Imprecation and the apostles – Did they curse their enemies?

INTRODUCTION. (This is the 6th post and final on the imprecatory psalms. Last one #509, March 31, 2022.) We began our study of the imprecatory psalms in the hopes that these psalms, which call on the Lord to curse the enemies of the righteous, might offer us an outlet to cry out to the Lord when we see gross injustice taking place. The horrible massacre of the people of Ukraine by the merciless Mr. Putin prompted this search of the Scriptures for such an outlet. As we have journeyed from the Old Testament to the New and have learned more about what Jesus taught regarding our enemies and regarding those who persecute us, it has become increasingly apparent that, since Jesus has come into the world, the imprecation (cursing) of our enemies is no longer an option. This post will examine how the apostles related to their enemies when they were being persecuted. What was their response when the flames of persecution and hatred burned against them?

METHOD OF STUDY. I will use the same approach taken in the other posts on imprecation; namely, we will be examining Scriptures from the book of Acts, the epistles, and Revelation to discern the apostolic church’s response to opposition and hatred from the world.  The study passages have been chosen because they give us information about the church’s attitude toward their enemies. Did the early church imprecate (call down curses on) their enemies? That’s what we hope to discover.

The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating the view of imprecation evidenced.

NOTE: Just as a reminder, “imprecation” in the Bible is when someone calls on God to curse someone else. The way we are using imprecation in this post is when a righteous person calls on the Lord to destroy or curse his enemies.

THE CHURCH IN THE BOOK OF ACTS

The church is born at Pentecost and the opposition comes almost immediately. In Acts 4:21, the Council tells Peter and John not to speak any more about Jesus.

Acts 4:23-31. The church leadership is made aware of the threat from the Council. They cry out to the Lord, but there is no hint of imprecation or of cursing of their enemies. Instead, the disciples affirm God’s sovereignty over all (4:27-28) and then pray that they would speak the word of the gospel with boldness so that Jesus would be exalted (4:29-30). In this whole passage there is no word directed against the Council. No imprecation.

Acts 5:27-32, 40-42. The Council again arrests Peter and the apostles and tells them to be silent about Jesus. Peter, however, will have none of this. Instead of being silent, he retells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. After Gamaliel gives his advice, the Council has the apostles flogged and then tells them (again) to stop talking about Jesus. Do the apostles respond with anger, seeking revenge? Do they cry out to God asking Him to avenge this injustice? Actually, no. Instead, they left the Council “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (41). And then they continued preaching about Jesus. There was no threat or anger or charges of injustice from the apostles. They received the flogging with joy and went back to their work. No imprecation.

(I am going to have to be more selective on these passages or we will have a twenty page document.)

Acts 9:10-17. Saul the persecutor has come to Damascus, and the Lord calls Ananias to help Saul regain his sight. I want to point out in this passage that Ananias has no anger toward Saul, nor does he hesitate to obey the Lord. There is no hatred toward Saul. The church as a whole accepts persecution as from the Lord and they resolve to persevere, not protest or seek revenge.

Acts 14:19-23. Paul is stoned by those in Lystra, yet he evidences no feelings of hatred or injustice. In fact, after his stoning, he goes back into Lystra to again proclaim the word. Paul accepted persecution as simply part of the price to pay for following Jesus.

Acts 16:22-26. Paul and Silas are beaten with rods in Philippi and thrown into the jail, but in the jail they “were praying and singing hymns of praise to God” (16:25). Instead of seeking revenge against the citizens of Philippi for their unjust beating and imprisonment, these men are praising the Lord. Why would they do that? They do that because singing to God after being unjustly beaten commends the gospel much better than seeking revenge, just like everyone else.

HERE IS A CLUE

And perhaps singing when unjustly beaten gives us a clue to the new paradigm. Now that Christ has come and died and risen from the dead, and now that He has sent out His church into the world, all that the apostles and the church say and do is for the furtherance of the gospel and the glory of Jesus (Ephesians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31). So, for the disciple of Jesus, there is no longer any personal sense of injustice or any seeking God to avenge us on our enemies, because our persecution gives us a solid platform for proclaiming the excellencies of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). The church has been commissioned to preach the gospel and make disciples of all the nations, so our behavior has become constrained by our desire to accomplish the Great Commission that Jesus has given us. Thus, we see each situation as an opportunity to bring glory to Christ.

NEW TESTAMENT LENS

Because of this, imprecation and the imprecatory psalms must be evaluated under a New Testament lens. We have seen that Jesus explicitly teaches that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-29). Simply obeying our Lord rules out imprecating those who oppose us. But more than that, since we are “sheep in the midst of wolves,” we are to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Applying this teaching to opposition, affliction, or persecution means that, in any situation, we are to respond with the wisdom that “makes the most of the opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). When persecution comes, we respond strategically, asking ourselves what response the Bible commends and what response will advance the cause of the gospel. Through a gospel lens, imprecating our enemies fails on two points, for it is disobedient to the Lord’s explicit teaching on loving our enemies and is also a poor strategy for sowing the seeds of the gospel.

The same man who, with Silas, was praying and singing hymns of praise to God in a Philippian jail, also wrote 2 Corinthians. In chapter 6 of that epistle, the apostle Paul gives us instructions about how to have a flourishing gospel ministry. Consider his words below.

1we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. – 2 Corinthians 6

As those charged with Christ’s commission, our priority is to “give no cause for offense, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God” (6:3-4). “No cause for offense” means that, in all situations, we present ourselves as harmless. We are meek servants of God, vessels to be poured out for the glory of Christ. Personally, we may be sorrowful, but publicly we are always rejoicing because Christ makes us joyful. We may be materially poor, but our desire is to make many rich with the salvation that Christ gives (see also 2 Corinthians 8:9).

CONCLUSION

And so we conclude our study of the imprecatory psalms. We have seen that these psalms which called down curses on the enemies of the righteous are no longer useful to the disciple of Jesus. Jesus Himself commands His people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, which renders an imprecatory psalm obsolete. But also, since we are to be wise ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we realize that imprecating others is a poor strategy for sowing the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 4/7/2022                     #514

Imprecation and Jesus – How did Jesus suffer?

(The previous post in this series was #505 on March 19, 2022.)

INTRODUCTION. We began our study of the imprecatory psalms from the perspective that the psalms which cursed the enemies of the righteous might offer us an outlet to cry out to the Lord when we helplessly watch the powerless being afflicted and oppressed and even murdered by the powerful. The horrible massacre of the innocent in Ukraine by the merciless Mr. Putin prompted this search of the Scriptures for such an outlet. But as our study has moved from the Old Testament to the New, and as we have learned more about what Jesus taught regarding our enemies, it has become increasingly apparent that, since Jesus has come, the imprecation (cursing) of our enemies is no longer an option. The post will examine how Jesus related to His enemies when He was undergoing the humiliation and agony of the cross. What was Jesus’ attitude toward those who plotted to kill Him? Can we find justification for imprecation here?

JESUS’ VIEW OF IMPRECATION

Having studied the Lord’s teaching in the gospels, we now turn to a study of His actions in the time of His most intense agony. Jesus was betrayed by one of His chosen apostles, abandoned by His closest friends, beaten and spat upon by evil religious leaders, scourged and mocked by Roman soldiers, and crucified even though repeatedly declared innocent. In all this injustice, does the Lord model for us an attitude of judgment of evil men? Does He call down curses from His Father on these wicked people who murdered Him? If Jesus retaliated or cursed or sought revenge, then the disciple would have a basis for imprecation. But it is also possible that the King of kings models the very opposite. Thus, the need for this study.

METHOD OF STUDY. The material will be largely from the gospels. This part of our study will focus on Jesus’ actions during His passion and crucifixion. The study passages are chosen because they give us information about Jesus and imprecation, whether pro or con. The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating the Lord’s view of Imprecation.

JESUS’ ACTIONS DURING HIS PASSION

Matt. 26:1-2. Jesus is completely aware of the plot to crucify Him, yet He does nothing to prevent it nor does He speak evil of the men who are plotting to kill Him. No curses of imprecation are uttered.

Matt. 26:21-25. Jesus again demonstrates His knowledge of the plot against Him by announcing His upcoming betrayal by one of His apostles. It is almost as if Jesus is the director of the play and is announcing the next scene. When He speaks to Judas Iscariot, it is not with hatred or ill will, but is matter of fact. Jesus displays no anger and indicates no imprecation.

Matt. 26:36-46. Now in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is preparing Himself for the agony of bearing God’s wrath against all the sins of God’s people of all time. He knows that His time has come and He knows who will be involved in His crucifixion, yet there is no hint of hatred against those who will crucify Him. He does not flee and He does not curse and He does not seek revenge. He simply bows to the Father’s will (26:39). No imprecation.

Matt. 26:47-50. Jesus allows Judas to kiss Him and thus to identify Him to the large crowd. Instead of angrily accusing Judas of betrayal, Jesus calls him “friend.” No cursing here.

Matt. 26:51-52. One of Jesus’ disciples attempts to defend Him from the crowd, but instead of applauding the disciple’s courage, Jesus sharply rebukes him and tells him to put his sword away. Instead of cursing His enemies, Jesus rebukes His disciple! No hint of imprecation.

Matt. 26:53-54. Jesus, as the Son of God, always has “at His disposal more than twelve legions of angels,” but He explicitly refuses to be rescued. Not only does He not utter a single word of cursing or anger against His enemies, but He also refuses to resist His enemies’ evil. He yields to His enemies, knowing that this is the Father’s will. No imprecation.

Matt. 26:57-68. Amidst all the pompous religious leaders and the false witnesses and the lying accusations, Jesus is completely silent. He does not defend Himself nor contradict the lies. There is no indication of anger or hatred or of seeking justice or revenge. Jesus does not curse or utter any threats but allows the drama to unfold. No imprecation.

Matt. 27:11-26. Now Jesus has been brought to Pilate, the Roman governor, who has the authority to have Him crucified. Now surely Jesus will tell Pilate of the injustice and of the wickedness of these religious leaders! But, no, Jesus does nothing of the kind. While false accusations and lies are flying, “Jesus did not answer him with regard to a single charge” (v. 14). He does not even resist the injustice, let alone imprecate His enemies.

Matt. 27:27-31. The Roman soldiers crowned Him with thorns, beat Him with a reed, mocked Him and spat on Him, yet Jesus endured this without a word. Despite this cruel injustice, Jesus does not curse or threaten or resist. No imprecation here.

Matt. 27:33-50. This passage describes the crucifixion and the death of Jesus. Here is the Lord of glory in extreme physical agony, but also under the full wrath of God as He bears the crushing weight of His people’s sins. And as He accomplishes the awesome work He was sent to do (John 17:4; 19:30), His murderers and the bystanders are hurling abuse at Him, mocking Him, and insulting Him. If ever there was an occasion to respond with curses and threats, this must be it. And yet Jesus speaks only once, not a curse to His enemies, but a cry of despair to His heavenly Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Through His entire ordeal, Jesus does not utter a single curse or threat against any of His enemies. Instead, He perfectly yielded to the Father’s will and endured the price of the atonement. No imprecation.

CONCLUSION

Our study of the imprecatory psalms and of imprecation in the Bible is nearing its end and we have reached a preliminary conclusion. Although the Old Testament psalms contain imprecatory passages which call on the Lord to bring divine judgment on the wicked, the life of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals no corresponding verses. Our study has revealed that, in His teaching, Jesus forbade His disciples from cursing their enemies and instead commanded them to pray for their enemies. In His life and death, Jesus modeled a refusal to curse or hate or threaten His enemies. The gospel record reveals that, with the coming of Jesus, imprecation of our enemies is no longer allowed. The disciple of Jesus is to love his enemies and to pray for those who persecute him (Matt. 5:44).

Our study of imprecation will conclude with the next post, which will examine how the disciples in the book of Acts and the epistles viewed imprecation of our enemies.

SDG                 rmb                 3/30/2022                   #509

Imprecatory psalms – How is the believer to view these?

INTRODUCTION. This post begins a series of articles focused on the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible. There are a number of these passages in the psalms, and their purpose seems to be to ask the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies. This series considers these imprecatory passages and how the believer should view them.

What is the believer to do when evil men commit crimes of vicious injustice and are not punished? How is the believer to respond when lawless tyrants murder and destroy the innocent with impunity? Does the believer have a clear, biblical recourse when evil rises to heinous and atrocious levels? What does the Bible say?

In our world today, atrocities, injustice and wickedness are commonplace, and events that would have shocked us as unthinkable ten years ago fail to make the news because of more spectacular evil. What does the Bible have to say about how the disciple of Jesus should respond to this kind of injustice?

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

There are a number of things that we know from the Scriptures about this situation.

  1. We know that in every situation, God is sovereignly in control. Whether or not we understand or agree with the direction of human events is not of primary importance for the believer. “God is sovereign” is primary. Since my God is in control and since God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), and since “God causes all things to work together for good” for me (Romans 8:28), then I am willing to trust Him and persevere with endurance. “God is our refuge and strength; therefore, we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1).
  2. God alone is the perfect Judge. God is never partial or biased and He always acts with complete justice, having perfect knowledge of all the details of every situation. As Judge, God also knows exactly what His desired outcome is from a given situation. By contrast, our knowledge is always incomplete (sometimes glaringly so), our understanding of justice is flawed, and our knowledge of God’s intended outcome is nonexistent. Therefore, the believer is to leave all judgment of the offender in the Lord’s hands.
  3. The Bible is also clear that the believer is not permitted to retaliate against a wrong done to them, nor are they permitted to take revenge. There are too many verses that speak to this truth to quote them all, but we will look at several to get a feel for the Bible’s teaching.
    1. Our greatest example is Jesus. When He was teaching, He told the disciples, “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39). Then, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44). After teaching these things to His disciples, Jesus did these things during His passion. To fulfill Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth.” He suffered without fighting back and without seeking revenge upon His executioners or His betrayers. As Peter says about Jesus, “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). The things that Jesus taught were the things that Jesus did, even when suffering the greatest injustice in the history of the world. And we are “to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
    1. David’s attitude toward Saul when the king was hunting David and seeking to kill him was, “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 26:11) and “I refused to stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed” (26:23). David refused to kill Saul because he did not have the authority to do that.
    1. In Romans 12, Paul gives us several principles for how we relate to our enemies and those who oppose us. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14). “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (12:17). “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God” (12:19). The message: the believer is not permitted to act personally against enemies, even against those who are trying to kill him.
  4. At the end of the age, the Lord will certainly punish the unrighteous by throwing them into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10, the description of the punishment of Satan). This makes clear that, although the wicked may appear to delay justice, there is never a situation where the wicked will escape justice. The Lord will certainly bring a just recompense on all the unrighteous at the end of the age and onward into eternity.

THAT’S THEN, BUT WHAT ABOUT NOW?

Okay, so that is all well and good, and I am convinced that “the Judge of all the earth shall do justice” (Genesis 18:25). I am willing to yield to Him who works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Yes, God is perfectly sovereign, and I am not, and I trust that He will punish the unrighteous eternally at the end of the age. But here is my question: “What about now in this life?” Is there nothing the believer is permitted to do now in the face of gross injustice except trust the Lord and endure? Are our spiritual hands basically tied?

No. Our spiritual hands are not tied. The Lord has given us a Bible-sanctioned means for crying out to Him to bring justice in this age through the “imprecatory psalms.” So, having given some background, next time we will explore more about these psalms that allow us to cry out to the Lord for justice. “How long, O Lord?”

SDG                 rmb                 3/8/2022                     #500

Genesis 22 – Part 1 – Foreshadowing the cross

INTRODUCTION: In many ways, Genesis 22 is the culmination of the Bible’s story of Abraham, for in this chapter we see the foreshadowing of the cross of Jesus, we again encounter the angel of the LORD, and we see the supreme demonstration of Abraham’s faith as he takes his son, his only son, whom he loves, Isaac, to the land of Moriah to sacrifice him there (22:2). This series of articles will cover these different elements of Genesis 22.

The first article will focus on the way the circumstances and details of this narrative in Genesis 22 paints for us a clear foreshadow of the cross of Jesus Christ.

FORESHADOW (TYPE) OF CHRIST (GENESIS 22:1-10)

No word or detail of the inspired text of the Bible is random. The Bible is God’s word to His people, and God has chosen each word precisely for its intended purpose. As we read the Bible, then, we are alert for details that God has placed in the text to communicate His message to us. It is not surprising, then, that a first reading of Genesis 22:1-10 reveals that this father and son event points toward another Father and Son event out in the future. The details of this passage foreshadow Jesus’ crucifixion.

GENESIS 22:2

Examining the passage, then, we first observe that God tells Abraham to “take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as an offering on one of the mountains” (22:2).

Abraham the father was to take his only son. This son was the answer to all his waiting and all his hope. This was his ONLY son. There would not be another. All God’s promises to Abraham rested on this son, his only son. This only son, Isaac, was the son whom Abraham loved. This detail is not given for information, but for emphasis. Can you feel the agony of this assignment? Imagine the father’s pain in taking his beloved only son to Moriah and offering him there as an offering. Notice, also, the place of the offering. Moriah was the place where, a thousand years later, Solomon would build his temple, there to offer sacrifices. So, Moriah was associated with sacrifice and burnt offering. But another thousand years after Solomon, Moriah was also the place outside of Jerusalem where the Romans would crucify criminals. And Abraham was to take his beloved only son to Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice.

These details are given to us here in Genesis 22:2 so that, when we see the events of Jesus’ journey to the cross, we can see that these events were pictured for us in this narrative so many years before. For we know that Jesus was the Father’s only begotten Son. There will never be another. He is the only Son of the Father. Jesus is the Beloved Son. Jesus said, “For the Father loves the Son” (John 5:20). And in the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus was praying to the Father and said, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). So, what we see in Jesus’ crucifixion is the Father giving His beloved only begotten Son as a sacrifice on the hill of Moriah.

GENESIS 22:3

The detail to be noticed in this verse is the wood. Abraham “split the wood for the burnt offering.” The wood was necessary for the burnt offering. The sacrifice was not possible without the wood. For our Lord Jesus, His sacrifice was also not possible without the wood of the cross, So, both for Isaac and for Jesus, the wood is essential to the sacrifice.

GENESIS 22:4

Another detail is inserted here in the inspired Scripture – “On the third day.” It is not important that Abraham and Isaac traveled three days to get to Moriah, but that fact is mentioned to draw attention to the immense importance of this passage. To make the passage stand out, Moses mentions the third day. This time period of three days occurs many times in Scripture, and is associated with significant events, so its occurrence here is another part of this narrative that would cause the reader to pause and take notice.

GENESIS 22:5

Abraham announces to his young men, “I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” At no point does Abraham suggest that he is not going to sacrifice his beloved only son Isaac, so this statement to his young men should be interpreted as meaning that Abraham believed that his son would be given back to him by resurrection (Hebrews 11:17-19).

But now consider that, as outrageous as Abraham’s belief was, Jesus Christ publicly made statements that foretold His own resurrection after His sacrifice. In fact, Jesus declared that He must be killed to accomplish His mission, and He would certainly be raised up on the third day. Again, we see the details of Abraham and Isaac’s experience clearly contained in the events of the cross.

GENESIS 22:6-8

The plot thickens as the father and the son draw near to the place of sacrifice. The details in Genesis 22:6 are so carefully chosen. “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son.” The wood of the sacrifice is laid on the son. No doubt, the wood was heavy, and its splinters rubbed into the son’s shoulders, but he carried the wood without complaint. The wood was his to carry, so he carried it willingly. Abraham took the fire and the knife, the instruments of sacrifice, and readied himself for the awful task. The father would sacrifice his beloved only son. “So the two of them walked on together.” The son trusts the father and the father loves the son, so the son does not run away, and the father does not disobey. The father and the son walked on together. Ever since Isaac could walk, father and son have walked together. Now they walk together to the place of sacrifice.

The poignancy of the scene increases still more in Genesis 22:7, as Isaac speaks to Abraham his father. “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Isaac is old enough to know the elements for an offering. There must be a sacrifice, but where is the lamb?

Abraham speaks words of immense faith, or at least of great hope. Abraham knows that Isaac, the son of promise, is to be the sacrifice, but the father tells the son, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (22:8). The father cannot bear to tell the son that the son whom he loves is to be the sacrifice. Isaac accepts the vague answer, and then “the two of them walked on together.” Trust. Love. Father and son going up the hill together to the place of sacrifice. Will God provide the lamb for the sacrifice? Where is the lamb?

Once again, the details so carefully woven into the narrative of Abraham and Isaac clearly give us a foretaste of the events of the cross. The Father figuratively lays the rough wood of the cross on the shoulders of His Son, where the splinters will enter His shoulders and back. Jesus the Son must bear this load alone, the heavy wood of the cross, but more, the terrible weight of the wrath of God. He will groan but not complain, for this is the work, His terrible work. Although the Father is with the Son as He climbs the hill, the Father cannot be seen by the eye of sinful man. Father and Son go on together to the place of sacrifice. The words of Isaac spoken so long ago still hang in the air over Moriah – “Father, where is the lamb?”

GENESIS 22:9-10

Having arrived at the place of sacrifice, the father “built the altar and arranged the wood and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood” (22:9). Abraham is old and frail, and Isaac is young and full of the strength of early manhood. It is certain, therefore, that the father could not possibly force the son onto the altar, but the son yields in submission and obedience to the father’s will. The child of promise is now on the altar as Abraham raises the knife to slay his son.

Abraham and Isaac on Moriah give us a biblical “type.” That is, this father and son foreshadow for us the much more significant event of the cross of Christ. In the real event, the ultimate event, God the Father has appointed the crucifixion of God the Son. The Son yields in complete submission to the will of the Father (“not My will, but Thy will be done”) and allows Himself to be scourged and crowned with thorns and led up Moriah’s hill, the hill we know as Calvary. Here is the Lamb of God, the Lamb that Abraham said God Himself would provide. Jesus the Lamb is laid on the wood of the cross and then is lifted up so that He can be despised and forsaken of men. Isaac, the son of promise, is allowed to go free and to live while a ram is sacrificed in his place, but Jesus as the Lamb of God is the substitute. He is the sacrifice found in the thicket (Genesis 22:13) that is sacrificed in the place of the repentant, believing sinner, so that the sinner covered by His blood can be forgiven and go free. God the Father forsakes God the Son (unfathomable mystery!) so that the Son can bear the wrath of the Father’s judgment in the place of His people.

In the next post, we will take a close look at the angel of the LORD who appears in Genesis 22:11 and try to understand who he is. It should be a fascinating study.

SDG                 rmb                 12/15/2021                 #470

Can wisdom produce purpose? (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23)

Is there any value in wisdom? And if so, how is that value obtained?

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon mentions “wisdom” or “wise” more than fifty times, yet never does he find any satisfaction or peace or joy in wisdom. For Solomon, wisdom is a god who cannot speak (Psalm 115:5), a scarecrow in a cucumber field (Jeremiah 10:5). For wisdom you can seek, but wisdom cannot speak. Solomon has put all his chips on the spot called “WISDOM,” and when wisdom fails him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23), his only course of action is to hate life (2:17). Solomon believed that wisdom could promise him purpose, but that is not true. Wisdom does indeed have value, but the value of wisdom is only available to the one who already has a purpose.

PURPOSE IS THE MAIN THEME OF ECCLESIASTES

The study of Ecclesiastes has long fascinated me. Although a relatively short book, it is nevertheless profound in the questions the author asks about life and about death and about meaning. I have concluded that the dominant theme of this wisdom book is the search for purpose. Until a person lays hold of their God-given purpose in life, they will be forever restless and dissatisfied.

In Ecclesiastes 2:21, we read

When there is a person who has labored with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then gives his legacy to one who has not labored for it; this too is futility and a great evil.

Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill only yield a legacy to one who has purpose, because these are mere tools to be used to reach a goal. Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill are never an end in themselves, but are deployed to fulfill a meaningful desire. Of what value is all the knowledge in the world if that knowledge is not useful in accomplishing your purpose?

The main point is this: Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can never yield purpose. These will support a purpose, but they can never produce a purpose. For all his immense wisdom, King Solomon missed this point, and so do many others. All the resources in the world will not benefit the one who has no God-given purpose.

PURPOSE MUST PRECEDE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE AND LABOR

Purpose precedes labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill as automobile precedes gasoline.

A map is only necessary when you have an intended destination. Just so, you need only employ wisdom when you are moving toward a previously chosen purpose.

How do you set your GPS if you have not decided where you are going? And the world’s best GPS will never determine your destination. In the same way, you must already have a purpose if you are to get any value out of wisdom.

It is “vanity” and a “striving after wind” to believe that labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can give you a fulfilling purpose.

It is foolish to ask a caterpillar or a turtle to fly. Just so, it is foolish to ask labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill to produce your purpose. You are asking the impossible. It is not a question of discipline or effort or determination. It is a matter of ability. The most disciplined turtle will never fly. The turtle may plummet but fly he never will. Just so, all the labor and wisdom and knowledge and skill in the world will never produce purpose.

SOLOMON MISSED IT

Solomon invested all his time and effort and determination to develop his wisdom and knowledge, and only when he had grown old does he realize that, without a God-given purpose, all his most keenly developed wisdom is mere “vanity” and “a striving after wind.”

How do we make sure that we do not make the same mistake that Solomon made? How do we make sure that, as we approach the end of our days, we do not decide that we hate life (Ecclesiastes 2:17), and that “everything is futility and a striving after wind?”

A LIFE OF PURPOSE

Avoiding a meaningless life begins with bowing down before the Lord Jesus Christ and crying out to Him for salvation. He who would have a life of purpose must first embrace the God who gives purpose. So first, repent and believe.

All those who come to the Lord Jesus in repentance and in faith have received a new purpose for their life. As a believer, you now have a Bible which guides you into new obedience so that you glorify God with your redeemed life. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, so you are now able to hear God as He speaks to you and guides you. With all the rest of God’s redeemed people, you have the purpose of glorifying God in all you do. All believers have this purpose, and this purpose is fulfilling and satisfying and lifelong.

But the Lord who saved you is also the Lord who saved you for His unique purpose. That is, every believer has been chosen and saved for a purpose that no one else can accomplish (Ephesians 2:10). Among the great joys of being a follower of Jesus is finding that unique place where you sense that you are fulfilling God’s unique purpose for your life. After years or even decades of searching and sanctification, the Lord has sovereignly placed you in a place of great usefulness and service. I believe this is what “purpose” means, to find that place where God is most glorified by the life that we live for Him.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2021

When is disappointment a sin?

My friend and I had talked for a long time over breakfast on Saturday morning about how crazy the real estate market is in Charlotte. When a house comes on the market, there are usually twenty showings the first day and then fifteen offers are made, all of them over the asking price, and within 48 hours the house is under contract. Davis and his wife, Natalie, had found a house they wanted, and Davis and I were talking about what they should offer. My advice was, “Go all-in, Davis. When God sent His Son to earth to save us, He went ‘all-in.’ So, we should live as ‘all-in’ people to demonstrate our trust in the Lord.” We had prayed about the house, and I had asked the Lord to provide the desire of their heart (Psalm 37:4). Then I had prayed, and I know that Davis and Natalie had prayed, throughout Saturday and Sunday, that their “all-in” offer would win the house.

Early Tuesday morning I received a text from Davis that their offer did not win the house. He said, “it is tough, but the Lord did what was best for us.” I replied, “Amen! The Lord has revealed His will in the matter. Romans 8:28.”

NOT DISAPPOINTED

Now, what is significant is that neither of us used the word “disappointed” in our conversation. We did not use the word “disappointed,” because we were not disappointed. We had prayed to our God and our God had given a clear answer. There was no ambiguity at all. The sovereign Lord of the universe inclined His ear to us (Psalm 116:1-2). He heard our supplications (Psalm 6:9) and the King of kings answered us (Psalm 99:6, 8)! And our loving God said, “No.” It was not the answer that we had requested, but we acknowledged that the Lord is infinitely wise, and He knows what is best. And, after all, He is the Lord. He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). But we were not disappointed.

UNDERSTANDING DISAPPOINTMENT

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.”

There is a lot of truth in this common expression. And this applies to believers as well as unbelievers. When our expectations are not met, we feel let down and we may even feel a little cheated, like somehow the world is obligated to meet our expectations. If that is our attitude, we will need to accept the advice from the dread Pirate Robert in the movie, “Princess Bride:” “Get used to disappointment.” Most (all?) of our expectations are baseless and unrealistic. “Why did you have that expectation?” “I don’t know, I just did.” “Oh. Well then, get used to disappointment.”

So, that is a little about disappointment from the world’s perspective. But there is also a disappointment that applies uniquely to the Christian when we request and the Lord answers, but we do not like the answer we received, and thus we are disappointed. This disappointment is sin because it means we are not satisfied with God’s performance. In this case, our prayer “requests” were really veiled demands and God did not do our bidding. To put it another way,

“Disappointment comes from unmet prayer requests.”

You had prayed fervently about a job opportunity, and someone else got the job, and you remain unemployed. Like Davis and Natalie, you prayed that your offer would win the house, and you came in second. You prayed for healing and your friend died. You have prayed for a godly spouse and yet you remain alone. And so, you feel something inside. Is it disappointment?

DISAPPOINTMENT IS A SIN

In these cases, I would suggest that disappointment is sin, because the “request” was really a demand. When we are disappointed with a clear answer to our prayer, have we not treated God as our servant?

Isn’t our thinking a lot like this? “After all, we did what we were supposed to do. We made our request according to the formula (Matthew 7:7; Philippians 4:6), we even prayed, ‘In Jesus’ name. Amen.’ We put our prayers in the correct slot of the prayer machine, and we expected the right answer, but out came an answer we did not request.” In essence, our disappointment says that God got the answer wrong. God did not do our bidding, so we are disappointed.

The truth is that when we experience disappointment, it means we were not seeking God’s will on a matter and then accepting His answer as the perfect answer, but instead we expressed our demand in a “prayer request,” and then pouted when God gave us the wrong answer. (See Jonah, chapter 4, for a good example of this.)

This is the very essence of sin. We, the creatures, are disappointed with the Lord God, the Creator of the universe. Brothers and sisters, we must be very cautious when we make demands of our God. Like Job, we should repent of this in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).

HUMBLE ACCEPTANCE IN PLACE OF DISAPPOINTMENT

Alan had been a pilot for American Airlines, when he contracted a rare disease that robbed him of his eyesight. Some years after he was blinded, Alan was having a conversation with his mother. His mother is a strong Christian who has walked with the Lord a long time, but she was asking Alan how he felt about being blinded. Didn’t he wrestle with God about this? Alan simply said, “We accept what the Lord allows.”

Queen Esther understood what it was to go before the sovereign king and make a request. She was not making a demand, but rather a humble request. And she accepted the possible answers and their consequences: “If I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16).”

Likewise, we should replace disappointment with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will.

CONCLUSION

The Lord invites His children to come boldly to His throne and He calls us to make our requests to Him as our Abba, Father (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16), but He remains ever and always the One who sovereignly “works all things (including all answers to our prayers) after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11)” to the praise of His glory.

Therefore, I will repent of disappointment and will replace it with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will, and I will rejoice in the love of the Lord my God. Replace disappointment with contentment (Philippians 4:10-13).

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2021

Disappointment and Grumbling (Exodus 16:8)

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.” Most people will accept this statement as true. If I have pictured my life (or this relationship or this decision or this investment or this whatever) turning out in a certain way, when my plans do not work out according to my wishes and when my expectations are not met, I am disappointed.

Disappointment is a big deal. It is a danger to your emotional well-being. Disappointment can lead to feelings of regret or failure or anger, and the nasty brew of these emotions can lead you into depression. But for the believer, of vastly more significance is the spiritual danger of lingering disappointment. Disappointment is a spiritual acid that erodes your walk with the Lord. It acts like a ball-and-chain that prevents your running the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). Disappointment puts a low ceiling on your spiritual growth. And sooner or later it results in grumbling.

The sons of Israel are sort of the “poster children” of grumbling. As the book of Exodus begins, they are oppressed slaves of the cruel Egyptians, scavenging around Egypt for straw to make bricks. They had not heard from Yahweh for a long time and had no real hope that anything about their situation would change. Then Yahweh found a washed-up shepherd in Midian and, through this Moses, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, He had decimated the land of Egypt and drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea after the children of Israel had walked through the sea on dry ground. Not only that, but this great God, Yahweh, had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that He was giving them for free. Despite this, within a week or so, the sons of Israel are grumbling because of unmet expectations. And grumbling is a big deal.

“For the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. Your grumblings are not against us, but against the LORD.” – Exodus 16:8

Grumbling is a big deal because our grumbling is against the Lord. By my grumbling, I am letting God know that my expectations have not been met, and He needs to do something about it or else! I may protest that my grumbling and complaining is not against the Lord but is against some circumstance, but the Scripture makes clear that all my grumbling is against the Lord. He has promised to supply all my needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19),” but with my grumbling I question that. I call God’s faithfulness into question. And that is a big deal.

I have been found out! I am a grumbler and a complainer. Wretched man that I am! What is a grumbler to do? How can I overcome this sin? Well, I have some thoughts.

First, cut off the source of our grumbling, which is unmet expectations. How do we cut off that source? Keep my personal expectations to a minimum. The disciple is the Lord’s bondservant. As bondservants we have very few of our own plans because our goal and role in life is to serve our Master and to obey His commands.

Next, read your Bible and model the heroes you find there. For example, consider the apostle Paul. How different were his expectations from mine! His goal was to exalt Christ “by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).” It is difficult to disappoint a man who expects to die for his faith and to suffer for the name of Jesus while he lives. (Philippians 1:21) It would be an interesting exercise to go from listening to Paul in the Philippian jail in Acts 16, after he has been beaten and thrown in the stocks, and then traveling to the hill overlooking Nineveh in Jonah 4 and listening to the prophet Jonah. In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Savior, the Lord Jesus, prayed to His Father, “Not My will, but Your will be done (Matthew 26:39).” Taking that same attitude will radically reduce your disappointments.

Third, replace worldly expectations with biblical ones. Before I make my plans for my glory, I need to remember that “I am not my own; I have been bought with a price, to glorify God with my life (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).” I am called to “present my body (meaning my life) as a living and holy sacrifice, which is my spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).” Therefore, my goal is to use my life, not for my pleasure, but for God’s glory. This mindset effectively erases expectations. In Romans 8:36, the apostle Paul declares, “We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” A sheep appointed for the sacrificial slaughter would have modest expectations, and it would be difficult to be disappointed.

Finally, be thankful. An attitude of thankfulness and gratitude will crowd out disappointment and grumbling. “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:18).” There is no disappointment if you are always content with the outcome. God has delivered you from the domain of darkness and seated you in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He has separated your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. He has wrapped you with a robe of righteousness. He has sealed you with His Spirit and He has promised you an eternity with Him in heaven. Now, tell me again, what is the source of your grumbling?

SDG                 rmb                 2/2/2021

He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51)

The plan that had been established in eternity past and that had been necessitated by Adam’s sin and by every sin since Adam’s first sin was reaching its climax. The Lord Jesus Christ had entered time and space at Bethlehem and had been anointed for ministry and was displaying His glory in His ministry on earth. But now there had occurred a critical shift in direction, for now Jesus was headed for Jerusalem.

When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51

            All the preliminary details had been accomplished and the preparation was done. Now Jesus’ face was set, and Jerusalem was His goal, and there was nothing in heaven or on earth that was going to prevent Him from reaching His goal. And what awaited Him in Jerusalem? Was He going to be crowned king and begin to reign? Oh, no. He was inexorably, irresistibly going to Jerusalem because a Roman cross awaited Him there. He set His face to go to Jerusalem so He could be “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22).” His goal was Jerusalem because He knew that He had to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of His people, and He was the chosen sacrifice. And so, Jesus decisively set His face.

            Everything about Jesus displayed His authority and His holiness, but I wanted to make three observations about this part of His earthly ministry.

  1. Jesus was crystal clear on His mission. He knew what He was and what He was not to accomplish. There was no ambiguity in His mind, no waffling or wavering. Having a definite target on which to focus enabled Him to avoid distraction. There was a cross for Him in Jerusalem, and His mission was to reach it, and the rest was just noise.
  2. Jesus had unflinching resolve. Knowing the goal, Jesus made the commitment to reach that goal. Regardless of the cost or the difficulty of the path, Jesus was directing all His energies toward that goal.
  3. Jesus had confident trust in His Father. The Father had created the plan and the Father had called Jesus to accomplish this part of the plan. Jesus trusted that the Father would be with Him and would guide Him and provide for Him until He had fulfilled the mission. He trusted in God’s sovereign control of all things to bring about the desired end.

APPLICATIONS

            What can we learn from our Lord for our daily challenges?

  1. Be clear on my mission. Having a clear purpose and mission is a great help in directing our energies and activities. We are not going to be the savior of the world, but God has called us for a purpose and for a mission. What is my mission? Why am I here? Clarity on your mission will help you focus and avoid distraction.
  2. Resolve to press on and persevere. The best way to persevere is simply to resolve to not quit. All paths have monotony and difficulty, but a determination to continue and to persevere will make you an overcomer. “One thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).”
  3. Trust the Lord. If the Lord has called you to Himself, then He has adopted you as His child. He is for you. “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” He is with you. “I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).” The Bible is a book of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people. He is trustworthy. In the midst of the battle or in the midst of the calm, we can trust His sovereign control of all things to bring about His desired end.

SDG                 rmb                 11/4/2020

Casting Bread on Water, Disasters, and Falling Trees (Eccles. 11:1-4)

                A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine told me that he was praying about how the Lord might use him in new ventures and had been studying Ecclesiastes 11 for biblical guidance. To help my friend and to see if I learned anything from our pastor’s recent sermon series on Ecclesiastes, I decided to look at the verses of 11:1-4 to see what they mean.

INTRODUCTION

            Can we gain knowledge and wisdom from Ecclesiastes? If so, how can we do that?

            Some would go directly to the verses of Ecclesiastes to find wisdom for practical decisions, but this is not the right approach. Is there wisdom to be found in Ecclesiastes? Unquestionably. Is there practical wisdom to be obtained from Ecclesiastes? Yes, there certainly is. But while there is practical wisdom to be obtained from Ecclesiastes, there is skill required in the obtaining. As we have said before, Qohelet (the Preacher) does not give us direct answers to our questions. The writing in Ecclesiastes is complex and Qohelet’s primary interest is not wise investing nor time management nor how to leave an impressive legacy. Remember, he has already created astonishing wealth and has indulged in sensual pleasures and has built beautiful cities (Ch. 1-2). Those, for him, are irrelevant memories from a hollow past. Those brilliant successes have brought him to the place where he repeats the word, “Vanity.” In fact, not just vanity, but vanity of vanities. As Jesus is the King of kings, the supreme King over any and all other kings, real or imagined (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16), so Qohelet’s experience in life is the supreme vanity below any and all other vanities. His vanity is so empty that it consumes and overwhelms all apparent successes and renders them useless. Now, as an old man looking back at his many years, he is in an urgent search for meaning. Meaning is Qohelet’s primary interest. It is meaning in life that he urgently seeks, and he brings to bear all the wisdom he can muster to uncover that most important of all attainments; namely, an answer to the question, “How can this life have any meaning if it ends in death?” Is there no purpose to life under the sun? Does death have the final say?

            In the paragraph above, I have made the statement that practical wisdom can definitely be obtained from Ecclesiastes. That is, as we read of Qohelet’s search for meaning, we can glean practical wisdom that can guide decisions that we are compelled to make in our own lives. But while the Preacher has advantages over many of us in terms of his experiences, his wisdom, and his abilities, we have an even greater advantage over him. What is that advantage? We have the advantage of knowing that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing (in Him) we may have eternal life in His name (John 20:31).” We have the full written Word of God, the completed written revelation of God’s eternal plan for the world. Because we can know how things turn out, and can know the meaning of life from the lips of Jesus the Messiah Himself, and can know that this life is not all there is, but that there is eternal life available and that we can never die (John 11:25-26), we can know the answers to the great mysteries that troubled Qohelet. So the wisdom that we gain from Ecclesiastes is largely a derived wisdom, a wisdom that answers questions not directly with black and white answers, but a wisdom that gives us a range of acceptable answers or responses which flow from the spring of eternal life that has come to us by our faith in Jesus Christ. That is, having answered the ultimate questions about life and death, about meaning and purpose, about how to have peace and joy and contentment, about how to be reconciled to the holy God against whom we have rebelled and sinned times too many to count and yet to be welcomed to His table as an adopted son or daughter; having answered the ultimate questions through the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can wisely deal with the myriad other questions that bombard us as we walk through this broken and fallen world.

With that as an introduction to this passage, I want to take a look at Ecclesiastes 11:1-4 and draw out the wisdom that is contained there. The wisdom in this section is deep and dredging it up will take some skill, but we will be wiser as a result of having wrestled with the teaching of the Preacher.

11:1 – Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.

            It is not certain whether this verse is to be taken literally or figuratively. I am assuming that it is to be taken literally. So, assuming this verse is to be taken literally, what we have is a man who does something incredibly foolish that should never result in anything but a total loss, yet the man ends up breaking even. Picture this: A man goes to the grocery store and buys a loaf of wheat bread. He then drives up to the lake, walks to the shore, unwraps the loaf of bread, and throws the bread into the lake. Four months later the man drives back to the lake and walks to the same spot by the lake, and there, along the edge of the lake, is every slice of that loaf of wheat bread. So, the man gathers up those soggy slices and puts them back into the bread bag. Net result? Break even! He did something that was totally foolish and still basically broke even.

WHAT IS THE POINT?

Is the point to be reckless and careless with your ventures and investments because we live in a random universe? NO! The point is that no matter how reckless or how careful and wise you are, ultimately you do not know how things will turn out. Life is unpredictable and the future is uncertain, but uncertainty must not lead to paralysis!

But it is key also to notice that in this example, the foolish venture came back break even. The outcome of this foolish venture should have been a total loss, but there was essentially no loss. How can this be? This can be because the universe has a sovereign Lord who determines all outcomes and the Lord blesses those who are His (Psalm 1:3). Some followers of Jesus are wise, and some are not, and some do really foolish things. I know that after praying about major decisions for a long time, I have decided to do things that, in retrospect, were incredibly risky and could not possibly work out unless the Lord was actively involved. And what happened? I basically “Cast my bread upon the waters,” and against all odds, not only “found it after many days,” but found five fresh loaves of bread and a couple of large sacks of wheat! This is because the Lord blesses all His children, not just those who make the “best choices.” Do you love your children only when they make “the right choices?” Of course not! Just so, the Lord delights to bless all His children. “When a man falls, he will not be hurled headlong, for the LORD is the one who holds his hand (Psalm 37:24).”

This is the lesson: Even in an unpredictable world where the future is unknown, the child of God can make decisions with confidence, knowing that the outcome is not ultimately dependent upon their own brilliance and wisdom, but is dependent upon the sovereign God of the universe, who has adopted them into His family. So, be generous and take action.

11:2 – Give portions to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.

            My understanding of this verse is that, according to wisdom, it is better to diversify your investments, because that way you are more likely to avoid disasters. This wisdom is well-known to anyone who has talked to a financial counselor. (It is not, however, good advice from a marriage counselor!) Virtually everyone who gives you advice about investments will tell you to diversify your portfolio. And I think this is what Qohelet is telling us here as well.

Then the question comes up, “So, in this case, does the disciple of Jesus basically do the same thing that everyone else does?” Let’s think about that before we answer. Looking carefully at the words of this verse, we see first that the Preacher tells us to divide our portions “to seven, or even to eight.” I think there is some significance in the fact that seven is the perfect number and he tells us to give to seven or to even more than seven, just in case. So, there is probably at least some significance in the numbers.

I think there is more significance, however, in the fact that he uses the word “disaster.” “You know not what disaster may happen on earth.” Qohelet says we diversify because we do not know which one of our ventures will perform disastrously. To paraphrase, “If you spread the risk out to seven or even eight places, then the disaster will not hurt you as much.” By using the word disaster, Qohelet acknowledges that we live in a world where disasters take place and sometimes, they affect us. Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, the door to natural and financial disasters has been thrown open, and it is presumptuous for the disciple of Jesus to ignore this fact or to pursue ventures as if everything would always turn out well. It is entirely possible that my ventures will not turn out well. Does the Lord delight to bless His children? He does. Is the Lord obligated to bless His children? He is not. Do we know the Lord’s timing, as to when He will bring disasters on the earth? We do not. Do we know the Lord’s divine purposes in all that He ordains, including when He allows disasters on His children (Job 1:13-19)? We do not. And since these things are not known to us, we act by faith and invest or act generously and confidently, but with the wisdom that a broader investment base provides use with less risk. “Putting all your eggs in one basket” is foolish because it presumes upon the Lord and expects Him to bless the one venture we choose, and because it refuses to acknowledge that we are in a world fallen because of our sin, a world in which disasters are ultimately one of the consequences of sin.

This is the lesson: Diversify your investments and your portfolio because we live in a world where disasters occur, and they occur to disciples of Jesus. Diversify with the knowledge that disasters are one of the consequences of sin and are one of the means that the Lord uses to sovereignly bring about His purposes in the world. Diversify generously and with confidence, knowing that the Lord whom you serve, delights in you and will never leave you or forsake. In other words, the action of investment appears similar to the action of the rest, but the attitude of the investment is entirely different.

11:3 – If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place that the tree falls, there it will lie.

            Qohelet now takes us to pictures of clouds with rain and falling trees, but his mindset has not changed. That is, he is still telling us why believers in Jesus can live generously and confidently in this unpredictable world. This is because in a world where many things are unknown and therefore potentially threatening, some things are certain.

We should understand this verse in terms of the certainty of God’s revealed will. If God has revealed His will to us, we can be certain that will come to pass. In an uncertain and risky world, there is certainty in God’s revealed will.

There are two ways that God reveals His will to us. The first way that God reveals His will to us is by declaring truth in His Word. The Bible contains God’s revealed will for mankind. The Bible contains only truth, so that, when we read the words of Scripture, we can be confident that we have read what will surely be. Qohelet illustrates this principle with a simple example. To paraphrase: “When the clouds are full of rain, then rain is going to fall on the earth.” Our experience in life has shown us that this is a true, although not very significant statement. The Bible tells us, “The soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4).” The fact that this is contained in God’s holy Word declares to us that this is a true and extremely significant statement. But as rain falls from clouds is true, so whatever is written in God’s revealed will, the Bible, is true. We can have confidence in the Bible in an uncertain world, because God has revealed His will to us in His Word, and in His Word God has declared that we who believe in Jesus have been chosen before the foundation of the world and will receive a crown of righteousness in heaven. As surely as it is God’s will to drop rain from clouds full of rain, so it is His will to bring us to heaven.

But God also reveals His will by giving us history. The example is of a fallen tree. Before the tree falls, you may speculate, “Which way does God desire to drop that tree?” Before it falls, you do not know God’s will about the tree, but once it falls, all doubt is removed. It was God’s will to drop that tree exactly where it fell, and nothing will change that. God has revealed His will. In the same way, there are many things about the future that we do not know, that God has not revealed. We could be anxious about that and worry about that, but there is no reason for worry. God already knows exactly what the outcome will be for whatever it is that you are concerned about. He has already determined the outcome; he has just not told you. So, the outcome is certain, it is just not certain to you. This means that we can take the outcome of a venture off our plate. “O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty, nor do I involve myself in great matters or in things too difficult for me (Psalm 131).”

This is the lesson: Whether God has revealed His will about something, or that something is still part of God’s secret will, God already knows all outcomes. Therefore, the child of God can be generous and confident even in risky ventures, even when the outcome remains completely unknown, because the believer relates as “Abba, Father” to the God who does know and ordain all outcomes.

11:4 – He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

            The meaning of this verse is straightforward: If you look around for an excuse not to take risks, on excuse will always be readily available. What causes us to look for excuses? Fear of risk or threat. The idea is that it is less risky to do nothing than to take a course of action that could lead to loss. But is that true? In Matthew 13, the sower went out to sow. He did not check the weather report before he went. In Matthew 25:14-30, the master gave the servants talents and expected them to do business with them. The servant who did nothing was called “wicked and slothful” and was cast into the outer darkness. In Luke 19:12-27, the nobleman’s servants were commanded to “engage in business until I come (19:13).” The one who did nothing was condemned with his own words. Paul took many risks, yet he could say after less than twenty years of risky ministry, “from Jerusalem and round to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” and now there is no more work for me in this region. Is it safer to do nothing than to risk for the kingdom of God and the King? A thousand times no!

            One last thought: Fear of loss implies that we have something to lose, but the disciple of Jesus Christ has nothing to lose. According to Colossians 3:3, we have already died, so we cannot lose our life. According to John 11:25-26, we can never die, so threats of death should have little effect. According to Philippians 3:20, our citizenship is already in heaven, so we cannot lose our country. The more we consider it, the more we see that we have nothing to lose. We can “spend and be expended” for Christ (2 Cor. 12:15), because there is nothing to lose.

            This is the lesson: Take risks for the glory of God and scatter your seed broadly. Be generous and confident in whatever venture the LORD gives you to do and “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).”

SDG rmb 8/31/2020

Trading Retirement for a Mission (2 Timothy 4:7)

            There is in the American experience an expectation of “retirement.” That is, part of the American dream is this persistent idea that, after some number of years of working and struggling to make our mark in the world, the time has come to retire and to slow down the pace and to ”enjoy the golden years” hopefully “doing what we have always wanted to do.” Maybe we will get a hobby and spend some time with our grandkids and take it easy. At first glance, this seems like a great idea. And haven’t we earned it? Don’t we deserve to bask in the fruits of our labor? But as the Christian examines this idea against the teaching of Scripture, we may find that completing our mission too early is not a good thing.

KING SOLOMON

            Consider, for example, King Solomon. Solomon was chosen by the LORD Himself to be the one who would build His house in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 28:6, 10). Then King David, Solomon’s father, charged him with the task of building the house of the LORD (1 Chronicles 28:20). Additionally, Solomon himself had decided to build a magnificent royal palace for him and his wives. So, it can correctly be said that what defined King Solomon’s life was the completion of these two great building projects. And what an amazing task to be given and what a remarkable mission to accomplish, to be the one who would be known for all time as the builder of the house of the LORD in Jerusalem! After twenty years of construction, Solomon finished these projects (2 Chronicles 5:1; 6:10; 7:1; 8:1), and thus his life’s accomplishment was completed. He had successfully done what the LORD had called him to do.

            So, if we are armed with our current “bask-in-his-glory” mindset, we would expect to see Solomon reaping the fruits of his vast labors and that the rest of his life would be a glowing success, an example of a life well-spent. That expectation, however, is shattered as we witness this great man’s life slowly unravel in indulgence, opulence, and idolatry, marrying many foreign wives and building altars to pagan gods (1 Kings 11). After the mission of his life is accomplished, Solomon turns his heart away from the LORD and spends the remainder of his days in disastrous pursuits. Toward the end of his life, Solomon pens the book of Ecclesiastes in which, as an uncertain, cynical, pessimistic older man he asks essential questions about the meaning of life and about the purpose of existence. Without oversimplifying things, I think the main problem was that Solomon completed his life’s mission long before his life was done.

            This is the inherent danger of our modern idea of retirement; namely, that we complete our life’s work or accomplish our life’s mission, and then spend the rest of our days in leisure. The danger of retirement is intentionally putting an end to our life’s mission long before our life is over.

            Related to this are two fundamental truths that must be grasped. First, mankind was created by God for mission, and every individual man and woman is most fulfilled and most alive when they are most fully engaged in the mission God the Creator has given them to do. When Solomon was engaged in his building projects, his kingdom flourished, his advice was wise, and his life was fulfilled. But when his mission was over, he drifted downstream and ended up on the rocks. Again, I say, we are made to fulfill out God-given mission until we draw our last breath, not just until we decide to “retire.”

            The second truth that we must grasp is that we are fallen creatures and our entire being has been corrupted by sin. The Fall of man was very effective, and, because of it, all human beings are bent toward sin and are bent toward disobedience. By nature, we love sin and, even when we have been born-again through faith in Jesus Christ and our sins have been forgiven by His blood, we still live with our “flesh,” which tempts us toward indulgence, opulence, and idolatry. Therefore, since we are fallen and still live with our “flesh,” each of us needs a noble, compelling mission that infuses passion into our lives. Without a compelling, God-given mission, we are likely to waste our time and squander our lives in aimless pursuits. Because Solomon was fallen like all men, and because he had finished his life’s mission, he lost his zeal and aimlessly drifted. In the end, his life, which had such spectacular promise, disintegrated into a dubious legacy of disappointment.

A CONTRAST

            While the Bible gives us examples of people who, like Solomon, did not finish well so that we might be warned not to follow their course, the Bible also gives us other examples of people who pursued their mission to the very end and died while still pressing forward. One of those examples is the apostle Paul. For Paul, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).” In this verse, and in many others, Paul makes clear that he had received his mission from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and that he was going to accomplish that mission. In all of Paul’s writing there is no mention of “leisure” or of “retirement.” Instead, we read of fruitful labor, of striving, of pressing toward the goal, of spending and being expended for people’s souls, and of being poured out as a drink offering. Instead of indulging his flesh, Paul buffets his body to make it his slave. Rather than playing it safe, for the sake of the gospel Paul was constantly being exposed to real dangers, like beatings and shipwrecks. There is no record of Paul ever living in a palace or of him musing about the “golden years” of rest that are up ahead, unless you count the times the Apostle talked about heaven and his desire to go there where he would receive his crown (2 Timothy 4:8).

LESSONS ON MISSION

            One of the immense blessings of being a follower of the Lord Jesus is that, with our salvation we have also received a calling, a mission. The entire Christian life is about living on mission, about finding and living out that unique place to which the Lord has called you where you are most satisfied. We have all generally been called to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are all to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19) and are all to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). But I am convinced that we are also all given a unique mission to accomplish that the Lord has entrusted to each one of us.

            Since that is the case, the first thing to do is to seek and find your mission. “How do I know what my mission is?” You will know it when you find it, but you will also know it when you have not found it, because when your life is not running on mission, you will know a level of dissatisfaction. The search for your mission may be a long search, but the treasure of the mission is worth the effort.

            What are the characteristics of an ideal “mission?” Your mission will probably not be a narrowly defined, specific task or endeavor. Rather, it will be somewhat broad. (Examples: “A ministry of prayer in which I lift up immediate needs of my church and also pray for our supported missionaries.” “Writing articles and blogs on Bible passages to increase the love of the Word among God’s people.”) Your mission should be context independent. That is, it can be done in any country, in any season; it can be done whether you are rich or poor, at any age of your life. The mission should be something that can be done until the day you die, whenever that is. The mission should allow you to still bear fruit in old age (Psalm 92:14). Your mission should be something about which you are passionate. Finally, your mission is something that you know that you will never complete. If you have a mission of praying for your church’s needs, you know that you will never finish praying, for there are always more needs. If your mission is writing articles, blogs, and books about the Bible, you know that you will never finish your mission, because there will always be articles to write and people to encourage. And this is a good thing, because it ensures that you will always have “missionary” work to do, and so your passion will ever flow hot.

            Finally, consider these two statements about mission:

“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course (mission); I have kept the faith.” – (2 Timothy 4:7) written by the apostle Paul as he was awaiting his execution in a prison in Rome.

“I glorified You (God the Father) on earth, having accomplished the work (mission) that You gave Me to do.” – (John 17:4) spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ on the night of His betrayal.

            So, rather than thinking about retirement and how we can enjoy the leisure of your “golden years,” let’s think about laboring in a compelling mission from which we will never retire and which will allow us to hit the finish line at full speed.

SDG                 rmb                 7/29/2020