Suffering For The Gospel…

Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I wanted to share this verse from the other day, but I have held up because of time constraints and I wanted to add some context and comment.  The topic Paul addresses here is “suffering” and its intended spiritual purpose in our lives.  Paul shares his insight from the tremendous amount of personal suffering that he endured; especially after becoming a believer and follower of Christ. I thought we might put this passage in the larger context to better understand this purpose:

Romans 5:1-11 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And let us boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but let us also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Notice the end goal of suffering is “hope”!  And hope does not put us to shame. Why? Because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. It is our reconciliation with God through the death of His Son … through the atonement made by His blood … that produces the hope of eternal life within us.  It is this reconciliation through the suffering of Christ that demonstrates the power and depth of God’s love for us!  And this is the context in which we should view our own suffering in life. Paul indicates that we should glory in any suffering that is encountered for our faith in and devotion to Jesus Christ….

Romans 8:18-25 (NIV)

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. 21 For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There is an intricate relationship between suffering and hope for us to evaluate and to embrace. For we know that Christ Jesus, Son though He was, He learned obedience from the things that He suffered. (Cf. Hebrews 5:8) And Peter reminds us that suffering for doing good will be inevitable. Just as Christ Jesus suffered for us, we as believers have been called to follow in the example of His steps.

1 Peter 2:19-23 (NIV)

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. (See Isaiah 53 regarding the suffering of Christ)

So Paul enjoins us to “glory in our sufferings” for the sake of Christ.  For it produces perseverance of faith … Christ-like character … and affirms the hope for which we seek an intimate relationship with God.  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) And so, I think it follows that without suffering in our lives, we will not develop confidence in our hope or assurance through our faith.  In other words, suffering is part of a necessary process to attain a faith that pleases God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is believing God … and trusting Him even in the midst of our suffering….

So I pray that we as believers will come to place in our walk with God to embrace the trials of suffering that will come along in our lives.  As we have learned, suffering produces tremendous spiritual growth in us … deepens our faith and trust in God and His character … and ultimately produces the obedience that comes from faith.  And so, those are the worthy goals that accompany the suffering and affliction. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

2 Timothy 1:6-13 (NIV)

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of GodHe has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. 11 And of this Gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Do Not Take Revenge

Psalm 94:18-19 (NIV)

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

If you become dismayed or disillusioned about the events going on in our nation … in our world … this Psalm provides some comfort to us.  God will execute judgment with righteousness.  God will avenge His righteous ones. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

Psalm 94

The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve.
How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?

They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, Lord; they oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice.”

Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise?
Does He who fashioned the ear not hear? Does He who formed the eye not see?
10 Does He who disciplines nations not punish? Does He who teaches mankind lack knowledge?
11 The Lord knows all human plans; He knows that they are futile.

12 Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law;
13 you grant them relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not reject His people; He will never forsake His inheritance.
15 Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.

16 Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
17 Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

20 Can a corrupt throne be allied with you— a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?
21 The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.
23 He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.

And in light of these days, I am reminded of what the Apostle John recorded in Revelation as the seals were opened:

Revelation 6:9-11 (NIV)

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

The message here is that God is fully aware of what is taking place within His creation. God is wholly sovereign over His works, and His will is immutable in heaven and on earth.  We are not to fear the wicked or what is happening in the world; rather, we are to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth! We have been saved to serve, and we should be about the Father’s business. “When the harvest time approached, He sent His servants to the tenants to collect His fruit.” (Cf. Matthew 21:34) And, “He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” (Cf. Luke 10:2) This is how the Body of Christ should be engaged in these latter days regardless of the resistance, persecution, and vilification that will come upon the workers. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Cf. Matthew 28:19-20)

It has already been written in Scripture that God will allow martyrdom to happen … and permit the testing of our faith to refine us as with fire.  So, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:12-13) Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (Cf. John 15:18) And, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Cf. Matthew 24:9) And, “See I have told you ahead of time.” (Cf. Matthew 24:25) “So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.” (Cf. Mark 13:23) But I remind you that victory will be accomplished. Jesus encouraged His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Cf. John 16:33) And the Apostle John affirms that “everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world … even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (Cf. 1 John 5:4-5)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:21

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Remain in My Love…

John 15:10 (NIV)

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.

A simple message of obedience … wrapped in a greater context if we want to consider HOW we can keep His commands:

John 15:1-17 (NIV)

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to youRemain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

I want to outline some of the salient points that Jesus made in this passage using the vine and branches metaphor to guide our understanding of His Word:

1.       God the Father is the gardener!  He is the One who planted the True Vine! Jesus is the True Vine!

Isaiah 11:1-5; 10 (NIV)

1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious.

Revelation 5:5-6 (NIV)

5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, that is, the seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth. 

Revelation 22:16 (NIV)

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

2.       We (those who believe in Christ Jesus) are the Branches of the Vine!

This means that believers emerge from the vine.  We are an integral part of the Vine.  We have no existence or life except that the Vine has produced us and we are an inherent part of its growth.  It is from the branches that flowering buds will emerge, fruit will be set (borne), and a harvest will come forth … from ALL the branches that have formed from the Vine.  I believe this is the image of the metaphor Jesus has used to illustrate not only our relationship to Him and the Father, but also to manifest the depth of His life-giving love for us. Always remember that God the Father “tends” to the Vine.  He observes the branches and their well-being.  The Father notes those branches which are producing fruit and He prunes in order for them to produce even more fruit. Branches in Jesus that do not produce fruit, He cuts off. And what is the key to fruit production? Abiding in the Vine! ALL the resources we will ever need and utilize to produce fruit will come from the roots and through the Vine. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Verse 5) So each individual branch must understand that nothing less than an intimate relationship with Jesus will be able to produce the harvest that the Father is looking to receive from His Vine….

3.       If we keep (obey) His commands, we will REMAIN in Jesus … we will abide in Him and remain in His love.

Jesus states that He is the example of obedience for us.  As we visualize the obedience of Jesus to the Father, we see that His intimate relationship with the Father stems from HOW Jesus lived in obedience.  His relationship was that of Son. What did Jesus say? “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” (Verse 9) As Jesus bore the image of the Father, so we are conformed to the image of Him. The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews gives us some additional insight into how we too can become empowered for obedience:

Hebrews 5:7-10 (NIV)

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

First we observe the prayer life of Jesus.  He offered up prayers and supplications with fervent cries and tears to God! Note the intensity described here….  Second, the prayers of Jesus were heard by the Father because of His “reverent submission.”  I truly believe from this verse that “reverent submission” is the most important element of prayer.  As the Prophet Isaiah noted: “Our iniquities have separated us from God, and our sins have hidden His face from us, so that He will not hear.” (Cf. Isaiah 59:2) But Jesus was filled with the Spirit of the knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He delighted in the fear of the Lord.  And I think we are to have the same mindset if we desire to obey His commands and for His love to remain in us.

As Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered, I surmise that we must enter the same “winepress” in the pursuit of obedience. Sometimes God refines us in the furnace of affliction. (Cf. Isaiah 48:10) So as I ponder the idea of suffering in order to learn obedience, I am reminded by the thought that suffering will be manifested in the natural realm … in our bodies as we die to sin. (Cf. Romans 6:2) It is inevitable! Sin itself will not die; rather, we have to die to it!  And the process of sanctification will often feel like suffering as addictions are withdrawn … as strongholds of bitterness and unforgiveness are uprooted … as the iniquity of the tongue is tamed …  and as a myriad of temptations are resisted and escaped. Yet, “In our struggle against sin, none of us have resisted to the point of shedding our blood.” (Cf. Hebrews 12:4) But that is the course we must pursue if we are truly serious about holiness in our lives. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:1)

4.       My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

If we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, then we will all the more need to prepare for the suffering that accompanied His love for us! As Jesus shared His heart with the disciples, He told them that He was willing to lay it down for them.  Jesus called them friends!  And this is important to see: “You are my friends IF you do what I command”. This is my command: Love one another! “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands.  As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.”  (Cf. 2 John 1:6) Since by the example of Christ Jesus we know that the love of God is sacrificial, our love for one another will manifest as sacrificial as well. And we need to understand that sacrificial love will bring some degree of suffering into our lives … suffering that we will be challenged to endure unless we abide in the Vine through reverent submission to Him. Still, through suffering we learn obedience; the obedience that comes from faith (Cf. Romans 16:26) … the obedience that leads to righteousness (Cf. Romans 6:16) … and the obedience that accompanies our confession of the Gospel of Christ. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:13)

Love requires an emptying of ourselves.  It challenges us to be servants to others.  As Paul admonished, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”  (Cf. Romans 12:1) Paul goes on to instruct us to be devoted to one another in love; honor one another above yourselves; share with the Lord’s people who are in need; live in harmony with one another; live at peace with everyone; and do not take revenge. (Cf. Romans 12:9-21) And Paul wrote similar instructions to other churches: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Cf. Philippians 2:3-4)

Well, I have tarried here a while, but I hope that something has been said that will inspire you to look at the condition of your branch within the Vine.  Is your branch healthy?  Is it growing?  Is it producing fruit?  Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  Is the Father being glorified through your life and mine?  These are important questions to ask ourselves in order to cultivate and nourish our intimacy with Christ. It is imperative that His Word abide in us … that we are fervent in prayer … and that we pursue reverent submission to Him in all aspects of our lives.  This is HOW we will be equipped to “keep His command” to love one another as He has loved us.  This is how we will bear fruit … fruit that will last.  Indeed, I pray that we will hear these words of Jesus and put them into practice…. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Lord Is Faithful

2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NIV)

But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.

I found our verse this morning to be a timely word for those who believe … a confirmation of the trust we must place in the Lord our God.  Either we believe the Lord is faithful, as He has wholly demonstrated through His great mercy and love, or we in essence do not believe He has spoken with truth.  The Apostle John cautioned about the theological implication of unbelief: “We make God to be a liar.”

1 John 5:9-11 (NIV)

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

God has not been ambiguous in the revelation of His will or His love. “But God demonstrates HIS OWN LOVE FOR US in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:8) “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (Cf. 1 John 4:10)

Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

If we accept the testimony of God … if we believe in His Son, Jesus Christ … then we can trust Him at His Word! The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.  And now, let’s read the verse in the context:

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (NIV)

1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with youAnd pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Again, our mission … the task of the Church … is to share the testimony of God and to spread the message of Jesus Christ – His Son.  This is why we pray … pray for strength and pray for protection from the evil one. And this is His faithful promise to those who are at work and not idle in these times.  It is necessary for each of us to “release” whatever hinders us or binds us in unbelief.  Yes, right now, I pray in name of Jesus, for “RELEASE” of whatever stronghold, whatever attachment, whatever sin, whatever doubt or fear, that abide in our hearts and keep us from TOTAL TRUST in our Lord and Savior.  I declare, “RELEASE!”

Why?  “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:17)

1 Peter 4:12-19 (NIV)

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (Quoting Proverbs 11:31) 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Dealing With Sin

Matthew 18:15 (NIV)

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

It appears that the Holy Spirit wants us to deal with the issue of sin within our relationships.  As the Apostle John admonishes us:

1 John 3:1-10 (NIV)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the Law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

So in the context of this “post resurrection” understanding brought to us by John, let’s go back to the matter Jesus discusses with His disciples and followers while He was still with them:

Matthew 18:15-20 (NRSV) – Dealing with Sin in the Church

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out their offense when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that brother or sister16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Cf. Deuteronomy 19:1517 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a pagan or a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

An authentic encounter with Jesus Christ should produce a discernible change of heart within an individual.  It is not enough to simply know about Jesus; rather, a person must enter into an intimate relationship with Him … experience the new birth (born of God through His Spirit) … conceived in deep repentance and complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior.  John tells us that one who is born of God will not continue to sin because the Holy Spirit within them will bring conviction to their heart. This conviction will lead to confession of the sin. And as John instructed: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9) Likewise, we are called to have this same mindset of forgiveness with one another. (Cf. Colossians 3:13) Indeed, I think the Apostle James brings additional perspective on forgiveness when he enjoins us “to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed.” (Cf. James 5:13-16) I think his message is that not only should we “release” the one who sins against us, but we should advocate in prayer for their “release” in heaven.  In other words, when we forgive someone, we should ask God to forgive them as well. It does not necessarily change the consequence(s) of their sin(s), but the intent is to release the debt owed for their offense just as God in Christ released you….

Jesus taught that when we pray to God, we should ask for and receive forgiveness for our sins (trespasses or debts) because we have forgiven those who have sinned or trespassed against us.  What we are asking for is the “release” of the debt we owe for our own conduct toward God. We plead for the blood of Jesus to atone for our sin. We ask for His grace to be extended to us. So it is “expected” that we have forgiven others with the same grace that we have asked of the Father for ourselves. Jesus noted: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Cf. Matthew 6:9-15) With this context in mind, I encourage you to revisit Matthew 18:18 again: “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven.” Consider that if you or I withhold forgiveness from someone (bind it on earth); then it could be that our own prayers for forgiveness will be withheld from us (bound in heaven). It could be that we are guilty of the same sin(s) committed against us. Just a thought … in case you never committed the act of adultery but did so in your heart with a spirit of lust or covetousness.  Remember, Jesus has extended the threshold of sinfulness beyond physical deeds to include the malicious intentions of our hearts. For example, our tongues (our words) can wound the spirit or even murder the life of another person. If you have ever physically or emotionally bullied others, you have in essence murdered them in your heart….

Matthew 5:21-24 (NIV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder (Cf. Exodus 20:13) and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (an Aramaic term of contempt or verbal abuse) is answerable to the council. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

More than our tithes and offerings … more than our gifts or sacrifices of praise … God is concerned with the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He observes how we demonstrate our love for other people.  Is our love sincere or just lip service?  Is our love for others manifested in our prayers? God knows in truth.  In Christ Jesus, the love of God embodied in the greatest act of forgiveness … the release of our own sin debt.  Likewise, it is our forgiveness of others that expresses our love for them. Oh, it may be difficult in our human nature to do so; but the precepts presented here in Scripture are too obvious for us to disregard or dismiss.  Forgiveness does not mean what someone else did to you was acceptable. It was wrong. It was painful.  It impacted, diminished, or desecrated your life in some way. What they did should NOT be tolerated; however, it can still be forgiven. You can still “release” them and pray for them … even if reconciliation with you is not possible. In doing so, you affirm God has been merciful to you….  Remember, God did not excuse our sins! What He did was release us from the judgment for them (death). In most cases, we all still suffer from the consequences of our sin. Perhaps this is why James encouraged us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed of our brokenness….

Consider what Paul declared: “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!  “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (Cf. Romans 5:9-10) I believe forgiveness is probably the most powerful demonstration of love ever conceived in the heart of God.  And if we are to love one another as He has loved us, then forgiveness of others must be within our hearts as well.  The riches of His kindness, longsuffering, and patience is intended to lead us to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4) Perhaps, if we too acted with kindness and forgiveness, the one who offended us might be granted repentance as well. (Cf. 2 Timothy 24-26) As the Apostle James pointed out: My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (Cf. James 5:19-20) And we should take to heart the lesson Jesus taught us:

Luke 6:27-37 (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most-High God, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

When you love your enemies and do good to them, your reward will be great!  We were once enemies of God; and yet, for the JOY set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) We have been called in Christ Jesus to share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. (Cf. Romans 8:17) Peter affirmed this reward as well: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (Cf. 1 Peter 4:12-14) Yes, somehow we need to find it within us to be kind to those who sin against us.  To me, the greatest kindness we can extend is forgiveness.  We can release them to God for His judgment.  Perhaps they might respond to His kindness.

Romans 12:17-21 (NIV)

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:3520 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, then feed him; if he is thirsty, then give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Cf. Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Well, I see that I have covered quite a bit of ground on the issue of forgiveness.  A final thought to share is that communication and interaction are essential for forgiveness and reconciliation to be realized.  We are expected to “confront” our offenders.  We should go to them in love … even when we should feel righteous anger toward them.  How we feel is important … but how they are separated from you and from God is the greater issue to be addressed.  When people sin against each other … we must realize that we sin against God.  There should be a deep sense of sorrow for the offense.  There should be a great desire to effectuate reconciliation. The impulse to seek revenge should be counterbalanced with a deeper desire to see repentance and restoration. And even though you act in a spirit of grace, there could be ambivalence or indifference on the part of the offender. Still, you and I should do what is best and just commit them to God.  And do not be offended or upset with God because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  His kindness once led you and I to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ. So I believe that we should pray that God would do the same for those who offend us. For God is longsuffering toward us all – not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (Cf. 2 Peter 3:9)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

He Was Despised

Isaiah 53:3-4

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted….

It is the last day of March 2020!  Last day of the quarter!  Unfortunately, it is not the last day of the Coronavirus….  We are only a few days away from Palm Sunday … the start of the holy week leading up to the crucifixion … and then three days in preparation for the resurrection … Easter.  Somehow it all seems surreal at this moment in time and history.  Many of you, like myself, cannot remember an Easter Sunday when we were not at church for worship and celebration of our Lord Jesus.  I suspect this Easter will be a “first” of broken traditions in many ways….

When I read our verse for today … I had to pause again and reflect on its solemn tone and its prophetic description of the Messiah who would appear over 700 years later.  The words and imagery recorded by the Prophet Isaiah in Chapter 53 provoke such a deep sorrow within my soul every time that I read them. Yet within the lines of pain and anguish and sadness and brokenness lies a message of love so profound … so overwhelming … so unmerited and undeserved.  It reveals the incomprehensible depth of love God has for you and for me … that He would send His Son, Jesus, to bear the iniquities of us all … to bear our sin … to make intercession for us … to redeem us from the captivity and penalty of sin … to atone for the justice God required without hesitation or regret….

After the writer of Hebrews recounted those who lived by faith (Chapter 11), he commented: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Cf. Hebrews 11:39-40) But more important, the writer concluded, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 12:1-2)

Did you see it?  Its reads: For the JOY set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. How many of us find or experience JOY in self-sacrifice?  Would any of us knowingly … willfully … joyfully allow ourselves to die on behalf of death row inmates?  That is what Christ did!  All of us … every one of us was on death row.  For the wages of sin is death! (Romans 6:23) That is the justice each human is destined to receive. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ (the Messiah) died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8) This is what … or rather who … Isaiah foretold would come.  This is what God had already planned before the foundation of the world!  How can any human heart not be compelled to respond to the love of God?

Ephesians 2:1-4 (NIV)

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful human nature, and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Indeed, for those who believe in Jesus Christ, God withholds the penalty of death due for our transgression. The death sentence is pardoned because of His great mercy! Likewise, for those who believe in Jesus Christ, God gives us eternal life for our reward.  The gift is unmerited … undeserved because of His grace! Again I ask, “How can any human heart not be compelled to respond to the love of God which is in Christ Jesus?”  Yet we still live in a world filled with disbelief … some even in vehement rejection … just as it was when Jesus walked among His own people:

John 12:35-41 (NIV)

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When He had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid Himself from them. 37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the Prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message; and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Cf. Isaiah 53:1) 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal (save) them.” (Cf. Isaiah 6:10) 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

The issue of faith can be distilled down to two forces: light and darkness.  There is a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness; and a person belongs to one or the other.  Jesus declared to all: “I AM the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Cf. John 8:12) And in John 9:5, Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world!”  What is the implication of His statement? Well, as long as the Church (the Body of Christ) is in the world, we are the light of the world. As long as the Church follows Jesus and submits to His authority, we will not walk in darkness nor lead others into darkness; rather, we will shine the light of the Gospel that leads to life … eternal life.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Ephesians 5:1-14 (NIV)

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper,   rise from the dead,   and Christ will shine on you.”

So where am I headed with this train of thought?  Well, I had to ask myself the same question. Ha!  Let me cite another passage to bring this all together. In the conflict between belief and unbelief … in the conflict between light and darkness in our world …  the only light there is or will ever be is the light of God found in Jesus Christ!

John 1:1-13 (NIV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankindThe light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through Him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. 11 He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. 12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

So here is the application.  A person cannot become a child of God except through faith in Jesus Christ.  We cannot become children of light … we cannot be the light of the world … we cannot expose the darkness of this world … unless we have some to faith in Jesus Christ … the Word of God … the Messiah … the Holy One of Israel … the Light of the world. So, what is the glory of this Messiah that Isaiah saw and declared to Israel? Who is this Messiah that came to His own and His own did not receive Him?  In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  I want to remind us to remember and reflect upon the Messiah … our Lord and Savior Jesus … the One whom we have not seen except through the eyes of faith! Peter said, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Do you want to see Him … the One you love … the One in whom you believe … the One whose love for you is undeniable? Behold Him, the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin….  Remember this portrait! This is Jesus … our Messiah!  He is the love of God.  He is the light of life … the light that shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….  Amen.

Isaiah 53 (NIV)

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem.

Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth;
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.
From arrest and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death,
though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin,
He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
11 After He has suffered, He will see the fruit of His suffering and be satisfied;
by knowledge of Him my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong,
because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.
For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Suffering For Christ

Philippians 1:29

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him…

There are some powerful theological considerations for us in our verse today.  Let’s put our verse in some additional context:

Philippians 1:22-30 (NIV)

22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. 27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

In this chapter, Paul has been recounting the struggles and suffering he has endured on his missionary journeys in the preaching of the Gospel.  As a prisoner, most likely in Rome at the time this letter was written, Paul shared his thoughts about all that had happened to him; and he wanted to encourage the believers at Philippi to have courage as they faced the same tests of their faith.  Uncertain of his future physical survival (as we all are), Paul contrasted his potential demise with the hope of restoration from the current isolation and suffering imposed on him.  So Paul instructs the believers to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ … no matter what happens.  And then he makes an interesting statement:  “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.”

God “grants” … God gives you and I two things: the hearing of faith and the suffering of faith.  And both have been granted to us on “behalf of Christ.”  In English, this translation has a profound application.  It does not say “in behalf of Christ” … which would mean “helping for the benefit of” or “acting in the interest of” Christ; rather, it states “on behalf of Christ” … meaning “in place of” or “as the agent of” or “as representing” Christ.  It follows that our faith and suffering is not meant to “manifest” in the interest of Jesus Christ; rather, I believe the implication is that our faith in God and the suffering that accompanies faith is now “in place of” or “a continuation of” the sufferings of Christ. We are enduring the struggles of faith and suffering now as Christ in the world … as His Body … as His Church.  I think Paul is saying that both faith and suffering should be viewed as a “privilege” given to us by God! In His sovereignty, God granted us the privilege (the grace) not only to believe in Him through Jesus Christ … but also the privilege (the grace) to suffer as Christ did in order to refine and mature our faith.  As Hebrews 5:8 points out: “Though Christ was the Son of God, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”  Likewise, the obedience of faith will be formed in us through hardship and suffering….

Did not Jesus Himself explain this would happen? You can find context for the suffering that comes with faith in Matthew 10:16-26 when Jesus sent out His disciples and followers into the towns of Judea to proclaim the Gospel.  In Matthew 24:3-14, we can see the suffering that comes with faith in the latter days should be expected as well. In John Chapters 15-17, when Jesus speaks about His imminent departure from the earth, He prays not only for the disciples to remain steadfast in faith, but also for those who will come to faith based on their testimony,

Matthew 10:21-22 (NIV)

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24:9-13 (NIV)

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

John 15:18-21 (NIV)

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ (Reference John 13:16) If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

John 16:1-4 (NIV)

1 “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.

John 17:14-18 (NIV)

14 “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

What these passages indicate is that suffering for our faith in Jesus Christ is inevitable.  And I believe the suffering we will experience “on behalf of Christ” is the suffering that He said we would endure in the world.  We are in His place now … in the world.  We are His Body … the Church.  We are His agents … His ambassadors.  And like Jesus, we will suffer ridicule, persecution, hate, violence, and even death for our faith in Him. So, I think it is important to note that as believers, we have the Holy Spirit living within us so that we can persevere in faith and hope.  Through Scripture, we are exhorted to persevere:

Hebrews 10:32-39 (NIV)

32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. 37 For, “In just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay.” (Cf. Isaiah 26:20) 38 And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” (Cf. Habakkuk 2:3-4) 39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

James 1:12-18 (NIV)

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose (granted) to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.

Verse 17 states that “Every good and perfect gift is from above….”  You see, God has granted those He chose in Christ Jesus to believe in Him for salvation. And He granted the gift of suffering as well … to test our faith and to produce perseverance.  We need to recognize that “the cross comes before the crown”.  Both faith and suffering work in tandem to produce in us the kind of faith that God desires … a sincere faith that will remain steadfast when tried and tested.  Why?  Because that kind of faith will grow to the size of a mustard seed.  It will be empowered to move mountains!  Nothing will be impossible for us! (Cf. Matthew 17:19:20) Indeed, God wants us to be effective and productive through an ever-increasing faith. (Cf. 2 Peter 1:1-9) God wants our faith to grow so that we can accomplish the works He prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) And a faith that endures all things is necessary for us to accomplish the will of God!  Truly, it is His divine power at work to heal the sick, to mend broken hearts, to free those who are captives, to release people from darkness, and to proclaim the Gospel! But most often, the Holy Spirit works through us … through those who believe in Him and suffer for His Name sake!  That is our purpose … our role as the Church!

David reflected: “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress; I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5-8) So, my prayer is that we will see and understand the “privileges” we have received from God.  Let Him be praised for His grace … for His gifts!  May these truths from His Word penetrate our hearts and equip us … empower us … to be His Church in these latter days! For it has been granted to us, on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him….  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Where Do I Stand

Job 23:10-11

But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed His steps; I have kept to His way without turning aside.

I read this verse and I had to pause for some self-examination. Surely God knows everything!  It’s a given that He knows the way I take.  And I pondered, “Will I come forth as gold when I am tested? Will I persevere under trial? Just how close do my feet follow in His steps?  Have I consistently, faithfully kept my steps from turning aside?”  The final question … when I asked the question … is could I have answered or responded confidently like Job? Then I thought, maybe I should just read the entire Chapter 23.  So when I did, the answers to my questions seemed further away. My inquiry took me on a journey that I will share with you; and I apologize for the length, but perhaps, it will resonate with you at the conclusion. I do encourage you to read Job 23 in order to understand what Job was feeling and questioning in the midst of his own predicament and suffering.

Understandably, there are some theological points to challenge us in this passage and the entire book. As Job continues to complain about the personal suffering he is enduring … the unfairness and injustice of it … it appears that Job begins to consider the possibility that his complaint to God could be a form of rebellion (sin) in itself. Why? Because Job is in essence asserting that God has been unjust or unrighteous with him in this situation.  God has inflicted or allowed the infliction of severe pain, unrelenting distress, and great physical anguish. Job believes the “punishment” is unexpected … unbearable … and undeserved. Yet, Job also knows that neither injustice nor unrighteousness could come from the heart or nature of a loving God. To accuse God of doing wrong is … well … wrong itself. Like all of us, Job wants desperately to understand what God is doing … why He allows righteous people to be afflicted … why He permits bad things to happen to good people.  Indeed, this is an ongoing theological question that has been difficult to resolve with our limited human perspective or reasoning.

Many of us might assert that we live righteous lives … Christian lives … and perhaps even contend that our “goodness” should inoculate us from hardship in life. Yet, the experience of Job demonstrates that the absence of suffering will not necessarily be the case. So, if we should become bitter at God over the afflictions and hardships we encounter or experience during the course of life, what does that “response” convey about our own attitudes toward God? Like Job, our concept and knowledge of God is incomplete. We only know in part. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:9) His ways are higher than our ways … and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Cf. Isaiah 55:9) And frankly, our knowledge of ourselves can be inaccurate as well.  As the Prophet Jeremiah observed, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Cf. Jeremiah 17:9-10) And yet, David reflects that God, in His great mercy, does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (Cf. Psalm 103:10) Both points are valid and add to the theological tension we must consider….

I am drawn to Psalm 139, where David meditates on the intimate knowledge that God possesses of each of us.  It is difficult to even comprehend how God knows each one of us individually; personally; deeply; and yet, still loves us so passionately.  Though knowing the holiness and righteousness of God … knowing that he and each person falls short of His perfection … David still trusted and embraced the love of God when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Cf. Psalm 139:23-24) I think this is what Job was doing as He desperately attempted to figure out the “reason” for the cascades of misfortune that had befallen him.  Job had followed the rules. He had lived blamelessly. Job contended that he has done nothing wrong … or at least nothing that should have deserved the loss of everything – short of his life itself. But then, I was reminded of the story about the rich young ruler:

Matthew 19:16-22 (NKJV)

16 Now behold, one came and said to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” 17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect (complete), go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

The young ruler claimed a righteousness like that of Job. He had kept all the commandments! Yet, Jesus exposed a deeper issue … a heart issue … that the young man had not considered. Jesus revealed that in his heart, the young man was not “spiritually” where God wanted him to be. The young ruler trusted in himself and his own outward goodness … not realizing that his spirit was focused inward and filled with pride. Perhaps he mistakenly supposed that his riches sustained his life rather than the God who created him. Indeed, more “refining” was needed if the man wanted to have intimate relationship with God.  And as Job observed in his discourse, “God is unique, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does. For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such things are with Him. Therefore I am terrified at His presence; when I consider this, I am afraid of Him.” (Cf. Job 23:13-15) Job knew that he was missing something … that He lacked full knowledge of what God desired. Job had maintained his integrity before God, and I don’t believe that Job was self-deceived about his own righteousness … though his so-called friends had tried to convince him as much. Yet, it appears there was something more God desired of Job or wanted to accomplish in Job. And it eluded Job until God later confronted him and revealed Himself.  I encourage you to read Job Chapters 38-42. Here is an excerpt to give see where I’m headed with this study:

Job 40:1-8 (NIV)

The Lord said to Job:

“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!” Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.” Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

Perhaps there is a deeper “refining” process that transcends our attempts and abilities to “keep” the moral commandments of God.  And that might be the point we should note. As hard as we might endeavor to be obedient to the commands of God in our flesh, we still lack what is more desired by God – the transformation of our hearts through faith, hope, and love.  Through faith we discover and embrace the love of God; and through love, obedience is accomplished.  But faith in our works … in our own accomplishments … is quite misguided. And I believe this is what “righteous” Job learned through his experience. As Isaiah would later declare: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Cf. Isaiah 64:6) And Paul later affirmed, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23) So, while I think we should all keep a healthy perspective of ourselves, I sense we need to consider that the afflictions and injustices that we encounter in life might not always be associated with sin or God’s righteous judgment of our sin.  Maybe God permits what humans might view as “injustice” to accomplish the greater purposes of faith, hope, and love!

John 9:1-3 (NKJV)

1 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

One might consider that God was “unjust” to allow this man to be born blind. Now, think about all the birth “defects” that have occurred among the human population. Is God unloving or unjust to allow these things to occur to the innocent?  Yet, these “permitted” situations provide a great context for faith, hope, and love to be accomplished within us. Would we learn compassion for one another if our bodies were perfect and never ill? Would we learn to love one another in the absence of physical deformities or infirmities? If Job had never suffered in the manner he did, would he have sought to know God as deeply as he ultimately did? Think about the final outcome of this blind man’s life. His physical blindness was reversed and healed; but the greater result was that the work of God was revealed! As Jesus declared, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (Cf. John 6:29) Think about the final outcome of Job’s life. God blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…. (Cf. Job 42:12) Oh, there is an “outcome” that God desires for each of us … something deeper … more personal … more intimate! There is a desire for us to believe Him!  There is a desire for us to be holy, just as He is holy! (Cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16) There is a calling for us to be conformed to image of His Son! (Cf. Romans 8:29) What God desires in us requires FAITH!

I think the Book of Job provides us with great insight into the complexity of faith and its vital role for fellowship with God. It supports the theological foundation of what Paul would later posit: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9) As a possible contemporary of Job, Abraham embodied the power of faith to accomplish what God desires in his people. Regarding the faith of Abraham, Paul wrote: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.” (Cf. Romans 4:2-3) Likewise, Paul notes in Romans 4:5-8 how David understood the imputed righteousness of God: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” Here Paul is quoting from Psalm 32:1-2.

So, why is this important? Because the truth of the Gospel is found through faith! As Paul declared, “ I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Cf. Habakkuk 2:4) This truth has been revealed in Job … in Abraham … in David … and in those mentioned in the Hall of Faith (Cf. Hebrews 11).  If you will take time to read their stories, you will discover what those who “lived by faith” also had to endure all types of suffering in their lives! And you will observe what their faith produced during and through times of incredible testing and trials.  You will see, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Cf. Hebrews 11:39-40) That something better was Jesus Christ – His Son! This is what Paul brings to our attention:

Romans 4:18-25 (NIV)

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Cf. Genesis 15:5) 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

When we think about the possible injustices that God has allowed in our world … in the lives of His people … there is one great injustice that He ordained that stands out in my mind. For God made Jesus, who know no sin, to be sin for us – so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Was it unfair of God … to sacrifice Himself for the world?  Was it unjust of Him … to determine that the justice we deserve would be borne by His only begotten Son?

Hebrews 5:5-10 (NIV)

In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Quote is from Psalm 2:7) And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Quote is from Psalm 110:4) During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him; nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely, He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. From confinement and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. 11 After He has suffered, He will see the fruit of His suffering and be satisfied; by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Let these passages sink deep into your spirit for a moment. Let them unearth every thought you might have about any personal unfairness or injustice you have experienced.  Whatever you are going through … whatever you are experiencing … whatever hardship or affliction or suffering or despair of life … I want to encourage you to seek God in fervent prayer today. In His body, Jesus experienced every form of human suffering. He knows firsthand the intensity of your physical or emotional pain! He knows what you are enduring! He knows where you are! Oh, His light may reveal the presence of sin within your heart for you to confess; but I believe there may be something far greater that He desires to do in your life.  Allowing suffering may just be the “refining” work that He is doing for your faith – your precious faith that is of greater worth than gold! There may be a special work that God has chosen to reveal in you … so that others will receive the fruit of your suffering.  You may be closer to the image of Jesus than you realize! Perhaps this is why Paul declared, “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death. (Cf. Philippians 3:10) For God is producing a faith in you and me that understands righteousness is imputed and not earned … that salvation is received because of who He is and not because of what we have done.  Yes, He is filling you and me with a faith to know His grace is sufficient … with a faith that can be harnessed to move mountains … to do the impossible! You and I may not see the final outcome of what God is doing in and through our lives, but I am certain that we should trust Him and His great love for us as we travel along this journey of faith….

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealedThough you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

We are not able to choose the method or circumstances by which God determines to cultivate and refine our faith in Him.  But we know that His will is for faith to be formed and to grow within us so that it may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed! Without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) Our faith must be genuine … it must be sincere.  So, I believe God will work (as His sovereignty determines) to bring each of us to an authentic faith … as we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) For Jesus will distribute (just as He determines), the gifts of faith for the benefit and common good of all. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) Because it is faith that will advance His Kingdom, it is through faith that we are equipped for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Cf. Ephesians 4:12-13)

So, I have come to believe that the Book of Job ultimately teaches us the purposes of faith … its role in hope … and its fulfillment in love. As Paul would later explain: “12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13) If you have read this far, I appreciate your hanging with me on this side excursion into the topic of suffering.  I hope it has presented some ideas for you to ponder … or better still … encouraged you to dig deeper into the Word to discover more for yourself. (Cf. Acts 17:11) Regardless, if you are experiencing deep anguish in body or soul, I pray you will know in your inmost being that God is there with you.  He is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3) May you and I, along with Job, in faith proclaim: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand on the earth.  And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God – whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! (Cf. Job 19:25-27)

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Granted to Suffer

Philippians 1:27-30 (NIV)


27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

When I read this passage of Scripture this morning, I had to stop at Verse 29 and really let it marinate in my soul. In the context, we see Paul addressing the believers at the Church of Philippi and encouraging them to stand firm in their faith in Jesus Christ. He tells them to not be frightened by the persecution that will continue against them because of their faith – and more importantly – the sharing of their faith with others. Regardless of what happens, Paul urges them to conduct themselves “in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” There is great application of this Scripture for believers today in the context of our hedonistic culture and relativism.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited,lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

As we see the culture careening further into narcissism and darkness; cascading away from the commandments and love of God; and rejecting the unity of faith to be found in Christ Jesus; we need to heed the exhortation of Paul to “stand firm in the one Spirit and strive together as one for the faith of the gospel.” Paul encourages us not to be frightened or intimidated in doing so despite the vehement opposition believers will face in standing for the truth found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself spoke on this very issue and admonished, “You will be hated by everyone because of Me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Cf. Matthew 10:22; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17)

Matthew 24:4-14 (NIV)

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

John 15:18-25 (NIV)

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know Him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates Me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (Cf. Psalm 35:19)

So take a look at Philippians 1:29 with these Scriptures in mind: For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him…. Note first that our faith in Jesus – our capacity to believe in Him – was GRANTED. To grant something is to give, bestow, allow, or permit. So just as God granted us repentance that leads to eternal life (Cf. Acts 11:18), even our faith in Jesus the Son is a gift from God the Father! For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8) And what Paul states in this verse is that we have been granted the gift of suffering for Jesus! That’s right! Suffering for the sake of Christ Jesus has been bestowed upon us by the Father; and Paul is encouraging us to view the persecution and hate we will endure from the world as still another precious gift from God….

I think suffering in any form is definitely not something most people would prefer to receive or embrace for that matter. No one desires the infliction of verbal or emotional abuse, physical or mental anguish, or bodily harm. Yet, we see these things happening to Christians more and more around the world … along with the unrestrained vitriol that has emerged in our own country towards believers and the faith once delivered to the saints. (Cf. Jude 1:3) But Jesus told us as believers and disciples to expect such treatment. And Paul calls for us to view such vicious and hateful conduct as “a sign to unbelievers that they will receive destruction and a sign to believers that they will receive salvation.” To me,”This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep His commands and remain faithful to Jesus.” (Cf. Revelation 14:12)

1 Peter 4:12-19 (NIV)

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (Cf. Proverbs 11:31) 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 2:20-23 (NIV)

20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” (Cf. Isaiah 53:9) 23 When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to the Father who judges justly.

1 Peter 10:13-18 (NIV)

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

I do not have the answers on why God allows suffering in our human existence, but it appears to me the experience does have a profound effect upon accomplishing higher purposes for our faith and for our fellowship with God. God might not ever reveal more answers to these questions until we enter the next chapter of eternal life; but for now we do have His promise that suffering will not continue to be part of our experience as His children:

Revelation 21:3-5 (NIV)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Cf. Isaiah 25:8-9)He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.

So our challenge is to trust in God and His promises. We have been granted repentance through the kindness of God. We have been granted salvation through the sacrificial death of His Son. We have been granted eternal life through the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we have been granted the experience of suffering for Jesus Christ. For it is through suffering, that we learn obedience (Cf. Hebrews 5:8) and through obedience we demonstrate our love for God (Cf. John 14:15) We do not have to understand it all, but what we can do is embrace what God has already revealed and demonstrated to us through His great love and compassion found in His Son.

I pray and encourage believers to understand that God is not unjust when He allows us to suffer for our faith in Jesus Christ … the faith of the gospel. This kind of suffering has been “granted” and should be embraced with its full purpose in mind. I pray we will stand firm in the one Spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel; and that we will in no way be intimidated by those who oppose the gospel or reject the truth of God found in our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, the suffering we will endure is a sign to unbelievers that they will not inherit eternal life. Their unrighteous conduct is evidence of their destruction. But for us who believe and suffer for the name of Jesus, it will be a testimony to our salvation. Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Verse of the Day – 01/20/19

James 1:2-3 (NIV)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Our Verse of the Day continues to focus on our theme of personal holiness.  Yesterday we examined 1 Corinthians 10:13 where Paul reviewed the issue of temptation (also translated ‘testing’) and how God is faithful to us … knowing what or how much we can bear as well as providing a way of escape from it so that we can “endure” it. Remember, this encouragement was given to the Corinthian Church which was had received the Gospel message and turned toward God from idol worship and pagan religious practices.  Paul used the history of the Israelites to illustrate to them the reasons they should persevere in their pursuit of holiness (separation unto God) and to not continue in their idolatry; sexual immorality; unseemly conduct; or testing the “grace” of God given to them in Christ Jesus.  Without holiness, no one will see God. (Hebrews 12:14)

The Apostle James approaches the same issue in his epistle, and his encouragement takes us a little deeper into our spiritual understanding of how temptation and testing works to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. The “trials of many kinds” is quite broad, but the point here is that in our desire and zeal to attain holiness as Christians our faith is going to be tested. I think is has to do with the sincerity of our profession of faith.  I am reminded of what the Prophet Isaiah shared in his writings:

Isaiah 29:13-16 (NIV)13 The Lord says:

These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is in vain because it is based on merely human rules they have been taught. 14 Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon       wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:16-31; 2:1-14) 15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me” Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?

We need to understand something more here.  Hearing and understanding the truth of the Word of God is only the beginning of faith!  Receiving it … believing it arouses the spirit of a person to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior … for in truth He is! This is the born-again experience that Jesus explained to Nicodemus (Cf. John 3:1-12) But this is just that – the birth of a new creation.  There is a spiritual maturation process that must ensue after our birth in Christ just as we have experienced a physical maturation process after our physical births into the world.  As Paul taught and ministered to the Galatian Church on these matters, we observe his sense of frustration with their “turning back” from the truth they had received. (Cf. Galatians 4:8-20) As the writer of the Book of Hebrews put it: “1Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts (useless rituals) that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites (baptisms), the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Cf. Hebrews 6:1-3)

Spiritual maturity is produced through the testing of our faith.  It comes through endurance of temptation and perseverance through trials. Both testing and temptation (trials of many kinds) are designed to strengthen our wills to attain the “obedience that comes from faith”. (Cf. Romans 1:5; 16:26) Therefore, trials can be opportunities for the suffering which we have learned can facilitate or produce obedience in our hearts.  So the perspective of James is to count this spiritual maturation process as “joy”.  He urges us to rejoice in the sufferings produced during trials because we should know this will produce perseverance in our faith.  We will not desire to go back to “Egypt” or the bondage of sin in our lives.  No, through this process our spirits will mature and our hearts will grow deeper in love for God … and we will desire to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Cf. Philippians 3:14)

A few final thoughts (Scriptures):

James 1:13-15 (NIV)

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

1 Peter 1:6-7 (NIV)

 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

John 14:15-16

Jesus urged, “If you love me, keep my commands16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate (the Holy Spirit) to help you and be with you forever.

John 15:9-11 (NIV)

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

I pray we will meditate on these things and grow in the obedience that comes from faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!