of the Spirit, just as they had. And in a relatively short period of time, they would witness the birth and rapid growth of the church.

But in the book of Romans, Paul provides us with a much-needed reminder, designed to help us keep our focus as the normalcy of life settles in and the mountaintop experiences fade away. The growth of the church was immediately met with skepticism, which was followed by intense persecution. It wasn’t long before the disciples, and their followers discovered that not every day was going to be like the day of Pentecost.

After his conversion, Paul quickly discovered just how difficult and dangerous faith in Christ could be. He also learned the very real lesson that sanctification was not always easy and living in the power of the Spirit didn’t come without its conflicts. He expressed, in very transparent terms, his struggle with sanctification.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. – Romans 7:18-21 NLT

Paul had the Spirit of God living within him, but he also had the presence of his old sin nature. And as he described to the church in Galatia, these two do constant battle in the life of the believer.

But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

But Paul was not despondent. He was not surprised. No, he understood the battle going on in his own life and wanted his fellow believers to know that Jesus was the key to their success.

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 7:24-25 NLT

Jesus was and is the answer. And Jesus provided the Holy Spirit as the means by which the believer can experience victory over sin in his life. But the key that is often overlooked is found a bit earlier in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Beginning in verse one of chapter six, Paul reminds them that they had “died to sin,” been “baptized into his death,” were “buried…with Him,” and “raised…to walk in newness of life.”

But there’s more. They had been “united with him in a death like his” and would be “united with him in a resurrection like his.” Their “old self was crucified” and, as a result,  they were “no longer…enslaved to sin.” Because their old self had died with Christ, they had “been set free from sin.”

All of this sounds great, but is it something we experience in daily life? Or, like Paul, do we still find ourselves saying, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” The answer to our dilemma is not work harder or do more. It is “consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 NLT). That word, “consider” carries a lot of weight in the original Greek. It carries the idea of giving a thought careful and reasoned consideration. And the verb is in the present imperative, conveying the idea of constantness. We are never to stop thinking about our union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Our old man has been put to death. Sin no longer rules and reigns over us. We have a Spirit-empowered capacity to say no to sin and yes to God. We can live righteous lives, not based on our own self-effort or moral wherewithal, but based on the power of the Spirit within us. Which is why Paul told the Galatian believers:

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. – Galatians 5:24-25 NLT

Sanctification, like salvation, is not about self-effort. It is not the American work ethic lived out in the spiritual dimension. God is not interested in self-made men and women. He gave us new lives and made us new creations so that we would no longer live in our own strength, but in the power of His indwelling Spirit. But the temptation we all face is that of forgetfulness – forgetting that we are dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

And Paul provides us with a powerful reminder so we won’t forget.

…give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:13 NLT

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

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

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

 

One With Christ

 – 8  Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers. – Hebrews 2:8-11 ESV

Any sanctification we enjoy or would hope to achieve in this life would be impossible without Christ’s incarnation. Had Jesus not taken on human flesh, suffered at the hands of men, willingly endured the humiliation of a series of trials based on false charges, and allowed Himself to be publicly tortured and crucified, there would be no sanctification available. But the apostles Paul reminds us that Jesus, “who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT).

He became one of us so that He might become one with us. His deliverance of mankind from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death required that He become a man. The author of the book of Hebrews takes the incarnation of Jesus way beyond the iconic image of baby Jesus in a manger and emphasizes the necessity of Jesus in the body of a man, “made in every respect like us.”

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:14-15, 17 NLT

Jesus took on human flesh and, in doing so, became one of us. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that the incarnation was a demotion, not a promotion.

Jesus, who for a little while was given a position “a little lower than the angels.” – Hebrews 2:9 NLT

Jesus left His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven and came to live among men. But not in the form of a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a cloud, or accompanied by flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. No, He took on human flesh so that He might become the visible expression of the invisible God. Look closely at how Paul describes this vital aspect of Jesus’ incarnation.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. – Colossians 1:15-16 NLT

He is the co-Creator of the universe, the second person of the Trinity and yet, He humbled Himself and took the form of one of those whom He created. But Paul goes on to explain that Jesus never sacrificed an ounce of His divinity while taking on humanity.

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. – Colossians 1:19-20 NLT

It was His perfect combination of divinity and humanity that allowed Jesus to serve as God the Father’s reconciler. Jesus lived as a man, experiencing everything that we experience, enduring trials and temptations just as we do, and yet, without sin.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

It was His sinlessness that made Jesus the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of men. He was the unblemished Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. His death on the cross was an offering, made on behalf of sinful men, and approved by God as an acceptable sacrifice. He paid our sin debt with His own life. He died the death we deserved, offering Himself as sinless substitute whose blood satisfied the just demands of a holy God. And here is the incredible reality of it all:

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ. – Colossians 2:9-10 NLT

Notice what Paul says: You also are complete through your union with Christ. Paul used the Greek word, plēroō and it conveys the idea of consummation. It means “to make complete in every particular, to render perfect.” It can also mean “to furnish or supply liberally.” Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion have furnished all that sinful men and women need to be made complete or perfectly righteous in God’s eyes. And all it requires from us is faith – a belief that Jesus paid it all and all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, but He washed it white as snow.

And all of this, His incarnation, sinless existence, death, and resurrection, point to the remarkable truth that Jesus sanctified Himself so that we might be sanctified. Read and consider carefully the words of Jesus expressed to His Heavenly Father just hours before His death.

For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. – John 17:19 NASB

Jesus set Himself apart for God’s use, obediently answering the Father’s call for a sinless sacrifice so that sinful mankind might be reconciled. Jesus, the holy Son of God, sanctified Himself. But what does that mean? Had He made Himself more holy? Was He claiming that His coming death was going to be some kind of righteous performance that would earn Him favor with God?

Unto what did Christ allude when he there spoke of sanctifying himself? Certainily he could not possibly be referring to anything subjective or experimental, for in his own person he was “the Holy One of God”, and as such, he could not increase in holiness, or become more holy. His language then must have respect unto what was objective, relating to the exercise of his mediatorial office. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

No, Jesus was completely righteous and fully holy. He was without sin. He was the Son of God. And His death on the cross would not add to His holiness or enhance His righteousness. It would serve as proof of who He was and act as an expression of His humble submission to the will of His Heavenly Father. Jesus sanctified Himself by committing Himself to do the will of God.

“Behold, I have come to do your will. – Hebrews 10:9 ESV

And because Jesus set Himself apart to the will of God, He made it possible for sinful men to be set apart (sanctified) as well. His obedience made provision for man’s salvation and sanctification. As the author of Hebrews states: “he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source”: Jesus Christ. He is everything – the sanctified and the sanctifier. And when we place our faith in Him, we become one with Him. Christ devoted Himself to the will of His Father, so that we might be sanctified as the sons and daughters of His Father.

As a result of Christ’s sanctifying himself – devoting himself as a whole burnt offering to God, his people are perfectly sanctified; their sins are put away, their persons are cleansed from all defilement; and not only so, but the excellency of his infinitely meritorious work is imputed to them, so that they are perfectly acceptable to God, meet for his presence, fitted for his worship. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

Jesus became one of us so that we might become one with Him – set apart as God’s children and enjoying all the riches of our inheritance as His fellow heirs of the Kingdom.

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 Presence of God

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

Paul makes it perfectly clear that there is no place for boasting in the presence of God. No one can claim to have access to God’s presence due to their own merit or efforts. And if you recall, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they were cast from the garden and away from the presence of God. Their disobedience resulted in the forfeiture of their right to enjoy unbroken fellowship with their God. Their sin brought about shame and guilt, causing them to attempt to hide from God. They even tried to cover up their nakedness, somehow ashamed of the very form in which God had created them. And the Genesis account tells us that “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 ESV). But their hiding proved ineffective. God saw them and knew exactly what they had done. While they vainly attempted to cast blame and shift responsibility, God held them both accountable for their actions.  And He placed a curse on them and their future descendants, eventually banning them from ever entering the garden again.

…therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:23-24 ESV

The Bible goes on to record that the interactions between God and sinful man were few and far between in the time immediately after the fall. Only on rare occasions did God reveal Himself to men. He did so with Cain, immediately after his murder of his brother Abel, but only to pronounce yet another curse due to sin. God told Cain. “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12 ESV). And Cain, fully understanding the import of God’s curse, responded, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:13-14 ESV). Cain was driven from the presence of God.

And things continued to get worse. Just a few chapters later in the book of Genesis Moses records just how bad things got on the earth.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 ESV

The sin of mankind had reached epic proportions, prompting God to vocalize the just and righteous penalty for such rebellion against Him: Death. He warns that the sins of men made them deserving of their annihilation. But God had a plan already in place. A man named Noah, whom Moses describes as having found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

And God revealed Himself to Noah, providing insight into His divine plan for mankind.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” – Genesis 6:11-13 ESV

Once again, God issued a decree concerning mankind’s rampant wickedness. This time, He determined to wipe them from the face of the earth. But He chose to spare a remnant, vowing to keep Noah and his family alive so that they might repopulate the earth when the coming worldwide flood receded.

Noah enjoyed the presence of God and he proved to be obedient to God. He did all that God commanded him to do, building the ark and filling it with all male and female creatures just as God had told him to do. And God kept His covenant promise to spare Noah and his family.

But it wasn’t long before sin entered the scene again. And the next major event recorded by Moses was the tower of Babel, where the descendants of Noah determined to build a monument to their own self-importance. Disobeying God’s command to fill the earth and subdue it, they instead decided to remain in one place and build a great city. So, God dispersed them again. Not only that, He created languages that made it impossible for them to communicate with one another.

So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. – Genesis 11:8-9 ESV

It seems that the further they got away from Eden, the further they found themselves from the presence of God. And it would not be until God revealed Himself to Abram that man would enjoy intimate communication with his maker again. God visited Abram in Ur and said to him:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

God chose Abram and made a covenant promise to him. God was going to bless Abram and make of him a great nation. Not only that, God promised to bless all the nations of the earth through Abram and his descendants. From Abram would come the nation of Israel, a people whom God would call His own.

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV

God made them His own and He promised to reestablish His presence among mankind by dwelling among the people of Israel.

I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God…” – Leviticus 26:11-13 ESV

The people of Israel enjoyed the presence and power of God. In the wilderness, God had appeared to them as a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day. When they built the tabernacle, His presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies. In the land of Canaan, God revealed His presence through miraculous victories over their enemies. He led them, fed them, guided and protected them. He gave them the sacrificial system so that they might receive forgiveness for their sins and maintain a right relationship with Him. But the people of Israel proved to be disobedient and ungrateful. They ended up taking God’s undeserved presence and power for granted, and the day came when God removed His presence from them. He abandoned them to their own sinful desires. Their wickedness resulted in their defeat at the hands of their enemies, sent by God to punish them for their rejection of Him. And they found themselves living in exile, once again cast from the presence of God and unable to enjoy intimate fellowship with Him.

And even when God graciously returned them to the land of Judah, they continued to disobey Him and live in open rebellion to Him. Their lives would end up marked by moral darkness and spiritual blindness. But the apostle John tells us of the day when the darkness was penetrated by the light of God. The very presence of God came to earth in the form of a man named Jesus.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV

With Jesus incarnation, God came to dwell among men. Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. He took on human flesh and dwelt among men. And while many refused to accept Him for who He claimed to be, John states that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” And as Paul reminds us, those who become children of God also enjoy access to the presence of God. Not because of anything they have done, but because they have placed their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Faith in Jesus brings with it wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Belief in the Messiah provides sinful men all they need to be restored to a right relationship with God so that they might once again enjoy the power and presence of God.

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

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

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

 

The Miracle of Salvation

31 Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved… – Acts 16:31 ESV

The salvation spoken of in the Scriptures is both simple and complex. As the verse above illustrates, from a human perspective it requires nothing more than faith. In fact, as the Reformers so aptly put it, it is faith alone in Christ alone that saves. That’s why Paul told the Philippian jailer all he had to do was “believe in the Lord Jesus.” There is no “and” in Paul’s statement. He added no further requirements to the process. There was nothing more the man had to do other than believe, and we know from Luke’s account that he did.

And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. – Acts 16:34 ESV

Luke also records that this man’s belief took place after Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:31 ESV). In other words, they took the time to explain in detail God’s message of salvation made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son. That is why Luke states that the man rejoiced “that he had believed in God.” He recognized that the gift of salvation was based on the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was God who had sent His Son into the world to pay the penalty for mankind’s sin debt and to remove the verdict of condemnation that applied to each and every human being.

But all the jailer had to do was believe. His part was easy. And, later on in his ministry, Paul would expand on the remarkable nature of salvation by explaining, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

But while man’s role in the miracle of salvation is simple and based on nothing more than faith, it is anything but a simplistic event. At the moment that the Philippian jailer placed his faith in Jesus, something incredible happened. To put it another way, some incredible things happened. A series of God-ordained and instantaneous actions took place that remained totally invisible to the jailer but were indispensable for his salvation to be sufficient.

As this man was processing and accepting the message as delivered to him by Paul and Silas, God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating a host of invisible elements necessary to turn this man’s simple faith into saving faith.

In theology, salvation denotes a work of God on behalf of men that encompasses a wide range of divine initiatives that includes conviction, regeneration, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, justification, sanctification, preservation, and glorification. These sophisticated-sounding words connote different actions on the part of God that accompany the miracle of salvation. And, in order for us to fully appreciate what God has made possible through His Son’s death and resurrection, it is essential that we comprehend the unseen and inexplicable nature of God’s work on man’s behalf.

For the Philippian jailer to believe in Jesus as his Savior, a change of heart was required. Like all men, he was a slave to sin, and “lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12 NLT). He was far away from and an enemy of God, separated from him by his evil thoughts and actions (Colossians 1:21). He was spiritually dead because of his disobedience and many sins (Ephesians 2:1). His mind was blinded by the god of this world “from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

So, what happened? How was this man suddenly able to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ? Paul tells us.

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. – Titus 3:5-6 ESV

The Greek word translated as “regeneration” is paliggenesia and it is comprised of two other Greek words: palin – again, once more, and genesis – birth, beginning. It is where we get the idea of being born again. It refers to a new life or, as Jesus put explained it to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). That phrase can also be translated as “born from above.” In other words, this is a divine rebirth that is completely dependent upon God. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). Why is this new birth necessary? Because man was born spiritually dead, having inherited the sin of Adam and the death penalty that accompanied it. The Philippian jailer needed spiritual resuscitation. And Paul reminds us that all men require this regenerating work of the Spirit of God if they are going to have the capacity to place their faith in the gift provided by God.

And when the jailer’s eyes were opened and he was able to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” he believed. Where before, even his righteous deeds had been no better than filthy rags, the jailer was now able to do the right thing and choose Christ. His blinded eyes had been opened and his state of spiritual death had been replaced with new life. And, as a result, he became a new creation.

But that’s not all that happened. As a result of placing his faith in Jesus, he received redemption, what Paul describes as the forgiveness of sins.

He [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 ESV

The Greek for redemption is exagorazō, and it means “to redeem by payment of a price to recover from the power of another to ransom, buy off.” Tony Evans describes it this way:

Redemption involves paying a purchase price, and it was often used in the context of the slave market. This is how the biblical writers used the term to describe the purchase price that Jesus Christ paid on the cross. – Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On

At the moment of his salvation, the Philippian jailer was set free from slavery to sin. Not only that, he had all his sins – past, present, and future – completely forgiven. God had redeemed this man from the marketplace of sin, paying the price with the life of His own Son.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

And Jesus Himself described the redemptive nature of His death.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Matthew 20:28 NLT

And what did this redemption accomplish?

  • Jesus freed us from the curse (Galatians 3:10, 13; 4:4-5; James 2:10)
  • God adopted us into His family (Romans 8:15)
  • We are set free from fear (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

In giving His life as a ransom, Jesus made it possible for sinful mankind to be reconciled to God. Reconciliation is one of the key doctrines of Scripture because it means the sinner, separated and alienated from a holy God, can be restored to fellowship with Him. The Greek word is katallasso and it means “to bring back to harmony, make peace.” In reconciling the Philippian jailer to God, Jesus changed his state from one of enmity and disharmony to that of friendship and peace with God.

Paul reminds us: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10 NIV). And that reconciliation has tremendous ramifications for our life on this earth as children of God.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. – Romans 5:1-2 NLT

But how can a sinful man be made right with a holy God? What has to take place for this amazing transformation to be made possible? That brings us to two essential New Testament doctrines that are often overlooked and under-appreciated. The first is justification. It helps us understand what God does at the point of man’s salvation to transform him from a state of unrighteousness to righteousness. Charles Ryrie states the problem this way:

“If God, the Judge, is without injustice and completely righteous in all His decisions, then how can He announce a sinner righteous? And sinners we all are. There are only three options open to God as sinners stand in His courtroom. He must condemn them, compromise His own righteousness to receive them as they are, or He can change them into righteous people. If He can exercise the third option, then He can announce them righteous, which is justification. But any righteousness the sinner has must be actual, not fictitious; real, not imagined; acceptable by God’s standards, and not a whit short. If this can be accomplished, then, and only then, can He justify. Job stated the problem accurately when he asked, ‘how can a man be in the right before God?’” – Charles Ryrie, Systematic Theology

God has three possible options. The first is to condemn mankind for its sin. The second would be to compromise His own righteousness by accepting man in his sinful state. The third is to make sinful men righteous. And justification is the doctrinal explanation of this third and final option. Justification is an instantaneous legal act in which God reckons our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us. And, as a result, He declares us to be righteous in His sight.

That brings us to the next remarkable doctrine associated with salvation: Imputation. Because all of the righteous deeds of men are considered to be no better than filthy rags to God, they stand in need of an alien righteousness, a righteousness outside of themselves. And in the miracle of salvation, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the one who places his faith in Him. It is what has come to be known as “The Great Exchange.” For God to consider sinful men to be righteous, God first had to transfer the sins of man to His Son on the cross. Then, when men place their faith in Christ, they are imputed the righteousness of Christ

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. – 1 Corinthians 1:30 NLT

So, the Philippian jailer believed, but there was far more going on behind the scenes to make his believing faith saving faith. He was regenerated, justified, redeemed, forgiven, and sanctified, or set apart as God’s son. And it was all the gracious work of a merciful, loving God.

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

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

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

 

Imitate Jesus

1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.– 1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV

When you think of a godly person, who comes to mind? And what are the characteristics that lead you to believe they’re godly? Is it the quality of their prayer life, the level of their compassion, their knowledge of Scripture, or just they sense of spirituality they convey?

Each of us has at least one person we admire, look up to, and consider an icon of spiritual virtue. Depending on how we were raised, we will utilize different criteria to determine godliness and assess Christlikeness. For some, the primary determiner is love. For others, it’s biblical knowledge. And then there are those who see selfless, sacrificial service as the most effective barometer measuring another person’s godliness quotient.

But what does the Bible say? And is it useful or even right to judge one another’s spirituality? Better yet, is it helpful to assess our own spirituality by comparing ourselves with others?

As we saw in our last post, we were created by God in His image. We bear His likeness. Not that we are mini-gods or human representations of deity, but that we were meant to reflect His glory in some limited way. Unlike the rest of creation, man was given unique capabilities by God that allow him to create, reason, love, and provide caring dominion over the rest of creation. Man is a rational being, capable of intellectual thought and the capacity to operate according to something other than mere instinct alone. Man as a will.

And Adam and Eve utilized their wills in choosing to disobey the expressed command of God to stay away from the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They saw, they desired, and they ate. And sin entered the world for the very first time. Those two, created in the image of God, became infected with the virus of sin, resulting in their forced quarantine from the garden and a loss of the unhindered communion they had enjoyed with God up until that moment.

Now, every aspect of man’s nature has been contaminated by sin. Even man’s reasoning capacity has been infected and affected. In his letter to the Roman believers, Paul describes what happened.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. – Roman 1:21-22 NLT

Paul goes on to describe all men as “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Ephesians 4:18 ESV). It is not that humanity has lost its intellectual capacity. Mankind has more than proven its capacity for intellectual rigor and scientific discovery. But man’s intelligence has been marred by sin. His ability to think of ways to improve human existence is always juxtaposed with his seeming penchant for using innovation to inflict pain and suffering.

So, the image of God has been damaged by the fall. But Jesus came to restore that sin-damaged image, and He began by taking on human flesh and showing what it looked like for a man to live in perfect, sinless obedience to God. He became the image of God unveiled and uninfected by the damaging influences of sin.

Which brings us back to our the verse and questions that opened up this post. The apostle Paul invites us to imitate him, but he provides us with an important caveat. His invitation to be imitators of him is qualified with the words, “as I am of Christ.” In other words, the ultimate model for our behavior is Jesus Christ Himself. But Paul, knowing that the Corinthian believers would never see Jesus in the flesh, would need a tangible representation of His presence. So, he offered himself as a stand-in for Jesus. In doing so, He was not claiming equality with Jesus or setting himself up as on the same spiritual plane as the Messiah. He simply stated that he was an imitator of Jesus. The Greek word Paul used is mimētēs, and it is where we get our word, “mimic.” In other New Testament passages, it is sometimes translated as “followers,” but it carries the same basic idea. Like the children’s game, Follow the Leader, we are to mimic or replicate the actions of Jesus. Paul told the Thessalonians believers:

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 ESV

Jesus, as the ultimate bearer of God’s image, left us an example to follow. He has provided us with a tangible expression of what it means to live a Christlike life. And Paul’s invitation to use his own life as an example was his way of saying that he had made Jesus his model for Christian living. And Paul was making it clear that the Corinthians were only to imitate him as long as he effectively imitated Jesus. If at any time he failed to imitate Jesus, they were no longer to follow Paul’s lead.

The preposition “as” is vitally important. When Paul says, “as I imitate Christ,” he is effectively saying “in the same way that I imitate Christ.” Paul’s main emphasis is Jesus. If Jesus was not the focus of Paul’s life and the model by which he lived his life, then he was going to make a lousy example to follow.

Paul’s primary concern was that the Corinthian believers fixate on Jesus. In fact, that was Paul’s concern for all the churches he helped to found. He told the Philippians:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

But Paul made it his life’s ambition to be like Christ, to have the same attitude that He had. Paul determined to live a selfless, sacrificial life. He made it his goal to live humbly and obediently to the will of God. Why? Because Jesus did, and whatever Jesus did, Paul wanted to do as well.

That is the heart of sanctification. It is all about growth in Christlikeness. It is about becoming like Christ. Paul told the Roman believers to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14 ESV). He told the Galatian believers, “all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes” (Galatians 3:27 NLT). Paul compares putting on Christ to putting on a new set of clothes. We are to array ourselves with the nature of Christ.

Back to our original question: When you think of a godly person, who comes to mind? It’s actually a trick question. Because the answer should be “Jesus.” When you think of someone whom you determine to be godly, you should immediately be reminded of Jesus. Paul wanted his life to mimic the life of Jesus. When people looked at Paul, he wanted them to see Jesus. But sometimes, the godly people we admire tend to reflect themselves more than they mirror Jesus. They are good people doing good things. They are well-meaning individuals whose lives are worth emulating, but we have to always examine whether their actions truly reflect those of Jesus. Do they have the mind of Jesus? Do their lives reflect the character of Jesus.

Ultimately, sanctification is God’s method of molding us into the likeness of His Son. And, as we will see, God uses His Word and His Spirit to accomplish this lofty goal. Through time in His Word and willing submission to His Spirit’s leading, we can find ourselves growing increasingly more like Jesus, in our words, thoughts, and actions. And we too can find ourselves able to say, as Paul did, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

As we live our lives, we must keep our eyes focused on Jesus. He must be our ultimate example and the one by whom we model our life. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote, “…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:2-3 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., Caro l Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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

 

The Peace and Presence of God

13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. – 2 Thessalonians 3:13-18 ESV

There is no place for spiritual laziness or apathy within the body of Christ. Each member is expected to do his or her part, ministering through the gift(s) given to them by the indwelling Spirit of God. Both Paul and his fellow apostle, Peter, wrote about these things.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:6-8 NLT

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. – 1 Peter 4:10-11 NLT

Yet, the Thessalonian church had within it a contingent of individuals who were refusing to do their part. Rather than working, they were living off of the generosity of their fellow church members. And because they had so much time on their hands, they were tending to become busybodies, sticking their noses into everybody else’s business and causing dissension in the church.

Paul has already addressed how he expected the rest of the church to do deal with these individuals, commanding them to “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV). And in the closing verses of his letter, Paul gives the church further instructions regarding the treatment of the lazy, idle, and disobedient among them.

Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister. – 2 Thessalonians 3:14 NLT

Notice what Paul is doing here. He is calling for the members of the church in Thessalonica to maintain a mutual awareness of one another’s spiritual condition. He tells them to “take note” of all those who refuse to obey what Paul has written about in this letter – specifically in regards to “walking in idleness.” The Greek word Paul used is sēmeioō, and it means “to mark for avoidance.” It comes from another Greek word, sēmeion, which refers to a sign or mark. Or as the Outline of Biblical Usage describes it: “that by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others and is known.”

These people were to be recognized for what they were in order for the church to deal with them appropriately. There is no call for tolerance or political correctness on Paul’s part. He saw these individuals as detrimental to the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ and, therefore, he called for them to be shunned. No, they were not to be treated with hatred or animosity, like an enemy. They were to be warned about their behavior so that they might be ashamed (entrepō). The Greek word carries the idea of shame, but with a positive purpose behind it. The motivation was to see them turn around or invert their behavior. In a sense, it speaks of the kind of sorrow or regret that Paul wrote about to the believers in Corinth.

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.– 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT

Paul is not recommending public humiliation or ostracization, he is calling on the body of Christ to heal itself. This is less about individual correction, then communal care. And, knowing that this kind of effort within the body of Christ could be difficult and emotionally draining, Paul encourages the church in Thessalonica to not throw in the towel. “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV).

This is the very same message Paul gave to the believers in Galatia:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9 ESV

The walk of faith is not an easy one. It can be difficult at times and strewn with all kinds of obstacles, distractions, and seeming detours. But Paul encourages his readers to not grow faint or weary along the way. For in due season, they will reap. There is a reward. And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to live with their eye on the prize. It was the way he lived his own life, as he made clear in his letter to the church in Philippi.

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:13-14 ESV

He communicated the very same idea to the believers in Corinth, encouraging them to focus on the goal.

So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT

As Paul brings his letter to a close, he offers up an interesting prayer. He calls on God, “the Lord of peace,” to give them “peace at all times in every way.” It seems a bit odd that Paul would ask God the Father to provide peace to His own children. But I think this prayer is meant to remind the Thessalonians that God is the author of peace and it is only through their relationship with Him that they will experience peace in the midst of the troubles of life. Jesus told His disciples:

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. – John 16:33 NLT

Paul seems to be communicating the very same promise. The Thessalonians can enjoy peace in the midst of turmoil. But the peace they need will only come from the Lord of peace. They will not find it anywhere else. Which is why Paul told the Philippians believers to take their cares and concerns to God.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

The kind of peace Paul is talking about is not just a lack of chaos. The Greek word is rich in meaning, carrying the ideas of tranquility, security, safety, prosperity, and harmony between individuals. Even with all that was going on within their local fellowship, and the presence of brothers and sisters walking in idleness, the church could know and experience the peace of God – a remarkable lack of fear, anxiety, discord, and dissension.

And when Paul states, “The Lord be with you all,” he is not suggesting that God was absent from their midst and needed to show up again. He is reminding them of the undeniable reality of God’s persistent presence among them. As Moses had told the Israelites, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV). God was with them, and He would remain with them all along their journey this side of heaven. Just as God went before and lived among the Israelites as they journeyed from their captivity in Egypt to the land flowing with milk and honey, God will go before His children as they make their way from slavery to sin to their future glorification in eternity.

And as Paul signs off his letter, he gives them one more word of encouragement: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:18 ESV). Once again, this is to be seen more as a reminder to the Thessalonians than a request to God. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a fleeting or fickle commodity. It is not something we have to seek or earn. It is a gift given to us by God Himself and as a result of Jesus giving His life on our behalf. And notice that Paul states that the grace of Jesus Christ will be with them all. It is not reserved for the spiritual elite or the religious superstars. His grace is available to all – all the time. But we must constantly acknowledge our need for it and place our hope in it.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. – 2 Corinthians 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