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Judgment and Salvation…one goes with the other

“And not intimidated in any way by the adversaries, which is for them an indication of destruction but for you of salvation, which is from God.”

(Philippians 1:28)

In our culture today, it seems, we talk at length about the troubles caused by bullying, particularly amongst children. And indeed, bullying is sin and condemnable. Yet bullying is also not constrained to the behavior of children nor is it something that is found only in our modern age. As it is a result of the Fall of Adam and Eve, we find people using manipulation, coercion, and bullying to get their way rather than pursuing what is True and beneficial to all. And next to Jesus, we could argue that the Apostle Paul is the poster-child for having had to face-down wicked men with ignoble schemes who were only interested in intimidating others to preserve their own power.

And Paul, who had to face down so much intimidation, says to us as well, “don’t let them intimidate you.” Why should we not be intimidated? In a similar context, Jesus’ answer was that we should not fear those who can only kill the body because that was all they could kill; God can kill body and soul in eternal judgment (Matthew 10:28). Paul speaks very similarly. Paul essentially is saying to us that when we stand in confidence of the Truth in the face of all adversaries, that very reality is a condemnation of those who would oppose us. Why is it a condemnation? One can stand in confidence upon that which is true; one cannot so stand when it is not truth that is stood upon.

When you know that which is right, what do you have to fear from those who would challenge it? On the other hand, if you are basing your ideas, your lifestyle, your preferences, your power and influence on things that are unproven, established by men, and are built on the power of men and not on the power of God…you have a shaky foundation at best. It is you who have the right to fear, and fear you should. For when you stand against God’s people, you stand not only against the people; you also stand against God himself.

And thus, the salvation of God’s own is also eternal condemnation for those who stand against him. God promises throughout the scriptures to preserve the elect; but in doing so the reprobate are judged. Both go hand in hand. There is no having one without the other. And yes, all of this is from God. He is sovereign over life and death, salvation and judgment. There is no other. And if we serve this God, what earthly thing have we to fear? What earthly power ought to intimidate us? No, not one.

So, how do we get out of being bullied? We stand up to the bully. We don’t back down from the one who would twist ideas to coerce us. We do not compromise truth. We stand  in the confidence of knowing that we serve a God who is sovereign over all of the affairs of men and who will crush those who stand in rebellion against him. That’s how we not get bullied…and folks, this kind of confidence applies not only to defending our faith against atheists or whatever “flavor” of unbelief that people are sporting in the culture; it applies to all things. It applies to business, to politics, to home life, to school, to sports, to whatever activity that God sets before you. If you do all you do to the glory of Him who gives you life; you will not fear what the wicked devise for you will know the end of the wicked. You want to take back the culture? Be bold in your faith and live it out everywhere and in everything you do…no compromise, the world should not intimidate you.

“What if’s”

“‘Yet, if this woman does not want to come with you, then you will be blameless according to this oath. Only my son must not return there.’”

(Genesis 24:8)

 

One might be tempted to suppose that even Abraham has a little doubt in his mind by making this statement, yet the statement that he is making seems to be more directed to ease the fears of his servant. Were Abraham giving himself a “way out” then a suggestion for a ‘Plan B’ might have been suggested. Instead, Abraham tells his servant, “Go and if she does not return with you, come back empty-handed.” Abraham seems confident that such will not be the case, but as his servant is asking the “what if” question, Abraham provides the answer.

How often we get bogged down in all of the “what-if” questions of life and by being bogged down, we never act or step out in faith. How often we fail to trust God’s faithfulness enough to trust him to do what human planning could never hope to achieve. Abraham knows what it means to walk in faith not knowing what tomorrow will bring and Abraham’s servant has at least witnessed it in his master (remember that this servant is the steward over all of Abraham’s house and is likely Eliezer of Damascus mentioned in Genesis 15:2), but to soothe Eliezer’s worries, Abraham says, “return, but don’t take Isaac there.” Isaac must stay in the promised land.

Loved ones, life is full of chances and risks to which God calls us to step into. Have the confidence to trust God in taking those risks. Be bold and of good courage, the God of Abraham is the same God we worship today and as he was faithful in all of Abraham’s years, so too, he will be faithful to us in ours.

Submission

“And Abraham said to the young men, ‘Keep yourselves here with the donkey and I and the boy will go up there. We will worship then we will return to you.”

(Genesis 22:5)

 

At times, we are tempted to gloss over the language of this passage, but it is crucial to understanding the faith of Abraham as he is going up to the place of sacrifice with Isaac. After commanding the servants to stay with the donkey, he tells them that “we will go to worship” and “we will return.” In both cases, Abraham uses the plural form of the verb. It is clear that Abraham has every expectation that it will be both he and Isaac that come down from the mountain. Either God will provide a substitute or God will raise Isaac from the dead — either way, both will return down from the place of sacrifice. He has confidence in the fulfillment of God’s promises even if he does not fully understand how that promise will be fulfilled.

The confidence in God’s provision is a lesson that each of us could stand to be reminded up and learn from. How often do we take things into our own hands and seek our own ways and means of providing for our needs. God is gracious and he is gracious all of the time, yet somehow we forget and we worry and we wonder whether God will provide for our needs and preserve us in a given event even when God has been faithful in the past. How short our memories are when it comes to God’s grace. How often we are more like the unthankful steward who, having been forgiven 10,000 talents, neglects to forgive 100 denarii. How shameful we can be as those who carry the greatest treasure the world has ever known in our lives and who hold the key of truth in our arms.

Abraham and Isaac thus part company with the young men and head to worship God. An interesting point to note is the language for worship that is chosen here. The Hebrew word in question is the verb hÎwDj (chawah), which in itself is not overly remarkable. What is remarkable is that it is found in a rare verbal stem known as Hishtaphel. Technically, this stem is reflexive (the action is directed back at the one performing the action) and in the middle tense (the actor is performing the action upon himself). On the surface, that also may seem unremarkable. We might also add that in Hebrew, this is the only verb found in the Hishtafel construct, which in itself again is not overly remarkable given ancient verbal forms in the Old Testament.

What is remarkable is when you put all of these pieces together in the context of the event that we have before us. How can an act of worship be reflexive — that is turned back at oneself? How also can this verb be used in blessings over God’s people, suggesting that the nations will “worship” or “prostrate themselves” before God’s own (see Genesis 27:29)? The answer is found in the realization that the Hebrew language contains numerous words to communicate the idea of worship and that in this case, the aspect of worship that is in sight is that of one’s submission to another who is greater (as is the case with the nations to Jacob’s line in Genesis 27:29). Abraham understands that the act of worship he will be performing is one that is primarily focused on his own submission to God.

Our submission to God, though an act that honors our creator, is an act that we predominantly apply to ourselves (reflexive and middle). Our nature is to do our own thing; God’s demand on us is that we submit our will to his divine will. And in our submission we worship. How often we come into worship with no submission whatsoever. We say the words and go through the actions, but we withhold the one element that God yet demands from our being: our whole person. Believer, do not hold back from God, but give yourself in faith to His call and to His demand on your life. We may mouth the words of truth, but until our life is submitted to that truth, our worship is shallow at best. Abraham’s worship on this mountain will be far from perfect (for he is fallen), but he is offering everything he has in submission to God’s call; will you offer the same?