The Name Above All Names

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. Genesis 12:4-9 ESV

Abram followed in the footsteps of his ancestor Noah, who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). When God told Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 ESV), he went. And the text makes it clear that Abram went, “as the Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:4 ESV). He not only proved to be compliant but comprehensive in his obedience. He did everything just as God had commanded him to do. But there is one small detail that stands out.

When it came time for Abram to comply with God’s command, he “took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:5 ESV). It all sounds good, except for the fact that God had clearly told Abram to leave behind his country and his kindred. The Hebrew word for “kindred” is מוֹלֶדֶת (môleḏeṯ), and it can refer to “offspring” or “relatives.” Considering the context, it seems clear that God was telling Abram to leave his extended family behind. Abram and his wife, Sarai, had no children because she was barren.

And yet, the text reveals that Abram brought along his nephew, the son of his brother, Haran. A look back at the genealogy in chapter 11 reveals that Haran had fathered a son named Lot while the clan was still living in Ur of the Chaldeans. But Haran died, leaving his son, Lot, without a father. Under the circumstances, Terah, the boy’s grandfather, assumed responsibility for his care and protection. He became a surrogate father to Lot. So, when Terah moved his entire extended family to the land of Haran, Lot accompanied him. But in time, Terah died as well, leaving Lot fatherless once more. It seems that Abram and Sarai, without children of their own, assumed responsibility for the boy’s well-being. And when they packed up their belongings to follow God’s will and move to Canaan, Lot was in their company.

Abram was not explicitly violating the command to leave his kindred behind. Lot had become part of his immediate family. It is almost as if he and Sarai had made the decision to adopt this young man. After all, she was barren and they were doomed to a life without children of their own.

But what can’t be ignored is the distinct possibility that Abram and Sarai viewed Lot as a possible heir and the means by which God would fulfill His promise to produce a great nation from them. In a way, Lot could have been Abram’s ace in the hole – a security blanket that helped mitigate any doubts he may have had about God’s plan and promise. If one believes in the sovereignty of God, then it seems obvious that the death of Haran and Terah was no surprise to God. And the fact that this young man had twice been rendered fatherless was not a byproduct of chance or bad luck. There was a divine strategy in play in which God was providentially orchestrating the details surrounding Abram’s life. Terah’s decision to leave Ur had been God-ordained. The birth of Lot and his father’s eventual death were also part of God’s plan. And Abram’s “adoption” of Lot when Terah died in Haran must also be seen as the handiwork of God.

There is no indication as to how long the journey from Haran to Canaan took. But it would have been an arduous and extremely lengthy trip as Abram and his retinue made their way through strange lands occupied by many of those foreign-speaking nations that had been scattered by God after His judgment at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

Evidently, Abram was leading a rather large caravan, transporting all the possessions and people he had “acquired” while living in Haran (Genesis 12:5). It would appear that Abram had livestock and slaves in tow. A few of these unnamed servants or slaves will play important roles as the story unfolds. But their presence in the traveling party would have made progress slow and demanded greater resourcefulness when it came to provisions and protection.

But eventually, Abram arrived in the land of Canaan, just as God had commanded. And Moses indicates that Abram “passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6 ESV), where “he built there an altar to the Lord” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). While there’s no indication from the text that God directed Abram’s steps by providing him with detailed navigational instructions, it seems only logical that God was guiding His servant all along the way. Once again, the sovereign hand of God was determining every aspect of Abram’s pilgrimage from Haran to Canaan, even choosing Shechem as the place where Abram would erect an altar. Two times in verse 7, Moses discloses that God had appeared to Abram. These divine theophanies or manifestations of God’s presence had probably occurred all along the way, providing Abram with guidance and assurance that he was not alone.

Shechem was located in the center of Canaan, and it was there, in the heart of this foreign land that God instructed Abram to build an altar and offer sacrifices. Most likely exhausted by the long and arduous journey, Abram still obeyed God and did just as he was told. He “called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8 ESV). This phrase refers to much more than just worship. It reveals an underlying awareness of the holy and righteous character of God as embodied in His divine name. The first occurrence of this phrase is found in Genesis 4:26, where it reads, “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

The “name of the Lord” is synonymous with His character.  To devalue God’s name is tantamount to profaning His character. To call upon His name is to recognize that God alone is God. He is the transcendent and holy “other.” There is no other god besides Him. Man was made in the image of God and given the unique role of glorifying His great name by living in humble submission to His will. To call upon His name is to acknowledge one’s complete reliance upon Him and trust in Him. That is why God would later command the Israelites to treat His name with respect.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. – Exodus 20:7 ESV

To treat God’s name vainly or flippantly has much more to do with behavior than speech. Later on, God would provide His people with an example of what it meant to treat His name vainly.

You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 18:21 ESV

Proverbs 30:8-9 indicates that a life of self-sufficiency is a way to profane the name of the Lord.

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.

When men make the false assumption that they can be their own benefactor and provider, they rob God of glory and profane His name. The prophet Isaiah described the anger of God against those who give Him lip-service, but whose actions reveal that they have no respect for His name and character.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

At this point in the story of Abram’s life, he is revealing his deep dependence upon God. He recognizes that his journey from Haran to Canaan has been the work of God and he wants to express his gratitude through sacrifice and praise. And having completed his sacrifice to God, Abram continued to his journey to “the hill country on the east of Bethel” (Genesis 12:8 ESV). And there, he pitched his tent, erected a second altar, and called upon the name of the Lord. Here we have a picture of the nomadic lifestyle that Abram would come to know. He would spend his entire life on the move, relocating from one place to another within the land of Canaan. Even after pitching his tent in Bethel, Abram would eventually break camp and continue his tireless trek through the land God had promised to give him as a possession. And the author of Hebrews reveals that Abram’s transient lifestyle was motivated by a firm belief that God had something great in store for him.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV

He was a man on the move, but with a faith that was firmly founded on the faithfulness of God.

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

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

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

A Prayer of Encouragement

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:6-19 ESV

From the surrounding context, it would appear that Jesus is praying this prayer audibly, and in the hearing of His disciples. His words are directed to His Heavenly Father but for the benefit of His disciples. Jesus wants them to hear this conversation because it contains vital information concerning their relationship with God that should provide them with further encouragement to face what lies ahead.

He begins by stating, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6 ESV). As John revealed in the opening chapter of his gospel, with His incarnation, Jesus made God known (John 1:18). As the Son of God, Jesus manifested the glory of God on earth. He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT) and “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

Jesus manifested or made known the name of God by revealing the divine nature of God through His life and ministry. His miracles displayed the power and authority of God. His words were spoken on behalf of God. And His death on the cross would be the ultimate expression of the love of God. For the last three years, He had been providing His disciples with an earned theology degree on the nature of God. These were “the people” given to Him by God to instruct and prepare for their future roles in the ongoing redemptive plan. They belonged to God because He had chosen them and then given them to His Son to train up as the future ambassadors of the Gospel.

Jesus reveals that these men, whom God had given Him, had remained faithful. They were still with Him, in spite of all the disturbing news He had just shared with them. While they didn’t understand everything Jesus had said, they still believed He was sent from God. And they were still walking with Him even as the darkness around them seemed to grow increasingly more intense. Their continued presence was proof of their commitment. All that they had seen and heard over the last three years had left them convinced that Jesus was the Son of God.

“I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.” – John 17:8 NLT

And Jesus audibly states that His prayer was on their behalf.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. – John 17:9 ESV

It seems doubtful that Jesus would have made this clarification for God’s benefit. The more likely explanation is that His words were aimed at His disciples. As they listened in on Jesus’ prayer to His Father, they would have realized He was speaking not only about them but to them. He wanted them to know that, because of their relationship with Him, they were no longer of this world but were united to God. They belonged to Him.

All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. – John 17:10 NLT

The disciples were going to share in the unity that exists between Jesus and His Father. God had given them to Jesus and now Jesus was giving them back to God. He had prepared them and was now presenting them to His Father for use in His divine plan for redeeming a lost and dying world. Jesus was leaving but they would be staying. And He makes that point clear.

I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. – John 17:11 ESV

This is a somewhat strange statement for Jesus to make because He was still standing in front of His disciples. But it reflects His attitude at that moment. His earthly ministry was over. He had one last task to perform and that was to offer His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was fully committed to completing His God-given assignment and His mind was fixed on the glory that awaited Him. The author of Hebrews explains the motivation behind Jesus’ single-minded focus.

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. – Hebrews 12:2 NLT

But as Jesus makes clear, His disciples would remain behind. Yet He wanted them to know that while they would be in the world, they were not to be of the world.

“…they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” – John 17:14-15 ESV

Yes, He was leaving them behind, but He was not leaving them alone or on their own. He was asking His Father to protect them. Again, it seems unlikely that Jesus is attempting to remind God to take care of His own. But this prayer would have revealed to His disciples that their future was going to be marked by spiritual warfare. Yet they could rest assured that their Heavenly Father would be caring for them every step of the way. As Jesus prepared to leave, He was turning over the daily care of these men to God. He had faithfully and successfully protected them for the last three years.

“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction…” – John 17:12 ESV

But now, in anticipation of His return to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven, Jesus was placing His disciples in His Father’s all-powerful hands.

Verse 13 strongly suggests that Jesus was praying within the hearing of His disciples.

“I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” – John 17:13 ESV

He spoke so that they could hear and, in due time, they would recall His words and be filled with joy in knowing that His prayer had been answered. They would experience the joy of seeing Jesus in His resurrected state. They would watch Him ascend into heaven and then, just days later, receive the promised Holy Spirit and know the joy of having indwelling presence of God to guide and protect them.

Once again, Jesus stresses that the disciples were no longer of this world. And, as He had told them earlier, they would be hated by the world just as He had been.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

This “in it, but not of it” relationship the disciples would have with the world was not going to be easy. Jesus had come into the world and been rejected by it, so the disciples could expect to experience the same fate. And Jesus makes it clear that their presence in this sin-filled and hateful world was part of the divine plan.

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:18 ESV

Just as Jesus had been commissioned to bring God’s plan of redemption to stubborn and rebellious world, the disciples would received their marching orders from Jesus to carry on His work after He was gone.

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

And Jesus asks the Father to continue to provide these men with the one thing they will need to accomplish their mission: The truth.

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:17 ESV

To sanctify simply means to set apart for service. The disciples were going to need a constant and steady flow of truth. Up until this point, Jesus had been their sole source of truth. As He had told them, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). But now, they were going to receive truth directly from God through the indwelling presence of His Spirit. They would experience the reality of what Jesus had foretold.

“When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” – Matthew 10:19-20 NLT

But for this to happen, Jesus was going to have to complete His assignment. The Spirit would not come until Jesus had died, been resurrected, and returned to His Father’s side. That’s why Jesus states, “And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart” (John 17:19 NET). His death was going to make possible their ongoing exposure to the truth of God through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:13 ESV

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

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

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

Contaminated.

Thus says the Lord:
“Behold, a people is coming from the north country,
    a great nation is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.
They lay hold on bow and javelin;
    they are cruel and have no mercy;
    the sound of them is like the roaring sea;
they ride on horses,
    set in array as a man for battle,
    against you, O daughter of Zion!”
We have heard the report of it;
    our hands fall helpless;
anguish has taken hold of us,
    pain as of a woman in labor.
Go not out into the field,
    nor walk on the road,
for the enemy has a sword;
    terror is on every side.
O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth,
    and roll in ashes;
make mourning as for an only son,
    most bitter lamentation,
for suddenly the destroyer
    will come upon us.

“I have made you a tester of metals among my people,
    that you may know and test their ways.
They are all stubbornly rebellious,
    going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron;
    all of them act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely;
    the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
    for the wicked are not removed.
Rejected silver they are called,
    for the Lord has rejected them.” Jeremiah 6:22-30 ESV

 

The enemy IS coming. God has ordained it and nothing is going to stop it. Unless of course, the people were to change their minds and return to Him. But God gives a bleak prognosis when it comes to any future repentance on the part of the people of Judah.

“They are as hard as bronze and iron,
    and they lead others into corruption.
The bellows fiercely fan the flames
    to burn out the corruption.
But it does not purify them,
    for the wickedness remains.” – Jeremiah 6:28-29 NLT

They were contaminated by sin. It permeated their very existence. And it didn’t seem to matter how much God brought the heat of His judgment against them, they remained unrepentant and polluted by sin. So, God tells Jeremiah that He will now refer to them as “rejected silver”. They had inherent value, but their unrepentant sin had diminished their worth. At one time they had been declared holy to the Lord.

Remember that the LORD rescued you from the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt in order to make you his very own people and his special possession, which is what you are today. – Deuteronomy 4:20 NLT

For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

They held the distinct privilege of being God’s own possession. Not because they had deserved it, but simply because God had chosen to make them so. He had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt, where they had been undergoing intense testing under the tyrannical hand of the Pharaoh. God had freed them and set them apart as His own. Not because they had deserved it, but simply because God had chosen to do so. And as a result, they belonged to Him, and their lives were to have reflected their new relationship as God’s chosen people. But over the coming years and throughout the successive generations, the people of Israel would prove to be anything but holy.

“Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

They had gone from holy to profane. That word, “profane” has very strong connotations. It refers to something that has been polluted or desecrated. But it is directly tied to the idea of holiness. God had set the people of Israel apart or deemed them holy. They belonged to Him. But their constant sin and rebellion had left them profaned, like damaged goods. Rather than being pure silver, they were marred by sin. And it didn’t seem to matter how hot the fire of God’s judgment got, they remained unchanged and unrepentant. The people of Judah had sat back and watched the destruction of their neighbors to the north in the kingdom of Israel. They had seen the devastating impact of the Assyrians as they had swarmed the northern territory, destroying its cities and wiping out its people. But now that they were faced with the same fate, they remained unchanged.

Oh, they were concerned. Jeremiah describes their reaction to his messages of coming destruction:

“We have heard reports about the enemy,
    and we wring our hands in fright.
Pangs of anguish have gripped us,
    like those of a woman in labor.” – Jeremiah 6:24 NLT

They were scared, but they weren’t repentant. They were wringing their hands in worry, but not lifting their hands toward God. They wanted to escape God’s judgment, but weren’t willing to obey His commands. So, Jeremiah warns them that they are going to mourn one way or another. They could choose to repent and come before God in sackcloth and ashes, expressing their sorrow over the rebellion against Him. Or they would find themselves mourning over the loss of their entire nation.

“Oh, my people, dress yourselves in burlap
    and sit among the ashes.
Mourn and weep bitterly, as for the loss of an only son.
    For suddenly the destroying armies will be upon you!” – Jeremiah 6:26 NLT

God reminds Jeremiah of his role. “I have made you a tester of metals among my people, that you may know and test their ways” (Jeremiah 6:27 ESV). His words of warning and his constant calls to repentance were going to reveal the exact nature of the people of Judah’s moral and spiritual state. So far, Jeremiah’s messages had fallen on deaf ears. His warnings had been rejected. His threats had been ignored. His prophecies concerning God’s coming judgment had been contradicted by false prophets who promised nothing but peace and prosperity. And God assesses the true nature of His people as being “stubbornly rebellious” (Jeremiah 6:28 ESV).

It’s essential that we keep in mind that the people of Judah were not pagans who knew nothing about God. They were not ignorant of who He was or unfamiliar with His ways. They were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They knew the stories of His rescue of their ancestors Egypt. They had heard about His miraculous miracles as He led them through the wilderness. They had been told of the fall of the walls of Jericho and the ultimate rise of David to the throne of Israel. They were proud to be Jews. But none of this seemed to keep them from turning their backs on God. They had taken His many blessings and turned their noses up at them, acting as if God was not enough. They turned to false gods and sought help from foreign nations. They treated God’s laws as optional. The prophet Ezekiel records God’s less-than-flattering assessment of them.

The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have wronged the poor and needy; they have oppressed the foreigner who lives among them and denied them justice. I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one.– Ezekiel 22:29-30 ESV

They were thoroughly polluted, from top to bottom. From the princes in the palace to the peasant in his hut, everyone was stained by sin and polluted by immorality and injustice. They had become profane and, in the end, they had profaned the name of God. Their behavior had given God a black eye. As His representatives, they had done damage to His holy reputation. And that was not something God could or would tolerate. That is why they would end up in captivity. And even there, long after suffering the shame of defeat and deportation, the people of Judah would continue to profane God’s name. The prophet Ezekiel describe what was going to happen and how God, in spite of their continued unfaithfulness, even after their punishment by Him.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake that I am about to act, O house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy reputation which you profaned among the nations where you went. I will magnify my great name that has been profaned among the nations, that you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the sovereign Lord, when I magnify myself among you in their sight.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

God was going to protect the integrity of His name. He would prove to the people of Judah and the nations around them that He was faithful and that He was all-powerful. He would redeem His people once again. He would restore them to favor. He would make them His holy nation once more. Not because they deserved it, but simply because is faithful, loving, gracious and merciful. And He keeps His covenants.

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

Filing Suits Instead of Following Christ.

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud — even your own brothers! – 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ESV

It seems that the believers in Corinth were having a difficult time grasping the significance of their new status as members of the body of Christ. The concept of having been set apart to God and separated from the world had not yet sunk in. They were still thinking like Greeks and as citizens of Rome. Their mindset was more worldly than godly. This was not an uncommon problem in the early church. In fact, in his letter to Titus, Paul gave him a much-needed reminder:

…we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. – Titus 2:12-14 NLT

Back in chapter three of this letter, Paul had reprimanded the Corinthians about their propensity to live their lives from a worldly perspective.

…you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:3 NLT

Whether or not Paul is laying down a hard-and-fast prohibition against Christians taking one another to court is not clear. But his point seems to be that the Corinthians are not approaching their problems from a spiritual perspective. First of all, the fact that they were having disputes among one another that would require legal action is unacceptable. This indicates that they were living in the flesh and not the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul gave a lengthy, but far from complete, list of sins associated with living according to our sin natures. In it he included sexual immorality, lustful pleasures, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension,  and division. Virtually any lawsuit or legal claim entails one or more of these “deeds of the flesh.” Which is what led Paul to say to them, “Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:7 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern seems to be the integrity of the body of Christ and the honor of God’s name. He is not making a sweeping accusation against the legal profession or courts of law. He simply desires that the believers in Corinth see their Christian faith as more than just a label. It was to become a way of life. It was to influence the way they lived their lives. Paul is also not naive enough to believe that disputes will never take place between believers. As long as we live in these earthly bodies, we will be prone to conflicts, even with fellow believers. But there is a proper way in which we are to settle our disputes. That is why Paul asks, “ Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues?” (1 Corinthians 6:5 NLT). For Paul, it made much more sense to settle disputes between believers within the family of God. It was a matter of common sense. How could ungodly judges know what is best when deciding a dispute between godly believers? What makes legal sense is not necessarily what God would have us do. The right legal decision and the right spiritual one are not always the same thing.

Remember that Paul said earlier in this very same letter, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19 NLT). The message of the cross is at the heart of Paul’s argument. The cross of Christ doesn’t just provide us with forgiveness from sin and escape from future condemnation. It provides us with the power to live godly lives in this world. It is a means of both positional and practical righteousness. And none of that makes sense to those living in the world. While a secular judge may determine that a believer who owes a debt to a brother must pay it in full or face the full penalty of the law, God may require that both the debt and the brother be forgiven. God’s ways are not our ways. And because, “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11 ESV), how can an unbelieving judge know what God’s will might be in a given situation.

Paul refers to the lawsuits they were filing as “trivial cases.” This does not mean that they were small matters or of little significance. Paul is simply saying that in the grand scheme of things, earthly disputes are nothing to worry about. We are to live with a future orientation, fully aware that our ultimate reward is in heaven, where we will sit as judges over the nations. We will rule and reign with Christ. And all disputes, large and small, will be settles once and for all. The greatest dispute being over the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ. Every one who has refused to acknowledge God and accept Christ as Savior will be judged. And yet, here were the Corinthians wasting time and energy disputing with one another over “trivial cases,” and taking one another to court to settle insignificant issues that have no eternal value.

We have been set apart by God. We have been given new natures. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and the Word of God to direct us. Our designation as Christians is to be more than just a label, it is to be a description of our lifestyle. We are to live like Christ. We are to love like Christ. We are to model Christ in all that we do. Christ was willing to suffer so that we might live. He was willing to endure unjust accusations and an undeserved death sentence so that we might be saved. As Isaiah so poignantly put it:

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:7-8 NLT

Hear. Forgive. Act.

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. – Daniel 9:19 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

As Daniel wraps up his prayer, he refocuses his attention on the mercy of God. He asks that God would hear his prayer. He asks that God would forgive the transgressions he has just confessed. Finally, he begs God to hear and do something about it. In the Hebrew, the next phrase is in the negative. He actually says, “delay not.” He is asking that God intervene immediately. In other words, he wants to see the power of God unleashed without delay. After all, they had been waiting 70 years. According to the writings of Jeremiah, the time was ripe for God’s promise or restoration to be fulfilled. Daniel wanted to see it happen ASAP.

But what is interesting is the reason Daniel gave for God to hear, forgive and act. He appeals to God based on His own name and reputation. From Daniel’s human perspective, he saw it as a case of God’s character being at stake. People had already been talking about the state of affairs in Israel, and how their God had abandoned them. Daniel had to have heard countless rumors and discussions regarding God’s apparent apathy toward His own people or His inability to do anything about their condition. Even the Israelites had to have given up hope that their God was ever going to do something about their captivity. That is probably why so many of them had turned to the gods of Babylon. But Daniel held on to what he knew about God. He put his hope in the reality of who God claimed to be and what He had already done for the people of Israel. The words of Jeremiah the prophet rang in his ear, providing him with the faith he needed to keep on believing.

There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you. They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood! Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith; their clothing is violet and purple; they are all the work of skilled men. But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. – Jeremiah 10:6-10 ESV

Daniel’s God was incomparable. He was without equal in power and was worthy of all honor. Daniel longed for God to protect His own name, because he knew the people of Judah were incapable of carrying it off. He asked God to do something because he was painfully well aware that the chosen people of God had chosen to do nothing. There was nothing they could do. They were complete incapable of changing their ways. They were stubborn, rebellious and prone to solve their problems their own way. But Daniel knew they had one hope: God. He knew if anything was going to happen, it would have to be up to God. And if God was to do anything, it would be based on His own desire to protect the character and reputation of His name. God would not allow Himself to be perceived as a liar, as weak, as uncaring, without compassionate, powerless, indifferent, always angry, unmerciful, or unloving. God had promised to restore the people of Judah, and He would. God had made a covenant with the people of Judah, and He would keep it. God was all-powerful, and He would show it. God was loving, and He would prove it. God was sovereign, and He would reveal it. God would hear, forgive and act. Not because of the people of Judah, but because He is God.