Walk By the Light of Your Fire

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious;
    I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
    He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
    Let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord God helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
    the moth will eat them up.

10 Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
    and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on his God.
11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
    who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire,
    and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
    you shall lie down in torment. Isaiah 50:4-11 ESV

Judah’s sin against God will be answered by His well-justified judgment. He will punish them for their rebellion against Him and for their stubborn refusal to heed His calls to repent. One day, they will find themselves in captivity and blame God for their circumstances, accusing Him of abandonment. But God makes it clear that their captivity in Babylon will be because they left Him, not the other way around. In verse 1,  He tells them, “you were sold because of your sins.” He could have saved them from their fate, but when He called, “there no one to answer” (Isaiah 50:2 ESV). They had ignored His warnings and refused His pleas that they repent. 

Yet, God assures them that He has the power to deliver. He is the Creator-God, who spoke the universe into existence. There is nothing too difficult for Him. And, as if in response to God’s declaration of omnipotence and saving strength, verse 4 opens up with the voice of the servant of God, the Messiah.

Four times in eight verses, the servant refers to God as “the Sovereign Lord.” The Hebrew is ‘Adonay Yĕhovih and can be translated “Lord God.” In the Old Testament, the name, ‘Adonay is used only of God. It is a term of honor and respect, acknowledging Him as Lord or Sovereign over all. And the servant links it with the proper name for God, Jehovah. He is the Lord God, the Sovereign God who reigns and rules over all. And, as such, He deserves the obedience and worship of all.

The servant introduces himself as one who has the right to speak on behalf of God.

“The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught.” – Isaiah 50:4 ESV

He describes himself as a disciple who has listened to the words of the Sovereign Lord and learned well.

“Morning by morning he wakens me
    and opens my understanding to his will.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
    and I have listened.” – Isaiah 50:4-5 NLT

Unlike the rebellious people of Judah, the Messiah has paid attention to the words of God, listening carefully to what He has to say and faithfully obeying His commands. And he boldly, but not boastfully claims, “I have not rebelled or turned away” (Isaiah 50:5 NLT). As proof of his willing obedience, the Messiah prophetically relates His treatment at the hands of men at his crucifixion.

“I offered my back to those who beat me
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
    from mockery and spitting.” – Isaiah 50:6 NLT

The gospel accounts of Jesus’ trials reveal the truth behind these words.

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him… – Matthew 26:67 NLT

Then some of them began to spit at him, and they blindfolded him and beat him with their fists. “Prophesy to us,” they jeered. And the guards slapped him as they took him away. – Mark 14:65 NLT

The guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. – Luke 22:63 NLT

But, in spite of these harsh treatments at the hands of men, the Messiah will remain resolute in his determination to do the will of the Sovereign Lord.

“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
    determined to do his will.
    And I know that I will not be put to shame.” – Isaiah 50:7 NLT

Don’t miss what is going on here. The Messiah is describing his harsh and unjustified treatment at the hands of sinful men. But he does not blame God or accuse Him of abandonment. He trusts in the sovereign will of his Father, resting in the knowledge that God has a plan in place for his life. And the less-than-satisfactory circumstances surrounding his life were part of that plan. What a dramatically different perspective than that of the people of Judah. They were blind to God’s plans for their future. All they could see was the suffering and humiliation of the moment.

Yet, the Messiah knew that, in spite of all that would happen to him, the Sovereign Lord would vindicate and rescue him. He boldly and confidently declares, “ the Lord God helps me” (Isaiah 50:9 ESV). His accusers and abusers will all pass away like a moth-eaten garment, but he will stand secure and blameless.

In a sense, the servant is expressing the words that should have flowed from the mouths of the people of Judah.

“All my enemies will be destroyed
    like old clothes that have been eaten by moths!” – Isiah 50:9 NLT

God was going to vindicate and avenge them on day as well. And He would do it through His servant, the Messiah. But the people of Judah refused to take the Sovereign Lord at His word. So, the Messiah calls out to them, begging them to listen to what he has to say. He wants them to follow his example and place their trust in God

“If you are walking in darkness,
    without a ray of light,
trust in the Lord
    and rely on your God.” – Isaiah 50:10 NLT

As Isaiah has made clear already, the day was coming when the spiritual darkness surrounding the people of Judah would be illuminated by a great light.

The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
    a light will shine. – Isaiah 9:2 NLT

And, in his gospel, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophesy, when he quoted from it at the moment Jesus entered into the regions of Zebulun and Napthali in Galilee.

…so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:14-16 ESV

Jesus, the servant of God, would claim to be that light  – “the light of the world (John 8:12). And the apostle John described Jesus as not only the light, but the source of life.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5 ESV

And John would go on to declare that the light would shine in the darkness, but the people would reject the light, preferring instead to remain in spiritual darkness.

“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21 ESV

The light came into the world, and he did so that he might expose the deadly nature of man’s sin and offer himself as the true source of life. But, for the most part,  the world would reject his offer. Instead, they would rely on their own dim lights, attempting to remove the darkness that surrounded them through self-effort and acts of self-righteousness. And the Messiah warns them of the futility of it all.

“But watch out, you who live in your own light
    and warm yourselves by your own fires.
This is the reward you will receive from me:
    You will soon fall down in great torment.” – Isaiah 50:11 NLT

Their lights would prove insufficient. Their acts of righteousness would fail to meet God’s exacting standards. Failure to accept God’s light would leave them in perpetual, everlasting darkness. But for all those who see God’s light and embrace it, the future would be markedly different, just as Jesus, the servant had promised.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

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

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

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

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The Suffering Servant and Victorious Savior

1 Listen to me, O coastlands,
    and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”[
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
    and my recompense with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
    he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
    and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
    the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:1-7 ESV

These opening verses of chapter 49 continue the theme of God’s redemption of Israel. The day was coming when He would use His servant, Cyrus, to release the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon and allow them to return to the land of Canaan. At that time, a remnant of God’s people would experience their physical restoration to the land, the pleasure of occupying the rebuilt city of Jerusalem, and the joy of taking part in the revitalized sacrificial system in the restored temple. But this chapter reveals an even greater restoration that has yet to take place. And it will be the result of the efforts on another one of God’s servants.

The opening verses are spoken from the lips this as-yet-to-revealed individual, and he proclaims himself to the hand-picked servant of God.

“The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.” – Isaiah 49:1 ESV

This should recall the encounter between Joseph and the angel Gabriel, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:23 ESV

Gabriel had also met with Mary, long before she was pregnant, and informed of what was about to take place.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:30-33 ESV

And earlier in this book, Isaiah recorded details concerning the birth of this servant.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 ESV

And, in an interesting bit of self-disclosure, the servant refers to himself as Israel, claiming that God had referred to him in that way.

And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” – Isaiah 49:3 ESV

Why would God call this servant, Israel. If, as the two gospels indicate, this servant is Jesus and His name was to be Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, why does God now refer to Him as Israel? It would seem that God saw Jesus as the embodiment of all that Israel should have been. Like Israel, Jesus would be, in a sense, the offspring of God. His earthly birth would make Him a Son of the Most High. But, unlike Israel, Jesus would prove to be perfectly obedient to His Father. Paul refers to His obedience when he writes, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). Jesus did what Israel had failed to do. Remain faithful to God and obedient to all His commands.

Jesus would bring glory to God through His earthly life and ministry. He would do the will of God, proclaiming the gospel message and manifesting the power of God through His miracles and messages. But from all appearances, the ministry of Jesus would appear unfruitful and highly unsuccessful.

“But my work seems so useless!
    I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand;
    I will trust God for my reward.” – Isaiah 49:4 NLT

And John confirms the seeming failure of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:10-11 ESV

But Jesus was God’s servant and, as such, He had a job to do. Just a few verses earlier, Isaiah recorded the agenda given by God to Jesus.

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
    a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.” – Isaiah 42:1-5 ESV

This portion of Jesus’ ministry agenda has an as-yet-fulfilled aspect to it. He has not yet established His righteous rule on earth or ushered in perfect, undiluted justice. But the day is coming when He will.

And the servant reveals that His job description has been given to Him by God Himself, the very one who formed Him in Mary’s womb. Jesus took on human flesh for one reason only, to become the substitutionary atonement for the sins of mankind. He had to become a man in order that He might die on behalf of men. You might say that Jesus was born to die. But His death had a purpose: “to bring Jacob back to him [the Lord]; and that Israel might be gathered to him [the Lord]” (Isaiah 49:5 ESV). Paul reminds us that, “Christ died for us so that … we can live with him forever”(1 Thessalonians 5:10 NLT). But the redemption of lost Gentiles was only part of plan. Jesus also died so that His own people, the people of Israel, might be one day restored to a right relationship with their God. The servant makes it clear that His God-ordained purpose was to bring Jacob or Israel back to God. And in his letter to the Romans, Paul makes it clear that God will one day restore His chosen people to a right relationship to Him.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:11:25-27 NLT

And all of this will be accomplished through the efforts of Jesus Christ on Israel’s behalf. He will “raise up the tribes of Jacob” and and “bring back the preserved of Israel” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV). And, not only that, Jesus will be “a light for the nations,” so that God’s plan of salvation “may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV).

But before any of this happens, Jesus would become “one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers” (Isaiah 49:7 ESV). He would be humiliated and rejected long before He experienced His glorification and restoration to His Father’s side. But the day is coming when Jesus returns and God paints a very different picture of that occasion.

“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” – Isaiah 49:7 ESV

The servant will one day receive the same worship Isaiah describes as being given to God, because He is the Son of God, the Messiah and Savior of the world. He is the suffering servant who will become the conquering King.

“Let all the world look to me for salvation!
    For I am God; there is no other.
I have sworn by my own name;
    I have spoken the truth,
    and I will never go back on my word:
Every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to me.”
The people will declare,
    “The Lord is the source of all my righteousness and strength.”
And all who were angry with him
    will come to him and be ashamed.
In the Lord all the generations of Israel will be justified,
    and in him they will boast. – Isaiah 45:22-25 NLT

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

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

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

Behold My Servant

1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged[
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you[b] in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
    I tell you of them.” –
Isaiah 42:1-9 NLT

God now attempts to turn the attention of the nations from their false gods to His servant. Unlike idols made by human hands, this individual brings delight to God. And while God also refers to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as His servant, there is a marked difference between this pagan king and the one in whom God delights.

Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. – Jeremiah 27:6 NLT

First of all, this servant would have the Spirit of God upon him. He would operate under the power and influence of the Spirit. And, while Nebuchadnezzar would be used by God to bring judgment upon Judah, the servant will bring justice the nations.

There is a sense in which this description of the Servant/Savior points to Jesus at His first coming, but also alludes to aspects of His ministry that will be tied to His second coming. When Jesus came to the earth in human form, He did not do so with a lot of fanfare. He came quietly and rather obscurely. Most people alive at the time had no idea He had even been born. Mary and Joseph had been told of His coming and informed of His unique status as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. The angel Gabriel made this perfectly clear to Mary.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-32 NLT

Yet, apart from the wise men who saw the star signifying His birth, there were not many who made their way to Bethlehem to celebrate His birth. The shepherds were privileged to be among the few who saw the baby Jesus, but only because they were informed by the angels. For the most part, the birth of the Servant/Savior was a quiet affair.

And once Jesus began His earthly ministry, He turned His attention to the downtrodden and outcasts of the society. He met with prostitutes and tax collectors. He touched and healed the unclean, including lepers. He made it a habit of ministering to all those in society who were weary from life and spiritually worn out from carrying the heavy burdens that come with slavery to sin (Matthew 11:28).

He will not crush the weakest reed
    or put out a flickering candle.
– Isaiah 42:3 NLT

Instead, “He will bring justice to all who have been wronged” (Isaiah 42:3 NLT). And that is exactly what Christ did. He offered justice in the form of His sacrificial death on the cross. He provided a means by which the just and righteous wrath of God against the sins of man could be delivered without anyone having to die, but Himself. He became the substitutionary atonement for sinful man. And He did it for those who did not deserve it and had not earned it. We were little more than flimsy reeds and flickering candles, without any real worth or value, and totally incapable of saving ourselves.

God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. – 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NLT

And during His earthly ministry, Jesus refused to give in or give up. He faced mounting opposition and repeated rejection by His own people.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 1He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

But Jesus was determined. He was out to finish the assignment given to Him by God the Father. Isaiah describes Him as not losing heart.

He will not falter or lose heart
    until justice prevails throughout the earth.
    Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction
. – Isaiah 42:4 NLT

Jesus declared that His whole purpose for coming in the first place had been “to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38 NLT). And as the tension between He and the Jewish religious leaders increased and the time for His death drew closer, He became all the more determined to complete His God-given task.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51 ESV

Luke utilizes a line found in the fiftieth chapter of the book of Isaiah, reflecting the early church’s belief that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy

Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame. – Isaiah 50:7 NLT

But when Isaiah refers to a time when justice will prevail throughout the earth, he is clearly indicating a future period of time. Jesus’ birth, death and, resurrection have made it possible for sinful man to be made right with a holy God, but we do not yet live in an all-prevailing atmosphere of justice on this earth. Sin is still rampant. Injustice is alive and well. Impurity surrounds and even, at times, infects us. But there is a day coming when Jesus will return and He will make all things right. He will restore justice to the earth. He will rule in righteousness.

And God makes it clear that He was sending His servant, the Messiah, to do for the people of Israel what they had not been able to do for themselves. He would redeem and restore them.

“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
    You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.”
– Isaiah 42:6-7 NLT

Jesus even referred to this passage when He spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.
” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Jesus did all of these things in His first coming. He did deliver good news to the spiritual impoverished. He did proclaim a way for the spiritually imprisoned to be released. He did restore sight to the spiritually blind. And for all those who placed their faith in Him, they were set free from the oppression caused by their death sentence.

But Jesus is far from done. He came, but He left. He rose from the dead and returned to His Father’s side, where, we are told, He intercedes on our behalf. But there is a day coming when He will return. And the full weight of this chapter will be felt as every aspect of its message is fulfilled in Christ.

And now, God returns to His original message, reminding the people of Judah that He is the one and only God. He alone knows the future and He has just told them what it will contain. But, more than just predicting the future, God assures them that He is one who will bring it about.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not give my glory to anyone else,
    nor share my praise with carved idols.
Everything I prophesied has come true,
    and now I will prophesy again.
I will tell you the future before it happens.”
– Isaiah 42:9 NLT

The Servant did come. The Messiah came to earth and proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. But He returned to His Father’s side, where He is waiting for a word from His Father to one day return for His bride, the Church, and then to make His second grand entrance into the world as the King of kings and Lord of lords. God has said it and He will accomplish it.

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

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

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

Godly Leadership.

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. Acts 20:28-38 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

Paul had stopped in Miletus on his way to Jerusalem and, while there, he had invited the elders for the congregation in Ephesus to come visit him, so that he could impart some words of encouragement to them. Paul was well aware that he might never get to see these men again, and wanted to challenge them to take seriously their role as the spiritual shepherds of the flock over which God had placed them. Paul used his own life as an example of selfless service, declaring “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 ESV). He was confident and content with his efforts on their behalf, having served “the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials” (Acts 20:19 ESV). Now, he was passing the baton on to them, and challenging them to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV). Notice that he began with a warning for these men to pay careful attention to themselves. Their personal lives were to be closely monitored and the state of their own spiritual health was to be constantly assessed. In one of his letters to his young protegé, Timothy, Paul described the qualifications for an elder.

So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

These men had a grave responsibility, and they would one day answer to God for the manner in which they cared for His sheep. They needed to see themselves as overseers, or guardians over those under their care. The Greek word Luke used is episkopos, and carries the idea of someone who cares for and watches over the well-being of others. But Paul knew that it would be difficult for them to properly provide for and protect those under their care if they themselves were not adequately fit for duty. Spiritually deficient leaders will always result in spiritually anemic followers. Men who were unfaithful to their own wives, lacking in self-control, unable to manage their own households, quick-tempered, quarrelsome, greedy, and unable to teach the Word of God, would make lousy shepherds and do more harm than good to the flock of God. And Paul made it clear why they had to be spiritually prepared and properly equipped for their roles as shepherds.

29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! – Acts 20:29-31 NLT

The dangers were real. Paul would have fully concurred with the statement made by Peter: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NLT). For Paul, the thought of false teachers slyly infiltrating the ranks of God’s people and leading them astray with clever-sounding words, was more than he could stand. The subtle, yet sinister reality of false doctrine was going to be a constant threat to the spiritual well-being of the church. It remains so today. Half-truths and watered-down doctrine are always more dangerous than outright lies. Frontal assaults, while always a possibility in spiritual warfare, are rare. The enemy tends to inflict his damage in more subtle and deceptive ways. But elders must understand that distortion of the truth can be just as dangerous and deadly as the denial of it. But to be able to recognize the lies of the enemy, God’s leaders must know the truth of His Word. That is why Paul told Timothy:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT

Those who remain ignorant of God’s Word will be unable to live or lead well. They will find themselves living like “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14 NIV). Leaders can be appointed, but their ability to lead is God-given and a byproduct of their time in the Word and the degree of their dependence upon God. Which is why Paul stated, “I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself” (Acts 20:32 NLT). Their capacity to lead was going to be directly tied to their reliance upon God. They would need to daily lean on the grace of God and recognize that He alone could provide them with the strength and wisdom required for their role as shepherds of His flock.

Paul closes out his discourse with these men by using himself as an example. He was not speaking pridefully, but was confident that his own life could be used as a model for godly leadership.Paul had never been in it for the glory. He didn’t serve for any kind of recognition or financial remuneration. He plainly states:

33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. – Acts 20:33-35 NLT

And Paul’s life fully reflected the teaching of Peter concerning godly leadership.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

Godly leadership is not about power, position, or prominence. It has little to do with matters of superiority or control. Being a leader in the context of the church of God is all about service, not authority and power. In fact, Jesus provided His disciples with some fairly stunning words about this very matter. He spoke them immediately after James and John had made their rather arrogant and self-centered request to be given positions of power when Jesus established His Kingdom. Jesus simply said:

25 “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 NLT

And Paul added his own little twist, reminding the elders in his audience of some other words spoken by Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 NLT). Paul was expecting these men to lead like Jesus. He wanted them to lead by putting themselves last and others first. They were to lead by selflessly sacrificing their lives for the sake of the flock. All of this recalls the words of Jesus, spoken to the apostle Peter in the days immediately after His resurrection. Three times Jesus questioned Peter’s love for Him. And three times Peter assured Jesus of his love. And each of those times, Jesus responded with three simple, yet profound statements.

“Then feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 NLT

“Then take care of my sheep.” – John 21:16 NLT

“Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 NLT

The greatest way a leader can prove his love for Jesus is to love those for whom Jesus died and for whom the leader has been called to serve.

When Paul had finished his meeting with the elders, they prayed together, then parted ways. There were many tears and much sorrow because, of all the things Paul had said to them, the one thing that had stood out the most was his announcement that he might never see them again. It is obvious that they loved Paul dearly. They clearly saw him as a loving and godly leader. He had been for them what he was asking them to be for those under their care: A selfless, sacrificial shepherd who had always been willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Now, they were to return to Ephesus and do the same.

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

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

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

 

Submission Is Not A Dirty Word.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. – Ephesians 5:22-24 ESV

Submit is not a four-letter word. But in our culture and context, it has become a dirty word, conjuring images of slave-like subjugation and subservience. These two verses strike fear into the hearts of many pastors and insight anger among women. This passage is viewed as old-fashioned, a throw-back to some cultural context that has no bearing on our more sophisticated modern milieu. Many conclude that Paul was writing to a people trapped in an antiquated social structure that doesn’t apply to us as modern Christians. Either that, or he was just misogynist, trying to keep women in their “proper” place.

But what most of us fail to realize is that submission is a non-negotiable requirement of every believer in Christ. These two verses, like so many others in Scripture, are typically lifted from their context and treated in isolation. But Paul has been talking about how believers were to live their lives – how they were to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV). They were to live differently than those who were unsaved. Their behavior was to set them apart as children of God. They were to walk in love, as children of light, exhibiting the wisdom of God, not the foolishness of the world.

The verses that often get overlooked when dealing with this passage are located right before it. In them, Paul gives an admonition to every single believer – male and female.

…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-21 ESV

Submission is expected of each and every follower of Christ. A lifestyle of submission is one of humility and honor, not subservience and servitude. When done properly it reveres Christ, because it models the very lifestyle that He lived. Jesus Himself described His mission in terms of submission and a servant-like attitude. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT). The apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 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. – Philippians 2:5-7 NLT

This had nothing to do with Jesus’ rights. He was the Son of God. He was divine and powerful. He had created the world and all those who lived in it. Yet, He was willing to submit to His Father’s will and set aside His divine privileges and prerogatives in order to serve mankind by giving His life. In the upper room, on the night that Jesus was to be betrayed and arrested, He washed the feet of His disciples. He set aside His robe, wrapped himself in a towel and did what none of the others would have dared to do. Jesus told His disciples, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7 ESV). When He had finished, Jesus said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17 ESV).

Jesus’ act of submission was meant to be a living lesson to the disciples about what their lives were to be like in the days to come. They were to serve one another. They were to submit to one another. Titles were not to stand in the way. Rights were to be set aside. Status was to be ignored. Submission was to be a key characteristic of their lives. And what the disciples did not yet understand was the foot washing by Jesus was simply a symbol of His ultimate act of service that would take place on the cross just a short time later.

When James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples came to Him and arrogantly asked if they could have positions of prominence in His coming Kingdom, the rest of the disciples became angry and jealous. Jesus responded, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45 ESV). Among you it will be different. In His Kingdom, sovereignty was marked by slavery. Honor was achieved through humility.

So what does all this have to do with wives? In this chapter, Paul is going to use a number of earthly relationships to illustrate Christian submission. He will talk about husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters. As believers, we do not operate in a vacuum. We are not independent agents, acting on our own and focused solely on our individual walk with God. We live in the context of community. Wives have husbands. It is in that context that they are to practices submission. Notice that Paul says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” He does NOT say that all women are to submit to ALL men. This has nothing to do with the value or significance of women in general. It has everything to do with the context of marriage. What more difficult place to practice submission than in a marriage. Just as the disciples would never have lowered themselves to wash the feet of one another, wives will find it difficult to submit to their husbands. Especially if their husbands fail to love as Paul commands. Yet submission is not optional. It is a willing coming under the other, making them more important than yourself. It is NOT an admission of their superiority, but a recognition of God’s divine order. He has made the husband the head of the household, not because He is smarter, more spiritual or even better equipped to lead, but in order that there might be order in the home. He holds the husband responsible. Just as He held Adam to a higher standard than He did Eve when it came to their mutual sin against Him.

Submission is essential to every relationship in which we find ourselves as Christians. And submission is one of the hardest things for us to do. We long to be first. We see ourselves as somehow better than others. We long to be in control. But when we submit to others, we are really submitting to God. We are coming under His divine authority and recognizing His righteous order for His creation. At the end of the day, submission is about trusting God. It involves a realization that He is in control and that He has authority over the husband. A believing wife must submit to her husband “as to the Lord.” She is trusting God to lead him and protect her. But the temptation will be to step in and take over, stepping out from under God’s ordained plan. Submission will not always make sense. It will not always appear to work. It may even be uncomfortable at times. But even Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death, offering Himself as a ransom for many. Submission is not a dirty word. It is a way of life for the believer.

2 Corinthians 2:14-17

Captive and Captivating.

2 Corinthians 2:14-17

But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. – 2 Corinthians 2:14 NLT

In spite of Paul’s strained relationship with the believers in Corinth because of his loving honesty with them, he still finds it possible to break into a burst of praise. Things might not have been going quite like Paul had expected or desired, but he never failed to see God’s hand in it all. A big reason for his perspective was how he viewed himself in relationship with God. He saw himself as God’s captive. He even described himself as walking in a victory procession behind God Himself. What Paul is describing was an all-too familiar scene for many of those in his audience. They had either seen one of these victory parades or perhaps even marched in one. It was a common practice during wars for the winning side to take their opponents captive and then bring them home as slaves, where they were paraded before the people as the conquering general rode triumphantly at the head of the procession. That is the imagery that Paul uses here. He saw himself as a slave of God, He had been conquered by God and taken captive by Jesus Christ. He was now a slave of Christ and even referred to himself as such in his letter to the believers in Rome. “This letter is from Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News” (Romans 1:1 NLT). Rather than walking around in dejection and dismay at having been “captured” by Christ, Paul is ecstatic. He is thrilled to belong to Christ and to have God rule over His life. It was as if God, the conquering ruler, was watching his Son, the victorious general, parading His captives before Him. Christ’s victory over sin and death in the lives of men brought glory to God and, ultimately, freedom for those whom He had conquered. Now Paul was spreading the good news of Jesus Christ around the world. And he viewed his efforts as a “Christ-like fragrance rising up to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15 NLT). But Paul knew that his efforts on behalf of Christ elicited two vastly different responses from those he encountered. To some, it was “a dreadful smell of death and doom” (2 Corinthians 2:16 NLT). His words and the message of Jesus Christ that he shared were an annoyance to many. They failed to comprehend the truth of his words and the freedom to be found in a relationship with Christ. But to those who had heard Paul’s message of good news and responded, it was a “live-giving perfume” – like a pungent, medicinal herb used to treat a potentially deadly wound or illness. The gospel is attractive to some and repugnant to others.

And Paul knew that there were those in the Corinthian church who despised him. They found him repulsive and repugnant. They didn’t like him or his message. But Paul assured them that he was not in it for profit. He was not in it for popularity. “We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” (2 Corinthians 2:17 NLT). Paul was obligated to speak the truth in love. He was a captive of God and a slave of Jesus Christ. He could do nothing else but obey the will of his Lord and Master. But he did so willingly and gladly. He did so, even in the face of opposition. He did so, in spite of physical violence. He did so, regardless off what men may say about him or do to him. Paul knew that his life was a testimony of God’s power and grace. As he walked in step behind Christ in His victory parade, he was a living example of the power of the cross to defeat sin and save sinners. Paul wrote about this very thing to his young disciple, Timothy. “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:15-17 NLT).

Paul knew his place. He understand his past. But he relished his position as a slave of Jesus Christ. He would gladly serve His Lord and Master, obediently and willingly. “But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23 NLT).

Father, I am in that same processional, walking along side Paul and all the others Your Son has taken captive as a result of His victory over sin and death. We no longer belong to this world. We are no longer Your enemies, but we are Your friends, sons, daughters, and willing servants. Our lives are a testimony of Your grace and Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. My life belongs to You. I am here to serve You and to work for Your Kingdom. My life no longer belongs to me, but to You. Your Son purchased me with His own life. Give me the perspective that Paul had. Help me to see myself as Your willing, humble servant, every day of my life. Amen.

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

2 Chronicles 12

You’ve Got To Serve Somebody

“But they will become his subjects, so that they can learn how much better it is to serve me than to serve earthly rulers.” ­– 2 Chronicles 12:8 NLT

The first verse of this chapter could be the description of the lives of many of us as God’s children. “But when Rehoboam was firmly established and strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel followed him in this sin.” Just when things began to stabilize in his kingdom after the nasty split with the northern tribes, Rehoboam finds himself getting fat and happy. Things had settles down. His kingdom began to stabilize and his confidence began to grow. He had lost a big part of his kingdom, but he still had the tribe of Judah and the city of Jerusalem with the temple of the Lord. So just as things were looking up, Rehoboam stopped looking up – at the Lord. He took His eyes off the very one who gave his life stability. It says he abandoned the law of the Lord. In other words, he decided to abandon God and His ways. The Hebrew word used for “abandoned” is azab and it means “to leave, abandon, forsake.” It is the picture of a servant walking out on his master, abandoning his responsibilities, and deserting his post. Rehoboam had decided he did not want to serve God anymore. He wanted to serve himself. Isn’t that what sin is all about? Self-serving. It is making everything about us. We become the focus of our world. We make ourselves the gods of our own lives. Our wills become more important than God’s. But Rehoboam was going to find out the hard way that every man ends up serving somebody or something – and it is NEVER ourselves. For Rehoboam it would be King Shishak of Egypt. When he came against Jerusalem with his 1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen, capturing with ease all the cities that Rehoboam had spent money and time fortifying, it got the peoples’ attention. And they humbled themselves before the Lord. But God knew they had a lot to learn, so He was going to allow them to become slaves to King Shishak, all so that they could “learn the difference between serving me and serving human kings” (2 Chronicles 12:8 NLT).

Ultimately, God wants His people to serve Him. We exist for Him, not Him for us. We have been created by Him and for Him. Yet we so often buy into the lie that God exists for our benefit and to bring us glory. And when He doesn’t serve us in the way we would like, we turn our backs on Him and decide to serve ourselves. We resort to “self-help” or better yet “self-service.” We become the focus of our world. We become the star of our play. We become central and God becomes secondary. But Rehoboam was going to learn that when all is said and done, we all have to serve somebody. We are going to serve God or we are going to serve somebody or something else. We never really do get to serve ourselves. It reminds me of a song written by Bob Dylan during the period of his life when he supposedly “got saved.” The lyrics are simple, yet profound.

Gotta Serve Somebody

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You’re gonna have to serve somebody. The reality of life in this world is that even the things you think are there to serve you end up becoming your master. Your money ends up controlling you. Your possessions end up possessing you. We become slaves of the very things we thought would serve us. We end up not being able to live without them. It’s all like taking a drug for pleasure only to have it become an addiction, controlling your life and destroying your future. We all have to serve somebody. Who are you going to serve? That was the question Joshua asked the people of Israel right before he died. And it’s still the question that each of us needs to consider each day of our lives. “But if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15 NLT).

Father, I have believed the lie so many times that I can be the center of my world. I convince myself so often that everything and everyone is here to serve me. But You have called me to serve You. You have called me to be a servant of others. Never let me lose sight of my role as Your servant. I exist for you and not vice versa. I don’t want to spend my life serving anything or anyone else but You. Amen

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