Do not be surprised by persecution (1 Peter 4:12)

INTRODUCTION. This fairly long post is a consideration of the New Testament’s prominent teaching on persecution and how we, as American disciples, can respond to it when it comes.

One of the young women at our church has taken a stand for Christ at her school and has thereby placed her job at risk. Her school wanted all the teachers to affirm the school’s LGBTQ and pro-abortion stances and this teacher refused. Praise the Lord that she refused! But her stance has definitely jeopardized her job. In fact, it would be an answer to prayer if she does not lose her job. Suddenly, her faith in Christ has become much more expensive.

NEITHER UNEXPECTED NOR SURPRISING

Which brings up an important subject. It seems that in America, disciples of Jesus are often surprised when following their crucified Savior, the one who was despised and forsaken of men, suddenly becomes painful or expensive or risky. This is very curious to me, not that a follower of Jesus would suffer some form of persecution, but that being persecuted for their faith would come as an unexpected surprise to any disciple of Jesus. The New Testament, start to finish, is full of declarations and examples announcing to the believer that persecution and affliction will certainly come upon them simply because they follow Jesus. Some of the best-known passages follow. Even a cursory reading of these makes it unambiguously clear that persecution and hatred from the unbelieving world should be expected, and the question is not “if” persecution will come, but “when” and “how.”

2 Timothy 3:12 – Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

COMMENT. Paul is preparing Timothy to take over his ministry of the gospel, so he tells Timothy of the persecution that will be coming to him. Paul states categorically that Timothy will be persecuted. In fact, the only way for Timothy to avoid persecution is to for him to not desire to live a godly life. This, of course, is not an option, because all believers “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6). All true disciples will be persecuted, and “all” means all.

1 Peter 4:12 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.

COMMENT. In Peter’s letter to believers experiencing the fires of testing, he takes time to explicitly state the case about persecution. Do not be surprised by any fiery ordeal, as though it is something strange. It is not strange; it is normal. Fiery ordeals (like persecution and affliction) are normal parts of the Christian life which the Lord brings in for our testing. The Lord brings an ordeal to test our faith and to prove that it is the genuine article. Instead of groaning in the unexpected pain, rejoice that you have been considered worthy to suffer for Jesus’ sake.

1 Thess. 3:3, 4so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.

COMMENT. Again, as Paul writes to these new believers under the heavy artillery of intense persecution, his primary encouragement is for them to stand firm. There is little of what we would call sympathy or empathy. For the apostle Paul, the issue is obedience. Will these professed disciples of Jesus in Thessalonica endure their appointed affliction and continue to profess Christ, or will they collapse under the pressure and make a shipwreck of their faith? As Peter has said (above), we are destined for this. Persecution and affliction are our appointed duties. Therefore, the true disciple will stand firm.

Matthew 10:16 (10:21, 22) – “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.”

COMMENT. Anyone who knows anything about sheep and about wolves knows that what Jesus describes here is a dangerous situation for the sheep. Sheep are defenseless, slow, frail, docile animals, the very definition of the word “prey.” By contrast, wolves are vicious, cunning, fast, and strong. They travel in packs, relentless predators in pursuit of their prey. And Jesus sends His new covenant disciples out as sheep in the midst of wolves. It seems almost a death sentence. Sending sheep into the midst of wolves would be akin to something extreme like telling His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.

The gospel mission requires that Jesus’ disciples are willing to go wherever He sends them as sheep in the midst of wolves. (“We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” – Romans 8:35) Not all will be killed for their faith, but some certainly will (Matt. 10:21). Not all will be scourged (10:17), but all will be hated because of Jesus’ name (10:22). And despite these dangers and threats, the disciple obeys His good shepherd (John 10) and goes out into the midst of a world of wolves, proclaiming from the housetops (Matt. 10:27) that men should repent and turn to God (Acts 26:20). Persecution is real for sheep among wolves.

John 15:18-20 – “18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”

COMMENT. Jesus is in the Upper Room giving His apostles, and by implication, His new covenant church, final instructions for life on mission before His crucifixion, and part of the necessary instruction has to do with the persecution His church will experience. Jesus’ message in these verses is clear: “The world hates you and they will persecute you.” While possibly unsettling and uncomfortable, these words are certainly unambiguous. Jesus leaves no room for misunderstanding, and it is the naïve and foolish disciple who is caught by surprise when the world reveals its true colors in hatred and persecution.

These are just some of the more prominent examples of the New Testament’s predictions of the persecution and hardship that will come upon disciple’s of Jesus just because they follow the King of kings. So, it would seem that believers would expect affliction to come.

THEN, WHY ARE WE SURPRISED?

But in America, it is easy to miss even these blatant messages and to overlook or downplay our promised persecution. Despite these scriptural billboards, we are often shocked when our alienation from the world produces painful consequences. So, why are we still surprised, even with all these promises?

Perhaps the most significant reason is the messages that believers receive from pulpits in America. The overwhelming majority of preaching pastors in America will not deliver a single sermon in their preaching lifetime on persecution. Ever. For the pastor, sermons on persecution are not popular with most congregations, so it is best to avoid them. Also, it is possible the pastor doesn’t really believe in persecution, so why would he tell his congregation about it?

Another factor is the idea that real persecution will never come to America. For those pastors who do preach on persecution when their text demands it, many of them will also add a phrase like, “Of course, persecution has not come to America yet.” This phrase is said such that the congregation can relax, secure in the knowledge that, not only has persecution not come to America yet, but, if we play our cards right and continue to behave ourselves as decent, quiet, law-abiding Christians, it probably never will. This is dangerous thinking, because, if we consider Paul’s teaching in 2 Tim. 3:12 (see above), the fact that we are not experiencing persecution in America can only be attributed to the fact that we are not “living godly in Christ Jesus” or because we are not vocal enough in our witness for Jesus that the world feels a compulsion to silence us.

But I think also a disciple can be surprised by sudden affliction because, even though they were prepared to suffer and expected that their bold witness for Jesus would draw enemy fire from the world, the timing took them off guard. With the woman who I mentioned at the top of this post, she knew that her biblical view of human sexuality and her view that abortion is murder were in conflict with most at her school, but she did not realize that her Christian values could put her job at risk. The world’s hatred of Christ was suddenly vented on her. So, in America, even devoted disciples can be stunned when Christ’s words are suddenly manifested in real life. And, for right now, these sudden but not life-threatening attacks from the world will be more economic and psychological than physical. A missed promotion. Losing a job. A rejected application. Lost relationships. Ostracism, alienation, loneliness. But the severity will increase, because the Scriptures call for it and the Scriptures must be fulfilled. There will be imprisonments and scourging. There will be oppression and violence and death.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

In the face of these promises of persecution and affliction, what should the disciple of Jesus do? As in all matters of faith and godliness, the believer is to see the example that Jesus gave us, that we should follow in His steps. “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). And we are to continue boldly “pressing on toward the goal for the prize” (Phil. 3:14), not letting our promised persecution derail us, but rather enduring the suffering the Lord allows as we continue on in obedience.

SDG                 rmb                 8/31/2022                   #564

Calling down curses: a New Testament perspective

INTRODUCTION. This post considers the topic of imprecation of enemies, asking the question whether imprecation is a spiritual tool of the New Testament disciple of Jesus.

Back in March-April of 2022, I had written a six-part series of posts considering the topic of the so-called “imprecatory psalms.” In the Bible, “imprecation” is when a believer calls on God to curse or destroy his enemies. So, in the “imprecatory psalms,” the psalmist (often David) is in distress and his life is being threatened by enemies, and in response, the psalmist cries out to the Lord to give him relief by cursing or punishing or judging the psalmist’s enemies. The question that we sought to answer in our six-part study was, “After the first advent of the Lord Jesus, is the believer still allowed to imprecate (call down curses on) his enemies, or has that forever changed with the coming of Jesus?” At the end of the sixth post (#514, April 7, 2022), I wrote this 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.”

If you would care to read through all six posts, they are Posts #500, 503, 502, 505, 509, and 514 back in March and April of this year. The key word “imprecatory” should get you to them.

IMPRECATION REVISITED

This week, my wife began a study of the book of Habakkuk with a group of ladies and, because of the content of the first chapter of this book, the subject of imprecation of enemies was discussed with vigor in their Bible study. Afterward, my wife and I talked about imprecation and I decided to revisit this topic and see if my views had changed. The rest of this post is a record of today’s musings about imprecation. (NOTE: Because of time constraints, I have not reviewed these thoughts and placed them in order.)

Observation: I do not believe there are any New Testament examples of imprecation.

THEORY: Imprecation of enemies was apparently allowed in the Old Testament, but the teaching of the New Testament has replaced imprecation with prayer for enemies, forgiveness of enemies, and endurance of the persecution and suffering by the saints.

When persecution and affliction for the name of Jesus come upon the disciple, the disciple simply adds perseverance and endurance to his other daily spiritual duties and disciplines and continues to press toward the prize.

For those being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10-12), it is okay to flee (Matthew 10:23), but it is not okay to fight. You are allowed to run, but you are not allowed to retaliate.

When Stephen is being stoned to death in Acts 7, he offers no imprecation of those who are killing him. Instead, he asks the Lord not to hold the sin of his murder against his murderers (Acts 7:60).

The church in Thessalonica was experiencing persecution when Paul wrote his two letters to them, but there is no hint of any imprecation against their persecutors in the letters. In 1 Thess. 2:14-16, the Thessalonians “endured the same sufferings” as other churches, and in 3:3-8, Paul reminds them that “no one would be disturbed by these afflictions (because) we have been destined for this (3). For we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction (4).” Paul told them they would suffer affliction and commended them for standing firm (8), but it is evident that he never told them how to defend themselves or retaliate. Why? Because the disciple of Jesus is called to stand firm, but not to retaliate.

In 2 Thess. 1:4-10, when the church is experiencing withering persecution, Paul reminds them that the Lord Jesus Himself will repay their persecutors on the last day when He returns in blazing fire. Again we see that the New Testament believer is to endure affliction now and entrust judgment entirely to the righteous Judge, the Lord Jesus.

In the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus accept persecution for Jesus’ sake as part of the cost of being His follower (1 Thess. 3:3-8). They may flee (Matt. 10:23; Acts 13:50-51; 14:5-7; 17:10, 14), but they do not organize themselves into an armed force. In fact, they even do very little to defend themselves. Disciples of Jesus do this because they are relying entirely upon the Lord to defend them. He is the one who will deliver them from their distresses and afflictions and so they wait for Him. Ultimately, Jesus’ disciples persevere in tribulation (Rom. 12:11) because they are waiting for Him to rescue them on the last day when He descends from heaven with a shout. The point is that Jesus is my Defender and I will trust Him to lead me through any circumstances and any affliction such that “with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20).

Philippians 3:10 – “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS.” Paul desired to know “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.” But how can this stated desire be fulfilled if, every time the Lord brings affliction and persecution into Paul’s life, he immediately prays for God to bring judgment on his persecutors and to bring relief from his affliction? Obviously, Paul did not do this. Rather, the apostle “rejoiced in his sufferings” so that he was “filling up what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24). Here there is no suggestion of any imprecation of persecutors, but instead there is an acceptance of the fact that suffering for the name of Christ is part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The book of Revelation has several passages that give light to this question of imprecation of enemies. In Revelation 6:9-11 we see the souls of the martyrs underneath the altar crying out to the Lord, “How long, O Lord, holy and true?” These have been “slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne,” and they want to know when God is going to avenge their deaths. They were told to rest for a little while longer until the rest of the martyrs would join them. Again, no imprecation against their murderers is suggested, and more martyrs will join them, for the Lord has ordained that the full number of martyrs will be killed.

In Revelation 11:7, we are given a scene where “the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with the saints and overcome them and kill them.” Once again, we see that suffering persecution is an expected part of being a follower of Christ, even to the end of the age. The picture here is not one of brave saints fighting against the beast and being outmatched, but of defenseless sheep being slaughtered by the beast because of their bold witness for Christ (see Romans 8:35, where “we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered”). This exact scene is also presented in Rev. 13:7, where “it was given to the beast to make war with the saints and to overcome them.” In this destruction by the beast, the Scripture gives no hint of imprecation.

Although the context of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 is not persecution, Paul’s attitude toward suffering and affliction in this passage is instructive. Paul is given “a thorn in the flesh” and three times asks the Lord to remove the thorn. The Lord replies that His grace will provide him (and thus, will supply any believer) with all he needs to endure the trial. “My grace is sufficient for you.” “Most gladly, therefore,” Paul will boast about his weaknesses (12:9). Indeed, he is “well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties” (12:10) for Christ’s sake. Note that Paul does not complain or whimper about his affliction, which might be the equivalent of imprecation in persecution, but is well content and boasts of his weaknesses. In the same way, then, in persecution we remain well content in the Lord and we most gladly endure, rejoicing that we are considered worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 5:41).

CONCLUSION

There is certainly more that could be said, but I think the summary is this: In the New Testament, it seems that, at every possible opportunity to meet affliction and persecution with imprecation of the persecutors, the people refuse to do so and, instead, resolve to persevere and to endure through the affliction and, in many cases, pray for the very ones who are persecuting them.

Thus, the sanctioned New Testament response to persecution and affliction appears to preclude any retaliation, revenge, or imprecation of enemies. We would thus conclude that the disciple of Jesus is allowed to lament the suffering and to groan underneath it, and to long for the day when God will judge the wicked and set all injustice right but is not to imprecate his enemies. Rather, he is to trust the Lord with the administration of all justice and is to endure the suffering in the strength that Christ supplies.

SDG                 rmb                 8/27/2022                   #563

New covenant warfare (Matthew 10:16-42)

The gospel of Matthew is the gospel of the King. Matthew portrays Jesus as the promised Davidic King, the Messiah who has come to fulfill all of the Lord’s promises to Israel. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus establishes the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven and describes the nature of the kingdom itself, declaring that He has come to fulfill the Law and to bring in a righteousness far superior to that of the scribes and the Pharisees. The Sermon, then, gives us the principles of the new covenant.

Now in Matthew 10:16-42, Jesus, like the commanding officer of a great army, tells His disciples about the warfare of the new covenant. This post is mostly about this warfare.

First, however, we need to understand what is going on in this chapter. In Matthew 10:5-15, Jesus sends out His apostles with the message to Israel (10:5-6) that their Messiah has come. “Go announce to Israel that the Lord has now fulfilled all His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Messiah is here! Embrace your King!” Since all the promises of the old covenant have now  been fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah (Romans 15:8), the old covenant can be closed. This is the significance of Matthew 10:5-15. Notice that this message is just for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and is only for this specific time. In the words of Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” The old is gone, the new has come.

Observe, though, that the message of Matthew 10:16-42 is of a very different nature. First of all, although it is not explicitly stated, Jesus is now addressing a different group of people. As we stated earlier, in this section of the chapter Jesus is speaking as the new covenant King, the commanding general who is addressing His troops. The new covenant has been inaugurated, the war has begun, and Jesus is now talking to all His disciples of all the time between the advents and explaining to them what the campaign will be like. This message is to disciples from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, declaring to them that the war will be long and there will be casualties, but the victory is certain.

The new covenant campaign will also be more costly than the old, requiring more commitment. As in Matthew 5:10-12 in the Sermon on the Mount, so Matthew 10:16-42 makes clear that being associated with Jesus the Messiah will bring upon you the rejection and the hatred of the world. Even before Jesus gives His troops a clear description of their mission, He presents to them the cost of following Him. In essence, He is saying, “If you want to be My disciple, you must understand that I am only accepting those who are willing to follow Me to death. Yes, I have a grand mission for you that will bring you joy and that will end in heaven, but first I need to know if you will submit to Me and follow Me wherever I lead. My mission will require you to be like a sheep in the midst of a pack of wolves. It will involve hostile courts, scourging, death, and being hated by all just because  you love Me. You will need to endure persecution. I am not bringing peace on the earth but a sword, such that My disciples will be killed with the sword of men even as they proclaim to them the word of life. My mission will create many enemies for My disciples, even in their own households, and there will be those who lose their life for My sake” (a collection of the various warnings in 10:16-39).

“Now you have a decision to make. Understanding the cost, will you take up your cross and follow Me? Will you lose your life for My sake? When I receive your reply, we can talk in more detail about the mission to which I am calling you.”

APPLICATION. Although inaugurated two thousand years ago, the new covenant warfare continues essentially unchanged to this day as the church goes out, sheep in the midst of wolves, to call sinners to repentance. Our King is still calling into His kingdom those who will follow Him to death. Jesus’ disciples still accept “tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword” (Romans 8:35) to accomplish our Commander’s Great Commission of making disciples of all the nations.

One day there will be a trumpet sounded and we will hear the voice of the archangel. One day, heaven will be opened and behold, a white horse, and He who sits upon it will be Him who is called Faithful and True. One day, the warfare will be over, and the wolves will be gone forever, and we will be before the throne with other disciples which no man can count praising the Lamb. But until that day, we obey our King as we press toward the prize.

SDG                 rmb                 8/25/2022                   #562

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

The martyrs under the altar (Revelation 6:9-11)

INTRODUCTION. This is the first post in a series about persecution. Since our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered persecution, we as His followers know that we will also be persecuted. The Christian is called to suffer persecution simply because they are a disciple of Jesus. This series looks at some of the Bible’s teaching on this subject.

Persecution is uniquely Christian. For while ethnic groups may be oppressed and afflicted for who they are, Christians are oppressed, maligned, and afflicted for what they believe. Those who are citizens of one country may be hated and attacked by citizens of another country, but disciples of Jesus are hated and attacked simply because they are disciples of Jesus. The point is that the suffering of persecution comes upon believers because believers associate with Jesus, and the world hates Jesus. So, persecution is a uniquely Christian experience.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. – Rev. 6:9-11

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MARTYRS

In this passage in Revelation 6:9-11, we encounter the martyrs, those who had been slain because of the word of God and their testimony. These had paid the ultimate price for their allegiance to Jesus.

Since the earliest days of the Christian church, persecution has been a normal part of following Jesus. Our Lord Himself said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Taking up a cross means preparing for your own death. Jesus also said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Even though Jesus spoke these words over two millennia ago, His words have proven true. His followers are persecuted, and some are persecuted to death. Since Stephen was killed in Jerusalem (Acts 7) as the first martyr, the followers of Jesus have understood that being a disciple may cost you your life. What is remarkable is that the possibility of martyrdom has never deterred people from coming to Jesus for salvation. The true disciple understands that whoever believes in Jesus cannot die (John 11:25-26), so there is no fear in losing their physical life for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 10:39).

Now, as there were martyrs in the days of the early church and there have been martyrs throughout the gospel age as the church has been gathered in, so this scene near the end of the age shows that there will continue to be martyrs until the end. In the time of this scene, the earth is being made ready for the return of the Lord Jesus, history is drawing to a close, and end times prophecies are being fulfilled. And still we see persecution and martyrs. What this means is that, to the very end of the age, the true followers of Jesus will continue to willingly suffer and even die rather than deny Christ.

THE PERSECUTORS CONTINUE

By the way, this also means that those who hate Christ and who hate Christians will continue to persecute disciples of Jesus until the end of the age. For Jesus to declare that, for at least the next two millennia, His disciples will continue to count their witness for Him as more valuable than life itself is a remarkable prophecy. But to also declare that the world will continue to persecute and even kill His disciples over that same two millennia time period is even more amazing. Note that the world’s hatred of Jesus and of His disciples has not gone away over two thousand years. The martyrs willingly die and the persecutors eagerly kill.

Returning to the text, then, we see the souls of those who had been killed for Jesus’ sake (6:9). These souls then cry out to the Lord, asking how long He will refrain from judging and avenging their deaths (6:10). This cry is not imprecatory, for the souls of the slain are not calling down unusual curses on the wicked, but they are calling out to Him to render justice now. “We know that, at the end of the age, You will judge the wicked and avenge our blood on the unrighteous. O Lord, let Your judgment be now!”

But the Lord is going to delay His justice. He is not going to judge the earth now, because there are more martyrs who must be killed (6:11). The Lord knows that exact number of those who will be martyred and, until we reach that number, the justice of the final judgment will be delayed. So, disciples of Jesus will continue to willingly give their lives and the haters of Jesus will continue to persecute and kill His disciples. So, there will be martyrs until the end of the age.

A MARTYR TAKES TWO WILLING PARTIES

As I was reflecting on this passage about the martyrs and about their Holy Spirit-given faith and courage, something occurred to me that had escaped me before.

What is a martyr? A martyr is someone who is killed by another because of a radical difference in ideology. That means that a martyr cannot act independently. You cannot martyr yourself. A suicide bomber can blow themselves up independently, but they cannot thereby become a martyr. There is a big difference between suicide and martyrdom.

But what we have seen is that there will be martyrs for the entire gospel age all the way to the end. This Scripture in Revelation 6 is not just prophesying what believers will do for the entire church age, namely, willingly surrender their lives for “the word of God and the witness they had borne,” but also saying that the unbelieving world will continue to violently hate believers to the point of killing them for the entire church age. For a martyr requires two willing parties: one person willing to surrender their life for Jesus, and another person willing to kill that person because of Jesus. For both parties, Jesus is the issue. For the martyr, their testimony for Jesus is more valuable than their physical life, and for the murderer, their hatred of Jesus is great enough to warrant killing another human being. That is profound.

SDG                 rmb                 4/4/2022                     #512

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

Imprecation and Jesus – What did Jesus teach?

INTRODUCTION. Our study of the imprecatory psalms now shifts its focus to the New Testament as we seek to answer the question, “Now that Jesus Christ has come, and has lived and died and risen from the dead, and now that we are in the gospel age of ‘the favorable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:19), are believers still allowed to call down curses on their enemies (“imprecate”) or to pray that the Lord would judge evil, wicked men?” This first part of our New Testament study will consider the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and what He taught His disciples.

Several posts ago, we started a study of the imprecatory passages in the psalms, those verses where the psalmist calls upon the LORD to judge the wicked and to bring curses down upon the psalmist’s enemies. Those passages in the psalms seemed to give biblical justification for the believer likewise calling down curses on those who are guilty of monstrous evil today. “If the psalms contain imprecations against enemies and against the wicked, is it not permitted for the believer today to do the same thing?” Of course, if the Old Testament contained the last word on this subject, then the answer would be yes. But the Old Testament does not contain the last word on the subject, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come, and Jesus has changed everything.

JESUS’ VIEW OF IMPRECATION

So, what do we see in the Lord’s teaching and in the Lord’s actions that informs our own attitude toward imprecation of our enemies or of evil men? Does the Lord Jesus teach His disciples to call for curses on their enemies? Does the Lord model for us an attitude of judgment of evil men? For if Jesus taught His disciples that cursing their enemies was allowed, and if He Himself retaliated against those who confronted and opposed Him, then the disciple has a basis for imprecation. But it is also possible that the King of kings teaches and models the very opposite. Thus, the need for this study.

METHOD OF STUDY. The material will be largely from the gospels. The first part of the study will focus on Jesus’ teaching (what He said) and the second part on His actions (what He did). 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 our Lord’s view of Imprecation.

JESUS’ TEACHING AND WORDS

Matt. 5:38-48. “Do not resist an evil person. Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (39). Note there is no imprecation or resistance in the face of mistreatment. “You have heard it said, ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (43-44). Jesus’ teaching in this passage leaves no room for imprecation since He expressly commands His disciples to love their enemies.

Luke 6:27-36. This passage in Luke parallels the above passage in Matthew. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (6:27-28). These two verses alone could conclude this study since they intentionally exclude any thought of imprecation. “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (35a). Once again, the disciple of Jesus is commanded to love their enemies and to do good to others with no thought to how the other person is going to respond. Imprecation is excluded. “The Most High is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (35b). Jesus teaches us that God’s attitude toward “ungrateful and evil men” is kindness. This is certainly opposed to an attitude of cursing. And since God is kind toward evil men, it is incumbent on His children to be kind to their fellow human beings.

Matt. 6:14-15. According to Jesus, forgiving those who have transgressed against them is a mark of His disciples, and an attitude of unforgiveness indicates that the person is not a true believer. Now, it is obvious that forgiveness and imprecation are opposite actions, for no one can curse and at the same time forgive the same person. Since forgiving others is demanded of the believer, it necessarily means that imprecation is excluded.

Matt. 10:16-23. Jesus is teaching His disciples that they will experience opposition and persecution as they go out to proclaim His name. “sheep in the midst of wolves (16).” “they will scourge you in the synagogues (17).” “Brother will betray brother to death . . . they will cause you to be put to death (21).” “You will be hated by all because of My name (22).” “Whenever they persecute you (23).” These are the types of afflictions and suffering the disciples will experience as they go out to tell the world about Jesus. Yet in all this Jesus does not give them one word about how to fight back or to defend themselves or to avoid these afflictions. In the face of enemies and persecution and hatred, our Lord tells His disciples to endure to the end (22) and to flee to the next city (23), but there is not the slightest hint of any imprecation or retaliation against those who hate us and persecute us. Once again, we have strong evidence that imprecation is a thing of the past and is not available to the disciple of Jesus.

Matt. 12:20. Jesus is said to be fulfilling the words of Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 42:1-3). “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” The character of Jesus is diametrically opposed to the spirit of imprecation. He is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and feels compassion for the people (Matt. 9:36; 14:14).

Luke 9:54-55. Jesus is not received by the Samaritans because He was traveling toward Jerusalem, so James and John said to Him, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” In 2 Kings 1, Elijah twice calls down fire from heaven to consume the fifty soldiers sent to him. It is a display of God’s power and of His protection of His prophet. James and John want the same respect to be shone to Jesus, so they ask Jesus to give them permission to burn up the Samaritans. But, instead of destroying the Samaritans, Jesus rebukes His apostles and says, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” The picture is clear: Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), not to curse the wicked. Again, there is no room for imprecation.

Matt. 21:33-39. In the telling of this parable, Jesus is clearly aware the chief priests and elders intend to kill Him, yet He does not lift a finger to stop them, nor does He threaten them, so there is no imprecation here.

Matt. 24:9, 13. Jesus is telling of the great tribulation that will come upon the church at the end of the age. “They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (24:9). Jesus offers no defense tactics for the persecuted and He hints at no curses for the persecutors. As in Matthew 10, our Lord declares that “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (24:13). Endurance, not imprecation, is the Lord’s charge to His disciples.

We have surveyed Jesus’ teaching in the gospels and have seen that, each time Jesus had an opportunity to imprecate his enemies and those who opposed Him, He chose not to retaliate or to offer any curses. Instead, both explicitly and implicitly, Jesus taught that the believer is to receive the hatred and persecution of the world as the expected cost of following Him and being His witness (Acts 1:8).

The next post will look at the supreme example of Jesus’ attitude toward imprecation as we examine His actions and words during His passion and crucifixion. In His crucifixion, the Son of God is subjected to the greatest injustice in human history and is condemned to death by His enemies. Does Jesus cry out to His Father for justice? Does He curse His enemies because of their wicked acts? Does He threaten these evil men with eternal judgment? We will see.

SDG                 rmb                 3/19/2022                   #505

Imprecatory psalms – A definition, then a look at Psalm 69

INTRODUCTION. In post #500 on March 8, I had begun a series of articles discussing 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 post will consider specific imprecatory psalms and think about how the believer is to apply these passages.

In the last post about this topic, we had taken time to get the proper mindset for these imprecatory passages. While the Bible does give us these psalms as a means of calling upon the Lord for justice, the calling down of God’s curses and God’s vengeance upon someone is an exceptional act. This is done rarely in cases of unusual cruelty or when the injustice is blatant and heinous. A believer is usually to endure the evil in the world and to persevere through the evil using the ordinary means given to us in the Scriptures. So, the believer is not to call down heaven’s curses and woes on every personal enemy at the first sign of conflict but is rather to bear with the conflict and the difficulty while pressing on in obedience. There comes a time, however, when the injustice is too evil merely to be endured. The time has come for God to stop the evil and to stop the evildoer. “Rise up, O Judge of the earth. Render recompense to the proud” (Psalm 94:2). This is when the believer calls upon the Lord and imprecates the wicked.

DEFINITION

We need to establish a definition for what we mean by “imprecatory.” The Webster’s Dictionary definition for “imprecate” is “to call down evil upon” or “to curse.” When we are referring to imprecatory psalms (verses, really) in the Bible, we mean “when the believer calls upon God to render punishment on perpetrators of evil, cruelty, or destruction.” The evildoer’s crimes and cruelty can no longer go unpunished, but the one committing these heinous, sinful acts is too powerful to be restrained by human means. Therefore, the believer cries out to the Lord, the One who is all-powerful, to observe the shocking injustice and to stop or to destroy or to punish the wicked one.

THE IMPRECATORY PASSAGES

We have talked about these imprecatory passages long enough, and now it is time to take a look at some of them. As we look at these, I want to consider the context of the verses; that is, what prompts the psalmist’s cry to the Lord, as well as the content of the cry.

Two passages stand out as the most obvious of imprecatory psalms, Psalm 69 and 109.

Psalm 69:22-28

22 May their table before them become a snare;
And when they are in peace, may it become a trap.
23 May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see,
And make their loins shake continually.
24 Pour out Your indignation on them,
And may Your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be desolate;
May none dwell in their tents.
26 For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded.
27 Add iniquity to their iniquity,
And may they not come into Your righteousness.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
And may they not be recorded with the righteous.

CONTEXT. In this psalm of David, the author is lamenting his oppression by his enemies. The literal context, then, is one of distress from attack and affliction by David’s enemies, and David is pouring out his complaint before the Lord and asking for His intercession.

But this psalm is much deeper than that. This is an overtly Messianic psalm and is about the suffering of the Lord Jesus during His passion in Gethsemane and then His agony on the cross. The foreshadows of Calvary are obvious, for in this psalm we can hear the groans of our Savior as He prepared to bear the wrath of God on our behalf. The psalmist prophetically laments the greatest injustice in human history as by Jesus’ wounds we are healed.  

But there is even more than that because this psalm is also about the persecuted church that, as the body of Christ, suffers the world’s hatred as the witnesses of Christ on the earth. Faithful believers are “hated without cause” (69:4; John 15:25). They are reproached for Jesus’ sake (“reproach” – 69:7, 9, 10, 19, 20). Dishonor, pain, shame, distress, and affliction (“afflicted”) are the words of the psalmist, again picturing the suffering church as they endure the reviling of the world. So, the context of the psalm is suffering, and the lamentations of Christ and then of His church as they fill up His sufferings (Colossians 1:24).

Although these sufferings are God-ordained, they are, nevertheless, evil and deserve to be punished by God. These are wicked acts of injustice, and they demand a just recompense. Therefore, the psalmist calls on the LORD to act and to punish the wicked NOW.

CONTENT. David calls on the LORD to bring specific curses on these wicked men. First, he asks for physical punishment. Let their food be poison and let all peace be taken from them (22). Cause them to go blind and make their legs lose their strength and shake (23). “God, pour out Your indignation and anger upon them for their evil (24).” Let there be strife in their house and may they have no children (25). In the midst of the imprecation, the psalmist speaks explicitly of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (~300 years before Isaiah wrote his prophecy) and reminds the LORD of the crimes of the wicked (26). The curses conclude with spiritual, condemnatory judgments upon these evil men. May their iniquities be multiplied and never forgiven (27) and may they be blotted out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 20:15) so that they will never be recorded as righteous. The effect of David’s imprecation is to ask the LORD to condemn these evil men to eternal punishment.

APPLICATION. The psalms are given to us as poetic theology and describe for the believer how they can speak to and pray to their God. How, then, is the believer to apply this psalm? It seems to me that the nature of Psalm 69 limits its application to those situations where the believer, as a member of the body of Christ, is suffering or enduring affliction because they are a follower of Jesus. In other words, the injustice being experienced comes only because a person identifies with Jesus. (See Matt. 5:10-12; 10:16-22; 24:9; John 15:18-21; 1 Pet. 4:12-14, 16, 19.) So, the believer would turn to this psalm when they are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Then the believer would cry out with the psalmist for justice from the Lord. Persecution of the righteous is still wrong, and it is still appropriate to cry out to the Lord that He would bring justice to His people and recompence to the evildoer.

But also, the suffering believer would pray through this psalm for perseverance through the suffering, that he would endure as his Savior endured His hour of suffering. The believer would remember that the Lord has ordained all things and that his attitude should be, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” whatever that will is.

Psalm 69 would encourage the believer that part of the calling to Jesus is a call to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29-30). The psalm, then, reminds the believer of the privilege it is to suffer for Jesus’ name and, therefore, to suffer well, to suffer as a Christian should suffer.

ONE QUESTION. One of the issues with these imprecatory psalms, these passages that invoke cursing upon the evildoer, is that they seem to conflict with specific teaching in the New Testament about how the believer is to view their enemies. This is the topic that I want to address in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 3/14/2022                   #502

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 5 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

INTRODUCTION. Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” This is the fifth and final post in a series of studies covering this section of Scripture, and this article will draw the series to a conclusion. In the last two posts in this series (February 21 and 23), we had worked to discover the exact nature of this “discipline of the Lord.” Now we are going to apply what we have learned and understand how we are to respond when the Lord brings His discipline into the life of the child He loves.

WHAT IS THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD?

What did we discover in our previous posts about the nature of the discipline of the Lord? Although the author of Hebrews does not speak in this passage of suffering, I think the best way for the believer to understand the Lord’s discipline is to see that the Lord is bringing the perfect amount of affliction and yes, even suffering into the disciple’s life for the purpose of bringing about the disciple’s greater holiness. We experience this as suffering and pain and affliction, for these are the human labels we attach to this anguish, but from the Lord’s perspective He is bringing His sanctifying discipline onto the child He loves. The Lord is demonstrating His love to the disciple of Jesus through the means of His purifying affliction.

EXTRAORDINARY MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION

Why does the Lord choose to use suffering to produce sanctification? He does this because of His immense grace to us. The Lord has given to His children many means for growing in holiness. He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit who allows us to understand His Word. He has given us the Bible so that we can be renewed in the spirit of our minds and can know what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness. He has given us communion with Him through prayer. He has given us His church, where we can worship Him with other believers and disciple one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds. These ordinary means of grace allow the believer to steadily grow in practical holiness and to increase in usefulness to the Master.

But the Lord is so personal with His children that, when He perceives an obstacle to His child’s holiness that is resistant to the ordinary means of sanctification, He crafts extraordinary means which the stubborn obstacle cannot resist. This is “the discipline of the Lord.” This discipline often feels like suffering and affliction, but it is the Lord’s appointed means of purifying us with hyssop so that the stubborn, entrenched unholiness can be cut out of our life.

AMAZING GRACE

Consider the grace of this discipline of the Lord. First, the Lord is so concerned about His child’s greater holiness that He is attentive to when there is a stubborn unholiness that must be addressed. The Lord then crafts the perfect discipline for this specific unholiness. He custom designs the discipline so that it is painful enough to purge away the unwanted unholiness but is not so painful that it crushes the disciple’s spirit. The Lord Himself then brings the discipline into the life of the believer so that the believer can share His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

THE HUMAN RESPONSE AND RESPONSIBILITY

How should we respond to the discipline of the Lord? We have already found much instruction in our study about how we are to respond, but before we review those responses, I wanted to make an observation from my own life. We have said that the Lord brings His discipline into our life to address an obstacle to holiness that He perceives. So, He knows the reason He is bringing His discipline, and what the intended result of the discipline is. But the disciple who is experiencing the affliction of the discipline of the Lord usually does not. When I have experienced the discipline of the Lord, I only perceived that the Lord was bringing suffering into my life, but I did not know the purpose of His discipline. By faith, I believed that the suffering I was experiencing was from the Lord as His discipline and was sent from heaven for the purpose of my greater holiness. This is the typical experience of the disciple, that they are aware of the suffering but do not know the specific reasons why or the details of the intended result. Even when the affliction is over, and the suffering has past, rarely does the disciple know the “whys” of the discipline of the Lord. But the Lord does. The disciple is called to trust the Lord and persevere through the affliction until the Lord determines that His intended greater holiness has been achieved.

We can review Hebrews 12:5-11 to remind ourselves of how we are to respond to His discipline. When we perceive that the Lord is bringing His discipline into our life, we are not to faint (12:5). We saw in post #493 (2/23/2022) what this meant: “We resolve to endure. Endurance and perseverance mark out our course because it is the enduring of the discipline that brings greater holiness and the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10, 11). To reinforce this point, we see that Hebrews 12:7 calls us to endure: “It is for discipline that you endure.” By faith, we are also to patiently “be subject to the Father of spirits” (12:9) and allow His extraordinary work to have its intended result. Finally, we are to be trained by His discipline (12:11) so that we will “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY

This study of Hebrews 12:5-11 and “the discipline of the Lord” has yielded a solid understanding of the nature of the discipline of the Lord and of how the disciple of Jesus can respond when they perceive that the Lord is bring His extraordinary means of sanctification into the disciple’s life.

SDG                 rmb                 3/3/2022                     #496

The Discipline of the Lord – Part 4 (Hebrews 12:5-11)

THE PASSAGE – HEBREWS 12:5-11

INTRODUCTION. Hebrews 12:5-11 is the classic passage in the Bible about “the discipline of the Lord.” This is the fourth post in a series of studies covering this section of Scripture. We have been seeking to understand concretely what this discipline of the Lord is, but I wanted to take a brief aside to explore two ways we can incorrectly respond to the discipline of the Lord. We will be looking at Hebrews 12:5-6.

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

TWO WARNINGS

The Lord brings His discipline to His children so that the children can share His holiness (12:10) and so that they can yield the fruit of righteousness (12:11). Therefore, the discipline of the Lord is a display of the Lord’s grace toward those who have placed their faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus. But because of the distorting effects of the fall and because of incomplete sanctification in the disciple, the child of God can misunderstand and misinterpret the Lord’s discipline. For this reason, the author of Hebrews issues two warnings about wrong responses.

Warning #1: “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord.”

What does it mean to “regard lightly”? This means to respond in a way that ignores or despises the magnitude of the gesture. In this case, the Lord of the universe, by His providence, has ordained that His sanctifying, loving discipline is to be applied to one of His children at this specific time in human history. Imagine the immensity of this gesture! Imagine the condescension of the One bringing the discipline! The Lord has perceived in this specific disciple something that is hindering the disciple’s holiness. There is an obstacle to sanctification that the Lord not only sees, but that also moves the Lord to action. Now the Lord is going to bring the perfect discipline to bear on this disciple’s life so that the disciple will bear more of the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Such a spectacular gesture deserves a spectacular response. But to respond requires that the disciple perceive that the Lord is bringing His discipline. For this reason, every disciple should be alert for the presence of the discipline of the Lord in their life (ACTION ITEM). Then, once the disciple senses that the Lord is bringing His discipline to bear on his life, he needs to “lean into” the discipline so that it will have its full effect (ACTION ITEM). Give thanks to the Lord for His gracious care for you in sending His “scourging” discipline (ACTION ITEM). The opposite of “regard lightly” would be “make much of,” so the disciple should recognize this form of the Lord’s grace and praise Him loudly for His good instruction (ACTION ITEM). Taking these actions will help you avoid “regarding lightly” the discipline of the Lord.

Warning #2:Nor faint when you are reproved by Him.”

The first warning cautioned the disciple not to regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, but this second warning tells us not to make too much of the Lord’s reproof. What I mean is this, that the Lord’s discipline is a perfect discipline. Like He sends His word to accomplish all that He intends and desires (see Isaiah 55:11), so the Lord brings His precise discipline to accomplish His precise ends. We know that His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3), and we can be assured that His discipline is likewise not onerous. The purpose of the Lord’s discipline is, by applying heat and affliction, to burn off the dross of remaining ungodliness and leave the disciple more conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). As Job said when he was undergoing the Lord’s severe discipline, “He (the LORD) knows the way I take, and when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Again, the Lord’s discipline is sent at the exact time needed to affect the change He desires. Although Paul was speaking of the persecution he faced because he faithfully proclaimed the gospel, the idea is similar with the Lord’s discipline: “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing” (2 Cor. 4:8). The Lord brings enough affliction to affect change and to spur greater holiness, but not so much that it crushes the spirit and brings despair.

The discipline of the Lord comes with heat and affliction, and there can be a response of “shrinking back” (Hebrews 10:38-39) and a temptation to faint under the stress. This warning #2 comes as an urgent exhortation to those who do not expect the Lord to test them and who therefore can feel the temptation to quit or to surrender to relieve the stress of the Lord’s discipline.

What is the right response when we are experiencing the affliction and the heat of the Lord’s discipline? Rather than faint, we resolve to endure (ACTION ITEM). Endurance and perseverance mark out our course because it is the enduring of the discipline that brings greater holiness and the fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10, 11). This is key: It is the enduring of the discipline and the persevering through the pain that brings the spiritual fruit. The Lord sends His perfect discipline, but if the disciple faints or takes shortcuts, then even the perfect discipline of the Lord will not have its intended results.

SUMMARY. When the Lord chooses to bring His discipline into the life of the believer, the believer is not to regard lightly this discipline, but is to receive it as a gift from his perfect heavenly Father and is to allow the discipline to work its full work. Even when the discipline of the Lord feels withering, the believer is not to faint, but is to continue with an attitude of endurance and perseverance.

SDG                 rmb                 2/23/2022                   #493