Law What is the Big Deal? Part I-III

Law: Part I: What is the Big Deal?

Eternal Origin: Love and Law

 

There is much in the news regarding the law. A person may be thinking of civil law, moral law, church law, and or God’s law.  Some people raise the issue of whose law, for what reason. Others asked about how much law keeping is necessary and required and for what reason. In the political scene of today (2018), some may wonder if they consequences for lawbreaking and if so what?  Public schools face these questions regularly. Where will we go to answer those types of questions? Since there are laws, it makes sense to find the lawgiver and learn about him and his ways. Is there an ultimate lawgiver and if so where do we go to meet him?

The dictionary defines law as a set of rules that are advisable and or obligatory to observe. Law carries with it the idea of a rule maker, the product of his thinking and action, who gives and enforces laws for a purpose. Where should we begin in our search regarding law? Let’s begin with God. The reasons will become apparent. Others refuse to begin or even consult God in the matter of law. Let’s focus on eternity. Only the Triune God was present. There was unity and diversity in the three-in-one God. Within the Trinity there was perfect order and harmony. Lawmaking and lawkeeping was present eternity past.

Next consider heaven before the creation of the world. There is order in heaven. Read Revelation chapters 4, 5, and 21-22. There was much activity that is directed and controlled, by rules and the Rulemaker. Moreover, fallen angels broke the law (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Rev. 20:13).  Rules have been around eternally.

Now let’s focus on the Garden of Eden before the fall. God added man to His creation, wrote the moral law on his heart (Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14-15). He gave him law – three positive commands (fruitful, subdue, and rule) and one negative command – don’t eat (Gen. 1:28; 2:16-17). Rules have been present eternally even before sin entered into the world. There is a Lawmaker and a Lawgiver – the eternal God. Therefore, rules and laws are good because God is good.

Since God is relational (within the Trinity and God to man), man, as His image bearer, is relational. Every relationship requires some set of rules by some standard. Moreover, since God is ethical and religious, so, too, is man as His image bearer. Religion, morality, and ethics did not evolve. They are God’s design for man and His world. Since God is the Lawgiver, the law is good. Many today disagree with these conclusions.

Adam in the Garden was not excluded from lawkeeping (obedience). However, he set himself as lawmaker and he followed the examples of the fallen angels. He became a law unto himself. He was the lawgiver. The issue was not the presence of law and lawkeeping but whose law.

As a result of Adam’s sin and God’s judgment, sin and misery entered into the world (Rom. 5:12-14). As a consequence, man took a completely different view of the God, himself, and the law (God’s or his?). Such is the problem today. Acknowledged or not man does not correctly understand God or himself (Rom. 1:18-23). He substitutes himself as the lawgiver and lawkeeper for his glory. Man is on a collision course with God daily unless there is a supernatural change in man.  An eternal  non-negotiable truth exclaims that there is only one Lawgiver and He is God. Man does set rules but they are to be in accordance with a proper biblical understanding of the Lawgiver and lawkeeping.

Return your focus to heaven which is every believer’s destiny. There is much activity. The saints in heaven are the recipients of Christ’s perfect lawkeeping. They are enjoying fellowship with God because of it. In Romans 13:8-10, Paul wrote that the debt of love – to love others – is forever. He summed up the fulfillment of the law in the same way that John did (1 John 4:7-12). Love is the fulfillment of the law. The Bible has terms for Jesus: Light, Life, and Truth. Christ is Lover par excellence which he demonstrated by pleasing His Father and completing His work (John 4:31-34). Moreover, Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul wrote that love is the greatest of faith, hope, and love. It will continue eternally. Love points to the law, the one Lawkeeper, and the One Lawgiver. Law without love is not law God’s way and love without love is not love. The two are linked (John 14:15, 21, 23).  The fulfillment of the law is via love and the fulfillment of love comes only because of law. Lawkeeping began in eternity past, begins here on the earth as believers’ apply Matthew 22:37-40 daily: love of God and love of neighbor summarizes the law. The law facilitates love and love accentuates the law. The law gives insight and wisdom into Who God is, the essence of the cross, and man as a lawbreaker.

 

Application:

  1. What is your view of law/rules, the Lawgiver, and Christ the Lawkeeper?
  2. What effect does the fact that law has existed with God since eternity past have on you?
  3. Biblically, think of some purposes of the law (for starters, you may want to look at Romans 3:19; 4:15; 5:20-21; 7:7-12).

 

 

Law: Part 2: The Law is a Big Deal

The Purpose of the Law

 

Law and order are eternal because God is a God of order and peace (1 Cor. 14:33). Although the passage is normally associated with worship and church life, it does describe God’s nature. God orders His world according to non-negotiable truths. God can’t lie – He is truth and a truth teller (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2). These facts alone indicate that God is trustworthy – He makes promises and keeps them. He can’t deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:11-13). God does not change. Therefore His promises do not change. He gives Law – the Ten Commandments and the moral law which is written in the heart of all people – for several reasons.  Lawmaking and lawgiving is His nature; man is His image bearer; and it best for mankind.

In terms of law these truths about God are significant. God gave Israel the Law (the Ten Words or Commandments) and prefaced the giving of the Law with the words recorded in Exodus 20:1-2: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of slavery. God’s statement about Himself and His relationship with Israel can be summarized in seven “P’s”: He is personal, present, powerful, a promise-maker, a planner, purposeful, and provides for His people. He had delivered His people in a mighty way from Egypt and their bondage, hardness, and misery. This delivery pointed to the great delivery in Christ.

After the giving of the Ten Words, Moses spoke to the fearful, hesitant, confused people: …Do not be afraid. God has come to test you that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning (Exodus 20:20). The passage gives a summary statement about God and the giving of the Law. The Law was given as an antidote for competing with God. Moses proscribed fear. He was not referring to fear of God; otherwise Moses would not have added the motivation for the giving of the Law as God’s tool to keep Israel from sinning. Fear of the Lord is designed to do that. Moses is speaking of fear of man which is actually a self-focus on control. Moses taught the people, and us, that the purpose of the Law is a good one. Rather than sinfully fearing God and His providence hoping to control the situation and outcome, the people were to put on wisdom – that is, fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7: fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom). Here wisdom and trust are synonymous. Mankind has two basic choices that every person faces daily: trust in God or self. The Law was intended to help people to choose to trust God.

God was in the business of growing wise people. His people were to be true reflectors of Him. Rightly understood, Moses taught the people one of the purposes of the Law: the development of wisdom. Wise people understand sin for what it is. They use the Law to examine themselves and to grow in wisdom and Christlikeness.

Properly understood, lawkeeping is a way of life for the believer. His relationship to the Law has changed. God and Law have not changed. The believer has changed. He views lawgiving and lawkeeping from God’s perspective and not his own. God in His word teaches that the Law shows the way of life for the believer (Leviticus 18:5; Ezekiel 20:11, 13, 21; John 14:15, 21, 23). In those last passages found in John’s gospel, Jesus told the apostles: if you love me keep my commands. Obedience is linked to wisdom and love. Lawkeeping is a way of life for the believer because lawkeeping is not to be mere duty to earn. Rather, it is duty out of love and respect for the Lawgiver and Christ’s lawkeeping. Therefore lawkeeping is privilege and blessing (1 John 5:3). Being a child of God and pleasing the Father were two great truths that John relished as expressed in 1 John 3:1-3. John knew his theology, his God, and Christ’s lawkeeping.

The motivation for lawkeeping is critical. Ask yourself your motivation for obedience. Lawkeeping done out of gratitude for salvation carries with it sweetness and contentment.

Lawkeeping is not a way of salvation or a way of life for the unbeliever (Rom. 10:5; Gal 3:10-13). The Law is an external summation of the mind of God. It captures the attention of every person: the fool rejects it and the Lawgiver at his peril now and eternally. The fool becomes a law unto himself and thereby competes with God. God will not share His glory with anyone (Isa. 42:8; 48:11). The wise man embraces the Law and Christ’s lawkeeping and rejoices. He imitates Christ and His lawkeeping, imperfectly and non-redemptively. The more he does the more he grows in the sweet understanding and appreciation of Jesus Christ, his Substitute. The believer trusts and obeys because of who God is and out of gratitude for what the Law is and for Christ and His lawkeeping.

 

Application:

  1. What is your view of the Law and lawkeeping?
  2. Your view of the law is linked to your view of God and to your view of yourself. Is the Law your friend? Why or why not?
  3. Your view of the law is tied with your understanding of such passages as Ps 119:9-11, 99, and 105. How do you interpret these passages and how do you apply them daily?

 

 

Law: The Law is a Big Deal: Part III

The Purpose and Uses of the Law

 

In this series of blogs I have looked at Law as a reflection of the nature of God. I expanded the concept of Law to rules and took us back into eternity. Rules and laws govern Intratrinitarian activity toward each member of the Trinity and to mankind. It is God’s nature to be a law to Himself because He is the Lawmaker. What is proper and even natural (His nature) for God is good for mankind because man is God’s image bearer.

We have to limit our definition to God’s Law as spelled out in the Ten Commandments. Although some may disagree, all the Ten Commandments have continued relevance into the New Testament. In fact, the Law of God is central to the Bible’s message. The giving of the Law teaches us about Christ the great Lawkeeper. The giving of the Law helps establish the fact of a Lawgiver and the expectation of lawkeeping.

Christianity is a lawkeeping religion. But the lawkeeping demanded is perfect lawkeeping with a purpose. Unsaved sinners are unwilling and unable to bow the knee to God and His Law. They create their own law. They are imperfect lawmakers and lawkeepers. In marked distinction, a perfect Law from the perfect Lawgiver demands perfect lawkeeping.  The Jews prided themselves on their relationship with Moses as their great lawgiver. The law came through Moses but Jesus addressed their hard hearts when He told them that Moses wrote about Him (John 1:17; 5:45-47). They had the wrong view of God, Jesus, the Law, themselves and lawkeeping.

Jesus Christ is the perfect Lawkeeper. The Ten Commandments give full expression to the very nature of Christ as the perfect Lawkeeper. They are an external summation of the mind of God in terms of Who He is and what He deserves and demands. The first four commandments summarize man’s duty toward God. These first four commandments are summarized in Matthew 22:37-38: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  The last six commandments summarize man’s duty to man and they are summarized in Matthew 22:37:39-40:  And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. All of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.  Christ fulfilled the whole Law perfectly, completely, and redemptively (Luke 24:25-27).

Not only is the Law central to the Bible’s message but so too is lawkeeping. Therefore theologians have tried to summarize the uses of the Law. Scripture teaches that the law is good (Exodus 20:18-21; Rom. 7:12; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). What is the law good for? Theologians speak of several uses of the Law. They include:

  1. Its mirror function: on the one hand, the Law of God reflects and mirrors the perfect righteousness of God. The law tells us much about who God is. Perhaps more important, the Law illumines human sinfulness, inability, and lack of desire to be God’s kind of lawkeeper. After failing to keep the law, the law drives mankind to grace because it points to the true Lawkeeper. The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ (Romans. 5:20-21; Gal 3:19). Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ.
  2. It restraining function, the so-called civil function of the Law: the Law restrains evil. It, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. The law allows for a limited measure of peace and justice on this earth, until the last judgment is realized (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim 2:1-2). This function of the law demonstrates God’s common grace and kindness.
  3. Its revealing function: the Law reveals what is pleasing to God and increases our knowledge of sin and sinfulness. The Law for believers is a lamp and a light. (Ps. 119:99, 105). The Law in its summary from enlightens believers as to what is pleasing to God as believers seek to please the Triune God.  The Law stimulates believers to study the Word which elaborates the fullness of the Law (Rom. 7:7-12). The Christian delights in the law as God Himself delights in it. Jesus said, If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15). This is the highest function of the law, to serve as an instrument for the people of God to give Him honor and glory by growing in Christlikeness.

Christianity is a law-friendly religion. How can it not be? God had revealed Himself as the Lawgiver and Lawkeeper. The gospel message can be summarized as lawgiving and lawkeeping.  Sadly these simple truths are so misinterpreted. Post-fall, the beauty of lawgiving and lawkeeping is summarized in two words: Jesus Christ. If you understand Jesus you understand the Law and yourself. If you rightly understand the Law, you understand Jesus and yourself.

 

Application:

  1. Most people miss the value of the Law. Review the uses as given by theologian and write down your understanding and use of them.
  2. Explain the statement: lawkeeping is alive and well. How is it true?
  3. What is your understanding of Jesus’ role as Lawgiver and Lawkeeper and how are those truths a blessing to you?

Grieving the Holy Spirit: Part I-III

Grieving the Holy Spirit, Part I

Background

 

In Ephesians 4:30 (And don’t grieve the Holy Spirit with/in Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption), Paul gave a command. In the original language, we read: you, you stop grieving or offending the Holy Spirit. Or, cease what you are doing. Paul made the point: stop the habit of grieving the HS. Of what is he speaking?

The context of Ephesians 4 is critical for gaining a proper understanding of the passage. Paul spoke of relationships especially within the church. He was speaking of relationships and Church body life. He emphasized a fundamental choice: living for self vs. living for God (see Eph 4:1-2, 17-19). This choice is part of the great divide. After Adam’s sin, self took center stage. The person would always choose self unless there was an inner-man change. The believer was changed to please God but he is tempted to remain loyal to self.

  • In verse 1 of chapter 4, Paul, as a prisoner of Christ, urged the people to live a life worthy of their calling (see Phil 1:27; Col 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12).
  • In verses 2-3, he gave a general sketch of what that lifestyle and patterned way of living would look like for the believer: be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
  • In verses 17-19, he gave an exhortation: that you must no longer live as Gentiles (unbelievers) do. Paul says DON’T.
  • In verses 18-19, he offered a general description of how unbelievers conduct themselves: wrong thinking (futility of their minds), wrong desires (given over to sensuality, that is senses-driven and controlled wanting), and wrong actions (self pleasing at the expense of or in lieu of pleasing God and others).

Paul taught that unbelievers live as patterned self-pleasers in varying degrees. Self-pleasing comes in various forms and in various degrees. Self-motivated, self-directed self-grasping, and self-exaltation mark the patterned lifestyle of all unbelievers. However, Paul is speaking to believers – the congregation. A self-pleasing lifestyle carries over into the believer’s life because life after salvation is not a perfected life. That awaits heaven.

Paul’s call to live a life worthy of the Triune God had a dual exhortation. Paul centered his command on a put offput on motif. It is a continuous and dynamic process of progressive sanctification. Notice verses 22-24. In the original language these verses are infinitives, not imperatives. The implication is not that believers should put off the old man and put on the new man. Rather, believers are in Christ. They have a relationship with Him (Gal. 2:20). Therefore, since they are in Christ, believers have had the old man put off – what they were as unbelievers. Moreover believers have put on the new man again because they are in Christ. This initial putting off and putting on is purely the work of the Holy Spirit. For believers, this dynamic which has occurred to and for him is true in principle but not in practice (see 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:9-11). Paul’s call is for believers to be what they are in Christ. They must and can because they are in Christ! Moreover, being in Christ means that every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Paul goes on to describe the believer’s new lifestyle in terms of communication (4:25-32). Here are four summary rules regarding communication: be honest (v.25), keep current (v.26), attack the problem not the person (v.29), and act not react (v.31-32).   Since the Church is the bride of Christ and God communicates with His Church via the Spirit and the Word, communication between believers is actually communication with God. Communication is God’s gift to mankind. Misuse of it is an attack on the Giver and grieves the Triune God. Moreover, God is a self-Revealer and self-Communicator in His Son and in His word by His Holy Spirit. He expects and deserves God-centered communication between believers and God and between fellow believers. This way of communication is part of the put off and put on process.

With that background, we turn our attention to Ephesians 4:30. I think it is best to translate the original term for grieve as to offend (see Romans 14:15 for a similar use). Scripture makes clear that believers are sinning saints and saved sinners. This side of heaven every believer sins. In the context of self-pleasing, the believer offends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a person. When you offend him, you offend the Triune God. The Holy Spirit takes any offense against the Trinity personally.

 

Application:

  1. When is the last time you grieved/offended the Holy Spirit?
  2. What were the circumstances?
  3. In the area of interpersonal relationships and communication, how have you used your words to glorify God and bless the other person?

 

 

Grieving the Holy Spirit, Part II

The New Testament

 

The negative command not to grieve the Holy Spirit given in Ephesians 4:30 is one of a kind. There is no other command like it in New Testament. As we learned in the first blog, the exhortation was given to the Church in the area of relationships and communication (see the rules of communication – Ephesians 4:25-32). Paul taught then and now that relationships matter and communication is a gift and tool to grow relationships vertically (Godward) and horizontally (man-ward). The life of the Church body depended and depends on godly communication. This makes perfect sense when you remember that the church and the individual believer are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 1 Peter 2:4-9; Rom. 8:9,11; 2 Tim. 1:14; Jam. 4:5).

When a believer sins against another believer, he is sinning against the Holy Spirit who indwells both. Grieving the Holy Spirit carries a definite personal touch to it. The Holy Spirit did not humble Himself as Christ did. Jesus took on human flesh and became what He was not – the God-man. The Bible does not speak of the Holy Spirit’s humiliation. But consider what is at stake by Paul’s exhortation. Functionally, the Holy Spirit applies the merits and blessings of Christ’s redemptive work. He personally indwelt Christ and He indwells the Church and individual believers. In the new heaven and the new earth, the Trinity will be reunited so to speak. Salvation is a glorious Intratrinitarian activity Eph. 2:18; 3:12). What the Triune God did in saving a people for Himself is simply stupefying and magnificent. An attack on one member of the Trinity is an attack on the whole.

The Holy Spirit has personal distinctions. He is a person and not an abstraction or a force. Man is the image of the Triune God and not the other way. The Holy Spirit is God, is called God, does the works of God, and receives honor as God. There is an affective aspect to the Godhead including the Holy Spirit. Our God is a jealous God and protective of His name (Exodus 20:5, 7). He is offended (Gen. 6:6). The jealousy of God mandates exclusive and singular devotion to God by His creatures. As a holy God, He is the just Judge of the world (Gen. 18:25; Heb. 12:18-24).  He will right all wrongs. He is establishing His kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace.

God sent his Holy Spirit to Christ (Isa. 11:1-5), to the Church, and to the individual believer. Christ, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, will return as the just Judge of all the earth. Further, the Holy Spirit came to earth to regenerate, to enlighten, and to illumine believers. The Light, Jesus Christ, came into the world and the Holy Spirit turned on the light in the world and in the heart of every believer (John 1: 5, 7, 11; Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21).

The Spirit is called Holy because He is set apart. Yet He indwells His church and His people. The term holy carries the idea of otherness and separateness. The word relates to purity. The holiness and purity is the basis for the first exile – Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden. The words and concept means that God is untouchable and far removed from his creation in His very essence and nature. Yet, He approached His creation and especially His Church and believers in his Son. Therefore, believers approach God and enjoy fellowship with Him because of the indwelling Holy Spirit as He applies the work of Christ.

The Church and the believer are to be ever mindful of the Holy Spirit’s presence and influence (Eph. 5:15-18).  In these latter passages, Paul gave the Church direction as how not to grieve the Spirit. Paul began with a warning: be careful regarding your patterned manner of life (v.15). Paul wanted the people to catch the big picture. All believers had a patterned way of lifestyle as unbelievers. It was characterized as “I want,” “me-first,” “my rights,” and “please me.” Paul taught that the lingering influence of membership in Satan’s kingdom was still formidable – in the Church and in the believer. Note well: the problem was and is within, as well as outside. By virtue of their union with Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit, they were to redeem the time on this earth as wise people rather than as fools (v. 16-17). The word translated as redeem is related to the Greek marketplace and indicates a buying back or out of. It is the picture of what Christ did at the cross – He paid the ransom price. Similarly the believer is to use his time as a down payment on pleasing the Triune God.

In verse 18, Paul gave an antidote for grieving the Holy Spirit. Be drunk with the Holy Spirit and not with wine. Paul drew attention to wine’s comprehensive and all-pervasive influence. In like manner, the effects of the presence of the Holy Spirit are to be in evidence. The Church and the believer are to be so motivated, influenced, and governed by the presence of the Holy Spirit that the Church as a body and individual believers are becoming more like Christ in thoughts, desires, and actions (Eph. 4:1-2). The Holy Spirit is burdened and grieved when there is anything less than growth in Christlikeness. His indwelling would be for naught.

In Ephesians 5:19-21, Paul described a general way what pleasing God will look like in body life. Believers are to speak to one another, rejoicing in their hearts, and giving thanks. Discontent and ingratitude grieve and burden the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:14-17). Please notice that all the passages mentioned emphasize communication, both vertically and horizontally.

 

Application:

  1. Please write your view of the Holy Spirit.
  2. How do His presence in you and the Church influence you at home and in congregation? What changes do you need to make in terms of relationships?
  3. Please read Isaiah 63:10 and Psalm 78:40-41, 56-58 in preparation to study the Old Testament’s view of grieving the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grieving the Holy Spirit, Part III

The Old Testament

 

The book of Isaiah unveils in large degree the fullness of God’s justice and judgment, and God’s salvation – mercy and love. Yahweh is the Holy One of Israel; the phrase is used some 26 times throughout the book (only six times elsewhere in the Old Testament). As the holy One of Israel He must judge and punish rebellious people. The book of Isaiah catalogues Israel’s rebellion. They were an idolatrous group who chose self over Yahweh. They trusted in self and called good evil and evil good (Isa. 5:20). The first 35 chapters address Yahweh’s judgment on Israel.

Yet the Holy One of Israel is a compassionate God. His compassion is a major subject of chapters 40-66. God redeems His people (35:9; 41:14). The redemption points back to the “old” exodus and points ahead to the “new” exodus which ultimately points to Christ (Isa. 43:2, 16-19; 52:10-12; Luke 9:51; John 14:1-3). The New Testament picks up Isaiah’s theme of the proper way for the exiles to return (Isaiah 11:16; 40:3; 57:14; 62:10 and Matthew 3:1-3; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23). Repentance is the key. Repentance by definition is a change in thinking which leads to a change in desire and action.

It is in the context of the continued call to repent that Isaiah pled for Yahweh to remember and keep His covenant promise of redemption. Isaiah holds out Yahweh’s kindness and steadfastness in the face of Israel’s patterned rebellion: Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them (Isa. 63:10). In rebellion and in contradistinction to Yahweh’s goodness and long-suffering, the people rebelled. In the place of gratitude, joy, and obedience, there was self-pleasing. The people were at enmity with their Creator, Benefactor, and Deliverer. At the time of the exodus from Egypt, Yahweh warned the people: don’t rebel (Exodus 23:21). But they did and repeatedly! (17:1ff; 32:1ff).

In the Old Testament, it is clear that the Holy Spirit is alive and well. He is a person distinct from the Father and the Son. He is one with the Father and the Son so that the Trinity is at work in both the Old and New Testaments.

By virtue of the people’s rebellion and on the basis that Yahweh is the just Judge of all the earth, God became what He was not before – an enemy who fought against His firstborn son, Israel (Exodus 4:22-24). His righteous judgment ushered forth from His holiness and righteousness. Yahweh is King who is establishing His kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace initially through the lesser David who pointed to the greater David, Jesus Christ, the true King and the true Israel. .

The book of Isaiah carried a twofold message: judgment and deliverance. When John the Baptist and Jesus came on the scene, they proclaimed that the kingdom of God was here and the only logical response for God’s people was repentance and faith (Mark 1:5; Matthew 3:2; 4:17).  Salvation and judgment are linked. There are consequences for rejecting the Triune God, whether it is the Holy Spirit or the Son.

Grieving the Holy Spirit was a patterned way of life for the people of Israel. Acting contrary to the very nature of God is grieving the Holy Spirit. Acting contrary to what the believer is in Christ is grieving the Holy Spirit. All that is opposed to holiness and goodness opposes the Holy Spirit. In essence, pleasing-self is rebellion against God. It is highlighted by self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, self-trust, and self-exaltation. When self is king, there is no room for God and no fear of the Lord. We should not assume that rebellion against God is reserved only for the Israelites. No, grieving the Holy Spirit can be evidenced in the daily life of any believer. Being vigilant and aware of who God is and who you are is one antidote against grieving the Holy Spirit.

 

Application:

  1. Isaiah opened and closed his book (1:2 and 66:24) with an announcement of condemnation for those who rebelled. Write out your thoughts regarding Isaiah’s opening and closing.
  2. Examine yourself according to Hebrews 4:12 and record thoughts, desires, and actions that indicate rebellion against the Triune God.
  3. What is the answer for rebellion? Please base your answers on the first, second, and tenth commandments as given in Exodus 20:3-7, 17.

 

 

 

 

 

Joy Part I-VII

Part I: Joy Defined

 

The phrase – rejoice in the Lord – is a common command in the Bible. It is a major theme in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The command teaches several things: a person has the capacity to rejoice independent of circumstances; the act of rejoicing is a whole person response and involves thoughts and desires about self, God, and the circumstances; and a person can rejoice and trust either in the Lord or in something or someone other than the Lord (Ps. 46:10; Proverbs 3:5-8).

The command recognizes the biblical teaching regarding antithetical thinking. Throughout Scripture the Holy Spirit uses the motif of contrast: right – wrong; saved – unsaved; light – darkness; and joy – dissatisfaction. Among other truths, the Bible teaches that joy is dependent on a relationship. It is most closely associated with fellowship with God through the Son and with fellow believers, and by the Spirit (2 John 12; Phil. 3:1; 4:4, 10). Joy is relational. True joy springs forth from a proper relationship to God and to others.

Inherent in the concept of biblical joy is the idea of enjoyment and most specifically of enjoying God. It carries with it the theme of satisfaction and delight. The way one rejoices and enjoys God is by being gripped by Him. Simply defined, gripped by the greatness of God is the growing realization of and response to the reality of Who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do. It is losing everything for the surpassing privilege and blessing of knowing the Triune God as the Supreme Being (Phil. 3:7-11). It is the capacity of every believer because of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Joy is radical and supernatural because God has done miraculously remarkable things: redemption accomplished through the active and passive obedience of Christ and redemption applied by the Holy Spirit – salvation which includes regeneration, the new birth, and growth in Christlikeness – sanctification.

Joy is a deep-seated satisfaction and inner contentment in the fact that God is God, a Being like no other who creates, controls, sustains, redeems, and brings to consummation His glory and the good of His people. The term deep-seated refers to the inner man, primarily the heart, and the outer-man especially the brain. God’s agenda is Intratrinitarian in design, scope, and effectiveness, is being accomplished, and will reach consummation when Jesus returns. This mindset and truth about God and His control is antithetical to the culture’s counterfeit wisdom. Joy involves proper thinking about God and self and the application of biblical truth rightly motivated. Joy flows from and ushers in a humble, confident trust in God and His good control. Joyfully, biblical truth is the believer’s grid for evaluating circumstances not vice versa. A response to the circumstance is a response to God. Therefore the believer responds to his situations and others in a radically different manner than he did as an unbeliever. He does not depend on feelings, experience, or reason divorced from biblical truth.

Moreover, joy is an attitude of confidence that is expressed in thoughts, desires, and actions that is based on the non-negotiable truth that God’s plan, promises, purpose, presence, power, and provisions for every believer and His Church are sure and certain. What is best for God is best for the Church and the believer. Joy is a whole-person activity – inner and outer man – that controls and results from one’s thoughts, desires, and actions toward God, others, and circumstances. Therefore, joy is not dependent on people or circumstances but rather on the God of circumstances.

 

Application:

  1. According to Psalm 16:5-11, Psalm 33:21, and Nehemiah 8:10, where does joy come from?
  2. What characteristics of God did David emphasize in Psalm 16 that led him to be joyful?
  3. What does each of these psalms say is the reason for joy and what is the result in the psalmist’s life? Psalm 5:11; 40:16; 51:12; 63:11; 64:10; 86:4; 90:15; and 92:4.
  4. How will you apply these truths in your life? Be specific.

 

 

 

Part II: Joy: Beauty and Benefits

 

In the last blog I defined joy as an inner –man attitude/thinking of confidence, a deep-seated satisfaction and contentment that God is God; He is trustworthy, and He is working in all things for His glory and the good of the believer. Joy is a whole-person activity – thoughts, desires, and actions. Joy is real, rational, and relational for the believer. It is given by the Holy Spirit. It is every believer’s gift, pleasure, and blessing,

Joy is the result of proper thinking and wanting. Joy is not simply a feeling or an emotion. It does not develop on its own. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and as such must be cultivated (Gal. 5:22). It should characterize all believers now (1 Peter 1:8) as they anticipate the joy of being with Christ forever in heaven (Rev 19:7). Joy always looks ahead to the fulfillment of God’s promises with the confident expectation that He is working in all things for His glory. This forward look motivates the believer to vigorously and aggressively pursue growth in Christ on a daily basis (1 John 3:1-3). Therefore, the believer is never under the circumstances or a victim to them or others.

Among other things, joy acts as a buoy that holds up the believer and keeps him afloat God’s way for God’s purpose in all types of situations (1 Peter 1:6-7; James 1:2-8; Romans 5:1-5). Joy results in faithful tenacity, endurance, and courage (Colossians 1:11; Romans 15:13; Hebrews 12:1-3). The believer stays in the race (not the rat race but on the road to becoming more like Christ) God’s way for His glory and the believer’s good (Heb.12:1-3; James 1:12).

Joy helps the believer have a proper vertical reference (to God) and maintain an eternal perspective. A proper vertical reference to and in life enables the believer to develop the fruit of joy. As a result, he uses what is unpleasant to become more like Christ (2 Cor. 5:9; Rom. 8: 28-29; 1 Thess. 5:18).

Joy, also, has an object – God. The believer’s joy is grounded in God’s promises and His trustworthiness. Moreover, joy is commanded (Ps. 16:11; Phil 1:18; 3:1; 4:4, 10; Romans 15:13; 1 Thess. 5:16). God does not give commands that His people are not able to keep. Those two facts are encouragements in themselves. In 1 Samuel 17, David joyfully took the fight to Goliath because he knew it was God’s fight. In Philippians, Paul calls the congregation to rejoice in the Lord on at least three occasions. Things did not look so great for Paul (1:12-18) and there was division in the Philippian Church (1:18, 4:1-3). Yet he called for the people to rejoice in the Lord. On what basis did he make the call?  Paul understood God’s purpose: the advancement of His kingdom by the spread of the gospel and by the individual growth of each believer. Paul understood that God was working and he joyfully submitted to God who bought and brought him out of the pit of hell and set him on firm ground. Viewed from this perspective, Paul could not help but be joyful. A joyless Christian is an oxymoron and sad commentary on the cross, the resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

 

Application:

  1. How are you doing in your pursuit of fruit bearing according to Galatians 5:22-23? The Holy Spirit produces His fruit and the believer pursues and grows it.
  2. Joy is closely aligned with faith and hope. Read and study Galatians 2:20. What do you learn about the old “I” and the new “I”? How does joy differentiate the old “I” and the new “I”?
  3. How does the pursuit of joy help you understand Matthew 7:24-27 and I John 5:4?

 

Part III: Joy: Relational Significance

 

Joy seems to be a misunderstood term. It is a fruit of the Spirit so it is in the possession of every believer (Gal. 5:22-23). It may be associated with feelings but at its core, it is the response of the believer as a whole –person in terms of thought, desire, and action to God’s work of getting people saved (regeneration) and having people grow in Christlikeness (sanctification). Therefore, God’s providence – His control – is rightly pictured in terms of God’s plan and purpose.  God’s providence – bringing people and events into a person’s life – is a demonstration of a good God’s eternal plan and purpose to accomplish His goal.

Joy begins relationally and develops relationally. Once in proper relationship to God, God’s truth becomes for the believer a blessing and not a burden. God’s providential control points to God’s purpose of bringing His people into His presence which begins on this earth with regeneration. Joy develops experientially as the believer experiences the greatness and glory of God (1 John 3:1-3; 5:3-4). The growing believer simply can’t get enough of God (Ps. 34:8; Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 3:7-11).

Picture your best ally, your most intimate friend, your most trustworthy person, your greatest warrior and protector, and most supreme of all people. These are relational terms. The object of your joy, awe, respect, understanding, and appreciation is a person who has promised or done something for you.  For believers that object is a Person – the Supreme Being – Mover and Shaker – of the whole universe seen and unseen.  When you bring God down to mankind’s level, it is easy to consider the Triune God in similar terms as a person does for Santa Claus, Captain America, Superman, or any other super hero. The object of joy is on the giver and the gift. Only the believer changes his perspective of the Giver and what He gives. The believer’s mindset changes from the perspective of the eternal, infinite, and spiritual, and infinite as opposed to the finite, material, and physical.

There is a higher plane of reference for God than mentioned above. He is not simply the best of the best, a good guy, or a person who has super powers. He is the exalted King of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore His Church and individual believers have a much different view of God and His providence. Salvation and the events leading up to the Messiah’s coming – redemption accomplished – and individual salvation -redemption applied – is from the hand of the Triune God. Joy in the Lord is just that: Joy in the Lord Himself (Exodus 15:2; Jonah 2:9). In both situations, Israel, individuals, and an individual were delivered from God’s wrath and fury. The events and the deliverance are all God’s providence. Moses got it but the Israelites and Jonah did not. Sadness and misery prevailed. Yet God remained true to Himself and His people.

If your joy is focused on the gifts of the Giver your joy will never be complete (John 15:11). In the night before He died, Jesus wanted His apostles to focus on their relationship to Him and Him to them. Christ’s joy was the believer’s joy because Christ is united with each believer. Paul especially referred to this concept by the phrase in Christ – union with Christ. What Christ has the believer has. What Christ did the believer is counted has having done. Where Christ is the believer is. There is an already concept – these things have been done in Christ to and for the believer and the Church.  But there is the not yet: consummation has not come but will when Jesus returns. In the meantime, joy is one key for the believer. Rejoice! Enjoy Christ and the Triune God!

 

Application:

  1. Joy is not an option. Describe joy, the object of your joy, and the reasons for joy.
  2. Describe your closest personal relationship. What are some terms you use to describe it and why? How does your relationship compare and contrast?
  3. Explain how a joyless Christian is an oxymoron.

 

Part IV: Joy from Selective Psalms

 

In an earlier blog I asked the question: what does each of these psalms say is the reason for joy and what is the result in the psalmist’s life? I referenced eight Psalms: Psalms 5:11; 40:16; 51:12; 63:11; 64:10; 86:4; 90:15; and 92:4. I will now consider the subject of joy from the perspective of the psalter.

Book I:

  • Ps. 5:11: But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them that those who love your name, may rejoice in you.
  • Ps. 40:16: But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “The Lord be exalted!”

Book I of the Psalter ranges from Psalm 1-41. David is considered the author of all the psalms in book I except perhaps Psalms 1-2. The major themes are the rise of the Davidic kingdom of peace and righteousness and confrontation as the kingdom is being established. Enemies abounded – from within and without. Yet what was on David’s agenda was a desire to please Yahweh as His representative and agent. Therefore Yahweh’s enemies were David’s enemies. David was confident in God’s trustworthiness in making and keeping promises. He sought the Lord’s presence personally (Ps. 5:7).  As king and as David completed Psalm 5, his words extended to all of God’s people, the godly (5:11). David knew he was God’s agent and Israel was Yahweh’s people and therefore David’s. David does not take revenge but he does hunger and thirst for God’s righteous judgement (Ps. 5:6-10, Matt. 5:6). In the first book of the Psalter David is on the run. Yet he is joyful and he calls on God’s people to do the same.

He knows and acts upon the fact that Yahweh is King and in control. He longs to be safe and secure. He knows that will come in due time. Now he continues to practice joy to and in the Lord.

Psalm 40 (Book I) is among four psalms that have as their theme a guilty sufferer (Pss. 38-41).  All four carry the plea for forgiveness by the penitent sinner. Psalm 40 is one of the psalms that speak well of the Torah – the law of the Lord. David the psalmist opens with the confidence that Yahweh is present and hears and answers prayers (40:1-3). David is a Yahweh-seeker and encourages others to seek Him, to rejoice in Him, and rejoice in the activity of seeking of Him. David is confident in Yahweh and his own relationship with Him. Joy is relational and joyful believers express that reality.

Book II:

  • Ps. 51:12: Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Book II of the Psalter includes Psalms 42-72. David is considered the author of Psalms 51-71. Whereas conflict and the rise of the Davidic kingdom was a major theme in Book I, the theme of book II is the glories of the Davidic kingdom and communication to those within and without the kingdom. In part, Psalm 51 is David’s response to Yahweh’s summons given in Psalm 49-50: Yahweh summoned the nations in Psalm 49 and His people in Psalm 50. In Psalm 50, the universe is to be Yahweh’s witnesses as He judges the people. Psalm 51 records David’s response to God’s summons – confession and repentance. David does not want Yahweh’s rejection. The way open to fellowship is the way of purity (see Pss. 15:3; 24:3). David desired the presence of God via the indwelling Holy Spirit (51:10-12). In the context of the unconfessed sin of self-pleasing David confessed patterned self-pleasing since his youth. His confession was in the midst of his failure to be Yahweh’s kind of commander (he was not with his troops), adultery, murder, lying, and unconfessed sin and sinfulness. David confessed and repented (51:3-5). He prayed for joy and gladness in contrast to the unbearable burden of carrying his own sin (51:8, 12). Joy is linked to right standing with God and knowledge of being a forgiven child of God.

 

Application:

  1. David knew and sought Yahweh. Being in His presence was important to David. Give some reasons.
  2. Joy was an expression of union with Yahweh and His ever-presence. David was stripped of many of his resources forcing him to do what/ See 2 Cor. 1:8-10, 4:8-10, and 12:7-10 for help in answering the question.
  3. David failure to confess is pictured in Psalms 32 and 38. In those psalms, God’s presence was a burden. Unconfessed sin carries a burden. David ran as far from Yahweh as he could. The presence of Yahweh and the seeming absence of Yahweh were both burdens. What is God’s answer as given in 1 John 1:7-9?

Part V: Joy from Selective Psalms

 

In this blog I continue our survey of joy from selective Psalms. Psalms 63-64 are found in book II and Psalm 86 is found in Book III.

  • Ps. 63:11: But the king will rejoice in the Lord; all who swear by God’s name will praise him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
  • Ps 64:10: Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him.

Psalms 61-64 represent the cry of the messianic king to Yahweh for His intervention.  David is still under attack as he worked to establish the Davidic kingdom of peace and righteousness. He has been banished. Yet his hope is in Yahweh (62:2, 4, 6-7). He thirsts for Him (63:1). David recalled experiencing Yahweh’s which whetted his desire for Yahweh Himself (63:2) and his holding fast to Yahweh’s presence, power, and goodness (63:8). He reached a climax as given in verse 11: he will rejoice. David was a man of joy in the midst of trying times and God’s frowning providence. David knew he was a winner because Yahweh reigns.  David continued his line of thinking in Psalm 64 (1, 7-10). In Psalm 64, David names all the righteous people as rejoicers.

  • Ps. 86:4: bring joy to your servant for to you O Lord I lift up my soul.

This psalm is an individualistic psalm of David. It is a prayer of David to Yahweh. David, Yahweh servant, asks for Yahweh to bring joy to him (verse 4). David sounded a triumphant note in verse 9: all the nations will worship and bring glory to Yahweh. David was focused and acknowledged the Kingship of Yahweh. That fact, not the circumstances brought joy, hope, strength, and comfort to his whole person.

Book IV:

  • Ps 90:14-15: Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days; Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.

Psalm 90 is a prayer of Moses and it opens Book IV of the Psalter (90-106).

Book IV celebrates Yahweh Himself as the eternal dwelling of His people but at a time when Israel is in exile (90:1-2). The theme of Book IV is life in exile. It was not a joyous time for Israel. They had not learned their true nature – idolaters. They had not learned Yahweh’s true nature – holy, majestic, Warrior King, and trustworthy. Moses had encouraged the people who had been in exile in Egypt. Now the organizer of Psalter rightly conjectured that those in exile would benefit from knowing that Yahweh was still King and in control. Therefore Moses in Psalm 90 encouraged the exiles to seek and enjoy Yahweh as King of kings and Deliverer (Deuteronomy 32-33). In spite of and because of the circumstances, Yahweh is alive and well. So rejoice!

  • Ps 92:4: For you make us glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands.

Psalms 92-100 are a special collection of psalms termed Yahweh Malak (the Lord Reigns). They reinforce Yahweh’s ongoing and pervasive kingship. The Lord is King (93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1). There is a worship context in Psalm 92:1-4. As these verses show, joy and gladness are linked not only to Yahweh’s Kingship but the acknowledging of it and enjoying it. One of the simplest means for doing that is to remember that circumstances don’t define God’s Kingship. They are opportunities to rejoice AND to come to a deeper understanding of the foundation of the believer’s joy – Yahweh Himself. Yahweh who does al things well will bring His people to Him (Ps. 140:12-13); 141:8-9.

 

Application:

  1. The Psalter covers some 500 years of redemptive history sometimes known as the promise-plan of God. Joy and ultimate victory is a major theme in God’s plan.
  2. Where does the concept of joy fit into your daily life?
  3. What would convince you that Christianity is joyful and that the Christian is to be joyful?
  4. What is the antithesis of joy? See Philippians 2:14-17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 for information to help you answer the question.

 

Part VI: Joy in the Gospel of John

 

In the New Testament, the noun (chara) occurs some 60 times and the verb some 72 times. Only the believer has and demonstrates joy. Only he knows that God is in control, up to something, and His control is good. Joy is something the believer does in response to God’s control. The believer, and only the believer, knows the truth and acts on God’s truth. Therefore, joy and rejoicing do not depend on circumstances. Rather circumstances (God’s providence) must be interpreted in light of God’s good control.

Joy is the privilege and blessing of the Christians only. Joy is not attainable outside of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Joy is a reality for every believer. Therefore every believer in any circumstance has the capacity and the privilege to rejoice.

Joy is linked to faith, hope, and truth. Such was the case in John’s gospel. John was the apostle of love, love being a major theme in his writings. Yet several times John appeals to joy most notably in the upper room discourse: John 3:29; 15:11; 16:20-24; 17:13. Joy, faith, and love have an object and are linked with knowledge in regards to God and the rejoicer. Moreover, each are fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

  • John 3:29-30: The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waited and listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine and is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.

John the Baptist was asked about the seeming rivalry between his ministry including baptizing and that which Jesus was doing. John announced there was no popularity contest. Jesus had received His position from heaven. John responded with joy. He was content with his position – Jesus’ forerunner and announcer much like the relationship between Jonathan and David (1 Sam. 18:1-4). Simply to know that he was accomplishing his task and that Jesus had come brought his joy full circle. He expressed the fullness of his joy in verse 30: I must decrease – he must increase. He had done his job well and he was blessed to see the fruits of his ministry.

  • John 15:11: I have told you this so my joy may be in you and that your joy will be made complete.
  • John 16:20-22, 24: I tell you the truth you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child has been born into the world….Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be made complete.
  • John 17:13: I am coming to you now but I say these things to you while I am still in the world, so that you may have the full measure of my joy with you.

These three passages are found in the upper room discourses (Olivet Discourses). That time was recorded in chapters 13-17, five of John’s 21 chapters, almost 25% of the gospel.  Jesus is the Teacher par excellence but He is more. In chapter 15 Jesus drew an analogy between a vine (Him) and the branches (the apostles). Life and fruiting bearing was the key which would only occur only if the branches were properly connected to the vine. In verses 9-10 Jesus drew the connection between love and obedience. In verse 11, Jesus gave an insight to Himself: He has joy and His joy came from pleasing His Father manifested by trust and obedience (John 4:31-34).  Joy is a reality that becomes evident as one grows in his relationship to the triune God. Fruit of that growth is often described as glorifying God through trusting and obeying. Joy, knowledge, trust, and obedience are linked.

The passages in John 16 are quite amazing. To a group of men no less Jesus used the example of the pain and burden of child birth. Trouble (affliction, tough times) is part of childbirth but so is joy – when the mother gives birth. She looks beyond the pain to the gain. So, too, Jesus’ mission which included the cross would bring trouble and pain but this was only a prelude to the joy of the resurrected Christ. Trouble and pain rightly understood and responded to points to an everlasting, non-refundable joy. A resurrected and exalted Christ clarified trouble. Joy was Christ’s as He stayed the course and finished the race of pleasing His Father. The believer’s joy is a byproduct of Christ’s joy. It is to be modeled after Christ’s approached to life – pleasing His Father for the joy of it and the results it would bring for the Triune God, Himself, and His people.

In John 17, Jesus prays to the Father. He looked forward to the Ascension and coming to the Father. Yet He continued to teach (17:13). Again He prayed that His joy would be completed in the disciples. After His death and before His post-resurrection appearances, the disciples were joyless. The apostles were to stay in the world – they had work to do (17:15). They would accomplish that work through the gift of joy. Their joy would them be

complete. In this way they modeled Christ. Only the believer has joy and only the believer will have that joy completed. Completed joy is a concept that reaches its fulfillment in the second coming. Therefore it is proper to ask the Lord to come now.

 

Application:

  1. How does John link joy, love, obedience, and knowledge?
  2. What do you think about joy and its completion? What your plans in this regard?
  3. What do you need to grow in the joy of your salvation? Be specific.

 

 

Part VII: Joy in the Letter to the Philippians

 

The letter to the Philippians is sometimes termed the epistle of joy.  It is also a missionary “thank-you” letter. Paul linked thankfulness and joy. There are numerous references to joy throughout the book (1:4, 18, 25, 26; 2:2, 16, 17, 18, 28, 29; 3:1; 4:1, 4, 10).  Paul’s reference to joy is highly significant since Paul was in bonds and facing the possibility of a death sentence (1:20; 2:17). Notice the subject of Paul’s joy.

Given the circumstances, Paul knew that an active and knowledgeable love for God and the brothers was a key.  He knew that the brothers through holding fast to God’s word would bring victory. Preservation in biblical truth would enable perseverance in the face of God’s providence and tough times (2:12-13).  Preservation of the saints was necessary, predicted by Christ, and followed Christ’s example (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; John 8:31-36; 15:18-21; Heb. 12:1-3). A key for Paul and the Philippian Church was the proper teaching and hearing of the Word and the proper application of biblical truth. This would enable perseverance.

At first glance, the circumstances were anything but encouraging. They were miserable. Paul was in prison, false teachers were on the scene, and there was division (1:12-18; 3:1-2; 4:1-2). Paul knew the Philippians wondered how to make sense of and understand God’s providence. Moreover, what is joyful about their situation? Do they judge God by the circumstances or the circumstances by biblical truth? This choice remains for every believer until Christ returns. Paul gave the Holy Spirit’s resounding answer. Joy and its sidekick peace is not dependent on circumstances but on the God of them and the believer’s relationship to and with Him.

Paul began his letter by combining joy and thankfulness (1:3-4). The church had entered into gospel ministry with Paul. Paul prayed and thanked joyfully. He appreciated them as fellow believers and for their participation in the fellowship of the gospel – their time, money, and prayers. Paul looked beyond rivalries. Verse 18 of chapter 1 contained his reasoning. No matter the motivation of his rivals, Paul focused on one issue: that Christ may be preached. He rejoiced in that fact no matter the motive of the preachers and false teachers (see 3:1-2).

In verses 25-26 of chapter 1, Paul recorded another source of joy: their welfare as measured by their progress in the faith and their joy. Their joy as growing Christians was one means for the completion of Paul’s joy (2:2). Paul knew of division within the Church. He would address that issue in chapter 4 (4:1-2). Now he was setting the stage by giving them a way to make his joy complete: have the mind of Christ – to think alike and to be bound in mutual love (2:3-5).  Paul wanted the Philippians to move to God and others by sitting self aside.

Paul, in Philippians 2:16-17, addressed one aspect of running the race of progressive sanctification: instead of grumbling, complaining, and making life miserable for other, Paul encouraged them to hold to and hold out the Word. He encouraged them to present truth to all involved including themselves. Application of that truth specifically and daily would follow. They would trust God for the results enjoying the time to grow individually and as congregation. Ownership was a major key for victory. They are God’s people then and forever! Paul encouraged the congregation to look around and rejoice with the brothers as faith is lived out. A growing congregation is a blessing to all involved, a source of joy, and a testimony to the Triune God’s faithfulness. Paul closed chapter 2 with the desire to send back to them faithful Epaphroditus. He was their gift, a blessing to Paul, and a mercy-healing by God. Paul was joyful for him and for them.

Paul closed the letter with a series of exhortations to rejoice – to be glad (3:1, 4:1, 4, 10). In chapter 3, Paul gives the simple exhortation without a reason given: rejoice in the Lord (3:1). I suspect Paul was contrasting what he rejoiced in as given in verses 3-6. The point is: rejoice in the Lord and not in your self-grasping, self-exaltation, and self- sufficiency. He begins chapter 4 by expressing his affection for the church. Among other things they are his joy, his crown (4:1). Yet he followed in verse 2-3 with the problem of strife and disunity. The very people that were his joy and crown were anything but that. He urged the women and the congregation to close ranks (see 1:27-2:2).  He then moved quickly to another exhortation in verse 4: Be glad/rejoice in the Lord and adds always. Wow! Joy is something a believer has and does but only if his perspective is proper: first vertically (to God), second horizontally (to others), and self is last or not at all (see Matt. 22:37-40). He then initiated a short teaching section on contentment (4:10-13). Joy, thankfulness, and contentment are three legs of a footstool that flow from and express satisfaction with God, for who He is and what He does (Pss. 37:3-5; 73:25-26).

 

Application

  1. What is the role of biblical truth in developing joy in your life?
  2. What do you need to learn and mediate on in order to b God’s kind of rejoicer?
  3. What drove Paul’s joy and how did he manifest his joy?

 

Love: Part I-VII

Love: Part A

God’s Love: 1 John 4:7-12

 

Love is a common, simple, four-letter word that is so misunderstood. The culture talks about lovers when referring to fornicators and adulterers. Objects of love may be people, animals, activities, and objects. The idea of the word love carries the idea of attraction, desire for, wanting, and feelings – often warm and fuzzy ones. So often a term is used without defining it. Many would say that everyone knows what love is. If that is your starting point, you will miss God’s definition as given in the Bible.

Too often, Christians have bought the culture’s concept and brought it into their understanding of God and themselves. God’s love is unconditional is a common refrain in some areas of the Christian community. Most don’t know what the phrase means. In fact, it is difficult to track down the origin of the phrase. The term is not used in the Bible so it has an extra-biblical origin. But words and terms do matter. Christians must be careful when they use terms that convey a low view of God and His Word and a high view of man.

Actually the term is a selfish one because it suggests that the “lover” does not care about the condition of the one receiving love or affection or overtures or interest. This raises the issue of the purpose of love and loving. Unconditional love carries the idea of giving with no strings attached. Rather as we shall see, God’s love has one sole purpose: it loudly and clearly proclaims His glory. By loving an unlovely and unlovable people by human standards, he saves a people who don’t deserve to be saved (Rom. 5:6-10; 2 Cor, 5:18-21). God loves to show His glory by bringing about a change in people – from His enemies to becoming His family members. God love is supernatural. The noun and verb are linked and at times are inseparable.

Many wrongly interpret God’s love as unconditional. The idea that God loves in spite of himself and in spite of the one loved is unbiblical. God’s love is informed – it is intelligent. God knows himself fully and completely. God knows His creatures. We need to unpack the idea that God’s love is conditional or unconditional or perhaps both depending on one’s definition by searching the Scripture. Scripture has much to say about God and love. One defining text is found 1 John 4:7-12:

v.7: Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

v.8: Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.

v.9: This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

v.10: This is love; not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

v.11: Dear friends since God loved us we ought to love one another

v.12: No one has ever seen God; but if we love another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish love as a noun and as a verb. The phrase God is love defines love as a noun and God as the supreme Lover. As such, He loves; here love is a verb. From John, we learn that God is love  – a noun (v.8). It is of His essence, His nature, and His Being. Therefore, to correctly understand the concept of love, one must begin with God. Most theologians consider love as one of God’s moral perfections. It is included under the heading of God’s goodness. The fundamental idea of God’s goodness is that God is, in every way, everything that he as God should be. We might call this perfection. God is Perfect. God is good in and for himself. He is also good for His creatures. He is the only and highest good. Goodness and love are linked. Because God is good he is love and he loves. Rightly understood the word love is a mini-definition of God. He is love and He defines love.

Love at the very least involves relationships and action. In this sense we can and should say that biblical love is conditional. Love and loving rests and begins with the Triune God. Love is conditioned by the character of God. If there is no God, there is no love either expressed as a noun or as a verb. From John’s first letter we learn that love is Intratrinitarian. All persons of the Godhead are Lovers. Consequently, there is love within the Godhead. What this love looks like we do not know. We were not there in eternity past.

We do know that there is perfect knowledge, harmony, and functionality within the Godhead. Love involves knowledge and it is conditioned by God himself. Therefore love is conditional. He can’t help but love! It is an absolute necessity for him to love. That fact is a relief for sinners!

Intratrinitarian love is impossible for man to comprehend. John makes this point in verse 12. The Church and the world get a glimpse of God and His love of Himself by His love of others – both His children and enemies. Again love and loving is conditional. They are dependent on the very nature of God. Since love is an action there is evidence of it. Notice that the term or concept of feelings has not entered into the discussion. Generally and properly it is taught that the ultimate demonstration of God’s love to mankind is the sending of Christ, the Messiah and of Christ himself. It is interesting that the Bible emphasizes the evidence of God’s love to mankind. This in itself is a loving action. Trying to comprehend God’s love of himself may be near impossible for man, fallen or unfallen. Therefore God would have believers look at the cross.

Application:

  1. Contemplate the Triune God’s love of Himself. What are your thoughts and how do they influence your love of others?
  2. How do you define love? What is the significance of the fact that God is love?
  3. Consider mankind’s fallen state: why should God love a rebel?
  4. How is it possible for Him to do that very thing?

 

 

 

 

Love: Part B

God is Love

 

Our subject is God’s love and its conditionality or un-conditionality. We began with God because the Bible begins with God (Gen. 1:1-2). God is love (1 John 4:8). He is the eternal God. God’s love of himself is eternal, complete, relational, perfect in knowledge, and active. God loves himself and his creatures because he is love.

God is known by mankind but not as he ought. This limitation is in part due to effect of sin on man’s thinking and wanting and because of who God is. Therefore, God’s love of himself is beyond human comprehension. We know from nature and the Bible that God is the Revealer and that he has created man as his image bearer. Therefore, man is a revelation receiver, interpreter, and implementer. God desires that he be known and accurately. If God’s love of himself is beyond human comprehension, how then will mankind know God and love? John gives the answer in 1 John 4:8: v.12: No one has ever seen God; but if we love another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (see John 13:34-35). Jesus gives a similar answer in another venue: John 14:8-9. He tells Philip that if the disciples have seen Jesus they seen the Father which is one reason for Jesus’ coming (John 1:18).

Why would God spend so much blood and effort proving to sinful mankind that God is love? Number one, as we have noted, the love of God for himself is beyond human comprehension. Number two, the love of God is conditioned by the very nature of God and the nature of fallen man. Number three, love of enemies is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. It is humbling. God loves himself, the perfect Being. How do we grasp that truth as finite and fallen creatures?  In a sense, God stacked the deck. To say that God loves his friends seems palatable and reasonable. To say that God loves his enemies will get a Whoa. The person will ask how that is possible. It gets better and deeper: in some way, God loves his enemies with the same love that he loves himself. That seems impossible but it is a reality. It is a reality only because God is love and his love is conditioned by who he is and who man is.

God’s love is conditional because it depends on his very nature and does not depend on man. Salvation is a reality only if God loved hell-bound, self-loving, and self-pleasing rebels. There would be no salvation if God was not love. Again, God’s love and loving acts are conditioned on God’s nature. No other love or Lover could save man let alone desire to save man.

Fallen man is in danger, lost in guilt, and condemnation. Misery awaits him in this life and the next unless God supernaturally intervenes. We speak of God’s supernatural intervention as salvation and redemption. So we should. We must remember that God is love and He loves independently of man’s fallen condition and estate.  It is as if mankind was placed in the worst condition possible so that salvation would be a WOW activity. God’s love is conditioned by his very nature and nothing in man. In fact, sober judgment would say don’t love the unlovely. Yet God does. This is in stark contrast to the Triune God’s love of himself.

To say that God’s love is unconditional is imprecise if not incorrect. God himself conditions love. His nature is to love and the clarity of his love is shone most clearly when the object of his love is an enemy. The phrase, God’s love is unconditional, misses the point of God’s nature. The word suggests that God is a love machine and that it is his job to love with no strings attached. It emphasizes that God’s love as unselective. He loves everybody without distinction because of something inherent in the person and not in God. That is precisely the opposite point! Everything in fallen man points to leaving him alone. In contrast, there is something in God (his nature is love) that demands him to love. Loving himself perfectly, completely, and eternally does not seem to motivate fallen man to praise and humble fallen man. Apparently God’s love of himself had no impact on the fallen angels.

It is true that God’s love is conditioned by his nature and is highlighted by the state and character of fallen man. There is no condition that any one person can bring to bear on God in order to force him to love that particular person. The person is the recipient of God and his love. He does so because God is love and not because he deserves it. He has nothing – he has no bargaining chip to force God to redeem him.

Once loved by God, there are conditions on the one loved in terms of duty, privilege, and blessings (2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 John 5:3-4). The loved one is expected to change in his thoughts, desires, and action toward God, self, and others. The personal cost to be loved by God is zero. God saves. Once a person is saved, there are costs. God expects a return on his investment. He gave his all-in-all and the believer is to give himself daily, 24/7. Growth in love of God and others (neighbors and enemies) is part of the believers spiritual DNA.

 

Application:

  1. Clarify the terms conditional and unconditional love.
  2. God’s love is conditional: agree or disagree and why?
  3. God’s love is unconditional: how is that a dangerous concept? What truth may it carry?

 

 

 

 

 

Love: Part C

God’s Love: Conditional

 

From 1 John 4:7-12, we learned that God is love. Because He is he loves. God loved and loves himself eternally and perfectly. There is no defect within the Trinity. God’s love of himself is beyond human comprehension. The New Testament speaks of the Father’s love of the Son and the Son’s love of the Father and by implication the Holy Spirit’s love of the Father and the Son. Simply, there is a love fellowship between the three persons of the Godhead (The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14 ESV).

As a consequence or a fruit of Intratrinitarian love, God loves his people. God expresses a common goodness to all his creatures (Matt. 5:43-48; Acts 14:17). But He loves his own in a salvific way. It is a wonderful truth that God’s love is conditional: it is dependent on His very nature. It is good that the condition for God to love does not rest with man.

From man’s perspective one may say that God’s love is unconditional. There is nothing in man to warrant God to love him. The fact that man is made the image of God is his only claim for God to exert kindness to mankind. As Creator, God does extend kindness to men for a time. The fallen angels have no salvation or offer of it. Post-fall there is much about and in man to warrant God’s wrath and never to be loved by God. However, God’s love is conditional: it is conditioned by God himself.

God loves simply because He is love. Thank God that he loves his enemies. One object of God’s love is unlovely people. By man’s standards they are un-loveable. Yet God loves his enemies. There is nothing in a person that forces God to love him or her (Rom. 5:6-10; John 17:9, 14, 20-24). Yet God loves them with a purpose – to bring a people to himself. God’s agenda is for them to become like his Son. There is nothing in man to force God to think and act in a certain way. There is much in man that requires God to act in judgment on mankind. Yet God loves his enemies. Therein is love that God loved first (1 John 4:19). John was speaking to believers. God loves his people in a saving way.

Christ demonstrated Triune love by his perfect obedience before the cross and his perfect death on the cross (John 3:16-21). In addition, we don’t see God but we see others. When self-pleasers, even believers, are kind to others, the world and especially the Church is presented with an insight into God’s love of himself (John 13:34-35; Matt. 5:43-48). Love is more than kindness but love includes kindness.

The ultimate expression to the world of God’s love is the estate of humiliation of his Son which includes the cross. In that way God loves those who don’t deserve to be loved. Rather they deserve wrath and condemnation. This act of sacrifice on the part of the Triune God points to God as the true Lover. The cross defines supernatural love and pushes the believer toward heaven. There he gets a glimpse of Intratrinitarian love. Seeing Jesus and witnessing his teaching and miracles does not match the cross in terms of revealing the nature of God (John 14:6-9). But even the cross must be seen from eternity past and the love that the Triune God has for himself. Humanly speaking love can be defined as God gives, as He meets a need, no matter the cost, with the correct motive, and by His standard (John 3:16; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 25). God’s love of himself is displayed as He loves the unlovely (Rom. 5:6-10).

It is on the basis of God’s very Being that John tells his congregation that they are to love one another – it is a necessity (v.11). Moreover, believers are to love one another because love comes from God (v.7). John sets forth several non-negotiable truths: God is love and he is the fountainhead or source of all love. Several corollaries follow. First, only believers can love. Unbelievers cannot love because they are not born of God; they are not regenerated. Second, loving one another is not a suggestion; it is rooted in who God is and who the believer is in Christ. Third, loving one another is a testimony that God is love, that His love is radical and supernatural, and that the true lover of others is one who is loved by God and loves God (1 John 4:12, 19).

 

Application:

  1. In your thinking, clarify where God’s love originated. What significance does that have?
  2. What are the conditions on God to love?
  3. What are the conditions on man to love? How is it possible for man to love?
  4. Loving others is an expression of being loved by God.
  5. What did it cost you to be loved by God?
  6. What did it cost God?

 

 

 

Love: Part D

God’s Love: Conditional and Unconditional

 

John told his congregation that God is love (1 John 4:8). Since God‘s nature/Being is love, love characterizes all aspects of God’s Being: His holiness, justice, righteousness, mercy, and goodness. Again love must begin with the Trinity. Salvation is an Intratrinitarian activity that is steeped in the very Being of God. In eternity past, only the Godhead existed. He existed in perfect wisdom, harmony, and functionality. When we speak of God’s holiness, anger, righteousness, and justice, we are to understand that God, in and through love and holiness, placed His righteous judgment and wrath on Christ at the cross. He poured out his anger on Christ. He judged Christ and all believers.

In love, Jesus took the anger every believer deserved. In that sense, sin as a noun, has been given its due: at Jesus’ expense God punished and destroyed sin – its guilt and condemnation. In love, an angry, righteous God was working for each believer as well as himself. Christ went to hell on the cross. God loved his enemies through his Son. In his anger, God lovingly placed Jesus on the cross as a substitute for each one of his people. Moreover, the Holy Spirit indwells the Church and the believer to disarm the sinful disposition of self-pleasing through personal lawkeeping – one aspect of sin’s power. The unbeliever is too busy with self: self-pleasing, self-grasping, and self-exaltation (Rom. 8:5-8; Gal. 5:16-18; Eph. 2:1-3; James 4:1-3). The Holy Spirit is at work enabling God’s people to become more like Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit brings about changes in a person: his desires, attitude and actions and his belief and behavior. In contrast to the unbeliever, the believer is able to please God rather than self. Therefore a believer loves both God and others because he has first been loved (1 John 4:19).

Let’s consider again the term unconditional love. Is God’s love unconditional? From John, we learned that God is love. His love and its expression are conditioned on that which he is – he is love. We rightly expect God to love – it is his nature. However, too often, we begin with ourselves as recipients of God’s love. We must begin in eternity. As discussed in earlier blogs, the first evidence of the fact that God is love is within the Trinity. He loves himself totally and perfectly. Who else was there to love? One can only be amazed that He moves outside of the Trinity to find objects of his love. In marked contrast to himself is perfect, he loves those who are undeserving and unlovely (Rom. 5:6-11). Therefore God’s love is not conditioned by anything in man, about man, or what man can do. There is nothing inherent in fallen man that makes him lovely. Although he is still the image bearer of God, he is lost until saved/loved by God.

God’s love is based on the simple and profound fact that God is love. Although this fact is expressed most clearly within the Trinity, God would have us look to the cross for a clear picture of Intratrinitarian love. God loves himself because of himself. Therefore, God loves fallen men in spite of themselves and in part, because they are the image of God. As mentioned in other blogs, God meets man where he is. The creature, fallen or not, does not comprehend God and the fact that God is love. God meets mankind at his level. Fallen man does not deserve God’s love – he deserves God’s wrath. Yet God, in His holiness, justice, righteousness, goodness, wisdom, and power, loves unlovely people. Contrast the two objects of God’s love: the Triune God and fallen sinners, rebels. What a contrast! God presents himself as the Lover par excellence. God’s love of his enemies does not simply point to the cross but to him. If God was not love, there would be no cross.

Look to the Trinity, then to the cross, and then to your love of others, friends and foes alike. You will begin to discover that God is love, conditioned by His very nature and independent of man’s condition. In fact to love “good” people requires very little (Matt. 5:39-42, 43-48; Luke 6:29-30).

John 14:8-9 records Jesus’ short conversation with Philip. Philip wanted Christ to show (demonstrate) the Father to them. Perhaps Phillip wanted a theophany or a spectacular revelation. As all Israel claimed to want, Philip asked for a sign. Jesus was the Sign – a living Sign. The Messiah was standing before Phillip. If Phillip had seen Jesus with spiritual eyes, the Father and the Triune God would have been seen as well. Christ revealed the Triune God and the true nature of love.  Do you see Him?

 

Application:

  1. Meditate on God, His love, and the object of His love. Write out your response.
  2. How does the fact that God is love and that you have been loved as a believer influence your relation to God and others?
  3. What is the big deal about having a loving God such as yours? Be specific.
  4. Think through the fact that you have been loved to and through death: Christ’s death and your spiritual death to self, sin, and Satan. By virtue of the fact that God is love, He has invested more in you than you have invested in yourself or in him.
  5. What significance do those facts have in your life; why and why not?
  6. Now, as one loved, you are called to love as you have been loved. Consider this working definition of love: give of self to meet a need in order to please God. Write out specific ways that you have been or can be a true lover.

 

 

 

Love: Part E

Is Self-Love God’s Way?

 

The movement of self-love, self-image, self-worth, and self-esteem has been in the rave reaching a climax even within Church in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The concept was touted as Self Esteem: New Reformation by Robert Schuller. The one common denominator in the terms is self. The key was to look to self for a better view of self based on a subjective standard of worth chosen by the person and verified by his feelings. Maslow’s need theory and self-actualization are based on self, self, and self. The concepts are still around but have lost some of their steam. However, it is proper for Christians to ask if there is a godly way to love self. In addressing the issue of self-love, consider these five facts:

  • The Bible’s presupposition that man loves himself (Matt. 22:37-40)
  • God loves Himself (1 John 4:7-8);
  • Man is the image of God and therefore was initially designed to love himself God’s way (Gen. 1:31);
  • The fall and God’s judgment corrupted man and man’s capacity for biblical self- love (Rom. 1:18-20; 8:5-8);
  • John brings love of God, neighbor, and self together in 1 John 4:7-12, 19.

In this blog, I will address the first two truths.

 

  1. Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:28-34, and Luke 10:25-37 summarize the dynamic of love by including a twofold exhortation which summarizes the Law and the Prophets. In each case Jesus summarized the essence of the Christian duty and privilege with the words: love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. Sadly, the teaching of Jesus has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. This misunderstanding has led to the false teaching that Jesus gave three commands; that without love of self, one can’t possibly love God and others; and that love of self precedes any other activity (Maslow’s jargon). In essence, self takes center stage and self-pleasing and getting becomes the lens by which the person interprets God, self, others, and life (actually those events that God brings into a person’s life).

In each portion of Scripture mentioned above, Jesus gave only two commands. Jesus presupposed that man already loves himself. The Holy Spirit reinforced that presupposition in Ephesians 5:28-29, 33. The husband is to love his wife as he loves himself and his own body. Jesus and Paul highlighted the intensity, fervency, constancy, and quantity of love which was considered a verb. An object of love is assumed. By design God is that object. He deserves and demands to be loved. He is the only being with the credentials to justify those facts. God has designed man to glorify Him by loving him in his presence forever. Biblically, love as a verb is the act of a person giving himself to another out of welfare for, loyalty to, and respect for another. It is a devotion word. In contrast, self-love is giving self to self for self. This activity can take many forms.

  1. In 1 John 4:7-8, John writes that God is love and the Lover. Intratrinitarian love teaches the believer how he is to love God, others, and self correctly. Whom did God love? He loved himself from all eternity! Love involves knowing, giving, and enjoying. God gave Himself to Himself. He withheld nothing. Intratrinitarian love focuses on each person of the Trinity. Each person has revealed Himself completely, totally, and comprehensively so that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit know and are known by the other. God holds nothing back from Himself. Therefore, God’s love is exhaustive, knowledgeable, revelational, and relational. Love of man by man is to follow the Intratrinitarian pattern. Man is to move outside of himself to the other person. Being known by God and knowing God are prerequisites for properly loving God and thereby loving self.

Love is considered an aspect of the goodness of God. A fundamental idea of the goodness of God is His worthiness. God in every way answers in all parts to the ideal which he is in himself. God sets the standard because he is the standard. God is in every way all that God should be. There is no part of God that is lacking; there is no part of God that is not good. Since God is good in himself and for himself, He is good for and to his creatures. He is the highest good and the fountain of all good (1 John 4:7-8). His goodness is revealed in his common kindness to both friend and foe alike; in the salvation and sanctification of his people; in his mercy, and in His long-suffering. God out of and from love graces his people.

The love of God is a specific aspect of His goodness in which God eternally communicates himself not only to himself but to his creatures. He gives himself in word, deed, and person. He The Triune gave himself in Christ, the living Word (John 14:6). God through the Son, the Scripture, and the Holy Spirit is the Revealer of himself (John 17:17). Motivated by love, God desires His creatures to know Him and to enjoy him, now and eternally. God moves from the Trinity toward fallen creatures. God has a proper self-focus. God loves himself but that love moves from him to others. He is best honored and served when his enemies become his children and serve and honor him.

 

Application:

  1. How are love of God and love of self linked?
  2. How is it possible for any being including God to love?
  3. What was one effect of Adam’s sin and God’s judgment regarding th dynamic of love?

 

 

Love: Part F

Is Love of Self God’s Way?

 

In last blog I considered two foundational truths in the study of self-love. The first consisted of the command to love God and neighbor even though every person is steeped in self. A second truth focused on God the Lover and source and model of love. In this blog I consider a third foundational truth.

III. Adam and Eve were created as image bearers of God and very good (Genesis 1:26-28, 31). They were designed to live in God’s world his way for his glory and for their own good. Their good was linked to God’s glory and the benefit of all mankind. They were designed to properly love self.  Pre-fall they were properly related to God and to each other. Love of self was proper because they were in proper relationship to God. Proper relationship with each other and self logically followed. Love of self was based on a true knowledge of and a proper orientation to God, self, and others. It was proper and best for Adam and Eve to love themselves and each other. The way to properly love self was by loving God which led to loving each other.

Proper love of self requires a person to view himself from the same perspective as God did and does. Man is the image of God and as such God loves man. God loves man for His own sake. One theologian wrote: God loves in mankind Himself. God loves himself first and most, completely and perfectly. That is a source of comfort and joy for all believers. Since God loves himself as part of his very nature, so, too was man designed to love self because man is an image bearer of God. Pre-fall, man was in proper relationship to God, others, and self. Therefore, he was able to imitate love of self as modeled by God’s love of himself. Adam had a right concern about himself and Eve as they were in proper relation to God. A denial of these pre-fall facts distorts is actually is self- hatred which has drastic consequences (Proverbs 8:32-36).

Biblical love is factual, relational, and revelational. Therefore self-love involves proper knowledge of self as a whole person – body and soul, and proper application of biblical truth. The goal for man is to return himself to God daily as he prepares for eternity. God calls all mankind to give an account of who they are and how they have responded to the duty and privilege of rightly loving self. Rightly loving self will be demonstrated in proper love of God and others. Proper self-love looks away from self to God. Every person is to return to God that which is due God. That something is the person – all of him. The believer is equipped to please God. This is what Jesus did (John 4:31-34; 5:19-30)! He calls the believer to do the same when he exhorted the disciples to deny self, take up his cross, and follow Jesus (Matthew 10:32-38; 16:24-28; Mark 8:31-9:1; Luke 9:22-27; 14:25-27; John 12:25-27). Self-pleasing can be ONLY be equated with biblical self-love when love of self considers God and others first and from God’s perspective. In pleasing His Father, Jesus was practicing and modeling Intratrinitarian love. He was modeling biblical self-love. Jesus was consumed with pleasing God and therefore loving himself. He had a proper view of self-love because He had a proper of self and God.

In eternity past the Triune God covenanted to save a people for himself which was a most loving activity (John 6:35-43; Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:28-30). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are self-lovers and God-pleasers par excellence. Proper self-love is linked to pleasing God. In fact, proper knowledge of self leads to proper knowledge of God; a proper knowledge of God leads to a proper knowledge of self. If there is no God, there is no love. There is only selfishness and misery follows in this life and the next.

 

Application:

  1. What is the significance of the truth that God is love for you?
  2. Love is factual, relational, and revelational: explain.
  3. Properly loving self is first focused on the Triune God, His nature and commands and secondly on your neighbor. How should you and will you apply these truths to you?

 

 

Love: Part G

Is Love of Self God’s Way?

 

In this final blog I cover two additional truths that help to clarify the biblical doctrine of self-love.

  1. Jesus understood the effects of the curse of sin. Post-fall, the two underpinnings of love – proper relationship and proper knowledge of God and self – were lost. As a result of the fall and God’s judgment, man was and is out of proper relationship to and with God, others, and self. As a result, man suppresses and resists the truth of God and self (Rom. 1:18-20). He then functions as a truth exchanger and an idolater (Rom. 1:21-25). This mindset and lifestyle continues unless God supernatural intervenes.

Self-love and idolatry are almost synonymous. The capacity to properly love – God, others, and self – has been corrupted. Proper self-concern was eliminated and replaced by selfishness. Self takes center stage. Following satanic counsel became mankind’s modus operandi which took the form of self-pleasing via self-worship. Man became an idolater! He served and serves himself at the expense of pleasing and serving God. Proper biblical love of God and neighbor became non-existent. Consequently, the sinner used God and others to get for self.

  1. 1 John 4:7-12, 19 is a summary of God’s explanation for reversing the effects of the fall in the area of self-love. It builds on Matthew 22:37-40 and the parallel accounts in the gospels. John presupposed sinful self-love and highlighted God’s solution. He began with God as the fountain of all love – God is love and he loves (v.7-8). God is Lover par excellence. In response to God’s love of him, the believer truly loves. Only the believer can properly love. He is and will grow in loving God, others, and self God’s way.

Man’s capacity to love is derivative and initially it was properly directed toward God and others. Once God judged Adam and with him the whole human race, the capacity to love was directed toward self for self away from God and others. Upon regeneration (born of God – v.8), the believer can truly loves because he has been loved by God (v.19). The believer was regenerated, in part, so that he could love God and love others God’s way. As a result, self-love begins not with self but with God and others. The biblical view of love including self-love destroys the validity of all psychological theories. Proper self-love looks away from self to God and others. With that, we have come full circle and are back to a Matthew 22:37-40 and a proper understanding of love.

 

Application:

  1. Define love.
  2. How does your love model God’s love of Himself?
  3. How is it possible to self-love?
  4. What does godly self-love look like and from what does it spring?

 

 

 

 

Matthew 16:13-20, Part A: Who Do YOU Say I Am

      Matthew 16:13-20 Part A:      Who Do YOU Say I Am

This question, and its answer, was relevant in Jesus’ day and it is today. Who Jesus is will remain a question for all seasons because Jesus is the man for all seasons. Moreover, the person and work of Christ and the eternal design of the Triune God is under attack from within and without the Church. It is vital that the Church answer the question correctly.

Jesus’s question moved to the heart of the issue: the disciples’ heart. God designed mankind a duplex being, inner and outer man. Man thinks and desires in both the outer man (the body particularly the brain) and the inner man (the heart – Proverbs 4:23; 16:21, 23). Jesus’ question cut to the very core of one’s whole being. The answer is based on one’s view of God and self.

In Matthew 16, we find Jesus with His disciples. In the preceding verses (16:5-12), Jesus warned the disciples to be on guard against the yeast of the spiritual leaders. The disciples came to realize that Jesus was not speaking of physical yeast and its effects. He referenced the teaching of the Pharisee’s (16:12). The Pharisees taught that no spiritual messiah was needed (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Personal law-making and personal law-keeping was adequate and should be accepted by God. They had endorsed adequate law keeping by virtue of their own law-making and law-keeping. They had themselves. They did not need a spiritual messiah, only a physical one

Jesus and the disciples moved into pagan territory in part for privacy and quietness (16:13).  Jesus continued to instruct the disciples. Beginning with Matthew 16:13, Jesus began to teach the disciples about Him. He probed their hearts by asking several questions. Asking questions, waiting for an answer, and then moving to instruction is an excellent discipling tool and a one-on-one ministry tool.

The first question is noted in verse 13: Who do the people say the Son of Man is. Several points are noteworthy.

  • Jesus is referencing the common people as to their view of the messiah and Him. Did they link the two?
  • The question probed the disciples in several ways. Jesus wanted to know how much other-orientation the disciples had. Knowing where people are is a key ingredient for godly one-on-one ministry. It is essential for ministering the appropriate biblical truth to the person in his situation in order to help the problem given his level of spiritual maturity and his level of willingness. Questions tend to probe the heart and accusations often make it easy for a person to harden himself.
  • Taking a spiritual inventory is worthwhile for the both the one ministering and the one receiving truth.
  • Jesus called Himself the Son of Man which was in marked contrast to the people’s response. The Jewish expectation was one of a nationalistic messiah. Only Jesus used the title (Matt. 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 24:30). It was Jesus’ most common designation for Himself. It was used some 81 times in the Gospels. It is a generally thought to be a Messianic title. The Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and be raised (Mark 8:31). Most likely, Jesus referenced Daniel 7:13-14. The used of the designation by Christ implied that Jesus expected the disciples to know their Scripture. The Messiah had come and He was Him.

The disciples wasted little time in answering. The people had multiple and varying false opinions: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Basically the answers indicated that the people thought of Jesus as the ghost of a dead man. The disciples must have heard the people speaking and knew the prevailing opinions. There was a diversity of human opinions. The idea of Messiah as intended by the title Son of Man was not included in any answer. The prevailing view consisted only of a physical bondage and a savior from that bondage. The people’s answers as reported by the disciples reflected a lack of understanding of Jesus the person and His message and mission. It also reflected a wrong understanding of who they were. It indicated a wrong view of sin, sinners, sinfulness, and its consequences. Jesus was considered a “good guy,” miracle worker, and even a good teacher. He could provide relief from physical burdens but He was not considered to be God

Application:

  1. Who do you say Christ is?
  2. What is your source of information and standard for your answer?
  3. How are you are able to declare the truth about Christ?

 

       Matthew 16:13-20, Part B :   Who Do YOU Say I Am

Matthew recorded a second question in verse 15. Jesus probed the hearts of the disciples by asking: But what about you – who do you say I am? Jesus’ second question distinguished the disciples from the people. In His second question, Jesus placed the plural you in an emphatic position. Jesus was getting personal by honing in on the crux of the matter. Jesus wanted to know for their sake if their answer contained more truth than that of the common people. By questions, Jesus was helping the disciples form a right view of God, Him, and themselves.

Matthew used the verb to be – I am. In the original language I am is an infinitival form of the verb to be (einai). Jesus was asking an ontological question. He coned down on their understanding of His being and essence. A proper understanding of who Jesus was would equip the disciples for a right view of the essence of Jesus’ message and mission and a right view of their message and mission as God’s agents. All three were linked but the disciples did not understand this linkage. However, their understanding would increase in manifold fashion at the Spirit’s coming as recorded in John 21 and at Pentecost.

Earlier, as recorded in Matthew 14:22-33, two men walked on water. When the disciples saw Jesus alone walking on the water, the disciples responded fearfully. Jesus admonished them to be of courage and not to fear. He gave them the reason: it is I. Very God was in their midst. They were not alone left to their own resources. Jesus was in control and He had chosen them. By using the verb to be Jesus equated Himself with God (John 8:58; 10:30). Sinful fear looks away from God and His promises and resources and looks to self as an impotent provider.

In Matthew 16:15, Jesus’ but-you question probed the hearts of His disciples. How truly were they were in the true faith? The question is a good one for every believer. His question left the disciples with little wiggle room. Jesus focused on the threat of the teaching (yeast) of the Pharisees. The disciples were tempted to accept their teaching or at least were tempted to be tossed back and forth by human speculations (Col. 2:8; James 1:5-8). Interestingly, Judas was included in this group.

The disciples came face to face with the living God whose time was growing short on the earth. Jesus’ question to the disciples was an in-your-face question. It was a defining-moment question. Jesus did not need to know the answer for Himself. Rather, He was addressing the disciples who were in their infancy in terms of their development as Christ’s disciples. Jesus expected fruit bearing especially from these men who were with Him. When much is given much is required (Matt. 25:29; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18; 12:48). Jesus knew that the disciples needed to be properly prepared in regard to their own salvation and for growth as a child of God. They needed gospel truth and the gospel message firmly under their belt in order to carry the gospel message forward. Knowing Christ – facts about Him – and intimacy with Him by faith with Him was vital for their salvation, growth in grace, and completion of their mission.

Application:

  1. God’s presence can be a burden or blessing: see the book of Job and see David in Psalms 32 and 38. How do you view God’s presence and on what basis?
  2. The you in Jesus’ second question is intended to be personal. How do you answer the question? What do you know about Jesus?
  3. Salvation is personal but it is never to remain personal. Explain.

 

      Matthew 16:13-20, Part III:     Who Do YOU Say I Am

In this potion of Scripture, Jesus revealed Himself as the Teacher. He conducted a question-and-answer session with His disciples. He was taking the pulse of the disciples and Israel. He knew their answers to the questions but wanted to put the issue before the disciples. The answers were a matter of life and death and still are. In verse 16, Peter answered the question asked in verse 15: who do say I am. Peter responded for the group: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Peter’s response was knowledgeable, personal, and relational. It contrasted the people’s perspective of Jesus. Peter’s answer echoed Yahweh’s self-designation in Exodus 3:6; Matt. 22:32; Acts 7:32. Peter referred to only one person – the living God-man Jesus. Peter acknowledged the deity of Christ. The disciples as a group had acknowledged Jesus to be God’s Son (Matt. 14:33). As believers Peter and the disciples were known by God. But they were lacking in their understanding of Who Christ was and what their relationship to and with Him would mean for them. However, their answer was a step in a progressive unveiling of eyes and hearts to the reality of Jesus Christ. Jesus was beginning to intensify His personal instruction to them. He was on a timetable and the disciples needed to be on board.

Christ put Peter’s answer into a proper perspective. He acknowledged the source of the truth expressed in Peter’s words as divine revelation (Matt. 16:17).  Peter by nature was a human son of a human father. In contrast, Jesus was by nature and from all eternity, the divine Son of the Divine Father. Natural human knowledge unaffected by knowledge imparted supernaturally by the Holy Spirit would never prepare man to plumb the depths of God’s mind and truth (Rom. 1:18-20; 1 Cor. 2:10-16). Humanly speaking, no one can proclaim Jesus as the true Messiah unless the Holy Spirit has worked within the heart of the person (John 3:3-8; 6:60-64). Unlike the people, Peter spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Peter proclaimed truth about Jesus the Person – His essence and being.

Implied in Christ’s proclamation of the source of Peter’s answer is a third and most important question. The question is: Who does God say Jesus is? Jesus alluded to this when He declared that supernatural thinking is humanly impossible without the Holy Spirit (Matt.16:17). A second question follows: do you agree with Him and on what basis? Matthew recorded the Father proclamation in two places: This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). The Father’s admonition to the three disciples on the mountain was to listen to Jesus (Matt. 17:5). The Father and the Son were one (John 10:30). Listening to Jesus was tantamount to listening to the Father (John 14:6-9).  Jesus taught that God is the source of all truth. Truth is personal, objective, absolute, and revelational (John 14:6 – Jesus is truth; 17:17 – Scripture is truth). Truth is life changing (John 8:31-32). In Matthew 16:17, Jesus pronounced a blessing on Peter and all those who agreed with him. Today we listen to the Triune God as we read, recite, meditate, memorize, verbalize, personalize, and actualize God’s truth. Believers, as were the disciples, are to be busy applying biblical truth daily.

Who, and what, do YOU think Jesus is? And why do you believe what you believe?  How do your beliefs impact your daily thoughts, desires, and actions? The questions imply that Jesus is and that all people have some knowledge of Him. As a believer, God knows you comprehensively and intimately. Your knowledge of Him is relational and it is to be growing. The answer to the questions posed in Matthew 16:13ff center on you, the knower; the object of your knowledge, Jesus Christ; and the standard and source for your answer, God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. True knowledge of Christ is God’s gift to the believer. God expects a return on His gift and investment.

Application:

  1. Who is Christ? What did He come to do and why?
  2. Do your answers agree with God’s answers?
  3. How have these facts/truths affected your thoughts, desires, and actions daily – 24/7?

 

 

 

Scattering and Gathering: Yahweh’s Covenantal Faithfulness

Scattering and Gathering: Yahweh’s Covenantal Faithfulness

 

Several fundamental redemptive motifs are evident throughout Scripture. Scripture elaborates on these throughout the Old Testament, often in narrative form, and during Jesus’ earthly ministry. These include grief and joy, defeat and victory, exile and exodus, judgment and restoration, and scatter and gather. These pithy summaries highlight the Bible’s various presentations of God’s redemptive remedy for His people. His people are the God-intended humanity of Genesis 1 as summarized in Genesis 1:31: ...God saw all that he had made and it was very good…..

God’s people are His from all eternity but that eternal plan takes shape in the life of nations and individuals. Redemptive history unfolds the working out of God’s plan. The various motifs mentioned above provide insight into God’s desire to be the God of His people and His design for the people to be His people. God took the initiative per His design and is still taking the initiative in bringing people into His kingdom until Jesus returns. God desired a people to be in His presence forever. These motifs provide insight into God’s original plan of opening a way into His presence. The way began in the Garden after the fall. Continued bliss, fellowship, and intimacy would have continued between God and the first parents and between Adam and Eve when Adam was covenantally unfaithful. Yet sin and sinners did not deter God’s original plan. It was designed to continue after Adam’s first sin and God’s judgment.

The above motifs fit best into redemptive history from a covenantal perspective. God covenanted with Himself in eternity past to save a people for Himself (see John 6:37-43; 17:1-5, 24-26). God is the Promise-maker and Promise-keeper par excellence who is Creator, Controller, Judge, Father, Deliverer, and Savior. He is trustworthy and He deserves mankind’s full attention and worship.

The motif of scatter and gather illustrates man’s sinfulness and God’s justice, mercy, and love. Evidence of scatter and gather began in heaven and in the Garden. Actually the fallen angels were scattered – exiled from God’s presence with no opportunity or hope of redemption. The Triune God is the Scatterer of those who rebel against Him. He is also the Scatterer of Israel and all the nations of the universe who fail to trust and obey. Yet there is hope and help for rebels as the above motifs demonstrate.

God’s activity of scattering with the promise of gathering was first evidenced in the Garden. Always covenantally-faithful, God is the Maker and Keeper of His promises. As noted above, God’s purpose and design from all eternity was to bring a people into His divine presence for His glory and for joyful fellowship. God exiled Adam and Eve, and with them all mankind, with a promise of gathering recorded in Genesis 3:15. A cosmic battle as well as an individual war within each person was underway with the way of victory decided by God: the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent – victory (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20)! However, mankind must bow the knee to a good, powerful, and purposeful God. Post-fall, mankind had no desire or will to honor God – only himself. Change in man must occur and does as part of God’s plan.

The reality of rebellious Israel dots the pages of Scripture in the Old and New Testaments. God’s chosen people were not interested in honoring God in thought, desire, and deed. They were busy honoring themselves. They were a rebellious, prophet-killing nation. However, God continued the offer of salvation and fellowship with Him through repentance. The call for repentance runs throughout the Old and New Testaments. However, too many people have ears but don’t hear, and eyes but don’t see.

God is the Scatterer and the Gatherer of Israel, all Israel, the true Israel. The statement regarding God as the Scatterer is confined to the prophetic books except the book of Deuteronomy (4:27; 28:64; 30:3). God’s scattering and gathering is presented as conditional. In Deuteronomy 4:25-27, Moses gave clear instructions: corruption in the form of self-worship through idol worship brings judgment and scattering. Yet, God gave hope as well. If Israel seeks the Lord, God promised to be found. He wasn’t the problem! In Deuteronomy 30 the same truth is presented. Taking God’s word to heart brings restoration – blessings, peace, and security (30:1-3). God promised to gather the Israelites from where He scattered them (30:4-5). Moreover He promised to circumcise their hearts so that love of God and love of neighbor would be a heart-bound and demonstrated reality. The two – scattering and gathering – are linked and are intended to bring an inside-out change in His people. Left to herself, Israel would have no place in God’s presence. God took the initiative in bringing a people to Himself. Praise God that He scatters AND gathers.

Ezekiel wrote that he lived among a rebellious people (12:1-2). This was an apt description of Israel. In verse 3, Ezekiel was told to be ready for exile – scattering. In verse 11, Ezekiel wrote: ..They will go into exile as captives. God used foreign nations as His scattering agents and as His humbling tool (see v.14). The reason given for God’s scattering is found in verse 15: They will know that I am the Lord when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries. With that statement we are back in the Garden post-fall. Several New Testament passages reference the scatter-gather motif (Matthew 25:31-46, Philippians 2:9-11, and Revelation 21-22). Glory is coming and it is God’s but His people will share in it. All people will know God and will bow before the King.

God’s scattering and gathering served the purpose of His people knowing that He is Yahweh. Some never got it. God’s desire and design fits the first three commandments. God is for Himself and His people. He is “cleaning them up.” Who can enter into God’s presence and live? It is those who are like His Son in that they have a heart for God and the things of God (Psalms 15:1-3; 24:3-4). Becoming more like Christ is, in part, accomplished by scattering and gathering. In and of themselves no one deserves or is able to be in God’s presence and live, let alone enjoy God for who He is. Thanks be to God that He has keep His promise and He has provided the way into His presence through His Son.

 

Application:

  1. What is your impression of the God who scatters and gathers?
  2. What was Israel’s problem?
  3. How did scattering help to correct the problem?
  4. How does the Prodigal son fit this motif: Luke 15:11-32? How does Luke 15:17-18 help you understand and appreciate the gathering and scattering motif?

Part I-III: The Resurrection

Part I: The Resurrection

Our Sunday in April (the usual time for Easter) was another Sunday, another Sabbath Day, and another Easter Sunday. We were struck by the fact that Easter does not receive the attention as does Christmas. This is evident in both the secular and religious world. In contrast to Christmas, when faced with Easter, some may complain that they don’t have any holidays and that it is over so quickly. Others may approach Easter with a ho-hum mindset.

How would answer the question: what is the big deal about Easter? Would you include the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in your answer? What is the significance of the resurrection? Is it just another event, even a miraculous one in the life of Jesus?  Paul devoted a whole chapter to the resurrection in his letter to the Corinthians (chapter 15). The Holy Spirit deemed it important, so important, that He had Paul devote a whole chapter to it. It remains important to us today.

Remember that the Corinthians church had multiple problems. Paul’s teaching in regard to the resurrection was to help the congregation respond to each other in the midst of their problems. Their problem-filled world was theological – they had a wrong of God, Christ, self, and each other. The truth of a resurrected Christ was one key in helping them get victory. It remains the same for believers and churches throughout the ages. What follows are several thoughts regarding the importance of the resurrection. See what you think.

First: The gospel: without the resurrection there is no gospel. Paul began the chapter with the words:  I want to remind you of the gospel which I preached to you, which you received, and on which you have taken your stand (15:1).  Apparently, the congregation had made an about-face (see 1 Cor. 1:10-17). They were changing. They addressed problems beginning with themselves. Relational issues were addressed. They began vertically to achieve proper problem solving. They came to realize their relationship with God was through Christ by the Holy Spirit. Then they were able to move horizontally – toward each other. Paul encouraged the congregation by his teaching regarding the resurrection in order for them to continue to solve problems God’s way and to grow in Christlikeness.

In verses 3-4, Paul wrote that the gospel was more than a crucified, dead Savior. Other men had died via crucifixion and they were buried. But the Corinthians’ Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, was a resurrected Savior who did all things according to Scripture: He died for our sins, was buried, was raised, and appeared post-resurrection. This made all the difference to Paul. Paul emphasized that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection were linked and were accomplished according to Scripture. They occurred on God’s timetable.

The resurrection points to the good, powerful, and purposeful God. It affirms that the Father accepted Jesus as the true sacrifice that was the ransom price (Rom. 4:25). The debt was paid in full. The penalty God demanded as a Just judge for the sinfulness and sins of His people was made (Rom. 3:21-28). The resurrection was and is God’s well done good and faithful Servant to the Son for us. It is also for us because Christ’s resurrection life is the beginning of the believer’s resurrection which began at regeneration (Rom. 6:9-11; 1 John 3:1-3).

Second, once there is redemption accomplished, there is also redemption applied. The Holy Spirit in full measure makes the benefits of salvation alive in the now believer. The blessings and benefits include: a. justification (declared right before God); b. adoption (the believer has been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the family and kingdom of God); c. sanctification both positional before God as a saint and progressively as a saved sinner growing in Christlikeness; d. and glorification which awaits its fullness at the second coming of Christ.

These are a few thoughts, pump primers if you will, on the magnificent and monumental significance and blessings of a resurrected Savior. Christianity is a religion of exclusives: a Triune God who saves His people by becoming one of them, a crucified Savior who lived and died unlike the King He was, and a resurrected Savior Who returned to the Father in the presence of the Holy Spirit. There is no other religion like Christianity. Easter highlights these facts.

 

Application:

  1. What is your view of the resurrection and what significance does it have in your life?
  2. Read Chapter 15 of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and write down at least five truths that grip you.
  3. The supernatural and miracles is a major feature of Christianity. How do you bring together reason and faith when you consider Christianity?

 

Part II: The Resurrection

Christ’s resurrection means that He lived, died, and was buried. It also means that He ascended into heaven as the exalted Lord of lords and Kings of kings. It means that He is interceding for His people. He continues as the Mediator for/of His people.  It means He will return to demonstrate before the entire universe that God is trustworthy. What He plans He brings to pass. He planned for a people to be in His presence eternally. The picture of the new heavens and new earth is given in Revelation 21-22 and far surpasses human comprehension of its magnificence. The second coming of Christ will be the concluding, consummating event in all covenant redemptive history. Therefore it makes sense to pray: O Lord God, please come quickly.

Yet Christ has not returned. Believers will and must live with the reality of His return as an already but not yet state. The already refers to the fact that Christ purchased resurrection for the believer. His death meant life for His people. His resurrection meant resurrection life for His people which began at their regeneration. Union with Christ means that what Christ has gained for Himself is the believer’s and where Christ is so is the believer (Col. 3:1-3; 1 John 3:1-3).  Resurrection life on this earth means that the believer is perfected in principle but not in practice. Not yet means there is still more to come but it only gets better! The believer awaits the consummation of the complete picture of who the Triune God is and who he is as a perfected saint. Glorification began at regeneration but is not complete on earth. The not yet means that the believer is not consummated as all he can and will be in Christ. Perfection awaits heaven. There are some theologians who believe that saints in heaven will grow in their perfected state.

Contemplate the picture of the gospel and redemption. Redemption accomplished is through the perfect law-keeping of Christ before the cross and the perfect payment of the penalty of sin and sinfulness while Jesus was on the cross. Further, a crucified and buried Savior is no a savior. Rather, Jesus is the resurrected, ascended, and interceding Savior. Redemption applied is via the work of the Holy Spirit who united the believer to Christ and Christ to the believer. The benefits of that union include not only regeneration but justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification.  The gospel as given in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 summarizes the truths of redemption with an emphasis on the fulfillment of Scripture and a resurrected Christ. Each of the above doctrinal truths is for the pleasure and use of the believer as he experiences resurrection life and growth in Christlikeness.

As a personal reminder, because Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Savior: there is no condemnation for you/ those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). The condemnation and guilt that was due you is no more. Jesus went to hell on the cross in your place. He was considered and treated as an undeserving sinner by God. Redemption accomplished and applied cry out that sin and hell are big deals. They are monumental realities. There is a destiny for every person. The resurrection is God’s testimony that the wrath of God has been satisfied completely. God condemned you in Christ. Jesus as your substitute took your place. You are free from hell and the power of sin. You are freed to God’s service. There is no longer a bounty on your head. Christ took your fall!

Moreover, your justification (right standing before God) is made secure in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 4:25). You have a right standing before the just Judge of the entire world. God considers you not guilty because Christ was judged in your place, as your substitute. Therefore setting up your own standards to keep in your strength is competing with God. Doing and thinking things to earn and gain status is actually an attempt to indebt God to you. These are futile and an affront to God. Trying to do what Christ has done is sheer folly. Christ’s resurrection confirms all those truths.

Third, consider that Christ’s first coming ushered in the new age, the new creation and the already. With that coming believers are new creatures in Christ and partakers of resurrection life (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:9-10). Our union with Christ (really His with us) unites us with Him. Growth in Christlikeness, thus fulfilling God’s original design for believers, is being realized (Ephesians 1:4). Growth in Christlikeness is a foretaste of heaven on earth through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Fourth, there is a resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Everyone has a destiny. There is life to come in heaven or hell. Paul wrote that those who hope in Christ only for this life are to be pitied (v.19). There is more to come at death. For the believer it is the presence of God.

Lastly, while the removal of the curse of sin on the body is not complete in this life, believers will have a transformed, glorious, resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:35-49). This picture helps believers to think eternally and vertically. Being spiritually-minded helps them to be of the utmost earthly good (Col. 3:1-3; 1 John 3:1-3; Heb. 12:1-3).

 

Application:

  1. Continue to reread 1 Corinthians 15 and record five different truths that griped you.
  2. What significance has the resurrection in your life now?
  3. How will you rethink Easter given the truths of the resurrection?
  4. Define resurrection life (Rom. 6:9-11). It begins now. What does it look like in you?

 

Part III: The Resurrection

For some, death is a distant subject. By that I mean “out of sight out of mind.”  However the reality of life in a fallen world makes death a reality. Sometimes those with failing bodies claim they would prefer death. Sin, misery, and death are linked in our world (Rom. 5:12-14). Many times people – both patients and non-patients – have initially presented with complaints of aches and pains and the desire, even the demand, for them to be gone – relief. For Christian and non-Christian it makes sense. The voicing of the thought process sounds sometime like this: I have a life to live, people to help, things to do, and no time for this kind of body. It seems reasonable to get relief or something comparable. Sometimes that comparable something is being understood or being heard.  For the Christian this situation is a real dilemma. Only the Christian is truly confronted with the sinfulness of grumbling and complaining and the call for contentment and thankfulness in all situations (Phil. 2:14-17; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Rom. 8:28-29). What is a believer to do?

Theology, knowledge, wisdom, and fear of the Lord trump feelings, demands, and seemingly impossible “odds.” Stay with me as I elaborate by way of a story.  One person, after some time with her by way of listening, evaluating, and bringing truth to her, told me she understood she was complaining against God. This was a major breakthrough for her. I thought we may be able to get victory. Victory had not been a friendly or familiar term for her. I wondered if it would be now. She complained of pain (but it could have been a spouse, boss, parents, child, etc.). She said she was convinced that she was actually complaining against God. In retrospect, I am not sure she truly repented. She said she realized that she was “on His case” for giving her the body that she had. She had done so many things to get relief and none had been worthwhile.  The relief that she wanted and thought she deserved was not forthcoming.

Next, she also told me that she understood another truth. Heaven was a wonderful place mostly because she will have a completely different body. We had looked at 1 Corinthians 15. But she said she was on the horns of dilemma: she couldn’t complain against God and heaven would “cure her of her bad body,” but, and here was her dilemma: how could she live – go on – with the body that she had. For her, her situation was terrible and unbearable. She was at a theological standstill and had set herself up for failure. Life was viewed only through one set of glasses: no body problems as she described it. She had no other lens by which to view herself, God, and God’s providence.  In her case the more she wanted, even demanded relief, the less it came and the more complaints she had.

How does resurrection life fit this lady and anyone with a similar situation?  How did it fit Christ as the God-man?  The lady did not learn one of the lessons of the cross which was death for life. The new life that she had in Christ was resurrection life. She had been set free from the tyranny of self-pleasing but she rejected that release from bondage. For her the new life meant no body problems and especially no pain or heartaches. She basically wanted heaven without the cross. Resurrection life begins for the believer at regeneration. It is a gift. Because Christ died and rose, the believer lives and rose. The resurrection life means a new orientation and a new mindset. It means using the unpleasantness of life as God’s tool to be more like Jesus Christ. That is one of the lessons of the cross. Christ made it His priority to please His Father so He would gain for the Triune God a people for Himself and His former glory (John 6:37-43; Heb. 12:1-3). While on earth the church and individual believers would imitate Christ and follow in His footsteps. Becoming God-pleasers in thought, desire, and action is the essence of progressive sanctification.  It is one of the greatest activities the believer is to be engaged. It is a foretaste of heaven.  The lady never took this truth seriously. She lived for the now, the physical, and the material. In effect, she denied God’s design from eternity past. Using irritations and hard times did not fit her idea of godliness. I am not sure if she had little faith in God and His grace or simply considered the cost too high requiring too much effort on her part. The fact of resurrection life now frees the believer from what ifs and why nots. By focusing eternally and heavenward, the believer realizes and achieves earthly good and pleasure. It may not be spelled relief but the believer will come to realize that pleasing God in all situations brings its own rewards now and eternally.

 

Application

  1. Whatever your situations or situations study through Romans 8:28-29 and write five truths that affect you now.
  2. How have you been a good steward given you situation?
  3. How have you responded to God’s answer: no or wait?
  4. What is your view of God and self and how should they be changed?

 

 

Pressure and Stress as Viewed through the Eyes of Psalm 63

Pressure and Stress as Viewed through the Eyes of Psalm 63

 

Pressure is an interesting word. It generally refers to demands, burdens, and difficulties of some sort. Today, abuse and stress are other words used to mean pressure. Often people speak of the effects of pressure that they are feeling. Everyone seems to relate to the meaning of the word. You are probably nodding your head saying you know all about pressure. You may very well have experienced unpleasantness. Often people equate pressure with stress. All would agree that something is going on outside of a person and something is transpiring on the inside. You may have heard such phrases as drowning in the waves of distress, going under for the third time, the pressure and stress are weighing me down, or I can’t handle the pressure.

About this time, someone offers help. Often it is along the lines of removing bad feelings by finding satisfaction in something. Some authors may take it a step further and offer an explanation: man is a needy person with deep longings of his soul predominantly significance, love, and intimacy. When those are not met by someone or something, you suffer. What follows is the solution: these longings can only be satisfied by Jesus. Many hurrahs are given in response. A pilgrimage to seek intimacy ensues. Often, the journey itself is touted as an all-important for having deep needs satisfied. How should we think about these scenarios especially in our sin-cursed, sinner-populated, topsy-turvy world?

Through David, the Holy Spirit addresses the issue in a number of Psalms. We will consider one: Psalm 63 found in book II of the Psalter. David, a man after God’s own heart, was on the run either from Saul or most likely Absalom his son. As far as we know David was being sinned against. As a way of escape, David was in the wilderness – a physical one that could very well have been a spiritual one. Never forget what biblical truth you or any believer has at your disposal and use. David knew that life events including being sinned against was part of God’s providential control of His world. That simple but profound fact and its remembrance kept David on track – God’s track.  Keeping on God’s track was manifested by and depended on David’s response to God’s providence. Pressure and stress are descriptive terms that focus on the believer and his response to and in God’s providence – the situation. The situation is not the main issue even if the situation is a result of one’s own sins. The circumstances are the context of David’s response which was a reflection of David’s thoughts, desires, and actions. In turn, David’s response depended on his relationship with God and its impact in his life.

David knew God personally. His relationship with God and the mindset that was its product was a patterned lifestyle. The wilderness brought it to the fore but not automatically. David practiced thinking and acting on God’s thoughts and desires regularly. In verse 1 we read: O God you are my God…: for David this was always and forever true. By God’s initiative, God was David’s God and David rejoiced in that fact. He had a personal relationship with God and he marveled at that fact. Therefore, David wrore, earnestly I seek you. He adds my soul (his whole person) thirsts for you.

In the face of David’s troubles we must ask: did he think that fellowship between God and him had ceased? No! David acknowledged his circumstances knowing full well their source – God’s providential ordering of his life. Therefore, David sought a closer fellowship with God. What could be more logical? More pressure for David encouraged more tasting and seeing – experiencing – God and His goodness (Ps. 34:8). This seems so counterintuitive and counterproductive. Rather, needy people want out – they want relief – not a greater intimacy with their Creator, Redeemer, Savior, and Deliverer.

We get a glimpse of David’s ongoing fellowship with God in verse 2: I have seen you in the sanctuary. David did not see God with his physical eyes but his spiritual ones – eyes of faith. The sanctuary was the place that God had designed and ordained for meeting with His people. Through the high priest, the people entered into God’s presence.  Moreover, in the sanctuary God’s people worshipped Him. Corporately and individually, David met God. David’s response is a wow. It is resounds with joyful expectations. For David he followed Christ – he looked forward and upward (Heb. 6:18-20; 12:1-3). For us today an ever-present God and the indwelling Holy Spirit are a foretaste of heaven (Col. 3:1-3; 1 John 3:1-3).

In a real sense man is a truly needy person: he is wrapped up in himself via self- pleasing and rebellion against God. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is God’s answer for man’s rebellion and alienation from God. Jesus is so much more than a satisfier, even the Satisfier, or need-meeter. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. He bids you to come to Him and see what kind of God and King He is.

 

Application:

  1. Are you there with David as he wrote in verse 3: Because your covenantal faithfulness (love and trustworthiness) is better than life, I will praise you? Why and why not?
  2. What is it about God that keeps you from desiring Him above all else including self?
  3. How do define pressure and stress? What biblical principles do you have at your ready to use the situations to honor God by growing and changing in Christlikeness?

 

Part I-IX: Prayer: What is it?

Part I: Prayer: What is it?

 

Prayer is a function of who God is and who man is. God is the Revealer, Creator, Controller, and Redeemer of His creation and creatures. God is man’s environment – He is omnipresent. Man lives as a dependent creature in God’s world. There is no escaping God (Ps. 139). Every being acknowledges or suppresses the presence, power, and righteousness of God (Rom. 1:18-20). Every person is aware of disharmony and strife in the universe and offers varying explanations and responses to it.

As the Revealer, God communicates with man. Man was created a revelation receiver, interpreter, and implementer. It is in the context of God’s self-revealing nature and man’s recipient nature that God speaks to man. God expects and equips man to speak to him. Graciously and intimately, God commands AND woos His creatures to communicate with Him – pray, often and without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).

Prayer is vertical. It is man’s communication to God and with God. The prayer of the believer is always addressed to God. Prayer is relational and involves giving. Man as a child of God gives himself – his time and effort – to God. In giving, man acknowledges, and hopefully rejoices that God is his Father and that He hears him.

Man praises God in the act of praying. He acknowledges God’s presence, power, plan, provisions, promises, and purpose. Man’s words are to be a fragrant offering to God who has given man the privilege of being known by Him and knowing Him. Every believer has the promise of being heard and having his prayer answered in God’s time.    As a man prays he is to give a good word to God for Who He is and what He has done as a privilege, blessing, and not simply out of duty. Prayer may petition God often seeking to know God intimately – His Person, goodness, promises, and power.

There are several Greek words in the New Testament that help form a basic knowledge regarding prayer. I am indebted to Dr. Jay Adams work in this area. The first word (proseuche) is broad and the most common word for prayer. It has the general meaning of speaking to God. All other words for prayer include, in part or the whole, talking to God (Eph. 1:6).

A second word is deesis. Prayer includes asking. This word expresses a particular or specific request (Luke 1:13; Phil. 4:6; Heb. 5:7). Prayer is an entreaty perhaps growing out of a particular need for any number of things. Asking for God’s help and or wisdom for knowing God and applying His truth are such examples. Another word for an aspect of prayer is eucharistia – thanksgiving. When he prays, the believer gives God a grateful acknowledgement of God’s goodness and power (2 Cor. 9:11-12; Rev. 7:12). The word has the idea of looking back and remembering. Paul exhorts, even requires, the Philippians to pray thankfully rather than to worry, thereby acknowledging God’s sovereign goodness and control (Phil. 4:6). An unthankful believer is an oxymoron; ungratefulness and discontentment are partners leading to unrest, strife, and disharmony, all of which are attacks on God (Phil. 2:14-17).

Another word for prayer is enteuxis which is used only twice in the New Testament (1 Tim. 4:4-5; Heb. 4:16). The word is multifaceted in its meaning and includes boldness, access, confidence, as well as intercession. Another word is aitema also used only twice in the New Testament (Phil. 4:6; 1 John 5:15). It carries the idea of request and petition. One other word to consider is hiketeria which occurs only once and carries a strong element of humility (Heb. 5:7).

The brief overview of prayer would not be complete without mentioning confession and adoration (1 John 1:9; Ps. 103:20-22). Confession – agreeing with and saying the same thing about self and actions or inactions, desires and thoughts as God does. Confession of sin as well as the truthfulness about God is essential for the Christian and honors God. Adoration is a biblical practice. In fact, it is the very essence – the soul – of prayer. Without it, God functions simply as a Giver at the service of the one praying. Rather, prayer that praises God for who He is, what He has done, and what He will do imitates Christ and moves people to a greater and proper understanding of God. In that way, God is praised.

 

Application:

  1. Define prayer.
  2. What are its essential features?
  3. How has your view of God and yourself influenced your prayer life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part II: Prayer and the Greatness of God

 

Prayer is what believers do out of a desire for a closer fellowship with God. Praying is a discipline. Talking with God is a product of a growing relationship with Him. Likewise, a growing relationship with God fosters prayer. Dr. Jay Adams writes that “Without prayer, God is a picture on the wall” and “Without prayer, there is no vital connection with God…” (See A Theology of Christian Counseling). These short sentences highlight the necessity of being a praying believer. In fact, any other kind of believer is a misnomer.

God hears and answers every prayer of the believer and even the unbeliever who may cry out as He did to the sailors in Jonah 1. Some people deny the fact that God hears and answers every prayer. This capacity is a reflection of His Tri-unity and His greatness. Often times the Triune-impact of hearing and answering prayer is missed. Prayer, in its doing and in its hearing, is Intratrinitarian. The Trinity is involved in every aspect of the believer including prayer. Believers are to pray to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit (John 14:13-17; 15:16-17; 16:14-15, 23-24, 26; Rom. 8:26-27). While the unbeliever can never pray that way God in His common kindness is involved in the life of every creature (Matt. 5:43-48; Acts 14:17; 17:24-31)

Moreover, heard and answered prayer is a reflection of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Because the Triune God is omniscient, He knows every aspect of the prayee and his situation. It stands to reason that since God is omnipresent, He hears all prayers from all His people all the time. And since God is omnipotent He responds to and answers every prayer. Prayer brings the believer face to face with the living God and His awesomeness. God is transcendent – holy otherness and distinctness from mere men – and He is immanent – God’s closeness to His creation and His creatures. God’s answers maybe no, yes, or wait. He answers in His time, His way, for His glory, and for the benefit of His people.

As Paul closes his first letter to the Thessalonians he gives several commands:

  • rejoice always (5:16),
  • pray always – without ceasing (5:17),
  • be thankful in all circumstances (5:18),
  • don’t quench the Holy Spirit (5:19),
  • don’t despise prophecies (5:20),
  • test everything (5:21), and
  • abstain from every form of evil (5:22).

Verses 16-18 form a trio (joy, prayer, and gratitude) regarding the believer’s mindset and attitude toward God and consequently others. They speak of the relationship of God to the believer and the value the believer places on it. Paul, as the psalmist did, is calling the believer to be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10). The believer’s prayer life is a gauge of his view of God, of himself, and of God’s relationship to him.

 

Application:

  1. Examine your prayer life in terms of when, what, and how often.
  2. Examine your prayer life in terms of its content and intensity.
  3. Define prayer and its place in your life. Compare and contrast your communication with your best friend/spouse and with God. What motivates both?
  4. Determine what changes you need to make and your plans to make those changes.
  5. Get busy implementing those changes and record how your relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit changes.

 

 

Part III: One Definition of Prayer

 

Consider this definition of prayer: “It is the language of creative dependence upon God from whom all being is derived.” (BM Palmer, Theology of Prayer). Dr. Palmer draws our attention to prayer under three aspects of language and communication:

  • Prayer is the appeal of the creature to the Creator. The creature calls out/speaks to God out of creaturely dependence on Him as Creator and Preserver of all His creatures and His world. From this perspective, the creature graciously petitions and thanks God acknowledging His presence, power, purpose, plan, promises, and provisions. Rightly understood, prayer mines the depth of biblical truth especially about God.
  • Prayer is the wail of the burdened sinner – guilt and conviction. From this perspective, the believer speaks the language of confession, repentance, and supplication. The believer is aware that repentance and confession are his friends because they honor God who forgives sin as Judge and Father.
  • Prayer is the worship of the informed, intelligent, and joyful person. The language is one of praise and adoration for who God is and what He has done and has promised to do.

The triune God is the object of our prayers. As in worship, God is the audience. The key is the God of prayer and not our prayers (Romans 8:26-27). Prayer may be offered to each Person of the Godhead/Trinity since God is one-in-three. Each person is God. The goal of prayer must be right. Since the ultimate end of all things is God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31), prayer to any other end is not honored – it is lost. God will not be mocked. He guards His honor and glory. He will not share it with another (Isa. 42: 8; 48:11).

The manner of prayer includes the following:

  • We must pray with understanding: 1 Corinthians 14:15. Since the believer has the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and since faith is to be informed/intelligent, God honors prayer that is biblically-derived. Praying God’s thoughts and God’s words are a blessing and an encouragement. It pleases God. A right view of God, self, and others gives fabric and body to the believer’s prayer.
  • We must pray believingly: Hebrews 11:6; Mark 11:24; James 1:5-7. God is trustworthy and His promises are yes and amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20-22). Praying with doubt dishonors God and attempts to cast a shroud over His trustworthiness and good control.
  • We must pray fervently: James 5:16. The intensity of our praying should be a reflection of our commitment to pleasing God and not how “badly we desire to have something.” An intense desire to imitate Christ will drive and secure a God-pleasing prayer life.
  • We must pray constantly – without ceasing: 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 18:1ff. The Holy Spirit is encouraging us to pray regularly – that is, with a habit of seeking God’s presence one on one. Constant communion with God is a privilege and blessing only for the believer.
  • We must pray sincerely: Pss. 17:1; 145:18. Covenantal faithfulness is a hallmark of God’s dealing with His people throughout redemptive history. A pure, undivided heart in coming to and speaking to God is a prerequisite for the believer’s daily faithfulness to God. Our speaking to God is no match for God’s revelation to us and for God’s sincerity to His Son and to His people. We can’t outdo God especially in the area of communication.

 

Application:

  1. Meditate on who God is and what He has done for His church and for you: see Ephesians 1:3-14 and Ps. 103:1-5.
  2. Write out how your answers influence your prayer life.
  3. Record the changes in your prayer life and the results.

 

 

Part IV: Prayer: Giving and Getting

 

Prayer is a reflection of the prayees’s (the one praying) view of God and his view of prayer. In prayer, the believer gives and gets. The believer is to give himself as he goes to God in prayer. Praying is an act of worship with God as the audience. It is a whole-person activity in which the person acknowledges that God is God and he is not – that it is God’s world and not his. When praying, the prayee acknowledges that God is good. The Triune God has the best interest of all of His children because His prime motivation is His own honor and glory.

The prayee also gets. He properly worships God when he begins with contentment and satisfaction based on a right view of God and himself. The believer has the blessing and confidence that he has been heard. Presenting praise and requests to God pleases and honors God. Rightfully, the believer expects an answer to his prayer. Yet God is not bound by time, space, or even His creatures. God does answer in His time not ours (Psalm 90). How is it possible that the infinite God relates to finite man and answers prayer? God lived and lives in a finite world in His incarnated Son and through the indwelling Holy Spirit. God meets the believer as the ever-present Triune God. The believer should be joyfully content with these non-negotiable facts.

Believers go to God in prayer, in part, in response to who He is and who they are – dependent creatures designed to be in proper sync with God. Fervent, regular prayer is one way that the believer manifests his proper relationship with God and its costs. It cost God His Son; the Son His place in heaven and His humiliation on earth including the cross; and the Holy Spirit indwelling Christ the Messiah, the Church, and the believer.

Also, believers pray because God commands them to pray: ask, seek, and knock (Matt. 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-10). These verbs are words that express more than mere action. They express a habituated pattern of communication with God. They teach persistence – not selfish grasping. God answers according to His timetable and in His way.

Matthew 7:7-11 comes after Jesus’ exhortation and command to avoid hypocritical, pharisaical judging (7:1-6).  Heavy stuff you might say. Hearing the strong exhortation recorded in Matthew 7:1-6 and command in 7:7-11, the disciples then, and you now, wonder what is the source of the strength to first judge self honestly, fervently, and with a goal to remove hypocrisy. Jesus knew His people then and now. He answered His disciples when He taught them to come to Him in prayer (Matt. 7:7-11). That teaching holds for the Church in all ages.

Similarly Luke 6:9-10 contains Jesus’ teaching on prayer. These passages follow Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s Prayer (6:1-4) and on the tenacity and boldness of a persistent prayee (6:5-8). They precede Jesus’ teaching on the type of Father that believers have (6:11-13). In prayer, the believer is invited to plumb the depths of God’s graciousness as the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:5-8, 17). God’s wisdom is manifested in His answer to prayer whether it is yes, no, or wait. Believers will never have an unheard or unanswered prayer. Scripture gives various reasons for God’s no – a seemingly unanswered prayer. I will consider several of those reasons in a later blog.

 

Application:

 

  1. As you ponder the subject of prayer, consider God. He is your God who woos you and commands you to come to Him in prayer.
  2. What is your reaction and what are the reasons for your reaction to God’s invitation and command?
  3. When you seek intimacy with God through prayer, what are your goals and your hopes?

 

 

Part V: Prayer: Why Pray?

 

Many have asked that question. What is your answer? Some answers include: “I don’t know;” “God commanded it;” and “It is my way to let God know my feelings.” Others may think and even say, “It is how I get something from God.” Many books have been written on prayer but the subject still deserves to have the believers’ full attention.

To begin, the problem of not praying is you and your view of God and yourself.

If you do pray, what are your thoughts about the reason you pray? These will be linked to your view of God, prayer, and yourself. Let’s begin with how you define prayer. It is many things to many people. Basically, prayer is God-centered communication by the believer as he talks to God. In that sense, prayer is relational. Prayer, or the lack of it, expresses your view of your relationship with Christ and its significance. The relationship cost God His Son and cost the Son His place of glory in heaven and on earth for a time. The relationship is beneficial to you and obligates you to please God. There is joy and comfort when you are in proper relationship to God. There is misery and discontent when you are not.  In essence, prayer is based on your personal relationship with God. More accurately, prayer is a reflection of the importance and significance that you place on that relationship in contrast to the importance that God places on it.

We know it is Christ-like to pray. Jesus had the pattern of prayer in His own life. He carved out time to be alone with His God (Matthew 14:23; 26:36-46; Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41; 23:34, 46). “Jesus-in-prayer” is a special theme of Luke’s gospel. Jesus prayed often (Luke 5:16). Because we are in Christ and are new creatures in Christ, we are called to imitate Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). God-honoring prayer is one way believers do that.

Prayer makes a statement, audible or otherwise, about your view of God. As mentioned previously, God must be omniscient to know all aspects of every particular situation in order to answer every prayer. He must be omnipresent to hear every prayer that has been raised at any and all times and in all places. And God must be omnipotent in order to respond to every prayer in a way that He wishes and has ordained and is best for the believer. By its very nature, prayer assumes a transcendent God – His greatness and otherness – Who is powerful and good and has come to His people in His Son and His Spirit.

Certainly prayer is commanded and therefore it is doable (1 Thess. 5:17). What are some characteristics of Godly praying?

  • It is God-centered – directed only to the Triune living God.
  • It is relational: the believer seeks to communicate with God because God deserves it, the believer was re-created for it, and God is honored.
  • It expresses the significance of one’s relationship to God in daily life.
  • It is a testimony to the divine fact that this is God’s world not yours (Ps. 46:10).
  • It is commanded (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and therefore it is doable.
  • The believer benefits as he tastes the goodness of God (Ps. 34:8).
  • Prayer acknowledges your dependence on God in visible terms.
  • Prayer is a matter of the heart (Prov. 4:23) and your heart is the heart of the matter. Therefore it is not easy post-Fall to pray because the tendency to put self first (self-righteousness, self-sufficiency) still lingers in the believer as a legacy from previous membership in Satan’s family and kingdom.

Application:

  1. Write out your view of God and prayer.
  2. Give reasons for praying and not praying.
  3. Read passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:9, 17; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:1-3 and answer: how do the passages motivate you to pray? Give reasons for that motivation.

 

 

 

Prayer: Part VI: Seeming Unanswered Prayer

 

We have heard it and maybe even said it: “God has not answered my prayer.” The statement focuses on presumptions about God: His unwillingness to answer, His impotence, or a presumed lack of hearing on God’s part. But we know that God hears every prayer. This hearing is attributed to His Triune nature. The answer moves us to a question: does God answer every prayer? There are places in the Old Testament that may seem to suggest that God does not hear every prayer (Psalm 39:12; 54:2; 55:1-2; 66:18). Upon reading these passages one can conclude that God does not hear and therefore does not answer some prayers. However, the word hear may refer to more than the physical act of hearing; it may refer to heeding or paying attention; or it may refer to hearing and answering unfavorably or favorably. No matter how one considers God’s response to prayer the issue remains: does God hear and answer yes or no or wait to every prayer?

God does hear and answer every prayer. Any other answer denies God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. Yet this fact does not mean that God grants every request in the way the one praying presented it. God does say no to the healing of a person in this life or to some other similar request. The Father said no to Christ in the Garden (Matt. 26:39; Mark 14:36; John 12:27-28). He said no to Paul (2 Cor. 12:9-12). God does not grant every request in every circumstance. In fact, Scripture teaches that some prayers are not considered worthy of being answered in certain situations. The following is a partial list of some of those circumstances. Again I am indebted to Dr. Jay E. Adams for his insights. God does answer, heed, and respond unfavorably to prayer that:

  • Is hypocritical. In Psalm 66:18, the psalmist speaks of cherishing sin in his heart as a reason for prayer that is not honored by God. It is heard prayer but God says no. Cherishing sin is a way of saying that the person says one thing and means another. He may be grieved by the consequences but he does not have a proper vertical reference. Repentance is not his focus. God will not be mocked. A hypocritical prayer is a reflection of a hypocritical prayee.
  • Issues from doubt. The prayee is a doubter and his prayer is an unbelieving one. God says to this type of prayer. In James 1:5-8 we learn that God is a generous Giver and Answerer of every prayer. Believers are to pray without doubting because God is the Listener par excellence and He uses His power and goodness to answer in His time, in His way, and for His glory.
  • Is resentful and the prayee is bitter. In Mark 11:24-25, we learn that asking God to give to you while failing to give to another is a surefire means of a prayer that God does not honor and in which God  say no. God will not be mocked. God is not a grudge holder, He shows no partiality, He loves His enemies, and He expects His children to return good for evil (Rom. 2:4, 11; Matt. 5:43-48; Rom. 12:17-21).
  • Is pharisaical. In Luke 18:9-14, the Pharisee’s prayer was public (see Matthew 6:4-5) and was recited to others and to himself. Honoring God was not his focus. God was not impressed. The Pharisee did not go away justified. God says no to this type of prayer and He does not honor the prayee.
  • Is self-centered and me-focused: James 4:1-3. Fights and quarrels – strife – result when believers are self-focused and motivated by the “I want” and “I deserve.” James teaches that believers do not get what they ask for when it is wrongly motivated – to please self at the expense of honoring God and loving others (Phil. 2:3-5). Their prayer is an extension of their self-focus.
  • Is unbiblical: John 15:7. Prayer that is contrary to God’s revealed word or a prayer that is directed toward getting for self at the expense of glorifying God or a prayer for one’s own glory and benefit at the expense of the welfare of others is prayer that God does not honor. Also, praying for wisdom and blessing without emphasizing doing and privilege is useless and senseless, a prayer that God does not honor. Rather, blessing comes in the praying and in the doing (John 13:17; James 1:22-25).
  • Is self-addressed: Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee prayed in his name so that God would hear his recital. He moved in front of God on his own merits and highlighted them before God. He was interested in his glory and his feelings. His heart was far from God. Rather, prayer is to be made in Christ’s name for the Triune God’s glory (John 14:13-14; 16:24-26).

 

Application:

  1. Review your definition of prayer, the subject of prayer, and your requests.
  2. Are you a non-praying Christian? If so why?
  3. When was the last time you were faced with “unanswered” prayer? What was your response?
  4. What changes have you made as a result of reading the blogs?

 

Part VII: Prayer: God Does Tell People Not To Pray.

 

It seems strange that God exhorts people to pray without ceasing and then tells some people not to pray for others (Luke 18:1; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17). The passages mentioned highlight the beauty, necessity, and trustworthiness of continued and regular prayer. Passages such as 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:13 indicated that Paul practiced what he preached. He prayed continually – regularly – for his people (Rom. 1:9-10).

One place we encounter Yahweh’s interdiction on praying is found in Joshua 7:10. After Israel’s utter defeat at Ai, Joshua humbled himself before Yahweh and prayed. We are given part of the content of his prayer: What then will you do for your own great name?  Joshua was in danger of missing the point. The people were the problem. Idolatry was rampant in the people of Israel who had entered the Promised Land with great hopes and expectations. They had their marching orders but failed to honor Yahweh (7:3-5). In response Joshua tore his clothes (7:6) and asked Yahweh why they had been defeated (7:7). However, Joshua’s why took his readers back to the Garden and Adam’s response: the woman you gave me (Gen 3:12). Joshua’s why question blamed God for giving the Israelites into the hands of the Amorites. Yahweh responded by telling him to stop praying and get up – to get off his knees (7:10). Yahweh would have none of his arrogant blame shifting! Yahweh gave him the answer for the defeat (7:10-12). They had sinned against the first three commandments. They had worshipped themselves. Instead of praying they were to repent – consecrate themselves (7:13). We read of a similar situation in James 4 and 1 Peter 5 (James 4:4-6, 7-10; 1 Peter 5:6).  One reason for prayer that is interdicted and not honored is hypocritical prayer and its timing was wrong (See last blog and Ps. 66:18). Such was the case with Joshua. The call for the Israelites as they entered into the Promised Land was given in Deuteronomy (1:6-9; 4:39-40; 6:1-3; 7:1-6). Praying when the Israelites should have been busy trusting and obeying is not a substitute which honors God or that God honors. In this case, a specific idolatrous culprit (Achan) was found but Israel was an idolatrous nation.

Another place where prayer is interdicted is found in the book of Jeremiah (7:16; 11:14; 14:11-12). A true prophet, among other things, prays for his people. Yahweh told Jeremiah not pray for the people. Yahweh would not hear Jeremiah’s prayer. Certainly Yahweh heard the prayer BUT He told Jeremiah that He would not pay any attention to it. He gave the reason: unrepentant, patterned self-pleasing idolatry. God desired and deserved to have Israel’s heart. Instead they lived and worshipped their way, for self, by self, and to self. Again God would have none it. There was no hope for this nation UNLESS they repented. Jeremiah continued to pray for the people but the nation as a whole was judged by God as idolaters (Jer. 18:20).  God was calling Jeremiah to communicate to the people their drastic need for repentance – an about-face in thoughts and desires, which would usher in new and God-pleasing actions. Growth in Christlikeness for the individual and the church – the corporate community – was God’s design for His people.  Prayer was never designed to be a solitary activity.

 

Application:

  1. List some times in your life where prayer consumed you at the expense of using the situation to grow in Christlikeness.
  2. What made it easy for you to pray rather than changing thoughts, desires, and actions according to biblical truth rather than according to feelings?
  3. How will you use praying as a means of imitating Christ and using it to trust and obey?
  4. How does repentance fit into your prayer life?

 

Part VIII: Prayer and Power

 

I am sure you are familiar with the refrain the power of prayer. This saying seems to imply that there is power in prayer. If so, to what power is the statement referring? How is that power made manifest? The phrase seems to imply that answered prayer my way is testimony to the phrase: there is power in prayer. 

The phrase also raises the question: how does God get things accomplished in His world? Do accomplishments occur only because of the power of prayer? How does the statement the power of prayer address the issue of unfavorable results (those not preferred by the prayee)? How does it address seemingly good and pleasant times for unbelievers such as cures for diseases, financial gain, and improvement in his status in life and the opposite for believers who have been prayed for?

Power in prayer may be a slogan to encourage believers to pray and to pray without ceasing.  As noted in previous blogs, God commands and invites His people to communicate with Him via prayer regularly. God has a loving and caring relationship with His people. He delights to hear from them. His people should delight in pleasing Him. Therefore praying is a blessing and a privilege, not simply a duty or a means to get something. Enjoying and understanding the beauty of prayer comes from knowing and acting upon certain truths:

  • You have a relationship with the Lord of lords and King of kings.
  • The relationship was established by the shed blood of Christ and its benefits applied by the Holy Spirit.
  • The relationship was designed in part for greater fellowship with the Triune God in anticipation of eternity in His presence. Fellowship begins the moment one is regenerated and is experienced on this earth through prayer.

Prayer itself has no power. The God of prayer is power of prayer. The Triune God is the author of prayer and the God of every believer. The Father ordains and commands it, the Son intercedes for His children, and the Holy Spirit motivates and directs the believer as he prays. God’s presence, power, promises, plan, purpose, and provisions are encompassed in prayer and praying.

Consider these truths:

  • God does not need the believer’s prayer to accomplish His ordained will – that which comes to pass.
  • “Good” things happen to believers without a prayer being raised asking for them.
  • Unbelievers experience God’s goodness often without any prayer by others requesting or demanding it.
  • Good things happen to all kinds of people whether prayed for or not: the rain falls on the just and unjust, the wicked prosper, and “bad people” – God’s enemies – are restored, and Yahweh restored Israel in  spite of her prayer-less self (Matt. 5:43-48; Acts 14:17; Ps. 73:1-5; Jer. 1:9-10; 12:15; 48:47; 49:6, 39; Deut. 30:1-10).
  • God is generous and a liberal Giver – James 1:5-8. He gives Himself in His Son, Holy Spirit, Scripture, Church, fellow believers, and enabling, sanctifying grace. The believer’s prayer and praying can never match God’s resources and generosity.
  • The God of prayer and not prayer itself is the key. The God of prayer is the God of His people and prayer is His ordained means for His people coming into His very presence.

Godly prayer, godly praying, and the righteous prayee are a testimony to and for belief in the Triune God. Only the true believer has a correct view of God, himself, and prayer. Humbly the believer seeks the presence of the omnipresent and omniscient God in a most intimate way. He seeks, asks, and finds. He finds God Himself. Throughout Scripture and by the example of saints throughout history, the believer is graciously and powerfully exhorted and motivated to pray in God’s will, for God’s will to be known and followed. He is to pray confidently, humbly, and expectantly. The believer should appreciate the fact that Christ, the God-man, prayed regularly. He knew He was heard. He prayed for what He had been promised: His people (John 6:37-43; 17:20-23), the Gentiles (Isa. 49:1-12), and the glory of the Triune God (John 17:1-5).

 

Application:

  1. What are your thoughts regarding the power of prayer?
  2. Is it an open sesame slogan?
  3. When the results that God gives as He answers prayer are less than you desire, what do you think of prayer and its power? What do you think of God?
  4. What changes should make re: prayer and the God of prayer?

 

Part IX: Prayer:  How have you responded to God’s no and wait?

 

Our discussion now moves to the believer’s response to prayer. The believer’s view of himself, God, prayer, and God’s providence (control) are key characteristics when considering a response to prayer. Some may assume that they deserve to have prayers answered their way and right now.  Others may deny God’s goodness and pray doubting. Others may make praying without ceasing the defining characteristic of their life. The last sentence may contain thoughts that may be unnerving. How is it possible to pray too long or too much or too intense?

As in every aspect of the Christian life, motivation and knowledge are keys. Why do you pray? What motivates you to pray and to who are you praying? Prayer as an expression of awe and gratitude and an outworking of fellowship bought with a price is a blessing for the prayee and a monument to grace and the God of grace. One’s motivation (reason for praying) is tied to a person’s response to God’s answer. If one approaches God in prayer with a high view of himself, that believer can expect God to say no.  God’s no is a blessing but so often non-recognized and even rejected. God will not be mocked (Gal. 6:7). God’s no in any situation is best for God and the believer. The fact that the believer does not understand is not key.  A no answer to prayer is a time to reflect on the request, you the requestor, and God who answers every prayer. While not directly related to prayer Genesis 50:15-20 gives a succinct insight into God, His providence, and the believer’s response. Joseph seemed to be a pawn in God’s “hand.” He was God’s agent but no pawn. There were many times when Joseph could not figure out God. Yet he remained faithful. God’s will came full circle. The dreamer of Genesis 37 (verses 6 and 9) is the dreamer in Genesis 42-43 (verses 6 and verses 26, 28). In Genesis 50 (verse 15-20), he declared God’s wisdom in contrast to the wisdom of the brothers and also his. God meant their evil deeds to produce great and good things which would honor God and protect Israel and even Egypt. Joseph continued but increasingly acknowledged and enjoyed God’s control.

In 2 Corinthians 12, we encounter Paul, his vision, God’s revelation, and his physical malady. In response to the latter, Paul prayed earnestly (12:7-8). He beseeched God three times for relief. Paul thought the best situation for God, the Church, and his kingdom work was for him to have a body without the particular malady that God had given him (see. Gal. 4:19). In contrast to God’s response to Joseph, God responded quickly. It was no and He gave a reason: God’s grace was more than enough for Paul to be all that God wanted him to be (12:9). One can only respond with a big WOW! But what follows is more amazing. Paul responded using unfamiliar words. Paul prayed for and delighted in more problems. How can that be? Paul was growing as a believer AND an agent of God.  His wisdom was no match for God’s (1 Cor. 1:18-32; 2:1-6). He understood that answered prayer is a given and a blessing. The answer is less important. He looked beyond the problem to the God of the problem. Therefore he delighted in God’s providence and His purpose – for Paul and every believer to become more like Christ. The ministry that had been given to Paul as a gift would continue and Paul rejoiced. Part of his ministry was demonstrating to believers how to properly respond to God’s no.

Everyone knows the story of Job. He was declared a righteous and blameless man by God (Job 1:1; 2:3). God used Job to demonstrate to Job, Satan, believer, and the world that He was King, Savior, Protector, and worthy of allegiance. Job was besieged by problems outside his body (1:1:13-19), with his body (2:7-8), and with his friends (chapters 3-31) who did not understand themselves, Job’s situation, or God and His control. Consequently, Job prayed for explanations, then relief, and ultimately he demanded that God explain Himself. Rather, God gave Job Himself. God’s perspective, not Job’s, was the key. In the end, Job got it. His prayers changed. Knowing chapters 1-2 of the book were not important for Job humbling himself and repenting before God. He received something far more glorious: God Himself. God had a humbled and repentant Job intercede for his friends who God then spared. Job was rewarded many-fold. Job was a type of Christ. But unlike Christ, there was no voluntary submission to God’s will and Job did not initially humble himself before God. God’s presence and prayer was a burden (6:4; 7:20; 10:1-4, 8-17; 13:27; 19:13-23; 23:3; 30:16-19; 33:7).  God answered Job but in His way and in His timing. Job was grateful for God’s ways.

 

Application:

  1. Review God and prayer.
  2. God answers prayers – His way, in His time, and for His glory and the benefit of the believer. Compare and contrast your prayers and your response to God’s answer with those of Joseph, Job, and Paul. What do you learn?
  3. List your prayer requests in order of priority, your motivation, God’s answer, and your response. What do you learn about God, self, and prayer?

Philippians 2:14-17: Grumbling and Complaining: a Measure of Your Functional Unbelief and Dislike and Distrust of God

Philippians 2:14-17: Grumbling and Complaining: a Measure of Your Functional Unbelief and Dislike and Distrust of God

 

Where are you on the grumbling and complaining scale? In Philippians 2:14 Paul gives a sweeping imperative: Do everything without complaining (murmuring) or arguing (complaining). Several points are worth noting:

  • The verse follows on the heels of verses 12-13. In those two passages Paul directs the people to work out their salvation in general and the solution to their problems in particular. The command is simple and direct.
  • Saved people are to think, desire, and act like saved people. Paul wanted the congregation to focus on the proper activity of saved people.
  • The congregation as well as individual believers are to grow in Christlikeness. That is, they are to think, desire, and function as God-pleasers rather than self-pleasers.
  • In verse 13 Paul gives a reason why the Philippian believers are to aggressively pursue Christlikeness. God is at work within the person – His Holy Spirit has changed the believer from the inside-out.
  • Proof of God’s work within the Church and the believer is growth in Christlikeness. As a result, God is glorified, the individual believer is blessed, and the body of Christ grows as well. It is a win-win situation.
  • Those passages are pivotal and foundational for individual Christian growth in Christlikeness and for the growth of the church body.

In verse 14, Paul began to work out what Christlikeness will look like in the life of the Church and a believer. There is to be no grumbling and complaining. Paul paints the not picture emphasizing the seriousness of grumbling and complaining. The command has a relational reference. Grumbling and complaining disrupts unity and works against it (see 1:27-2:3). It is an attack on God and His control. It is an expression of a person’s unbelief at that moment.

Grumbling and complaining is so common and has many forms. The Bible says that grumbling and complaining is serious. How so? It flows from a discontented, divided heart (see Numbers 11, 21 and 1 Cor.10). Something is amiss in the person’s world (actually in God’s world!) and the person is compelled (actually he compels himself!) to voice his displeasure and complain to himself and others around him and ultimately to God. Wow! Such is the ignorance and arrogance of mankind. Yet we all do it. The universality of this complaint against God seems to mitigate a proper view of the activity itself and the grumbler and complainer.

In verse 15, Paul gives a powerful motivator against grumbling and complaining and for a response of contentment, gratitude, and joy. Grumblers and complainers are not Christ-like and they will not become God’s spotless and blameless children. Grumbling and complaining is the opposite of growth in Christlikeness, and in fact, stunts it. The crux of the matter centers on that simple fact that grumbling and complaining demonstrate one’s view of what it means to be a child of Satan. In contrast the believer is God’s child in His house. If one does not hold God’s Fatherhood in high regard (see 1 John 3:1-3) and holds membership in His family and kingdom in light regard then grumbling and complaining will be a patterned way of life. It attacks God and His control. The grumbler and complainer does not like the way God is running His world. He is living the lie. For the grumbler and complainer, the beauty and privilege of being God’s child plays no role in his thoughts, desires, and actions. Membership in God’s kingdom and family is a supernaturally wonderful thing. The grumbler and complainer holds the membership in God’s kingdom in light regard.

 

Application:

  1. Read Ephesians 1:3-14 and catch a glimpse of the beauty of your changed family status. Describe its significance.
  2. Reflect on the bad news (what you were in Satan), the good news (what you are in Christ) and the cost to God for that transfer. How does that fact stimulate you to a proper view of God, others, circumstances, and yourself?
  3. Mediate on Ps 34:8 (come and taste and see that I am good) and 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
  4. The next time you are tempted to grumble and complain recite and apply Psalm 34:8, 1 Thessalonians, and Philippians 2:14-17. 5:18 to yourself and your situation. Record the results.