Speak When Spoken To

16 And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20 Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”

22 And the hand of the Lord was upon me there. And he said to me, “Arise, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you.” 23 So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face. 24 But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go, shut yourself within your house. 25 And you, O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people. 26 And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. 27 But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house. – Ezekiel 3:16-27 ESV

Ezekiel had been handpicked by God to serve as His spokesman or prophet to the people of Israel living in the land of Babylon. And after receiving the details of his commission from the Almighty, Ezekiel spent a solid week in a virtual state of shock as he considered the gravity of his divine assignment.

And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. – Ezekiel 3:15 ESV

But God disrupted Ezekiel’s listless period of stupefaction with another important message concerning his new role.

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. – Ezekiel 3:17 NLT

God declared Ezekiel to be His צָפָה (ṣāp̄â) or watchman. In Hebrew, the word refers to a lookout or spy. It was often used to describe the role of a guard or sentry who patrolled the walls of a city at night, looking for any threats to the community’s safety. If he saw enemy movements outside the wall, he was to sound the alarm, warning the inhabitants to take appropriate action.

And that was the point behind God’s message to Ezekiel. He was to wait, watch, and warn. Whenever God spoke, Ezekiel was to pass on His message to the people of Israel. The inference is that the message Ezekiel must share will be one of God’s pending judgment upon the rebellious people of Israel. Even though they were already living in captivity because of their sins, they were not free to continue their disobedient and disrespectful treatment of God. He was watching and He still expected them to repent from their sins and return to Him in faithful obedience to His will.

And God warned Ezekiel that his role as watchman would require obedience on his part. If he failed to do his job well, he would pay dearly for it.

“If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.” – Ezekiel 3:18-19 NLT

As God’s prophet, Ezekiel was the sole source of divine communication for the people of Israel. They had no way of hearing from God except through the mouth of God’s spokesman. So, if Ezekiel failed to deliver God’s warning of judgment and the people remained unrepentant, he would be held accountable for their deaths. They would die in their sins because God’s prophet had failed to warn them.

But if Ezekiel faithfully fulfilled his commission and passed on God’s warning to the people, he would be declared innocent of their deaths should they fail to repent. In other words, Ezekiel was only required to communicate the message, not convert the hearers. His only responsibility was to deliver the message accurately and leave the results up to God.

Ezekiel had two primary audiences: The wicked and the righteous. He was to warn the former to turn from their wicked ways so that they might escape the coming judgment of God. But he was also to warn the righteous to remain faithful to God and refrain from pursuing a life of wickedness. In both cases, Ezekiel’s responsibility was to clearly communicate the words given to him by God. Nothing more, nothing less.

It seems that God wanted His newly appointed prophet to understand the gravity of the situation. Ezekiel had spent the last seven days contemplating his new role and had likely come up with a list of objections and questions. So, God wanted Ezekiel to know that his commission was non-optional and came with a high price tag.

Immediately after delivering this call to faithfulness, God sent Ezekiel into the valley of the River Kebar, where He allowed the prophet to witness His glory once again.

“Get up and go out into the valley, and I will speak to you there.” So I got up and went, and there I saw the glory of the Lord, just as I had seen in my first vision by the Kebar River. And I fell face down on the ground. – Ezekiel 3:22-23 NLT

What happens next is fascinating, considering what God just said to Ezekiel. He had commanded His servant to faithfully deliver His words regardless of the response of the people. Yet, the first thing God commanded Ezekiel to do was to return to his own home.

“Go to your house and shut yourself in. There, son of man, you will be tied with ropes so you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. – Ezekiel 3:24-26 NLT

God put Ezekiel in solitary confinement. Not only that, He had the prophet constrained with ropes. It is unclear who did the restraining, but it would appear that this was a supernatural event that involved angelic beings and not men. However God did it, Ezekiel found himself bound within the walls of his home and unable to venture out. The prophet was a prisoner. And to make matters worse, God made Ezekiel mute.

At first glance, none of this makes much sense. Why would God restrict the actions of His newly appointed prophet and remove his capacity to speak? How was Ezekiel to warn the people? What good was a prophet who couldn’t talk? How was he to call the people to repentance if he was under house arrest?

But God was actually protecting Ezekiel – from himself.  God knew Ezekiel well and understood that this young man would be quick to take up an offense for His glory. Once Ezekiel began his mission among the people, he would see the stubbornness and rebellion of the people firsthand and become angry at their refusal to heed his words.

For Ezekiel’s own protection, God secluded him away until the moment he was needed. Ezekiel was restricted from ministering or speaking until God had given him something to say. God had made it perfectly clear, the only time Ezekiel was to speak was when he could say, “Thus says the Lord God…” (Ezekiel 3:11 ESV).

God was not interested in Ezekiel’s opinion. He did not need His prophet to give his two cents worth. The only time he was to speak was when he was declaring the message given to him by God. That is why God said, “you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels” (Ezekiel 3:26 NLT). God knew that Ezekiel would become increasingly frustrated with the sinful dispositions of his fellow exiles. Their failure to listen to God’s warning would prompt him to lash out in anger and say things he would ultimately regret.

The longer Ezekiel did his job, the angrier he would become about the sins of the people. He would come to share God’s hatred for their rebellion and failure to repent. So, at the outset of his ministry, Ezekiel found himself bound and gagged by God, so that he might learn to speak only when spoken to.

If God had not prevented him from speaking, Ezekiel would probably have had plenty to say to and about his less-than-righteous neighbors. He would have been more than happy to give the people a piece of his mind, read them the riot act, and chew them out for their sinful lifestyles and rebellion against God. After all, he was God’s spokesman. But God was not going to allow Ezekiel to say anything at all until He had given him something to say. Ezekiel was going to have to shut up until God spoke up. Any words that came out of his mouth were going to have to be God’s and not his own.

What if we approached our relationships with others the same way? What if we decided to keep our mouths shut until we knew we had heard from God? Too often, we decide that we have something that others need to hear, yet the content of our message didn’t come from God. We boldly and confidently attribute it to Him, when all the while, we are the source. We give God credit for a message that we came up with. But God wants us to speak at His command, not on His behalf. As His messengers, we don’t get to make up the message, we simply get to communicate it. But too often, we end up sharing our opinion instead of declaring God’s Word. We give it our slant. We put our words in God’s mouth.

God knew Ezekiel was going to be prone to the same problem, so He did him a favor and made him mute – until it was time for him to speak. For some of us, that might be the best thing that ever happened to us. But in the meantime, let’s see if we can’t learn to speak less and listen more. So that when we do speak, we are confident that what we say is from God and not us.

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

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

 

A Bitter-Sweet Assignment

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.

“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. 10 And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. – Ezekiel 2:1-3:3 ESV

Ezekiel had been given a vision of God’s glory, and it left him face down on the ground in reverential fear and wonder. As this exiled young priest stood by the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon, the God of the universe made an unexpected and highly spectacular appearance.

Above this surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. – Ezekiel 1:26-28 NLT

It is safe to assume that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Ezekiel. He had never seen anything like this before, and to have the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob appear to him in the remote recesses of the land of Babylon must have been a shock to his system. He was just a lowly priest who had been taken captive just like all the other residents of Jerusalem when the city had fallen to King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces.  Jehoiachin was the king of Judah at the time and, according to 2 Kings 12:9, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord as his ancestors had done.” Like most of his predecessors, Jehoiachin chose to use his royal power to promote idolatry that fostered unfaithfulness to God, and he suffered greatly for his refusal to honor the Almighty.

At that time the generals of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched to Jerusalem and besieged the city. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city while his generals were besieging it. King Jehoiachin of Judah, along with his mother, his servants, his officials, and his eunuchs surrendered to the king of Babylon. The king of Babylon, in the eighth year of his reign, took Jehoiachin prisoner. Nebuchadnezzar took from there all the riches in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He removed all the gold items that King Solomon of Israel had made for the Lord’s temple, just as the Lord had warned. He deported all the residents of Jerusalem, including all the officials and all the soldiers (10,000 people in all). This included all the craftsmen and those who worked with metal. No one was left except for the poorest among the people of the land. – 2 Kings 12:10-14 NLT

Living amongst the exiled people of God, Ezekiel had firsthand experience with the apathy and complacency that had taken hold of them. A long way from home and no longer able to avail themselves of the temple and the sacrificial system, they had begun to lose interest in the things of God. Their circumstances had left them feeling abandoned by God and distraught over the far-from-ideal conditions of their captivity. With the passage of time, God had become out of sight, out of mind. They simply assumed He had turned His back on them and so, in time, they gave up hope and determined to make the most of their situation in Babylon.

But God had other plans that included appointing Ezekiel as the one who would deliver His message to the exiles. He had not forgotten about them. They had not been abandoned. Their exile had been intended to get their attention and to bring them to a point of repentance. Now, Ezekiel was going to be commissioned to serve as God’s spokesperson, delivering His call to repentance.

Having gotten Ezekiel’s full attention through the grand display of His glory, God delivered the details of his new assignment.

“I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’” – Ezekiel 2:3-4 NLT

God makes it painfully clear that Ezekiel’s new task would not be easy. He would have to deliver a message from God to a people who had a track record of stubbornness and insubordination. And God warns Ezekiel that his audience may not receive his message with open arms.

“And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them.” – Ezekiel 2:5 NLT

There was no guarantee that Ezekiel would experience success. Despite the fact that he would be speaking the words of God, he had no way of knowing how the people would respond. In fact, God made it sound like his mission was doomed to certain failure.

What would you do if God called you to a task that He knew you were going to fail at? What if He even told you your efforts would be fruitless and non-productive? Most of us would bail. We would give up long before we got going. Because we’re wired with one thing in mind – success – and failure is not an acceptable alternative. But when Ezekiel got his marching orders from God, he was also given the not-so-great news that his ministry would be unsuccessful because his audience was going to be unresponsive.  God even told Ezekiel to expect threats and animosity. This was going to be one difficult job assignment.

In a sense, God was foreshadowing failure, but demanding obedience. Ezekiel’s success would not be measured by the number of callous, carnal Israelites he converted, but on his willingness to carry out God’s assignment faithfully, even in the face of rejection, ridicule, and poor results.

Even the message God gave Ezekiel to share was anything but good news. In his vision, Ezekiel was given a scroll that was covered with writing front and back, from edge to edge. It’s content?

“Funeral songs, words of sorrows, and pronouncements of doom.” – Ezekiel 2:9b NLT

It was a veritable compendium of bad news. So, not only would Ezekiel have a non-responsive audience, he was given an unappealing message. But God fully understood the foreboding nature of Ezekiel’s assignment, and he knew that Ezekiel was already wrestling with whether to follow through with His command. The young priest was afraid of how he and his message might be received by the people, but God encouraged him to have faith.

“Do not fear them or their words. Don’t be afraid even though their threats surround you like nettles and briars and stinging scorpions. Do not be dismayed by their dark scowls, even though they are rebels.” – Ezekiel 2:6 NLT

God was telling Ezekiel not to be frightened by the things they would threaten to do to him, the harsh words they might say about him, or the negative reaction they would inevitably have to him.

“Son of man, do not fear them or their words. Don’t be afraid even though their threats surround you like nettles and briers and stinging scorpions. Do not be dismayed by their dark scowls, even though they are rebels. You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!” – Ezekiel 2:6-7 NLT

Ezekiel was going to experience resistance. His message would not be well-received and the people would hold him responsible for its content. It was only a matter of time before they sought to kill the messenger. That’s why God warned Ezekiel to refrain from emulating the rebellious nature of his audience. He was not to reject God’s assignment just because it sounded difficult and more than a bit dangerous. God was open and above board as to the difficulty of the mission. He didn’t attempt to sugarcoat the assignment or paint a rosy picture of its outcome. Instead, God gave His newly appointed prophet all he would need to succeed.

“Son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not join them in their rebellion. Open your mouth, and eat what I give you.” – Ezekiel 2:8 NLT

God held out a scroll, upon which were written lamentations, mourning, and woes. In other words, it was filled with bad news. The sheer volume of disheartening content was so great that it covered both sides of the scroll. God’s indictment against His people was great and He commanded Ezekiel to consume every last bit of it. He was to take it all in so that he might regurgitate it, word for word, to the disobedient people of God.

“Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” – Ezekiel 3:1 ESV

But much to his surprise, Ezekiel found the less-than-appealing content of the scroll to be “sweet as honey.” (Ezekiel 3:3 ESV). There is a similar scene described in the book of Revelation. In it, the apostle John is given a vision of an angel who descends from heaven with a scroll in his hand. He presents the scroll to John and commands him to eat it.

“Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach.

Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” – Revelation 10:9-11 NLT

Both John and Ezekiel would find the words of God to be both sweet and bitter. When the truth of God is consumed, it is pleasant and life-giving, but it can also result in conviction and condemnation.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. – Hebrews 4:12 NLT

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16 NLT

For Ezekiel, consuming God’s word was sweet to the taste, but declaring it to the people would be a bitter experience. They would find it distasteful and difficult to swallow. But God was calling Ezekiel to be faithful and fearless in declaring its truth regardless of the outcome.

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

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

Silencing the Ungodly

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul’s protégés. He was a Greek Gentile whom Paul had evidently led to Christ. This young man had actually accompanied Paul on several of his missionary journeys. Over time, he earned the apostle’s trust, so that Paul was confident in sending him out on his own on numerous occasions. In fact, Paul had sent him to the island of Crete to appoint elders and establish some sense of order among the congregations there.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. –  Titus 1:5 NLT

As he had done with Timothy, Paul provided Titus with advice on how to deal with false teachers who had become a recurring problem within the fledgling churches on Crete.

Titus found himself ministering in a place where the reputation of the inhabitants was far from stellar. Paul even quoted Epimenides, a 6th Century BC philosopher and religious prophet who happened to be from Crete and who held a low view of his fellow Cretans.

Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. – Titus 1:12 ESV

Paul concurred with Epimenides’ assessment and went out of his way to paint a less-than-flattering picture of the people of Crete. He described them as  “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10 ESV). Evidently, the false teachers were not the only people of poor repute on Crete. So were some of the members of the local churches. That’s why Paul spends a great deal of time in his letter talking about good works. He wanted Titus to understand just how important good character and moral behavior were to be in the life of a believer.

Paul commanded Titus to deal harshly and firmly with those whose lives were marked by laziness and lying. He didn’t want his young disciple to tolerate the disorder and chaos these kinds of people were bringing into the church. He told Titus to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13 ESV). Rebuking and restoration were both to be a part of Titus’ ministry on Crete.

Paul’s objective was for these individuals to become “sound in the faith,” because they were spreading false and deceptive ideas concerning faith in Christ. Paul’s use of the term “faith” refers to eternal salvation made possible through belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. The false teachers were confusing and even contradicting what Paul, Titus, and others had taught regarding what it means to have faith in Christ, experience forgiveness of sins, and have a restored relationship with God.

Rather than teaching faith alone in Christ alone, these false teachers were proclaiming novel messages regarding salvation that were contradictory to the gospel proclaimed by Paul and the other apostles, and it was weakening the faith of the Cretan believers. They didn’t know who or what to believe anymore.

One of the qualifications for elders that Paul gave Titus was “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). These men were to be knowledgeable of the truth so that they might refute falsehood and rebuke those who taught it. As far as Paul was concerned, sound faith was totally dependent upon sound doctrine.

But these false teachers were teaching “what they ought not to teach” and all “for shameful gain” (Titus 1:11 ESV). Paul refers to them as being from the circumcision party. This is a reference to Jews who had expressed faith in Christ, but who held to the idea that Gentiles who became believers in Christ must also keep the Law of Moses and undergo the rite of circumcision in order to be truly saved.

Paul fought this heresy with every fiber of his being. And Paul’s fear was that, based on the reputation of the Cretans, they would easily accept this false teaching, and end up “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

The Cretans were easily swayed by the “commands” or teachings of these people, readily accepting what they had to say about circumcision, abstinence from certain foods, the keeping of Jewish feasts and festivals, and adherence to the Mosaic law. But Paul warned Titus that these false teachers “claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good” (Titus 1:16 ESV).

Paul made it clear that the real problem with these false teachers was their hearts.

Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted. – Titus 1:15 NLT

They were obsessed with the externals: the keeping of laws and commands and adherence to rituals and religious rules.

There was an occasion when Jesus was approached by a group of Jewish religious leaders who wanted to know why His disciples didn’t follow their man-made tradition of ceremonial hand-cleansing before they ate. Jesus responded to them:

“And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:3-9 NLT

Jesus went on to say: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew 15:11 NLT).

These self-righteous religious leaders had missed the point. They were so busy keeping external rules that they missed the real issue: The condition of their hearts. And Paul knew that the false teachers who were so negatively impacting the churches on Crete were suffering from the same problem. Their minds and consciences were defiled. Their hearts were hardened to the truth regarding faith in Christ. They were convinced that there had to be more to salvation. Faith alone in Christ alone was not enough. Works of self-righteousness were necessary. But Paul describes them as defiled and unbelieving. They were wrong and they were dangerous.

So, Paul tells Titus to rebuke them sharply. He was to deal harshly with the false teachers, and he was to rebuke the Cretans who were so easily buying into their lies. Sound doctrine and sound faith go hand in hand. The Word of God is not open to our interpretation. We are not free to add to the gospel or alter the truth of God in any way. And we are not to tolerate those who attempt to mislead by misinterpreting what God has said. Again, that is why Paul told Titus an elder must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT).

Paul had also written to Timothy, telling him that the purpose of his letter was that “you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). The church and its leaders were to adhere to and uphold the truth of God, especially as it relates to the message and means of salvation. There is no other gospel except the one we have been given: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 ESV).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

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

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

From Don’t to Won’t

17 Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
18 Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

19 Hear, my son, and be wise,
    and direct your heart in the way.
20 Be not among drunkards
    or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
    and slumber will clothe them with rags.

22 Listen to your father who gave you life,
    and do not despise your mother when she is old.
23 Buy truth, and do not sell it;
    buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
24 The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
    he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
25 Let your father and mother be glad;
    let her who bore you rejoice.

26 My son, give me your heart,
    and let your eyes observe my ways.
27 For a prostitute is a deep pit;
    an adulteress is a narrow well.
28 She lies in wait like a robber
    and increases the traitors among mankind.

29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who tarry long over wine;
    those who go to try mixed wine.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
32 In the end it bites like a serpent
    and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your heart utter perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
    like one who lies on the top of a mast.
35 “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
    they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
    I must have another drink.” – Proverbs 23:17-35 ESV

Proverbs 23 contains a portion of the 30 wise sayings begun by Solomon in Proverbs 22. He prefaced his list with this explanation: “I am teaching you today – yes, you – so you will trust in the Lord. I have written thirty sayings for you, filled with advice and knowledge. In this way, you may know the truth…” (Proverbs 22:19-21 NLT).

The majority of what follows are warnings from Solomon to his sons concerning all those things they are to avoid. He provides them a list of prohibitions. Don’t rob the poor, don’t befriend angry people, don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt, etc. Solomon calls these sayings “the words of the wise.” He encourages his sons to “keep them in your heart and always ready on your lips.”

At first glance, they simply seem to be common-sense sayings that are based on good moral judgment and proper ethics. But in reality, they express the heart of God and the life of the man who knows and fears God. There are warnings against taking advantage of the poor who God cares for and will defend the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. There are warnings about allowing anything other than God to become your source of provision or pleasure. That is why he brings up dining with the wealthy, powerful, and influential. Solomon warns against doing it to gain favor, to be part of the in-crowd, or as a pathway to success? He warns his sons against becoming so obsessed with wealth that they wear themselves out in the pursuit of it.

They run the risk of making money a god, expecting it to do for them what only God Himself can do. Throughout Proverbs 23, Solomon warns his boys about the importance and danger of relationships. He talks about dining with rulers, eating with the stingy, cheating your neighbor, counseling fools, disciplining children, envying sinners, partying with drunks, and soliciting prostitutes. Our earthly relationships are a very clear indicator of the kind of relationship we have with God. The godly discipline their children; are content rather than envious of others; turn to God for assistance rather than the wealthy, powerful, and influential of this earth; practice self-control, and use discernment in living their lives.

Solomon began his list with the statement, “I am teaching you today – yes, you – so you will trust in the Lord.” Many, if not all, of his warnings, have to do with taking advantage of others in order to get ahead. They paint the picture of an individual who is obsessed with the people and things of this earth only to satisfy his needs and desires. Solomon tells his sons to choose their relationships carefully – in the fear of the Lord. He advises them to control their physical appetites for food, wine, and sex – in the fear of the Lord. He encourages them to discipline their own children and to commit themselves to godly wisdom – all in the fear of the Lord.

At the heart of all behavior should be a healthy fear of and respect for God. NOT doing certain things will NOT result in godliness. We don’t do these things because we are godly. We belong to God and we are His children. We represent Him on this earth. We refuse to live like the world. In the book of Titus, Paul writes, “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And 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” (Titus 2:11-13 NLT).

We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God. That is exactly what Solomon is talking about. Our fear of, love for, and devotion to God should determine our behavior on this planet, and reflect that we are His children.

In the three dozen prohibitions found in chapters 22 and 23 of Proverbs, Solomon addresses everything from drinking to the dangers of gluttony. But why does Solomon find the need to list all these warnings and commands? Because he feared that his sons still lacked the ability to make wise decisions on their own.

The book of Proverbs is very practical, providing divinely inspired input for daily living. This is Monday-morning relevant stuff. No religious mumbo-jumbo or spiritual speak here. This is relevant counsel for real life. But if we try and apply these principles to our lives like self-help tips, we’re going to be highly disappointed. Oh, they might work for a while, because they are divine truths from the very throne of God. But we will be incapable of keeping them long-term because we really don’t understand their value and we lack the convictions necessary to stick with them. We will be like a child who knows all the rules but fails to keep them because he doesn’t understand the reasons behind them.

The key to applying the words of the wise is to understand the truth contained in them. If we simply view them as restrictions that keep us from doing the things we want to do, we will ultimately see them as roadblocks to our self-satisfaction. We may keep them for a time, out of fear of punishment, but as soon as we have the chance, we will rebel and reject them. That’s why we are told to “get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment” (Proverbs 23:23 NLT).

These wise sayings are not wisdom in and of themselves. They are the byproduct of wisdom. They are wise because they have come from a wise God and have been revealed through the life experiences of wise men and women. We are told to get discipline because without it we will never be able to follow the counsel in this book. We need good judgment because without it we will never understand or appreciate the value of following the advice found on the pages of the book of Proverbs, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter.

When children are young, one of the most common words they hear their parents say is “don’t!” Everyone is constantly telling them what NOT to do. Why? Because they are young and lack the ability to know right from wrong. They are self-centered and live in a world in which they are the only occupant. Their desires come first. If they see something they want, they simply take it. If they crave something and someone denies them access to it, they find a way to get it anyway, even if it means disobeying the authorities in their life. Kids have to hear the word, “don’t” because they don’t know any better.

But there comes a time when we no longer have to say, “don’t!” to our children as much as we used to. Why? Because they eventually grow in wisdom, discipline, and understanding. They reach a point where they understand the reason behind the restrictions. They grow wise in the ways of the world.

For some of us, reading this list of wise sayings leaves us nodding our heads in agreement because we already know the truth found in them. Others of us may read them and think, “This is hard stuff, I don’t know if I can pull it off, or if I even agree with it.”

They sound restrictive and unattractive to many of us. Because we lack wisdom. We need understanding. We are short on discernment. And all these things come from God. We need to get to know Him better. We need to know His heart so that we can see the truth contained in His Word. When our children are young and they hear us tell them “don’t,” they think we’re mean. But as they grow older and get to know us better, they realize just how much we love them and have their best interest in mind. The same is true with 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.

Truth-Tellers Vs Ear-Ticklers

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
    who puts nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the Spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin. – Micah 3:5-8 ESV

In these verses, you can almost sense Micah’s anger as he addresses his adversaries – those individuals who had chosen to deliver a different message to the people of Judah. Micah’s job was hard enough without having to deal with the constant presence of those who contradicted his words by offering the people false promises of hope. These men were responsible for the attitude of arrogant pride that pervaded the nation of Judah. They were willing to tell the people what they wanted to hear– in return for personal gain and popularity. But their attempts to paint a rosy picture of the future was in direct conflict with the message God had given Micah, Isaiah, and the other prophets.

And while their message that all would be well in Judah won them plenty of friends and made Micah persona non grata in the community, they were not speaking for God.

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
14 They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace. – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

These men were using their perceived position as prophets of God for personal gain. Micah accuses them of telling people what they wanted to hear as long as they got something in return.

You promise peace for those who give you food,
    but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you. – Micah 3:5 NLT

They didn’t care about the well-being of the people and they didn’t speak for God. They were fabricating tales designed to make people feel good. Rather than calling the people to repentance, they were encouraging them to continue doing the very things that God had promised to judge. And the people were drawn to these false prophets with their pleasant-sounding, ear-tickling lies disguised as messages from God.

The apostle Paul warned Timothy to expect this same kind of behavior in his day. Wherever and whenever the people of God gather, they will attract charlatans and frauds posing as pastors, teachers, and prophets of God.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

And the primary danger of these posers and fakers is that their message is always designed to appeal to the sinful nature of men. Rather than convict of sin, they will encourage compromise with the world. Instead of calling God’s people to repentance, they will lead them into further sin, by promoting and condoning behavior that is not in keeping with God’s will.

But while these false prophets will always find a ready and willing audience, they will also discover that God stands opposed to all that they do. Deeming themselves to be shepherds of God’s sheep, the Great Shepherd was going to repay them for the damage they had done to His flock.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD.

Therefore, this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them.” – Jeremiah 23:1-12 NLT

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. – Ezekiel 34:9-10 NLT

Micah has strong words for those who were misleading the sheep of Judah. And, addressing their claim to be speaking on behalf of God, he warns that their days of prophecy and divination were coming to an end. Micah knew that he was speaking for God and that all the judgments he had been warning about were going to take place. When they did, these false prophets would themselves plunged into the darkness of ignorance, unable to explain away the suffering and sorrow taking place all around them.

When the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem finally came, these false prophets would be exposed for what they really were: Liars. Their 15-minutes of fame would come to an abrupt and painful end. It will be difficult to sell a message of “peace” and “all will be well” when the Babylonians are destroying your city and taking your friends and neighbors captive.

Anyone can claim to speak for God but, ultimately, they will have to answer to Him for all that they have said on His behalf and in His name. No matter how attractive their message may have been and despite the number of people it may have fooled, God will be the one who repays them for the lies they have spread in His name.

The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end.
Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God. – Micah 3:6-7 NLT

But Micah boldly proclaims his confidence in who he is and in all that he has said.

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. – Micah 3:8 NLT

As a messenger of God, Micah had the full backing and support of the Spirit God. His message, while unappealing and unpopular, was true. When Micah spoke, he did so with God’s blessing. His message was just and right because it came from the lips of God Himself. He could speak confidently and powerfully, boldly declaring the sins of the people of Judah, even when they rejected his words and resisted his efforts.

They didn’t have to listen to him, but it would be in their best interest if they did. They could continue to pay the false prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear, but it would prove to be a poor investment. They could deny the warnings of Micah and refuse to believe that judgment was coming, but it wouldn’t change a thing. The truth of God is not always easy to hear. His condemnation of our sin and His call to repentance is intended to bring about conviction and to promote confession. But our sin natures inflate our pride by encouraging a belief in our own self-righteousness. We refuse to believe we’re as bad as God says we are. And so, we seek out teachers, preachers, authors, and speakers who will promote and encourage our sense of self-worth and assuage any feelings of guilt or conviction we may be feeling.

But self-deceit and false teaching will never produce fruit in keeping with true repentance (Matthew 3:8). Trying to convince yourself that you’re inherently good and surrounding yourself with those who will support that conclusion will only lead to disappointment. That’s why the people of God need to seek out those who will speak the truth of God boldly and unapologetically – men and women who share the conviction of Micah and who stand side-by-side with the apostle Paul in his conviction to preach the gospel faithfully, regardless of the cost.

Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6 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

Bright Lights In A Dark Place.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:19-21 ESV

When it comes to man’s relationship with God, it seems that everyone has an opinion, but not everyone’s opinion counts. It really doesn’t matter what I think. What you determine to be the truth about God, sin, righteousness, salvation or any of a number of other important spiritual matters is unimportant if what you believe does not come from the Word of God. Peter was preparing his readers for a rather in-your-face attack on false teachers and prophets – those individuals who were rising up among the people and secretly bringing in destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1). Peter will accuse them of blaspheming the way of truth with false words (2 Peter 2:2, 3). He will warn the people to avoid them like the plague. But why should his opinion matter? What made Peter any different than anyone else when it came to spiritual truth?

Peter has already made it clear that he was an eye-witness to the majesty of Christ, having been there when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain top. Peter was a hand-picked follower of Jesus and had been privileged to see the words of the Old Testament prophets concerning the coming Messiah literally come to life in Jesus. That is what he seems to mean when he says, “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV).  That day on the mountain, he, James and John had heard God audibly declare, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV). God had testified as to the deity of Jesus. He was the Son of God. They had heard from the mouth of God Himself that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the words of the prophets. And they were to listen to Him. Which is why Peter tells his readers, “you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV). What Peter and the other apostles were teaching was the truth of God as revealed directly from the Son of God. They were carrying out the commission given to them by Jesus.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

Peter was simply teaching what he had been taught by Jesus. He was expanding upon the teachings of Jesus and clarifying the nature of the good news as revealed in His death and resurrection. As Peter has already stated, what he was teaching was not “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV), but “the prophetic word” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV). And “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20 ESV). In other words, the prophets didn’t make up what they wrote. It was given to them by God through the inspiration of the Spirit. In fact, Peter asserts, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 ESV). Which is exactly what Paul confirmed when he wrote:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:17-18 ESV

Peter’s primary concern seems to be that his readers stay attentive to the Word of God. He wanted them to recognize the truth that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophetic words of the Old Testament. The good news was to be like a “lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV). This appears to be a reference to the return of the Lord for His bride, the Church. Peter is speaking of the rapture. Like the morning star that appears in the sky and foreshadows the coming of the dawn, Jesus will one day return for the Church and that day will usher in the dawn of a new day, the day of the Lord. Peter wanted them to live with that day in mind. They were to keep their minds focused on the reality of Christ’s eventual return.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV

The false prophets and teachers were attempting to mislead the people by teaching something other than what the prophets wrote and the apostles declared. So Peter was warning his readers to not lose sight of the truth of God’s Word and the promise of Christ’s coming. They were to stay focused on the task at hand. They were to not allow themselves to be deceived or distracted from the calling they had received from God. Jesus had appeared to them like a bright light in the darkness, illuminating their sin and eliminating their guilt and shame. Now they were to be bright lights in the darkness surrounding them. They were to live like Christ, fully reliant upon the Spirit of God and obeying the Word of God.

Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Philippians 2:15-17 ESV). That was Peter’s desire as well. He wanted his readers to shine as lights in the world – bright lights in a dark place. But to do so, they would have to stay committed to the truth of God as revealed in the written Word and the Living Word. God did not leave His plan of redemption up to the opinion or interpretation of men. The apostle John made perfectly clear God’s grand plan for the redemption of mankind:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

We have that light shining within us. And we would do well to recall the words of Paul, written to the believers in Corinth.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 ESV

Left To Our Own Devices.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. – Romans 1:26-27 ESV

What happens when man abandon the truth of God for “the lie?” The lie is, in essence, that God does not exist at all or that He exists according to man’s invention. And if the one true God does not exist at all or exist as He truly is, then man is left to create his own order of things and his own laws for life. Three times in this section of Romans 1, Paul uses the phrase, “God gave them up.” Paul is attempting to demonstrate what life looks like when God releases men to pursue and believe “the lie.” Thinking themselves to be wise, their foolish hearts become darkened, and they lose any ability to make decisions based on the wisdom and righteousness of God. In this condition, they find themselves believing and practicing practically anything. “Those who turned against God turned everything on its head. For those who forsook the author of nature could not keep to the order of nature” (Pelagius, Commentary on Romans). Paul refers to women who “exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” and he mentions men who “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Romans 1:26-27 ESV). There are those today who would like to write this off as simply the opinion of Paul. There are others who attempt to explain away what Paul says by insinuating that he is only speaking against “improper” homosexual acts, not the act itself. Still others want to believe that Paul is only referring to homosexual acts that were taking place in the context of pagan worship. But these are not the words of Paul. They are the words of God. They are part of the powerful explanation Paul has provided in this letter regarding the gospel of God. Men are without excuse. They have abandoned the truth about God and His will for mankind. They have ignored God’s clear revelation of His invisible attributes and divine nature in His creation. Rather than worship God, they have ended up worshiping anything and everything but God. And Paul makes it painfully clear that what sinful man always ends up doing is distorting the truth of God. They exchange the natural for the unnatural, what is right for what is wrong, the holy for the unholy, the will of God for the will of self. They become consumed with passions – all kinds of passions, both good and bad. But the time comes when they can no longer tell the difference. The lines become blurred. Their consciences become seared. They lose the ability to discern right from wrong, and even become rabid defenders of their actions and attitudes.

It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to read the words of God recorded in Genesis 1 and to reach a conclusion. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it’” (Genesis 1:27-28 NLT). They were to bear fruit, to multiply their kind. That is why God created them as a male and female. It was together, as man and woman, that they were to fulfill the command of God. Adam could not do it alone. Eve was incapable of multiplying by herself. God built into nature and into their physiology, the ability to live within His will. But man, in his sin, has determined a “better way,” a preferred way. Natural passions end up being replaced by unnatural, ungodly passions. Paul calls them “dishonorable passions.” The Greek word he uses is atimia and it is very graphic in nature. It was “used of the unseemliness and offensiveness of a dead body” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It was also used to refer to the dishonorable use of a vessel or container. Bodies are meant to have life. A dead body is unnatural and offensive to our senses. It is lifeless and no longer operating as it was intended to. The same thing is true of those who are consumed with passion for those of the same sex. They are no longer operating as God intended them to. Their acts are unnatural and against the ordained will of God.

But in our day and age, any attempt to make this claim is met with disdain, hatred, cries of bigotry and intolerance, and a violent defense of individual rights and freedoms. But, according to Paul, we should not be surprised. Their foolish hearts are darkened. The claim to be wise, boasting in their enlightened understanding and progressive comprehension of all things moral and ethical. But they are fools. They have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:23 ESV). Of course, Paul was referring to idol worship here, but the real issue is that of man-worship. When the best expression we can come up with for God’s revealed power and divine nature is the image of man, we are in trouble. When we make a god out of man, we end up worshiping ourselves. And we sacrifice truth at the altar of our own corrupt passions and desires. Self-satisfaction and self-gratification consume us. God releases us to pursue our increasingly perverse passions.

We must not lose sight of the fact that Paul is attempting to explain and expound upon the gospel of God. The good news of Jesus Christ must be displayed against the backdrop of man’s darkened state of sin. Paul is going to show that man is in trouble. Apart from God, things will always for from bad to worse. In Paul’s estimation, it doesn’t matter if you’re pagan or pious, immoral or a moral icon of virtue. Without God’s glorious gospel, all men will ultimately receive “the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:27 ESV). Man without God is hopeless. Man, left to his own devices, will always gravitate toward ungodliness and unrighteousness. But the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV).

Fire In My Bones.

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” – Jeremiah 20:9-10 ESV

Jeremiah 20:7-18

Jeremiah had given his nemesis, Pashtur, an interesting, if not too flattering, nickname. “The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, ‘The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side’” (Jeremiah 20:3 ESV). But in reality, Jeremiah had become known for having a one-track mind that always seemed to be thinking about nothing but doom and gloom. It had gotten so bad that Jeremiah had contemplated giving up his job as a prophet of God. But every time he tried, he found himself unable to contain the message God had given him. He described it as “a burning fire shut up in my bones”. Even his close friends had threatened to denounce him because of his incessant calls to repentance and warning about pending judgment. They were even anxious to see him proven wrong. Their collective hope was that Jeremiah, while a prophet of God, could just be deceived and his message not be from God at all. After all, there were other prophets claiming to speak for God who were offering up a message that was radically different than that of Jeremiah. But God would have harsh words for those individuals. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you”; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, “No disaster shall come upon you”’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17 ESV).

It doesn’t take a genius to understand whose message was more readily received. The false prophets were telling the people exactly what they wanted to hear: All is well. There is nothing to worry about. Everything is going to be fine. God is not angry. Destruction is not coming. Jeremiah is wrong. But God felt otherwise. “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 23:21-22 ESV). These men didn’t speak for God. They were simply telling the people what they wanted to hear. As a result, they were popular. Their messages were well received. Centuries later, Paul would warn Timothy about a similar situation in his own day. “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). The fact is, the truth is hard to handle. Sometimes we just don’t want to hear it. Sometimes we don’t want to tell it. And like Jeremiah, we live in a time when the truth of God is not politically correct or popular. Sin is becoming increasingly acceptable and, in many ways, celebrated. Courts made up of men now determine what is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. Behavior that was once classified as sin is now deemed normal and natural. The Word of God, which speaks clearly and truthfully about such matters, is simply reinterpreted, redefined or simply ignored in order to justify behaviors that God classifies as sin.

And in the midst of all the pressure to conform and compromise, it would be tempting to give in. It would be easy to soften our message in order to find acceptance. After all, nobody likes rejection – even Jeremiah. But he discovered that he had a fire in his bones, a burning in his heart that would not allow him to shut up or give up. Despite the opposition, he had to keep speaking the truth of God to the people of God. God had given him a message and he was obligated to share it, whether anyone wanted to hear it or not. He was also called to live differently than those around him. He couldn’t afford to compromise his convictions or cut corners when it came to his commitment to God. And the writer of Hebrews had a similar message to his readers. “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:1-6 ESV).

The truth of God is not always easy to hear. It isn’t always easy to share either. But it is the truth of God that sets men free. The lies of the enemy deceive and delude. The world wants to contradict the Word of God. Even many of our fellow believers would rather listen to the promises of so-called prophets who offer us false hope and faulty messages that contradict the will of God. Hearing what we want to hear may be comforting for a season, but it will always prove dangerous and deadly. The truth of God is what we need to hear. And our prayer should be that God would give us a fire in our bones to speak the truth in love, against all odds and in the face of any and all opposition. Because the Lord is our helper. We have nothing to fear. What can men do to us?

Risky Business.

O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. – Jeremiah 20:7-8 ESV

Jeremiah 20:7-18

Being a prophet of God was not an easy task. While it was a job that came with a certain amount of power and authority, prophets were far from popular. They didn’t get invited to a lot of parties. They could count their number of friends on one hand. Their role as spokesmen for God put them in an awkward place socially. Their God-given responsibility was to warn the people about the coming judgment of God and to call them to repentance – not exactly a popularity-producing message. Prophets tended to be lonely and had to suffer the rejection and ridicule of the very people they were trying to save. They were most often misunderstood and frequently mistreated. And Jeremiah was no exception. “Jeremiah was hated, jeered at, ostracized, continually harassed, and more than once almost killed” (John Bright, A History of Israel, pp. 313, 314). But in spite of all the difficulties they faced, the one thing each of the prophets enjoyed was a close relationship with God. They heard from Him regularly and dialogued with Him freely. The loneliness and isolation of their job produced in them a dependence upon God that few others have ever experienced.

The prayer of Jeremiah above came about after an unfortunate incident that took place between he and Pashtur, a priest and the chief officer over the house of the Lord. Jeremiah had come to the temple to prophesy and had warned the people, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words” (Jeremiah 19:15 ESV). It seems that Pashtur didn’t like what Jeremiah had to say, so he “beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 20:2 ESV). Upon his release the next day, Jeremiah had some less-than-comforting words from God to share with Pashtur. “And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely” (Jeremiah 20:6 ESV). It was this uncomfortable confrontation that led to Jeremiah’s prayer.

He was tired and frustrated. No doubt he was still feeling the effects of the beating he had suffered at the hands of Pashtur. Jeremiah was faithful to his calling, but he was still human. He had feelings. He longed for a normal life. But Jeremiah felt deceived and betrayed by God. For years he had done what God had called him to do. He had faithfully and boldly warned the people, but no one had repented. No one had returned to God. His message had fallen on deaf ears. And Jeremiah felt like a failure. He was nothing more than a laughingstock, a social pariah, and, in his own estimation, a lousy prophet. He sarcastically boiled down the essence of his message to the words, “Violence and destruction!” He was the perpetual bearer of bad news, and he was feeling defeated and more than a bit depressed by it all. But God had warned Jeremiah that his job was not going to easy. On the day God called him, Jeremiah had been told, “And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:18-19 ESV). God’s word had proved to be true. They had fought against Jeremiah. He had faced all kinds of opposition. But God was also true to His word because He was still with Jeremiah. He had not left or forsaken him. No one, including Pashtur, would be able to prevail against Jeremiah, because God was with him. He would deliver him.

The role of the faithful servant of God is not an easy one. To live your life set apart for His use and to speak His truth in a culture that does not want to hear it, will not result in popularity. Jesus warned us that the world would hate us. Paul warned that the day would come when people would much rather have their ears tickled with falsehood than hear the truth of God. And the sad thing is that this has become a reality within the church today. Those who attempt to speak the truth of God to the people of God will often find their words falling on deaf ears. Their message of repentance will be rejected by many who call themselves chosen by God. And they will find themselves competing with others whose messages are far more palatable. But this is nothing new. Jeremiah faced the same problem. God had already warned the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day. “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:13-14 ESV).

The days in which we live call for God’s people to live differently and distinctively. We cannot afford to blend in with the culture around us. We have been called to be salt and light. We have been given a message to share that involves dealing honestly with sin and the need for repentance. We are ambassadors for God. Our task will not be easy. Our message will not always be accepted or appreciated. There will be days we feel like giving up. But we must remain faithful, trusting that God will be with us and that He will deliver us.

2 Timothy 2:15-26

Ready, Willing and Faithful.

2 Timothy 2:15-26

If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21 NLT

As stated earlier, a big part of Paul’s letter to Timothy focused on the topic of faithfulness – God’s faithfulness to man and man’s faithfulness to God. Here Paul reminded Timothy to be a “good worker” – someone who could be depended upon to do the right thing and to do it well. Rather than seek the approval of men, Timothy was to work diligently and faithfully, so that one day he might stand before God and receive His approval, having no cause for shame or regret. That meant that Timothy had to live his life from an eternal perspective, recognizing that his future reward was far more significant than any earthly praise or promotion he might receive.

Paul put a high priority on Timothy’s ability to accurately handle the teaching of the truth of God’s Word. Like a dedicated and diligent worker, he must take painstaking precautions in teaching and defending the truth. He could not afford to give it his own spin or place on it his own perspective. The Word of God was not to be subjective and open to interpretation. God had an intended meaning and purpose behind it, and a faithful worker would take the time to understand what God was saying and teach accordingly. This was essential for Timothy to know because he found himself surrounded by false teachers who were twisting the truth of God and, unwittingly, leading people into ungodliness. Paul mentioned two of these people by name, and clearly articulated their crime: They had been teaching that the resurrection of the dead had already taken place. They had misunderstood the truth regarding the future reality of the bodily resurrection of the dead and spiritualized it to mean that believers were already resurrected with Christ and that all of the blessings that come with salvation were to be experienced in this life. Rather than focus of a future of the resurrection and the reality of heaven, they were teaching that you could have “Your Best Life Now.” It would seem that this was the first incarnation of the prosperity gospel. These two men, through a misunderstanding of the truth of God, were wrongly encouraging believers to see the Gospel as nothing more than a quick fix to all of life’s problems. This kind of talk was worthless and foolish, leading only to godless behavior. But a faithful worker would remain faithful to God’s truth, teaching only what He intended, regardless of what others might want to hear.

Paul quotes from two Old Testament passages in order to assure Timothy that God knows His own. He recognizes His own children and one of the distinguishing characteristics of a child of God is godly, not godless, behavior. If we belong to Him, our lives should reflect that reality. Paul used the metaphor of household vessels to further convey the idea that within the church there are faithful and unfaithful Christians. Paul stated that in a wealthy home there could be found vessels of all kinds, some made of gold and silver, and some made of wood and clay. The more expensive vessels were reserved for special occasions, while the more common vessels were for everyday use. But in either case, purity and cleanliness were prerequisites for usefulness. A dirty gold pitcher was of no more use than a contaminated clay pot. The key to usefulness was cleanliness. “If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 NLT). The specialness of the utensil was not based on the material from which it was made, but on its purity. Those within the church who saw themselves as gold vessels because of their position as teachers, but who falsely proclaimed the word of truth, were actually defiled and unusable by God.

Purity meant everything, so Paul warned Timothy, “Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts” (2 Timothy 2:22 NLT). Timothy was to pursue a life of righteousness, faithfulness, love and peace, and surround himself with those who shared the same desire. Paul was not telling Timothy to avoid the false teachers like a plague or read them the riot act, but to “gently instruct those who oppose the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25 NLT). As Timothy pursued a life of godliness and remained faithful to the truth of God, he would be equipped to handle all those, both inside and outside of the church, who stood in the way of the Gospel and its message. Timothy’s faithfulness would equip him to deal with the unfaithful and the faithless in a loving and Christlike way.

Father, if there was ever a time when faithfulness to the truth of Your Word was needed, it is now. There is so much falsehood and subjective information being taught as truth. Even within the church, there are those who misunderstand and misapply Your Word so that it ends up leading Your people astray. The Gospel has been altered to such a degree that it no longer looks like the same message that Paul preached. Call Your people back to the truth of Your Word. May we learn to be faithful to Your truth and not some version of our own. May we be pure vessels, ready for You to use to pour out Your message of hope, love and mercy to the world around us. Amen.

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