Repentance or Regret

For this I will lament and wail;
    I will go stripped and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
    and mourning like the ostriches.
For her wound is incurable,
    and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
    to Jerusalem.

10 Tell it not in Gath;
    weep not at all;
in Beth-le-aphrah
    roll yourselves in the dust.
11 Pass on your way,
    inhabitants of Shaphir,
    in nakedness and shame;
the inhabitants of Zaanan
    do not come out;
the lamentation of Beth-ezel
    shall take away from you its standing place.
12 For the inhabitants of Maroth
    wait anxiously for good,
because disaster has come down from the Lord
    to the gate of Jerusalem.
13 Harness the steeds to the chariots,
    inhabitants of Lachish;
it was the beginning of sin
    to the daughter of Zion,
for in you were found
    the transgressions of Israel.
14 Therefore you shall give parting gifts
    to Moresheth-gath;
the houses of Achzib shall be a deceitful thing
    to the kings of Israel.
15 I will again bring a conqueror to you,
    inhabitants of Mareshah;
the glory of Israel
    shall come to Adullam.
16 Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,
    for the children of your delight;
make yourselves as bald as the eagle,
    for they shall go from you into exile. Micah 1:8-16 ESV

After describing the coming judgment of God against the kingdom of Israel and its capital city of Samaria, Micah’s reaction is one of deep sorrow. He doesn’t rejoice over the pending fall of Judah’s northern neighbor, even though they had sided with the Syrians and attacked the city of Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:5). Micah mourned over the fate of the northern kingdom because it was comprised of ten of the tribes of the sons of Jacob. Their fall would leave only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remaining in the land of promise. And Micah knew that the same fate awaited the southern kingdom because they had been just as unfaithful.

The book of 2 Kings recounts the rise of Ahaz to the throne of Judah, describing his reign in less-than-flattering terms.

He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. – 2 Kings 16:2-3 NLT

So, Micah declares his intent to mourn over the fall of Israel because he knows it is only a matter of time before Judah finds itself suffering under the righteous wrath of God Almighty. He compares Israel’s spiritual and moral condition to a deadly disease, totally incurable and highly infectious.

her wound is incurable,
    and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
    to Jerusalem. – Micah 1:9 ESV

Sin, like cancer, never remains localized but has a way of metastasizing and spreading, and Micah knew that Judah had already been negatively influenced by its neighbor to the north. But Micah also knew that the cure is sometimes worse than the disease. Judah’s sin was going to bring the judgment of God and His punishment was going to be severe, leaving the nation in a state of physical, emotional, and mental devastation. The prophet Isaiah could not imagine why the people of Judah would refuse to repent, choosing instead to suffer the ongoing and merciless anger of God.

Why do you continue to invite punishment?
    Must you rebel forever?
Your head is injured,
    and your heart is sick.
You are battered from head to foot—
    covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds—
    without any soothing ointments or bandages. – Isaiah 1:5-6 NLT

In an attempt to personalize the coming judgment of God, Micah uses his hometown of Moresheth-gath as the epicenter of all that is going to happen. He mentions the names of various cities in Judah that encircle his hometown, including Gath, Beth-le-aphrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth-ezel, Maroth, and Lachish. Each of these towns seem to have been chosen for their location as well as the meaning of their names. Micah is using a not-so-subtle play on words to drive home the extreme nature of God’s coming judgment.

Gath means “winepress” and the residents of this city were going to experience “the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15 ESV). Beth-le-aphrah means “house of Aphrah” but Aphrah can be translated as “dust.” So, Micah states that the citizens of “the house of dust” will soon find themselves rolling in the dust as a form of mourning. Shaphir means “fair” or “beautiful” but it would soon be marked by “nakedness and shame” (Micah 1:11). The name Zaanan is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for “come out” and Micah informs these people that they will not be able to escape the coming judgment of God. Zanaan actually means “place of flocks” and sadly, Micah lets them know that they will be trapped like sheep in the fold when God pours out His wrath.

Beth-ezel means “house of firm root.” Yet Micah delivers the bad news that their “house has no support” (Micah 1:11 NLT) and God will level it in His anger. The name of the city of Maroth is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for “bitterness.” Like a thirsty person seeking for refreshing water, they will “anxiously wait for relief, but only bitterness awaits them” (Micah 1:12 NLT). The name of the city of Lachish, which means “invincible,” sounds very similar to the Hebrew word rekesh, which means “steeds.” Micah warns this “invincible” town to “Harness your chariot horses and flee” (Micah 1:13 NLT). He accuses them of being “the first city in Judah to follow Israel in her rebellion” and of leading Jerusalem into sin (Micah 1:13 NLT).

Achzib, which means “deceit,” would end up deceiving the kings of Israel by failing to resist the coming invaders. Every single town would fall at the hands of the Babylonians. Even Micah’s hometown of Moresheth-gath, which means “possession of Gath” would become the possession of the Babylonians.

Marashesh (“crest of a hill”) will not be high enough to escape the coming judgment of God. Adullam (“justice of the people”) will experience the justice of God as He forces “the glory of Israel” (its kings and leaders) to run there in a vain attempt to escape His wrath.

Over and over again, Micah uses these plays or words to drive home the message of God’s pending judgment and the devastating impact it is going to have on the entire nation of Judah. It will be unavoidable and its consequences, inescapable. From the streets of the smallest village to the gates of Jerusalem, the story will be the same: The people of Judah will find themselves mourning just like Micah.

Oh, people of Judah, shave your heads in sorrow,
    for the children you love will be snatched away.
Make yourselves as bald as a vulture,
    for your little ones will be exiled to distant lands. – Micah 1:16 NLT

They had made their bed, now they were going to have to sleep in it. But God still longed for His rebellious people to return to Him in repentance. He greatly desired to bless them and restore them to their place of honor as His chosen people. But the prophet Isaiah declared God’s requirements for judgment to be avoided.

“Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!” – Isaiah 1:13-14 NLT

God wasn’t interested in watching them through the motions, perfunctorily performing their religious rituals like mindless robots. He wanted true heart change and legitimate repentance.

“Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

The choice was up to them. They could obey and experience God’s blessings, or they could continue to rebel and endure His wrath. He was ready to forgive and cleanse them. But it was going to require obedience and submission to His will for them.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
    I will make them as white as wool.
If you will only obey me,
    you will have plenty to eat.
But if you turn away and refuse to listen,
    you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 1:18-20 NLT

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

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

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

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More and More Part 2

9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV

It’s interesting to note how, in this passage, Paul contrasts love and lust. In verses 1-8, he points out the need for the Thessalonian believers to “abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). They were to refrain from practicing sexual sin or, as the word means in Greek, “to hold one’s self off.” As believers, they had been given a new capacity to refrain from their old desires, driven by their sinful natures. Upon placing their faith in Christ, they had received the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And, as a result, they were able to say no to lustful desires.

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. – Galatians 5:17 NLT

The sinful nature lusts or desires the wrong things. And Paul pointed out to the Galatian believers that those who allowed their lives to be driven by the desires of their old nature, rather than the Spirit, would produce ungodly fruit in their lives. And the first three he mentions are tied to sexual sin.

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. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

And Paul has warned the Thessalonian church: “each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 ESV). John Piper defines lust as “a sexual desire that dishonors its object and disregards God” (John Piper, Battling the Unbelief of Lust, http://www.desiringgod.org). And he expands on that definition by adding:

“Sexual desire in itself is good. God made it in the beginning. It has its proper place. But it was made to be governed or regulated or guided by two concerns: honor toward the other person and holiness toward God. Lust is what that sexual desire becomes when that honor and that holiness are missing from it.” – John Piper, Battling the Unbelief of Lust, http://www.desiringgod.org

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand that they had a new obligation to live their lives in such a way that everything they did brought glory and honor to God. With the Spirit’s help, they were to learn to control their bodies, not allowing their natural, God-given desires to become perverted or distorted by sin. Sexual desire is not a sin, but it is actually a gift from God. But like everything else in life since the fall, this godly gift can be stained by the presence of sin. Rather than being an expression of self-sacrificing love for another, it turns in on itself, demanding that someone satisfy our selfish desires for sexual pleasure. God gets left out of the picture. And love gets replaced by lust. That is why Paul points out that their lives were to be marked by holiness, not impurity.

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 ESV

And this was not a message Paul reserved for the Thessalonians. He shared the same warning to the believers in Rome.

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:12-13 NLT

Lust versus love. One dishonors the other person by using them for purely selfish reasons. And, in the end, this disobeys and dishonors God. But when we truly love as God has called us to love, sacrificially and selflessly, the other person is treated with value, dignity, and honor. And God receives glory.

A Christian marriage is to be a proving ground of the Spirit’s life-transforming power, where the selfless, sacrificial love of Christ is modeled in everyday life. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). Then he provided them with specific application of what that mutual submission would look life in the marriage context.

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. – Ephesians 5:22-26 NLT

While we find it easy to get hung up on Paul’s call for the wives to submit, it is essential to understand that he is calling both the husband and the wife to practice selfless submission – out of reverence to Christ. And earlier in the same chapter, Paul provided a call for the Ephesians to imitate God and to follow the example of Christ.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT

And then he added a what-not-to-do element to his instructions.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. – Ephesians 5:3 NLT

Love, not lust. That is the call placed on the believer by God Himself, and the kind of love God had in mind was modeled by Christ. And this selfless love was not just reserved for marriage. It was to be displayed in all their relationships. God has called His children to love others in the same way He has shown love to them.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

And He expects them to follow the example of Christ.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. – 1 John 3:16 NLT

And Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they don’t require any more instructions regarding the kind of love God has in mind “for God himself has taught you to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9 NLT). And the apostle John lets us know just how God had taught them.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. – 1 John 4:9-11 NLT

Paul compliments the Thessalonian church for having displayed the very kind of love he was writing about. They had already given evidence of their selflessness and willingness to sacrifice on behalf of others. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul bragged on the tangible expressions of love displayed by the Macedonian churches, including the fellowship in Thessalonica.

Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.

For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. – 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 NLT

But Paul didn’t want them to rest on their laurels. In fact, he begged them “to do this more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:10 ESV). They were to keep loving. They were to stop lusting. And then Paul adds three characteristics or marks of a life lived in love.

  1. Their lives would exhibit peace and calm, rather than strife and turmoil. Paul told the Romans, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NLT). Peaceful lives create an atmosphere in which others feel safe and secure. And that is an expression of love.
  2. They were to tend to their own affairs, refusing to meddle in the concerns of others. This is not a call to disregard the needs or life circumstances of others, but it is simply an extension of Jesus’ admonition to “get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:5 NLT).
  3. They were to be diligent workers, using whatever skills they had to provide for themselves, and refusing to become a burden to others. There was no place for laziness or a spirit of entitlement in their lives.

And Paul had a purpose behind his call for selfless, sacrificial living.

Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. – 1 Thessalonians 4:12 NLT

At the end of the day, Paul was interested in seeing the Thessalonian believers live out their faith in tangible ways that exhibited the power of the Spirit and gave proof of their status as God’s children.

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

Lord and King

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. –  Matthew 22:41-46 ESV

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We are quickly coming to the end of Matthew’s chronicle of the earthly ministry of Jesus. As we read through the events surrounding the last week of His life, we should begin to recognize that this is really about two kingdoms in conflict – the one the Pharisees and religious leaders had come to know, love and control; and the one that Jesus had come to establish. As John the Baptist began his ministry, paving the way for the coming of the Messiah, he had told the people of Israel, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2 NLT).

His call to repentance was not just an encouragement to change their behavior, it was a demand that they change their minds, their way of thinking. John was calling them to alter their preconceived notions about God, their concept of sin, the kingdom, the Messiah, and the means by which man can be restored to a right relationship with God. Repentance would require them to do an about-face concerning what they currently believed about all of those things. And that change of mind and heart would result in a change in behavior.

In the world into which Jesus came, the Jewish people had strong opinions about these matters, the byproduct of centuries of man-made decrees and religious doctrines and dogma. They thought they had God figured out and were convinced that they knew what they had to do to deal with sin. But they had grown callous to God and carefree about their own sin, justifying their actions and downplaying their own guilt. They put a lot of stock in their position as descendants of Abraham and in their unique status as God’s chosen people. But John the Baptist had come preaching a call to repentance. He had told them that the Kingdom of Heaven was close at hand. And Jesus came preaching that very same message, telling them, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17 NLT).

The Kingdom of Heaven was NEAR – in the form of the King of Heaven – Jesus Himself. This was a statement of authority and divine representation. Jesus was Emmanuel – God with us. He was the one true King. But the Jewish people failed to recognize Him as such.

Which brings us to today’s passage, where we see Jesus still sparring with the religious leaders of Israel. He had weathered a relentless gauntlet of questions from these men, as they attempted to expose and entrap Him. But this time Jesus turned the tables on them by requiring them to answer a question from Him. In doing so, He reveals some Messianic misconceptions on their part. He exposes their faulty views of who the Messiah would be and what He would do when He came.

Jesus asked them a very simple, yet revealing question: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42a NLT). Jesus already knew what their response would be, and that answer would reveal a lot about their understanding of not only the Messiah but of His coming Kingdom.

“They replied, ‘He is the son of David.’” – Matthew 22:42b NLT

So, what does this answer tell us about their view of the Messiah? They believed the Messiah would be a descendant of David. But it also reveals that they viewed the Messiah’s kingdom would be of this earth and not heavenly in nature. In other words, they were anticipating a king just like David had been. They were expecting a ruler, a royal heir to David, who would wear his crown and sit on his throne, re-establishing Israel’s power in the region. They weren’t looking for a Savior from sin, but a deliverer from subjugation to Rome.

So, Jesus asked them a qualifying question: “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?” (Matthew 22:44 ESV).

At first glance, it sounds like Jesus is posing some kind of riddle or trick question. But He was quoting from a well-known Messianic passage found in Psalm 110:1. The Pharisees would have understood this passage as applying to the coming Messiah, or Davidic descendant. In fact, over the centuries, this psalm had been applied to each successive king in the Davidic dynasty and was used to refer to the ideal Davidic king. As a result, they would have been very familiar with the passage and its application to the coming Messiah. So, Jesus pointed out that in the psalm, David calls the Messiah his Lord.

If the coming Messiah was to be a “son” or descendant of David, the greatest king Israel had ever had, why would David call this man his “Lord?” To understand this question, you have to recognize that there are two different words used for “Lord” in Psalm 110. The first is Jehovah, a noun used to refer to God. It is the proper name of the God of Israel. The second word is adon, a noun that means “lord” or “master”. But when used in conjunction with Lord (Jehovah), it typically refers to God’s sovereignty or authority. So, you could read the line in Psalm 110 this way: The LORD (God) said to my (David’s) Lord (Messiah)

The point Jesus was making was that David knew something about the Messiah that the Pharisees did not. That’s why Jesus asked them a further question: “Since David called the Messiah ‘my Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” (Matthew 22:45 NLT). The Pharisees had a limited view of the Messiah. They believed He would be an earthly, physical, and fully human descendant of David, nothing more, nothing less. But Jesus’ point was that David seemed to know that the Messiah would be MORE than just a descendant. He would be divine and have God-given authority to rule and reign over God’s Kingdom. He would be David’s LORD and Master. He would be a divinely appointed ruler with power and authority far beyond anything David had known.

But the Pharisees couldn’t bring themselves to see or acknowledge this. Jesus was not what they were expecting and not what they wanted. He didn’t look like a king. He didn’t act like a king. And the Israelites wanted a king just like all the other nations. They wanted a king on their terms and according to their definition. It was the very same problem their ancestors had when they had demanded that the prophet Samuel appoint them a king like all the other nations.

They had rejected God as their King and, in response, God had given them Saul. Now, centuries later, they were demanding the same thing. But God was not going to give them another Saul. He was going to give them another David, an actual descendant of David, but a man greater than David had ever been. He would be the God-man, the Son of God, and the ultimate Savior of the world.

This whole exchange left the Pharisees stumped. For the first time, they had no response and no more questions. “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46 ESV).

This doesn’t mean they were giving up. They were simply changing their tactics. Their views had not changed. They remained unrepentant, refusing to change their minds about God, the Messiah, the Kingdom, and about their own sins. They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. They stubbornly rejected any call to admit their own sin and their need for a Savior. They were not buying what Jesus was selling. And they would live to regret 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

The Art of Self-Denial

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:16-18 ESV

After having provided His listeners with a model for how to pray, Jesus turns His attention to the topic of fasting. In order for us to understand what Jesus is trying to say about fasting, it’s essential that we discern its role within the Hebrew cultural context. Otherwise, we will try to apply our modern perception of fasting and miss Jesus’ intended application.

For many of us, fasting is a rather foreign concept. The kind of fasting of which we are familiar seems to be tied to dieting or weight loss. And fasting has also become a popular form of cleansing or purging for health reasons. But that is not what Jesus is talking about. In Jesus’ day, fasting was a religious rite, practiced in conjunction with a particular feast day or religious festival. For instance, fasting was a regular part of the yearly celebration of the Day of Atonement.

Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. – Leviticus 23:26-29 ESV

The phrase “afflict yourselves” is a reference to fasting. The people were to fast or deny themselves their normal intake of food, while at the same time presenting a food offering to the Lord. Fasting, in this case, was intended to be an expression of one’s complete dependence upon God. But it was also a way of focusing your attention solely upon God. Rather than seeking your sustenance from food, you were turning to God to meet your needs. It was a spiritual exercise that was usually accompanied by prayer and confession of sins (1 Samuel 7:5-6). Fasting was not done for its potential health benefits or cleansing properties. While it may have had beneficial side effects, fasting was meant to focus one’s attention on God, not on self. In fact, fasting was, at its core, a denial of self.

But once again, the Jews had managed to turn fasting into an external show of self-righteous piety and religious one-upmanship. And this had been going on for some time. God had confronted the Israelites regarding their false view of fasting before. He had spoken harsh words to them through the prophet Isaiah.

“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
    Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
    and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
    that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
    pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
    ‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
    and you don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond.
    It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
    when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
    will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
    by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
    like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
    and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?

Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” – Isaiah 58:1-7 NLT

So, when Jesus confronts the Jews in His audience with their false concept of fasting, He is simply reiterating the concerns of His Father. Once again, He refers to “the hypocrites,” a clear reference to the Pharisees and other religious leaders. They had taken fasting, a form of self-denial and self-humiliation, and turned it into a means of self-promotion. They fasted to get noticed. They fasted to garner the praises of men, but not to confess their sins before God. This was not the kind of fasting God desired. He desired fasting that came from the heart. He wanted them to deny themselves the sins they so deeply enjoyed committing. In the case of the Isaiah passage, God expected the Jews to free the wrongly imprisoned, to lighten the burdens of their workers, to let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that held people bound. While they were busy wearing sackcloth and denying themselves food in an attempt to get God’s attention, they were also busy practicing all kinds of moral and ethical injustices. And God was not impressed.

For the Jews in Jesus’ audience, the problem was even worse. The kind of fasting they were exposed to was not even intended to get God’s attention. It was aimed at men. Jesus accuses them of trying “to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting” (Matthew 6:16 NLT). Fasting had become all about the outward impression it left on those around you. But throughout His message, Jesus has been talking about those who are approved by God. And just as we have seen in the Isaiah passage, God does not approve of fasting that is done with wrong motives or in a hypocritical manner.

Like any spiritual discipline, fasting can be abused. It can also be misunderstood and practiced for all the wrong reasons. Reading the Bible is a good thing. It is proper for God’s children to spend time in His Word. But we can make Bible reading a badge of honor and a means by which we show others just how spiritual we really are. The same thing can be said of prayer, Scripture memory, Bible study, and giving. These spiritual disciplines can be twisted and misused, becoming nothing more than outward signs of piety that do not reflect the true condition of the heart. It was King David who wrote these powerful words after having been confronted and convicted by the prophet Samuel regarding his affair with Bathsheba.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV

The external practice of offering sacrifices meant nothing if the heart remained unchanged and unrepentant. Fasting that was merely an outward show done to convince others of our spirituality will never impress God. He sees our hearts. He knows our motives. And Jesus says that if you fast to garner the praise of men, you will get all the reward you are seeking, but you won’t have the approval of God. You won’t know what it means to be blessed by God. Like the Jews in Isaiah’s day, you will find yourself saying, “I have fasted before you! Why aren’t you impressed?”

Seeking the praise of men is a dangerous game to play. It means we value their opinions over that of God. We care more about their perceptions of us than we do about how God sees us. And Jesus warns us that if the reward we seek through our acts of spiritual discipline is the praise of men, we will get exactly what we want, but no more.

Let’s bring it into a modern context. If I tell others I am fasting in order to impress them with my spirituality, but my real intent is to lose weight, I may impress my friends and drop a few pounds, but I will not gain favor with God.

If I truly want to deny myself something as a means of humbling myself before God, Jesus would recommend that I do it in secret. He would tell me to hide what I am doing from others because they don’t need to know. I don’t need to advertise my fast because God sees my heart. I don’t need to tell others how much I read my Bible or how many Scripture verses I have memorized. God knows, and that is all that matters. But it is important to remember that God also knows my motives. He knows why I read my Bible and memorize Scripture. If I do these things while ignoring sin in my life, I am nothing more than a hypocrite, a play-actor. I am attempting to cover up my sin by doing righteous things. But God wants a broken and contrite heart. Listen to the words of God spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes.” – Isaiah 58:9-12 NLT

Fasting should be an outward expression of the inward condition of the heart. If our hearts are prideful and self-focused, our fasting will end up being done for our own glory, and not for God’s. If our hearts are broken, humble, and dependent upon God and His mercy, our fasting will be done for His glory and His approval, not for the praise of men. God knows our heart, and He will reward us according to the intention of our heart. Our Father, who sees in secret, will reward us.

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

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

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

The Filling of the Spirit

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

We’ve discussed the power of the indweling Holy Spirit. At the moment of salvation, the third person of the Trinity takes up permanent residence in the believer, enabling them to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,” (Philippians 2:15 ESV). It is the indwelling Spirit who makes it possible for the believer to conduct their life “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 BSB).

Yet, we all know that our lives don’t always reflect the Holy Spirit’s presence or demonstrate His power. If He indwells us and His power is meant to enable us, why do our lives so often appear as if He has abandoned us?

Paul would have us understand that it is an issue of obedience and submission. The Holy Spirit, just like the Father and the Son, must be obeyed. His permanent presence within us doesn’t mean He forces Himself upon us. Paul commanded the believers in Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV).

He reminded them that their new life in Christ was due to the Spirit. He said, “we live by the Spirit,” but he added, “let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). The Holy Spirit is the one who had made possible their new life in Christ. Paul told Titus that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6 ESV). And yet, this new life requires that we “keep in step with the Spirit.”

The danger each believer faces is the temptation to live the Christian life in their own strength. In fact, Paul saw the Galatian believers doing that very thing and asked them, “After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT). They were falling back on their own ability to keep the law or, to put it another way, on their own self-righteousness. But in doing so, they were circumventing the power made available to them by the Holy Spirit.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul was attempting to remind the believers of their need to be distinct and different from the world around them. He wanted them to imitate God and to live lives filled with love, following the example of Christ Himself. He warned them to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” and to “take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness” (Ephesians 5:10-11 NLT). They were to live as people of the light, influencing others and exposing the darkness around them.

But how were they supposed to pull this off? What would make this kind of life possible? Paul warned them to be careful about how they conducted their daily lives, and to make sure they lived wisely and not like fools. But it all sounds so impossible. So, Paul gave them the only possible way to live the lives they’ve been called to live. And he used a very interesting comparison to make his point.

Strangely enough, Paul chose to use the imagery of drunkenness to illustrate the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. I don’t think he wrote these words because the believers in Ephesus had a drinking problem, but because the imagery would have made perfect sense to them. They had all seen the affects of alcohol and knew from first-hand experience what drunkenness looked like. So, Paul used this very down-to-earth analogy to help them understand that the Christ-life required submission to a power outside of themselves. It was all about control. Paul makes a direct comparison between being drunk and being filled.

drunk = filled

To be drunk with wine is to be controlled by or under the influence of wine. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by or under the influence of the Spirit. Control has to do with submission to someone or something else. It is to submit to the influence of another. In the case of alcohol, to become drunk is to place yourself under its influence and control. When drunk, people say things they wouldn’t normally say. They do things that are out of character. They allow themselves to be controlled by a substance that influences their behavior and their thinking.

Paul’s audience knew what it meant to be drunk with and controlled by wine. And he used that imagery to help them understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit. He was calling them to live controlled by the Spirit, not their own sinful flesh. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you (Romans 8:9 NLT). It’s a matter of control.

As believers, we are to live under the influence of the Spirit of God. And when Paul writes, “if you have the Spirit of God living in you,” he is not questioning their salvation. He is making a point about a positional truth. They did have the Spirit living within them, so they should have been living under His influence. Just like a drunk person can’t help but be influenced by alcohol, a believer can’t help but be influenced by the Spirit of God. For Paul, the power of the Spirit in the life of the believer was non-negotiable and non-debatable.

And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. – Romans 8:10-11 NLT

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. – Romans 8:12-13 NLT

We have a power available to us that is beyond our wildest imaginations. It is the very same power that raised Jesus back to life after His body had laid lifeless in a grave for three days. That power resides within us and is available to us. It is designed to control and empower us. The Spirit of God is to fill us and flow from us, influencing our thoughts and actions. He makes it possible for you to “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:16 NLT). He allows you to “understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT).

But we must choose to live under His influence. Just as we can choose to get drunk with wine, we can choose to be filled with the Spirit by submitting to Him on a daily basis. We must seek Him. We must desire Him. We must obey Him. We must live under the influence of the Spirit of God if we want to have an influence in this world. And it’s all about submission and control.

As long as we think we are the masters of our own fate and the ones who control our lives, we will live powerless and pathetic lives, marked by defeat rather than victory and disappointment rather than joy. Jesus came that we might have abundant life, but that life is only possible through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. But we must allow the Spirit of God to control us. We must willingly submit ourselves to His authority and avail ourselves of His divine power. When Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV), he knew the source of that strength was the Spirit of God. And he was more than willing to live under the Spirit’s control and according to the Spirit’s plan.

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

 

More Is Caught Than Taught

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. – Titus 2:3-5 ESV

Having addressed the older men, Paul now addresses their counterparts, the older women. He uses the same Greek word he used earlier, but in its feminine gender: presbytis. He is specifically speaking to believing women within the churches who had years of experience to offer and whose lives should be models to all those around them, especially the younger women in the church.

In the day and age when Paul wrote this letter, the elderly were considered worthy of respect and treated with honor. They were considered to be wise because of their longevity of life. The Proverbs taught that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31 ESV). Having lived a long life was considered a sign of God’s blessing and evidence of wisdom. “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29 ESV).

But Paul was expecting more from these women. He desired that their lives reflect the wisdom that comes with age, but also the spiritual maturity that comes from knowing Christ. First, he addresses their behavior, calling them to live reverent lives. The Greek actually reads, “that they be in behavior as becometh holiness.” Their lifestyle was to match their calling by God. Their daily deportment was to reflect their having been set apart by God for His use. Paul put it this way to the believers in Ephesus:

I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. – Ephesians 4:1 NLT

He told the believers in Philippi the very same thing.

…you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. – Philippians 1:27 NLT

These older women had the experience that comes with age, but they also had the maturity to understand that their relationship with Christ was to make a difference in the way they lived their lives. And just to make sure they understood what he meant, Paul gave them some examples of the kind of behavior to avoid. They were not to be slanderers. The Greek is mē diabolos, and it was used to refer to false accusers. One of the names used of Satan was diabolos or devil, and Jesus used when referring to his lying nature. He told the religious leaders:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44 ESV

Satan is the father or source of all lies. And when Paul commands that the older women in the church refrain from slander, he is referring to something far worse than mere gossip. He is addressing the very dangerous reality of believers leveling false accusations against one another or spreading false rumors designed to harm the reputation of others. The book of Revelation makes it clear that this kind of behavior is evidence of Satan’s influence, not that of the Holy Spirit.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth … the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. – Revelation 12:9, 10 ESV

There is no such thing as idle gossip. It is extremely active and, while it can be devastating to the reputation of others, it can also spread like cancer, infecting an entire congregation with a spirit of judgment based on lies.

Secondly, these older women were to manage their intake of wine. It would appear that over-consumption of wine was a problem among the churches on Crete because Paul had addressed it multiple times. The Greek word Paul used is douloō, and it was most commonly used of a slave. These women were not to allow themselves to become enslaved or addicted to wine, because the end result of that kind of behavior was anything but good. And Paul made that point quite clear to the believers in Ephesus.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. – Ephesians 5:18 NLT

On a positive note, Paul tells them that they are to “teach what is good.” This is one word in the Greek: kalodidaskalos, and it literally means “teacher of goodness.” Their lives were to be a living testimony to the goodness of godliness. This is less a command that these women verbally teach than that they visibly portray what it means to be a believer in Jesus Christ. As the old saying goes, “more is caught than taught.” Our actions tend to speak volumes and what we say means nothing if it fails to influence the way we live.

Paul insists that the older women were to teach their younger peers “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (Titus 2:4 ESV). But what would be the most effective means of infusing these characteristics into the lives of the younger women in the church? The daily modeling of them by the older women in the church. Telling a woman that she needs to love her husband and children is far less impactful than showing her how it is done. The power of example is irreplaceable. And Paul provides a list of positive qualities that he expected these older women to model for their younger counterparts.

First on the list is self-control. This is the very same word Paul used when addressing the older men in the church. It has to do with “curbing one’s desires and impulses,” and the power to accomplish it comes from the indwelling Spirit of God.

Secondly, the older women were to model purity. The Greek word Paul used comes from the word for holiness. Their lives were to reflect their having been set-apart by God for His use and His glory. Every area of their lives was to reflect their holiness before God, showing up in modesty, sexual purity, and behavior that won them the reverent respect of others in the church, especially the younger women.

Next, Paul emphasizes that they model diligence and dedication to their families. That seems to be the point of his phrase, “working at home.” This is not, as some have interpreted it, a prohibition against women working outside of the home. But it is a call for women to care for their households well. Paul would have been very familiar with the Proverb concerning the faithful working woman, wife, and mother

She carefully watches everything in her household
    and suffers nothing from laziness.

Her children stand and bless her.
    Her husband praises her… – Proverbs 31:27-28 NLT

The rest of that Proverbs makes it clear that the woman being praised was a working woman. She had a business and many responsibilities outside the home, but she did not neglect the affairs of her household. She was a woman who worked hard at all that she did, including managing the needs of her husband and children. In fact, she used her business outside of the home to impact that well-being of those within her home. So, Paul is demanding that the older women in the church model what it looks like to be godly wives who use their God-given talents and abilities to care for their families. A job or responsibility that draws a woman away from the care of her household is to be avoided at all costs. Marriage and the family are God-ordained institutions, and He holds them in high regard. He will not tolerate anyone, man or woman, who places their career or personal pursuits ahead of the well-being of their family.

Finally, Paul calls on the older women to model what it means to be kind and submissive to their husbands. While the first word is understandable and even acceptable to most, the second word carries a lot of weight. It has been given a bad rap in our society, conveying a false sense of subjugation and subservience. But that is not what Paul had in mind. The Greek word Paul used it hypotassō, and it refers to a willing coming under another. It is the very same word Paul used in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he demanded that they “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). Jesus Himself modeled this kind of submission by willingly and gladly sacrificing His will for that of God the Father.

This has nothing to do with worth or value. But it has everything to do with modeling Christ-likeness. Paul describes the attitude that Christ 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 2:6-7 NLT

It was likely that many of the women in the churches on Crete had come to faith in Christ apart from their husbands. And they ran the risk of seeing themselves as somehow better than their husbands because of their newfound relationship with Christ. They were redeemed, and their husbands were not. They were new creations, and their husbands remained in their sinful state. And Paul wanted them to know that the best way to influence their husbands would be through humble, willing submission to their mate’s spiritual good, not through a willful demand of respect or recognition of their new status in Christ.

And for Paul, the whole point behind all of this was “that the word of God may not be reviled.” His greatest fear was that the integrity of the gospel message would be maligned by the way the believers on Crete lived their lives. And he held the older women responsible for living out Christ-likeness in front of the younger women in the church and, in so doing, teaching by example what it means to be truly saved.

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.s

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

No Place For Pride

Isaiah 66:1-6

As human beings, we tend to put a lot of significance in those things that we have made with our own hands. We take great pride in our achievements. We boast in our accomplishments.  In short, we celebrate our own success. And there is no better example of this kind of self-exaltation than the pride-filled words of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.

“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” – Daniel 4:30 ESV

And it’s interesting to note that Nebuchadnezzar’s beautiful city was located in the same area where Nimrod and his followers had attempted to disobey God and build a city for themselves, complete with a huge construction project intended as a permanent monument to their own self-importance and significance.

“Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves.” – Genesis 11:4 NLT

But their plans were contrary to God’s will so, He confused their language and scattered them to the four winds.

But back to Nebuchadnezzar. Before the sound of his own pride-filled voice had time to fade, he would receive some ego-diminishing news straight from God’s throne room in heaven.

“It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you! You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and seven periods of time will pass by for you before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.” – Daniel 4:31-32 NLT

Which brings us back to Isaiah 66. God opens up this section of His address to the people of Judah with the reminder: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1 ESV). He was reminding His covenant people that He was the sovereign ruler over all, including them. He was the King, and He alone deserved all glory and honor. And yet, God exposes a pride problem among His people. They were guilty of placing far too much value on the temple they had built for Him. It had become the symbol of their own significance. They treated it like a box they had built in which to contain the God of the universe. And yet, as God had said in response to King David’s plan to build the temple:

Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” – 2 Samuel 7:5-7 ESV

God didn’t need or ask for a temple to be built. What He desired was a people who would worship and obey Him. As the prophet Samuel had told David’s predecessor: “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 NLT). But the Jews had become enamored with their temple. Its very presence among them gave them a false sense of security and an over-confident belief in their own spirituality. They had come to value the temple they had created more than the Creator for whom they had built it.

So, God gives them a stark reminder of His criteria for measuring spirituality.

“But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word.” – Isaiah 66:2 ESV

Notice that God looks for humility and contriteness in His people. But what do these two words mean? The Hebrew word translated “humble” means “poor, afflicted, humble, wretched.” It conveys the idea of need and abject dependence. But it also reveals an awareness that the one who is humble fully recognizes his or her condition. There is no false sense of pride or arrogance about them. The word translated “contrite” means “stricken” or “smitten” and seems to indicate the reason for the individual’s lowly condition. It provides the “why” behind their humble estate. They have been brought low by some circumstance of life and their condition has left them with a clear sense of need. Which is why God describes them as trembling at His word.

A humble or poor person has nothing to bring to God. They are in no condition to offer the God of the universe anything, and they recognize it. A contrite or stricken person understands that any suffering they experience is deserved. Even their righteous deeds are little more than filthy rags to a holy God. As sinners, they understand that they deserve little more than judgment from God. Which is why they tend to turn to God in fear and trembling, treating Him with the honor He deserves. They desire to do what He commands them to do.

But the people of Judah put a lot of stock in their keeping of the various religious rituals associated with their temple worship. God mentions the slaughter of an ox, the sacrifice of a lamb, and the offering of grain and frankincense. But then He turns around and labels these so-called acts of worship as little more than murder, animal cruelty,  a form of abomination, and idol worship. In other words, even worship, when done in pride and with an attitude of self-righteousness, is unacceptable to God.

Yes, they were keeping God’s commands by offering the appropriate sacrifices at the proper times and according to the temple calendar. But God says, “they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight” (Isaiah 66:4 ESV). Even their adherence to His commands concerning sacrifices was tainted by their refusal to live in submission to Him in the rest of their lives. They were disobedient and disingenuous. And so, God warns them what is going to happen next.

I will send them great trouble—
    all the things they feared.” – Isaiah 66:4 NLT

But don’t miss the reason behind God’s declaration of judgment. He says that when He had called, they had refused to answer. When He spoke, they had failed to listen. Instead, He says, “They deliberately sinned before my very eyes and chose to do what they know I despise” (Isaiah 66:4 ESV).

And to make matters worse, these very same people mocked the faithful remnant of God. These prideful and pompous individuals turned their anger and arrogance on those who had chosen to remain obedient to and reliant upon God. In their hatred for these faithful few, the majority of the people of Judah chose to cast them out of their midst. They wanted nothing to do with them. But God assures His remnant that justice is coming. He will bring shame to all those who stand pridefully opposed to Him and who treat the faithful with contempt. God was going to bring judgment on the people of Judah in the form of vengeance on behalf of all those who were humble and contrite.

God was going to humiliate the non-humble. He was going to strike down the non-contrite. Their religious play-acting was not going to save them. Their pride in their own achievements and over-confidence in their self-righteous activities were not going to protect them from the wrath of God. They were missing the one thing God was looking for: Humility.

And James, in the letter that bears his name, reminds us that God “gives greater grace.” And then James goes on to remind us that God’s grace is reserved for the humble. “Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.’ So submit to God” (James 4:5-6 NLT).

Submit to God. There is the key. But submission requires an admittance of God’s superiority and our own inferiority. He is greater and more glorious, and fully deserves our humble and contrite submission to His will. And when we come to Him in humility, we receive His grace – free of charge and fully apart from any merit on our part.

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

A Model Prayer.

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:9-15 ESV

Jesus has just told His audience how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, while actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy, and answer their prayers more readily. Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His listeners and causing them to misuse and abuse it. They had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. So, what should proper prayer look like? That is the question that Jesus answers in these verses. He opens with the statement: “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  What follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for your own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that we pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides us with a model to be followed, not a prayer simply to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in every prayer we pray. It provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as child to Father. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer with the words:

Our Father in heaven…

Jesus sets up an interesting juxtaposition. He refers to God as our Father, but reminds us that His residence is in heaven. The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He is responsible for us. Which is why Jesus would have us never forget that, in prayer, we are talking to the transcendent God of the universe. He is in heaven. We are on earth. The word, “heaven” is intended to remind us of God’s divinityand our own humanity. He is eternal and we are temporal. He is holy, while we are marred by sin. And yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT). But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them like peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt” can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We should never fail to remember that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later boldy claim, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). And Paul reminds us:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. – Ephesians 3:12 NLT

But let us do so respectfully, honoring Him as both God and Father. We must not let our newfound familiarity with God breed contempt for Him.

Next. Jesus provides us with an interesting way to address our Father God:

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to say to God that His name be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. An individual’s name was tied to his character. So to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but that we, as His children, might live in such a way that we do nothing to profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to Him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy, and we do so by our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states:

…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. His will. Not ours. Prayer is not to be focused on us, but on God. Despite what we may believe, prayer is not primarily an opportunity to tell God things all the things we think He doesn’t know and when we get to provide Him with a lengthy list of things we think we need. Jesus has just said, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom and will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life, just as it does in heaven. It is a willful submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayers allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. But that does not mean we are unable to make requests of God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we do.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. Wanting God’s will to be done should change what we ask for. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. Our priorities will change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sin natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is sin. It is against the will of God for His children.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? That we have an awareness of our dependence upon God. That we recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we WON’T sin. It is to ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. Which is what Jesus is referring to when He adds:

…but deliver us from evil…

God will not only lead us, He will deliver us. He can keep us from committing evil. He can protect us from the evil committed against us. Remember what Jesus prayed in the garden:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. – John 17:15 ESV

Jesus ends this section by revisiting the issue of forgiveness. It was obviously important to Him. An unforgiving person has never fully understood or appreciated the forgiveness of God. How can we, who have been forgiven so much, be unwilling to forgive others? The key to receiving God’s forgiveness is confession – an acknowledgement of our sin. To not forgive others is to sin against them. And we can’t just confess that sin, we need to rectify it. We need to forgive, as we have been forgiven. In fact, we demonstrate whether we have been forgiven by whether or not we will forgive others.

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

Honor Like It.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.  – 1 Peter 3:7 ESV

Now, Peter turns his attention to the husband. He addresses those men living within the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who happen to be believers and married. And, as with the women, Peter is concerned with those who are married to either a believing or non-believing spouse. His counsel will apply in either case. And the words he has to say to the husbands, while shorter in length, are loaded with meaning and significance. He tells them to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” That sounds easy enough, but we have to grasp what Peter is really saying. The Greek phrase he uses is κατὰ γνῶσιν, and it means, “according to knowledge.” What does that mean? Well, it begins with the Greek word for knowledge, which has a range of meanings. It can refer to general knowledge or intelligence, but it can also refer to moral wisdom that exhibits itself in right living. Peter seems to be encouraging a believing husband to live with his wife in such a way that his behavior shows a clear knowledge of right and wrong regarding his relationship with her. What would God have him do? How would God have him treat his wife? On top of that, is the need for the husband to understand and know his wife, both as the individual to whom he is married and as a member of the female race. She is different in terms of personality and temperament, but also gender. The husband is going to have to take the time to get to know his wife and see her as God has made her. She is a unique individual whom God has gifted and equipped with her own personal character. A loving husband will take the time to know his wife well. And he will see her as God does, as “the weaker vessel.” 

But that phrase typically conjures up extremely negative connotations in our 21st-Century minds. It sounds patronizing and patriarchal, something a man would say and think. But Peter is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so we have to attempt to figure out what he means by these words. Is he referring to women as somehow inferior to men? Is he insinuating that they are less valuable or incapable of contributing to the well-being of the family or society?

Peter tells husbands to show honor to their wives. The Greek word he uses is timē, and it refers to deference, even reverence. It is an honor which naturally belongs to the one it is shown. They deserve it. The wife, as a woman, is a creation of God. She was made in the image of God. She was uniquely crafted by God to complement and complete the man. If we go back to the creation account found in the book of Genesis, we hear these words from God, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him” (Genesis 2:18 NLT). In the book of Proverbs, we read this assessment regarding a man who finds a wife. “The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22 NLT). A wife is a blessing. She is a gift from God. Proverbs 31:10 describes the value of a wife as “more precious than rubies.” Proverbs 12:4 says she is “the crown of her husband.” And a believing husband should understand these things and honor his wife as such. She is precious, priceless and a gift from God – whether she is a believer or not.

But let’s go back to the term, “weaker vessel.” What did Peter mean? Is it a statement of physical strength? Perhaps. But that would seem to be an incomplete and, in some cases, inaccurate rendering. Not all women are physically weaker than all men. Is he referring to intelligence? That would be highly unlikely if we consider the centuries-worth of clear evidence that proves the female’s capacity to compete with men on an equal intellectual plane. So, what is Peter talking about and why would he use this kind of language to refer to wives? The Greek word Peter uses is asthenēs, and it has two significant parts: The second half of the word come from another Greek word, sthenoō, which refers to strength. The first half of the word is a negative participle that means “without.” So, the word Peter uses simply means, “without strength.” I tend to believe that Peter is using this word to speak of an unbelieving wife or at least, a wife who has followed her husband in accepting Christ, but is not as strong in her faith. It is the same word used by Paul when he refers to a weaker brother or sister in Christ.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul was forced to deal with a situation regarding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. There were those in the church who understood that there was nothing wrong with eating this meat because there are really no such thing as other gods. They are figments of man’s imagination. But there were some in the church who, having come out of pagan backgrounds, viewed the eating of meat sacrificed to false gods as somehow worshiping them. They did not fully understand that these gods were not real, and Paul refers to them as “weaker.” He writes:

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 12 And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9-12 NLT

The idea was that there were those in the fellowship who didn’t know any better. They were “weaker” only in the sense of their spiritual understanding of the matters at hand. I think Peter is using this term in the very same way. It is not a blanket statement about women, but a reference to those wives who were either new believers or unbelievers. Their spiritual understanding was “without strength. ” And their husbands were to show them honor and treat them as a “weaker vessel.” It s the same attitude that Paul had.

22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 NLT

Peter says that these men were to see their wives as “heirs with you of the grace of life.” This does not necessarily mean salvation. Peter is most likely stating that men and women equally share in God’s gracious gift of life. He has made them both. And a husband and wife equally share in God’s gracious gift of marriage. They are in this thing called marriage together. And they share in the grace of God, together.

The final admonition Peter gives husbands is significant. He warns them that, if they ignore his words, their prayers will be hindered. It they do not treat their wives as “weaker vessels” and honor them as God does, their prayers to God will go unheard. Their inappropriate treatment of their wives will be seen as sin before God. That’s a sobering statement. And this all goes back to the behavior of those who have been called by God. We are to live differently. We are to behave in a way that mirrors our newfound status as sons and daughters of God. And one of the first ways our new life should show up  is in our relationships with other human beings, especially our spouses.

For a husband to live with his wife in an understanding way is going to take wisdom, patience, grace, mercy, and the help of the Holy Spirit. He is going to have to see his wife the way God does. He is going to have to view her through God’s eyes and make her spiritual well-being his highest priority, whether she is a believer or not. Just like the believing wife may bring her husband to faith by her righteous behavior, so a husband may lead his unbelieving wife to Christ by living with her in an understanding way, honoring her as a gift from God and his fellow heir in the grace of life.

 

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

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

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

Relate Like It.

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  – 1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV

As Christians, our relationships are to be primary opportunities to live out our new relationship with Christ and to exhibit externally, the inner transformation that is taking place in our hearts because of the work of the Holy Spirit. And there is no more intimate and important relationship than the one between a husband and a wife. Peter was dealing with a situation where there were a growing number of individuals coming to faith in Christ who found themselves married to unbelieving spouses. Keep in mind the locations of those to whom he was writing: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. They were living in the northern Roman provinces of Asia Minor, which is modern western Turkey. Not all of his audience would have been Gentiles, because there were literally millions of Jews who had relocated and settled in these very same provinces. But whether Gentiles or Jews, the recipients of his letter were believers who, in many cases, had become followers of Christ without their spouses. This important point will factor into what Peter has to say, because our behavior, as Christians, can have a significant impact on our lost relationships, especially with our unbelieving spouses.

Peter begins with the women. and his words continue to leave many modern-day women shaking their heads and labeling Peter as a male chauvinist. His counsel comes across as archaic and a product of some ancient cultural paradigm that has long lost its relativity. Peter begins his address to wives, saying, “wives, be subject to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1 ESV). He would not be the only apostle to communicate this information. Paul would write virtually the same thing: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 NLT). He would repeat this statement to the Ephesians: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). Then, in his letter to Titus, Paul provides even more detail, when he challenges the older women in the church:

…train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. – Titus 2:4-5 NLT

Whether we like what these men have to say, we have to take their words seriously, because they speak for God – that is, if you believe they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, which I do. These are not two 1st-Century Jewish males sharing their personal opinions about women. They are not misogynists. They don’t hate women and are not attempting to place them in a subservient position to their more superior male counterparts. And yet, this is how many modern-day Christians interpret these passages.

What we tend to miss is the definition of the word Peter and Paul use for submission. It is the Greek word, hypotassō, which means “to subject one’s self.” There is a willingness involved, a self-determination or personal decision to submit to another out of love and, in this case, obedience to the will of God. Remember what Paul said? Women are to do it “as to the Lord.”  He says, it is “fitting for those who belong to the Lord.” It is what those who belong to God should do. And Peter makes it clear that it doesn’t matter if the woman’s husband is a believer or not. There is a witness involved in all of this. He states that when wives willingly subject themselves to the leadership of their husbands, “Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives” (1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT). What Peter (and by extension, God) is interested in is godly living. This isn’t about rights and privileges, status and personal authority. It is about the cause of Christ, the name of God, and the witness of our lives in a lost and dying world.

But as if this wasn’t enough and Peter had not stepped on enough toes, he wades into even more deadly waters, giving advice on women’s clothing, hair and makeup. Was he just a glutton for punishment or was there a method to his madness? He gives his female readers the following Spirit-inspired counsel:

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. – 1 Peter 3:3-4 NLT

The first thing we gravitate towards is the fashion advice. It seems that he is telling them how to dress. But what is his real point? “Clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within.” Peter is contrasting our natural obsession with the exterior aspects of our lives with that of the interior, spiritual dimension that reflects the nature of our heart. He talks of inner beauty and the spirit within. How we look is to be far less significant to us than how we behave. And our behavior is a product of our hearts. It was Jesus who said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:20-23 NLT). 

Peter is simply reminding the women in his audience that dressing up the exterior of their lives means nothing if they give no importance to the interior condition of their hearts. They become little more than hypocrites, what Jesus called white-washed tombs. They look great on the outside, but their interiors are filled with death and decay. And that can be true of both women and men.

Peter gives additional insight into what he is saying by comparing the behavior of the “modern-day” women to whom he is writing with the “the holy women of old” (1 Peter 3:5 NLT). There are several points of interest in what he writes and they all relate to the subject of submission. First of all, he says these women of old made themselves beautiful by placing their hope in God. They trusted God for their lives, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their lives. He uses Sarah as an example. She submitted to her husband, Abraham. But how? Remember, it was he who received the call of God to leave Ur and travel to a land yet to be named. And Sarah willingly followed her husband’s lead, even though it meant leaving her family behind. She was inherently trusting God, because her husband was not quite sure how all of this was going to work out. Even later on, when they found themselves moving to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan, she went along with her husband’s counsel to pawn herself off as his sister. She trusted Abraham, because she was really trusting God.

Secondly, Peter points out that Sarah obeyed Abraham, even calling him “master.” Why? Because she believed he was following the leadership of Yahweh, God Almighty. So, she listened and obeyed. She showed him respect. She didn’t ridicule or belittle him, even when what he said didn’t work out for the best or seem to make any sense. She was trusting God. Third, Sarah was being transformed on the inside. She had her own set of issues. She struggled with doubt and disbelief. And by following her husband’s leadership, she was having her heart changed by God. Finally, Peter uses Sarah as an example of someone who did what was right, according to the will of God. And he tells his female readers that they will be daughters of Sarah if they “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6 NLT). Submitting to a Christian husband is scary enough. Submitting to a lost one can be petrifying. But both situations require trust in God. There will be fearful days and moments of doubt. There will be situations that come up where the husband seems to lack any leadership skills or is devoid of common sense. But at the end of the day, believing women are to put their trust in God. They are to see themselves as those who “belong to the Lord” as Paul said. They are to submit, not because their husband deserves it or has earned it, but because it is fitting to the Lord. It reveals a heart that is submissive to God. And He finds that far more attractive than the outward beauty that comes from clothes, cosmetics or jewelry.

These are not easy words for women to hear. They are counter-cultural and seem to go against the grain. But Peter is speaking of deep-seated heart issues. He is addressing matters of character and Christ-likeness. Because when all is said and done, Peter is concerned about our witness in the world. We are sons and daughters of God, and our lives are to be a testimony to His life-transforming, counter-cultural calling on our lives.

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

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

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