A Shelter for God’s Afflicted People (Part Two)

Isaiah 14:32

What answer shall be given to the envoys of that nation? “The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge” (NIV).

For whom has the Lord established Zion? “His afflicted people”. The Lord Jesus knew well what kind of people he was coming to save, and it is not an attractive group to the proud of the earth. He calls us poor in spirit, mourners, meek, hungry and thirsty, and persecuted (Matthew 5:3-12). Yes, it seems like Jesus is King, but King of the misfits. Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 CSB)!

So then, the Lord reaches out to a needy people. Most people don’t like to think of themselves as needy, but rather as self-sufficient. Look at their needs. They were persecuted by God’s enemies. Israel’s great enemy at the time was Assyria, which was perhaps one of the original terrorist states. The church’s enemies now are the many antichrists and other deceivers that have arisen in “the last days”. Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour (1 John 2:18 ESV). Some are bent on physical destruction (2 Corinthians 11:23-25). Some are masters of deception (2 Corinthians 11:4). We also must realize that many people would like to see Christians and churches destroyed.

We must do all that we can to help those oppressed. Surely we should pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering. And we must stand for the truth when so many in the professing church put little value on the truth. Most so-called “churches” are more interested in drawing a crowd than in saying, “This is what the Lord says….”

They were harassed by sin. Israel’s tragic problem was that they could not keep the law or old covenant. It was a yoke that they could never bear (Acts 15:10). The Church’s ongoing struggle is that we rejoice in the one who has fulfilled the law and has himself become a new covenant for us—our Lord Jesus Christ! Yet we still struggle against remaining sin. The traitor within mars our sweetest moments.

We want to reaffirm that we followers of Jesus are all strugglers. You will not find any perfect people in any local church. While believers strive to follow our risen Lord, we often fail. Yet we know there is power in the blood of the Lamb, and we accept one another as Christ has accepted us (Romans 15:7) to bring glory to God.

They suffered the weaknesses of the flesh. Israel’s constant problem was a wrong way of thinking. They supposed that they could become righteous through the law (Romans 10:2-3). The Church also has a problem. We wrongly imagine that we can make progress by human effort: living by sight instead of faith, or by doing good works, or keeping laws, standards, rituals, programs, or getting involved in power politics, and even turning ministers into heroes or superstars (1 Corinthians 3). To rely on any of these reveals a reliance on the weakness of the flesh (Galatians 3:1-3).

The true Christian way of life is by faith in Christ through the power of the Spirit and according to the Scriptures. The product in the lifestyle is love for God and people. It is our privilege and duty as the people of God to reach out to all people regardless of skin tone, ethnicity, social status, educational level, economic wealth or poverty, political preferences, or religious background. We must do this now, and we begin with our closest neighbors. Start with a friendly greeting. Look for other ways to show personal concern and kindness. Please, for Christ’s sake, show others that you genuinely care.

Grace and peace,

Where Sin Increased (Part One)

1 Kings 18:1-15

There are times when the followers of Christ can feel as though there is little hope for the cause of God and truth in their land. They want to cry out, as David did, Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men (Psalm 12:1 NIV). Indeed, it seems like the godly will be wiped from the face of the earth. Who would have thought that Luther could survive when both the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Church were seeking his death? What hope was there for evangelicalism in England when Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) was putting to death its leaders?

The Bible instructs us to trust in the sovereign God, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6). Where sin is on the rise and the triumph of evil seems certain, even there the Lord God is able to carry out his purposes. Our text is another example of God’s all-ability.

Sin was hard at work in the Northern Kingdom of Israel at that time. There was no public place where people could gather to worship the living God. From the time of Jeroboam I, the officially sanctioned religion was an idolatrous substitute for God and the covenant he had made with Israel (cf. 1 Kings 12:26-33). As we have observed, Ahab and Jezebel had forced Israel into deeper idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 1629-34). Without public worship and teaching, it became very difficult to maintain faithfulness to the God of Israel. It was a horrible time. Let’s think about this more.

There was no apparent concern for the glory of God or the good of men in Israel at that time. King Ahab was chiefly concerned about his property—that none of his animals would have to be killed because of the famine. 18:2b, 5. Now, there is nothing at all wrong with caring for animals. Proverbs 12:10 tells us A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal… (NIV). The problem was Ahab’s lack of a deeper concern—the glory of God and the good of his subjects. Contrast wicked Ahab with godly David (cf. 2 Samuel 24:17). Scripture teaches this principle: When you reject God, you eventually lose concern for the worth of people. Study, for example, Romans 1:18-19, 28-31.

There was no national repentance in Israel for their sins. National repentance was essential for the old covenant nation. Today in the new covenant, the church is God’s people, and not any of the nations of the world. What does the church need to repent of today? For some ideas, read Revelation 2-3. The physical suffering during the famine, a covenant curse (Leviticus 26:18-20), had not induced them to repent. Ahab was intent on ridding the earth of Elijah, not on confessing and forsaking his own sins (18:9-10). Unless the Lord gives heart changing grace along with the trial, people will not have a change of mind. At first, they might consider the trouble as a freak of nature. But later, if they think of God at all, they probably will grow bitter against him (cf. Revelation 16:9). However, people are sure to perish, unless they repent. No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well (Luke 13:3 CSB).

There was a policy of persecution against God’s prophets. This is seen in Ahab’s fanatical desire to find Elijah (18:10), and in Jezebel’s murder of the Lord’s prophets (18:4, 13). How could the godly survive an onslaught driven by fanatical hatred?

God has not placed believers in “heaven on earth”. No, we live in a world filled with rejection of God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways. We must rid our minds of the deceptive notion that life here will be easy and that we will lack spiritual opposition. Oh, I know that Christians will agree with this in theory, but there is far too much hand-wringing and moaning in churches today. The Lord never told us that it would be easy. In fact, listen to what the apostles Paul and Barnabas told the churches they had started. “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

Reassurance of Friendship

IMG_08592 Corinthians 7:2-4

The apostle Paul concluded the previous section of 2 Corinthians by calling his readers to live according to what they are in Christ; namely, the temple of the living God. One of the great truths about the new covenant people of God is that we do not have a temple but that we are the temple. God lives in us by the Holy Spirit. After doing that, he immediately reassures them of their friendship or fellowship or partnership in the gospel. What we want to think about today is the attitude that must saturate our approach to the Christian way of life. How ought we to live together as Christ’s people? We can profit greatly by learning how Paul reassured his dear friends in Corinth.

Paul told them to “make room” for him (7:2). A contrast of two churches, Corinth and Thessalonica, will help us understand the reason for this request. Both were started at about the same time by the same church planter (Paul), but they had developed different views of the Christian way of life, and Corinth’s view was very defective.

  • The church of Thessalonica started in a time of persecution. They had a decisive break from idols and quickly became an effective partnership in the mission of the gospel. The word rang out from them (1 Thessalonians 1:8)! Yes, they needed to grow in grace, like all Christians do. Although they knew Paul only a short time, they were open to his ministry.
  • Some conflict with the Jews in Corinth happened in Corinth, but this church did not start in the turmoil of persecution. In fact, the Lord Jesus guaranteed Paul release from persecution there (Acts 18:9-10). This was a great outward advantage that Paul used well. But at the same time, the believers in Corinth seemed a little too at home in the world. This attitude showed itself again and again in their opinions about worldly wisdom and their willingness to participate in contact with idolatry, which every new gathering of believers had been urged to avoid (Acts 15:29). Both of these combined together, with evil actions of false teachers, to make them rather closed to Paul’s new covenant ministry.
  • So then, after telling them to separate from idolatry, which they had been too open towards, Paul commands them as Christ’s apostle to make room for him, whom they had been closed towards. They had been open toward the wrong things of idolatry and closed to their true gospel partner. So he repeats the command of 6:13 in different words. Each of us should evaluate ourselves to see if we are open to gospel influences and closed to the influence of the world and its idols.

He joins another personal defense of himself to this command. I think that here Paul gives a summary, forceful defense of himself of any supposed charges that anyone could possibly bring against him. He wants to end the past mess once and for all, in order to have a fresh start with them.

  • He had mistreated no one. When he directed the church to take action against certain people, they were receiving what they deserved. Christ’s apostle was simply applying the Lord’s directives to them.
  • He had corrupted no one. Teaching the way of grace does not provide a license to sin, regardless of how some have twisted the gospel. Gospel grace always leads to a godly way of life.
  • He had taken advantage of no one. The fact that faith in Christ involves a break with a worldly and idolatrous way of life, which can lead to financial loss for some, does not mean than Paul was somehow out to ruin some of them. I will illustrate. Consider the book Radical by David Platt. Suppose a couple reads it and agrees to downsize their lifestyle in order to give more of their lives and finances for the gospel. In the process, something unexpected happens and they suffer financial loss. The author was not trying to cause them harm, but he redirected them to follow Christ more fully. Sometimes in God’s providence people suffer unforeseen difficulties, which might have happened anyway!

If people are going to work together as gospel partners (and all Christians are to be gospel partners with other followers of Christ), we must make room for each other in our hearts and lives. This is where our walk with one another can get messy. Part of the process involves getting rid of incorrect theological views. Sadly, many professing Christians don’t want to invest time in accurate Christian teaching. Then they wonder why the wheels have come off their lives and their relationships with others. Your doctrinal assumptions will affect your life. We must also try to clear out misunderstandings about our actions. This requires patience, which comes from the Holy Spirit.

Grace and peace, David