Redeemed!

40 And the Lord said to Moses, “List all the firstborn males of the people of Israel, from a month old and upward, taking the number of their names. 41 And you shall take the Levites for me—I am the Lord—instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the people of Israel.” 42 So Moses listed all the firstborn among the people of Israel, as the Lord commanded him. 43 And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names, from a month old and upward as listed were 22,273.

44 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord. 46 And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, 47 you shall take five shekels per head; you shall take them according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel of twenty gerahs), 48 and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.” 49 So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites. 50 From the firstborn of the people of Israel he took the money, 1,365 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. 51 And Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses. Numbers 3:40-51 ESV

It is easy to view the Levites as nothing more than the priestly order, the one tribe whose sole responsibility was to care for the tabernacle and serve as priests on behalf of the people of God. But there is a much deeper theological significance to their role as the spiritual mediators of Israel.

As has been stated before, God had spared the firstborn sons of Israel when He sent the death angel to punish the nation of Egypt. As a result of Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to release the descendants of Jacob from their captivity, God gave Moses instructions concerning the final plague He would bring upon the Egyptians.

So Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.” – Exodus 11:4-6 ESV

Then God instructed the Israelites to prepare for the coming judgment by selecting an unblemished lamb for every household.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household…. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” – Exodus 12:1-3, 5-6 ESV

Each household was to sacrifice their lamb at the same time and follow God’s exacting instructions.

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 12:7-13 ESV

When the death angel passed through the land, he would “pass over” those homes on which the blood had been sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels. The sacrifice of the unblemished lambs would redeem any firstborn residing in that home.

“For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” – Exodus 12:23 ESV

On the fateful night when the death angel passed over the city, “the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:29 ESV). But because of the sacrifice of the unblemished lambs, the homes of the Israelites were protected and their firstborn sons were spared. But “there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:30 ESV).

As a result of this miraculous redemption of Israel’s firstborn sons, God commanded Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” (Exodus 13:1 ESV).

God had spared the firstborn of Israel, and He commanded that they be dedicated to His service. But as the Israelites were making their way to the land of Canaan, God ordered the tribe of Levi to serve as substitutes for the firstborn sons of Israel. The males of this one tribe would act as stand-ins for all those firstborn sons of the 11 other tribes who rightfully belonged to God. The Levites would redeem or ransom their brothers and serve on their behalf.

God ordered Moses to make a list of all the firstborn males of the people of Israel, from a month old and upward. It would appear that these were the sons who had been born since the Israelites left Egypt. According to verse 43, that number amounted to 22,273 firstborn male sons from the 11 tribes of Israel. Verse 39 reveals that there were 22,000 firstborn male sons from the tribe of Levi.

“The Levites, amounting to twenty-two thousand, were given in exchange for an equal number of the first-born from the other tribes, leaving an excess of two hundred seventy-three; and as there were no substitutes for these, they were redeemed at the rate of five shekels for each (Nu 18:15, 16). Every Israelite would naturally wish that his son might be redeemed by a Levite without the payment of this tax, and yet some would have to incur the expense, for there were not Levites enough to make an equal exchange. Jewish writers say the matter was determined by lot, in this manner: Moses put into an urn twenty-two thousand pieces of parchment, on each of which he wrote “a son of Levi,” and two hundred seventy-three more, containing the words, “five shekels.” These being shaken, he ordered each of the first-born to put in his hand and take out a slip. If it contained the first inscription, the boy was redeemed by a Levite; if the latter, the parent had to pay. The ransom-money…was appropriated to the use of the sanctuary.” – Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

The Levites were more than just priests, they served as God-ordained substitutes whose lives were used to redeem or ransom those who rightfully belonged to God. They served in place of and on behalf of all those whom God had redeemed from death at the original Passover. And when the number of Levites didn’t match that of the firstborn males from the other 11 tribes, 273 families had to pay a sizeable tax of five shekels. The lack of a substitute came at a high price.

And this cost was meant to convey the value of each Levite’s life. No firstborn male was to take his freedom from service lightly or to treat the life of his Levite counterpart flippantly. This passage should serve as a reminder of the tremendous price God paid on behalf of every sinner whom He redeemed from death through the sacrifice of His Son.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:18-20 ESV

The author of Hebrews refers to the church as “the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23 NLT). Each has been “ransomed with the precious blood of the Son of God. All men are the Lord’s by creation, and all true Christians are his by redemption” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary).

According to Paul, Jesus is “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29 NLT). He was the firstborn Son of God who served as the sinless substitute for sinful men and women. His death made possible the gift of eternal life for those who at one time stood condemned before God. And had Jesus not offered His life as our substitute, none of us could have afforded to pay the debt we owed to God.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world… – Hebrews 10:4-5 NLT

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

Numbers chapter 3 should remind us of the lines of that great old hymn, “Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It.”

Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child, and forever, I am.

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

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

Father Knows Best

1  What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:1-10 ESV

James ended the last chapter with the declaration, “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16 ESV). Now, he reveals what lies at the heart of the problem. He discloses the root cause behind the jealousy and selfish ambition that are wreaking havoc on the congregation to whom he is writing.

James appears to drop the pastoral tone of his letter and takes his readers to the proverbial woodshed with a strongly worded disciplinary message. He calls them out and airs their dirty laundry right in front of them. He has received word of their unhealthy penchant for quarreling and infighting and is more than a bit unhappy about it. As a congregation, they have allowed their love for the world to take precedence over their love for one another.

He has already dealt with their practice of showing partiality to the wealthy and influential within their fellowship. This blatant display of favoritism was rooted in greed and jealousy. While flattering and fawning over the well-to-do, they were dismissing and mistreating the less fortunate among them, all in a vain hope that the rich would somehow reward them for their actions. There was an ulterior motive behind their attempt to give the high-capacity donor the best seat in the sanctuary.

Evidently, their worship services had become a competitive event, with everyone jockeying for position and fighting for prominence. But, sadly, their infighting was a byproduct of a much more serious problem. They were suffering from a heart condition. James reveals that the cause behind their quarreling and fighting was internal, not external.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? – James 4:1 NLT

The pleasures or desires to which James refers are evil because they drive human behavior until they are fulfilled. They are like an addiction that incessantly demands its needs be met, regardless of the price or consequences. These evil desires were worldly and out of step with the godly wisdom that God offered.

…the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. – James 3:17 NLT

But James describes a far different atmosphere within this local body of believers.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. – James 4:2 NLT

There was no evidence of peace, gentleness, mercy, sacrifice, or selflessness. Their “fellowship” had become a hotbed of strife and destructive self-promotion. Everyone was operating by the myopic mindset: What’s in it for me? The love of self had replaced God’s call to love one another. And James has already told them “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (James 2:8 ESV). Yet, they were actually making love of self their highest priority. All in a vain attempt to satisfy their individual cravings for power, pleasure, and prominence. And James rebuked them for trying to take matters into their own hands. Rather than taking their needs to the Lord, they were trying to fulfill them through worldly and ungodly means.

Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. – James 4:3 NLT

Even when they did pray, they did so with the wrong motives. They asked God for those things that would bring them personal pleasure and satisfaction. And He refuses to answer those kinds of requests.

This is where James pulls no punches and displays his disgust for their ungodly behavior. He accuses them of spiritual adultery. They had proven themselves to be unfaithful to God by unashamedly flaunting their love affair with the world. And in doing so, they had made an enemy of God.

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

The philosophies of this world stand diametrically opposed to the will and the ways of God. Satan, the prince of this world, uses every weapon in his arsenal to tempt the child of God to abandon his relationship with the Almighty. His goal is to lure the believer into a life marked by unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. And he cleverly uses the pleasures and perks this world has to offer as bait. He knows we crave significance. He fully understands our need for self-importance. He is well aware of our insatiable appetite for forbidden fruit, and he is more than willing to offer us whatever our heart desires – in exchange for our affections.

When Satan tried to distract Jesus from His God-ordained mission, he made Him a highly tempting offer.

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” – Luke 4:5-7 NLT

But Jesus refused. Instead, He reminded Satan that God alone is worthy of worship.

“You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” – Luke 4:8 NLT

And Jesus would later warn His disciples about the danger of duplicity in the life of a child of God.

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

God longs to have an unbroken relationship with each of His children. He is a jealous God who will not tolerate infidelity and unfaithfulness. He has displayed His unparalleled love by sending His Son to die in our place and by placing His Spirit within our hearts. He has more than proven His love for us and expects us to return the favor. And through His grace, He makes it possible for us to say no to the overtures of the world and the temptations of the enemy.

But His grace is only available to the humble. The presence of pride blocks the flow of God’s grace and prevents us from experiencing the fulness of His love. As long as allow our love for the world to lure us away from God, we demonstrate that we really don’t need or want what He has to offer. Our desire for worldly pleasures indicates that He is not enough. He cannot satisfy our deepest longings or fulfill our insatiable passions. We know what we want and, if He won’t give it to us, we will seek it from the world. And the apostle John warns us about seeking our satisfaction from the things of this world.

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

And James gives us the key to rejecting the enticing allure of the world: Humility.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. – James 4:7-10 NLT

God knows what is best. His will for us is always right and His love for us is always pure and selfless. But we have to trust Him and believe that He knows what we need. The world is about to steal our hearts and affections. It offers us a range of tempting treasures and pleasures designed to appeal to our sinful natures. But they are empty promises that never deliver what they offer. Instead of pleasure, they produce pain. In place of significance, they leave the gaping hole of futility and despair. Rather than joy, they produce a fleeting form of happiness that disappears as soon as the pleasure fades. But when we humble ourselves before the Lord and rest in His love for us, we find fulfillment, joy, satisfaction, and the immeasurable honor of being His child.

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

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

The Justification of Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatalism Versus Faithfulness

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.

17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:7-18 ESV

According to Solomon’s way of seeing things, there are two things that can make a man’s life miserable and meaningless: Time and chance. He makes that point clear in verse 11.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. – Ecclesiastes 9:11 ESV

From his experience, these two things played irrefutable roles in the lives of men, determining their destinies far more often than ability, intelligence, or preparedness. Solomon supports his assertion with a series of observations about life.

The fastest runner doesn’t always win.

The most powerful army isn’t always the victor.

Wisdom won’t necessarily put food on the table.

A surplus of intelligence doesn’t guarantee wealth or success.

And those with know-how aren’t always appreciated or given a chance to show what they know.

Sometimes it’s all in the timing, or it’s simply a matter of chance. Things just happen. The faster runner trips and falls, leaving a slower runner to win the race. The smarter one fails to get the job. The one lacking discernment gets the promotion. It’s like a grand cosmic crap shoot, where no one knows what the outcome will be. It just happens. So, once again, Solomon offers up the sage advice to “So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-8 NLT).

As noted in an earlier post,, this is not a recommendation to embrace unbridled hedonism or to spend your days in a drunken stupor. It is counsel designed to encourage the enjoyment of what you already have – your job, spouse, children, and life. Solomon knew what it was like to spend his life in pursuit of what he didn’t have. He had an abundance of God-given wisdom, but he was never satisfied. He had plenty of houses, but he kept building more. He had hundreds of wives and concubines but his harem continued to grow. He spent so much time adding to his already overstocked life, that he never took time to enjoy all that he had. So, writing the book of Ecclesiastes at the end of his life, he passed on what he had learned: Enjoy what you have while you have it because no one knows what tomorrow holds. In a sense, he is telling us to stop and smell the roses. And his advice is supported by a story Jesus told His disciples.

Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:16-21 NLT

There is a danger in always living with our hopes set on tomorrow. This doesn’t preclude planning for the future, but if we do plan, we should not short-change the present day. None of us know what tomorrow holds. In that sense, Solomon is right. But notice the emphasis behind the story Jesus told. His point is that the man in the story was neglecting his relationship with God. He found his significance and satisfaction in material things. And it was only when he thought he had enough, that he believed he would be able to enjoy life. There is a certain dissatisfaction and discontentment portrayed in the man’s decision-making. And that same problem seemed to have plagued Solomon.

But in his latter years, Solomon appears to have learned the lesson of being satisfied with what he had. He recommends seeing your spouse as a gift from God and a reward for all your hard work in this life. He strongly advises that we take time to enjoy good food, the feel of clean clothes, and the fragrance of fine perfume. But there remains a certain sense of nagging pessimism in his words.

Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom. – Ecclesiastes 9:10 NLT

In other words, this is all there is., so enjoy it while you can. Because once you’re dead, you won’t get the opportunity again. Solomon never qualifies or clarifies his views on the hereafter, but he gives a distinct impression that he prefers the here-and-now. All his emphasis is on what he can see, touch, and feel. He was a man driven by his senses. The pursuit of pleasure was important to him. Enjoyment was a high priority for him. And he seemed to operate on the premise that death would bring all of that to an abrupt stop.

So, he learned to live in the present, taking in all that he could while there was still time. And what drove that mentality was the recognition that “man does not know his time” (Ecclesiastes 9:12 ESV). He compares man to a fish caught in a net or a bird trapped in a snare. When we least expect it, our end comes. Which led Solomon to resort to his quest for immediate gratification. He seems to have lived his life based on the old Schlitz Brewing Company slogan from the mid-1960s: “You only go around once in life, so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can.”

But as Jesus warned, what a waste of time if you don’t seek a right relationship with God.

Solomon next provides us with a real-life example of wisdom on display, but unappreciated. He tells the story of a city that was besieged by a powerful army. The citizens of the city were few in number and their fate seemed sealed. But help and hope came from an unexpected source: A poor wise man.

There was a small town with only a few people, and a great king came with his army and besieged it. A poor, wise man knew how to save the town, and so it was rescued. – Ecclesiastes 9:14-15 NLT

Notice Solomon’s emphasis. The man was wise but poor. Remember Solomon’s earlier point: “The wise sometimes go hungry.” And yet, this impoverished man’s wisdom saved the day. Solomon doesn’t explain how, but this man used his wisdom to rescue the city from destruction. And yet, his efforts went unrecognized and unrewarded.

But afterward no one thought to thank him. – Ecclesiastes 9:15 NLT

So Solomon concludes: “even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long” (Ecclesiastes 9:16 NLT).

The plight of poverty trumps wisdom. The man saved the day but went to bed that night still poor and forgotten. And what insight does Solomon provide us from this story?

So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long. – Ecclesiastes 9:16 NLT

Wisdom could be beneficial but it couldn’t guarantee food on the table or replace the stigma of poverty. Yet Solomon warns that it’s better to listen to one man speaking quiet words of wisdom, than to the shouts of a powerful king who rules over fools. The citizens of the besieged city had been saved because they listened to the wisdom of a poor man. But once victory was assured, they turned their back on the one whose wisdom had saved them. And Solomon reaches a rather sad conclusion. While wisdom is more beneficial than weapons, it just takes one sinner to destroy all the good that wisdom brings. There was a good chance that the city’s victory celebration would end up being short-lived due to the sinful actions of a single fool.

Once again, you can sense Solomon’s cynicism. The advice of the wise isn’t always heeded. Their efforts aren’t always appreciated. And it only takes one foolish, unrighteous sinner to undermine all the efforts of the wise.

You can see why Solomon repeatedly went back to the recommendation: Eat, drink and be merry. To him, the world was controlled by time and chance. Man is the unwilling occupant of a canoe hurtling through rapids without a paddle. The best he can do is hang on and enjoy the scenes along the way. He knows there’s probably a less-than-pleasant ending around every bend, but he has no way of knowing when it will come. So, Solomon had determined that the best thing to do was to sit back and enjoy the ride. But what a defeatist attitude.

Yes, there is some value in living for the moment. There is truth in Solomon’s assessment that the strong don’t always win and the fastest runner doesn’t always come in first. But the apostle Paul would strongly disagree with Solomon’s assessment, arguing instead: “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). And he supports that argument even further in his letter to the church in Philippi.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. – Philippians 3:14-15 NLT

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

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

The Best Is Yet to Come

1 But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 ESV

There’s little doubt that Solomon embraced the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. He sincerely believed that the lives of all men were in the hands of God, whether they were righteous, wicked, good, or bad. His view was that God acted as the divine arbiter over the fate of all, including their lives and inevitable deaths, leaving man no option but to make the most of the days he had been allotted to him by God. But this view of God’s sovereignty has a feeling of resignation and resentment to it.

Solomon clearly states that “the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God,” but he doesn’t come across as all that pleased about it. In fact, he appears to view God’s sovereignty as some kind of divine whim, where God metes out love and hate as He sees fit. Solomon almost paints it as an arbitrary decision on God’s part, lacking any kind of reasoned explanation or excuse. He puts it this way:  “Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether God will show them favor” (Ecclesiastes 9:1 NLT).

In other words, from man’s earth-bound perspective, he can never know if God is going to show him favor or disfavor. If good things happen, it is the will of God. If bad things happen, those too are the will of God. That appears to be his somewhat pessimistic conclusion regarding God’s sovereignty.

As far as Solomon can tell, all people share the same fate. They all die.

The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone… – Ecclesiastes 9:2 NLT

There is nothing ahead but death anyway. – Ecclesiastes 9:3 NLT

And even while they remain alive, they all experience their fair share of ups and downs, blessings and curses, and successes and failures. And he points out that it really doesn’t seem to matter how you live your life. He compares the righteous with the wicked, the good with those who commit evil, the ceremonially clean with the ceremonially impure, and finally, the one who offers sacrifices to God with the one who does not. The individuals represented in these polarized comparisons all face death at the end of their lives, and the sole determiner of the day of their death is God. And Solomon expresses his opinion about the matter, concluding, “It seems so wrong that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate.” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 NLT).

Solomon viewed death as a kind of divine exclamation point at the end of man’s life, ending any hope of experiencing joy and fulfillment. And it was that belief that led him to write: “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!” (Ecclesiastes 9:4 NLT). From his perspective, it was better to remain alive, even if you had to struggle with the apparent injustices of life. Solomon clearly saw life as preferable to death.

There is hope only for the living. – Ecclesiastes 9:4 NLT

The living at least know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered. Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth. – Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 NLT

Solomon has made it clear that this life can be difficult and meaningless. Here, he states, “the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 ESV). Men do evil things. They commit acts of violence against one another. They oppress and abuse one another. And yet, Solomon would prefer to put up with all that than face the final day of death. Because, as far as he could see, that day had a ring of finality to it.

Do you see how he views death? He sees it as an end, almost as a form of divine penalty doled out by God on all who have ever lived. It’s as if he’s saying that life is this hit or miss, futility-filled existence, completely dictated by God, and then it suddenly comes to a screeching, abrupt end – all based on God’s divine determination. It’s no wonder he preferred life over death. For him, whatever existed beyond the grave was unattractive and undesirable. As far as he could tell, the destiny that awaits us on the other side of death was unknowable and, therefore, unwelcome. Concerning those who die: “Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:6 ESV).

Those are the words of a man who sees this life as the only source of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. In fact, Solomon expresses a belief that the only way God can bless human beings is through the physical pleasures associated with life on this planet. He saw man’s identity as completely tied to his earthly existence. All rewards were relegated to this life and this plane of existence. There was nothing beyond the grave. And it is that worldview that dictates the decision-making of virtually every person who occupies this planet – unless they have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Yes, there are other religions that teach the existence of an afterlife where there are rewards. But Christianity is particularly future-oriented, placing the real emphasis on mankind’s existence not in this world, but in the one to come. Our reward awaits us in eternity, not on this earth. That doesn’t mean God withholds blessings from His children while they remain alive, but that His greatest reward lies in the future. Jesus confirmed this idea in His sermon on the mount.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

The apostle Paul shared the same future-oriented mindset. He had his eyes set on an eternal reward, his glorification that was tied to the return of Christ.

…but 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 NLT

The author of Hebrews also provides us with powerful words of encouragement, using Jesus as an example of the way in which we should live while we remain on this earth.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, 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. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. – Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

Jesus suffered. He knew what it was like to endure rejection, ridicule, injustice, and oppression. He even endured the pain of the cross, knowing that it was all part of God’s divine will for His life. It was a necessary part of the redemptive plan God had put in place before the foundation of the world. Jesus ran the race of life with endurance, keeping His eyes focused on doing His Father’s will of God and the promise of His future glorification. And now He sits in the place of honor beside His Father’s throne.

And the apostle Paul would have us remember that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we face a similar reward.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Regardless of what Solomon believed, there is something beyond the grave. Not only does an afterlife exist, but it also holds blessings beyond anything we can imagine. Solomon accurately described the pain, suffering, oppression, and injustice inherent in this life, but the Scriptures promise that these things will not exist in the afterlife. For those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, eternity awaits with a life free from pain, suffering, sin, sorrow, and the looming threat of death. John writes of this wonderful reality in his book of Revelation.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” – Revelation 21:3-4 NLT

Solomon was a wise man, but he reveals his inability to comprehend the ways of God. Over the years, he had developed an earth-based, temporal perspective that limited the sovereignty of God to the here and now. He saw life as an end-all, which explains his obsession with experiencing all that life had to offer. And when he couldn’t find what he was looking for in this life, he deemed it all meaningless, like chasing the wind. But what he failed to see was that God had much more in store. The best was yet to come.

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

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

Father Knows Best

1 A good name is better than precious ointment,
    and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.
Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
    and a bribe corrupts the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
    an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
    who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 ESV

Once again, using a steady, staccato stream of parables as his tool, Solomon provides us with yet more proof of the futility of a life lived under the sun. Still maintaining his somewhat pessimistic outlook, he utilizes a series of stark contrasts in order to support his central theme that all is vanity.

He juxtaposes birth and death, sorrow and laughter, wisdom and foolishness, the beginning and the end, and the patient and the proud. In each case, Solomon draws a conclusion, deeming one better than the other, and what he decides is meant to shock and surprise us. He starts out comparing birth with death, and while we might logically conclude that the beginning of life is preferable to its end, Solomon would disagree. And he uses a somewhat odd comparison to make his point. In verse one, Solomon utilizes a wordplay, using two similar sounding Hebrew words: shem and shemen, to make his point. Shem means “name” and refers to someone’s reputation. Shemen is the Hebrew word for “oil” and it typically refers to highly fragrant anointing oil.

Solomon states that a good name or reputation is better than precious ointment. To put it another way, he seems to be saying that being good is better than smelling good. A man who hasn’t bathed can douse himself with cologne, but he will only cover up the fact that he stinks. He isn’t fixing his problem; he’s simply masking it. His life is a sham and marked by hypocrisy.

Solomon uses shem and shemen to make a point about birth and death. While the beginning of life is associated with feasting and celebration, it masks the reality that much hurt and heartache lie ahead. A baby is born without a reputation. It has had no time to establish a name for itself. And no one knows the ultimate outcome of that child’s life. Yet, we celebrate and rejoice on the day of his birth. Solomon is not suggesting we cease celebrating a new birth, but that we recognize the end of one’s life is what truly matters. Why? Because we all face the same fate. Death is inevitable and inescapable. And when it comes time to mourn the life of someone we knew and loved, those who have managed to achieve and maintain a good reputation will be missed most. When it comes time to mourn the loss of someone of good character, sorrow will prove better than laughter, because the reflections on that individual’s life will bring sweet and lasting memories. It will remind the living of what is truly important, and the wise will glean invaluable lessons from a life lived well.

When a child is born, words of encouragement may be spoken, but they’re all hypothetical in nature. No one knows the future, so no one can presume to know how that child’s life will turn out. We can and should be hopeful, but we can’t be certain that our expectations will come to fruition. Yet, at the time of death, there will be irrefutable evidence that proves the true nature of a person’s life. A life lived well will be well documented and greatly celebrated. Even in the sorrow of the moment, there will be joy. Solomon puts it this way: “by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Ecclesiastes 7:3 ESV). The memories of the one we have lost bring joy to our hearts and put a smile on our faces, and we experience the seeming dichotomy of sadness and gladness.

Solomon’s use of shem and shemen has ongoing application. He seems to be advocating a life that is lived beneath the surface – well beyond the shallow and pretentious trappings of materialism and hedonism. He refers to “the house of mirth,” the place where fools tend to gather. It is a place of joy and gladness, rejoicing and pleasure. The fool makes it his primary destination, believing that it is only there that his heart will find satisfaction and fulfillment.

But Solomon recommends the house of mourning, where sadness and sorrow are found. Again, it is at the end of one’s life that their true character will be revealed in detail. The tears of sorrow may be for one who lived his life well and whose departure will leave a hole in the lives of those left behind. But, in far too many cases, the tears flow out of sadness over a life that was little more than a facade. All was not as it appeared to be. The sweet-smelling oil of success and outer happiness merely masked the reality that there was nothing of value on the inside. The “perfumes” of life are the things we acquire and accumulate, none of which we can take with us. They represent the oil of achievement and visible success. Our homes, cars, clothes, portfolios, resumes, and 401ks may leave the impression that we had it all but, at death, they will prove of little value or significance. As Job so aptly put it, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave” (Job 1:21 NLT).

Solomon has learned that life should be accompanied by thoughtfulness and soberness. It requires serious reflection and careful examination to discover all that life has to offer. But we are prone to live life with our hearts and eyes set on those things that bring us the greatest amount of pleasure and satisfaction, temporary though they may be. We prefer the sweet-smelling, short-lived perfume of a self-indulgent lifestyle. We want it all now. We prefer joy to sorrow, pleasure over pain, happiness rather than heartache, and a good time instead a good name.

But Solomon knew from experience that living in the house of mirth never brings true happiness. He had learned the hard way that a life lived with pleasure as its primary focus rarely results in lasting satisfaction or true joy. Like perfume, its aroma faded with time. This is why Solomon always reverted to wisdom.

Wisdom is even better when you have money.
    Both are a benefit as you go through life.
Wisdom and money can get you almost anything,
    but only wisdom can save your life. – Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 NLT

Money might improve your life over the short term, but only wisdom can protect and prolong your life. And wisdom can’t be bought or acquired. It comes through observation and the application of life lessons, and that requires a willingness to look beneath the surface, beyond the pleasant-sounding lies of the enemy. The apostle John gives us some sober-sounding, wisdom-producing words to consider.

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

And Solomon reminds us to look at life more soberly and seriously, judging it not from our limited human vantage point, but through the eyes of God.

Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked? – Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT

We see death as negative, the end of life. But God sees things differently. We view pleasure as preferable to pain, but God works in ways we can’t comprehend, using the seeming incongruities of life to teach us the most valuable lessons. And as before, Solomon boils his thoughts down to one simple suggestion:

Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. – Ecclesiastes 7:14 NLT

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasures of life and the blessings that God bestows on us in this life. But we must recognize that God is found in the extremes of life. He is sovereign over all that we experience; the good, the bad, the pleasant, the painful, death and life, wealth and poverty, joy and sorrow. A wise man will look for God in everything and find Him. The fool will set his sights on experiencing joy, pleasure, satisfaction, significance, and pleasure, but miss God in the process.

For those who believe in God, the future is always bright because they know that He has a plan for them. They refuse to live in the past and they refrain from allowing the present to dominate their lives. Instead, they consider the words that God spoke to the people of Israel when they were living as exiles in the land of Babylon.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

The wise realize that God is always at work. He never sleeps. He never stops implementing His sovereign plan for those He loves. And while life may sometimes take a turn for the worse, a believer understands that God is far from done. That’s why Solomon warns that living in the past is a waste of time. When things don’t turn out quite the way we expected, it doesn’t pay to reminisce and wax nostalgic.

Don’t long for “the good old days.”
    This is not wise. – Ecclesiastes 7:10 NLT

Keep trusting God. Focus your eyes on the future and trust that His sovereign plan will bring about the best outcome. He will not disappoint. Rather than judging God’s faithfulness by the quality of the circumstances surrounding your life, try resting in the fact that He knows what is best and has a purpose for everything that happens in life.

Accept the way God does things,
    for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can,
    but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. – Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 NLT

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

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

Christ, the Wisdom of God

22 “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he had made the earth with its fields,
    or the first of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30     then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the children of man.

32 “And now, O sons, listen to me:
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise,
    and do not neglect it.
34 Blessed is the one who listens to me,
    watching daily at my gates,
    waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life
    and obtains favor from the Lord,
36 but he who fails to find me injures himself;
    all who hate me love death.” – Proverbs 8:22-36 ESV

Wisdom has an impressive pedigree, and it isn’t shy when it comes to talking about it. According to verse 22, Wisdom is literally older than dirt. It has been around since the beginning of time.

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. – Proverbs 8:22 DRB

The Hebrew word, qānâ, can be translated as either “created” or “possessed,” and various Bible translations use one or the other to describe Wisdom’s relationship with God at the point of creation.

The LORD created me as His first course, before His works of old. – Berean Study Bible

“The LORD formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else.” – New Living Translation

“The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. – New American Standard Version

“Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, Before his works of old.”  – American Standard Version

But if God created Wisdom, then that would suggest there was a point in time when it did not exist. Like the rest of creation, it was formed out of nothing. But that would infer that  Wisdom exists independently of God. Like the sun, moon, stars, plants, and animals, it owes its existence to God’s divine power. But that would seem to contradict the idea that Wisdom is an attribute of God Himself.  So, given the context established in Proverbs 8, it makes much more sense to translate the word qānâ as “possessed.”

“As Creator, God counted wisdom most important. Wisdom is older than the universe, and it was essential in its creation. Nothing came into existence without wisdom. Wisdom leads to joy because creation produces joy (vv. 30-31) both for the Creator and for the creature. God made and did nothing without wisdom. Therefore it is very important that we obtain it. That is the point.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis

Wisdom boldly claims to have been “set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth” (Proverbs 8:23 ESV). Again, understanding the meaning of this passage is dependent upon a proper translation of the Hebrew word, nāsaḵ. It carries the meaning “to pour out,” as in the pouring out of a libation or in the anointing of a king. God poured forth His Wisdom in the process of forming the universe, anointing all it contained with His unsurpassed intelligence, skill, and creative prowess. Nothing was left to chance. Everything God made reflects intelligent design and symmetry of order.

Before God made the oceans, seas, rivers, and streams, Wisdom was already in existence. Long before there were mountains and hills and the dirt and rocks from which they consist, Wisdom was there. The sun, moon, stars, heavens, clouds, and atmosphere surrounding the earth were all made according to God’s infinite and incomparable wisdom. And the apostle John explains how this Wisdom manifested itself.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. – John 1:1-3 ESV

In his first letter to the Corinthians church, the apostle Paul declares that Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24 ESV). In other words, He is the wisdom of God personified. Just a few verses later, Paul asserts that Christ and Wisdom are synonymous and inseparable.

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

And the prophet Isaiah, writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit, predicted that the Messiah would be the greatest expression of God’s infinite wisdom.

And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. – Isaiah 11:2 NLT

Paul firmly believed that Jesus Christ was the wisdom of God in human flesh. And his greatest desire was for all believers to “have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself” (Colossians 2:2 NLT), because  “In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3 NLT).

So, when Wisdom boldly claims, “I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man” (Proverbs 8:30-31 ESV), you can hear the voice of Jesus speaking. Because of his knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, Solomon would have had some idea of the promised Messiah of Israel. But much of the Messiah’s mission and role would have remained a mystery to even the all-wise King of Israel.

But after the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the apostles were able to put together all the pieces of the puzzle and form a more cohesive and cogent explanation of Jesus’ divine role as the wisdom of God made manifest.

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.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together. – Colossians 1:15-17 NLT

Solomon may not have had a comprehensive grasp of Jesus as the embodied wisdom of God, but he fully understood that Wisdom was indispensable and vital to living a life that brought glory to God. That’s why he spent so much time pleading with his sons to make the pursuit of godly wisdom a high priority in their lives. He even portrayed Wisdom as a human being, calling to his young sons and begging them to avail themselves of her gift.

“And so, my children, listen to me,
    for all who follow my ways are joyful.
Listen to my instruction and be wise.
    Don’t ignore it.
Joyful are those who listen to me,
    watching for me daily at my gates,
    waiting for me outside my home!
For whoever finds me finds life
    and receives favor from the Lord. – Proverbs 8:32-35 NLT

The words of Wisdom are reminiscent of those spoken by Jesus centuries later.

“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:27-30 NLT

Jesus offers all those who are worn out from trying to earn their way into God’s good graces, the gift of peace. Peace with God. He alone can provide sinful men and women restored access to God’s presence. Through faith in His sacrificial death on the cross, fools can receive “wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30 NIV). By accepting Christ as our Savior, we receive all that He is, including His eternal wisdom and spotless righteousness, as our very own.

But Wisdom has one final word of warning that should leave us shaking in our boots.

“But those who miss me injure themselves.
    All who hate me love death.” – Proverbs 8:36 NLT

And the apostle Paul described a similar fate for all those who turn their back on God’s Wisdom. They suffer serious consequences for refusing to embrace the gift that God has made available.

…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. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. – Romans 1:21-26 NLT

And all those who refuse to accept Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV), will suffer a similar fate.

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

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

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

 

Imitate God

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:1-5 ESV

Imitate God. At this point in his letter, Paul issues a lofty and seemingly impossible call to action. And yet, that’s been the theme he has been expressing from the very beginning.  what Paul has been suggesting throughout his letter. In the opening lines of chapter one, Paul reminded his readers that God had chosen them “before the foundation of the world” so that they might “be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). In other words, that they might by holy as He is holy. He prayed that their hearts would be enlightened, so that they might “know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18 ESV). Paul wanted them to understand that God had a future in store for them that included their glorification. The day was coming when they would be sin-free and fully righteous. And he assured them of the security of that future by declaring, “God, being rich in mercymade us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4, 5-6 ESV). 

There had been a time when they had been “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). But now they had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). They were sons and daughters of God and, as such, they were to emulate and imitate their Heavenly Father. That is why Paul so strongly stressed their new relationship with God.

…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… – Ephesians 2:19 ESV

As members of the body of Christ, they were being “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22 ESV). It was through the mystery of the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). And Paul’s prayer was that they would understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Ephesians 3:18 NLT) and “be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT).

Paul had commanded the Ephesians: “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:23-24 NLT). According to Paul, God had identified the Ephesian believers as His own by placing His Spirit within them (Ephesians 4:30). So, they were to conduct their lives in such a way that they accurately reflected their status as God’s children.  And the greatest expression of their new divine nature was a life marked by Christ-like love.

 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. – Ephesians 5:2 NLT

Jesus had imitated His Father. In fact, Paul described Jesus as “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described Jesus as “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT). And yet, thought Jesus was fully God, He “did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT). In doing so, Jesus displayed His godly character. He obeyed the will of His Father by displaying the selfless, sacrificial love of His Father.

He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:3 NLT

Jesus always did exactly what His Father commanded Him to do. He gained strength from doing His Father’s will. That’s why He told His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). He told the Pharisees, “I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will” (John 5:30 NLT). He declared that He had come down from heaven to do the will of the One who had sent him (John 6:38). In His humanity, Jesus perfectly modeled what it means to imitate God.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 ESV

God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind (John 3:16). And Jesus laid down His life willingly, not under coercion.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:17-18 NLT

He was the visible, tangible expression of God’s love. He imitated God by loving as God loved. And Paul calls the Ephesians to “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT). In a sense, Paul is stating that Christ-likeness equals godliness. To be like the Son is to be like the Father. To imitate Christ is to imitate God, because they are one.

But Paul wants his readers to know what imitating God looks like in everyday life, and he does so by listing those characteristics that display ungodliness.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. – Ephesians 5:3-4 NLT

People who display these kinds of qualities don’t look like God. Immorality, impurity, and greed are signs of godlessness, not godliness. They mark the lives of the unrepentant and unredeemed. They are diametrically opposed to a life of selfless, sacrificial love. Immorality involves lust – the desire to satisfy and fulfill selfish passions at the expense of others. Impurity has to do with moral and physical uncleanness. It describes the lives of the unsaved Gentiles.

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. – Ephesians 4:18-19 NLT

And greed or covetousness is an insatiable desire for that which has been forbidden by God. In the end, it is a worship of self, which is why, in verse 5, Paul ties covetousness closely to idolatry. To covet another man’s wife is to believe that you deserve what belongs to another. Your passions and preferences take priority over the needs and desires of others. But Paul boldly and unapologetically states that “everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). Those whose lives are marked by selfishness and self-indulgence were never really redeemed by God. They fail to display the divine nature that Jesus died to make possible. And their unrepentant behavior provides proof that they are unredeemed and still living as enemies of God. And this was not the first time Paul issued this warning against the unrighteous. He wrote the very same thing in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

And he repeated the same warning to the church in Galatia.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Paul is not threatening Christians with the loss of their salvation. He is simply emphasizing the expectation of spiritual transformation in the life of a believer. The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God will produce tangible evidence of a salvation in the form of increasing sanctification or Christ-likeness. The true believer will experience a supernatural transformation of life that shows up actions and attitudes. Their lives will model the character of Christ and, in doing so, will imitate their Heavenly Father.

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

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

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

 

Live Like Who You Are

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV

Paul has made perfectly clear his expectation of the Ephesian believers. They were to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV). He was demanding that they display the kind of maturity that accompanies faith in Christ. Through the efforts of faithful apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, they had been equipped to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11). And they were to busy about “building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV), so that  each of them might increase in maturity and no longer respond like gullible and easily manipulated children.

And this led Paul to call the Ephesians to put their pasts behind them. They were no longer to live according to their former standards or reflect their old way of life.

Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. – Ephesians 4:17 NLT

Here, Paul is referring to those who outside the family of God. His use of the term, “Gentiles” is meant to include all those who have failed to place their faith in Christ. Many within the congregation to which Paul was writing were actually Gentiles or non-Jews. But his point was that even those who were considered Gentiles before coming to faith in Christ, were now members of God’s family. They had been adopted as His sons and daughters and were His beloved children. And, as such, they were expected to live out their new identity as rightful heirs of the kingdom of God.

Paul was declaring that their new relationship with God should reflect a new allegiance that manifested itself in a new form of behavior. And the apostle Peter promoted this radical change in lifestyle as well.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:14-15 NLT

Notice the words that Paul uses to describe their former state as non-believers: Futile, darkened, alienated, ignorant, hardhearted, callous, sensual, greedy, and impure. Not exactly a flattering list of characteristics. But Paul isn’t emphasizing visible manifestations of outward behavior. He is stressing a way of life that begins in the heart and  flows out in tangible expressions of life change.

There is a link between verse 1 and verse 17 of chapter four. In both verses, Paul uses the Greek word peripateō, which can mean “to walk” or “to live one’s life.” In verse one, Paul urged the Ephesians to “walk (peripateō) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Then, in verse 17, he states, “you must no longer walk (peripateō) as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”

Essentially, Paul was telling the Ephesians that it was impossible to do both at the same time. You can’t simultaneously lead a life worthy of your calling and live hopelessly confused like the Gentiles do. It had to be one way or the other, and it was time for the Ephesians to make up their mind which way would characterize their lives. There was a real temptation for those Gentiles within the church in Ephesus to fall back into their old way of living. They were constantly surrounded by friends and family members outside the body of Christ whose behavior reflected their former lifestyle. And it was very tempting to look back on their pre-conversion life and view it through rose-colored glasses. But Paul wants them to see their past as what it was: Dark and far from hopeful. He reminds them that their lost neighbors are hopeless and helpless, trapped in an endless cycle of sin with no way of escape.

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. – Ephesians 4:18-19 NLT

But the Ephesians knew better. Their eyes had been opened to the truth and their hardened hearts had been softened by the regenerating work of the Spirit of God.

…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 NLT

They had been transformed from sinners into saints, from enemies of God into His beloved sons and daughters. And they were no longer trapped in darkness and blinded to reality of their own sin and their desperate need for a Savior.

…he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 NLT

So, in keeping with their new status as God’s children, Paul commands them to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception” (Ephesians 4:22 NLT). They were to treat their former way of life like an old filthy garment and discard it. But removal of their old nature was not enough. It needed to be replaced with something better.

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

And Paul expands on this spiritual wardrobe change in his letter to the church in Colossae.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:5-10 NLT

Out with the old, in with the new. That’s the gist of Paul is saying. The new lifestyle that God had made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son was to be far from business-as-usual. By redeeming the Ephesians believers, God had spared them from the judgment to come. Their sins had been forgiven and their eternal life had been secured for them by Christ. And the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God was meant to act as a guarantee that God’s future promises would be fulfilled just as He had said. That’s why Paul encourages the Ephesians to “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes” (Ephesians 4:23 NLT). Their ongoing transformation would be the work of the Spirit of God, not just the result of their own human effort.

When Paul speaks of putting off and putting on, he is not suggesting that the individual  believer has control over their own sanctification. He is not laying the heavy weight of spiritual maturity on the shoulders of the saints. But he is suggesting that they have a role to play. They must willingly submit to the Spirit’s leading as He lovingly guides their steps. That is why Paul used that Greek word, peripateō when addressing the believer’s relationship with the Spirit of God.

But I say, walk (peripateō) by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.   – Galatians 5:16 ESV

In other words, the believer is to live their life in accordance with the Spirit’s leading. And Paul goes on to explain how every Christian has a daily to choice to either live according to the desires of their old nature or in obedience to the Spirit of God.

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other – Galatians 5:17 NLT

By submitting to the Spirit, the believer experiences the ongoing renovation of their thoughts and attitudes. They see things differently. They think about things in a whole new way. Their perspective changes. Their outlook on life takes on a whole new light because they no longer live shrouded in a veil of darkness. They are new creations and they should act like. They have new natures and their lives should reflect that reality. They are sons and daughters of God and their lives should bring glory to their heavenly Father.

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

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

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

 

A Spiritual Wake-Up Call

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:9-16 ESV

In an attempt to encourage the Ephesian believers, Paul paraphrased a verse from one of King David’s psalms.

You ascended on high,
    leading a host of captives in your train
    and receiving gifts among men… – Psalm 68:18 ESV

As a former Pharisee and a student of the Hebrew scriptures, Paul knew that this passage was written by David as a praise song to God, thanking Him for His divine assistance against Israel’s many enemies. In verse 18 of David’s psalm, he describes gifts being given to God as an expression of gratitude and praise for His divine intervention in their military affairs. But Paul takes this Old Testament passage and repurposes it to drive home his point about God having given the gift of grace to all who believe in His Son (Ephesians 4:7).

“Paul made a valid application of Christological significance to the Old Testament passage. On the one hand, according to Psalm 68:18, God ascended Zion as a victorious king worthy of being the recipient of gifts of homage. On the other hand, according to Ephesians 4:8, Jesus also ascended to the heavenly Zion as the victorious Lord who lovingly bestowed on His church the gifts of ministry essential to her future well-being.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 148:591 (July-September 1991):335-36

In Paul’s application of this verse to the Ephesian context, he portrays Jesus as the one who, having accomplished a mighty victory over the enemy, ascended back into heaven. But rather than receiving gifts from men, Jesus poured out the gift of the Spirit on His church. This gracious outpouring of the Spirit resulted in the provision of divinely-enabled gifts to assist the church in its ministry. Paul mentions just a few of those gifts in verse 11 and explains their purpose.

…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV

In his other letters, Paul provided a series of lists that contain other gifts provided to the church. They include the speaking gifts such as apostleship, prophecy, teaching, evangelism, exhortation, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. But he also lists gifts of service that include leadership, helps, mercy, giving, faith, healing, and miracles. Paul fully believed that Jesus had provided His church with everything it needed to not only survive but thrive.

Paul was reminding his readers that Jesus, the Son of God, had descended from on high and taken on the role of a lowly servant. He had left His rightful place at His Father’s side and chosen to take on the form of a man. Paul eloquently described the “descent” of Jesus in his letter to the church in Philippi.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And as a result of His incarnation and crucifixion, God raised Jesus from the dead and “elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9 NLT). And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and equip His followers with the power to use their God-ordained gifts and display the fruits of a righteous life – all so that the body of Christ might be built up or edified. In his letter to Timothy, Paul described the church as the household of God and “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). Jesus poured out gifts on the church so that all of its members might be adequately taught and prepared to carry out His mission on earth.

And, according to Paul, the goal of this “work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV) is the spiritual maturity of every believer. It will continue unabated and uninterrupted until “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). This is a lofty and seemingly impossible goal. But Paul’s point is that it is the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. God sent His Son so that sinful humanity might be restored to a right relationship with Him. But Jesus sent the Spirit so that redeemed men and women might have the power they needed to experience the full potentiality of their new nature. Their spiritual transformation was to be ongoing and evidenced by an ever-increasing capacity to thrive in a hostile and often harmful earthly environment. 

In verse 14, Paul telegraphs where he is headed with this line of reasoning. He is preparing his readers to receive a stern but loving lecture regarding false teachers. And he does so by reminding them that their ongoing spiritual maturity is both non-optional and extremely vital. When the members of Christ’s body are growing effectively, they “will no longer be immature like children…tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching,” and they won’t be easily deceived by those who try to trick them “with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14 NLT).

This was all intended as a set-up for Paul’s main point. He is preparing the Ephesian believers to receive his not-so-flattering assessment of their current spiritual condition. In a sense, Paul is describing them as immature children who are being tossed about by every wind of new teaching. Rather than growing up in their salvation, they have remained like helpless and defenseless children who lack discretion and discipline.

According to Paul’s assessment, the Ephesian church was not where it needed to be spiritually. The leaders of the church were not effectively doing their job of equipping “God’s people to do his work” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And, as a result, God’s people were not edifying one another and strengthening the body of Christ. Paul calls them to course correct, demanding that they “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). They needed to express their love for one another by being honest in their assessment of one another. There is a sense in which love must be hard and unforgiving, pointing out the flaws and failings of one another so that the body of Christ might be healthy and whole. Paul is recommending the truth found in Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” He is echoing the sentiment expressed by King David in another one of his psalms.

Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.

Paul’s heartfelt desire was that the Ephesians would experience all the gifts that Christ had poured out on their behalf. He wanted them to experience the unity that Christ had died to make possible. He longed for them to display the spiritual maturity that the Spirit made available. And he prayed continually that their lives would reflect the character of Christ that God’s grace had made attainable. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no reason for the Ephesians to be living in doubt, fear, immaturity, disunity, or impurity. God had provided everything they needed. He had done His part. He had sent His Son and His Son had sent the Spirit. Now, it was up to them to live out what God had ordained for them.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 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.

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