“For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your supplications and through the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,”
The confidence of Paul in the prayers of the Saints and the strength of the Spirit should not surprise us much as we arrive here in verse 19. Indeed, as Christians, how we rely on the prayers of others. That said, I wonder whether we genuinely pray and make supplications to the Lord on behalf of those who are in distress, in chains, or just in ministry…the leadership of the church that we make wise and Godly decisions when such are set before us.
What is quite significant, though, about this verse is Paul’s use of the phrase, “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” This is the only spot in the Bible where the Spirit is spoken of in this way. We find the phrase, “The Spirit of God,” often enough (25 times), but this is something that stands out, though it should not give us pause. The reality is that Jesus is God and thus it is a natural linguistic transition to make from saying “the Spirit of God” to “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” At the same time, this verse does provide us with an apologetic reminder that Jesus Christ is fully God. We live in a day and an age where many are trying to make less of Jesus than he is, making him look to be some sort of demigod or divine human, seeing him as created and not part of the Triune Godhead. Here, Paul would seem to refute such an idea, reminding us that the Holy Spirit is just as much connected with the Son as he is with the Father.
But also make note of the language applied to the Spirit here…it is the Spirit who strengthens, who provides for Paul, who fortifies him in his time of need. How we need to be reminded sometimes that we do not do things in our own strength as believers, but what we do we must do in reliance on the strength of the Holy Spirit. He empowers, we bring nothing to the table other than obedience…and that is something the Spirit works in us as well. There is no room for personal pride, folks, only pride in our Savior, Christ Jesus.
“On one hand, there are some who proclaim Christ from jealousy and contention while others do so in good will; the latter from love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former preach Christ out of contention, not genuinely, intending tribulation to arise while I am in my chains.”
At the first reading of these words, it would be natural to be shocked at what it is Paul is saying. Indeed, there are some people who, being jealous of the attention that Paul is getting, begin preaching Christ…not with any sincerity, but in the hopes that they will bring Paul grief while he is imprisoned and can do nothing to stop them. Surely this must not be the case! Are there some who are so wicked and brazen that they would do such a thing? The sad thing is that there were such people in Paul’s day and there still are such people today, who use the pulpit and the ministry to serve their own ends and care nothing about the state of Christ’s church.
So, how does Paul react to that? Does he rail against those who preach ingenuously? No, he doesn’t, but we will get to that. God is indeed clear that he has a judgment awaiting those who are shepherds who are only interested in feeding themselves (see Ezekiel 34 and Jude). And, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:9; Hebrews 10:30). God will bring judgment and great will be their fall, we need not fret over the end of the wicked.
At the same time, it should grieve us that there are so many in our world today that would make the Gospel their meal-ticket rather than a ministry. Even mores, it ought to grieve us that so many people would be so ignorant of the teachings of scripture that they would fall into such traps…people desperate to have their “ears itched” instead of being instructed in the Word of Truth. May we pray for a generation that will be so committed to the scriptures that they would see through the thin veneer of the prosperity gospel, the liberal gospel, and the heretical teaching that such contentious preachers would find no welcome in our communities. May God’s word be lifted up, not the greed or pride of men.
“And it was evil to Jonah—a great evil—and he burned over it.” (Jonah 4:1)
In case you hadn’t noticed Jonah’s attitude toward the Ninevites by his lackluster sermon in Nineveh, the true feelings of our wayward prophet come out as we move to the final chapter of this story. Most of our English versions water down the wording of this verse some, putting Jonah in a little better light; only Young’s Literal Translation seems to grasp the full strength of the situation when they translate it, “It was grievous to Jonah.” Literally, the Hebrew reads that it was evil to Jonah and then emphasizes again that it was a great evil to Jonah! Just as the Ninevites’ idolatry was evil in the eyes of God; God’s mercy toward the people of Nineveh was evil in the eyes of Jonah. And not only that, his anger burned toward God on account of this mercy. You can almost picture Jonah, standing at the edge of the city with clenched teeth and fists, his face red with rage, and steam coming out of his ears. This guy is about to explode.
It is easy to want to find excuses to water this image down a bit. Nobody likes to see one of the Biblical heroes completely lose his cool—especially when it comes to God’s mercy. But the reality is that Jonah was human and Nineveh was the winter capital of the Assyrian Empire, people that the Jews desperately hated. These two nations were fierce enemies and no good Jew in his right mind would want to see the people of Nineveh blessed. These people of Nineveh were violent pagans and idolaters; there was nothing in them that seemed redeemable in the eyes of Jonah. Yet, these people repented and God showed them mercy. This kind of thing was just simply not right and proper! God had some teaching to do with his prophet.
It is easy to jump on Jonah’s case and start wagging our fingers in accusation. Oh, how sophisticated we have become in sending missionaries to all the corners of the earth. See how we have such a broad view of God’s mercy toward the nations! At the same time, what about those ministries to people groups we don’t particularly like? What about ministries to the street people in our culture or to the prostitutes? What about ministries to the drug users in our culture or to the gay community? Sometimes we are a little less comfortable about the mercy of God when dealing with these folks. Probably about the closest we can get to how Jonah felt toward the Ninevites would be the feeling of a black pastor working with Ku Klux Klansmen or that of a white pastor working with Black Panther members. Jonah was more than out of his comfort zone; he was in enemy territory.
Yet, beloved, that is exactly the way God works! When Jesus gave the apostles the great commission, he did not qualify what “all the corners of the earth” meant—he simply said, “go.” When we begin to come to terms with just how grievous our own sin is, then how can we who have already received the mercy of God begrudge another from receiving it? Oh, how we are like Jonah, though, when we see God’s blessings poured out somewhere other than on ourselves. Beloved, let us keep Jonah always before us as a reminder that we should rejoice in the mercy of God to all who would repent and believe—let us rejoice as the angels rejoice when one sinner comes to faith—even if that sinner is one we don’t particularly like.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now, like a fetter,
Bind my wandring heart to thee.
Prone to wander—Lord, I feel it—
Prone to leave the God I love:
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.