Hope on God

Why do you despair, my soul?

And why do you groan?

In regards to me, you must hope on God, 

Because again I will confess him,

Salvation is before me and my God.”

(Psalm 43:5)

This verse is a repetition of Psalm 42:12 (verse 11 in English translations), once again binding these two psalms together as one. Again, the psalmist is bringing the song to a close by asking his soul—his being, why he laments at the bad things that are going on around him. His answer is to remind himself that it is upon God that he must hope for he trusts that God will once more bring him to that place where he can worship freely and confess his name before the watching world. Indeed, in God is our hope and our salvation.

Most of our English Bibles connect the clause “in regards to me” to the previous clause, translating it “within me.” This seems like it would be a natural reading of the text. Yet the Hebrew text contains accent marks that connect this clause to what follows it, not what precedes it, hence the translation we have here. While translating this as our English Bibles tend to do strips the verse of none of its theology, translating it in light of the accents brings the declarative statement of the psalmist into the forefront. He is essentially saying, “I cannot speak for what you will do, but as for me, I will hope in the Lord.” When the Hebrew is rendered in this manner, one cannot help but to see the confidence of this psalmist even while under persecution.

Loved ones, indeed, may your hope and your salvation be in Christ Jesus. He is the king of all and master of our hearts and lives. May God’s glory shine over you like a lamp in the darkness and give you hope. Amen.

God of My Joy-Joy

“I shall go to the altar of God,

The God of my exultant jubilation,

And I shall be made to profess you with the lyre,

God, my God.”

(Psalm 43:4)

The scriptures contain many names for God, but this verse contains one of my favorites. God is the God of “My Joy-Joy” would be a literal rendering of the second line of this verse. The Hebrew language has a number of different words that can be translated as “joy” in English, and in this case, they combine two of them to drive their point home. The first kind of joy that is used in this verse is that of שִׁמְחָה (simchah), or jubilation. It is the loud and excited cry of praise that one gives that cannot be missed by any who are around you. It is the feeling of joy that so consumes your physical body that it cannot be contained and it comes out in a shout or a dance. The second word that is used here is that of גִיל (gyl), which reflects the idea of exultation. This God, who brings the psalmist into his place of shelter (which is a place of worship) is the God that engenders joy and then greater joy in his heart. 

I wonder sometimes whether most Christians can genuinely say that of God. “He is the God of my joy-joy.” “He makes me to leap and sing for joy for he has brought me into his temple of worship.” Too often, professing Christians speak of Christ with a dull and lethargic tone, as if, “ho hum…” How sad it is that those who are supposed to have the greatest joy so often look (from the perspective of the outsider) that they are enjoying him the least! He has freed us from the burden, weight, and condemnation of sin, yet we have long faces when we speak his name. It is no wonder that people are turning away from the organized churches in droves. How sad it is that our worship of Christ is not contagious…because it ought to be. For the psalmist, the expression of his joy at salvation is such that it cannot be contained in his person, but is accompanied by a smile, a shout, and even a dance as he praises our mighty God for all he has done. 

In addition, it is not good enough that the psalmist laugh and jump and shout at the work of God, but he is drawn—compelled even by God’s grace—to sing and to accompany that song with the harp. When we were children, we would often break out in song for no reason whatsoever other than that we were happy and content. Since the greatest contentment that can be known can only be known in Christ, ought we not also be drawn to sing of him and of his grace. Loved ones, let us do just that. May our lives be marked by the fact that we sing—we sing corporately when we gather and we sing alone when we are at whatever activity may fill our days. Let us sing of the goodness of God and offer to him the sacrifice of praise that we are bidden to do in scripture.

I will sing of my Redeemer,
And His wondrous love to me;
On the cruel cross He suffered,
From the curse to set me free.

Sing, oh sing, of my Redeemer,
With His blood, He purchased me.
On the cross, He sealed my pardon,
Paid the debt, and made me free.

-Philip Bliss

The Guidance of Light and Truth

“Send your light and your truth,

Cause them to guide me;

They will cause me to enter into your holy mountain,

And into your dwellings.”

(Psalm 43:3)

The psalmist not only speaks of the truth of God leading him, but he also speaks of the “where” to which he is being led. In the context of the passage, he sees this place as a place of refuge to which he can be brought and made safe from his enemies. One of the things worth noting is just how often scripture speaks of God being a place of refuge (Psalm 2:12, 5:11, 7:1, 11:1, 14:6, 16:1, 17:7, 18:2, 18:30, 25:20, 28:8, 31:1-2, 31:4, 31:19, 34:8, 34:22, 36:7, 37:40, 43:2, 46:1, 57:1, 59:16, 61:3-4, 62:7-8, 64:10, 71:1, 71:3, 71:7, 73:28, 91:2, 91:4, 91:9, 94:22, 118:8-9, 141:8, 142:5, 143:9, 144:2 in the Psalms alone!). This refuge takes place on a spiritual level in that God provides us the strength to resist temptation and sin and he gives us the serenity of prayer at the foot of his throne in times of trouble. Yet, this refuge is also a physical thing as well. God provided safety for his people from the Egyptian army as they waited to cross the Red Sea, God defeated the enemies in the wilderness and in Canaan as well as those who would plunder and destroy his people in the land. God sent an angel to liberate Peter from prison and preserved Paul on his various missionary exploits. He even preserved his people through history, sometimes in the face of the executioner and sometimes from the hand of those who would destroy his church. God used princes to protect Martin Luther from a sure kidnapping and likely execution at the hands of the Roman Catholic church and he provided safety for John Calvin in Switzerland. Even today, Christians know the mighty hand of God to save not only their souls, but also their bodies from times of trial. All too often we embrace the one but ignore the other—God will deliver us in both cases.

With this in mind, the psalmist speaks of God’s “Holy Mountain” as the place of refuge to which God will bring him. Now, certainly, we will not all be brought to the same geographical place for refuge, but it can be suggested that the language of God’s holy mountain provides the paradigm by which we can understand all of the places to which God brings us as he provides us sanctuary. 

So, what does the psalmist mean by God’s Holy Mountain? There are three candidates that would qualify for this reference. The most common reference to the Holy Mountain found in the Old Testament would be Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:13). This is the place of the Temple and the center of worship, but more importantly, it is the place where the glory of God’s presence dwelled—God with his people. What is interesting is that in the New Testament there is only one to the Holy Mountain of God, but there it is not in Jerusalem. Rather the Mountain of Transfiguration is spoken of as the Holy Mountain (2 Peter 1:18). This transition shouldn’t be too great a surprise to us as Christ is the Glory of God (Hebrews 1:3) and if it is the presence of the Glory of God that makes the Holy Mountain Holy, then with the absence of the glory from the Temple and the presence of that glory in Christ—revealed to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The third candidate is Mount Sinai (or Horeb), where the Ten Commandments are given. More importantly, it is on this mountain that Moses was given the privilege of seeing the glory of God (Exodus 33:17-34:9). In addition, there is a cave here in which God held Moses secure as he passed by. Many years later, Elijah would also be brought to this mountain and this very same cave (1 Kings 18:9-18) both as a place of refuge from Jezebel as well as a place to see the glory of God.

So, what can we apply to our lives today? The first thing that should be noted is that the place of refuge in the Holy Mountain of God should be understood not only as a place of security, but as a place to be close to God. All too often, when in trial, we think only in terms of the safety of our skin, but in light of this, we also need a place of safety for our soul, where God can draw our attention toward himself—indeed, that is the more important of the two, but without the safety from the threats of the world, we will not be able to focus on eternal matters.

In turn, this suggests that our place of refuge (in light of the Holy Mountain) is not bound to geography, but is a place to which we can flee from the oppressors and distractions of the world and that we can rest in God. For many, that is a place or a time in their own homes where they can be alone with God and free from the dangers of life. Historically, many have set aside a small room as a prayer closet to which they can go and be alone and quiet with God. I have known others who have gotten up several hours before the rest of the family will awake, so that they have a quiet and still home to themselves. Regardless of the geography, so long as the principle is met, that indeed can be our place of refuge. 

An important side-note of this principle applies to how we view national Israel today. There are some who would argue that Christians have a stake in protecting Israel because God has reserved the physical tract of land around Mount Zion (Jerusalem) for end-time events as well as seeing the fulfillment of Genesis 12:2-3 in the national state of Israel. Is Israel a special place? Yes, historically it is the region where most of the Biblical events took place. For that reason and that reason alone, it ought to be preserved. Politically, Israel is also America’s primary ally in a very dangerous part of the world; again, that means we must have an interest in the political well-being of the nation. But, to argue that the refuge of Christians lies in Israel or in the reestablishment of the temple is a gross misunderstanding of the Biblical teaching both here and in other places. In fact, the author of Hebrews refers to the Church as the Spiritual Mount Zion to which believers come in faith (Hebrews 12:22-24).

The bottom line is that our hope and our refuge is found in Christ, not in a particular piece of real estate. And, beloved, we ought to rejoice in that, for when the world falls against us, we have a ready and sure refuge to which we can run: Jesus Christ.

“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish on the way;

For his anger will burn quickly.

Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

(Psalm 2:12)

Send Forth Your Light and Truth!

“Send your light and your truth,

Cause them to guide me;

They will cause me to enter into your holy mountain,

And into your dwellings.”

(Psalm 43:3)

How we all need to set these words in our heart…whether we are facing trial or otherwise! In both good times and in bad times, it indeed should be the light and truth of God that guides us. Light in scripture is often seen in connection with truth and ultimately, as God is the source of all truth, God is seen as the source of all light and in him is no darkness (1 John 1:5). The Bible goes even to the extent that there will be no sun in the new creation because God himself will be the light of his people (Revelation 22.5). Ultimately, for us, that light finds meaning in Jesus Christ, as Isaiah writes of the incarnation:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,

Those who dwell in the land of gloom,

A light shines on them.”

(Isaiah 9:2)

God is indeed light and truth and he sent his son to testify to the truth (John 18:37), guiding his people to himself. Yet how often we have preferred to determine our own “truth” as Adam and Eve before us did? How often we choose to ignore the plain teaching of Scripture because we find it inconvenient or offensive to our sensibilities? How often do we simply choose not to follow the Bible because we plainly don’t desire to live and behave in the way that the Scriptures teach. All of that is sin, but it is also a flight from the one who will provide you refuge. The bottom line we must ask ourselves is where does truth ultimately have its source? If ultimate truth resides with us, we are right to ignore scripture and go our own way; if ultimate truth lies with God, then we must submit our will and intellect to his Word. If there is any question as to which approach is a better approach to have, check out the last few chapters of the book of Judges where every man did what was right in his own eyes. 

Beloved, this principle informs the totality of our life. Whatever it is that we do, whatever decisions we make, how we understand the world around us, should all and always be grounded in the Word of God. It is our rule and guide as we walk through the good times as well as the difficulties of life—and it will be our rule of life and worship in the eternal life that is to come as well. God indeed is God, man is not; yet man has spent much of his existence seeking to take that role upon himself (always ending in dismal failure). Let us not add to that great disaster and submit our mind and heart to the teaching of God’s word and indeed, he will bring us into a place of shelter under his wing.

Facing the Devil

“For you are the God of my refuge, 

why have you rejected me?

Why do I pace back and forth darkened

In the oppression of the enemy?”

(Psalm 43:2)

This verse provides a remarkable development in the theology of this psalm. Up until now we had always seen the psalmist speak of his adversaries in the plural. Even in the previous verse, there is more than one ungodly person after him from which he must seek refuge. Here he no longer speaks in the plural, but shifts to the singular. There is one enemy that he has in sight here and it is from this one enemy that all the other enemies seem to come. It should be understood that the psalmist clearly has his sights on the work of the devil in the world around him. As Peter writes:

“Be self-controlled. Be Alert. Your enemy the devil goes about roaring, seeking one to devour.”

(1 Peter 5:8)

The Apostle Paul uses similar language when instructing the Ephesian Christians in putting on their spiritual armor—equipment that is used to protect a person from the attacks of the enemy. Note the words he employs:

“Put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

(Ephesians 6:11)

Thus, the enemy with whom we do warfare is led by the devil and those who serve under his command. In fact, the very word διάβολος (diabolos) literally refers to one who accuses with malicious intent. The Hebrew equivalent, שָׂטָן (satan) also means “an adversary or accuser.” While there is a more general term for enemy used in this verse, the intent of the use of the singular seems quite clear, the devil is behind the oppression that God’s people face.

Yet, wait a minute? Do we also not point out that God is ultimately sovereign even over the works of the devil? Indeed, we must. The first chapter of Job is a wonderful illustration of just that reality where the devil must ask permission before he can torment Job and that in the end it is God who establishes the boundaries that limit the extent with which satan can tempt. In addition, the evil spirit that tormented Saul, we are told in 1 Samuel 16:14, is from Yahweh. Similarly, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the thorn—an angel from Satan—as being from the Lord with the intent of keeping him humble (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

So how do we rectify both of these things? The answer to that question is to be found in the work of Sanctification that God is doing in our lives. He uses even the great enemy that we face as a tool by which he will shape us and conform us into the image of his Son. Yet, the process of sanctification hurts and is not easy because God is working out of us our old sin-hardened hearts and making us new creations. One of the tools that God uses in this process is that of the devil. Certainly the devil is doing exactly what he wants in rebellion to God, but at the same time God is using the devil’s activities to bring about his good plans for his own. Just as Joseph said to his brothers—“you intended evil but God intended good” (Genesis 50:20).

  So why do we pace back and forth with a darkened scowl when things go badly for us? Why do we think that the Lord has ceased to be our refuge? Why do we think that God has abandoned us when trial comes our way? The answer lies with us and our weakness and not with God. There will indeed be times when we neither sense nor can see God’s hand at work, but just because we cannot see God working does not mean that he is not perfectly active in governing the events of our life to bring about his great glory. He is teaching us to walk forward in faith and just as a father needs to eventually take his hand off his his child’s shoulder before the child will learn to ride the bike on his or her own, so God lifts his hand off of our shoulder. He is still there beside us, we just do not sense it.

Peter reminds us of the truth of this principle when he speaks of his experience in getting to witness the miracles and transfiguration of Christ, yet when he turns to speak of the scriptures, he refers to them as “more sure” than experience (2 Peter 1:19). Why is this? Experience is often marred by the emotions and limited perceptions of the one who is experiencing. Scripture is given by God in an absolute way through the prophets and apostles. Indeed, it is more sure as two can come together and it will say the same words to each while our experiences might cause us to understand radically different things. Indeed, loved ones, let us stand together against the wiles of the devil recognizing that we are under the hand and protection of God. Let us cling to Christ’s protection while confidently facing those assaults of the devil that will be used by God to transform us more and more into the image of Christ Jesus.

Judge Me, O God

“Judge me, O God, and surely contend for me with the ungodly nations;

From men of fraud and iniquity, save me.”

(Psalm 43:1)

It has been suggested by Biblical scholars that when you have a psalm that does not begin with a superscript (like “A Maskil of the Sons of Korah…), the psalm is either part of or shares the superscription of the psalm that goes before it. In this case, making such a connection is a rather easy one as verse five contains the refrain: “Why do you despair, O my soul?” Thus, this psalm should also be understood as having been written by the sons of Korah who were given the gift of redemption in spite of their father’s rebellion.

There are three basic requests that the psalmist is lifting up. The first is to judge or to evaluate his heart. In essence, what he is saying is that he has acted uprightly and there is yet persecution upon him from the outside. What is important to note is not so much that the psalmist is facing persecution, such is normative for a life of faith, but that the psalmist will run to refuge to his God. How too, we must do the same, though we so often try and solve all of our problems on our own. 

The second and third petitions are closely tied together. First, he asks that God would contend on his behalf (as a lawyer might do) with the nations or peoples who are acting in an ungodly manner toward him. Secondly, he asks that God preserves him from those men who would lie to him or sin against him. In a way, there is an intensification taking on here with these two ideas placed together in parallel structure. In the first of these two cases, the psalmist is asking for an advocate in court—working within a legal structure. There is a sense, then, that the enemy here is working under a degree of restraint in that there are just reasons for a legal defense. In the second clause about the deceivers and sinners, the psalmist is simply interested in one thing: deliverance. 

Beloved, how we have a God to whom we can run when our pursuers are wickedness and disaster. How he provides a sanctuary for his own, but how rarely we choose to find sanctuary in his arms. How often we think we can stand on our own—imagining ourselves to be the mighty man standing against all obstacles, yet end up in abject failure. Beloved, learn from the psalmist and cry out to God in your danger and distress. He is faithful to deliver you from the hands of those who would destroy.

Why Despair, Oh My Soul?

“Why do you despair, my soul? 

And why do you groan?

In regards to me you must hope in God,

Because again I will confess him— 

Salvation is before me by my God.”

(Psalm 42:12 [verse 11 in English translations])

Once again we find the psalmist echoing the words of his soul’s despair. The Hebrew word used here literally means to melt away or to dissolve. Indeed, how it seems that our spirit does tend to melt away within us—to fade into nothingness—when the world seems to bear down against us. How easily most of us are discouraged when things seem to be falling apart around us, yet, like the psalmist, we must ask, in whom do we hope?

If our hope is in God, why then do we complain and worry? Is he not the creator of the universe and has he not said that he will provide all of our needs? What then is there left to worry and gripe about? Our ills have no power of him. Worldly powers cannot sway or God to cease believing in himself or to cease existing. No, God is and he will always be—and he will always care for his own. What then is left to fear? Are not all of our worries irrational? Indeed, beloved, place your hope in Him, for He will deliver you from the second death.

But notice what the psalmist connects with the idea of hope—confession. The term that is employed here is the word, hådÎy (yadah). This word is often translated as “to praise,” which is one of the senses of the term, but the idea that is conveyed is that we are praising God publicly by our public confession of his glorious name and wonderful works. Indeed, we are to believe in our hearts and confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9) if we are to be saved. How often confessing Christians have bought into the lie that their faith is a personal thing and thus never praise God through their living and ongoing profession of his name. Indeed, the faith by which we walk in the world is a clear testimony that he lives and rules over our days.

This psalm closes with the great and glorious reminder that salvation comes from God and from God alone. Loved ones, there are many in this world who would suggest that they can offer you salvation. There are none, though, other than Jesus Christ who has risen from the grave and has thus promised that he will do the same for those who trust in him as Lord and Savior.

A Slaughter in My Bones

“By a slaughter in my bones, 

those who are hostile toward me continually taunt me.

Saying to me all the day, ‘Where is your God?’”

(Psalm 42:11 [Verse 10 in English Translations])

“Where is your God, now!” is the cry that so many of God’s people have heard, when tormented by their accusers. Even the accusers of Christ tormented him with similar words—“He saved others, let him save himself!” (Luke 23:35). “He used the power of God at other times, where is that power now!” is essentially what they were saying. Oh, how often we hear that taunt from the ignorant and the wicked around us and oh, how often we are tempted to believe their words and fear that God has left us or abandoned us to a fate of empty loneliness. Over and over they raise their horrid taunt and how the words echo in our ears and feed the fears that we have.

The psalmist will soon close this psalm with the words we are desperate to hear…that God indeed hears and is with us and will bring that salvation we so desperately long for into our day. Yet, beloved, in the midst of the darkness, God promises over and over again that he will neither leave us nor forsake us and that even during those times when we don’t see or feel his hand moving in our lives, he is still there. He says to us:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will not fear evil, for you are with me— 

Your rod and your staff, they continually bring me comfort.”

(Psalm 23:4)

“Having gone , therefore, make  disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to keep  all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you every day, until the consummation of eternity.”

(Matthew 28:19-20)

“Also, I give to them life eternal, and they will surely not perish—for eternity—and no one will snatch them from my hand.”

(John 10:28)

Often people have despaired, wondering where God is during their time of crisis, yet our ability to feel God’s presence does not limit God’s ability to be with us. Indeed, sometimes the perceived distance is designed to teach us trust and patience. Beloved, the answer to the question posed by the mockers is, “God is with me; he has neither left nor forsaken me.” How we can find our courage in those words and that great reminder. Indeed, even though death may come to us in this life, Jesus has promised to preserve us from the second death—the Father’s judgment. Indeed, what a glorious gift we are given in Christ!

Why Have You Forgotten Me?

“I shall say to God, my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’

Why do I go about darkened with respect to the torment of the enemy?”

(Psalm 42:10 [Psalm 42:9 in English translations])

The term “rock” is one that is often attributed to God. Why is that? Is God cold and unmoving? No, of course not! God is described as a rock in terms of his safety and security as well as his strength. In the torrents of trouble that flood our lives in this world (remember verse 7), God provides the strength and stability that we so desperately need. He gives us shelter in times of trial and persecution and herein the psalmist takes comfort—even in the destruction wrought by God on Korah and those who revolted with him, God preserved these Sons of Korah for his purposes in the life of Israel and in his redemptive plan. As Peter writes, God certainly does know how to rescue the godly while at the same time destroying the wicked (2 Peter 2:9-10).

In addition to God being referred to as a “rock” in scripture, it should be noted that his Word—the scriptures—is also described in the same way (Matthew 7:24; Exodus 32:15-16). Not only is he the rock to cling to during the trials and torrents of life, but his word provides for us the rock foundation upon which our lives are built sure. If you want to live a life that is reckless and swayed by the winds of change, then avoid this rock with all your power, but if you wish to know a life of sublime pleasure, then God gives us a foundation upon which to build…his most Holy Word. 

How often, though, like the psalmist, we go about either saying or wanting to say that God has forsaken us. It is as if God had said that in Christ all things in life would be trouble-free. Yet, this is the gospel of the charlatans, not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, Jesus said:

“If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you. If you were from the world, the world would love as one in the same. But because you are not from the world—rather I chose you from the world—for this, the world hates you. Remember the word which I spoke to you—a slave is not greater than his lord. If they drove me out, they will also drive you out. If they treasure my word, they will also treasure yours.”

(John 15:18-20)

In other words, Jesus is reminding his Apostles and us how if we are faithful to him, the world will treat us as it treated him. The world put Jesus to death; why do we feel that we should expect to be treated differently?

The psalmist, understands this, I believe, and he continues by asking himself the rhetorical question, “why do I go about darkened…”—”why am I depressed and downcast” is what he is saying to himself as he looks at the torments of his enemy. For indeed, we know that our God is a great redeemer and a rock and if we rest in him we will be held secure from all eternal dangers. One may destroy our bodies but they cannot destroy our eternal souls. Beloved, why is it that so often we lament over the trials we face, for our God is with us and he has promised us that he will use such trials to strengthen us and to mature our faith (James 1:2-4). There is indeed a time to come when we will enjoy the bliss of being in God’s presence eternally, but for now, we remain in this world for a singular purpose—to glorify God by working out the Great Commission…that of making disciples of all of the nations—a program that begins in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and in our own hearts.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

-John Newton

Commanding His Chesed

“By day Yahweh continually commands his chesed

And at night, his song is with me— 

A prayer of supplication to the God of my life.”

(Psalm 42:9 [verse 8 in English translations])

How deep it is that this verse is when we come to terms with its language and sentiment. To begin with, do not miss the wonderful title that is applied to God on high. He is called by the psalmist, “God of My Life.” Indeed, what wonderful thoughts come to mind when we apply this title to our great God and King. He is the originator of each of our lives and he numbers our days (Psalm 139:16). He orders all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) and promises to work all things out for good for those who love him and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28). He has the right to take me here or there for purposes revealed or known only to him and he has the right not only to use me for those purposes but also to expend my life for those purposes. Indeed, every inch of my life is at his disposal from beginning to end and every ounce of my being and my day must be dedicated to his glory alone. Indeed, he is God of my life.

And as God of me life he responds with his dRsRj (chesed) and his song. Our Bibles translate dRsRj (chesed) in a variety of ways, trying to capture the essence of the word, but the idea of dRsRj (chesed) is reflected in God’s covenantal faithfulness toward us even when we fail to be faithful to his covenant. God indeed commands that towards his own. We wander and we stray, we often choose sin, and much like sheep, we can be cantankerous and difficult to keep moving in the same direction. Yet we are never forsaken. What a wonderful promise that is given in that simple principle. When Jesus utters the words, “I will never leave nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, also reference Matthew 28:20), that reflects the consistent testimony of God’s word throughout the Old Testament towards his people:

“It is Yahweh leading before you—he will be with you, he will not let you go, and he will not forsake you.”

(Deuteronomy 31:8)

“Blessed is Yahweh, who has given rest to his people, Israel, according to everything he continually promised. Not one word failed from all his good word which he spoke through the hand of Moses, his servant. Yahweh our God is with us as he was with our fathers. May he not abandon us; may he not give us up. He will stretch our hearts toward himself to walk in all of his ways and to guard his commandments, his regulations, and his judgments that he continually commanded our fathers.”

(1 Kings 8:56-58)

Even in redeeming his own from sin, God speaks through his prophet Hosea:

“And I will sow her myself in the land and I will have mercy on Lo-Ruhamah and I will say to Lo-Ammi, ‘you are my people.’ And he will say, ‘My God.’ “

(Hosea 2:23)

Yet, the promise does not end there. God also gives to us a song in our heart. 

“My strength and melody is Yahweh,

He is to me salvation;

This is my God and I will glorify Him— 

The God of my fathers, and I will exalt him.”

(Exodus 15:2)

“Praise Yahweh! 

Sing to Yahweh a new song— 

Songs of praise in the assembly of the faithful.”

(Psalm 149:1)

And indeed, when John sees the vision of heaven, one of the things he witnesses is the elders and the 144,000 still singing a “new song” to praise our almighty God. Indeed, the words of humanity could never exhaust the praise that is due to our God for what he has done for us, let praises continually fill our hearts and flood from our lips. My our life be a constant praise and witness to the goodness of God and may the song of our hearts not be the songs of this vulgar world, but ones that speak of the glory of the world to come…a subject of infinitely greater worth and beauty.

And thus we come before him with a prayer of supplication, not only asking for forgiveness for the sins we have committed, but also humbly asking God for the needs of the day to come. Indeed, did not our Lord himself teach us to pray for such needs as daily bread (Matthew 6:11)? Not only must we not forsake the privilege of coming before God’s throne, we also must never forget what a gracious gift it is to have been given such a great privilege. Indeed, our almighty God has shone his dRsRj (chesed) into our lives and filled our nights with his song—what more could we desire?

Deep to Deep is Calling

“Deep to deep is calling with a voice of your torrents,

All of your surf and your waves have gone over me.”

(Psalm 42:8 [verse 7 in English translations])

The depths of the ocean cry out with a voice of torrents as judgment washes over the land  around the psalmist, because of the wickedness of the people. He feels as if he is about to be washed away in the floods, desperately looking for a rock onto which he can cling. The rock, of course will be Christ, but how we can relate to setting in which the psalmist finds himself! How dark our lives sometimes become; how many times we feel as if things are flooding by so swiftly that the torrents will suck us into the depths of the ocean where we will drown in lonely isolation. How dark it is to be in such a place, yet such a place is where God puts us to teach us, rebuke us, and to transform us into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

The language of “The Deep” is important language in the Old Testament. The word MOwh;Vt (tehom) in its most basic sense refers to the depths of the ocean or the waters contained below the crust of the earth which may come forth in the form of a geyser. On occasion, they are used to refer to deep-water springs, but once again, the same basic idea is conveyed. On a more theological level, though, the idea of “the deep” is also often used in the context of judgment. It is the water from the deep that pours upwards in Noah’s day (Genesis 7:11) and the waters above and the waters below flood the earth (a re-creation event as indeed we find similar events taking place in the Genesis 1 creation account). In addition, the Egyptians are overwhelmed by the deep as it pours over them (Exodus 15:5,8) and Jonah describes himself as being taken into the deep (Jonah 2:5). Ultimately, God has established both the waters above and the deep below (Proverbs 8:28) and will use his creation to bring about his will, often in the form of judgement against his enemies.

The deep cries out with the sound of torrents of water as the psalmist feels himself about to be swept away by the flood, yet God is merciful and he will provide a rock of refuge for you and for me and for this psalmist…yet we get ahead of ourselves. Sometimes we need to await the deluge and learn to trust that in all things God will glorify himself and honor his name amongst his people. The deep will rise up and torrents will come, but both rise and fall silent at the voice of our almighty God.

My Soul Dissolves

“My God, my soul dissolves over me, 

thus I remember you from the land of the Jordan— 

From Hermon to Mount Mizar.”

(Psalm 42:7 {verse 6 in English Translations})

The psalmist is looking to the north (Hermon) and to the east (Jordan) and realizing that while enemies surround him, particularly coming from these two directions, God will be with him and will redeem him from sure destruction. Note the language that the psalmist employs—his soul “melts or dissolves” over him. The concept of the soul in Hebrew encompasses the entirety of the person’s being, physical and spiritual. 

What is interesting about the language that the psalmist uses here is that while Hermon here represents the desolation of the edge of the promised land, it is the likely location where Jesus would take his disciples and be transfigured before their eyes. As with so many other things in Jesus’ ministry, he took what was considered outcast and desolate and redeemed it to the glory of God His Father. And how he also does the same in our own lives. He takes the mess that we bring to him and not only heals us, but he makes that mess holy. It is like what takes place when the master pianist sets down beside the young student of piano. While the young student diligently plucks away at a few keys, the master fills in the sounds adding life and depth and color to what is heard and such becomes a masterpiece. The student participates but the life of the piece comes from the master. Such is true in our lives as well, often in the midst of our greatest weakness.

Loved ones, how quickly, when things go badly, we tend to fall into despair. Yet, the glory of the scriptures is to point out to us that in Christ Jesus there is no reason to despair or faint for your life. God is in control and Christ will redeem his own! That is good news, for if you are trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, that means that Christ will redeem you and that means he will never let you go and that as messy as your life is, he will make it into something that glorifies his name. What more could one desire than that? What greater hope is there, Christian, than to know that God has you in the palm of his hand and that powers and principalities of any magnitude can do nothing to pluck you out. Indeed, our God is good—remember his good works.

Why Do You Despair, Oh My Soul?

“Why do you despair, my soul, and groan?

In Regards to me, you must hope on God, 

for again I will confess him—

Salvation is before him.”

(Psalm 42:6 [verse 5 in English translations])

What is your attitude when things start going bad and our plans fall apart? Is your first response to groan in despair? Is your first inclination to lament your misfortune? Yet, is not God in control? Does he not reign from on high in the heavens? Is not God the one who orders all things according to the counsels of his will (Ephesians 1:11)? Doesn’t our God own the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10)? And does he not care for his children more than the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26)? How often our lives are marked by worry, groaning, fear, and complaint.

The psalmist is reminding us that such is not to be the mark of our life. He is looking inward and saying to himself, “Why am I griping—why do I despair—do I not belong to God?” And indeed, we do belong to God if we are trusting in Christ as our Lord and Savior, so why do we despair? Why should we worry? It is the lot of the unbeliever to worry, but not of the one who is held in the hand of the almighty God of the universe. He has promised us salvation and he has promised us that he will work all of the events in our life out for good (Romans 8:28).

Thus, Christian, with the Psalmist, I call you to wait on God, trust him to work out the events of your life. When the way before you is dark and unclear, know that he is ordering your steps and will guide you; you shall not stumble and fall while resting in Him. And know, too, that salvation comes with him and with him alone—there is no other name by which man can be saved than by the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). And if this great promise belongs to us in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20), then where is there room to gripe and groan, oh, my soul?

These Things I Remember

“These things I remember

And I shall pour out my soul before me;

For I pass over and into a refuge and walk slowly as far as the house of God.

In a great voice and with thanksgiving

The multitude celebrates.” 

(Psalm 42:5 [verse 4 in English translations])

The “these things” refers back to the taunting of the enemies of God’s people found in the previous verse, and here, then, is the psalmist’s response to such taunting…he pours out his soul before him. Often, the idea of pouring out is associated with a drink offering that is made, but we also find it in connection with the idea of prayer, with one’s heart and life laid before God. As Jeremiah writes:

Arise! And cry out at the beginning of the night watches!

Pour out your heart like water before the face of God!

Lift the hollows of your hands toward him over the soul of your children—

Those who are feeble from hunger at the beginning of every street.

(Lamentations 2:19)

How it is that one of our great privileges is that we can pour out our souls before God, lay the cares of our hearts before his throne and know that he hears and will answer. What comfort there is, beloved that we have a God who hears and can empathize with us in our sorrows. Thus, from the depths of his very being, the psalmist cries out before God, pouring out the depths of his life before the throne of our Great God.

The words that follow are a little vague, but they seem to be a reflection upon the various celebrations that take place during the Jewish year. During the year, there were three festivals (Passover, Booths, the Day of Atonement) where it was required that all Jews present themselves in Jerusalem if at all physically possible and then there were a variety of additional festivals where, while not mandated by Jewish Law, it was encouraged that faithful Jews come to the Temple as well. These were times of great corporate celebration and were times when the population of Jerusalem would swell to the bursting point. 

The most cryptic point of the passage is the language of taking refuge in a place while slowly walking to the Temple. Some have suggested that this is a reference to the Festival of Booths, where Jews would set up tents or booths on their roof to live in for a week as a reminder of the Israelites’ years living in tents in the wilderness. At the same time, while the word I translated here as “refuge” can be translated as “tent” or “shelter,” it is not the same word that refers to the shelters that are made during the Festival of Booths. Most likely, the best way to see this is as a more general reference to the various times the psalmist has en given the privilege of worshiping in the Temple courts.

In the end, the psalmist celebrates. And this, beloved, is something that should grab our heart. How easy it is for things that are regularly done in our lives to become routine and commonplace—even good things. How often our time of Sunday worship simply becomes a matter of going through the motions—the thing we do on Sunday because it is what we have always done. Yet, the worship of God should never be stale to the believer—it should be the thing we look forward to all week long. We are quick to pour out our hearts in lamentation, let us indeed be even quicker in pouring out our lives in the celebration of the mighty God we serve.

Our Food and Drink

“My tears have been to me my food, by day and by night;

Saying to me, ‘Where is your God?’”

(Psalm 42:4 [verse 3 in English translation])

Troubles will come our way in this life, there is no doubting or arguing against that premise. We cry after we are born and those who love us cry after we have died. Troubles follow us around, even, in this world of sin and grief. And when that takes place, it is easy for us to look around and ask where God is or why he has abandoned you to such a fate. In the midst of our tears we often cry out, “Where are you, God?” Yet, often there is no answer. C.S. Lewis, as he was grieving the death of his wife, initially described this experience as a shutting of a door and then a “bolting and a double bolting.” Later, as God was dealing with his heart, he realized that the “no answer” he was getting from God was not a cold, impassionate gaze, but was a sort of a, “Peace, child, you don’t understand.” How we must learn to rest in God before the sorrows and even the joys of our life will take on full meaning.

Thirsting for God

“My soul thirsts for God; 

To God, the living one, when shall I come?

I shall be seen before the presence of God.”
(Psalm 42:3 [verse 2 in English translations])

Again, we see the language of thirsting for the living water of God. And again, it is essential to put before our hearts and eyes the question, is this the song and cry of our heart? Do we genuinely long for the things of God or do we flee from them? Sadly, professing Christians often flee from the presence of God (in practice, not in word) because drawing near to God exposes sin, it humbles, and it demands that we submit to another’s authority in our lives. At the same time, drawing near to God fills and floods our soul with grace that can be lived out in a community that desperately needs to experience the grace of God in their lives.

Note, too, the idea of the soul in Hebrew notion of the soul is not so much a spiritual element as it is the entirety of our existence. In other words, it is not just our mind or our passions that are to long for God, but everything about us! Even our flesh is to long for God—every aspect of our person! Is this, indeed, how you live? Is this longing something that marks your life not only in church, but also in the community, in your family, and in your idle time. You could even translate this as “My life thirsts for God.” The question we must ask is, “Does our life really reflect this thirsting for God? Indeed, such thirsting is not only a mark of a believer (Matthew 5:6) but it is also the source of water that will flow from God and never cease to fill our lives (John 4:14).

The psalmist now adds to the imagery of the quest for water by referring to God as “the Living One.” This language has double significance in this context. First, in the context of one’s thirst being filled, the ancient Jews referred to running water as “living water.” It is moving and it can sustain life—it is fresh and not stagnant or bitter. As a result of this, “living water” was not only desirable to the people (and reminiscent of the language of the stream in the previous verse), but it was considered spiritual as well, and it was only with living water that baptisms and other purification rituals could be performed. Hence, for example, we find John the Baptist standing in the Jordan River, a source of living water to use as he baptized the people that came to him in droves (most likely through the process of dipping hyssop in the water and sprinkling it on those that came for baptism—Psalm 51:7). 

The second level of significance is that God is the living God (Daniel 6:26) and the God of the living, not the dead (Matthew 22:32). God is not like the lifeless idols crafted by men, nor are his followers left to the depths of the grave—indeed, our God will redeem his own and not abandon us to the fires of Judgment. Indeed, God is the God of the living—the spiritually alive, that is, for when he enters our sin-dead hearts he gives us new birth and then lives eternally in our hearts. Indeed, God, the living God, not only makes his people alive, but he so fills them with living water that it flows from their lives into the lives of those around them (John 7:38).

Loved ones, and know that it is because of this work of God, we have not only the hope of life here, but also the hope of eternal life in the presence of God. No, Christian, he will never leave nor forsake you—even to the ends of the earth. Indeed, there is no God like our God—the living one; beloved, quench your thirst in Him.

As the Deer

“As a deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, God.”

(Psalm 42:2 [verse 1 in English])

While we typically envision deer to be more of a European and North American species of animal, the Roe Deer and the Fallow deer are common to Israel. And much like dogs, deer do not sweat, but instead kind of pant when they are hot and need to cool down. Hence the imagery. The deer is not just casually thirsty for cool, refreshing water, but if the deer is panting, the deer is hot and will overheat if it does not get water to help cool it down. If we take the analogy to its logical end, we would expect panting to be taking place after some exertion, a run perhaps away from a hunter.

While it is true that sometimes when we dig deeply into a metaphor, we lose the meaning of the metaphor, I don’t think that such is true in this case. We must not only appreciate that the psalmist’s soul longs after God, but we must ask why it longs after God and as to the nature of this longing. Is God something that simply adds some refreshment to an otherwise pleasant afternoon, or is God one to whom we desperately flee, knowing that our only hope of survival is the water that flows from the throne of His grace, lest we be destroyed by those who seek our life in this world. Indeed, as we delve deeper into this psalm, we will realize that much of the language centers around God’s preservation of his own people in the face of great oppression much as a deer spends much of its life being pursued by a hunter.

But what does it mean to really long for something? The Hebrew word, gOrÍo (arog), means to crave for or desire something with every fiber of your being. It is the knowing that if you do not get that which you are striving for, you indeed will perish and wither away. I wonder, sometimes, whether we really think that way about God. Do we really long for him? Do we really crave his Word or are both an afterthought—a convenient solution to the ills of the day or a tradition by which we feel good about ourselves? Beloved, feel the spirit and desire behind these words, understand the necessity by which the psalmist is seeking God’s presence, and know, given that its author is a son of Asaph, that these brothers knew trouble and grief—but they knew the mercy of God as well and clung to it. Will you?

A Maskil of the Sons of Korah

“To the Director: A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.”

(Psalm 42:1 [superscript in English translations])

Psalm 42 begins what we typically refer to as the second book of Psalms. The psalm that precedes this one ends with the great refrain:

“Blessed is Yahweh, the God of Israel—

From eternity unto eternity, Amen and Amen.”

(Psalm 41:14 [verse 13 in English translations])

This refrain shows up in essentially the same form at the end of chapter 72, 89, and 106. Of course the entire psalm 150 carries with it the same kind of language of this refrain. These refrains have traditionally marked the end of one book of Psalms and the beginning of the next book. While book one contains Psalms that have traditionally been attributed to David, this second book also contains a number of psalms by the Sons of Korah as well.

We will discuss these Sons of Korah further when we look at Psalm 49, let it suffice to say that Korah was one of those who rebelled against Moses in Numbers 16, yet God, in his mercy, preserved Korah’s sons and set them to work in the Tabernacle. As we look at these psalms by the Sons of Korah, I think that it is worth remembering that sometimes people are resentful when they receive God’s discipline; yet these Sons of Korah recognize the grace of God in the discipline and what we have in these psalms are great words of praise, salvation, and trust in the Almighty God of Israel. What a wonderful testimony for us!

The term Maskil is probably derived from the Hebrew verb lkc (sakal), which means, “to understand.” Typically, this has been seen either as a liturgical term or a musical tune or beat to which this psalm would be sung. Some scholars have thus understood these Maskils to be memory verses and others have suggested that it is simply a designation for wisdom literature put to music (though there are certainly other wisdom psalms that are not described as Maskils).

However this psalm is to be sung or categorized, it is clear that this psalm contains a model for us in terms of how we approach God and his Word. Jesus said in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are the ones who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Indeed, this psalm gives us a tremendous picture of what it looks like in our lives when we do hunger and thirst for righteousness. My prayer is that we are not only hungry for the righteousness that comes from God and is expressed in his Word—just as the deer pants for the water, may we indeed long for God and his Word.

Gifts to Men

“Therefore, it says: ‘In ascending on high, he led many captives; He gave gifts to men.’”

(Ephesians 4:8)

Curiously, we have arrived at one of the most contested verses in the book of Ephesians and many have sought to make this verse teach that which it does not…namely that Jesus descended into Hell after his death on the cross to lead the Old Testament Saints into Heaven. That interpretation is not supported by the context of Jesus on the cross (for he promised to the thief would join him in paradise on that day) nor does it fit the context of the rest of Paul’s teaching (which speaks of being absent from the body and present with the Lord). Finally, it does not fit the immediate context and explanation Paul offers in this very text. So, if it is not a reference to Jesus descending to Hades, what then does it mean?

To begin with, the citation itself is taken from Psalm 68:18 (verse 19 in the Hebrew text), which reads:

“You ascended to the heights; You took many captives, receiving gifts by men and also from the rebellious, that Yahweh God may dwell there.”

It should be noted that the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, translates this Hebrew fairly closely, so differences are not to be found in the Hebrew versus the Greek in the psalm, but in the inspired Apostle’s application of the psalm itself.

In context, Psalm 68 is a psalm about God delivering his people by his great and almighty hand. Specifically, verse 18 is a picture of God leading his people out of captivity in Egypt and to the mountain of Sinai for worship (and the Law!). Of course, God will lead them from that mountain to another one (Mount Zion), which once again becomes a place of worship for God’s own. What about the gifts? In Psalm 68, it speaks of God receiving gifts both from those captives he has delivered and from the rebellious ones — the implication being the pagans will offer honor to God (remember that God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 is that the nations of the earth will find their blessings in the people of God thus it is right for them to give God praise and blessing — see psalm 117 and Isaiah 60). Psalm 68:28 mirrors this idea as well.

Yet, we see a change in the way that Paul quotes this text with respect to these gifts. The psalmist speaks of God receiving gifts from the people; Paul speaks of God giving gifts to the people. Of course, there is a reminder here that God is the owner of all things and thus before we give a gift, we need to have received that good thing from God in the first place. Yet, is there something more going on here? I think that there is.

In the context of Ephesians 4, Paul is speaking of the church and how God is building the church up to his glory. This, he does through gifts to the church, much as he teaches the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) and of which he will speak in verse 11. The context is also addressing how the church is built up to maturity through the use of such gifts. 

If we put these pieces together, I think that we see both a parallel here as well as a heightening of what is being addressed (the basis for what theologians call “typology”). Psalm 68 speaks about the ascending of Moses on Sinai and the ascending of the High Priests on to Mount Zion. Christ, at his resurrection, ascended to the right hand of God the Father on High — higher than any earthly mountain might ever stand and more glorious by infinite degree. In the type, or the shadow, that takes place in the Old Testament, the focus of worship is on the sacrifices that the people bring into the Temple. In Christ, we do not bring the gift of the sacrifice, for He has made that sacrifice on our part. We have empty hands because the gift to God has been fully satisfied in the work of the Son. Yet, God gives gifts downward for the purpose of building His Church. All we can offer is a sacrifice of praise and a life of obedience. The gift has been given by Christ.

Humble Unity in Christ

“But to each one of us was given the grace according to the measurement of what is given freely by Christ.”

(Ephesians 4:7)

Paul has just been speaking about the unity of the body in the unity of our faith and then puts an exclamation point on what he is saying by reminding the people that the gift that they have been given is based fully and entirely on the work of Christ — that gift that Christ gives freely to God’s elect. It is nothing we have earned, it has been given. It is nothing to which we contribute; Jesus has given it freely. 

The notion of unity in here is a subtle one, but an important one to bring forth. Given that none of us has done anything to be made a part of Christ’s glorious body — it is a work of God’s grace — we all are on the same humble footing before the Lord. There are not kings and princes amongst us in this Kingdom. There is one King — King Jesus. There is one Prince — the Prince of Peace. There are no High Priests amongst us — we are all priests and we have a High Priest in Jesus Christ. And, there are no prophets in our midst — we have one Prophet in Christ Jesus who is greater and fuller than all of the human prophets that came before Him. We are all on equally humble footing and there is no place for arrogance or boasting in our midst.

You see, unity naturally flows out of right doctrine, but so often we humans become rather arrogant in the doctrines we hold — especially amongst those who are leading the church astray. Over the years, people have often opposed things that I have sought to teach and while that can be frustrating at times, I have sought to make it my practice simply to point to the text and say, “But what does the Bible say?” I may be well-read (and Christians — especially pastors — must be!), but ultimately, I don’t care what men have said unless it aligns with what God has said. I have also often said, “If you don’t like this teaching, please don’t get upset with me, take it up with God because He is the one that said it.” These statements are not meant to be snarky or to avoid the debate, but simply to remind all that it is God’s Word that we are called to be stewards of — I confess that I don’t know all things and I don’t always get everything right, but don’t try and convince me by personal preferences; convince me by the Word of God.

There are many in our culture who puff themselves up for their own ends. There is no place for this in the church. There are many who pursue and cherish titles and degrees and status. There is no place for that in Christ’s church. There are indeed, different gifts and those gifts are given in different proportions. Yet, none of these gifts are for the building up of man; they are for the glorification of Christ and the building up of Christ’s body as a unified whole. These words of Paul’s reinforces the notion that there is no room for boasting in Christ’s kingdom…none whatsoever…unless we are boasting in Christ. We are fellow servants, united not just in the knowledge of God, but also united in a position of humble worship before Christ’s throne.

I Believe Propositional Truth

“One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and  through all, and in all.”

(Ephesians 4:5-6)

If you are thinking ahead, you may notice that within verses 4-6 you have the framework behind what we know better as the Apostles’ Creed. How does the creed begin? “I believe in God the Father…” Here, we have the language of God as Father, we have the language of one Lord, which is a reference to Jesus Christ, the second section of the creed, and then we have a reference to the Holy Spirit and the work of the Spirit in calling and baptism, all covered by the third part of the Apostles’ Creed. Indeed, the creed develops these ideas further and with more Scriptural ideas and references but we can already see the workings of what we find in this universally accepted declaration of the faith.

Is the Apostles’ Creed inspired as are the Scriptures? No. But inasmuch as the creed itself reflects the plain teachings of the inspired writings, then it is binding on the life and teaching of the Christian. The word “creed” itself, derives from the Latin word, creedo, meaning, “I believe.” In other words, these creeds are designed to articulate in summary form those things that are believed by Christians and that must be believed by all who would proclaim themselves to be Christian. And again, as mentioned before, it is clear even from these words that there is propositional content that is part of what it means to be a Christian. Much more could and should be said regarding the language found here, but we will leave that for another time; for now, affirm with the Apostle that true Christianity does not find unity by diminishing the doctrine or dogma, but it finds unity by clearly articulating those things that must necessarily be true if one will claim faith.

One…

“One body and one Spirit, just as you were also called in one hope of your calling;”

(Ephesians 4:4)

Isn’t it interesting that immediately after the Apostle speaks of guarding the unity of the church, he starts inserting doctrine into the mix? As was alluded to already, there can be no unity unless there is maturity of faith and maturity of faith includes understanding the doctrines of Jesus Christ — so much so that the demonstration of one’s understanding is found in the way they live out our Lord’s commands. 

The first part of this is a direct reference to the language Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in the twelfth chapter of his first letter. There is one body of Christ — his body is not divided between Jew and Gentile, slave and free. No, we are many individual persons saved by grace, united to local congregations, and bound together as one body if we are truly Christian. And, indeed, it is the Holy Spirit who does that binding (and gives the gifts to the church so that the church can function…noting that the gifts are given to the church — or, to understand the language from a different perspective, if you are outside of the church, you ought not expect such gifts to be present).

We have already discussed the nature of the hope of our calling as Paul has previously used this language (1:18). We are also reminded by Peter that we are to be able to defend this hope (1 Peter 3:15), which is the basis for apologetics. Here, again, Paul is setting forth some doctrinal principles that everyone in the church is called to hold onto and defend as part of what it means to be Christian. Unity of faith yields a unity in doctrine and vice versa. Such is how Paul begins laying forth this ancient confessional language.

Keeping and Protecting Unity

“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, enduring with one another in love, doing one’s best to guard the unity of the Spirit in the chain of peace.”

(Ephesians 4:2-3)

Guarding the unity of the Spirit? If we can be honest with one another, I think it is safe to say that we have not done a good job of this task. Every man believes what is right in his own eyes and thus denominations abound, churches pop up on every corner, and it would seem that nobody is in agreement as to what those essential matters are, which define Christian unity. There’s a book in that…actually, there are several books in that. Lord willing we will see a couple of them come to fruition by the end of the year. For the moment, a few points of interest from Paul’s text in these verses. 

First, unity is worth defending (and fighting to restore when broken). This does not mean that unity is to be achieved by the wishy-washy ecumenical movement that rejects doctrine and diminishes Christianity to one’s personal preferences. No, that is not the unity that Paul is addressing here in this passage. In fact, that is no unity at all because it is based on a spiritually immature view of the faith (as Paul will further develop). No, unity that is based in the Spirit of God is a unity that binds like a chain — it is strong, unyielding, and will keep those who are prisoners of Christ, well, prisoners of Christ. Indeed, that chain is here described as a chain of peace. Peace is only found in proper relationship with Christ and we will not remain in a bond of peace with one another if that relationship with Christ is not first addressed. No, that is not the unity of ecumenicalism nor is it the unity that is found in much of evangelicalism today. In fact, much of evangelicalism, in their goal to distance themselves both from Rome and from ecumenicism, has turned a blind eye to the whole notion of unity.

You might be tempted to say, but what about the humility, gentleness (πραΰτης — prautes, which refers to strength that is under control), patience (μακροθυμία — makrothumia, which more literally translates to “long-suffering”), and enduring with one another in love? Indeed, all of these are essential to keeping or preserving the unity that is had. Yet, they are unable to produce unity in and of themselves. They are essential once unity is attained, but if unity is not present, they are little more than benevolent feelings and well-wishes.

And so, Paul gives us the basis for how unity is guarded and in the verses that follow, Paul gives us the basis for what unity is in the church of Jesus Christ. The real question is whether or not we are willing to submit to the Word of God and seek that unity as is prescribed in Scripture rather than the unity that is feigned by men.

The Caller and the Called

“I exhort you, therefore, as a prisoner in the Lord, walk worthily of the calling to which you are called,”

(Ephesians 4:1)

All too often, we only look to the Bible to apply things to ourselves. Remember that while this passage does contain personal application, this is directed publicly to the church (a church that is made up of individual believers). Thus, just as the individual Christian is called to walk in a manner that is worthy with his or her calling, so too is the church as a body and as an institution. In other words, not only has God called you and me to live in a certain way, he has called his church to function in a specific manner.

This applies to the way we function, the way we worship, and the way in which we set priorities as a church body. The problem we face in America is that we have embraced the mindset that churches can pretty much do whatever they want to do. Yet, is this a manner that is worthing of the calling to which the church was called? 

How do we know what that “worthy manner of walking” happens to be? Well, if there is a calling, that means there is one who is doing the calling. The caller, of course, is God. As the caller, he also has the authority to establish what that calling is to look like and how it is to play out. And so, we must look to the explicit teachings of Scripture to determine what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for worship, for church government, and for church practice. If the church looks to its preferences, it simply will cease to be a church of Jesus Christ. It will become like every other institution in the world around us — and many have. 

To drive this point home, many churches have polled their members to see what their members want in worship and in the life of the church. Should they not be asking God? Should they not be asking Christ, who is King of the Church? As parents, do we poll our children to see what kind of discipline and upbringing that they want? That is insanity. It is equally insane to ask church members what the church should be doing when God very plainly teaches the answer to that question and Paul drives that point home in this section of his letter to the Church in Ephesus. We would do well to pay close attention to what the Apostle has to say while comparing it with what the church you attend happens to practice. If they do not match, will you be salt and light to point them to submission to the Word?

Getting to the Amen

“Now, to the one who has power to work far beyond all things which you can ask or comprehend according to the power that is at work in us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations to the ages of the ages, amen.”

(Ephesians 3:20-21)

And so Paul closes this section of his letter with one of the glorious doxologies of Scripture. It is to God that the glory belongs both in the church and in the work of Christ, and it is God who is working in us in ways that we cannot comprehend — even more wonderfully than we can ask. And so, to that, we say with Paul, “Amen!”

But, as with so many things, saying this or reading this, is often easier said than done. Truly, when all things are going our way, perhaps, but when we are struggling through fears, grief, loss, or other trials, that is an entirely different matter. Indeed, if God is able to work far beyond what we can ask or comprehend, why does he often do what we ask for and can comprehend? The answer is often a bitter pill to swallow, but it is precisely because God is able to do that for which we cannot ask and cannot understand that he does so. His ways, most ultimately, are good.

That is not always an easy position to get to…at least emotionally…but it is the only place we will find peace in the midst of turmoil. We are not the adults who have all things figured out — there is a great deal we cannot comprehend about God’s perfect plan. We are the children standing on the ledge of the swimming pool needing to learn to trust our Father who calls out to us from the deep end, “Follow me!” At first, the deep water looks frightful and intimidating, but we will never fully understand the ability of the strong hands of our Father to keep us afloat until we let go of our fears and trust him enough to jump. The saying is easy; the doing is often quite another thing. Yet, until the doing is done, we will not utter the hearty “Amen!” with the Apostle.