The Blessing of God’s Renewal

Are you enjoying pleasant fall weather where you live? It’s been so hot for so long here in South Texas that the first two mornings in the mid-50s felt incredibly cold. As I walked GG in the brisk air, I remind myself that I begged the Lord for cooler weather all summer. GG is much better than me as he runs circles around me on his 16′ leash, clearly enjoying the fresh air and celebrating it as I should. Sometimes we ask the Lord to change our circumstances or to change us. But we don’t appreciate his loving response to our prayers when he does. It’s even worse if we don’t even recognize his special grace and benefits for us as Christians that go far beyond a change in the weather. As I worked through the Beatitudes over the last two months, I encountered Psalm 103 several times. I believe we will benefit from the psalmist’s appeal to worship the Lord and praise him for the specific blessings he bestows on believers in Christ, as they are expressed through his grace to his people in the Old Testament. We are renewed, so we worship God and bless him for his character, faithfulness, and existence. It’s good to thank God frequently for his specific works that renew our confidence in him.

Why We Should Praise God

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:2-5) “This is a hymn of praise, celebrating the abundant goodness and love of the Lord for his people…The crowning benefit is God’s enduring love to the descendants of the faithful, which leads the worshipers to exhort all the angelic hosts and all the material creation to join in blessing the Lord. “(1) The Lord renews the souls of his people with forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, and goodness. But, do we remember and praise God for the blessings of Christ’s specific forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, and righteousness? “‘Here [the psalmist] instructs us that God is not deficient on his part in furnishing us with abundant matter for praising him. It is our own ingratitude which hinders us from engaging in this exercise…How is it that we are so listless and drowsy in the performance of this the chief exercise of true religion, if it is not because our shameful and wicked forgetfulness buries in our hearts the innumerable benefits of God, which are openly manifest to heaven and earth? Did we only retain the remembrance of them, the prophet assures us that we would be sufficiently inclined to perform our duty, since the sole prohibition which he lays upon us is not to forget them.” (2)

The Blessing of God’s Steadfast Love

“We have here the authentic utterance of a redeemed child of God , who piles up words to express his gratitude to the God of grace…The first five verses of the psalm are very personal, as the author confronts himself with his duty and exhorts his own sluggish soul to worship. He desires not only to praise God’s holy name, acknowledging the holiness or unique ‘otherness’ of His being, but to remember all his benefits. Indeed, he is determined that his worship of God shall be as total as are God’s blessings to him: all my inmost being in response to all his benefits. These benefits have been given to both body and soul, for God both forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. Further, He redeems my life from the pit, that is the grave or Sheol. Not content with saving the psalmist from sin, disease and death, God lavishes positive blessings upon him as well. He crowns him, that is, He makes His child a king.” (3) “[David expresses] all the spiritual blessings with which the saints are blessed in Christ, the grace given them in him, and the mercy kept with him for evermore; all things pertaining to life and godliness given in regeneration; the fruits of great love and abundant mercy, with all the other supplies of grace between that and eternal glory: ‘crowning’ with these denotes an application and enjoyment of them, the great plenty and abundance of them, of being surrounded and loaded with them.” (4)

The Greatest Benefit and Blessing

“The first thing David is thankful for is the forgiveness of his sins. Rightly so! For this is the greatest of all gifts that we can receive from God, and the first we need…and we can receive it only because God gave his Son over to death on the cross to procure it for us. Some of the statements that occur in the first part of the psalm appear later too, including this matter of the forgiveness of sins…in verse 12 the psalmist elaborates on that by bringing in the scope of the deliverance. To what extent does God forgive sins? He answers, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’ Since east and west are directions and not points on the compass there is an infinite, unmeasurable distance between them. This may be what David is thinking. Or it may be, as Roy Clements suggests, that the psalmist is trying to point out that, ‘however many miles you think lie between west and east, you cannot look two ways at once.’ You have to turn your back on one in order to look in the direction of the other. When God forgives us, he puts our sin and us on two different horizons. So when he looks at our sin, he is no longer looking at us, and when he looks at us, he is no longer looking at our sin. To use the vocabulary of Paul, he has justified us.” (5) In Christ’s righteous covering, we have God’s awesome blessings of forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, and mercy.

Renewed Like an Eagle

“The psalmist next adds, that God was constantly infusing into him new vigour, so that his strength continued unimpaired… [‘who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’], even as the prophet Isaiah…says that a man of a hundred years old shall be like a child (Isaiah 65:20). By this mode of expression, he intimates that God, along with a very abundant supply of all good things, communicates to him also inward vigour, that he may enjoy them; and thus his strength was as it were continually renewed.” (6) “One of the highest-flying and biggest birds in the world, the eagle, is a symbol of power, victory, bravery, and royalty…Eagles become excited during storms and rain; they spread their giant wings and allow the storm to lift them above the cloud. When other birds hide in branches of trees, the eagle flies above the clouds. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it…There are significantly fewer birds that can fly at such heights…[And], when eagles reach the age of 40 years, they turn weak, and survival becomes difficult. To regain strength, they have to go through a painful process of rebirth. For that, they retire to a lonely place where they pluck out every feather on their body until they are completely bare and knock their beak against a rock so that the new one develops. This rebirth extends their life for 30 more years.” (7) The Lord renews the souls of his people with forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, and goodness—much more than for the eagle! We do well to will remember and praise God for the blessings of Christ’s forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, mercy, and righteousness.

“The final stanza is a happy one in which the concerns of the psalmist broaden to include all the righteous. He encourages them to ‘take refuge’ in God and ‘be glad,’ to ‘sing for joy.’ He also asks God to ‘spread [his] protection over them’—which he is certain God will do…When Martin Luther was making his way to Augsburg to appear before Cardinal Cajetan, who had summoned him to answer for his heretical opinions, one of the Cardinal’s servants taunted him, asking, ‘Where will you find shelter if your patron, the Elector of Saxony, should desert you?’ ‘Under the shelter of heaven,’ Luther answered. That was the psalmist’s shelter. It should be yours also.” (8) “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalms 5:11-12)

Related Scripture: DEUTERONOMY 6:10-3; 8:11-20; Exodus 34:6-9; Psalms 86:15; 103: 8, 11, 17; 104; 107:9; 147:3; Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:47-50.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Ps. 103 Introduction, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 103, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Stott, Favourite Psalms, Psalm 103 (pages 95-97), Angus Hudson Ltd, London, 1988.
  4. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Psalm 103:4-5, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalm-103.html
  5. Boice, Ibid.
  6. Boice, Ibid.
  7. Expords, 9 Amazing Life Lessons From the Eagle, https://www.expords.com/amazing-life-lessons-from-the-eagle/
  8. Boice Ibid, Psalm 5:11-12.

September 29, 2022

Blessed Through Persecution For Jesus’s Sake

Have you misunderstood someone or something lately? We misunderstand more than we realize. “Perhaps the biggest reason for miscommunication and misunderstanding is a disparity of viewpoints…We largely make sense of reality by using cultures or subcultures. They influence the way we see the world and are usually difficult to change. [It is] our natural tendency to accept and focus on what fits our current beliefs while ignoring and avoiding anything that challenges them…As long as we have our own opinions, miscommunication and misunderstanding will always be a part of human interaction.” (1) The author of the article quoted understands that we are creatures with significant weaknesses but doesn’t go far enough to address our corrupt natures, which affect everything we read, see, hear, and experience. It should be no surprise that we are misunderstood, misunderstand others, and even misinterpret God’s Word. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39). Christians are persecuted in this evil world, but we have reasons to rejoice in God’s heavenly blessings that come through that persecution.

Biblical Persecution

As the last Beatitude, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). “At no point in the entire list of beatitudes is it more necessary to be careful to indicate exactly what is meant by Christ’s statement, for there is no beatitude which has been more often misunderstood and misapplied than this one. For what is the Christian persecuted? That is the heart of the teaching. The answer lies in the phrase ‘because of righteousness,’ and in the parallel phrase in the following verse, ‘because of me’…[meaning] ’Blessed are they who are persecuted because, by God’s grace, they are determined to live as I live.’ This means that there is no promise of happiness for those who are persecuted for being a nuisance…objectionable, difficult, foolish, and insulting to their non-Christian friends…[or] for pushing tracts onto people who do not want them, insulting them in the midst of a religious argument, poking into their affairs when they are not invited, and so on. Christ was speaking of the persecution of those who are abused for the sake of his righteousness…Well, then, if the verse does not mean being persecuted for being objectionable, or doing wrong, or being fanatical, or endorsing a cause, what does it mean?…Simply put, it means to be persecuted for being like the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Jesus said that those who are persecuted for being like him will be happy. And what is more, those who are like him will always be persecuted. When Jesus came into the world in his righteousness he exposed the evil of the world, and men hated him for it…Men hated the exposure of their inner hearts and natures, and they killed Christ for exposing them. In a similar way, they will hate any exposure of their evil nature that comes from the evidences of the righteousness of Christ in his followers.” (2) Christians, like Christ, should expect to be persecuted but can rejoice in God’s heavenly blessings. The more we live for Christ, the more we will be persecuted and blessed, rejoicing in our union with Christ and the prophets before him.

Satan’s Influence to Avoid Persecution

“Says Satan…you are better to walk in ways that are less troublesome, and less afflicted, though they be more sinful; for who but a madman would spend his days in sorrow, vexation, and affliction, when it may be prevented by walking in the ways that I set before him?…The first remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, that all the afflictions that attend the people of God, are such as shall turn to their profit and glorious advantage…All the stones that came about Stephen’s ears did but knock him closer to Christ, the corner-stone…God makes afflictions to be but inlets to the soul’s more sweet and full enjoyment of his blessed self. When was it that Stephen saw the heavens open, and Christ standing at the right hand of God—but when the stones were about his ears, and there was but a short step between him and eternity?…The honey of prosperity kills our graces—but the vinegar of adversity quickens our graces…The more saints are beaten with the hammer of afflictions, the more they are made the trumpets of God’s praises, and the more are their graces revived and quickened. Adversity abases the loveliness of the world which strives to entice us; it abates the lustiness of the flesh within, which strives to incite us to folly and vanity…Now, suppose afflictions and troubles attend the ways of holiness, yet seeing that they all work for the great profit and singular advantage of the saints, let no soul be so mad as to leave an afflicted way of holiness, to walk in a smooth path of wickedness.” (3) The truth is that the more we witness for Christ, the more we will be persecuted but blessed; we can rejoice in our union with him and the prophets before him.

Reacting to Persecution

“How did Jesus expect his disciples to react under persecution?…We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor to sulk like a child, nor to lick our wounds in self-pity like a dog, not just to grin and bear it like a Stoic, still less to pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. Instead we are to ‘Rejoice and be glad!’…Why? Partly because ‘great is your reward in heaven.’ We may lose everything on earth, but we shall inherit everything in heaven, not as a reward for merit, but freely. We also rejoice partly because persecution is a token of genuine Christian authenticity, since the prophets before us were persecuted. But the major reason why we should rejoice is because we are suffering ‘because of me,’ on account of our loyalty to Jesus and to his standards of truth and righteousness…The Christian can’t expect to be thanked for being merciful or sincere or a peacemaker; instead we are opposed, slandered, insulted and persecuted on account of the righteousness for which we stand and the Christ with whom we are identified. Such is a man or woman who is ‘blessed,’ that is, who has the approval of God and finds self-fulfillment as a human being.” (4) “Persecution is evidence that the believer is united to Jesus Christ…If we are persecuted for Christ’s sake, we can be happy in this proof that we are his and are united to him forever. If we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit has been at work in our hearts, turning us from our sin and our sinful ways to Christ’s way, and is making progress in molding us into his sinless image.” (5) Do you embrace the truth that the more you are like Christ, the more you will be persecuted and blessed to rejoice in your union with him?

Attending Queen Elizabeth’s funeral service were religious leaders of the Jewish, Baha’i, Jain, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Shia, and Muslim faiths. I wonder what thoughts went through their minds as the Bishop quoted Christ’s words from Scripture that apply strictly to believers. It’s impossible to think that there weren’t some who were present or watching and who were prepared to persecute those of us like Queen Elizabeth, who held her faith firmly—and many who misunderstood the words of Scripture. But “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1). I would want to have these blessed words spoken of me after my passing, as they were for her—wouldn’t you? “O God, from whom cometh everything that is upright and true: accept our thanks for the gifts of heart and mind that thou didst bestow upon thy daughter Elizabeth, and which she showed forth among us in her words and deeds; and grant that we may have grace to live our lives in accordance with thy will, to seek the good of others, and to remain faithful servants unto our lives’ end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (6)

Related Scripture: Genesis 6:11-22; John 15:19–23; Acts 5:17-42; Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 11; James 1:2-3; 5:11; 1 Peter 4:12–13; 1 John 3:13.

Notes:

  1. Costi, 8 Causes of Miscommunication and Misunderstanding, https://blog.intelligentbee.com/2020/07/20/8-causes-of-miscommunication-and-misunderstanding/
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:10-12, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Brooks, Thomas, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (p. 54), Kindle Edition.
  4. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 51-56, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  5. Boice, Ibid
  6. One Prayer at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral— https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-62948934

September 22, 2022

Blessed Children of God, His Peacemakers

One of my most vivid memories about Africa is the time in 2011 when I was substituting in the first-grade classroom of the Rafiki Foundation classical Christian school in Ghana. The Ghanaian Civics course for young children wasn’t available, so I decided to use some Christian material very close to my heart. I had studied biblical peacemaking through Ken Sande’s books and seminars for a decade. (1) I had already purchased the children’s curriculum on leave, intending to use it somewhere. This was the perfect place and time, having led the teachers through the material the prior semester. Working on teams of missionaries, with staff teams of African teachers, or those in other roles, I was all too familiar with the conflicts that can cause chasms and alienation. The children’s Peacemaking materials were inviting and thorough. One day, as I was teaching a civic’s lesson, a Ghanaian Ministry of Education representative came to inspect our schools for accreditation renewal. But I wasn’t using the approved syllabus. After answering her questions and her observation, she said that all Ghanaian schools should have such instruction. Then she inquired if she could send her child to our school. What a relief! But that relief doesn’t compare with the comfort of having an interpersonal conflict reach complete or partial resolution. Let’s face it, Christians have conflicts. Those conflicts often lead to significant disappointment or resentment because Christians believe we shouldn’t have them, being followers of Jesus Christ. Denying that we have disagreements, Christian or otherwise, is contradicting the Bible’s consistent teaching about the sin nature of all people, which unfortunately colors every aspect of our relationships. If we weren’t sinners, God wouldn’t have taught us about the sacrificial system for the confession of sin or conflict in passages such as Matthew 18:15-20. But as God’s children, redeemed by the blood of Christ, we have Christ’s desire to be at peace with others—or at least we should. Christians are blessed to be peacemakers as Christ is, in his resurrection power, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Do we actively make peace with others?


Inheriting God’s Blessings

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) “Those who bring about peace will be called children of God. Could anything be better than for God to acknowledge and recognize us as his children, and for us to call upon him as Father?…We can have no true taste of prosperity or blessing unless we experience God’s favour and fatherly love toward us. That, then, is what we must truly aim at—knowing God as Father and having the privilege of calling ourselves his children. Moreover we cannot attain this blessing, as Jesus Christ reminds us here, unless we are peace-makers. For God is rightly called the God of peace, and we must be like him, or else we do not belong to him, whatever we profess with our lips.” (2) “Now of such persons it is said, that they shall be called the children of God; that is, they are the children of God by adopting grace, which is made manifest in their regeneration; and that is evidenced by the fruits of it, of which this is one; they not only shall be, and more manifestly appear to be, the sons of God hereafter; but they are, and are known to be so now, by their peaceable disposition, which is wrought in them by the Spirit of God; whereby they become like to the God of peace, and to Christ, the great and only peacemaker, and so are truly sons of peace.” (3) Since we are believers—blessed to be peacemakers as Christ is, God’s children—it is reasonable for us to make peace with others actively.


The Source of All True Peace

At another time in his ministry, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus’s disciples were anxious and afraid about his upcoming departure. So Jesus instructed them to fix their hope on the peace that he gave them and that he would continue to give them through the Holy Spirit. As  temporary residents in this conflicted world, we also need these instructions. Consider John Stott’s comments on Matthew 5:9: “It is clear beyond question throughout the teaching of Jesus and his apostles…that we are to actively ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (1 Peter 3:11), we are to ‘make every effort to live in peace with all men’ (Hebrews 12:14), and so far as it depends on us, we are to ‘live at peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:18). Peacemaking is a divine work. For peace means reconciliation and God is the author of peace and of reconciliation. Sure peace and true forgiveness are costly treasures. The same verb which is used in this beatitude of us is applied by the apostle Paul to what God has done through Christ. Through Christ God was pleased ‘to reconcile to himself all things…making peace though his blood, shed on the cross’ (Colossians 1:20)…All Christians, no matter what their ethnic background, have ‘access to the Father by one Spirit’ (v. 18). This truth promotes peace among Christians who have natural differences, and even antagonism.” (4)

Our Understanding of Peace is Too Small

“The expression peace (Hb. shalom) had a much richer connotation than the English word does since it conveyed not merely the absence of conflict and turmoil but also the notion of positive blessing, especially in terms of a right relationship with God.” (5) “When Jesus meets his disciples after the resurrection, he continually says to them, ‘Peace’ ( John 20:19, 21, 26 ). Under these circumstances it is obvious that the term ‘peace’ is extraordinarily full of meaning. What is this peace Jesus gives us? In order to understand Jesus’ words, we must reflect on the many facets of the crucial Hebrew term shalom, which lies behind the English word ‘peace.’ Shalom is one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound…Most fundamentally, Shalom mean reconciliation with God.…Shalom also means peace with others, peace between parties…[and] refers to socially just relationships between individuals and classes. Shalom consists of not only outward peacefulness—peace between parties—but also peace within…God gives ‘perfect peace’ (or shalom-shalom )—i.e., profound psychological and emotional peace—to those who steadfastly set their minds on him. The result of righteousness before God is ‘peace’; its effect will be ‘quietness and confidence forever’…God is reconciling all things to himself through Christ, and although he has not yet put everything right, those who believe the gospel enter into and experience this reconciliation.” (6)

Peacemaking is the Fruit of Peacefulness

In Africa, the teachers and children needed to understand that being peaceful is not the same as making peace with others. Matthew 5:9 “has been commonly misunderstood. It has been interpreted as meaning the ‘peaceful’, whereas a much strong sense is implied. A [person] might indeed be peaceful without being a peacemaker…To avoid ambiguity, we should stick to the text’s natural sense, which is that we should cultivate peace wherever we are. That means that we should begin first with ourselves. After all, how could any of us make peace and calm troubles and disputes when they occur, unless we lead by example? To be peacemakers, we must first and foremost be peaceable ourselves. We must learn to cultivate patience, and so to lay aside self-interest and reputation that we readily forgive the wrongs done to us. That, I believe, is how we can be peaceable. It is not enough for us to avoid giving people cause to injure or trouble us. We must do whatever we can to keep the peace among ourselves…even if it means suffering loss as a result tor surrendering some of our rights.” (7) “There is a difference between being a peacemaker and being conciliatory or appeasing. The words peace and appeasement are not synonymous. For the peace of God is not peace at any price. He made peace with us at immense cost, even at the price of the life-blood of his only Son. We too-though in lesser ways—will find peacemaking a costly enterprise…When we ourselves are involved in a quarrel, there will be either the pain of apologizing to the person we have injured or the pain of rebuking the person who has injured us.” (8) But oh, how we’ll be blessed! “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3) “Trust in the Lord for that peace, that portion, which will be for ever…those who trust in God shall not only find in him, but shall receive from him strength that will carry them to that blessedness which is for ever. Let us then acknowledge him in all our ways, and rely on him in all trials.” (9)

Related Scripture: Numbers 6:24–26; 25:12; Judges 21:13; Psalms 72:7; 85:8; Isaiah 32:17-18; Haggai 2:4-9; Romans 8:15; 14:19; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 1:21-23; James 3:18; 1 John 3:1.

Notes:

  1. See https://rw360.org/biblical-peacemaking/
  2. Calvin, John, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 53-56, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
  3. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Matthew 5:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-5.html
  4. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 46-50, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  5. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, John 14:27, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  6. NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, eBook, Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
  7. Calvin, Ibid.
  8. Stott, Ibid.
  9. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Isaiah 26:3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/Isaiah-26.html

September 15, 2022

The Blessing of Seeing God

How’s your eyesight? Have you ever had an eye trauma that required retina detachment, cornea abrasion, or cataract surgery? I’ve had two of the three, one requiring some extensive surgery. If you’ve also required surgical intervention, and if it was successful, you, like me, know the radical improvement after surgery. Colors are more vivid, lines are sharper, and everything is brighter. However, even with corrected vision, we still don’t focus on things around us. How often do we go about our day and never look up at a brilliant blue sky or the ground where little insects are busily running around? And then looking does not equal seeing. It’s possible to look at a person and not recognize them because you’re not where you usually see each other. It’s also possible to stare at a map or an address and misread it because we’re not seeing what’s there but what we think should be there. I made that mistake yesterday when I parked near the address I thought I saw on my phone, only to realize that I had inverted two of the five numbers. We go through life seeing only a portion of what’s visible, because of our weak nature. So how can we “see” God, who is invisible? We see him through Scripture because that is his means of revealing himself to us. God reveals himself to believers because they have blessed heart-purity from Jesus.

Who Are The Pure in Heart?

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). To know what Jesus meant, we first have to understand who the pure in heart might be. It’s important to remember that he was preaching to his disciples, who had the faith to be with him and sit at his feet. So who are the “pure in heart?” Was Jesus referring to those who knew him and merely restrained themselves from sins and impurity? John Stott writes, “The popular interpretation of this beatitude is to regard purity of heart as an expression of inward purity, the quality of those who have been cleansed from moral—as opposed to ceremonial defilement…This emphasis on the inward and moral, whether contrasted with the outward and ceremonial or with the outward and physical, is certainly consistent with the whole Sermon on the Mount which requires heart-righteousness rather than mere rule-righteousness. Nevertheless, in the context of the other beatitudes, ‘purity of heart’ seems to refer in some sense to our relationships. It is single-mindedness, having a single heart. More precisely, the primary reference is to sincerity. The pure in heart have their whole lives, public and private, transparent before others. Their very heart—including their thoughts and motives—is pure, unmixed with anything devious, ulterior or base…[but] Only Jesus was absolutely pure in heart…Thank the Lord for being [our] perfect example of purity of heart. Ask him to show you areas where you have mixed motives or any hypocrisy.” (1) God reveals himself to believers because they have blessed heart-purity from Jesus. Do we rejoice in our blessing of knowing God, relying on his revelation of himself in Scripture through Christ’s incarnation and the Spirit’s illumination of the Word?

Why Is Purity of Heart So Important?

Heart purity can’t be found in the “wisdom” of the world, our gut instincts or reactions, philosophies, mindfulness, or restraint alone. Purity of heart is certainly more than what we don’t do, think, or feel. “In the Bible, the heart is the center of the personality; it involves the mind, the will, and the emotions…In Romans 5:5 he writes, ‘And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’ In this verse the heart is the seat of the emotions. A reference to the heart of man is therefore a reference to the center of man’s personality, and it is this that is the source of man’s problems. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9)…And if that is the case, we may well ask, ‘How can a man be pure in heart?’ The answer is that only God can make him pure. You can begin by trying to cleanse your own heart; but whether you turn to ethics, religion, asceticism, fetishes, or whatever it may be, you will find that your heart is as corrupt at the end as at the beginning. Only God can cleanse your heart from its impurities. David knew this and prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10)…As we do, we come increasingly to see him as he fills our being and makes himself known to us. We take our place with those countless others who endured “as seeing him who is invisible.” (2)

How Do We See God?

“To debate at length how we may see God is the mark of idle curiosity. Since God’s essence is spiritual, we cannot behold him with our physical eyes. Nor, strictly speaking, do we attribute sight to spirit-beings…The joy of seeing God which our text speaks of here cannot be ours before theist day, when we will conformed to God’s glory…Let us resolve simply to press on, knowing that, once our course is finished, God will show us how it is in his kingdom. We…are already on our way. So let us continue on, always on, as long as we are in this world, and when we have reached our inheritance, then we will know what heaven is like…Is there not ample reward in the fact that God declares that he is ours, that he desires to be our inheritance and to make us his? Where else is true happiness and blessing to be found if not here? Christ thus applies the metaphor of sight, according to normal scriptural usage, because he is speaking here of a heart which is pure. The more our heart is cleansed of evil, the more honest and upright it is, and the less prone we are to sinful dealing…So here our Lord uses this metaphor to teach that, if we fail to ‘see’ what men naturally covet, God will indeed reveal himself to us; as we lay hold of him, he will give us rest.” (3) In the prolong to his gospel, the Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:14-18) We see God in Jesus Christ, in his gospel grace and mercy, promises, and teaching. 

The Blessing of Seeing God

“Everyone readily agrees that the best quality anyone can possess is purity of heart and complete honesty. Without these things, every other virtue, however highly regarded, is but stuff and nonsense in God’s sight. If the world mocks our innocence and if by our innocence we seem to lose more than we gain, we should rejoice in a greater reward—seeing God. Our eyes many never be sharp enough to show us where worldly advantage, comfort, convenience, pleasure, and prestige lie, nor how we might reach for them. When we fix our gaze on other things instead, we will be given that clearer vision which is promised to us here; we will rejoice in the presence of God, in whom are found all our blessedness, joy, and glory.” (4) “Happy they are, [who enjoy] communion with him, both in private and public, in the several duties of religion, in the house and ordinances of God; where they often behold his beauty, see his power and his glory, and taste, and know, that he is good and gracious: and in the other world, where they shall see God in Christ, with the eyes of their understanding; and God incarnate, with the eyes of their bodies, after the resurrection; which sight of Christ, and God in Christ, will be unspeakably glorious, desirable, delightful, and satisfying; it will be free from all darkness and error, and from all interruption; it will be an appropriating and transforming one, and will last for ever.” (5) Where is our focus? Do we have singleness of heart, relying on his revelation of himself in Scripture through Christ’s incarnation and the Spirit’s illumination of the Word? “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Psalms 24:3-5)

Related Scripture: Genesis 22:17-19; Job 22:30; Psalms 51:10; 73:1; Isaiah 56:1-2; Ezekiel 18:5-9; Matthew 5:27-30; John 6:46; 14:6-9; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 1:22-23; 1 John 3:1-3.

Notes

  1. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 40-45, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:8, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Calvin, John, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 49-53, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
  4. Calvin, Ibid.
  5. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Matthew 5:8, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-5.html 

September 8, 2022

God’s Blessed Continuous Mercy

Retirement communities are unlike any other lifestyle that I can imagine. Services are continually offered for food, activities, rides, concierge, information, chapel services, musical events, maintenance, and emergency assistance. Not to mention a community that is immediate and constant, whenever one desires it. Every day and night, the staff prepare the next meal or event or offer it to us. Very few things in life continually operate that we can rely upon without thinking. Having lived here for almost six years, I find it easy to take these services for granted. As we consider what is so constant, I am sure the air we breathe, the patterns of day and night, sun and moon, seasons, and God’s creation all come to mind. We also think of God’s continual sustenance for life, general mercy for all creatures who are alive, for the benefit of people—none of which we should take for granted. And Christians are blessed with the special mercy of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) Do we rejoice in God’s mercy? Being blessed with his salvation and mercy, shouldn’t we long to live a life that reflects Christ’s love, offering this mercy to others?

What Is Mercy?

Grace is God’s favor to us that we do not deserve and mercy is his withholding that wrath which we do deserve. ”In some ways mercy may be compared with grace; that is, it is undeserved. But it is not grace itself. And in the pastoral letters Paul even adds mercy to his normal Christian greeting—grace and peace—thereby implying a distinction between them. “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4).What makes mercy different from grace? Primarily it is the quality of helplessness or misery on the part of those who receive mercy. Grace is love when love is undeserved. Mercy is grace in action. Mercy is love reaching out to help those who are helpless and who need salvation. Mercy identifies with the miserable in their misery. We cannot state the definition of mercy, however, without thinking at once of the cross of Jesus Christ. For it was here that God acted out of grace in mercy to fallen, sinful man. In fact, God’s act was so complete at the cross that there is a sense in which mercy can be seen by a sinful man there only. In his sinful, fallen state man could do nothing to save himself, so God stepped forward to do everything that needed to be done. Dr. Barnhouse has written, ‘When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all of the work of God for man’s salvation passed out of the realm of prophecy and became historical fact. God has now had mercy upon us…All the mercy that God ever will have on man, He has already had when Christ died. This is the totality of mercy. There could not be any more… [God can now] act toward us in grace because He has already had all mercy upon us. The fountain is now opened and flowing, and it flows freely'” (1) And, as recipients of God’s continual blessed mercy, believers are merciful to others.

Who Are the Merciful?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). He is saying that those who show mercy are the ones who are united in Christ and his mercy. “Because we have experienced this mercy from God we in our turn are to show mercy to others. We cannot go on from this point, however, without first calling attention to the fact that this beatitude has been a problem to some persons because it seems to imply that receiving mercy from God depends upon our showing mercy to others. The beatitude…seems to imply that we must act first in showing mercy. Does it mean this? Obviously not, unless this statement of Jesus Christ is to be accepted as contradicting all Scripture, including his own clear testimony, or unless we are to abolish the doctrine of grace entirely and with it all hope of salvation. If we are to be dealt with on these terms, no man would ever see heaven. No one would ever receive God’s mercy. Actually, of course, it is the other way around. For what Jesus actually was saying was that we are to show mercy because we have received mercy and are confident that we will continue to receive it. Conversely, if we do not show mercy to others, we show that we either understand little of that mercy by which we have been saved or else have never been saved.” (2) “Jesus does not specify the categories of people he has in mind to whom his disciples are to show mercy. He gives no indication whether he is thinking primarily of those overcome by disaster, like the traveler from Jerusalem to Jericho whom robbers assaulted and to whom the good Samaritan ‘had mercy’ (Luke 10:30-37), or of the hungry, the sick and the outcast on whom he himself regularly took pity, or of those who wrong us so that justice cries out for punishment but mercy for forgiveness. God’s mercy extends to all those people, and so must our mercy…Our God is a merciful God and shows mercy continuously; the citizens of his kingdom must show mercy too.” God’s mercy is a constant blessing that results in our showing mercy to others. John Stott then asks, “What risks have you taken in showing mercy to others? What risks do you think others have taken in showing mercy to you?” (3)

How Do We Show Mercy?

Peter, Jesus’s devoted disciple, probably thought he had a good grasp of mercy, and was probably shocked when Jesus taught him the extent of Christian mercy. During the Lord’s teaching on the characteristics of the kingdom of God, he asked, “‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” (Matthew 18:21-22) Then Jesus told a parable about the kingdom of heaven, comparing it to a king settling accounts with his servants. This king mercifully forgave the entire unwieldy debt of his servant. But when the forgiven servant had the opportunity to “pay forward” this same mercy, he jailed them for their unpaid debts. When his master learned of his coldness toward others, he imprisoned the servant, giving him exactly what he gave to others, no mercy. “The point of this parable is not that we merit mercy by mercy or forgiveness by forgiveness. The point is that we cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless we repent, and we cannot claim to have repented of our sins if we are unmerciful toward the sins of others. Or, interpreted in the context of the beatitudes, it is ‘the meek’ who are also ‘the merciful.’ For to be meek is to acknowledge to others that we are sinners; to be merciful is to have compassion on others, for they are sinners too…Nothing proves more clearly that we have been forgiven than our own readiness to forgive.” (4)

Our Unbreakable Connection to God’s Mercy

At the end of the parable, Jesus said, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”‘ (Matthew 18:23-35) “That is troubling. Indeed, it is so troubling that many have tried to see if they cannot get rid of its disturbing implications. For one thing, it seems to imply a ‘works’ salvation. That is, if you forgive others (a work), you will be forgiven. That seems contrary to the doctrine of justification by faith. Or again, even if it does not teach that, the parable seems to imply a continuation in grace by means of works. We may be saved by grace; but if we fail to act in an upright manner, God may cancel His forgiveness and have us thrown into hell anyway, just as the king had his wicked servant jailed. What we have to recognize is that in this one story Jesus is not giving the whole of biblical theology. What He says is true enough, namely, that there is an unbreakable connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of other people. That is intended to snap us out of any lethargy we may have and confront us with the life-changing power of the gospel…If we are justified we will have that nature of God that will increasingly and inevitably express itself in forgiveness, just as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us. We will be able to pray, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors’ (Matthew 6:12).” (5) As recipients of God’s continual blessed mercy, believers are blessedly merciful to others as much as possible through the Holy Spirit’s power and guidance. And our blessedness increases as we share with others the blessings of God. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Related Scripture: Genesis 4:24; Numbers 7:89; Psalms 23:6; 24:14; 145:8-9; Isaiah 57:15; Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 6:36; 17:4; Colossians 3:13-14; 1 Timothy 1:16; Titus 3:5; James 2:13; 3:17; Hebrews 4:16; 1 Peter 1:3.

Notes:

  1. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:7-9, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  2. Boice, Ibid.
  3. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 35-38, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  4. Stott, Ibid.
  5. Boice, James Montgomery, The Parables of Jesus, Matthew 18:21-35, Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition.

September 1, 2022

The Hungry and Thirsty are Blessed and Satisfied

Last Sunday was grooming day for GG while I worshipped. But the groomer never knows precisely when she’ll finish, so I picked up my lunch from our buffet and returned to my apartment. I decided to wait to eat since it was early and do other things while waiting for the call. When I finally had him and was back home to eat lunch, it was much later than usual, and I was hungry. I don’t know if it was because I was hungry, but the food tasted outstanding! I was surprised because the entry was not one I usually choose, let alone enjoy so much. My satisfaction was heightened, and I felt blessed to have been so hungry for a few moments and then filled. It reminded me of the satisfaction I have with GG’s progress from training after a stressful, anxious beginning. Now he longs for leadership from me, and I know how to provide it. But we’re both usually glad to  continue working on even more obedience. Satisfaction is that elusive something that we all want in this life. We want to be content, fulfilled, and gratified, but we often don’t want to work at it or know how to achieve it. Most importantly, we must begin with our heart’s desires and inclinations. “In our heart there is a battle between desires that purify us and desires that pollute us. It is a struggle between the Spirit and our flesh, between what is right and wrong, between what will gratify us and what will not. This world and its sinful desires do not satisfy. They are false gods and false loves with false promises and false hopes. They disappoint, and along with this world, they are ‘fading away’ (1 John 2:16-17). Christ alone offers water that will quench our thirst. Only those who ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ shall ‘be satisfied.’ But that is the problem. Do we desire to desire righteousness? What is Christ doing to straighten out our perverted desires? Despite our impression that our hearts are often nothing but a cauldron of conflicting desire, Christ is at work renewing our hearts and purifying our affections. He is constantly reforming us to want what God wants, to despise what God forbids, and to embrace what God loves. He promises to continue and complete the work he has begun in us (Phil. 1:6).” (1) We enjoy a good meal, but our satisfaction very short; having an obedient dog is nice, but he’s not very consistent. Conversely, God’s righteousness is constant and leads to life-long and eternal blessings.

How to Be Blessed

Jesus promised to bless his disciples, who continued to crave his rightness for soul satisfaction. And, he will bless us if we crave his righteousness for more consistent holy living and lives of meaningfulness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” (Luke 6:21a) “‘This beatitude again follows logically from the previous ones; it is a statement to which all the others lead. It is the logical conclusion to which they come, and it is something for which we should all be profoundly thankful and grateful to God. I do not know of a better test that anyone can apply to himself or herself in this whole matter of the Christian profession than a verse like this. If this verse is to you one of the most blessed statements of the whole of Scripture, you can be quite certain you are a Christian; if it is not, then you had better examine the foundations again.’ The verse is precious because it offers the solution to man’s great need by pointing to the offer of God’s greater remedy in Christ.” (2) James Boice continues, “What must man do? First, he must desire righteousness. Second, he must desire a perfect (and, therefore, a divine) righteousness. Third, he must desire it intensely…The only way that man can enter again into fellowship with God and find the happiness and blessing he longs for is to possess a righteousness and holiness that will commend him to God. Can this be done? Not by man, certainly. But God can and will do it. The heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that in him God has obtained our redemption and provided all who believe in Christ with that righteousness. The Bible says that Jesus Christ ‘has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30). And those who hunger and thirst after his righteousness shall be filled.” (3) Christians already have the grace and mercy of God, as did the disciples sitting at Jesus’s feet during the Sermon on the Mount. But do we appreciate and apply his extraordinary gift of holiness through the indwelling Spirit? “Turning to the disciples [Jesus] said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.'” (Matthew 13:16-17)

Blessed to Need Christ

Jesus promised to bless disciples who continued to crave his righteousness for soul satisfaction. And, he will bless us if we desire his piety for more consistent holy living and lives of meaningfulness. Longing for Jesus’s righteousness for godly living and meaningfulness is a blessing because we know God will respond to our request. There are some prayers that the Lord will always say yes—”make me more holy,” “humble me to yield to your will,” “show me my sins so I may confess and repent,” and “help me to love others more than I do.” “To be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of a Christian. I offer the following description: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition…In some there is a partial contentment…I do not doubt that many of you know this in your own experience, if you observe the workings of your own hearts. Can you say when a certain affliction befalls you, I can bless God that I am satisfied?” (4) “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!” (Psalms 112:1) “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at the table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!” (Luke 12:37-38)

Drinking in Christ’s Righteousness

Now that GG is starting to succeed at passing “prey” without chasing it or barking, I strongly desire to continue with his training. Instead of relaxing as if we are finished, I am looking for ways to help him get stimulation more respectfully than hunting for cats, armadillos, or rodents. We both desire increased peacefulness and happiness without the struggle against the leash while walking. Similarly, “There is perhaps no greater secret of progress in Christian living than a healthy, hearty spiritual appetite. If we are conscious of slow spiritual growth, the reason may be that we have a jaded appetite. It is not enough to mourn over past sin; we must also hunger for future righteousness.When we talk of pursuing righteousness, we must be cautious about our meaning. According to Paul [in his letter to the Romans], the Jews failed to attain righteousness because they were seeking legal righteousness. It was the Gentiles who discovered righteousness—by faith. The righteousness Paul writes about is legal righteousness, which those who believe in Jesus have already been given as a gift. In what ways can Christians fall into pursuing righteousness, as if it were by works? Would you say your appetite for righteousness is sharp or dull? In what areas of your character do you long to be more righteous? Praise God that he is perfectly righteous and holy. Ask him to increase your appetite for righteousness…pray that your life will increasingly reflect God’s righteous character.” (5) “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new…I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:5-7)

Related Scripture: Psalms 42:2; 112:1, 4; Isaiah 55:1-2; John 7:37; Romans 9:30-10:4; Philippians 4:11.

Notes

* On the blessing of meekness see my post#10, March 10, 2022https://divinewisdomforchristians.com/?s=Matthew+5%3A5j

  1. Troxel, A. Craig, With All Your Heart, page 101, Crossway, 2020
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:6, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Boice, Ibid.
  4. Burroughs, Jeremiah, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, passage, Kindle Version, 2010.
  5. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, Matthew 5:6, InterVarsity Press, 1998

August 25, 2022

Weep Now, Laugh Forever

What makes you laugh? Jokes? Funny things your kids do? Comedians or comic movies? My dog makes me laugh when he is so happy he can’t contain himself, running around the apartment with his squeaky toy mouse, creating a symphony of peeps. Fortunately, he tires of the game after about five minutes. I appreciate his playfulness, especially at times when life is hard. I finally recovered from a very intense summer cold that I thought would never end. Five of my friends and neighbors lost their spouses within the last few months. And when my arthritic, flat feet and sciatica are causing me pain, or I feel burdened with administrative tasks, GG cheers me up. But “There is no comfort to compare with the comfort given to a man by God.” (1) Whatever makes us laugh here on earth is a drop compared to the river of delight and joy the Spirit provides now, and even more in eternity. “In his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, William Barclay reminds his readers of an Arab proverb that says, ‘All sunshine makes a desert.’ And it is true that a life of unmixed happiness would be unbearable and withering to the soul. Sorrow gives spice to life. It teaches us to appreciate good things. It increases our sensitivity, particularly to the needs and sorrows of others.” (2) As we continue studying the Beatitudes, we will be reminded that those who mourn and weep here will be comforted by God. We study so that we will not shrink from grieving over sin, from repenting, and thereby receive Jesus’s comforting forgiveness.

The True Christian Life

“The Christian life, according to Jesus, is not all joy and laughter. The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them. But the spiritual, emotional, or financial loss resulting from sin should lead to mourning and a longing for God’s forgiveness and healing.” (4) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) Luke’s record is similar, but adds the fact that our grief is earth-based (“now”)—”Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21b) “As our own experience suggests, this line of teaching is rather difficult to digest…[but] if we are poor in spirit, we cannot avoid weeping; we cannot be other than distressed. We are not, after all, without feelings…immovable as an anvil or a rock! Such a thing goes against our nature. We have instead to feel our miseries, which are meant to press us to the point where we bend and break; we can no longer hold our heads up, our breath is taken from us, we are, so to speak, dead men.” (5) But the Lord doesn’t leave the redeemed in their wretched state. “According to the Old Testament prophets, ‘consolation’ was to be one of the offices of the Messiah. Christ does pour oil into our wounds and speak peace to our sore, scarred consciences. Yet still we mourn over the havoc of suffering and death which sin spreads throughout the world. For only in the final state of glory will Christ’s comfort be complete, for only then will sin be no more and ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes'” (Revelation 7:1 7). (6) “What we must do is learn to weep before our God. It is to him that our tears must send us. When we do that, we will experience the truth of David’s words, ‘Lord you have put my tears in a bottle.’ [Ps. 56:8] Just as someone looks after a precious perfume or costly ointment, so, David says, God stores up our tears. Of course, tears fall to the ground, or else we wipe them away with our hand. Nevertheless, when we weep before God, not one tear will be lost: God will carefully preserve them all.” (7)

Weeping Like Jesus

As we consider grieving over sin, especially ours, we cannot help but think of the difference between our tears and those of Jesus. However, sin is the cause of both. While we mourn over our personal sin and the sin that infects the entire world, Jesus grieved only over the latter, having no sin in himself. “When [Jesus] drew near and saw [Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44) On a different occasion, “Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother [Lazarus] would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!'” (John 11:32-36) “Jesus’ example shows that heartfelt mourning in the face of death does not indicate lack of faith but honest sorrow at the reality of suffering and death.” (6) “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) But while Jesus knew grief as a man in his incarnation, he, unlike us, “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5) If we don’t shrink from grieving over our sin, repenting as we follow Christ, we will receive his comforting forgiveness.


Our Consolation

“The promise of the second beatitude is ‘comfort,’ comfort to those who sense their sin and mourn for it. There is deliverance from sin’s penalty…The Bible tells us that we have been made ‘accepted in the Beloved’ (Eph. 1:6 NSB). There is unspeakable joy in this experience. This is the joy that was foretold by the angels on the evening of Christ’s birth, for they said, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:10–11)…The deliverance of Jesus Christ also means a deliverance from present sin and from its power. If you are a Christian, Christ lives in you through his Holy Spirit. You are united to him. And you are united to him in order to make a victorious, triumphant life possible… in spite of the fact that sin will always be with the Christian so long as he lives, it is simply not true that he needs to be defeated by it…[Another] God’s comfort lies in the fact that one day Christ will remove sin and all of its effects from the believer forever.” (7) John Gill writes, “They shall be comforted: here in this life, by the God of all comfort, by Christ the comforter; by the Spirit of God, whose work and office it is to comfort; by the Scriptures of truth, which are written for their consolation; by the promises of the Gospel, through which the heirs of promise have strong consolation…and by the ministers of the word, who have a commission from the Lord to speak comfortably to them; and then are they comforted, when they have the discoveries of the love of God, manifestations of pardoning grace, through the blood of Christ, and enjoy the divine presence: and they shall be comforted hereafter; when freed from all the troubles of this life, they shall be blessed with uninterrupted communion with Father, Son, and Spirit, and with the happy society of angels and glorified saints.” (8) My Christian friends who have lost their husbands are joyful in the midst of their grief, having the Spirit and knowing that their beloved partners are with Christ. Their faith inspires me to mourn with hope.

While we know that we shouldn’t shrink from grieving over our sin, the world would have us believe the opposite—to live for pleasure since tomorrow you may die. We ought to mourn for those having no hope for anything after death while we have the assurance of our best existence. We enjoy our spirit-lifting distractions as we remain aware of the great problem of sin. “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:9) “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

Related Scripture: Psalms 126:1-3; Isaiah 25:8; 53:3; 61:1-4; Luke 4:18-19; John 16:20-22; 2 Corinthians 7:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 7:17; 21:4.

Notes:

1. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:1-5, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

2. Boice, Ibid.

3. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, Matthew 5:4, InterVarsity Press, 1998.

4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Matthew 5:4, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

5. Calvin, John, Sermons on the Beatitudes, p. 28, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.

6. Stott, Ibid.

7. Boice, Ibid.

8. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Matthew 5:4, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-5.html

August 18, 2022

Blessed Are We Who Are Poor

The other day I put on my “Blessed” t-shirt because I wanted to remember this study throughout the day. When I wear it, I anticipate varied reactions from those I meet or pass while walking my dog on our town’s popular “river walk.” That day some folks responded to my eager greeting of “Good morning.” Others, though, politely but cooly gave me the slightest acknowledgment. One gracious couple, walking their two friendly dogs, stopped to converse. I was hoping that at least one of my neighbors, who share their faith with me, would ask me why I felt blessed. I guess they presumed it meant that I was grateful for all of God’s provisions and help. I am sure no one could imagine that I also wanted to remember that I am spiritually poor. We’ll continue our study of the Beatitudes by meditating on how God blesses the “poor” with an abundance of grace. I need reminders to humble myself, and having just studied 1 Peter 5 certainly helps. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:6) When we are humble, we are blessed.

Who are the Poor in Spirit?

Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). “The Old Testament supplies the necessary background against which to interpret this beatitude. At first to be ‘poor’ meant to be in literal, material need. But gradually, because the needy had no refuge but God, ‘poverty’ came to have spiritual overtones… To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but his judgment. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of heaven.” (1) “The first of the Beatitudes leaves no doubt about whom the Lord is speaking…He is describing redeemed people, those who have believed, those who are part of the kingdom. Here is what their faith is like. Its foundational characteristic is humility — a poverty of spirit, a brokenness that acknowledges spiritual bankruptcy. Genuine believers see themselves as sinners; they know they have nothing to offer God that will buy His favor…If you see that God’s standard is higher than you can possibly attain, you are on the road to the blessedness Jesus spoke of in the Beatitudes. It begins with the humility that grows out of a sense of utter spiritual poverty, the knowledge that we are poor in spirit. And it consummates inevitably in righteous obedience. Those are characteristics of a supernatural life.” (2) Jesus addresses believers, rather than unbelievers, not with a formula for salvation but with a description of its fruit—blessedness as citizens of heaven. As those who have already been transformed by Christ’s irresistible, electing gospel, we wrestle with our tendency to be prideful. But when we humble ourselves and submit to the Lord, we are blessed. “Some have translated Jesus’ opening words ‘Happy are’…Though the Greek can and does mean ‘happy,’ it is seriously misleading to render it ‘happy’ in this case. Happiness is a subjective state, whereas Jesus is making an objective judgment about these people. He is declaring not what they may feel like (‘happy’), but what God thinks of them and what on that account they are: ‘blessed.'” (3) 

Good Poverty

“Hebrew uses the same word to describe both a man of lowly rank, and one who has suffered humiliation and loss. This is because prosperity puffs us up with pride and ambition; as a result we long for the limelight, and are keen to get the better of our neighbor. On the other hand, once God takes the rod to us and tames us, our haughty manners disappear. In so far, then, as suffering disciplines us, Jesus’ expression designates both the poor and the humble…That person, then, is truly blessed, who is poor in his own estimation, who willingly abases himself, who sees nothing good in himself, makes no false claims about himself, and instead accepts rejection by the world. Here we see the real significance of Jesus’ words, and the benefit which we may gain from them.” (4) Jesus turns our thinking upside down with the Beatitudes to actually “right” it for a biblical Worldview. He is radically counter-cultural, and if we are faithful followers, we will also be non-conformers. We are either attached to the world’s values, priorities, pressures, and desires or committed to God’s will, ways, and covenantal promises. When we embrace our inability to keep ourselves clean, right, or even acceptable to Him, God blesses us with an abundance of gracious spiritual and earthly blessings.

Detachment from This World’s Sentiments

“‘The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.’ By this we are to understand that we should not be content with what our eyes see, but that we should have in view the final goal…So this is what the passage teaches: in order to taste the blessedness of which God’s Son speaks, we must learn first that this world is a pathway to something else; it is not a place where we are to rest or where real life is to be found; we must press further on and lift up our eyes to the heavenly inheritance…God’s promises are most useful, then, in detaching us from the world. And when we have finally left present things behind, then we will know that poverty, affliction, distress, trouble, and everything else which would destroy us, cannot touch us. It is enough that God loves us, that his love has been made known to us, and that by faith we lay hold of that love when we leave this world. Let us go on, then, to finish our course, until in due time God confirms his promises to us.” (5) God has his reasons for putting us in the world, though. In John 17, Jesus prayed, “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (John 17:14-18). “Let’s all agree it’s clear that Jesus does not want his followers to be ‘of the world’…But notice that for Jesus being ‘not of the world’ isn’t the destination in these verses but the starting place. It’s not where things are moving toward, but what they’re moving from. He is not of the world, and he begins by saying that his followers are not of the world. But it’s going somewhere…Jesus is not asking his Father for his disciples to be taken out of the world, but he is praying for them as they are ‘sent into’ the world. So maybe it would serve us better — at least in light of John 17 — to revise the popular phrase ‘in, but not of’ in this way: ‘not of, but sent into.’ The beginning place is being ‘not of the world,’ and the movement is toward being ‘sent into the world.” (6) This is the thinking that leads to God’s blessings.

Empty Vessels

“There must be an emptying in our lives before there can be a filling. We must become poor in spirit before we can become rich in God’s spiritual blessings. The old wine must be poured out of the wineskins before the new wine can be poured in…God will fill you with the life of Jesus Christ—supernaturally—and you will begin to live the standards of the Sermon on the Mount by the power of the One who gave them and who himself lived them perfectly in this world…There must be a true poverty of spirit. But this is unnatural to man, and, therefore, impossible. We must, therefore, add that nothing but a direct confrontation with the holy, just, and loving God will produce it. C. S. Lewis once wrote of this experience, ‘Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”‘ (7) “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121) We are blessed here through our our poverty of spirit.

Related Scripture: Genesis 3:12; Exodus 19:16-18; Psalm 138:6; 147:6; Proverbs 3:34; Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 10:10; Mark 10:43; Luke 5:8; 22:61-62; Romans 7:14-24; Philippians 2:12-13; 1 Peter 5:6-8.

Notes

  1. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 10-15, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  2. MacArthur, John F., The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 165,  Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
  3. Stott, Ibid.
  4. Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 21-25, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
  5. Calvin, Ibid.
  6. Piper, John, “Desiring God, Let’s Revise the Popular Phrase ‘In, But Not Of’”, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/lets-revise-the-popular-phrase-in-but-not-of
  7. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:3-4, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

August 11, 2022

The Blessing of Christian Discipleship (Introduction to “Blessings From the Sermon on the Mount”)

Yesterday I was walking my dog on trails at a local nature center. As I looked down at the river, or what’s left of it in our drought, I saw bright blue instead of the expected dark green. The water reflected the brilliant blue sky. I looked up at the sky through the trees, thinking it would be even brighter, but it wasn’t. I thought about how the sky looked through sunglasses—a bit duller still. As I walked on this quiet morning, watching GG sniff the brush under the trees with interest, I contemplated how our spiritual vision is dull when we read the Bible through corrupted eyes and old, not entirely correct teachings. We often get a dulled understanding of Scripture, as if through sunglasses. If we pray for clarity through the Spirit, we have a more accurate understanding of Scripture’s teaching and see more clearly, as if looking at the sky unaided. After we have grown in Christ, with the Spirit working, we can catch his reflection even more brilliantly to grasp God’s profound truths,  seeing Christ. When Jesus taught in parables, “the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:10-17) Some of the most misunderstood and misused teachings of Jesus are in his Sermon on the Mount, starting with the Beatitudes. Over the following weeks, we will dive into the blessings described in Matthew 5:1-12. However, as an introduction today, we will use Luke’s sermon summary sermon, one that was very similar to Jesus’s teaching in Matthew. (1) Both teach us that Jesus blesses his humble, poor, and hungry disciples who are willing to be hated on his account. I pray that we will be blessed by being humble, spiritually poor, and hungry, willing to be mocked or maligned on Jesus’s account.

Blessings Resulting From Christ’s Salvation and the Spirit’s Sanctification

“And [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:20-23) “Immediately after his baptism and temptation [Jesus] had begun to announce the good news that the kingdom of God, long promised in the Old Testament era, was on the threshold…Here is a Christian value system, ethics standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, lifestyle and network of relationships—all of which are totally at variance with those of the non-Christian world…The beatitudes set forth the blessings God gives to those in whom he is working such a character—blessings given not as a reward for merit but as a gift of grace. By working toward the standards Christ has given us and coming as close to the mark as humanly possible, we give evidence of what by God’s free grace and gift we already are.” (2) “The Beatitudes spring from the life blood of Jesus Christ, that is they contain all His meaning, and when we read them first they seem merely mild and beautiful precepts for all unworldly, useless people, and of very little practical use in the stern, workaday world in which we live. However, we soon find that these Beatitudes contain the dynamite of the Holy Ghost…You allow the life of God, first of all, to invade you by regeneration and sanctification, and then as you have been soaking your mind in the teaching of Jesus, and it has been slipping down into the unconscious mind, then a set of circumstances arises where suddenly one of them emerges, and instantly you have to ask yourself, ‘Will I walk in the light of it? Will I accept the tremendous spiritual tornado which will be produced in my circumstances if I follow this teaching of Jesus?’ That is the way the Spirit of God works. It always comes with astonishing discomfort to begin with, it is all out of proportion to our ways of looking at things, and we have slowly to form our walk and conversation in the line of His precepts.” (3) But Jesus, who suffered tremendously throughout his ministry, blesses us when we follow him, being his humble, poor, and hungry disciples willing to be hated on his account.

Blessings for the Future

“Our happiness and blessedness do not come from the world’s applause, or from the enjoyment of wealth, honors, gratification and pleasure. On the contrary, we may be utterly oppressed, in tears and weeping, persecuted and to all appearances ruined: none of that affects our standing or diminishes our happiness. Why? Because we have in view the ultimate outcome. That is what Christ would have us remember, so as to correct the false ideas we feed upon and which so muddle our thinking that we cannot accept his yoke. He reminds us that we must look further ahead and consider the outcome of our afflictions, our tears, the persecutions we suffer and the insults we bear. When once we see how God turns all of that to good and to our salvation, we may conclude that blessing will assuredly be ours, however contrary such things are to our nature…Eschatological hope lies at the core of Jesus’ teaching here: the grieving will be comforted, the hungry will be satisfied, the pure will see God. As a preacher, [John] Calvin is fully alert to the tension which exists between the now and the not yet, between believers’ present experience of suffering and their future exaltation in heaven.” (4) Jesus brings the eternal future into view, saying, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:23a)

Blessings for Now

“Jesus’ teaching inspires us to change, to become different and better people. As we pursue our studies in His Word, our mind is improved, but that’s not all. Our life is enriched…The good news is that Jesus hasn’t just given us His teachings and then told us to obey them in our own strength. He has also given us His Spirit to strengthen us and change us. The apostle Paul put it best when he said, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20)…Jesus’s teaching will comfort and cheer you. No one has every spoken such truthful words of cheer, joy, hope, and happiness as He did…When His ‘red letters’ are ‘read letters,’ they lift us above the aches of earth and set your eyes on things above…We never go wrong when we read and ponder and quote the words of Jesus—to ourselves, to our friends, and to our world. He cares, and He comforts, and He brings peace to our soul with His words.” (5) Jesus blessed his humble, poor, and hungry disciples who were willing to be hated on his account. The apostles were supremely blessed to have lived and studied with him, and many were martyred for their faith in Christ, who now enjoy even more intimacy with their Savior. Jesus sent this message to John the Baptist: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:5-6) We are also blessed by being humble, spiritually poor and hungry, and hated on Jesus’s account, inviting others to see his character reflected in us.

Related Scripture: Psalms 34:18; 37:11; 78:2; Isaiah 57:15; 61:1-4; Matthew 5:1-12; 10:22; Luke 1:53; 12:32; John 7:37-39; Hebrews 11:26; 1 Peter 4:14.

Notes

  1. “The relation between the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Mt. 5–7 and the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ given here has frequently occupied the attention of students. The similarities are clear enough to show that a common tradition lies behind the two accounts…Matthew’s version is much fuller than Luke’s, and there are considerable divergences also in actual detail. It is not, of course, impossible or even improbable that our Lord gave the Sermon to different audiences on different occasions, and that we have here independent accounts of two such discourses.” (Zondervan Bible Commentary, Matthew 5:1-12, F. F. Bruce, General Editor, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.)
  2. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 6-7, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  3. Chambers, Oswald, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, pp. 11-13, GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  4. Calvin, John, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 20, ix-x, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
  5. Jeremiah, David, The Jesus You May Not Know, pp. 87-90, Turning Point, San Diego, CA, 2020.

August 4, 2022

The Blessing of Serving in the Spirit

Do you plan to do something for someone you aren’t excited about or would prefer not to do? Sometimes we do things for others according to their interests or needs, which is good; Christians are called to submit to everyone. (See 1 Peter 3:8.) In my role in my church family, I do the administration for all women’s events, but that doesn’t mean that I always have the same interests as other women. For one thing, I am not a “crafty” girl—that is, I don’t do or enjoy crafts. I delight in being with my sisters in Christ, and when the activity portion of a fellowship comes around, you might find me talking or doing some hospitality tasks. However we serve others according to their interests, so we are motivated by their need, our calling, or simply the fact that no one else can fill the spot. I have often been the only one who could do something, according to my superiors, elders, or friends. Have you been in that position? It’s not easy when our motivation is low compared to something we love to do. And it’s precisely then that the Holy Spirit has the most opportunity to work in us, to give us his passion for service. God empowers all believers with his Spirit to serve the body differently yet in perfect unity to build up his people. We are more valuable to everyone when we encourage by employing the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and power. We are especially blessed by the Spirit’s work in, through, and for us.

One Spirit Working 

Many Christians wholly disregard the Holy Spirit’s role in service or overemphasize it through their obsession with particular spiritual gifts. We have much to gain from considering Paul’s advice to the Corinthians church. “Some Corinthian Christians seem to have been creating divisions over spiritual gifts…Paul wants the Corinthian church to understand how their unity can be enhanced by appreciating the variety of gifts God has given to them. [He emphasizes that] the purpose of the gifts is to build one another up and to care for one another, not to flaunt one’s own spirituality.” (1) “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-12) “Though these gifts, ministrations, and operations, are so different in themselves, and are bestowed upon different persons, yet they are all wrought by one and the same Spirit of God, who is the true Jehovah, and properly God, as these his works declare; for who, but the most high God, could ever communicate such gifts to men?…For as his special grace in regeneration is dispensed when and where, and to whom he pleases, signified by the blowing of the wind where it lists, John 3:8 so his gifts, ordinary and extraordinary, are severally distributed, according to his sovereign will and pleasure.” (2) All believers are empowered with the Spirit to serve differently yet in perfect unity to build each other up.

The Spirit’s Power

Take, for example, the work of William Wilberforce, who effectively halted the slave trade in England. “He grew up surrounded by wealth…he wasn’t a serious student… [but] had political ambitions and, with his connections, managed to win election to Parliament in 1780, where he formed a lasting friendship with William Pitt, the future prime minister. But he later admitted, ‘The first years in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object.’ But he began to reflect deeply on his life, which led to a period of intense sorrow…His unnatural gloom lifted on Easter 1786…He experienced a spiritual rebirth…He began to see his life’s purpose: ‘My walk is a public one,’ he wrote in his diary. ‘My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.’ In particular, two causes caught his attention. First, under the influence of Thomas Clarkson, he became absorbed with the issue of slavery. Later he wrote… ‘Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition’…The pathway to abolition was blocked by vested interests, parliamentary filibustering, entrenched bigotry, international politics, slave unrest, personal sickness, and political fear…His second great calling was for the ‘reformation of manners,’ that is, morals. In early 1787, he conceived of a society that would work, as a royal proclamation put it, ‘for the encouragement of piety and virtue; and for the preventing of vice, profaneness, and immorality.’ It eventually became known as the Society for the Suppression of Vice.” (3) Are you thinking, well, Wilberforce became a believer; that’s what happened! Of course, that’s what happened—the Holy Spirit inhabited him and compelled him to do masterful things with his life in service to his country. Who wouldn’t want to do what Wilberforce did? The blessing of serving his country through the Spirit carried him through intense opposition, and physical ailments with great pain, and the resulting addition to opium, the prescribed pain medication of the day. He was blessed with God’s presence and power in his work and trials.

The Spirit Compels Us

The Spirit doesn’t just help with witnessing (evangelizing), as some might think from Acts 1:8 (“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”) As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12, he gives diverse gifts to the body for the glory of God. “This powerful new work of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost brought several beneficial results: more effectiveness in witness and ministry), effective proclamation of the gospel, power for victory over sin, power for victory over Satan and demonic forces and a wide distribution of gifts for ministry.” (4) “[William Wilberforce] was practical with a difference. He believed with all his heart that new affections for God were the key to new morals and lasting political reformation. And these new affections and this reformation did not come from mere ethical systems…For Wilberforce, practical deeds were born in ‘peculiar doctrines.’ By that term he simply meant the central distinguishing doctrines of human depravity, divine judgment, the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the practical necessity of fruit in a life devoted to good deeds.” (5) It’s not just “special” people, pastors, evangelists, or missionaries that God empowers. All believers have his Spirit to serve the body. Do we serve others by employing the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and power? Do we need to ask ourselves the question that Paul asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3) “‘Receive the Spirit’ refers to the new covenant work of the Holy Spirit that comes after saving faith, at the beginning of the Christian life, to sanctify and to empower the believer in life and various kinds of ministry…In v. 2, Paul mentioned the Holy Spirit’s work at the beginning of the Galatians’ Christian lives; here he mentions an ongoing, day-by-day work of the Spirit. Though Paul had long ago left these churches, and there were no other apostles present, the Holy Spirit was still present and was still working miracles in their midst. ‘Hearing with faith’ is not only the way to start the Christian life but is also the way to continue it day by day.” (6) Do you want joy and power to serve, even for something you have no interest in or desire? Ask for help—the Spirit’s willing. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:9-13) 

Related Scripture: Exodus 35:21; Matthew 28:19; Luke 1:15, 67; Luke 3:22; 4:14; 24:49; Acts 2:16-18; 4:31, 33; 10:38; 13:4; 16:6; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Peter 4:9-11.

Notes

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Corinthians 12:1-26, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, 1 Corinthians 12:4-12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-corinthians-12.html
  3. Christianity Today, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/activists/william-wilberforce.html 
  4. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, Acts 1:8.
  5. Piper, John, “William Wilberforce: Reflections on the Life and Labor,” 2002 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors.
  6. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, Galatians 2:2-3.

July 28, 2022