God’s Perspective (Part Two)

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son (Hosea 1:2-3 NIV).

Next, let’s turn our attention to the plot of Hosea. The opening story has upset many people. Hosea was commanded to marry a sexually immoral woman. Although the old covenant priests were required to marry virgins, the prophets were not so restricted. Nothing in the law prohibited such a union, though she deserved to die (Leviticus 20:10), just like David and Bathsheba.

The language of the original language is rough, racy and blunt. Go, marry a whore, and get children with a whore, for the country itself has become nothing but a whore by abandoning Yahweh (Jerusalem Bible). In spite of the arguments of some, the Hebrew word zenunim, while referring basically to illicit sex, can refer to prostitution.

Hosea’s life became complicated and sorrowful. He pledged himself to be faithful to an unfaithful woman, and he became the father of children who resembled their mother in their behavior. Before you complain about your lot in life, you would do well to look at others and consider what God has called them to endure for his name’s sake. We need to get our eyes off ourselves and fix them on the Lord Jesus. Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).

Hosea’s broken marriage would illustrate the relationship between the living God and his covenant people Israel. God is like Hosea, the faithful husband and loving father. But Israel was like Gomer, the unfaithful wife. In every area of life, Israel was an adulterous.

  • In religion, she committed adultery by loving other gods—many other gods.
  • In politics, she committed adultery by selling herself to other countries for military protection.
  • In morals, she committed adultery by engaging in literal sexual immorality, and indulging in greed and violence.

In this disgusting picture, the Lord reveals his way of ruling over the world and his people. In Hosea we do not see One who rules by using brute power, nor do we see One who helplessly wrings his hands. But we see God acting in various ways to make known his manifold glory.

  • Sometimes he is sovereignly cool, letting his people walk in their own way.
  • Sometimes he is powerfully tough, bringing well-deserved judgment on them.
  • Sometimes he is patiently tender, refusing to give them up. Isn’t it great that God doesn’t give up?
  • Above all, he is amazingly gracious, forgiving the vilest adulteries when people ask for mercy.

God is not the magician of our childhood fantasies, who solves all problems with the wave of his magic wand. No, the living, personal God works through the complexities of personal relationships to show his glory. For God that meant sending his Son to death on a cross. We see also that God loves the unlovely; in fact, he even loves those who despise him and walk away from him. We should only say, “Amazing love, how can it be?”

Grace and peace, David

God’s Perspective (Part One)

The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and of Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel (Hosea 1:1 CSB)

Think about a child’s impression of the adult world. “They make the rules,” he or she thinks. “There’s power for you! And they have the money, however much they moan about not having much—there’s freedom! Just think what we children could do with all that freedom and power!” (Compare Kidner’s comments.) Kids long to be adults; then all their problems will be solved! No oppressive adults telling them what to do, and with all the money they’ll have, they’ll be able to buy anything they want. All their dreams will come true! But what really happens when you become an adult?

Christians, too, can have childish dreams about God’s rule of the world. If only God would do things our way, we think, the world and national situation would improve rapidly and dramatically! Just speak a word of omnipotence, and all will be right! The Lord can calm a storm, can’t he? Didn’t he create the universe just by speaking? Yes, he did. Then it’s so simple, isn’t it?

Please excuse me for suggesting this, but perhaps we all are too simple-minded. We confess to believe what God has told us about himself, but then promptly forget all that we say we believe. We hear some truths about God’s sovereignty, holiness, justice, love or mercy, and quickly choose one of them, and then ride that one selected truth like some people will buy only one brand of vehicle.

What we forget is God’s ultimate purpose—to display his own majestic glory (Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). What we fail to consider is that God’s glory is not defined by one of his characteristics, but by all of them in harmony. To help us understand more about his glory, in the book of Hosea God pictures his rule over the world as a husband leading his family. The picture is surprising, even shocking! God presents the truth of displaying all his glory like this. It is not the picture of a husband who calls all the shots and whom no one dares to question. Nor does he present a husband with an adoring wife and perfect children. Instead, we read of a husband whose wife has left him and whose children are bent on destroying themselves. Some find this picture disgusting, but the Holy Spirit has not smoothed the rough edges to meet prudish Victorian standards of propriety. Without further introduction, let us turn to Hosea’s prophecy about God’s love to unlovely people.

God put his copyright on this message. In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways… (Hebrews 1:1 NIV). He gives the publication data. This is like the information you find on one of the opening pages of a book. You remember—that stuff you had to write down to make a bibliography.

  • The messenger is Hosea. He was a prophet who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel. Nothing else is known about him apart what we read in this book. It does not matter that people know of you; what matters is that God knows you.
  • The time of God’s message through Hosea was during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel; in other words, during the eighth century B.C. The ministry of Hosea is God’s call to repent to a people on the brink of destruction. Compare this with Jonah. In Jonah a group of Gentiles repent, but God’s visible people refused to listen to Hosea’s message!

However, there is a publication problem in the opinion of some people. They simply do not approve of how God spoke through and by the prophet Hosea. What happened to him offends their ‘moral sensibilities’. First, we should realize that God sometimes had his prophets illustrate their message by performing some action (cf. Jeremiah 16:1-9; Ezekiel 5:1-4). God presented a play, and then handed out “Cliff Notes” explaining what the play meant.

Second, what God commanded Hosea was unpleasant and brought much trouble into his life, and God didn’t even ask for Hosea’s permission! The Lord does not usually lead his servants to walk on smooth, level, dry paths. Some of our paths are hilly, rocky, and perhaps mucky and swamp-like. Our mission is to serve God wherever he leads, regardless of the inconvenience or suffering that it brings (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10). This is not to say that we like suffering, but we value the glory of God so much that we persevere through suffering for Christ’s sake. Grace and peace, David

Why Christ Came (Part Two)

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 NIV).

Our second text makes known why the Messiah came in relation to the story of God’s glory. God chose to work out his plan through a series of covenants. There are five covenants clearly identified in the Holy Writings, and they are usually linked to major characters in God’s plan. So we speak of covenants associated with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ. The covenant with Abraham is called the holy covenant (Luke 1:72) or the promise (Galatians 3). The covenant with Moses is called the law or the old covenant in many places; it is also called the first   covenant (Hebrews 8:7; 9:1). It is important to keep this last designation in mind in order to understand Hebrews ten properly. The covenant of which Christ is the substance (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8) is usually called the new covenant, though in Hebrews it is also called the better or the second covenant (8:7 CSB, ESV, NLT). Now let’s focus on this second reason for Christ’s first coming.

The Messiah said, I have come to do your will, my God. Now surely he always pleased God the Father. When you read the Gospel of John carefully, you learn that all his works and words were exactly what the Father desired. When he did signs and wonders, each one was the will of the Father. When he spoke, he spoke what the Father told him to speak. How he acted was to reveal the Father to us (John 1:18). If we read this text through the lens of systematic or practical theology, we will think that this phrase is speaking of our Lord’s general obedience to the Father, and how he is our pattern to do the same. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with either systematic or practical theology, but we must not allow them to interfere with a proper understanding of any Biblical text. What is the will of God that Christ came to do?

First, in the above verses, notice the contrasts between sacrifice and offering with the body God prepared for the Messiah, and between offerings that could not please God and doing God’s will. Weren’t sacrifices and offerings established by God (see especially Leviticus) and so his will? Yes, they were! But they could not please God in the sense of being able to take away sin and cleanse the consciences of those who sinned. The Messiah had to come to provide a better sacrifice for sins, the offering of himself.

Second, notice what the writer of Hebrews said about the old covenant. The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship (10:1 NIV). It was a shadow and its sacrifices can nevermake perfect those who draw near to worship. Now a shadow is good for the purpose for which God made shadows. They show us that something of substance is nearby. But that does not make the shadow better than the substance. And when we have the substance, we no longer need the shadow. For example, my shadow might show my wife that I am walking toward her. So she is alert to my presence. But I don’t want her to kiss my shadow; I want her to kiss me!

There are too many Christians in our time that are in love with the shadows of the law covenant. Such shadows proclaimed that the Lord was near his old covenant people. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12 NIV). But now that Christ, who is the better covenant, has come and accomplished redemption, we no longer need the shadows of the law, because Christ is now in us.

Third, Christ came to fulfill the law, set it aside because it was fulfilled, and to establish the new covenant. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrew 10:9-10 NIV). Notice what the Spirit caused to be written. He sets aside the first to establish the second. The first is the law or old covenant and the second is the new or better covenant. We are no longer under the law, written on stone tablets and given to Israel on Sinai. We are in Christ, and the Spirit of Christ who lives in us is our leader in following Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Grace and peace, David

Why Christ Came (Part One)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10 NIV).

I write this during the Christmas season, which remains a major cultural holiday in the western world. Every follower of Jesus the Messiah views Christmas differently from the people of the world. To us, it is more than a cultural holiday. It is the time we remember that the Son of God took on true humanity. The King of all was born in the lowliest circumstances, and his mother Mary made up his first bed in a manger. There the Shepherd of God’s people received his first visitors, a group of shepherds who would go and tell the good news of his birth. To the world, this is a strange story. To those who believe in God through Christ, this was the first step to the great events of the gospel, the good news of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension,and second coming in glory. We know that the cradle led to the cross and then to the crown. But to accomplish this great purpose, many other purposes were included. Let’s consider them together.

Our first text clearly presents the core purpose that the Father sent his Son to accomplish. God, having decided to rescue his people from eternal ruin, knew what was necessary for our deliverance. A Savior must come to rescue us from the cause and the corruption of our sins. What makes sin such a great evil that a divine Rescuer is needed? Sin is the rejection of God as God, the refusal to love him completely, and rebellion against God and his will and ways. Sin is a heinous crime against the Divine Majesty. Therefore, God sent His one and only Son to do all that was necessary to pay the penalty for our sins and to make us right with him.

To do this, the Son had to become the atoning sacrifice or propitiation for our sins. He had to become what would satisfy God’s righteous wrath against sin and so turn it away from us. To do this he had to be a perfect sacrifice, without spot or blemish, and also powerful enough to absorb the wrath and to provide righteousness by his perfect obedience and sacrifice. Consider what happened when Christ died as the propitiation for our sins. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed… Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:4-5, 10a ESV). Ponder what he suffered from God’s hand and weep for our sins that he died for.

Why did God send his Son to die as an atoning sacrifice for our sin? The simple, and beautiful and truly amazing, answer of the Holy Writings is this. God loved us. He loved sinners, who had rejected him as God, refused to love him with the total love that he deserves, and rebelled against his will and ways. John pushed aside any other reason with the all-encompassing rejection of any suggestion that we loved God. Our salvation is traced back to a single source, the love of God.  Christ came because God loved us. Read that and weep also, but for a more glorious reason. Love sent the Lord of glory as a tiny baby. Love caused him to endure the sufferings of life in this broken world. Love took him finally to a cruel cross. And there, redeeming love showed itself in an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This Christmas, focus on God’s love, regardless of all the brokenness and evil that surround us.

Grace and peace, David

The Appointment Elijah Did Not Keep (Part Three)

2 Kings 2:1-14

Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over (2:13-14 NIV).

Let us think on the hope of the believer. Elijah’s exit from earth is a reminder that there is life beyond the present world of our experience. How much of our lives is involved in the struggle to provide ourselves with food, clothing, shelter and security! How easy it is to become caught up in the pursuit of these things! So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (Matthew 6:31-32 CSB).

Elijah’s visible transfer to glory by a whirlwind is a call for us to set our minds on things above. This life is not all. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid! Let us then become heavenly-minded. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 NIV).

Elijah’s exit from earth is a reminder that not all believers will die. We should be looking for the Lord Christ to return. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed (Titus 2:12-13 NLT). Though many saints have died already, some will be alive when Jesus comes again. The dead in Christ will rise to life and those still alive will be changed without dying. Both groups will enjoy the glory of the Lord together. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.

Yet, at the same time, we must remember the continuing power of the living God. When people are facing cataract surgery, their surgeon might give them the option of correcting one eye for distance, and one eye for closeup. This avoids, at least for a time, the need to wear “drug store glasses” for reading. It is common as we age to think more about eternity than we did when we were young. Few can keep one eye on the future and another on the present. We all need to be heavenly-minded, as well as continuing to think about serving the Lord in our generation.

Elisha had made a request of Elijah before he was taken away. He asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Observe that Elisha asked before Elijah went to heaven. The Bible never once tells us to pray to departed saints. If you would ask the saints for anything, ask them while they set in worship and fellowship with you now. His request signified his desire for inheritance. The oldest son was to receive a double portion (Deuteronomy 21:17). The son in the ministry (Elisha) asked his father in the ministry (Elijah) for this inheritance. Elisha’s concern was to be equipped for ongoing usefulness. God answered this prayer.

Then came the great moment. Was God still able to act in human history? Too many people focus on God’s servant instead of God. They think that there is something special in the man. How they will become excited about a famous pastor or well-known Bible teacher! There is too much of a lust for superstars in our time. But what happens when the big man is gone? Elisha directed his attention in the right direction. There was no prayer for Elijah to help him. No, he called upon the LORD, the God of Elijah.

I have good news for you today. The LORD, the God of Elijah, is still in charge of all things today. Many good men have come and gone since the time of Elijah and Elisha: Peter and Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Flavel, Bunyan, Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones to name only a few. But the living God still has all his power today.

You do not need to roll up your coats to strike a river, sons and daughters of God, but you should lift up holy hands in prayer. The Spirit of God lives within us, Christ our mediator sits at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us, and the Father loves us with an everlasting love. Up, up, let us rise and call upon the name of the living God. Let us trust him to work in our time, and let us praise his name!

Grace and peace, David

The Appointment Elijah Did Not Keep (Part Two)

2 Kings 2:1-14

Fifty men from the sons of the prophets came and stood observing them at a distance while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water, which parted to the right and left. Then the two of them crossed over on dry ground (2:7-8 CSB).

The Bible tells us reality of the supernatural. With our physical senses, we experience the natural realm constantly. This is the usual and the normal. Anything supernatural is a very unusual experience. But it does happen! When Sharon and I saw the pictures of three new arteries that grew on my heart in answer to prayer, we had a glimpse of God’s supernatural power. (The arteries weren’t there when I had a heart attack, but they were there a year later after prayer.) When we see people who have lived in rebellion against God suddenly turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:28b NIV), we also experience God’s supernatural power in what is called the new birth.

God is able to reveal his will to mankind. The Lord told Elijah, Elisha, and the company of the prophets what he was going to do, and they were able to understand his revelation. In the Bible, God speaks plainly to us. Our failures to understand are related to our failures in listening. Some people are unwilling to invest the time required to listen. Many are prejudiced against what the Lord says and do not want to listen. Others listen through the grid of the traditions of people and only hear what they have been told to hear. And we could give other examples. But when we simply and attentively listen, we discover that God’s word is plain. The men in this account knew what God was going to do. As God was able to speak to them in dreams, visions or some other way, so he is able to speak to us through his written word. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV).

God is able to act in the natural realm with supernatural power. Remember the crossing of the Jordan river, when Israel crossed into the Promised Land. God acted through Elijah to do something similar for his two prophets. Here was something beyond natural experience. I have said to people in Pennsylvania, “Which of you rolls up his coat, strikes the Delaware River, and crosses over on dry ground when you want to go to the Jersey shore?” They probably use one of the bridges to cross the river. But in this account, we are talking about supernatural power, displayed according to God’s will. It prepared the younger prophet Elisha for what the Lord was about to do for Elijah.

Elijah would not keep the usual human appointment with death. God would act to take of Elijah alive from this world. Death brings separation. You talk with someone, but then death seals their lips and you can speak with your loved one no longer. You experience the pain of separation. But this pain of separation would not be the suffering caused by death, but the shocking intervention of the supernatural. Elisha was talking to Elijah when suddenly a chariot of fire separated the two. Elisha then saw Elijah go up to heaven in a whirlwind.

Why did God act with his supernatural power then? Because he wanted to make his power known and honor his servants. The Lord chooses his times to so act. One day, he will take his people to be with him forever. Some will be raised from the dead. Others will rise alive to meet the Lord in the air. Our faith looks forward to supernatural acts, all done by the great power of the true and living God.

Grace and peace, David

The Appointment Elijah Did Not Keep (Part One)

2 Kings 2:1-14

The time had come for the Lord to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal, and Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord is sending me on to Bethel.” But Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel (2:1-2 CSB).

James described human life in this way, What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14b NIV). So it is with the best and the worst of people, small and great, rich and poor, unknown and well-known. We all appear on the stage of planet earth, make significant decisions and actions for which we give account, and yet which God also uses as he weaves the large tapestry of history for his glory. Then we reach the end of our lives, and keep that appointment which all of us must. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27 NIV).

So it was with Elijah. He was born and suddenly appeared in the public life of Israel, announcing a drought on the land. Then God miraculously fed him at the brook and at the widow’s house. By God’s power Elijah raised the widow’s dead son to life. After three years of drought, he called Israel back to God at the contest on Mt. Carmel. The Lord heard his prayer for fire and later rain, and continued to use Elijah for many years to stand for the truth in a country that was religiously twisted and morally corrupt. Then it was time for Elijah to die….

No, it wasn’t! Though Elijah had once prayed to die, the Lord had a different end to Elijah’s stay on earth. Billions of people have inescapably marched into the jaws of death. Only two have escaped: Enoch and Elijah. When the Son of God returns in power and great glory, all his people who are alive at that time will also avoid death. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV). Come, Lord Jesus!  But while we must remain, what are some lessons we can learn from the close of Elijah’s life on earth?

When the situation appears hopeless to us, the living, sovereign God is able to act. As Elijah looked at life from his limited perspective, it often seemed to him that little positive religious change was occurring. He said, “I’m the only one left”—after Obadiah had told him of one hundred other prophets (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah said, “I’m the only one left”—after he had experienced God’s answers to his prayers for fire and rain (1 Kings 19:10,14).

Yes, Elijah thought he was the only one left, but look what the Lord was doing!

  • Elisha was appointed as Elijah’s successor, and he remained faithful to Elijah until the end. God provided Elijah with a friend in the ministry.
  • Micaiah boldly stood up for the truth before Ahab (1 Kings 22:1-28). We might be unaware of their courageous stand, but God has a people for his glory.
  • Elijah was able to start or assist in the ministry of at least two “schools” of prophets at Bethel and Jericho. To train others for ministry is an important task though not very dazzling.

Though it was not God’s time to destroy the altar for false worship at Bethel, he used Elijah to raise up a testimony against it. (The Lord had already announced that Josiah, a descendant of David would destroy it later in history, cf. 1 Kings 13:2. Why did the Lord wait? He acts mercifully to allow people an opportunity to repent.) Though during the time of Ahab, the cursed city of Jericho was rebuilt, God had men to speak for him in that place.

Let us avoid an “Elijah complex”, supposing, “I’m the only one left.” Or as more of us might think, “Our small church and a few small faithful sisters churches are the only ones left to stand for God.” We can waste a lot of precious time moaning over the terrible times we live in, or we can labor for the cause of God and truth with a bold faith.

Grace and peace, David

Fire from Heaven (Part Three)

2 Kings 1:1-18

“If I am a man of God,” Elijah replied, “may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men (1:12 NIV).

As the Lord God tells the story of his glory in the Scriptures, he uses events like Elijah calling fire from heaven to make known his supreme majesty. He alone is God and there is no one else. By the act, God proclaimed through his prophet, “There is no other god,” and he does not want us to entertain that empty notion for a moment. For this reason, we do well to ask, “Why is this important in our lives?

We are morally responsible to honor only the living God as God. I know that responsibility and duty are forbidden words among people obsessed with their own supposed freedom, but God makes clear the obligation of all people everywhere to confess that the Lord alone is God.

Here is a brief overview of teaching of the New Testament Scriptures honoring God as our only God.

  • They set forth clear instruction. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.
  • They condemn the transgression of this command. Romans 1:18-25.
  • They forbid a lifestyle built on the transgression of this command. Ephesians 4:17-24.
  • They command and commend repentance in relation to this command. Acts 17:30; 1 Thessalonians 1:9.
  • They command positive action consist with the God. 1 Corinthians 1:31.

We who believe and follow Christ desire to see this command realized in the hearts and lives of people, since God’s laws are written on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10), and since the Holy Spirit has been given to us to produce a holy way of life that reflects obedience to this command (Romans 7:4-6).

However, we do not enforce obedience to this command by physical means in this new covenant age. Biblically speaking, the church is not and never was a physical nation. Yet with great sorrow we admit that many have tried to join church and state, and they have brought great shame to the cause of God and truth. Examples of this wrong are medieval Roman Catholicism, Calvin’s Geneva, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony in colonial America. Even today there remains a desire among certain Christians to want to go back to the lifestyle of the old covenant theocracy and to use the “sword” to punish wrong-doers, or to call upon God to so punish. But let us avoid this error by thinking on and acting consistently with:

  • Christ’s correction of the mistake of the disciples (Luke 9:51-56).
  • The clear declaration of the Lord Jesus about his kingdom (John 18:36).
  • The correction given by the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 10:1-6).

What methods, then, may we use today to promote God’s honor in world of hatred and violence? (We know that we live in a climate of spiritual warfare also, Ephesians 6:10-18.)

  • A godly life that exemplifies the truth we claim to believe. This must begin in the home. And it demands love of other believers (John 13:34-35). We must go out in the world together where people of the world can observe that we do love one another.
  • A witness of the truth. Use the sword of the Spirit, God’s word, to spread the good news (Acts 8:4). When we get to the place where we are in conversations with them about life, we must tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.
  • A consistent life of prayer. God acts through praying people.

Grace and peace, David

Be Thankful (Part Two)

Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (NIV).

We offer thanksgiving as part of our new way of life (3:15). Our union with Christ in his death and resurrection has ended the rule of sin in our lives (cf. Colossians 3:1-4). The practices of the old way of life are contrary to a life of thanksgiving (cf. Colossians 3:5; cf. Romans 1:18-29; 2 Timothy 3:2). For this reason, we are to end the remaining actions of the old way of life. Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5 CSB; cf. Romans 8:13).

Our union with Christ begins the development of a new way of life. We become thankful to God our Savior. Thankfulness disables self-pity. How can you throw a pity party for yourself when you are a thankful person? Consider what we might call the self-pity sequence: Envy leads to self-pity that causes anger that leads deeper into bitterness that in turn causes depression. But thankfulness to God promotes humility and contentment. Every good gift is from God. Therefore, I should not expect to be treated as superior (1 Corinthians 4:7). Every good gift is from God. Therefore, I should be satisfied with his good gifts. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself (Philippians 4:11 CSB).

We also become thankful to others:

  • We recognize our mutual interdependence. We let each other know in a glad and encouraging way that we need each other.
  • We express appreciation. This makes us observe what Christ is doing in and through others, and then to verbalize our approval and enjoyment of such actions.
  • We encourage others in good works (cf. Hebrews 10:25).

We also offer thanksgiving as partners in worship (3:16). The word of Christ should govern our worship together. The word of Christ is both from him and concerns him. He is the source and the substance of God’s revelation or message to us. This word is to live richly in our hearts. How does this happen? It richly lives in us when we listen attentively to it (Matthew 13:9), hide it in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), handle it correctly (2 Timothy 2:15), and hold it out to others (Philippians 2:16).

We must seriously understand that thanksgiving is to be a corporate experience. The whole local assembly is to share in the richly living word of Christ together. Church is not a place that you go to, but it is people in Christ that you partner with for the word of Christ.

When the word of Christ has its proper place in a local church, it transforms the worship of the gathering of believers. The word that is sung in worship becomes a means of teaching and admonishing one another (cf. Colossians 1:28). We join the vertical and the horizontal aspects of worship. Then worship is not an individual matter, but a sweet sharing of life in Christ. Then our songs of praise join together as songs of gratitude for how God has given us grace together in the body of Christ. How is your experience of corporate thanksgiving to God in Christ? How would you rate what happens in your local gathering? Will you join with others to increase the overflowing gratitude that our Lord and Savior deserves?

Grace and peace, David

Be Thankful (Part One)

Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (NIV).

What are some blessings that you highly value? Now what are some characteristics that you highly value in other people? God highly values thankfulness. Yet I do not think that we take this positive quality of godliness very seriously. Read through the letter to the Colossians carefully and see the emphasis on being thankful. Thanksgiving should be part of our lives everyday. We should deliberately build it into what we are. One of the signs of a heart alienated from God is a lack of thankfulness to the Lord God. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21 NIV).

We offer thanksgiving through Jesus Christ (3:17). This is part of our larger life view. In everything we are to be Christ-focused. This approach honors the Triune God, because God designed this as the way to come to him and to honor him. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world (Romans 1:8 ESV, my emphasis). An examination of the New Testament references to thanksgiving reveals an emphasis on the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus. This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:15-16 CSB; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 9:15; Philippians 1:3-6; Colossians 1:3-4; etc.)

Since Adam disobeyed God and ruined our race, God is building a new humanity in Jesus Christ, in whom we are restored to God’s purpose for us. When we are giving thanks through Jesus our Lord, we are functioning according to God’s will and as a byproduct, we feel right. We are in alignment with God’s intention for our humanness.

When we offer our thanks through Christ, we honor him as the mediator between God and mankind. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV). When we offer a sacrifice of praise through Jesus our great High Priest (cf. Hebrews 4:14), we display and develop humility before the living God. We are confessing our absolute need of Christ to consecrate everything to God concerning us, including our praise.

However, we do not want to think of this mechanically or ritually but personally. Offering thanks through Jesus recognizes our personal participation with him in worship. As new covenant priests (cf. 1 Peter 2:5), we join with him to glorify the Father. By faith we should have a lively sense of approaching the throne of grace with him as our leader.

To do this, we ought to prepare our hearts for worship. You might have to rush to get to the gathering of God’s people, because we live in a world where our best plans for getting ourselves and our family ready go astray. But there should be no rush in the inner persons of our hearts. “Oh no, now what am I doing?” Be calm; God knows what happens in your life, and your brothers and sisters in Christ need to accept that, too. Let’s have some holy deliberation in the way we live, and not act like we’re in some sort of panic or agitation.

Grace and peace, David