Reflections From 2 CHRONICLES: 10-14 “WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN EVIL & GOOD KING?”

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Ruling comes with much pressure.  That burden is an opportunity to either submit to the LORD God or to rebel against Him.  Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam instruct us on what it means to be objectively evil, regardless if our relativistic culture denies this reality.

First, Rehoboam shows us the brazen foolishness of youth.  He discards the wise council of the elders to gently and kindly deal with the people for the foolish advice of those with whom he grew up.  Instead of being gentle, he was counseled to be brutal with the people:

 

Then King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you counsel me to answer this people?” They spoke to him, saying, “If you will be kind to this people and please them and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him. So he said to them, “What counsel do you give that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Lighten the yoke which your father put on us’?” 10 The young men who grew up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you shall say to the people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter for us.’ Thus you shall say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! 11 Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”  12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day as the king had directed, saying, “Return to me on the third day.” 13 The king answered them harshly, and King Rehoboam forsook the counsel of the elders. 14 He spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of events from God that the Lord might establish His word, which He spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.(2 Chron.10:6-15)

 This ultimately came from God’s hand (v.15) and yet they were culpable.  This tension in Scripture is rife where one’s actions while evil are somehow ordained by God and He is not unjust in punishing their evil deeds.  Rehoboam did what so many kings before had already done, “…he and all Israel forsook the law of the LORD (12:1)” and because of this “He did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the LORD (12:14)”.  It is evil to turn a deaf ear to God’s word and thus seek some other “word” by which to ultimately live; it is evil to have a predisposition to listen to the creatures’ voice above and beyond the Creators.

Why, because the creature is finite and contingent, whereas the Creator is infinite and self-existent; because as Creator He owns everything and thus the creature owes its very existence to the Designer of all things.  When we as people look to creatures for ultimate understanding, purpose and meaning for life; “empty will be our fill”.

Rehoboam was not the only ruler who did evil in God’s sight, so too did Jeroboam for the king set-up “teflon” priests in order to worship other gods:

14 For the Levites left their pasture lands and their property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had excluded them from serving as priests to the Lord. 15 He set up priests of his own for the high places, for the satyrs and for the calves which he had made.

Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, rose up and rebelled against his master, and worthless men gathered about him, scoundrels, who proved too strong for Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, when he was young and timid and could not hold his own against them.  “So now you intend to resist the kingdom of the Lord through the sons of David, being a great multitude and having with you the golden calves which Jeroboam made for gods for you.” (2 Chron.11:14-15; 13:6-8)

To worship any “god” (which is no god at all), instead of worshipping the One True God of Israel, is ultimately damnable.  Too many around me think this statement is truly “nonsensical” poppycock!  (Look up this word).

The two characteristics that were evil and remain to this day is first that God’s word and thus His law are neglected and replaced for the creatures’ word and law in order to rule.  And secondly such neglect leads to idolatry and the worship of false gods.  But another king did not do evil in the eyes of the LORD.

Asa, unlike these previous two evil kings, “…did good”:

Asa did good and right in the sight of the Lord his God, for he removed the foreign altars and high places, tore down the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherim, and commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the law and the commandment. He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah. And the kingdom was undisturbed under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, since the land was undisturbed, and there was no one at war with him during those years, because the Lord had given him rest.(2Chron.14:2-6)

Redirecting people who have gone astray into idolatrous living are never just told to stop, instead they are told to turn to the LORD God, which means to repent!  This king models an amazing prayer for divine help in the face of war and a foe far too great for the people to overcome:

11 Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.” 12 So the Lord routed the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.

In this petition for help, king Asa affirms first a personal relationship to the Creator by means of the covenant name of Yahweh; he secondly recalls the rescue through the Red Sea from Pharaoh’s army and in his plea he continues, thirdly to confess human weakness comparing it to God’s might which is incomparable.  Moreover, he acknowledges that it’s because of the renown of the LORD that they are meeting the enemy in battle (God’s glory is at the core of this event), and finally, he reaffirms the covenant relationship between Israel and God thus “Your name be exalted!” is the final cry.

I see this petition as a model for doing spiritual warfare, especially with the idea of scientific naturalism that blatantly and brazenly mocks God’s existence.  But I also see that this prayer is for the churched, the influential who are in charge, who unwittingly have forsaken the God of Creation, while giving lip service to His name.  LORD, act swiftly and let not man prevail against You.  As if we could.

(SDG)

Summaries__CHAPTER 1: APOLOGETICS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT    [Pgs.1-21] 

 

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Apologetics and specifically apologists have had a bad rap among modern Christians for various reasons.  Some have been known to be arrogant, pushy, snobbish, graceless, prayer-less people who ironically have diluted the gospel message. But a few bad apples “don’t spoil the whole bunch”.  There have been many who have been faithful to the cause of Christ and the kingdom of God and have paid the price for it as a result.

The church has been graced with many apologists since the inception of the primitive church who were marked by: prayer, erudition, genius, talent, and true piety.  In this book Avery Dulles aims to reveal how the heroes from the past understood and lived out what it meant to fulfill the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15.

Although nothing “new” can be said, recurring issues from the past resurface with “new” garb, which at the core are the same old problems.  Dulles gives special attention to both Catholic and Protestant contributors.  This text is a historical must read for those would learn from those who have gone before us.          

APOLOGETIC MOTIFS IN THE EARLY TRADITION

Christianity was a message before being an apologetic.  Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, crucified, buried, and Risen from the dead was at the story’s core [pp.2-3].  The Earliest Preaching focused on Christ’s Lordship (Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26); backed up the claims of his Messiahship through fulfilled prophecy (Ps.2:7-8; 110:1; Acts 2:26; Heb. 1:5; 5:5); emphasized his resurrection as the core of the apostolic proclamation (Dan.7:13; acts 2:25-28); and Jesus’ passion was seen as the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s account (Is.53):

Who has believed our message?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.  By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But he Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.  11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

APOLOGETIC DEVELOPMENT:  [Pgs.3-9]

The early believers confronted and answered their objectors with amazing precision, penetration and practicality.  One objection was explaining: “the Ascension of Christ—where is He now?”  He’s presently in heaven (Ps.16: 11; 110:1); he will return as the judge of the living and the dead (Acts 3:21); and his dominion is presently exercised through the Spirit’s outpouring (Acts 2:16-21).

When it came to the Passion of Christ, Jesus was seen to be cursed by God through the crucifixion (Dt.21:23), but this humiliation was part of God’s redemptive plan (Is. 52-53, see 53:5) in order to justify many from the curse of the Law through faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:10-14).  Moreover, the blindness of the Jews was predicted by the prophet (Is.9-10; Acts 28:26-27); and was caused by God even though God has not forgotten them (Rom.9-11).

Another issue that had to be addressed was the betrayal of Judas.  How could Jesus have miscalculated the treachery of this disciple?  This betrayal was also predicted in scripture (Jn.13:18; cf., Ps.41:9) and points to the sovereignty of God in all things even when our choices are significant and we’re culpable.

Then there’s the issue of Jesus’ Origin being from Nazareth.  He’s in the line of David (Ps.89:3-4; Jn.1:45-46; Mic.5:1; Mt.2:5; Jn.7:42) seen by his birthplace to be in Bethlehem.

Again, there’s the issue of Jesus’ Public Life: where he never claimed to be the Messiah.  Nevertheless, God pointed to Jesus as his beloved Son (Ps.2: 7; Is.42:1; Lk. 3:22; 9:35; Acts 10:38; 2 Pet.1:17); the writers of the New Testament later understood that Jesus’ Messiahship was to be secret (Mk.1:34; 3:12; 5:42) perhaps because the Jews could not conceive of the type of Messiah Jesus was, or maybe because of Jesus’ ambivalent attitude toward the messianic appellations, or possibly because their hearts were hardened (Mk.6:52; 8:17; Jer.5:21).

When it came to the Miracles of Jesus they had a specific purpose.  Miracles were aids to faith, evoking wonder and amazement; they are seen (especially in the casting out of demons) as Satan being overthrown by the inauguration of the Kingdom of God; and they authenticate Jesus’ message because they blend in with the Good news of salvation.

CHANGING CONTEXTS: ACTS, PAUL, AND HEBREWS [Pgs.9-13]

In The Book Acts [pp. 9-11] we see Stephens defense of Christ and the gospel (Acts 7) by pointing to Old Testament redemptive history, where God is to be sought through the prophets, who ultimately point to the exclusivity of Jesus as the only means of salvation (Is.6:9-10).  Then there’s Peter’s address to the uncircumcised (Acts 10) where he undergoes a major paradigm shift of who can be saved and explains that Jesus is the healer, wonder worker, and risen Lord from the dead.

We also observe the Gentile world addressed through the agency of Natural Theology employed by Paul (Acts11…).  This apostle is seen contradicting polytheism (14:15-17); on the Areopagus address to the Athenians (17:23) Paul confronts their worship, explains God’s necessity and his transcendence.  Moreover, because Paul knew their authorities he could speak more forcefully to the gospel truth of coming judgment and Christ’s resurrection.

The Apostle Paul [Pgs.11-13]

This converted Pharisee who once persecuted the church was now its most influential spokesmen especially to the Gentile world.  When Paul addressed the Corinthian church he tackled the issue of Faith and Reason; refused to capitulate to their love of human wisdom (1 Cor.3: 6); would not ground his preaching on the hot philosophic views of the age, but instead rested his proclamation on the Spirit’s power so that their faith (the Corinthians) be not based on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

When Paul addressed the Romans, he focused on the hindrance to worship (Rom. 1).  This was the classic case against idolatry (vv18-23) that’s inexcusable, self-delusional, self-exalting, self-destructive, and is the reason for why God’s judgment obtains.

The Book of Hebrews [Pg.13]

We don’t really know who wrote the book of Hebrews but it’s the first apology to the Hebrew Christian Community where Christianity is seen as the perfect religion which eclipses the religion of Israel because of who Jesus of Nazareth is.  Here, the Old Covenant is compared to the New Covenant, Moses is compared to Jesus, the Levites are compared to Jesus’ Priesthood, the constant sacrifices are compared to Christ’s final sacrifice and Christ’s supremacy is placarded throughout the letter.

THE FOUR EVANGELISTS AS APOLOGISTS [Pgs.13-19]

The gospel accounts come from four different perspectives concerning the life and teachings of Christ.  At the core their message is identical, yet due to their audience, each biography has a different emphasis.   For example, Mark’s Gospel focuses on [p.14]; the edification of converts, the explanation for why Christianity began, the supply of preaching material for missionary preachers, an armory of apologetic arguments for Jewish and heathen opposition, with the view always to remember that Christ is risen indeed.

Matthew’s Gospel intentions [p.15] focused more on the believing community where apologetically the writer was concerned with fulfilled prophecy—as a summary of Jesus’ career (Is.14:1-4), with ecclesiastical hierarchy (Mt.16:19), with combating Rabbinic thought (Mt.23), and finally with unfolding the Passion narrative (Mt.27-28).

Luke-Acts intentions [Pgs.16-17] focused on demonstrating the accurate historical account of the life of Jesus (to know the truth of all Theophilus had heard (Lk.1:1-4), it was geared toward the Roman ruler it was focused on redemptive history, and the need to establish a harmonious relationship between the Church and the supreme secular powers.

John’s Gospel intentions [Pgs.17-19] are for people to come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the goal of which is eternal life.  This would be realized through; the Signs of the miracles, emphasis on Jesus as the Light of the world to a Hellenistic audience.  John’s aim in all of this is to sustain and intensify the life of believers.  As such, it has apologetic affinities.

CONCLUSION

The Resurrection of Jesus was indubitably the centerpiece of early Christian apostolic preaching.  Since the majority of audiences held the OT Scriptures as authoritative, it was the sacred text used apologetically to demonstrate Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and Redeemer of all mankind.  However, when ignorance of such literature obtained, preachers like Paul would employ natural theology to proclaim the Gospel.

This brief outline is packed with Gospel truth that you believer would do well to meditate on, understand and impart to those God has called you to disciple.

Reflections From 1 CHRONICLES 11-15 “MIGHTY MEN WORTHY OF NOTE—REMEMBERED”

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          Reading the accounts of David’s mighty men is fascinating to me.  These are the ones who are named by clan, country, father and brother, men skilled in tactical warfare.  Some are ambidextrous with the bow, sling and sword, others were adroit with spears, ran like gazelles but all were amazing warriors.  Among these special mighty men of valor was Uzziah whom David betrayed.

These men had names and are forever memorialized in the annals of heaven.  In a dark world, the need for valiant warriors doing righteousness is necessary and thus sanctioned by the LORD.  War reminds us of how chaotic things have always been since the fall of man, and how it will continue to be with us until the consummation.

I’m not surprised at the commercial that says, “make love not war,” seeing how gruesome it is, while not understanding the horrors humans are capable of performing against one another.  Moreover, a relativistic society has nothing to say about this matter if it’s going to be consistent with its worldview…but it can’t be.  But is war ever warranted?  The views on this issue are nuanced and deeply affected by one’s understanding of humanity (i.e., are people basically good or bad, is there real evil in the world or not?)

People once lived in fortified cities, had watchmen on the walls protecting their citizens, and would sound the alarm if invaders were approaching.  In America today we live in huge cities, towns and suburbs protected by unseen agents, military and para-military units.  For the most part, our protectors go unnoticed to us (depending on our neighborhoods).  The irony is so many people disparage our modern day “watchmen” who truly keep law and order, who provide us the ability to make a life for ourselves, who even protect our freedom to speak against them.  Many laud their execution.  Such a position is deplorable.

What would happen if our “watchmen” (i.e., law enforcement agents, police) did not exist?  Do you really think things would be better?  Are you trained in tactical warfare, hand to hand combat, or have skills with weapons?  If not, and the real bad guys came knocking at your door, what would transpire?  Would you feel safe or threatened?  Remember, there’s no one to call for aid, no 911 or police or militia, nothing to rely on except “your” abilities to protect “your” loved ones, what would you do, how would you feel?

I think considering the abovementioned scenario is essential to get in touch with a stark reality too many anti-law, anti-police, anti-military people have not considered—those you tend to despise are the very ones protecting your ability to speak against them.  Do that in Castro’s Cuba and they won’t put you into the Holiday Inn, do that in an Arab Islamic State and they’ll relieve you of any headaches, do that in Hitler’s Germany and you’d partake in “The Final Solution”.

David’s men of valor are memorialized because with skill they fought real evil in the land, they were God’s hand of wrath in a very real way and these provided safety for those who could not provide it for themselves.  In a similar way our military and para-military “watchmen” should be appreciated and remembered for putting their lives on the line for people that hate them.  They with great skill fight real evil in the land; they are God’s hands of wrath against evil doers (Romans 13); they protect those who can’t protect themselves.  These people should be appreciated not disparaged, lauded not berated, welcomed not shunned.

(SDG)

Reflections From 2 KINGS 14-17: “THE SAGA CONTINUES IN KINGS BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S REBELLION”

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The history of Israel, my forefathers through adoption, is a deeply disturbing bent toward idolatry and compromise.  This pattern of disobedience in the following four chapters is unrelenting.  One king kills another to assume the throne eventually to be overthrown by another monarch.

The worship in the land becomes polluted when Israel, regardless of the king, remains unfaithful to Yahweh by not removing the high places.  Instead, they preferred to be a syncretistic people who eventually were exiled in the lands of the gods they chose to worship (i.e., Assyria their first stop).

The sad fact is that Israel had the Law of Moses but ignored it and as a result, the covenant people of God became enslaved to the creature because they did not love their Creator.  Israel fell because of idolatry and the list of her abominations is grievous (17:7-23).  When a people with such a rich heritage, tramples it underfoot, it demonstrates her hatred and great disdain for her Savior.

Oh God would that Your Spirit move in the church in America, whose golden calves of information glut, leisure, opulence, and sexual idolatry, such that we would take notice and see that all these misplaced affections when not God-ward are the entrance into the eternal abyss of fire and damnation.

Move in this land Lord God and show the supremacy of your Son Christ Jesus above all powers, dominions and pleasures and do so in a cataclysmic way.   Reveal the surpassing worth of the Creator over the creature to Your rebellious wayward people and embolden them to arise in truth, humility and boldness toward the lost, hostile and indifferent.  Have mercy Oh God, have mercy!

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 13:1-2 “RULERS, SUBJECTS, & GOD’S PROVIDENCE”

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In this chapter Paul seems to be continuing his message to believers of their need to walk in love with believers and toward outsiders.  Now he addresses the issue of government rulers and how believers are to relate to them for loves sake.  Paul begins:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.

 Paul grounds the duty of believers specifically in how they relate to authorities on God’s existence and seemingly on His wise decree.  The fact that any ruler exists is not a Darwinian phenomenon, but a reality grounded in the God who is there and who is not silent—the governing authorities being proof positive of that.

Since God exists, and all authority ultimately is grounded in Him, Paul seems to be saying that God gives authority to rule to whomever He wishes, according to the wise counsel of His will and according to His good pleasure which fuels all His deeds.  One might rightly object “not all rulers are created equal or worthy to be morally followed”.  The polytheistic Roman rulers were not particularly empathetic to believers, but often ruthlessly mistreated Christians for their faith.  Paul knew this well when penning this letter and I can’t see him being any clearer.  Let’s wind back the clock of history for a moment.

In redemptive history, we observe God implicitly or explicitly raising-up rulers and monarchs in order to accomplish His purposes.  These purposes are often hidden to us until after the fact.  Pharaoh, Saul, David, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Cesar, and more were never ultimate, God always was and is and ever will be (See The Book of Daniel).  That is, in the hidden wisdom of God He exalts a ruler for a time and purpose known only to God, so that His over-arching redemptive plan for humanity and the entire created order may come to fruition.

In this mix are a whole lot of human tragedy, pain and suffering (i.e., Problem of Evil) which call into question both God’s existence, power, wisdom and goodness.  And yet none of these realities mute God’s voice through Paul.

Since this letter is written to believers, I take “every person” to mean that specifically believers are to heed the command and because of God’s mercy and grace that has been poured out on them through Christ, this submission to authorities is a means to demonstrate the love previously mentioned.  Moreover, it’s a way to placard that the Creator is alive and well in the affairs of men.  Paul continues with:

Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

He understands very well that many rulers are evil and the inclination to revolt against them is real and understandable…if God did not exist and He was not ultimately in charge.  But what is meant by “resist”?  The word that follows it is probably a good definition of it: “opposed”.  That is, to resist is to oppose, to be against the ruler and hate Gods ordinance.

Somehow Paul is saying that even if a ruler is evil, God is ultimate, not chance, luck, or human desire.  And thus, instead of revolting or being against the ruler, the believer is to submit understanding that God is ultimately ruling through the ruler. Some may object, but this is what seems logical to me according to the text.  The command given to “not resist” comes with a warning of God’s condemnation on the transgressor.

What is this condemnation?  We already know that believers are no longer under God’s condemnation because they have been justified by faith once for all according to chapter 8.  Could it be that those who resist are walking according to the flesh (for all sin is that) and not according to the Spirit?  Perhaps, and if that’s the case does it show that the one in rebellion is actually not regenerate, maybe?

The core of what I see being taught is not to have unquestioned loyalty and submission to a monarch by a believer (the following verses seem to argue against such a view) rather we are to understand that all authority comes from God who will hold to account every ruler for their actions whether good or evil and knowing this is what stays the believer from revolt.

(SDG)

Reflections from ROMANS 12:9-21 “LOVE LIVES BY TRUTH AND TRUSTS IN GOD’S RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE”

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            In this section of Romans Paul gives many commands or imperatives that he grounds first with “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good” (v.9).  The command to love necessarily implies we are to resist, actually hate, what is evil or abhor its opposite.  It seems here that hypocritical love is evil when believers treat each other not in accord to God’s mercy they have already received.

John the apostle commands the church to love not only in words but also with actions (so does James), and Paul now is following suit.  Thus, I take hypocritical love to be masked by gracious words, not backed by actions.  Paul says that is evil and sadly many of us are not aware that we are transgressing.  So Paul now is going to describe what love looks like…and it is costly for it demands my time, treasure and talents to be used for the good of another.

(v.10) “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love”; I take this to be a familial reference since we believers relate to each other as “adopted children” by God, a special relationship obtains and is to reflect in our interaction.  Devotion is a powerful word, the opposite of indifference.  It means that my brother or sisters joy in God is my goal for them and will contour how I pursue their good, not hypocritically, but sincerely.

Give preference to one another”; is a call to serve one another since we’ve received this amazing mercy from Christ.  Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for the other”, Paul here is simply re-iterating what Jesus previously commanded.  And now attached to this command to love and give preference to one another is a string of participles modifying or nuancing what love looks like.

(v.11) “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”; this triad is a call to the relentless pursuit of seeking the others good by fighting sloth that so easily captivates our work, as we ultimately look to the Lord for our reward, not our brother or sisters as we serve them.  This reality should compel us to pray for God to show us how to minister to each person that crosses our path, not least believers.

(v.12) “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer”; I take this to mean that our kingdom work is to be characterized by a joyful disposition because our focus is the kingdom of God and its purposes.  This purposeful kingdom work however is accompanied by hardships that often beat down the soul.  Regardless, what is to buttress said work is prayer, intercession by those devoted to Christ and his people.

(v.13)contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Here is where our treasure is shared with those in need and where our homes are the Bastian of where such acts manifest (e.g., at the dinner table, sofa, or patio) for God’s glory.  This is where we invite others to see how we live from a closer view.  These verses seem to focus on the redeemed community, but the following verses can apply to believers and non-believers alike.

(v.14) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  This reminds me of Mathew 5:9-12 where the peacemaker as a kingdom subject is blessed and thus when persecution arises for the sake of the name of Christ, rejoicing is to be the response.  The reason is because unlike the rotting “lotto” ticket, an imperishable reward awaits in heaven.

I’m also reminded of Isiah’s vision of God in (Isa.6) where in the presence of the Ancient of Days he confesses; “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  The holiness of God stripped the prophet of any possible pretense and his confession revealed the indwelling sin that the mouth reveals.  Jesus said that, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” and Isiah’s confession exposed his heart and that of his society’s.

Today, we are no different.  Gross conduct and lewd language is lauded and encouraged as a form of self-expression, it’s a form of art to many.  “F-bombs” are common place today.  It’s as if they were discipled by “Tony Montana”.  Why should this command be obeyed?  Because it demonstrates the reality of the mercy and grace believers have received, the reward that awaits for them in heaven, and a wake-up call to persecutors that there’s a heavenly reality of which they too can be partakers.

(v.15)“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. We tend to neglect both of these commands.  When someone is rejoicing it’s usually because an immediate good has come to them (e.g., promotion, marriage, children born, a home purchase) and if we are not finding our happiness in God, it becomes difficult to sincerely be happy for another.  What a waste of energy.  Why this attitude?  Many reasons I suppose but one seems to be core: we forget God has not overlooked us but is uniquely working out His purposes in and through our lives.

Moreover, we don’t like to be sad in the 21st century so why go and weep with someone down in the dumps?  It’s a sign we love them and that Christ whom we serve, came down from heaven to embrace suffering and remedy it, rather than avoid it and leave things as they’ve been. It’s a way of imitating Christ when he wept for his friend Lazarus and their family.  It reveals that we like Christ, are not “fair-weathered friends” but are ready to endure life’s hardships with them.

(v.16) Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.   Paul here is calling believers to walk humbly with each other, refusing to look down at each other because of social status, but rather associate with those unlike ourselves.  Too often, the rich and the poor think they have nothing in common, but in Christ we have adoption as sons in common.

Moreover, it’s been the tale of history that the rich are “better than” those less fortunate, but not ontologically, for we all share in the image of God, both male and female.  But not just that, as believers we share a common inheritance which Christ purchased for us through his bloody sacrifice on the cross.

(v.17)“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.   On the one hand, the first part of this command seems quite clear: two wrongs don’t make a right.  Again, we are never to mistreat even those who commit misdeeds toward us.

Now when Paul says to, “Respect what is right in the sight of all men”, does he mean that we are to value what is good, not what is evil, and by our lives show it?  Or, does he mean that we are to somehow value a relativistic view of truth and morals which the culture holds to be dear?  I affirm the former and deny the latter contextually, since the objective realities of the Gospel are true regardless of culture or historical chronology.

Having said that, Paul may however be saying that when we are mistreated because of our Gospel stance (I see no other reason here) that by “respect” we leave people to their own persuasions and let matters rest because in verse 18 he says, If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 

Paul continues on this vein and says:

(v.19)Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

(vvs.20-21) 20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It seems that Paul wants to stay the tendencies for personal retribution by believers by reminding them that God is much better at meting out justice than they are, that He is better at repaying people for their evil deeds than we ever can be.  Again, this deals with personal revenge and retributive acts not the meting out of justice by the state as the following chapter considers.  May You Lord teach Your people to walk in the depths of this kind of love. A love that is grounded in the truth of Your existence and trusts in your divine justice.  (SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 8:1-19 “WE’RE NOT CONDEMNED BECAUSE OF CHRIST’S LOVE FOR US”

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Paul continues his thought of the two battle fields in which believers wage war: on the one hand there’s the flesh/sin/evil that resides causing Paul to not obey God and somehow partake of death.  On the other hand there’s the spirit/the regenerated self that loves to obey God and partake of life.  The struggle is thus real and can be utterly disheartening, which may cause despair in life.  But, because Jesus delivered us from the body of death—sin, we are not under condemnation, for to be in Christ, even though sin beckons, guarantees our right standing before God.

Now to be “set free from the law of sin and death” (v.2) can’t mean we don’t sin because in chapter 7 Paul deals with our struggle with sin.  Instead, it seems to point to the fact that this law within “sin” is not our master, Christ is, and as such we are free to obey God, not unrighteousness.  That is, the freedom Christ secured for us was never intended for acts of wickedness, but for humble submission to the Father’s will.

But wait a minute.  If I’m freed from the mastery of sin to obey God and still find myself obeying the law of sin and death, then in some sense am I free also to disobey God’s law?  And, from where comes this freedom?  Paul comments:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

 This principle of life in Christ comes from the Spirit of life who brings resurrection to our dead souls and that’s why we are free (i.e., God’s power of life is the source for the power to obey God) to obey God.  He argues that Christ did what the Law could never do because of human weakness (sin) and thus through his sacrifice condemned sin on the Cross.  Death really died (v.3).

Now, this condemnation of sin was done in order that the “requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (v.4)  Paul seems to be arguing that only in Christ, because of his work on Calvary, is the Law’s fulfillment accomplished in us.  Thus, obedience can only occur because one is in the Spirit—belonging to Christ.   That’s Paul’s argument in verses 5-9:

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

Paul now turns his attention on what it means for one to be “in Christ”:

10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

I take this to mean that even though sin remains and the body is dead, nevertheless righteousness reigns and is real because “the spirit” the principle of life abides within.  Now Paul seems to further explain the effects of the Spirit’s life on our mortal bodies and assures us that as Christ was raised from the grave, we too will rise by the power of the indwelling Spirit (v.11).  He thus concludes this subordinate thought:

12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”    

 Notice our obligation is not disobedience but rather obedience to God displayed through the mortification of our sinful acts (Jesus does call disciples to take up the cross and follow).  If we live according to the former, Paul says the Spirit is not in us.  But if in step with the latter, then we are in Christ.  Note his theme of calling for an “obedience of faith”.

What I see Paul saying is that to not fight within is a sign that Christ is not our Shepherd and we are thus in peril of damnation.  However, if we are fighting sin it’s a sign that we belong to God.  He continues in verses 14-17:

14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

 Here Paul argues that that the evidence of Sonship is being led by the Spirit of God which is submitted to God’s will; to God’s law.  This is astounding for in Christ we can now keep the Law because of our new hearts.  Before Christ, the Law only produced death.  But wait a minute: didn’t we already die to the Law so that we might be in Christ?  Isn’t the Law our old husband?  Then in what sense do we keep the Law?  I think we keep it as secure children, not as indentured slaves.  The former are heirs of the Father’s house, the latter have no such privilege because of sin, because of unrighteousness.

Now, the fact of being heirs is evidenced in us who partake of Christ’s sufferings (v.17).  To be in Christ requires us to take up our cross and follow Him.  Those hardships evidence the veracity of our profession, they never merit our justification—nothing can but God’s mercy.

Paul now shifts from assuring us of our Sonship by the Spirit if in Christ’s sufferings we are partakers to how the whole created order is suffering.  But hold on for Paul says something of great worth we need to consider before continuing:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”     

 What’s this glory to be revealed?  Besides a new heaven and a new earth and a new resurrected body it has to be beholding Christ behind the veil of sin.  It’s this glory I think was exchanged by the creature (Rom.1), which brought our ruin through God’s wrath.  What we formerly rejected in the 1st Adam (God Himself), we have embraced in the 2nd Adam and have been restored because of mercy alone—that’s truly awesome!

Reflections From 1 SAMUEL 17: “DELIVERANCE COMES SO THAT PEOPLE MAY KNOW ISRAEL’S YAHWEH”

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            This chapter is perhaps one of the most loved and least understood in all of the Bible by both believers and non-believers alike.  It’s the story of David and Goliath, the underdog facing insurmountable odds for success.  It’s a story of courage under fire where the dream is truly impossible to attain.  It’s a story of a boy coming of age in battle demonstrating his mettle.  The above is true.  It’s more than just a story, but one that happened in space time history.  But this story rather than primarily focusing on the characters, the observant reader will note that it’s about the very present Author.

The story unfolds with the Philistine armies set in battle array in Socoh and across the valley Saul and Israel were camped in the valley of Elah.  Goliath, a nine foot specimen of a man, a fierce warrior and ominous presence taunted Saul and Israel’s army’s to come and fight him for forty days (1-7)

He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel and said to them, “Why do you come out to draw up in battle array? Am I not the Philistine and you servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us.” 10 Again the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Like the scene in the movie “Troy” where one kings’ star warrior challenges the opposing kings’ champion fighter to determine who’s king will be served, so also in this account the same obtains.  But unlike the figure of Achilles—known for his fierce battle skills, David—the son of Jesse—the shepherd youth comes forth as the unexpected and unknown hero—or so it seems (Vv.12-19).

After a month of Goliath’s taunts David comes on the scene and inquires what the problem is, what the reward for killing Goliath is and then takes on the challenge (Vv.20-25).  It seems that for Eliab his brother, David was a despicable nuisance and perhaps sibling rivalry’s obtained growing up (Vv.26-30).  It seems however that David understood something Saul and Israel had forgotten—they were God’s covenant people, the Philistines were not:

“Then David spoke to the men who were standing by him, saying, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” (V.26)

To be circumcised in Israel hearkened back to the God of the fathers who fought many battles for Israel and would continue to do so even that day.  He is Yahweh, the God of the covenant who overthrew Egypt’s mighty armies and is unchanging.  So David recalls Israel’s historical past but recalls his as well.  This youth, the shepherd boy going up against this seasoned warrior, gives a brief biography that’s telling:

32 David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Then Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you.”

God had been preparing David for this fight for many years and through many difficult trials.  It was in said crucible that David the youth learned to trust in the God of Creation and the Covenant.  Thus, this situation would be no different; instead of killing a lion and bear who threatened David’s sheep, he would be killing the elite warrior who for forty days had been threatening and terrorizing his people Israel.

Goliath came out with full battle armor and sword, but David with five stones and a sling.  After Goliath’s many taunts and scorn, David replies with a promise of his doom based on the status and purpose of Yahweh:

45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.”  48 Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.49 And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground.  50 Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David’s hand.51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.

David went from being an obscure youth to the champion of Israel, but little did he know what trials his faith in God and courage would bring into his life (Vv.52-58).

David had a relationship with God that was vibrant, not static.  He walked with God from his youth and when the time came he glorified the God of heaven, the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.  The thrust of this account is not that we need heroes; that underdogs can have their day; that courage requires one to be in battle; etc.  I think God through the Holy Spirit is saying to his people even today that regardless of the opposition (be it great or small) you can trust that I’ll be there to deliver you according to my purposes for the glory of my name so that the nations will know there’s a God in Israel who has ultimately revealed himself in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

May a youth movement be raised up in these last days LORD who will dare to walk with you and not be distracted with the Goliaths of our day, may they so be filled with an understanding of your word that when the time to act in righteousness arises, they don’t back down but trust in your presence to deliver according to your purposes, not theirs.  And may those saints who have walked with you for years, who have lost a passion for your kingdom, find the fire of heaven they once imbibed to glory of your matchless name!

(SDG)

Reflections From JOB 32-42: “WHEN GOD SPEAKS UP JOB IS SILENCED”

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After Job’s three friends stopped responding to him because he was righteous in his own eyes and justified himself before God (32:1-3), a young man spoke up.  There’s much anger in this context between Job and his friends and now Elihu comes against Job’s three friends because they neither solved Job’s problem nor consoled him in suffering.  Elihu claimed to be God’s mouth piece for several chapters (32-34) and reproves Job with, “So Job opens his mouth emptily; He multiplies words without knowledge.” (35:16)

Elihu uses the mysteries of the created order to point out that God’s ways really are past searching out after certain borders have been crossed (36-37).  Then God speaks up and lets Job have it; “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge?” (38:2). To speak from ignorance is to perpetuate falsehoods which misdiagnose a state of affairs.  God proceeds to ask Job epistemological questions that are daunting:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? “On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy? (38:4-7)

“Or who enclosed the sea with doors When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; When I made a cloud its garment And thick darkness its swaddling band, 10 And I placed boundaries on it And set a bolt and doors, 11 And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop’?  (38:8-11)

“Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
(39:1)

 “Do you give the horse his might?
Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
(39:19)

“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars,
Stretching his wings toward the south?
(39:26)

After an exhausting litany of questions, job is humbled and in response essentially tells God: “You are right, I have no right to speak because my knowledge of the created order and it’s creatures is beyond me”.  But God was not done with Job, and continued to ask him more questions of the same nature:

“No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him; Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.  (41:10-11)

If no man dares to approach Leviathan, the fiercest creature on earth, who is Job who dares to approach God—Leviathan’s master—in this manner?  This is very weighty and job’s response is appropriate:

I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 3‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’  Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” (42:2-6)

Job encountered God.  Oh how we need to encounter Him in this way!  Job repents!  He repents from his misdiagnoses of God’s purposes, goodness, justice and wisdom and his twisted words.  His three friends however aroused God’s wrath, but Job God’s servant interceded for them (42:10) and God’s favor was restored to them and to Job.  Interestingly the text points out that now his friends could console Job (42:10-11) from the adversities the LORD had brought upon him.  Only when we are right with God, can we be in a position to rightly comfort those suffering in word and in deed.

After considering the end of this book silence seems to be the appropriate response.  God is sovereign, we are not.  Nevertheless, this account is deeply perplexing and difficult to grasp as creatures.  The text is clear that it was God the LORD, not Satan who brought all these calamities onto Job.

  At the end of the day, we creatures have to ultimately decide who we will trust when in the mysteries of life we are ruthlessly knocked down.  As His people we are called to follow regardless of where He leads us because He after all owns us.  As new covenant believers Job is instructive.  We learn through his life that sometimes the reasons for our sufferings have nothing to do with us and everything to do with God and His purposes.  Much to consider!

(SDG)

Reflections From JOB 25-29: “JOB CONTINUES HIS ARGUMENTATION”

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Bildad’s words (25) are hardly helpful again, and Job’s response is sarcasm:

“What a help you are to the weak! How you have saved the arm without strength! “What counsel you have given to one without wisdom! What helpful insight you have abundantly provided! “To whom have you uttered words? And whose spirit was expressed through you? (26:2-4)

Job continues in the following chapters talking about the wicked and their inheritance, God’s wisdom revealed in the creation and nevertheless it is hidden from us (26:6-14; 27:13-23).  Moreover, Job reiterates his blamelessness,

My lips certainly will not speak unjustly,
Nor will my tongue mutter deceit.
“Far be it from me that I should declare you right; Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. (27:4-5)

Job is contending for his righteousness and his friend’s lack of wisdom and judgment in the way they have dealt with him is exposed.  Moreover, this earth and its’ treasures can’t compare to the value of the wisdom required to understand and to create the heavens (28:1-22).  It’s this very wisdom the LORD gives to those who fear him, “…to depart from evil is understanding”. (28:28)

The point seems to be that Bildad’s words reveals that he neither fears the LORD nor has turned away from evil or else he would have the wisdom and the understanding to judge Job’s plight rightly.  But Bildad lacks these qualities (28:12-13).  Job recounts a description of his righteousness as one who delivered the poor and orphaned, as one who helped widows become joyful, as one who combatted the wicked, as one deemed considerably wise among the people and one who was part of the warrior class (29).  This is an exceptional man through and through!

It seems as if his friends had forgotten who he was prior to these horrific ordeals.  Regardless, Job will continue to contend for his righteousness even though all the voices around him clamor to the contrary.  This is a weighty account indeed.  The fact that Job is still able to intellectually joust with his friends after such physical and mental anguish is astounding.  The psychological weightiness of his plight alone would have driven most mortals mad.  But not Job, it’s as if the more difficult the task became the more he flourished.  His patience is exemplary and worthy of note, for it’s a window into the power of holiness to withstand horrific circumstances (E.g., The Cross?).

(SDG)