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Suffering is Evil ~ to Suffer is Good

INTRODUCTION. Scripture teaches that a day is coming when all sorrow, tears, pain and death will pass away—all suffering will end forever (Revelation 21.4). People, however, tend to focus on the present and want to know, if God is both all-powerful and loving, why is there so much suffering in the world now? This question implies that God is either not omnipotent or not loving because, if he were both, clearly he would not allow so much suffering in the world.

While this might appear to be a reasonable question, this paper will show that it demonstrates a lack of understanding with respect to both God’s Word and God’s ways. In doing so, the following issues will be addressed: the reason there is suffering in the world; the purpose of suffering in the world; and finally, what man’s attitude about suffering should be.

Thank God for the clarity that proceeds from the radiance found in the Word of God, to which we now turn to enlighten us with respect to the above-stated issues.

WHY IS THERE SUFFERING IN THE WORLD? Most people mistakenly assume that God is the reason suffering exists but, in short, man is responsible for suffering in this world. God’s original plan was for man to live in peace without ever having to experience sorrow and suffering. While it is true that God actually set in motion the first ever occurrence of suffering on earth, the reason this occurred was because man chose to disobey the command of God and instead follow the lies of Satan.

For a complete understanding of the underlying reasons this occurred, we must begin at the beginning. Not only did God create man, man was the only thing created with the most precious gift of all—life “in God’s image”. That is to say, man was created with the gift of rational thought, an important element of which is free will (Genesis 1.27). Free will entails the ability to make choices between different courses of action, the outcome of which has not already been determined by previous events that have occurred outside the will of man. Contrary to free will is determinism, which holds that all human behavior is inevitably caused by internal and/or external forces that exist exclusive of the will of man.

The Word of God acknowledges that individuals are created subject to both internal and external forces that seek to influence human behavior in a given direction as opposed to another—for example, the temptation man experienced in the garden of Eden. Ultimately, however, man’s behavior is not simply a passive reaction to these forces. If it were, then God would not have presented matters in a way that implied Adam and Eve had the freedom to either obey or not obey (discussed more fully below). Moreover, God would not have punished Adam and Eve had their disobedience been the result of forces outside their will.

Scripture clearly implies that man has the freedom to consider any forces that might incline him in a certain direction and in the end make a decision that runs counter to those influences. It is this freedom that gives the human experience dignity, meaning and purpose. For example, the reason our choosing to love someone is meaningful is because we could have chosen otherwise.

It is important to note that there was no suffering whatsoever in the world at the time God created Adam and Eve with the will to make free choices. Also, God provided for Adam and Eve’s sustenance with an abundance of appealing and nutritious fruit that came from countless trees and plants located in the garden of Eden. God made it clear to them that they were free to eat fruit from any tree located in the garden with one exception—God commanded them not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which was located in the center of the garden (Genesis 2.17). The purpose of this command was to provide man with a positive means through his obedience of acknowledging that God was indeed the Creator and thanking him for the blessing of Creation.

In addition to the implied positive reasons for man’s obedience to his command, God made man aware of the negative consequences of his disobedience by warning Adam that if he chose to disobey his Creator then he would suffer death (Genesis 2.17). While Adam and Eve might not have known exactly what death entailed, it is fair to assume that at the very least they understood that disobeying God’s command would introduce something unpleasant and painful into the world.

Were there to have been no consequences regarding man’s choice of whether or not to obey God’s one command, then man’s free will in this matter would have been rendered moot and meaningless. What would be the point of setting up a choice for man to either obey or disobey if obeying had no significant consequences as compared to disobeying? For our choices to have meaning, there must be particular consequences with respect to our choosing one of the various options over other available options. Otherwise, they would not be “choices” at all; they would simply be one indiscriminate thought or action versus another.

Again, at the time God created man with free will and presented him with the choice to either obey or disobey the command not to eat fruit from this one tree, suffering played no part in Creation. And so, man could either choose good/God/obedience and continue experiencing pure joy in his life without suffering; or choose evil/not God/disobedience and experience suffering along with joy. We know, of course, Adam and Eve ultimately chose to disobey the Creator of the Universe (Genesis 3.6), choosing instead to heed the ungodly advice of one of the wild animals (the serpent) that ironically God had given man the authority to rule over (Genesis 1.26).

Man had every reason to believe that God had his best interest in mind—he was undeniably man’s Creator and further had provided man with all his needs. Satan skillfully called all this into question, however, by simply suggesting that God’s command was not actually intended for the benefit of man, but contrarily to oppress man by keeping certain knowledge from him—knowledge that would in fact help man become like God. In the end, the desire to gain God-like knowledge made the forbidden fruit more attractive than it already was—enough to convince man to sin against God (Genesis 3.6).

Afterwards, when Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden, they hid from him because they now knew they were naked (Genesis 3.8—10). The gig was up, and with the serpent contriver having been duly exposed and a feeble confession having been made by the two human delinquents, God proceeded to deliver sentencing to the perpetrators—each relating to the issue of life and death.

God began where the sin began, punishing the instrument (serpent) as well as the principal (Satan). And so, the serpent was cursed among all living animals, consigned to grovel in dust for the rest of time. This curse applied to Satan as well, who for the rest of days was to dine no longer on the fruit of angels and the joys of heaven, but instead on the impure lusts of men and the dark death and destruction of earth. From having once walked upright on legs and feet to dragging in the dust of death was perhaps meant to signify Satan being cast down from the heights of heaven to the depths of earth, never again to rise to his former place of dignity. The final degradation came when God unequivocally proclaimed that Satan’s power and life on earth would one day be wholly destroyed by the offspring of those whom he had deceived (Genesis 3.14—15).

Turning to the punishment of mankind, note first that God cursed neither Adam nor Eve who, unlike Satan, were candidates for restoration. Adam and Eve’s sin, however, was imputed to all mankind, as were their punishments.

With respect to woman, God pronounced that it would be with great anguish and even peril of death that she would bring life into the world. Furthermore, within the confines of the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5.22; Colossians 3.18), the woman was to henceforth live in submission to the man (Genesis 3.16). The earthly blessings of the gospel in general, however, would be received by man and woman on an equal footing (Galatians 3.28).

Finally, God put his marks of displeasure upon Adam. First, whereas God did not curse man per se because of his sin, man’s sin did bring a curse upon the earth. Originally created to be a comfortable dwelling of provision, the earth would now require painful toil to provide man with food. The second and related punishment was that man’s employments were now embittered to him—from that day forward man’s labor would be a duty rather than a joy. Finally, God proclaimed “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3.17—19)—in other words, sin had brought the suffering of death into the world. Indeed, each of man’s punishments can be explained in the context of the prevailing reality of death and decay, and the enduring fear caused thereby.

In summary, a world without pain and free will were, respectively, a blessing and privilege given to man by God at the Creation. Man was offered a generous way to acknowledge and thank the Creator for these gifts by obeying his command not to eat the fruit of just one of the many trees God provided for man’s sustenance. Man, however, selfishly chose to put his will above the will of his Creator, and suffering thus entered the world. Therefore, the suffering and pain that man faces today is not the work of an unjust God, it is the direct result of man’s sinful disobedience and the known consequences thereof (Romans 6.23).

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF SUFFERING IN THE WORLD? Despite learning that man’s sin is the reason suffering exists in the world today, one might out of fear and despair still be inclined to ask: Surely God knew that suffering would come into the world—so what is he doing about it? Well, if you are waiting for God to just “make it go away”, you are in for a life of frustration and disappointment. There is no reason to despair, however, for “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29.11).

And so, despite the fact that man is the reason there is suffering in the world, what follows are the many ways God has resolved to appropriate suffering for the good of those who will embrace and trust him as sovereign over everything that exists.

THE ULTIMATE WAKE UP CALL. One of the ways God uses suffering for good is to call attention to the fact that SOMETHING IS DESPERATELY WRONG AND NEEDS FIXING IN OUR LIVES.

If “today” everything were right between man and God, then “today” there would be no pain, suffering and death in the world. As discussed above, in the beginning there was no suffering and death because sin had not yet come between man and God. Once man sinned, however, suffering and death entered the world and separated man from God. “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6.14). From that time forward, man was destined to spend eternity separated from God unless the relationship between them could somehow be reconciled.

God does not enjoy seeing anyone suffer in separation from him, which is why he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become the Savior of mankind (John 3.16)(discussed more fully below). Faith in Christ blesses man with the righteousness of God (Romans 3.22), which in turn reconciles the separation that has come between man and God (Romans 5.11). In fact, God wants everyone to come to believe in Christ as the atoning sacrifice and thus be saved (2 Peter 3.9), but he will not force anyone to believe in Christ.

In the same way God gave Adam the freedom to choose to obey or not obey his command, he gives every man the freedom to choose to believe or not believe in Christ (Romans 10.13). To maintain the dignity of our free will, God must allow us to choose even when he knows we are going to choose badly. And so, we might choose to rail against God because of our suffering—even reject him. Thankfully, however, God always stands ready in the hope that suffering will prompt us to turn to him and ask him for help.

I am living proof that it often takes tragedy for us to turn to God, and that he stands ready to help if we do. It took becoming addicted to cocaine and the tragic consequences of a terrible car wreck 35 years ago for me to realize that I needed help from God and finally hear his voice about the truth of Christ. Thankfully, there were no other cars involved in this wreck, as we were traveling 70mph and launched airborne for 50 feet before slamming headlong into a concrete slab and rolling 4 or 5 times. My two high school friends in the front seat were killed instantly. And while it’s terrible that all three of us in the backseat were paralyzed, we were very fortunate to still have the use of our arms. Indeed, we were fortunate to still be alive.

While it is true that God did not stop this wreck from happening, he was not the cause of it. Our desire to get high and drive a vehicle is clearly what led to the wreck. Truth is, God had called out to me many times before that fateful night. He even tried to warn me the night of the wreck on three separate occasions not to get in that car, but I wanted to get high more than I wanted to listen to God. Simply put, it took the tragic ravaging of my life for me to start thinking I needed God in my life.

Salvation comes by grace through faith, which is a gift from God (Ephesians 2.8). Free will, however, demands that we take action in favor of our being saved, so while in drug rehab, I started reading the Bible for ten minutes every morning. Then I earnestly prayed to God for ten more minutes to show me the truth about whom I was reading—Jesus. I read and prayed every morning without fail for 6 months straight, during which time it felt like I was praying to a brick wall—nothing. But I did not give up. Then one morning I started to read the Bible like every other morning and—BOOM!—God revealed himself to me in a spiritual experience that in many ways will forever remain indescribable.

I do, however, remember sensing the incredible power of God’s light—like the sun was rising in my chest. And the experience was extremely intimate as well—like a warm flow of peaceful light coursing through my blood. Most importantly, from that moment on I knew that Jesus Christ was and is the true light, just like the Bible teaches. I have never looked back.

Not long after this experience, God ushered me out of the practice of law. I felt led to start writing and playing music with a mission to share the truth of Christ. The songs I wrote simply told my story—the struggles and the victory. God provided incredible musicians in the most amazing ways and we were actually pretty good.[1]

I got married, bought a house, paid the bills and, despite being paralyzed, became a daddy to a beautiful daughter. What a joy to be a dad, and to write and play music for a living, all for the Lord of the Universe. I’m retired from writing and playing songs, and now write words without the music.

I have never been happy about being a paraplegic, nor does my faith require that I be, but I am grateful to be alive and have the use of my arms. It hasn’t always been easy street and I’ve made mistakes along the way, but through it all, when I’ve remained focused on my relationship with Christ, life is good. At no time would I have traded my salvation for the use of my legs. No one suffers in vain, for God stands ready to put our suffering to good use, such as showing man of his need for Jesus Christ as Lord & Savior.

God not only uses suffering to warn man of his need for a Savior, suffering was used by God as a catalyst in paving the way for us to have a Messiah.

THE CATALYST. A man’s hope and future begins and ends in Jesus Christ as his Lord & Savior. Accordingly, Father God creatively found a way to use suffering as the impetus for delivering up his Son as the perfect sacrifice for all the sins of mankind, thus providing man with the Messiah.

The rulers of the Jewish synagogue (“rulers”) at the time of Christ were the chief priest, the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus had roamed the land for three years teaching Scriptural truths and performing miracles in the presence of the Jewish people. During this time, the primary concern of these rulers was not whether Jesus was speaking the truth about their God. Their concern was all about preserving their precious positions of authority over the very people they were supposed to be serving. It appears they were scared that the truth found in Jesus might one day expose their hypocrisy to the point of ultimately dispossessing them of their coveted power and authority over the Jewish people (John 11.48).

Jesus had in fact already humiliated these rulers on many occasions in the presence of both God-fearing worshipers and heathen people who lived in the region (e.g., Matthew 21.23—27; Matthew 22.15—22; Luke 15.1—7; Matthew 22.23—33). Their mounting fear reached a breaking point after Jesus performed the amazing miracle of resurrecting Lazarus several days after he had died (John 11.43—44). Following this, the rulers must have sensed their power slipping through their fingers, for they hastily called a meeting and ruthlessly decided that Jesus had to be killed as soon as possible (John 11.53).

Desperate to crush the burgeoning belief that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah, these religious rulers not only wanted Jesus to be killed, they wanted him to suffer. Despite Jesus increasingly exposing their duplicity, these rulers still maintained enough authority in the synagogue to conjure up a “justifiable” reason for Jesus to suffer the punishment set aside for the worst criminals—crucifixion. In their eyes, by falsely claiming to be the Son of God, Jesus had committed blasphemy which compelled that he suffer the agony of the cross (Luke 22.66—71).

How ironic that the only man to walk this earth without ever committing a sin, much less a crime, was slated to suffer the punishment of murderers and rapists. I wonder if these rulers even bothered in prayer to ask God if Jesus was in fact the Messiah. And did they pray about whether or not to have Jesus killed?

In an effort to convince the people that he was not the bona fide Messiah, the rulers were adamant that Jesus suffer the shame of crucifixion—surely the real Messiah would not allow himself to suffer such humiliation and agonizing pain at the hands of mere mortals. They were wrong and their plan backfired in the end, as Father God in his sovereignty made effective use of their selfish schemes and malicious desire that Jesus suffer.

Jesus indeed suffered crucifixion, but on the third day as prophesied God resurrected him from the dead as the Messiah. Soon after Christ’s ascension into heaven, the Apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, explained to the Jewish people just how wrong their religious rulers had been:

Then Peter stood and addressed the crowd, “[Jesus of Nazareth] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men (the Romans), put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead … because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2.23—24, paranthetical added).

And so it was that Jesus suffering death at the hands of the Jewish rulers and Roman government was part of God’s sovereign plan of salvation all along:

We see Jesus … now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2.10—11).

We are told that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5.8). This does not mean that Jesus learned the meaning of obedience or how to obey through what he suffered. Jesus already knew and did this by virtue of his Godly nature as seen, for example, in the ultimate act of obedience—allowing himself to be crucified (Matthew 26.36—45). What it means is suffering the cross taught Jesus on a visceral level the meaning of obedience that is yielded to God in the human suffering condition, and further what difficulties often attend human obedience.

In short, suffering the cross made our heavenly Mediator more perfectly disposed to intercede on man’s behalf with grace and tenderness (Hebrews 7.25). Indeed, man should take comfort and find hope in the fact that God is not asking him to endure pain and affliction that he was not willing to endure himself many times over for our sake.

Not only was suffering the primary catalyst in the fulfillment of the coming gospel, suffering has always played a leading role in a believer’s growth in holiness.

SANCTIFICATION. “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1.15—16). Every believer is called to the ongoing process of conformity to Christ following conversion, called “to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” as Lord, that we “may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3.8—9). This is called sanctification—to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12.1), submitting to God while he accomplishes his will in our lives. Peter exhorted believers to “like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2.2—3). So, all believers are called to continually “grow up” in holiness.

All mankind is born with the sinful nature of Adam in him (Galatians 5.13). When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, however, Christ comes to live inside us through the deposit of the Holy Spirit in our spirit (2 Corinthians 1.22). And so, from that day forth, a battle ensues inside our spirit for control of a believer’s thoughts and actions (Galatians 5.17), but if we live by the Spirit, then we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature that still lives within us (Galatians 5.16). One of the most effective ways for a believer to live by the Spirit and promote sanctification is to accept and embrace suffering (1 Peter 4.1—2), for God makes use of suffering as a means of refining one’s faith in a variety of ways (1 Peter 1.6—7).

For example, the Father loves his children and must at times discipline them in painful ways to grow up in Godliness (Hebrews 12.6—7). Suffering educates a believer with respect to Christian virtues such as perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5.3—4). Suffering affliction might be how one learns or grows in humility (2 Corinthians 12.7). Enduring hardship can make man tougher and thus a stronger soldier for Christ (2 Timothy 2.3). Suffering promotes a better understanding of the sovereign character of God (Job 42.2—6). Suffering presents a believer with an opportunity to identify with Christ, “and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3.10—11).

Finally, suffering presents the believer with an opportunity to enter into the presence of God.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23.4).

David was a warrior who on many occasions had his back against the wall in battle against evil enemies that were superior in numbers and strength. He knew suffering, he knew death; and despite constantly being threatened with both, he feared no evil. In fact, David felt the comforting presence of God in the midst of the dark shadows of suffering and death.

In short, suffering and death presents the believer with various opportunities and ways to grow in holiness.

In addition to promoting sanctification, a believer enduring pain with dignity through faith also plays a role in spreading the gospel.

ADVANCING THE GOSPEL— EXPANDING THE KINGDOM. Suffering pain offers believers opportunities to minister to others and advance the gospel in several ways.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1.3—4).

And so, a believer might help someone who is suffering affliction or perhaps he shares how God comforted him in the midst of his own troubles, and by doing so brings comfort to an unbeliever who is enduring pain and affliction. An unbeliever whose pain has been relieved or comforted by a believer might be more inclined to inquire into the truth of Christ.

Similarly, an unbeliever who sees a believer enduring affliction with dignity might be drawn to investigate and find out that it is by God’s power that this occurs. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into and bless our lives, our Christ-likeness in the midst of affliction might overflow into the lives of others.

Finally, an unbeliever who is enduring pain and suffering might in frustration be inclined to ask why a loving God allows suffering in the world, thus opening the door to a discussion about the various matters discussed in this paper, which in turn might help lead someone to Christ.

To summarize, the concept of suffering naturally lends itself to presenting a believer who stands ready with various opportunities to share his faith that, with the help of the Spirit, might contribute to someone coming to Christ, thus expanding the Kingdom.

Suffering not only plays a role in advancing the gospel and expanding the Kingdom, sometimes its purpose is to reveal the healing work of God.

HEALING. Though he is not obligated to, the Bible teaches that God sometimes physically heals our suffering.

Throughout Scripture, God encourages the believer to call upon him for healing. Indeed, God refers to himself as “the LORD who heals you” (Exodus 15.26). King David said God is the one “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103.3). Until Christ returns, the anointing, power and gifts of the Holy Spirit are readily available to help us in every situation, and the Spirit “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3.20). In fact, healing is listed as one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit with which some believers are blessed (1 Corinthians 12.9).

The gospels give numerous accounts of Jesus healing people of serious infirmities and illnesses, even raising dead people to life. He also blessed his disciples with the power to do the same. At the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14.12). He then promised to send the Holy Spirit to empower believers.

As promised, the Holy Spirit came into the world not long after Christ ascended into heaven (Acts 2.2—4) and, moreover, he is deposited into the heart of every believer at the moment of salvation (2 Corinthians 1.22). Given that Scripture proclaims “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13.8), believers have every reason to believe that they can do today through the Holy Spirit what Christ did when he was here on earth.

For reasons beyond man’s understanding, some people are healed and some are not (Isaiah 55.9). Jesus cautioned us not to assume that a person suffers because of a sinful life or lack of faith—we should entrust these matters to the purview of God’s sovereign will (John 9.2—3). Simply put, the believer’s task is to ask, believe and trust—to ask for healing, to believe in healing, and to trust God with the healing.

In addition to manifesting the healing power of God, suffering is also used by the Lord to prepare the believer to share in the glory of Christ.

PRELUDE TO EXALTATION. The adage “no pain, no gain” cryptically expresses the Biblical principle that God uses human suffering as a prelude to the exaltation of deserving believers.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirsheirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8.16—17).

The concept that suffering prepares us for the glory of God is prevalent throughout Scripture, especially in 1st Peter. Christ is the prime example of submitting oneself to pain in order to serve God (Philippians 2.5—11; 1 Peter 2.21). Father God stands ready to bless us in exaltation just as he did the Christ, if we too humble ourselves by enduring affliction with dignity, faith and trust.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you … standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace … after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5.6—11).

As man irrefutably demonstrated in the garden of Eden, man must suffer before being exalted because, given his fallen nature, man would undoubtedly take the blessings and glory of heaven for granted if he were not first made to endure the sufferings of this world.

Finally, in addition to being blessed with the exalting glory of Christ while on earth, enduring affliction is a way to earn and store up rich rewards that man will one day reap in heaven.

REWARDS. “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4.13). In other words, if we have indeed invested in the sufferings of Christ—i.e., embraced our affliction as a means of entering into the presence of God—then we will be overjoyed by the many treasures laid up for us when we get to heaven (Matthew 6.20). To the degree that we grow in holiness while here on earth, we are promised a commensurate amount of rewards in heaven (Colossians 3.23—24). If suffering leads to holiness and holiness leads to rewards, a nexus between suffering and rewards is shown.

Note that to “rejoice in our suffering” does not mean that we are expected to immediately be happy when pain or affliction befalls us. Faith in the truth of his Word, however, will in due course supplant any initial feelings of disappointment, fear, and/or anger with a genuine belief that God is in sovereign control of our circumstances and, moreover, that something good will eventually come from our present suffering (Romans 8.28).

In the end, a genuine faith finds a way to trust in the hope of glory that Christ promised will come. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8.18). Jesus himself said that we should rejoice when we suffer for his sake, because great is our reward in heaven (Matthew 5.12).

To summarize thus far, man is the cause of all suffering in this world, and God stands ready to use the many aspects of our presents sufferings as a force for good if we embrace God’s sovereign will in the midst of our pain and affliction.

WHAT SHOULD MAN’S ATTITUDE ABOUT SUFFERING BE? As one can see, there is a wealth of Biblical teaching on suffering—its origin and how God uses pain and affliction for good. The question then becomes: What should man’s attitude about suffering and pain in this world be?

One does not get the impression from Scripture that God thinks pain and affliction are in any way gratuitous. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1.29). While it is true that suffering exists on this earth because mankind sinfully chose to heed Satan over God (Genesis 3.6; 16—19), the prevailing truth is “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8.28, emphasis added). For this reason, the pain in our hearts and the afflictions in our bodies are, in the end, not an evil to be resisted or from which man should run.

True joy is not the absence of pain and suffering. True joy is the sustaining, sanctifying presence of Christ in our lives in spite of any pain we might be suffering! Just as Father God found a way to transform the agonizing affliction that his Son, Jesus, suffered on the cross into the redemptive victory of the resurrection, our Father stands ready to transform the afflictions that each of his children suffer into the redeeming privilege of partaking in the intimacy the Son shared with his Father in the midst of his experience on the cross. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3.10—11).

In summary, the Word of God points to various aspects of man’s present sufferings and shows that God has taken this evil that entered the world of man’s accord and transformed it into a force for good, if we will but embrace our sufferings by entrusting them over to God and his sovereign power.

Accordingly, a proper attitude toward suffering calls for a clear understanding of the following truths:

  • the world was originally created by God as a place for man to live in peace without having to experience suffering and death;
  • man’s sinful disobedience of God’s will caused suffering and death to enter this world;
  • the Christian faith does not demand that the believer eagerly seek out suffering;
  • the Christian faith does demand that the believer accept suffering in life; and
  • after a reasonable period of time to work through the initial feelings associated with suffering’s onset, man should begin the process of discerning what God is trying to teach him though his suffering and how it might be used for Godly purposes.

CONCLUSION. There is no better place to be than in the presence of Father God. To suffer is to inherently be in His presence, if we have previously laid claim to the conquering knowledge that, in our suffering, we are in fact partaking in the fellowship of the sufferings of the Christ (Romans 8.17). Insomuch as we know and trust this intimate connection between our suffering and the sufferings of Christ, we are empowered to suffer pain with the enduring dignity of Christ (2 Corinthians 1.5).

In closing, we return to the question with which we began: If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why is there suffering in this world? Answer: Through suffering, God calls our attention to our need for Christ; through suffering, God saved us from eternal death to eternal life by providing Christ as the Messiah; through suffering, God teaches us to grow more like Christ; through suffering, God empowers us to help save others; through suffering, God demonstrates his awesome power of healing; and through suffering, God blesses us here on earth as well as rewards us for eternity in heaven. To sum up, He calls, saves, teaches, empowers, heals, blesses and rewards those who seek Him in the midst of suffering (Matthew 6.33).

In the beginning, suffering was born out of evil. In the end, however, if man shows the courage to embrace suffering and seek God within it, to suffer is good. Let us encourage one another to embrace this beautiful paradox found in the mystery of his Word, trusting that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than man’s (Isaiah 55.9).

 

© 2018 the WORD runs deep publishing

[1] Our band’s final CD may be purchased at CDBaby.com or iTunes Music—search “One Tree Hill Enigma”. Previous CDs may be downloaded for FREE by going to onetreehill.com and following the prompts.

On Fire for the Lord

INTRODUCTION. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “to be on fire for the Lord”. Have you ever wondered what it means exactly? While this paper does not claim to have researched the etymological history of the phrase, the goal here is to show the phrase’s most likely Biblical context and that it has relevant application to the Christian experience today.

FIRES OF THE TRIUNE GOD. When we consider the three persons of the triune Godhead individually, a picture of fire and/or fiery light is found in descriptions of both their persons and purposes.

The Father. For example, Father God is described in the Word as a consuming fire worthy of reverence and awe (Hebrews 12.29). In fact, the voice of God was described as a blazing fire with black clouds and a deep, forbidding darkness that stretched all the way from the top of Mount Horeb to the very heavens (Deuteronomy 4.11—12). What’s more, Father God’s Holy Writ—the Word of God—is described as a hammer of fire that breaks a rock into pieces (Jeremiah 23.29).

God’s presence was also often depicted in terms of fire or fiery light. For example, His presence appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush that was never consumed (Exodus 3.2). In the Shekinah glory, God’s presence was said to be a pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the desert (Exodus 13.21), and at times a fire powerful enough to make Mount Sinai tremble violently (Exodus 19.18).

Father God’s presence is furthermore described as totally engulfed in a radiant fiery light in the Godly visions of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1.4, 27—28). And Daniel saw Father God on a throne flaming in fire and a river of fire actually flowing out from before him (Daniel 7.9—10). When approaching the Father’s throne, we draw near to him who lives in and clothes himself with immortal light that shines out the fiery light of his splendor and majesty—his glory (Psalm 104.1—2; 1 Timothy 6.16; Isaiah 60.1—3).

To draw close to the fiery presence of Father God is “to be set on fire for the Lord“.

The Son. When Jesus came he brought “a fire on earth” (Luke 12.49), intending to set our hearts ablaze with the passions of his heart to please the Father by knowing and obeying his Word (Luke 24.32; John 15.10). And Jesus will one day come again, this time to bring the blazing fire of Judgment that will consume all the wicked who have rebelled against the Spirit of God (Revelation 20.14—15).

The fiery passion of Christ already come is one of love. To know Christ is to embrace that mighty blazing Orb, the Morning Star, burning bright with the Majestic Glory of God rising in our hearts, like his resurrection from his baptism of fire by crucifixion (2 Peter 1.17—19). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3.16). He thus taught us that loving our brothers is how we may pass from death to life (1 John 3.14) and how we can set our hearts at rest in God’s presence (1 John 3.19). Anyone who believes in the Son of God has life in his Son—indeed, eternal life (1 John 5.10—11).

Only by and through Christ (John 17.25) is the truth of Father God fully revealed to us so that we may partake in the glory that the Father has given to the Son since before the creation of the world (John 17.24). Also, by and through Christ we are able to share in the fellowship of love that flows from Father to Son since eternity past (John 17.26). These revelations are incomprehensibly intimate. Listen to the passion that Christ’s heart has for those who believe in him.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am” (John 17.24). Note how Jesus does not hold back any portion of the Father for himself. He wants us to fully partake in the Father as if we were him! And further: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me” (John 17.22—23). In other words, whatever passes from Father to Son is immediately passed on to us so we might share in their absolute, complete unity. We are One with the Father through the Son. Indeed, the love Christ has for us believers is so fiery passionate that it literally makes our hearts burn within us (Luke 24.32).

The fiery passion of Christ to come is one of justice. In John’s vision of Christ’s return he saw Jesus riding on a white horse with hairs on his head as white as snow, but his eyes were like blazing fire and his face shone like the sun in all its brilliance (Revelation 1.14—16). Out of the mouth of Christ came a sharp double-edged sword as he led the charge of his army of angels into the final battle of this era. Jesus and his army of justice captured the beast and his false prophet (the anti-Christ & a servant) and threw them into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, after which he slayed all the kings of the earth and their armies and left them for dead to be gorged on by vultures (Revelation 19.15—21; see also 2 Thessalonians 1.6—7).

Satan will then be bound while Christ reigns on earth for a thousand years (Revelation 20.2), after which Satan will be loosed on earth once again for a short period of time (Revelation 20.7) until he is finally thrown into the lake of burning sulfur forever (Revelation 20.10). Then will come the Day of Judgment before the great white throne, where each person will be judged for eternity according to his faith and works (Revelation 20.15).

And so, on the one hand, Jesus is filled with a fiery, passionate heart of love and on the other he is filled with fiery eyes and a passionate heart of justice. To draw close to the fiery passions of Christ Jesus is to fuel the fire of God.

The Spirit. Scripture teaches that to be set on fire for the Lord and to maintain its intensity one must draw close to the Father by and through the Christ. The question then becomes—how does one draw close to the Father by and through the Christ given that Christ currently sits at the right hand of Father God in heaven? (Colossians 3.1). Enter the third person of the Triune God—the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of burning, the Spirit of fire! (John 15.26; Isaiah 4.4).

The Holy Spirit was associated with fire when John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3.11). The prophet Isaiah prophesied that the Spirit of God was “a glow of flaming fire” (Isaiah 4.5). On the day of Pentecost when the Spirit actually came to earth, the Holy Spirit was portrayed by Luke as “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of [the disciples]” (Acts 2.3). Also, we are commanded to fan into flames the gifts of God’s Spirit (2 Timothy 1.6—7). Finally, we are warned to never put out or squelch the Spirit’s fire within us (1 Thessalonians 5.19).

As Scripture clearly teaches, the Holy Spirit is often affiliated with fire. To remain on fire for the Lord, we must fan the flame of the Holy Spirit within us.

THE FIRES OF SANCTIFICATION THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. The question then becomes—how do we go about fanning the flame of God’s Spirit within us? Answer: discover the Spirit’s purpose and put it into application.

Every believer has been called to grow in holiness and purity—the sanctification of man (1 Peter 1.15—16). The Holy Spirit is the agent of our sanctification (1 Corinthians 6.11; 2 Thessalonians 2.13). By making known the presence, passion and forgiveness of God, the fire of the Spirit will in turn produce the purity of God within us.

The Fire of His Presence. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God indwelling the heart of every believer (Romans 8.9). In the old economy under the covenant of law, God filled the tabernacle with the fiery glory of his presence by indwelling the innermost room called the Holy of Holies (Exodus 25.8). The Spirit of God hovered just above the Ark of the Covenant where he would meet with Moses and subsequently the High Priests to give commands and answer their spiritual inquiries (Exodus 25.22). This fiery presence provided light and guidance to God’s people as they journeyed in the desert (Numbers 9.17—23). In like manner, when Solomon finished constructing and dedicated the temple building, the presence of God “filled the house of the LORD” in much the same manner and for the same reasons (1 Kings 8.10).

In the new economy under the covenant of grace in Christ, the moment we come to believe in Christ as our Savior, the Spirit of God indwells our innermost room, our holy of holies—that is, our spirit (Romans 8.9). God guides and convicts his children through the Holy Spirit dwelling in our very bodies—our body being the “tabernacle” and the “temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 5.1; 6.16). Therefore, as the glory of God filled the tabernacle/temple of old, so his glory through the flames of his Spirit fills the new temples of Christ—our bodies.

The Fire of His Passion. The Holy Spirit also stirs the passion of God in our hearts, and we must learn to nurture our passion for Christ in order to grow in holiness. Recall to mind the two disciples who unwittingly talked with the resurrected Jesus for several hours as they traveled down the road to Emmaus. Once they realized it had been the risen Christ that had so eloquently spoken to them about the Scriptures prophesying the coming Messiah, they asked each other: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24.32). The Spirit of truth in Jesus’ words had stirred the passions of their hearts.

Similarly, after the apostles received the baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2.3—4), the disciples carried within them a passion for Christ that lasted a lifetime, a passion that compelled them to speak the Word of God assertively and boldly despite being persecuted and even martyred because of it (Acts 4.31).

To fan those flames of passion and keep them burning within us (2 Timothy 1.6—7), there are three primary means of fueling these fires. First, we need to pray daily to be filled with his Spirit (Ephesians 5.18), and also “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5.19—20).

The second means of fanning the flames of God’s passion within is by walking in the Spirit, living by the Spirit (Galatians 5.16). “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5.25). This entails not only listening for the Spirit of truth’s voice, but also following its lead once we hear that voice. “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts'” (Hebrews 3.7—8). To follow the Spirit’s lead, we simply must combine the message of truth we hear from him with faith (Hebrews 4.2).

The third and final means of fanning the flames of the Spirit’s passions is to sow to the Spirit. “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6.7—8).

These flames of God’s passion can indeed burn forever within us as long as the fuel feeding them is the truth of his Word.

The Fire of His Forgiveness. Finally, to grow in holiness, a believer must continually work the process of forgiveness in his life—to acknowledge his sin, to ask for and receive God’s forgiveness, and to forgive others.

In the old economy of the covenant of works, the sacrifice of forgiveness at the altar had to be made on a regular basis in order to make atonement for the sins of the people. The fire would consume the sacrificial animal’s burnt offering and carry the swirling embers of burning flesh as a pleasing aroma up to God in heaven (Exodus 29.41). The altar can serve as a picture of our commitment to the Lord in the context of the new economy of grace, as well.

As believers in Christ, however, the apostle Paul implored us to offer our bodies, not an animal carcass, as “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12.1). The living sacrifice of our bodies are engulfed by the flames of the inextinguishable fire of the Holy Spirit, and the pleasing aroma to God is the broken spirit and/or contrite heart of a believer who has acknowledged his sin, has experienced Godly guilt, has bowed in prayer and is asking God for forgiveness (Psalm 51.17). These swirling embers of humility are indeed an aroma that only the flames of the Holy Spirit can produce.

In the old economy, the law of God rested in the Ark of the Covenant which was kept in the Holy of Holies within the sanctuary. Today, the Spirit facilitates this process of maintaining holiness through forgiveness by writing God’s laws on our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8.10). Internalizing God’s commands makes it easier (not easy) to live the way God wants us to, and living Godly lives is what enables us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This in turn is what empowers us to test and approve what God’s good and perfect will is, which is how we live in a Godly manner (Romans 12.2)—and so the process goes.

Finally, regardless of how well we take the required steps for forgiveness discussed above, we will not receive forgiveness from God if we do not also forgive those who have sinned against us (Matthew 6.15). This command comes directly from Jesus and is an unambiguous prerequisite to being purified through the process of forgiveness.

CONCLUSIONThe Fire of His Purity. As the silversmith uses fire to purge the impurities from precious metal, so God will use the Spirit to make known his presence within us, fan the flames of Godly passion within us, teach us to give and receive forgiveness, and thus ultimately cleanse and purify our faith, increasing our holiness (Psalm 66.10; Proverbs 17.3).

And so, to know God, who is a fiery presence, and to abide in Him, which is a fiery process, is what it means to be on fire for the Lord!

May the fires of the Lord burn within us forever!

 

© 2017 the WORD runs deep publishing

Abraham Departed

INTRODUCTION. The call of the Israelites and ultimately our Christian journey began when the Voice of God challenged Abraham (then Abram) to pick up his family and complete the journey his father had begun a few years earlier, to walk away from what had always been in his seventy-five year old life—his country, his people, his father’s household—and go forth to a land unknown where God promised to make Abraham and his family into a great nation by blessing him. “So Abraham departed” (Genesis 12.4, KJV).

We must not take for granted the profound significance of these few words, for they signal a radical departure from virtually everything that had, up to that point, ever occurred in the far-reaching evolution of mankind and its culture.

ABRAHAM’S WORLD. In Abraham’s time, with few variations, the prehistoric worldview and attending religions held that the Earth was a flat circle covered by the rotating dome of Heaven. In between was the great mediator, Air, in which lived the astrological bodies projecting the cyclical drama of Heaven which in turn predicted, and often dictated, life on Earth. The Sea surrounded Earth on all sides, and just beneath the flat round disc was the realm of the dead—Hades or hell.

Many Gods. Each of the great elements was a god. We can easily imagine the overwhelming impression the sparkling skies had on prehistoric man. The far away stars were mysterious, unattainable, higher than man and readily understood as unparalleled and transcendent—self-evidently the abode of the “most high”—the divine. Despite being more proximate, the closer elements like the sun, moon, air, and sea were still sufficiently aloof, not well understood and dangerously powerful, and thus also assigned the status of gods. Hence, Heaven was father, Earth was mother. As the insightful “interpreter” between Heaven and Earth, Air was often a significant god. The all-powerful Sea and its fickle ways was a god not to be trifled with. The Sun and the Moon—gods.

Static Worldview. The harmonious counterbalance to the cosmic drama’s mystery and inaccessibility, however, was its eternal order and predictability. Man’s perception of this cyclical precision no doubt engendered some feelings of security—in a sense, a measure of correspondence both from and with the gods. What’s more, the cyclical motions of the heavenly bodies provided man with a recurring drama of corruptible life on earth—its births, seasons, deaths, and regenerations.

This pattern eventually grew to become the static worldview—the sky was a revolving picture of the gods, a wheel-like pattern that was ever predictive of life for us mortals on earth. The only exceptions were the calamitous acts of destruction which man mistook for aberrations of anger on the part of the gods.

The Great Wheel of Life & Death. This worldview’s corresponding religious paradigm was known as the Great Wheel of Life and Death. All of life unfolded within the confines of the Great Wheel, and like the stars traversing the skies, all of mankind was destined to walk the Great Wheel in more or less the same direction and manner.

This resulted in continuous suppression of the optimistic notion that each man is a separate identity, free to maneuver in space and time. Such sentiment succumbed to the constant, herding motion of the Great Wheel until each man was rendered indistinguishable from the next, like the Muslims trudging around the Kaaba stone at Mecca. Time was a circle endlessly turning on itself and all life, therefore, was a predictable pattern devoid of freedom and creativity. In other words, everything that had been simply came around again—each man’s fate was fixed by the rote, ritualistic dance of the gods in the stars.

JOURNEY OF FAITH. This was the world in which Abraham had breathed and lived the greater portion of his seventy-five years. The monotonous grind of that timeless Wheel must have felt like the pump of his heart pushing life-blood through his veins. Perhaps now—surely now—we can more fully appreciate the monumental leap of faith Abraham took when he heard the Voice inside his heart and, upon its command, departed from his home.

The Quiet Voice Inside. For Abraham no longer heard the gods speaking to him through steady rains or blinding thunderstorms, through abundant crops or drought and famine, through conquering military victories or devastating defeats. Here was a man who heard and trusted a God speaking to him in a singular, disembodied Voice found inside his heart. How on earth did this man of the Wheel hear the quiet, internal voice of God after seventy-five years of listening for Him in the external roar of thunder and earthquake?

Breaking Free From the Wheel. Not only did Abraham hear this quiet, singular Voice, he also heeded the call of it to break free from the Great Wheel. There is no way to exaggerate how difficult this would have been for Abraham to do. First of all, it was not just his seventy-five years of wheel-walking that Abraham defied, it was eons of the greater wisdom of humanity that he literally just … up and walked away from.

Also, Abraham was most likely scorned as a lunatic and admonished by his contemporaries not to journey, but to sit and meditate on the meaningless flow of time until time once again turned on itself, crumbling into the dusty bones that made up the spokes of the Great Wheel of Life and Death. But the true call of the LORD is wholly irresistible, and so Abraham departed.

Into the Great Unknown. Thus began Abraham’s journey of faith into the great unknown. In a vision, the Voice of God beckoned Abraham to “look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then God said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15.5—6). Abraham believed God’s Promise and it was credited to him as righteousness. What happened between God and Abraham that day would forever change the world.

Infinite Points of Light. In a simple phrase contained within the Promise—“if indeed you can count them”—the Voice of God had ever so gently revealed to Abraham the profound truth that he could not in fact count the stars. This, of course, blew the roof off the “few thousand stars” contained within the rotating dome of the static worldview and the Great Wheel. The starry host was not a finite dome circling the flat earth in wheel-like fashion—at best implying eternal transcendence of the heavens. The Voice was telling Abraham the sparkling heavens were in fact eternally transcendent—infinite points of light that surround the rotating globe of earth.

Linear View of Time. God had called Abraham to a new paradigm that shattered the cyclical views of time and history that were governed by fixed gods of inevitable fate—forlorn and fruitless, stifling and sterile. The first great Promise of the Christian doctrine offered instead a linear view of time and history moving toward their consummation in the sovereign purposes of their Creator, in which the freedom to explore this earth—indeed, the universe—was given to creatures.

Free to Choose. Moreover, Abraham was learning the soul of man and the path he takes are neither confined nor coerced by the stars or the Great Wheel—man is free to choose his path under the heavens. In fact, man is blessed with infinite, inexhaustible possibilities of unique and creative discovery that ultimately lead us back home to the praise and glory of the Creator God. Abraham was the first man to catch a glimpse of this inspiring hope the Creator planned for us by way of the Promise (Hebrews 11.1).

CLOSING THOUGHTS. In closing, do not think for a second that modern man is immune from the confining and impotent paradigm of Abraham’s day. The corrupt paradigms of our day will be anything but obvious to us, insidiously hidden in the “wisdom” of our modern culture. Indeed, have we not, under the auspices of scientific progress, digressed into thinking that “if we cannot see it, it must not exist”? Like Abraham, we must first listen for and then in faith trust the still, small Voice inside our heart over and above that boisterous, vainglorious voice extolling the virtues of higher education and knowledge.

May we forever have the courage of Abraham to depart from the darker paradigms of our day and go where that still, small Voice prompts us—the glorious journey into the great unknown of the true light that brings hope to every man (1 John 1.5).

The Capstone Christ

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118.22—23).

There has long been debate among theologians as to whether our lead text refers to David/Israel or to the Christ, or to both, a question to which we presently turn.

DAVID/ISRAEL.  On the one hand, our text appears to apply to David as he indeed experienced rejection before ultimately becoming the capstone of God’s building, his chosen people, the Israelite nation.

Despite God pointing out that He was their leader, the Israelite people clamored for a traditional king and God turned them over to their desires with the anointing of Saul as king over Israel. Not long afterwards, however, Saul began to disobey the LORD’s commands causing hardships for Israel and, consequently, God rejected Saul as king, instructing Samuel, the prophet, to anoint David king of Israel, which he promptly did.

David’s rejection, however, came at the hands of an extremely jealous Saul who would not stand down as king and, despite David’s unrequited support of Saul, he tried to kill David, or have him killed, for several years following David’s anointing. After several failed murderous attempts on David’s life and a huge military defeat to the Philistines under Saul’s leadership, rather than battle the Philistines to his death, Saul succumbed to the evil spirit that tormented him and fell on his own sword, killing himself.

At last, David was installed as king of Israel, but his rejection lingered on for seven and a half agonizing years as he was forced to deal with persisting civil wars between the houses of Saul and David. This resulted in a kingdom divided, but David endured and the people grew to love him, and ultimately he became the capstone that united all the tribes and families of Israel for thirty-three years of national prosperity and growth.

After David’s kingship and his son Solomon’s Godly rule, however, the nation of Israel could be considered the rejected head stone referred to in our lead text. The powers of the world were jealous of Israel’s past success and grew to despise its existence, continually conspiring to bring about its destruction. To make matters worse, many of Israel’s kings allowed pagan influences to seep into and weaken God’s house. Consequently, God’s hand was removed from Israel and its power and authority were diminished to the point where surrounding nations scoffed at “these feeble Jews”. In spite of this, however, God had destined this lowly nation to a place of honor among the kingdoms of the world.

And so, after enduring many hardships, including the fall of Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem, the stone by stone dismantling of the temple of God, and the exile of the Israelite people into enemy hands, Israel was eventually restored. Israel was ultimately advanced by God to be the capstone of both past eminence and future prominence—the former as Christ is the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, a descendant of David (Revelation 5.5; Romans 1.3; 2 Timothy 2.8), and the latter as the capital city that is to come, and enduring city coming down out of heaven from God, a beautiful bride and a very precious jewel, the Holy City, the new Jerusalem (Hebrews 13.14; Revelation 21.2 & 11).

THE CHRIST.  And yet, we know for certain that our text is applicable to Jesus the Christ, the prophesied Messiah, because Jesus himself quoted this very Scripture and said unequivocally that it was about him. When Jesus was here on earth and had begun his healing and teaching ministry, one day he shared a parable with the Pharisees about a vineyard owner whose tenants refused to hand over the harvested fruit, even killing the owner’s son and servants who had been sent to collect that year’s yield. Jesus then, right there on the temple court steps, got the Pharisees to publicly declare that the tenants should not have rejected the vineyard owner’s son and servants as they had a legitimate claim of right to the harvest and, furthermore, that God should punish them accordingly.

Jesus astutely turned the Pharisees’ own declarative judgment against them by quoting Psalm 118.22, asserting that it was them, the Pharisees, who were right then at that moment rejecting the very stone referred to in Psalm 118—he, Jesus, was that stone. By making this claim, Jesus was also implying that it was he who would ultimately be revealed as the capstone, the prophesied Messiah of God’s chosen people (Matthew 21.42—45). The chief priest and the Pharisees were furious at being called out by Jesus and wanted him arrested, but they were scared of the people who were drawn to Jesus’ powerful words and obvious authority.

To be sure, the Jewish scribes, priests and Pharisees had rejected Jesus with inexorable disdain. They saw no excellence in Jesus upon which to build their church. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was a stone of another quarry, certainly not someone who could be made to fit in with their dogmatic and legalistic brand of Judaism.

Therefore, though straight out of the Hebrew scrolls, they disavowed the wisdom in Jesus’ doctrines and ordinances. They refrained from listening to him preach unless it was to catch him in a trap, which they failed at miserably. Needless to say, they did not preach about Jesus, even precluding others from doing it. In short, the Pharisees refused to own Jesus as the stone, rejecting him out of hand and, moreover, trampled upon this stone when they chose the robber and thief, Barabbas, over Christ.

The Apostle Peter reaffirmed that Christ is the capstone referred to in Psalm 118. In the book of Acts, when speaking to the Sanhedrin, the overruling religious body of which the Pharisees were one sect, Peter called them out as the ones who had crucified Jesus Christ, stating that Christ was “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone” (Acts 4.11). Note how Peter substituted the word “you” for the original “the” in referring to “the/you” builders who rejected the capstone Christ—emphatically reasserting Jesus’ accusation that Psalm 118.22 prophetically exposed the Jewish religious leaders’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

By humbling himself in compliance with his Father’s design, Jesus indeed became the head stone, the corner stone, the capstone—the foundation of our hope, the center of our unity, and the cause of our living. “For to me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1.21). As the chief corner stone, Christ is the head of the body, exalted above all principalities and powers, bringing both strength and beauty to his church.

This, of course, was all accomplished by and in accordance with the good and perfect will of Father God (Ephesians 1.11). The Father sent him (John 5.36), sealed him (John 6.27), and God’s hand was with him throughout the entire undertaking (Acts 2.22—24). In like manner, from the first to the last, Jesus sought out and did his Father’s will (John 6.38), even to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2.8). Because of the Father’s plan and the Son’s obedience, Christ was raised and made the capstone, and our redemption was wrought. This, the most amazing of all God’s wondrous works, ought to be and truly is marvelous in the eyes of all believers!

CONCLUSION.  In closing, one would be hard pressed, I believe, to show that our text does not refer to David and the nation of Israel, both of which experienced significant rejection before undergoing advancement at the hands of the Lord’s will. Additionally, Peter quotes our lead text a second time referring to Christ as the “living” Stone, the cornerstone who is chosen by, and precious to, Father God. Moreover, says Peter, those who trust in this capstone will not be put to shame (1 Peter 2.4—8).

In the end, it is reasonable and prudent to conclude our principal text refers to both David/Israel and to the Christ. After all, the principle underlying our text is that Christ, the true representative of Israel, vicariously undertook and accomplished the very mission originally assigned to Israel. In light of this, one would expect our text to apply in like manner to both Israel and Christ, and it in fact does.

Is it Good to Hate? (Romans 12.9)

Is it good to hate? If understood and applied properly, it is absolutely good to hate. In fact, it is demanded of all believers! An integral part of loving is a healthy hate for all that is evil. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good” (Romans 12.9).

SINCERE LOVE REQUIRES HATING WHAT IS EVIL. The first thing to note is this Scripture implies that anyone who does not hate what is evil and cling to what is good cannot truly or sincerely love. Conversely, one cannot actually or fully love unless he both hates what is evil and clings to what is good. But why do we have to hate anything in order to love?

To begin, we know that “God is love” (1 John 4.7). The Apostle John is not saying that God is like love or filled with love, or that God has love in him. It is much more than any of those—God is love. At the core of Father God’s very nature is love. First and for all eternity, he loves his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ (John 17.24); and then, at the dawn of time, this fountain of love brimmed over into Creation and we humans, of course, are the primary beneficiary of this love (Colossians 1.15—20).

Now, it is inherently true that one cannot choose to do a certain thing and actually do it unless he first knows what that thing is. Applied to the issue at hand, this means we cannot choose to actually love something or someone without first knowing what love is. Given that God is love, we cannot know love without knowing God. Indeed, to know love is to know God—to express love is to express God.

From this, we can extrapolate the following hypothesis—sincere or pure love cannot in any way contradict what we know to be God’s nature, attributes, thoughts or desires. Romans 12.9 holds one cannot sincerely love unless he both hates what is evil and clings to or loves what is good, so we need to ascertain if God indeed both hates what is evil and loves what is good.

Psalm 45 is an illustrious prophecy of Messiah the King and quoted in Hebrews:

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy” (Hebrews 1.8).

Knowing that this Scripture is talking about Christ and that Christ is one with the Father (John 1.1), we can deduce that God loves righteousness (doing God’s will, i.e., what is good) and hates wickedness (doing what is evil). Also, Psalm 97.10 says “those who love the LORD hate evil.”

Scripture teaches that God is love and he hates what is evil and loves what is good. The logical extension of these principles affirms the truth of the Romans 12.9 exhortation that we, too, must hate what is evil and cling to what is good if we want to express the pure love of God.

TO HATE WHAT IS EVIL. What exactly does it mean for us to hate what is evil? Perhaps it is best to start by emphasizing two things it is not.

First, hating what is evil does not include hating men. We may hate what a person does, but we must not hate the person who does it. The Lord Jesus exhorted his disciples to love all men, even those who hated them (Luke 6.27—28). Our Christlike example is to be kind to the ungrateful and wicked, and never repay hatred with hatred. We are to be merciful to sinners, just as our Father is merciful to us (Luke 6.35—36). If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4.12).

Secondly, while it is true that Christians are to have a strong dislike or hatred for evil, we are also drawn to have a deep, abiding love for God and what is good. Therefore, a healthy hatred of all that is evil must never be characterized by a malicious attitude. Accordingly, we should guard against our hatred for evil ever playing any part in discord, jealousy, fits of rage, dissensions or factions; nor should it ever support the sin of selfish ambition. If any of these has occurred, then our hatred has indeed become a sinful hatred of the flesh (Galatians 5.20) and is, therefore, incompatible with the Christlike spirit of hating what is evil.

In short, to hate what is evil is to despise what God despises, to abhor what he abhors. All sin is hated by God. Because he is holy and pure and altogether apart from sin in his nature and person, God’s total opposition and aversion to sin is quite simply required for him to remain pure. He takes no pleasure in hating the evil of sin, it is simply “not him”. As we love God and gain understanding from him, then we too will hate sin as he does (Psalm 97.10; Psalm 119.104), The ONLY pleasure we should take in hating sin or evil, however, is that of pleasing God.

We should also hate the sphere of darkness in which the unbeliever lives and operates (John 3.19—20; 1 John 2.11). This sphere of darkness is the product of Satan’s hand and his dominion (2 Corinthians 4.4). Any person who lives in this darkness, however, is not necessarily doomed to its shadows forever—one can be rescued from it and brought into the light (Ephesians 5.8).

Finally, believers in Christ should also despise Satan himself and his demons. Satan is the author of all sin and evil, he who embodies what is not of God. Unlike those who do not yet believe and can be rescued from darkness, there is no hope of redemption for Satan and his demons—they have already been judged and merely await sentencing. Their sole purpose is to lure us away from God (1 Peter 5.8). Certainly God hates “the abomination that causes desolation” (Daniel 12.11). Simply put, to love God is to hate Satan.

WHY WE HATE WHAT IS EVIL. In what way will hating what is evil benefit us? Thankfully, God provides us with some understanding of the practical benefits of hating what is evil.

First, to hate what is evil helps us cling to what is good. These two precepts are not mere tautology, but were created to act in synergy. To hate the darkness helps us see, desire and cling to the light. To love and abide in the light helps us see and avoid the darkness (John 3.20—21). But in a culture that increasingly believes the difference between good and evil is not a spiritual reality but an intellectual distinction that is social and psychological in nature, it would be hard to overemphasize our need to hate what is evil in order to maintain a balanced perspective between these two precepts.

There is always a risk that love will weaken the condemnation of what is wrong and evil, especially for those who do not believe these are in fact spiritual concepts. And so, in a sincere desire (if not zeal) to love and do good, modern liberality appears to have lost sight of the fact that evil stands in direct contravention to love and good. Thus, for example, it is not uncommon for today’s convicted criminal to be pitied as much as blamed, and our prison system has slowly become as much or more about rehabilitation than punishment. It’s not that I’m against educating and socially elevating the wrong-doers of society, quite the contrary, as long as that agenda does not supersede the function of punishment. Indeed, accepting and enduring the punishment handed down for crimes committed is the first step toward actual rehabilitation.

A related threat to the delicate balance between hating what is evil and clinging to what is good stems from the now well-publicized misappropriations of this exhortation “in the name of Christ”—abominations such as the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the Ku Klux Clan, and the neo-Nazi skinhead movement, to name a few. These distortions of the command to hate what is evil, coupled with media misinformation and/or exaggeration about them, have led to expanding persecution for anyone who dares to publicly express views consistent with the scriptural command to hate evil. To “hate” anything, even evil things, is becoming taboo in today’s world and is often frowned upon, if not ridiculed. “All hate is wrong” has become the insidious battle cry of an increasingly spiritless culture—all in the name of love, of course.

As a result, when presented with an opportunity to express our hate of evil things, we Christians often cower in silence or take the path of least resistance with half-mumbled euphemisms. While it is true that few, if any, Christians are called to actively seek out persecution for their faith—all Christians are called to embrace such persecution when it presents itself, and not just for God’s glory in this case, but for our own sake, as well. By not expressing our views about hating evil, the delicate balance between the two precepts of this exhortation is disrupted and our ability to cling to what is good is proportionately weakened. To lovingly express our views about hating what is evil is more challenging than ever today, but speak we must.

Another reason to express our specific views about hating evil is that it often provides us an opportunity to witness our faith in general. If handled properly, the very fact that all “hate speak” is becoming taboo can be creatively turned on its head and used as a conversation starter that naturally leads to discussing God and faith. There is nothing wrong with being “crafty” as long as our motives are good.

CONCLUSION. In closing, please keep in mind that the primary purpose of this writing is to emphasize the more difficult teaching that believers are actually required to hate all that is evil. As discussed, we are also required to cling to all that is good. In practice, by word or deed, life will present many more opportunities for us to cling to something good than hate something evil, all the more reason to keep reminding ourselves of the need to hate evil, as well.

As always, Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Word of God provides us with an enduring example of how this command can be lived out. As he entered Jerusalem for what he knew was the last time and with the sober knowledge of why he came, traveling across a bed of cloaks and palm branches spread in homage to the path he followed and hearing the hails of praise from those attending his triumphal entry, one could easily imagine that Jesus would have preferred to cling to what good there was in this humble honor bestowed upon him. But that is not what life presented to him.

Upon entering his Father’s house of worship, he was assaulted by the stench of greed oozing from the inflated prices of the money changers and those selling sacrificial animals—abusing many worshipers who came with poor means and a pure heart to worship his Father. Jesus hated the evil he saw and expressed his indignation by overturning tables and verbally exposing their iniquities to all who could hear! Soon after, however, Jesus let go of his anger and embraced the opportunity to heal the blind and the lame that came to him there in the temple. By doing so, Jesus heaped loving coals upon the exposed greed by clinging to the good of caring for those in need (Matthew 21.12—17).

Jesus’ loathing of evil was undeniable and absolute, and equally intense and pure was his clinging to that which is good. In his obedience to both commands and the harmony that blossoms between them, Jesus makes God known to us, he makes love known to us—he loves us perfectly, showing us how to love perfectly.

© 2014 by Patrick Lloyd—the WORD runs deep publishing  (TWRD Short # 024)

This Lump of Clay (God has mercy & God hardens—Romans 9)

“Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9.18). In this verse, Paul could not have been more unequivocal and yet most of us struggle to fully understand it, much less accept it at face value.

While researching this issue, I came across a blog site written by a Catholic priest who rather elegantly takes the position that I think most theologians take with respect to the issue of “God hardening Pharaoh’s heart”. It’s a position with which I respectfully and passionately disagree. This blog invites reader response. The following is my response which is currently “awaiting moderation”.

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With all due respect, Msgr., I disagree with your position and hope you have the courage to share this with your readers.

Your position is that God “hardening Pharaoh’s heart” was not God exercising his sovereign will over and above and in the place of Pharaoh’s free will, i.e., God did not cause Pharaoh to do something he wasn’t going to do anyway. Your position appears to state that God hardening Pharaoh’s heart is “voluntary” on the part of Pharaoh–in other words, in no way did God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart temporarily supplant, displace or override Pharaoh’s free will–indeed, “God hardens in such a way that he uses [Pharaoh’s] own will, whom he hardens, for the executing of his judgment and his acceptance that [Pharaoh’s] will against him is definitive.”

You go on to cite in support of this position that it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart in the first 5 plagues and “it is only after this repeated hardening of his own heart, that the Exodus text shifts, and speaks of God as the one who hardens.” You state that only after “Pharaoh’s repeated demonstration of his own hardness” does God in effect “‘cement the deal’ as a kind of sovereign judgment on Pharaoh.”

If I am understanding you correctly, your position implies that 1) Pharaoh’s repeated self-imposed hardness to not let the Israelites go, 2) coupled with God’s foreknowledge that Pharaoh’s disposition against God’s will would not change, 3) results in God “declaring and permitting” Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened in some definitive way. Wow! I’ve never considered God’s sovereignty so passive in its nature. On the contrary, I’ve always thought of it as authoritative—clearly something that stands over and above man’s free will if it so chooses.

My first question is—given your definition of what it means for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart—what is the point of Scripture making a distinction between “Pharaoh hardening his own heart” and “God hardening Pharaoh’s heart”? Your explanation dilutes the latter so much that it becomes a “distinction without a difference”. According to you, Pharaoh would not have let the Israelites go anyway. God just “cemented” this reality in some “definitive way”. What exactly does that mean? If something’s going to happen anyway, and I am God and therefore know in my omniscience it’s going to happen, how can anything I do make it happen in a more “definitive way”? The bottom line is, given your interpretation, God “hardening Pharaoh’s heart” made absolutely no practical difference in the outcome of events. So again, I ask, what is the point of God stating he’s the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Doesn’t your position actually make God’s “sovereign will” look rather impotently bound by man’s free will?

It certainly does not set the Lord apart like God says it will in Exodus 7. God said “but I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you” (Exodus 7.3—4). Under your interpretation, God sounds disingenuous in this verse, if not braggadocios. Doesn’t it sound like God is “taking credit” for something that would have happened anyway, given Pharaoh’s disposition?

I suggest for consideration an entirely different interpretation of events. Pharaoh’s own arrogant stubbornness propelled his unwillingness to do God’s will through the first 5 plagues. After the 6th plague, however, I believe Scripture implies that Pharaoh would have broken down and let the Israelites go (this does not speak one way or the other to the issue of whether Pharaoh would have fully repented and turned to the Lord, though I assume not). But 5 plagues was not the full measure of God’s will and plan, and thus, in his sovereign will and authority, God intervened into human affairs and propped Pharaoh up by “hardening his heart so that he would not listen to Moses and Aaron” for another 5 plagues and then some. God continued hardening Pharaoh’s heart until the full measure of his will and plan regarding these events was accomplished—that his name be proclaimed in all the earth as the one who freed his people from Egyptian slavery. In other words, God hardening Pharaoh’s heart indeed changed the course of events that free will on its own accord would have rendered.

I don’t understand why people resist this notion. It appears that God works his sovereign will almost exclusively in conjunction with man’s free will. Occasionally, however, God deems it necessary to interpose his will over and against man’s free will. We Christians do not seem to have a problem with this notion as it applies to the immaculate conception. To put it bluntly, God imposed himself on Mary’s free will by impregnating her virgin egg with his Holy Spirit, indeed, while she was engaged to be married to Joseph. Although God told Mary this would happen, he certainly did not ask for her or Joseph’s consent in the matter.

How is the immaculate conception ANY different from God imposing himself on Pharaoh’s free will? On the one hand, God imposed himself on the free will of Pharaoh to deliver his people from bondage to Egyptian slavery by revealing himself as the one true God with the power to perform such miraculous signs of plagues, to establish himself as the Father of the law that he would soon deliver through the hands and labor of the Israelites. On the other hand, God imposed himself on the free will of Mary to deliver his people from bondage to sin by revealing himself as the one true Light with the power to perform such miraculous signs of healing, to establish himself as the Father of grace that he would soon deliver though the blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Granted, Mary came to see her will being imposed upon by God as a wonderful blessing—that Pharaoh did not do the same is not God’s fault or responsibility.

Yes, I would imagine that God’s foreknowledge of Pharaoh’s evil disposition did factor into his decision to supplant Pharaoh’s free will—God is a fair and just God. But we must understand that God’s sovereignty rules over and comes before everything else, including man’s free will. And sometimes, though we may not see it clearly, we are called to simply trust in God’s fairness and justice. Paul reminds us of this when, right after referring to God making use of Pharaoh to accomplish his very purposes, he states unequivocally that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9.18). This is both a frightening and wonderful reality for Christians to embrace. In short, this verse reminds us who God really is—Creator AND Ruler of the Universe!

Please don’t do what the moderns do and dilute the latter part of this Scripture into some meaningless concoction that is “always consistent” with man’s free will. Poppycock! God’s sovereignty is not bound by man’s free will. Cannot the Potter do what he wants with this lump of clay we call fallen mankind? Who are we to question God’s actions or motives (Romans 9.21)? Indeed, shouldn’t every believer stand ready in fear and trembling for God to use him or her in whatever way he chooses? Even if it be “the way of the Pharaoh”, then we should praise God for using us to accomplish his great purposes!

 © 2014 by Patrick Lloyd—the WORD runs deep publishing  (TWRD Short # 023)

What Do We Seek First? (Matthew 6.33)

Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33). “These things” to which Christ referred are the means of living here on earth—food, clothing, shelter—the blessed provision of Father God. Not to mention air to breath and our lungs that once again draw it in—life itself and those creatures with whom we share it. So, to maintain a Godly perspective and live accordingly will not only provide us assurance of tomorrow, it will also lead to blessings today. In other words, we taste of the kingdom to come … today.

So why is it that even if I’m not living an actively sinful life—I’m not worshipping Buddha, for example, or disrespecting my elders; I’m not murdering or committing adultery, stealing or lying—I can still find myself discontent with God’s provision today? That is to say, why do I have to “work” at being grateful for his many blessings? The answer is usually because I’ve become focused on the blessings or lack thereof instead of remaining focused on He who grants or withholds them.

All that is required to drive a wedge between us and God is that our perspective or priorities become skewed. Consider the Israelites who were delivered from Egyptian slavery under circumstances that made it clear their savior was the Lord of the Universe. Ten frighteningly miraculous plagues had been cast on cue upon the Egyptians in order to secure their release. When their escape was in jeopardy because the Pharaoh had changed his mind and chased after the Israelites in the desert, they were saved once again by the parting of the Red Sea. Who but the Lord of the Universe could have done such things as these?

At first the Israelites worshipped their deliverer with trust and gratitude in their hearts. Eventually, however, they started focusing on what they didn’t have—fresh water upon demand, meat instead of manna, the guaranteed strength and numbers to defeat their enemies in battle—instead of focusing on what they did have—the God of the Universe as their Lord and Savior. The inevitable result was their trust in God and contentment waned, while their fear and grumbling increased.

Satan has used this strategy against God’s people from the beginning. He cannot have our salvation (Romans 8.38—39), so he tries to rob us of our joy in salvation (Romans 7.23). Our salvation is in the Lord, and so will our joy be in him! Yes, it is true that while we are here on earth, the Lord blesses us through means and creatures. But, oh, what a clever but subtle trick of Satan to insidiously ease us into focusing upon these means and creatures instead of upon the Creator and Grantor of them.

That is precisely how he deceived Adam and Eve to commit the first sin! He massaged Eve’s visceral nature by getting her to focus not on the Creator of the fruit of the tree of good and evil, but on the fruit itself. He manipulated Eve’s intellectual nature by getting her to focus not upon he who gave the commandment not to eat of the fruit, but on the commandment itself. The moment we cast our gaze and desire horizontally rather than vertically, we’re bound to do the devil’s bidding, for he is “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” of this world (Ephesians 2.2).

Yes, we are to be thankful for the means and creatures he blesses us with, but they are not to become the focus of our eye or the desire of our heart. Only God deserves such devotion! “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If we seek first “these things”, we forego God’s kingdom today.

© 2014 by Patrick Lloyd—the WORD runs deep publishing  (TWRD Short # 022)

Abiding in Christ (John 15.1-10)

INTRODUCTION.  In John 15.4, we have the divine imperative to abide in Christ when Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” Either on the way to Gethsemane or still in the upper room, Christ taught the disciples the essential need of abiding in him by employing the metaphor of the vine and branches. “I am the vine; you are the branches” (v. 5). “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (v. 4).

The questions then become: what does it mean to remain in Christ? why should we do it? and, how do we go about abiding in Christ?

WHAT IS ABIDING IN CHRIST.  So what does it mean to remain in Christ? The NT verb translated “to abide” or “to remain” is used both transitively and intransitively. The intransitive sense is applicable here and it means to continue in a place or state in which one now is, to reside, to last, especially in the face of trial (cf. Luke 8.27; Acts 27.31; John 15.5; 1 Corinthians 3.14).

From Christ’s metaphor we see that to remain in him means to stay healthily connected to him like a branch to the vine. As the branch stays connected enough to be able to draw upon the life giving nutrients of the vine that lead to bearing fruit, we must stay connected to Christ closely enough to draw upon his resources that lead to our fulfilling our purpose in life.

To remain in Christ is: first, to accept Jesus as Savior by believing in him in the first place (John 6.56); second, to continue and persevere in believing in Jesus as Savior (1 John 2.24); and third, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12.2).

WHY ABIDE IN CHRIST.  Why should we abide in Christ? As the metaphor emphasizes, we remain in the vine so we are able to bear the desired fruit. “No branch can bear fruit itself; it must remain in the vine” (v. 4). The organic union with the vine means life for the branches. A branch that remains well grafted into the vine will draw upon its life giving nutrients and in turn bear fruit. Apart from Christ, however, we can do nothing (v. 5). Any branch that is not truly connected to the vine withers on the vine, becomes dead wood and will be cut off and thrown into the fire (v. 6).

Moreover, if we remain in Christ and his words remain in us, then “ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (v. 7). This can be misconstrued as endorsing a “name it and claim it” mentality. What it actually means is if we remain in Christ and his words in us, then our minds will be “conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8.29) and our prayers will therefore conform to the Father’s will, and thus what we ask for will be given us.

The fruitfulness of all Christians is to participate in the conversion of souls to the glory of God (Romans 15.16). By our good works, many are brought to glorify our Father who is in heaven, and on that great Day, we will share in the joy of our Lord. In order to be fruitful, we must abide in Christ, we must keep our union with him through faith, and do all we do in the virtue of that union. Indeed, the Father is the Gardner who nurtures and cultivates the Vine (v. 1), and so to be one with the vine is to be one with the Father.

HOW TO ABIDE IN CHRIST.  How do we abide or remain in Christ? All believers are motivated by the wonder of Jesus’ love which is patterned after the Father’s love in its quality and extent. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (v. 9). Remaining in Christ’s love may seem mystical but Jesus made it quite a concrete concept. Obedience to the Father’s commands is the same for a believer as it was for the Son. “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (v. 10). To obey his commands, we must attend to his word, pray and serve others. Moreover, we must be willing to be pruned so we can be even more fruitful (v. 2). God disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12.6), and further does it for our own good, that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12.10). Active dependence and loving obedience are the proper paths for all Christians to stay grafted to the vine and bear the desired fruit.

CONCLUSION. The test of whether we are abiding in the vine is whether or not we are bearing good fruit. If we are not abiding, we won’t bear fruit; if we are, we will. Either we are abiding at any given moment, or we are not. There is no in between.

 

© 2014 by Patrick Lloyd—the WORD runs deep publishing  (TWRD Short # 021)

JOY IN THE MIDST OF TRIALS?

James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1.2). Do you grit your teeth when you read or hear this verse and wonder why on earth God would ask this of us? You are not alone and yet, there it is, it’s not going away, and it poses a monumental challenge for all believers in Christ. Many would argue that to respond to all our trials, especially the tough ones, with joy in our heart is unreasonably optimistic and simply impossible to genuinely accomplish. Let’s explore what this command actually says and consider why and how we might go about accomplishing this great challenge.

JOY IN THE MIDST OF TRIALS.  What does God’s command from James actually mean? The first thing to note is that James did not tell us to be joyful for the trials themselves but in the trials. This is a very important distinction. To not be joyful for the trial allows us to express any anger or frustrations we may have with God when tough trials overwhelm us. To be joyful in the trial, however, requires that we realize trials are not a punishment from God or a disaster beyond the poise of humanity, but are something that should paradoxically prompt an attitude of joy. Furthermore, this joy should be pure joy, not just some joy mixed with sorrow. Many people consider it a joy when they avoid or come out of their trials, but James said to count it all joy in the midst of trials. The question then becomes – how does one find pure joy in the midst of trials?

MOTIVE.  The first thing to always check in our Christian walk is the motive in our hearts. If our motive in finding joy in our trials is simply the selfish avoidance of pain, then it’s hard not to be cynical and see it as anything more than disingenuous folly. If our motive, however, is belief in the truth of the Word of God and a desire to affirm its claims as a way to glorify God, then finding joy in our trials is worthy of consideration for the following two reasons. A Biblically grounded motive has as its foundation the Creator of the Universe, more virtuous and credible than the flimsy foundation of selfishness. Furthermore, a Biblically grounded motive comes with the Holy Spirit, a source both for understanding God’s will in this command and the power to carry it out. A Biblically grounded motive can thus lead to the confidence, the understanding and the power to carry out this ambitious command.

THE RESULTING GOOD.  The primary way to find joy in our trials is to truly believe that ultimately God is working through them for our good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28). God has a plan to prosper all believers, and he does this in and through all things, including trials.

To find pure joy in the midst of trials, however, we must not only wholly believe the promise found in Romans 8.28, we must focus solely upon it in the midst of our trials. Therefore, to think or say, “This is an awful thing that’s happening to me, but I choose to look forward to the good things God is going to do with it” is still short of the mark of what we believers are called to do. Our challenge is to go beyond even this and, in the midst of awful circumstances, move forward with confidence and fully lay claim to the good that will come out of them to the point that the circumstances fade into the periphery.

It is our response to difficult circumstances that is paramount, not the circumstances themselves. The actual circumstances must be relegated to the peripheral vision of the soul by our relentless focus on the prime center – the good of God that is to come. If we persist, we will be amazed at how even our view of the peripheral circumstances can be transformed from “what is” into “what is hoped for”.  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

The question then becomes – do we really believe God is going to turn this awful circumstance into something good? If so, doesn’t this awful thing cease being awful the moment we in faith wholly believe this is true? We know, of course, this awful thing in and of itself is not good, as it is the painful consequences of a fallen and decaying world. But we also know God created this world and stands ready to teach and grow us right through the heart of this awful thing. Our faith that this actually will happen and our longing for the coming Godly growth is what beckons us to now in effect look upon this awful thing as a Godly thing – to refashion through faith our present feelings of anger and sorrow into sincere gratitude and joy. This is our faith overcoming our feelings.

It’s important that you know I am not suggesting we simply deny that awful things are happening to us. There is a fine line, but critical distinction, between simply denying the awful things happening to us, and laying claim to the good God promises to deliver out of the ashes of these awful things. The former denies present reality, while the latter intently focuses on the future good that will result from this very real present reality.

THE RESULTING PERSEVERANCE.  The good that God promises us in Romans 8.28 can take on many forms, all according to his will and purpose. James, however, specifies one consistent pure quality that is produced by all trials that are rightly taken – perseverance (James 1.3). Trials that are endured with faith yield steadfastness in the face of difficulties. But it doesn’t end there. Perseverance, when developed, produces the ultimate qualities of spiritual maturity and fulfillment (v. 4). And so, trials can be faced with joy because, when infused with faith, they result in perseverance, and when perseverance spreads her sails full tilt it will produce a mature Christian who is not lacking anything and “content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4.11–13).

THE RESULTING DEPENDENCE.  Another reason to welcome trials with joy is they keep us humble before the Lord, reminding us to depend on his grace and strength, not our own. From the time of his conversion, so much of the Lord and his truth was directly revealed to the Apostle Paul that, to keep him humble, he said the Lord gave “me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12.7). Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to take this thorn away from him, but the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). Thus, Paul delighted in his “weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (v. 10). For he knew that when he was shown to be weak and helpless in whatever trials came his way, that is precisely when he would turn all the more fervently to the Lord for strength. He depended on his trials to keep him humble before the Lord and on his knees to the Lord, and therefore he delighted in his trials.

CONCLUSION.  I would like to be able to tell you that I in some large measure practice what I preach. I can’t. There have been some trials through which, like most of us, I have experienced a fair measure of success in maintaining joy and a positive attitude. The largest thorn in my side, however, is still a challenge I struggle with – searing pain 24/7 in the lower three quarters of my body. After seventeen years of paraplegia where I felt not a whisper of any sensation from the chest down, fifteen years ago I suddenly and inexplicably started feeling chronic neuropathic pain below my line of feeling.

Living paralyzed from the chest down is a hard life, but I had largely accepted it because I was partially culpable in it happening to me. I struggle to this day, however, to understand why or simply accept that God allowed this chronic pain to “pile on” top of my longtime paraplegia. That’s what it feels like anyway. That’s where I am now and that’s okay. What matters is spiritual progress in the direction of spiritual perfection. I do hope to one day accept my pain for what it is so I can let it go and focus on the mark, thanking God faithfully for what is to come. I believe that is when I will begin to see the good He has in mind for me.

In conclusion, I believe the precise measure of just how pure our joy is in the midst of our trials is proportionate to the degree that: 1) we truly believe God will turn them into something good; 2) we believe they will teach us perseverance which leads to spiritual maturity and fulfillment; and 3) we truly want to rely on His grace and power as opposed to our own sufficiency and strength.

My prayer – “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9.24).

© 2014 by Patrick Lloyd—the WORD runs deep publishing  (TWRD Short # 020)

THE FIRST THREE DAYS ~ THE HOLY TRINITY

Have you ever considered that the first three days of Creation are an illustrative metaphor for the Holy Trinity of God? Light, sky and land/seas represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, respectively.

First Day—the Father:  It is fitting that He who is first among equals within the Trinity is symbolically represented in the first day’s creation of “light” (Genesis 1.3). Father God’s first creative act was the earthly manifestation of his divine nature—for God is light (1 John 1.5). In eternity past, Father God communed with his begotten Son and Spirit (John 17.5). Creation is the manner in which the Father inwardly resolved to make himself known beyond the Son and Spirit, and he did so because of his abundant love for the Son and his desire to share that love with us (John 17.25—26), for at the core of Father God’s nature is love (1 John 4.8). First and for all eternity, the Father loves his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ (John 17.24); and then, at the dawn of time, this fountain of love brimmed over into Creation, particularly, into those who choose to become adopted sons through belief in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1.5).

In addition to God’s loving nature, however, is his light. Light signifies God’s presence and favor (Psalm 27.1; Isaiah 9.2). Indeed, his countenance is light (Psalm 4.6) and the unapproachable light in which he lives offers us insight into his holiness (1 Timothy 6.16). Moreover, it is God himself who makes “his light shine in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 4.6). It is the very nature of the Father to shine out his loving light. He does this in and through the nature of the Son who shines out from his Father, for the Son “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15), sublimely showing us what the Father is like in “the radiance of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1.3).

So, while it is true the “light of the gospel” is indeed found in Christ, this light originates with the Father. Thus, the Apostle John proclaimed with the authority that comes from first-hand knowledge: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1.5). In short, the Father of all light is himself light (James 1.17), for light, as well as love, is God’s nature.

The light of the first day of Creation points to Father God and his loving light—light that he wants to share with us in and through Creation and Christ.

Second Day—the Son: On the second day of Creation, God made the “sky”—the expanse that “separated the water under the expanse from the water above it” (Genesis 1.7). In other words, the sky is that which exists between the things of this earth and those which are in heaven (cf. Psalm 19.1; 148.4). Traditionally, the sky is thought to be everything that lies a certain distance above the surface of the earth, including both the earth’s atmosphere and what is commonly referred to as outer space or the heavens. The sky, therefore, exists in the earthly realm by way of its atmosphere from which the rains fall (Psalm 147.8) and in the heavenly realms represented by the vast space where stars and planets make their home (Genesis 1.14—17). In this way, the sky bridges the gap between earth and heaven, reconciling the two distinct realms.

By analogy, Jesus also exists within and reconciles these two realms. He is fully man of earth and fully God of heaven—manhood and the Godhead—the union of two distinct natures in the one person of Christ. Jesus’ humanity is manifest in the fact that he was born a baby and had a human mother (Luke 2.7; Galatians 4.4); and that he became weary (John 4.6), thirsty (John 19.28), and hungry (Matthew 4.2) like the rest of us do. And yet the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is also fully God. He was not a lot like God or someone very close to God, but “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15), “being in very nature God” (Philippians 2.6) in whom “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell” (Colossians 1.19). Fully man and fully God.

We can deduce that Jesus has always been God, for God is eternal, but only 2,000 years ago he became a man and walked this earth. Why? Because we humans have flesh and blood, he chose to share in our humanity and suffer temptation and death “in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God” making atonement for our sins as our Savior (Hebrews 2.17). That is to say, he wanted us to trust that he understood our temptations and empathized with our suffering. He also had to live a sinless human life in order to become the perfect and final sacrifice for our sins. Moreover, since Christ was raised from death and ascended into heaven, he lives at the right hand of God interceding on behalf of all believers, reconciling those of us from earth to the love of Father God in heaven (Romans 8.34; Hebrews 7.25).

The sky of the second day of Creation points to the Son who is both man and God, bridging the gap between believers from earth and Father God in heaven.

Third Day—the Holy Spirit: On day three of Creation, God separated the waters of the earth in order to create “land” and “seas”. The creative purpose of land is to produce seed-bearing plants and trees that bear fruit of various kinds which are pleasing to the eye and provide for the bodily nourishment of man (Genesis 2.9). The land also produces all living creatures and livestock of various kinds that walk this earth also providing for the physical nourishment and needs of mankind (Genesis 1.24—25). The seas further baptize man with the blessings of nourishment. Broadly speaking, the land and seas represent the entire surface of the earth and all its natural resources which, again, continually feed the material needs of man.

Metaphorically, the land and seas paint an accurate picture of the Holy Spirit of God. The seas provide the waters of baptism where our faith is first proclaimed and our spiritual journey begins. The land of Canaan that was promised prior to Christ becomes the Holy Spirit that was promised after Christ (John 14.26). Moreover, the Holy Spirit is given to believers to provide for their ongoing spiritual nourishment and needs (John 14.17, 26; 16.13—15). And, as with land and the fruit it bears, there is a proportional relationship between how much time we spend getting to know Him and how much He will grow in us and bear fruit through us.

The land and seas of the third day of Creation point to the Holy Spirit who provides all believers with the recurring spiritual nourishment of truth and understanding necessary for true life in Christ.

Conclusion. God is Creator and it should come as no surprise that we can see him in what was created by him. In this Creation “trifecta” of light, sky and land/seas, we can see the three persons of the Holy Trinity of God. Praise God Almighty in his Creation!

© 2014 by Patrick Lloyd—the WORD runs deep publishing  (TWRD Short # 019)