Thursday, December 31, 2009

Why the World Does Not Hate You

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature,
and in favor with God and man.”
Luke 2:52

“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink,
but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
For he that in these things serves Christ is acceptable to God,
and approved of by men.”
Romans 14:17-18

The apostle Paul warned young Timothy that “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2Tim. 3:12). Every person who has ever done what is right in the sight of God knows the sadness of being misunderstood and even disliked for no legitimate reason. But that is the case only when “wicked and unreasonable men” are involved. Reasonable people, even if they are non-religious, value goodness and respect godly people. They value honesty, and decent people in every culture on earth respect such qualities as humility, generosity, and moral integrity.

Paul said that when we live according to the will of God, we “commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” It must be admitted that some sinful people do not like what their conscience tells them about the good people they know; at the same time, there are plenty of people who do not deny the testimony of their conscience and appreciate the godly lives that God’s obedient people live. They value decency and goodness, and they don’t mind saying so.

If you have lived a godly life, then you have been spoken evil of by some evil people. But by that same godly life, you have certainly earned the respect and praise of many others. That is how it has always been in this confused world, and that is one reason that “we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells.” We want to live where nothing but truth exists, and where everyone loves it.

Friend or Foe

Meanwhile, while we are here in this life, the important thing is that we learn how to deal gracefully with everything, and not to judge ourselves by the way others speak of us, whether good or bad. My father taught that if our feelings are affected by either praise or calumny, then our heart is not yet established. You must know who you are, regardless of what anyone, friend or foe, says about you. If you do not know yourself and your place in life, then someone else, either a detractor or an admirer, may well convince you that you are someone that you are not. Friends can lift you up to occupy a place above your calling, and enemies can put you down and cause you not to follow your calling – if your heart is affected by the praise or slander or men.

It was a heathen philosopher, Socrates, who rendered the famous injunction, “Know thyself!” From a heathen or not, that warning should be heeded. To know yourself is essential to maintaining peace in the face of the spiritual winds that blow on you from every direction. However, as wise as that warning was, it was given in vain until the Son of God came and brought the knowledge of God to man, for only when man came to know the true and living God could he ever know anything else rightly, including himself.

How precious Jesus is to us! He suffered and died so that we might be filled with the Spirit and come to know our heavenly Father, so that we could at last truly understand ourselves rightly and, so, overcome the influence of anything that anyone says about us, whether friend or foe!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Why the World Hates You

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own;
but because you’re not of the world
(on the contrary, I’ve chosen you out of the world),
the world hates you.”
John 15:19

“They think it strange that you do not run with them
to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you.”
1Peter 4:4

According to Jesus, the fundamental reason that God’s children are hated by the world is simply that they do not belong to this world. Of course, any child of God who hides his light and refuses to be a living testimony for others will not be hated by the world, but Jesus was talking about honest-hearted, humble children of God. Everybody in the world, except them, is trying to fit in with one group or another in this world, and because those humble children of God do not spend their lives trying to please any group on earth, all of earth’s groups hate them.

Peter explained that the world considers people strange if they do not embrace the world’s lifestyles, if they are not impressed with and desire earthly wealth, beauty, and pleasure. To the world’s way of thinking, it makes no sense when a person does not want the same things that worldly people want, or when someone has no interest in participating in the world’s self-serving, self-gratifying activities, or when someone is not shaken by the things that cause the world to tremble. It is just as Peter said: “They think it strange.”

Child of God, you are different. You have been different from the beginning, and only when you came to Christ did you finally understand why you have always felt different, why you felt feelings that others in your life did not feel, and why you had thoughts that others did not seem to think. You have always belonged to God, even before you knew Him, and now that you know Him, you understand that you have always felt different simply because you are different; you just don’t belong to this world, and you never have. Your name was in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; 17:8).

That is why the world hates you. You are “a stranger and a pilgrim” here; you are a foreigner to this wicked world, its ways, its feelings, and its thoughts. You never wanted the world, even when you lived as a worldly person. You wanted to know and to love your heavenly Father. Jesus said, “The world loves its own.” So, if we belonged to this world, we know that it would love us because we would not seem as strangers to the world. We would enjoy fellowship with its sinfulness as so many around us obviously do.

If you belonged to the world, you would be content without the convicting presence of our Father’s holy Spirit. Others are comfortable without that sweet voice of the Spirit guiding them day by day. Why aren’t you?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just One Plural “You”

Part 2:

Exodus 23
20. Behold, I am sending an angel before you, to keep you in the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.
21. Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.
22. But if you shall earnestly obey his voice, and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and an adversary to your adversaries.
23. For my angel shall go before you and bring you in [to Canaan].

Not One Among You?

Paul warned the elders in Corinth that they were not maintaining God’s standard of holiness among the saints there. The apostle was disappointed and indignant. “Is it really so,” he wrote, “that there is not a single wise man among you, one who is able to judge among his brothers?” (1Cor. 6:5). In other words, is there no elder there in Corinth who fears God enough to stand in the gap and either encourage righteousness or rebuke sin? Does no one among the elders value his hope of salvation enough to demand that those in his area of control fear God and be holy? Or does no one among the elders there understand that with the honor of being an elder among God’s people comes the fearsome responsibility of keeping things clean among them?

God’s promises and commandments were given to Moses alone, in Exodus 23:20-23, and had it all been left to Moses, there would not have been any problem with Israel entering with Moses into Canaan’s land. But there was a stipulation added to those promises of God, just a single, terrifying stipulation revealed in the one plural “you” that was in the midst of God’s words to the man He had chosen, and that stipulation was that the transgressions of those who followed Moses would be considered as Moses’ transgressions. No matter how perfectly Moses might personally conduct himself before the Lord, he would be not be judged merely on that basis. He would be judged on the basis of the conduct of all those over whom God appointed him as leader and guide.

Moses was refused permission to enter into the land of Promise.

God appoints men to shepherd His flocks on earth. And it is the condition of the flock, not the shepherd himself, by which the shepherd will be judged in the end. The care of the whole flock is such a serious matter that Jesus said it will be necessary at times to cut off a member of the body in order to save the whole, just as surgeons sometimes amputate portions of a person’s physical body that jeopardizes the well-being of the whole:

Matthew 5
29. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you! For it’s better for you that one of your members perish and not that your whole body be cast into Gehenna.
30. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you! It’s better for you that one of your members perish and not that your whole body be cast into Gehenna.

Paul, too, told the elders in Corinth to expel a member whose ungodly conduct was endangering the purity of the flock in that city:

1Corinthians 5
4. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you and my spirit are gathered together, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5. deliver such a man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Paul understood the meaning of that plural “you” in God’s word to Moses, that righteousness in the body of Christ is a community affair, that the shepherd is responsible for the flock, and that all of us to some degree are responsible for one another. That is why God commanded the Israelites not to allow sin to remain in a neighbor’s life, when it was seen, but to love one’s neighbor enough to try to rescue him from sin, for everyone’s benefit:

Leviticus 19
17. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall in any wise rebuke your neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.

It is an expression of hatred, not love, to fail to reprove a brother or sister who is sinning. But not only do we hate the ones that we do not reprove for sin; we hate ourselves as well. Solomon said, “Whoever is partner with a thief hates his own soul; he hears cursing and he does not expose it” (Prov. 29:24). If we do not “reprove one another”, as Paul praised the saints in Rome for doing, then we are partakers of the sins that we do not reprove. And if we are partakers of the sin, then the guilt – and the judgment – of the transgressor becomes ours. (That is why God is calling His people out of Christianity!) We are required to “reprove the works of darkness” that may show up among us!

Do not fear the reaction of the transgressor. Fear God, and live! I have seen husbands try to cover the sins of their wives, and then go down with their wives when their wives completely turned away from righteousness. I have seen parents try to hide the sins of their children instead of reproving them, and then go down with their children when God turned the children’s hearts to darkness.

Let us love one another enough to strive for the good of the whole community of faith, that we may all, together, be clean and holy before the Lord. “No man is an island”, the poet John Donne once said, and nowhere is that more true than in the kingdom of God. We are “our brother’s keeper”.

Just One Plural “You”

Part One:

Exodus 23
20. Behold, I am sending an angel before you, to keep you in the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.
21. Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.
22. But if you shall earnestly obey his voice, and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and an adversary to your adversaries.
23. For my angel shall go before you and bring you in [to Canaan].

In mid-2009, I came across these verses in the process of working on my book, God had a Son before Mary Did. I was without my Hebrew Bible, but I wanted to make sure that the “you’s” were all plural. So, I called Aaron Nelson, one of my Hebrew students, and asked him to look it up for me when he had the chance. I told him I was certain that all nine of the “you’s”in those verses were plural, but that I wanted to make sure. Aaron called back within an hour or so and surprised me with what he had found. He told me that only one of the “you’s” in those verses was plural! Can you guess which one? Go ahead. Take a moment and see if you can tell. Within one of the verses above, I have left you a clue.

What Aaron’s information made clear is that, in those verses, God was talking only to Moses, not to all of Israel, as I had previously thought. Every time (except once) when God said “you”, He meant “you, Moses”, not “you, Israel”. This new information gave this portion of Scripture an entirely different cast, and it helped me understand Moses’ passion for holiness among the Israelites, and even helped me understand Moses’ fury against his fellow Israelites whenever they began to turn from righteousness, whether it be his violence when he found the golden calf that Israel had built at Mount Sinai or when they provoked him to sin at Kadesh-barnea and he was forbidden by God to enter into the Promised Land.


This portion of Scripture had been special to me since June, 2001. At that time, Jesus had sent me on a mission to rescue a troubled congregation, and as I looked out the window of the airplane, the Spirit spoke those words from Exodus to my heart. The feelings I felt can hardly be described. The fear provoked by the sternness of His warning was softened by the comfort inspired by the promise of His presence. Because I had taught the Old Testament many times over the years, the words God spoke to me as I was on the plane were familiar. I recognized them as being from Exodus, and so, I opened my Bible and read them carefully. And now, with help from one of my students, I saw even more clearly than I did in 2001, that these words of God were, and are intended only for someone whom God anoints to guide His people to the place of rest which He has prepared for them. Every pastor, every teacher, every elder among the saints should tremble at these words from God.

The Answer

The clue that I have left for you is in verse 21. I designated the only plural form of the word “you” in these verses by making the “y” italics. It is the word “your”.

In verse 20, God is promising Moses, not Israel, that His angel would go before him to bring Moses to the place He has prepared for Israel. Of course, this is good news for all the Israelites because it meant that God’s angel would go before them, too – as long as they followed Moses. But it was Moses that God sent His angel to lead, not Israel. The only leader Israel had was Moses, and as long as they followed him, and as long as Moses followed the Angel whom God sent to lead him, Israel was protected and blessed.

21. Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.

In verse 21, the verbs “beware”, “obey”, and “provoke” are all singular in form. This fact tells us that God is commanding Moses, not all of Israel in this instance, to fear the Angel and submit to him. But the reason for this warning is astonishing, and it was this: “for the Angel will not forgive your [plural!] transgressions”.

God was warning Moses that He would hold Moses himself accountable for more than his own obedience! Moses was commanded to fear, obey, and please God’s Angel – for the Angel would not forgive Israel’s transgressions! I cannot imagine a more fearful prospect for a leader of God’s people. Moses’ judgment would be measured by Israel’s obedience, not just his own. He himself is commanded to obey, but Moses would be judged not simply on the basis of his own behavior but by the behavior of all those who were following him.

This is consistent with how God judged His ministers throughout the Scriptures. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation, Jesus held the pastors of the seven congregations of Asia personally accountable for the conduct of the saints in their congregations. Those ministers were required by God to maintain order and a standard of holiness in their area of control. When God spoke to Moses as he did in Exodus 23:20-23, Moses understood perfectly that if he failed to enforce the law among God’s people, neither he nor they would enter into Canaan. He was to be perfect with God’s Angel, and he was to maintain perfection in the camps of Israel.

Can anyone blame Moses for his wrath upon seeing the golden calf that his brother Aaron, with all Israel, had constructed while Moses was on Mount Sinai with God? Their foolishness was jeopardizing Moses’ hope of entering into the promised land of Canaan! Moses dearly loved Israel, and his goal was to bring them to the place God had promised them, but he understood that his judgment was bound up with theirs! They were ruining everything, for Moses and for themselves, and Moses’ response was to begin a slaughter of his fellow Israelites until God’s was satisfied and told him it was enough (Ex. 32:26-28).

Next: Part Two: “Us”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Psalm 125:3, Part Two: A Savior

“The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous,
lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity.”
Psalm 125:3

The last half of the verse above tells us that the reason God does not allow the wicked to have control over the lives of the righteous is so that the righteous will not “put forth their hands unto iniquity.” One would think that the righteous would never “put forth their hands to iniquity”, no matter what the situation. God knows better. He knows our fabric, and the limits of our faith. As mere mortals, we have no strength. Paul confessed as much in Romans 5:6, when he said, “When we were without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.”

Every one of God’s children can be put into situations that are too much for our faith. Realizing this, Solomon’s wise friend Agur pleaded with God not to make him destitute in this world, lest he resort to stealing in order to survive (Prov. 30:8-9). Agur understood human nature in general, but only God knows the limits of faith in each one of us, and He will never allow the wicked to put any of His children in a situation that they are unable to overcome (1Cor. 10:13). That is what David meant when he sang, “The rod of the wicked will not rest upon the lot of the righteous.”


If a child of God ever does find himself in a situation that is too difficult for him to overcome, God always makes a way for him to escape. David’s story gives us two examples of this. In both cases God miraculously made a way for David to escape “putting forth his hand to iniquity”.
In the first instance, young David was on the run from the mad king of Israel, king Saul. Those who were also fleeing from the law gathered to David, so that in time, he had a force of hundreds of desperate men, men who for one reason or another could not return to society. These desperados looked to David as their leader, and all the time they were hiding with David from the law, David refrained those men from stealing the sheep or cattle from near-by landowners, and in fact, protected those landowners from thieves. On one occasion, David and his band grew low on food supplies, and David sent messengers to a local wealthy landowner named Nabal to humbly ask for a little help. But Nabal treated David’s messengers with great contempt and sent them away with nothing.

David himself would have overlooked this cruelty and trusted God, but not the band of renegades that were with him. They wanted vengeance, and David’s faith was overwhelmed by the power of their wrath. He found himself leading them to Nabal’s property to plunder it, and in all likelihood, to kill Nabal. This was not what was in David’s heart. David had a heart for God, but this situation was one of life and death for all of David’s men, and David lacked the spiritual strength to turn the tide of his followers’ fury. He needed God to save him from doing what he was about to do. And God sent Abigail, Nabal’s godly wife, to do it.

Abigail, upon hearing how Nabal had treated David’s messengers, knew what David’s men would probably do next, and she commanded her servants to gather food quickly, and in abundance. Then she hurriedly led those servants out to meet David with the food she had gathered. When David, with his little army behind him, met Abigail, she fell at his feet and begged him to receive her gifts. But more importantly, she offered David and his comrades some very wise counsel, warning David that if he avenged himself instead of trusting God to avenge him, his heart would be troubled for the rest of his life. David rejoiced at Abigail’s coming and sincerely thanked her for rescuing him from what he had been about to do. Later, by the way, after God did avenge David and killed Nabal, David took Abigail as his wife. He obviously wanted such a wise counselor to stay close to him.

In another instance, when the rod of the wicked rested on David’s lot, he found himself traveling with the Philistines to do battle against Israel. David saw no way out. He did not want to fight against king Saul; he loved him. And David loved Saul’s son Jonathan even more. But what else could he do in the situation he was in? He was trapped. But God again made a way. He turned the hearts of the Philistine generals against David as they traveled toward the battle, and they demanded that the Philistine king order David and his men to leave the army at once. David protested, but the king insisted, and so, David once again was saved from sin by the God he trusted.


Jesus’ title, “Savior” means everything for us. He saved us in the sense of rescuing us from sin. He is saving us in the sense of keeping us from sin by his power as we walk through this life. And he will save us from eternal damnation at the Final Judgment. But another part of his being a Savior to us is his power to keep “the rod of the wicked from resting on our lot”, lest we turn to some form of iniquity. He will not allow any situation to arise in our lives that we are unable to bear. He is good. His mercy is above the clouds. And his love not only covers a multitude of sin; it keeps us from situations that would compels us to commit sin. There is no excuse for sin for those who are in Christ because he is so great a Savior. We face only the trials that we can overcome because he is a faithful watchman over our souls.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Psalm 125:3, Part One: Restrained Wrath

“The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous,
lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity.”
Psalm 125:3

This is a precious promise of God to all His children. He will not allow the wicked to rule over us to the extent that they determine our circumstances. Their rod (symbol of rule) shall not rest on our lot. In another place, David sang to God, “The wrath of man shall praise you; the remainder of wrath you will restrain” (Ps. 76:10). In other words, only that part of men’s wrath which will bring glory to God will be allowed to touch us; the remaining part of their wrath, God will restrain.
This is the understanding behind Solomon’s puzzling statement, “There shall no evil happen to the just” (Prov. 12:21). Solomon knew that God controls to the smallest degree every circumstance of our lives, and that whatever part of the world’s hatred we must face, it is for His glory and our eventual blessing. Paul was moved by this same knowledge of God to write, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are the called, according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Men wanted to do many cruel and unjust things to Jesus, but only that part of their hatred that was useful to God’s plan for His Son’s life was allowed to touch him. Evil men wanted to kill the lamb of God before the appointed time, but they could not. Had they done so, it would not have brought praise to God. He was his Father’s Lamb, not theirs. Jesus understood this, and it was that knowledge of His Father’s care which gave him the strength not to strike back but to humble himself to his Father’s will, regardless of the suffering he faced. When Jesus told his followers to “turn the other cheek”, he was only saying to them, “Trust God as I do, and do as I have done.” Peter summed up Jesus’ attitude beautifully (1Peter 2:20-23): "For what glory is it if, when you are buffeted for your faults, you take it patiently? But if when you do well and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even to this you were called, for Christ also suffered for us, providing us an example, so that you might follow his steps, who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, who, when he was reviled, did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but committed himself to the One who judges righteously."

Peter went on to exhort us to have that same faith in our heavenly Father’s care, and to continue doing what is good in His sight regardless of our circumstances. He said, “Therefore, let them who suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1Pet. 4:19). We “commit our souls to God” by patiently walking in His ways, as Jesus did, instead of yielding to feelings of vengefulness and hate. And we want the tests. A wise man once said, “A calm sea never made a skillful mariner.” It is also true that easy times never made a wise and godly soul.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

At Ease in Zion

“Woe to them that are at ease in Zion”
Amos 6:1

The Lord cried out through Amos, “Woe to them who are at ease in Zion!” But who are the ones “at ease” among God’s saints? The answer to that question can be deduced from comments made in several Scriptures. One is from Amos himself. Here is how he described those who were “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1, 3-6):

"Woe to them that are at ease in Zion. . . . You who put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; who chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David; who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph."

“Joseph” was a name used in the Old Testament for the children of Israel who had forsaken God’s law. They were the northern tribes of Israel who followed a man-made religion instead of the law of Moses, a religion that a king named Jeroboam invented for them, long before Amos was sent to call them back to their God. “Zion” referred to God’s chosen place of worship, Jerusalem. The children of Israel who lived in the southern part of Canaan still worshiped in God’s chosen place and still recognized the authority of the law of Moses. But they were not grieved for their fellow Israelites who had gone astray. They were at ease; they were comfortable and secure in their knowledge that they were doing things the right way and that their northern kinsmen were in the wrong. They were proud of worshiping in Jerusalem and of maintaining the ancient rule that God had once given to all His children at Mt. Sinai.

Notice that Amos’ warning was not to the ones who had rejected God’s law and rejected God’s chosen city, Jerusalem. The warning was to those who still observed the law and revered the holy city and went to Solomon’s temple that was in Jerusalem. They were enjoying the benefits that obedience brings, but were not grieved for the children of God who were being led astray and were headed for certain destruction.

Job warned his “miserable comforters” not to be proud against those who were drifting away from righteousness. He said to them, “He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a despised lamp in the thought of him that is at ease” (Job 12:5).

All of God’s children are lamps; they have the anointing oil of the holy Spirit within them. Some of them are not shining very brightly because their oil has run low. They are no longer lights to the world because love for the world has dimmed their flame. But Jesus can restore to them the brightness of his life. He lifts up, and he casts down. He can make them clean and whole again in his sight, and he will bring low all who despised them when they were fallen. Paul cautioned all of us who are in the family of God not to become proud against those who are struggling spiritually, for God is watching and judging us all (Galatians 6:1-2):

"Brothers, if a man be overtaken in some transgression, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, you who are spiritual, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ."

The Good Shepherd will leave the “ninety and nine” sheep who are safely in the fold and risk his life to find the one who is lost. That is the heart of God and the heart of His Son. And it is the heart of all God’s children who are like their heavenly Father.

If you have wandered off the right path, you may feel unclean, but you are wanted by your Father. You are missed by all in Zion who are not at ease, but are grieved for your trouble. That is why there is “great joy” among the inhabitants of heaven whenever a wayward soul repents. And there will be great joy among saints on earth who know you when they see you turn again toward Zion, your home.