Solid Joys – Daily Devotionals by John Piper
Resources from the ministry of John Piper.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. (2 Peter 1:3)
I am amazed at the power that the Bible attributes to knowledge.
Listen again to 2 Peter 1:3: “[God’s] divine power has granted . . . all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”
Literally, all the power available from God to live and be godly comes through knowledge! Amazing! What a premium we should put on doctrine and instruction in the Scriptures! Life and godliness are at stake.
Not that knowing guarantees godliness. It doesn’t. But it seems that ignorance guarantees ungodliness. Because, Peter says, the divine power that leads to godliness is given through the knowledge of God.
Here are three implications, a warning, and an exhortation.
1. Read! Read! Read! But beware of wasting your time on theological foam and suds. Read rich doctrinal books about “the one who called you to his glory and excellence.”
2. Ponder! Ponder! Slow down. Take time to think about what the Bible means when you read it. Ask questions. Keep a journal. Let yourself be humbly troubled by puzzling things. The deepest insights come from trying to see the unifying root of two apparently antagonistic branches on the tree of truth.
3. Discuss. Discuss. Be a part of a small group that cares passionately about the truth. Not a group that just likes to talk and raise problems. But a group that believes there are biblical answers to biblical problems, and they can be found.
Warning: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).“They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). So beware of the deadly effects of ignorance.
Exhortation: “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3).
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. (1 Peter 4:1)
First it puzzles. Did Christ have to cease from sin? No! “He committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22).
Then it clicks. When we arm ourselves with the thought that Christ suffered for us, we realize that we died with him. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). When we die with him, we cease to sin.
It’s just like Romans 6. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. . . . So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:6–7, 11).
Peter says, “Arm yourselves with this thought!”
Paul says, “Consider yourselves dead!”
The weapon for our warfare against sin is this thought — this consideration.
When the temptations of Satan come — to lust, to steal, to lie, to covet, to envy, to retaliate, to put down, to fear — arm yourself with this thought: When my Lord suffered and died to free me from sin, I died to sin!
When Satan says to you, Why deny yourself the pleasure of lust? Why deal with this mess, which you could avoid by lying? Why not go ahead and get that harmless luxury you covet? Why not seek justice by returning the same hurt you just received?
Answer him: The Son of God suffered (really suffered!) to deliver me from sinning. I cannot believe he suffered to make me miserable. Therefore, what he died to purchase must be more wonderful than the pleasures of sin. Since I trust him, my susceptibility to your allurements has shriveled up and died.
Satan, be gone! My mouth doesn’t drool any more when I walk by your candy store.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
The most far-reaching promise of God’s future grace is found in Romans 8:32. This is the most precious verse in the Bible to me. Part of the reason is that the promise in it is so all-encompassing that it stands ready to help me at virtually every turn in my life and ministry. There never has been, and never will be, a circumstance in my life where this promise is irrelevant.
By itself that all-encompassing promise would probably not make the verse most precious. There are other such sweeping promises such as Psalm 84:11: “No good thing does [God] withhold from those who walk uprightly.” And 1 Corinthians 3:21–23: “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” It is difficult to overstate the spectacular sweep and scope of these promises.
But what puts Romans 8:32 in a class by itself is the logic that gives rise to the promise and makes it as solid and unshakable as God’s love for his infinitely admirable Son.
Romans 8:32 contains a foundation and guarantee that is so strong and so solid and so secure that there is absolutely no possibility that the promise could ever be broken. This is what makes it an ever-present strength in times of great turmoil. Whatever else gives way, whatever else disappoints, whatever else fails, this all-encompassing promise of future grace can never fail.
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all . . . ” That’s the foundation. If this is true, says the logic of heaven, then God will, with absolute certainty, give all things to those for whom he gave his Son!
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life 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)
When the alarm went off at 4:59 this morning, I had a split-second thought of the utter realness of dying and standing before an utterly holy God with nothing to commend me but my own life.
The horror of it was only surpassed by the flash of reality: Jesus Christ died for this very moment.
Then it was gone.
My immediate sense was: This is the essence of what happens whenever someone is converted. This is how Jesus Christ is discovered to be real. This is how a person comes to cherish the love of Christ. Suddenly, for the first time, they see and feel, with the eyes of their heart, the undeniable reality of having to meet God with a guilty conscience.
The impact of that vision is devastating. It causes us to know that our only hope is a Mediator. Standing alone, with nothing to commend us but our own sinful life, we are utterly lost. If there is any hope for eternity in the presence of this God, we will need a Redeemer, a Substitute, a Savior.
At this point of terrible crisis, nothing shines like the gospel of Jesus Christ — “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). In the split second before he was there, I was granted to see the all-engulfing darkness and horror of the judgment — not a theological inference, not a merely rational conclusion, not a mere thought, but a glimpse with the inward eye full of knowing and feeling and certainty.
Our God is a consuming fire. He will not look upon evil. We are utterly lost. My guilt was so huge, so real, so unquestioned in that split second, that there is not even the remotest possibility of making excuses. It was sudden and all-enveloping and infinitely hopeless.
In this instant Jesus is all that matters. O Christ! O Christ! Can my heart contain the wave of gratitude?! O Gift of God, my desperate and only Need!
Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
Here’s a summary of the gospel to help you understand it and enjoy it and share it!
1) God created us for his glory.
“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6–7). God made all of us in his own image so that we would image forth, or reflect, his character and moral beauty.
2) Therefore every human should live for God’s glory.
“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The way to live for the glory of God is to love him (Matthew 22:37), trust him (Romans 4:20), be thankful to him (Psalm 50:23), obey him (Matthew 5:16), and treasure him above all things (Philippians 3:8; Matthew 10:37). When we do these things we image forth God’s glory.
3) Nevertheless, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him . . . and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (Romans 1:21–23). None of us has loved or trusted or thanked or obeyed or treasured God as we ought.
4) Therefore we all deserve eternal punishment.
“The wages of sin is (eternal) death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Those who did not obey the Lord Jesus “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).
5) Yet, in his great mercy, God sent his only Son Jesus Christ into the world to provide for sinners the way of eternal life.
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
6) Therefore eternal life is a free gift to all who will trust in Christ as Lord and Savior and supreme Treasure of their lives.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life 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). “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17–18)
God is not inconsistent. He does not exert himself with promises, and oaths, and the blood of his Son, simply to anchor down one end of our security while leaving the other to dangle in the air.
The salvation Jesus obtained by his blood was everything it takes to save his people, not just part of it.
So we are prone to ask, Why does the writer encourage us to hold fast to our hope (Hebrews 6:18)? If our holding fast was obtained and irrevocably secured by the blood of Jesus — which it was (that’s the difference between the new covenant and the old) — then why does God tell us to hold fast?
The answer is this:
- What Christ bought for us when he died was not the freedom from having to hold fast, but the enabling power to hold fast.
- What he bought was not the nullification of our wills as though we didn’t have to hold fast, but the empowering of our wills so that we want to hold fast.
- What he bought was not the canceling of the commandment to hold fast, but the fulfillment of the commandment to hold fast.
- What he bought was not the end of exhortation, but the triumph of exhortation.
He died so that you would do exactly what Paul did in Philippians 3:12, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” It is not foolishness, it is the gospel, to tell a sinner to do what Christ alone can enable him to do; namely, hope in God.
So I exhort you with all my heart: Reach out and take hold of that for which you have been taken hold of by Christ, and hold it fast with all your might — which he mightily works in you.
All the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
Prayer is a response to promises, that is, to the assurances of God’s future grace.
Prayer is drawing on the account where God has deposited all his stores of future grace.
Prayer is not hoping in the dark that there might be a God of good intentions out there. Prayer banks on the promise of God, and goes to the bank every day and draws on stores of future grace needed for that day.
Don’t miss the connection between the two halves of this great verse. Notice the “that is why”: “All the promises of God are Yes in Christ. That is why (therefore) we pray Amen through him, to God’s glory.”
To make sure we see it, let’s turn the two halves around: When we pray, we say Amen to God through Christ, because God has said a decisive Amen to all his promises in Christ. Prayer is the confident plea for God to make good on his promises of future grace — for Christ’s sake. Prayer links our faith in future grace with the foundation of it all, Jesus Christ.
Which leads to the final point: “Amen” is a full and precious word in times of prayer. It doesn’t mean primarily, “Yes, I have now said this prayer.” It means primarily, “Yes, God has made all these promises.”
Amen means, “Yes, Lord, you can do it.” It means, “Yes, Lord, you are powerful. Yes, Lord, you are wise. Yes, Lord, you are merciful. Yes, Lord, all future grace comes from you and has been confirmed in Christ.”
“Amen” is an exclamation point of hope and warranted confidence after a prayer for help.
“This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)
I don’t know any more inspiring missionary promise than this word from Jesus.
Not: This gospel should be preached.
Not: This gospel might be preached.
But: This gospel will be preached.
This is not a great commission, nor a great commandment. It is a great certainty, a great confidence.
Who can dare talk like that? How does he know it will? How can he be sure the church will not fail in its missionary task?
Answer: The grace of missionary service is as irresistible as the grace of regeneration. Christ can promise universal proclamation because he is sovereign. He knows the future success of missions because he makes the future. All the nations will hear!
A “nation” is not a modern “country.” When the Old Testament spoke of nations, it referred to groups like Jebusites and Perizites and Hivites and Amorites and Moabites and Canaanites and Philistines. “Nations” are ethnic groups with their own peculiar language and culture. Psalm 117:1: “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!” Nations are peoples — people groups, as we call them.
As the sovereign Son of God and Lord of the church, Jesus simply took up this divine purpose and stated as an absolute certainty: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14).
The cause of world missions is absolutely assured of success. It cannot fail. Is it not reasonable, then, that we pray with great faith, that we invest with great confidence, and that we go with a sense of sure triumph?
When Jesus met the man filled with demons at Gadara, the demons cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29)
Demons learned a mystery here. They knew they were doomed. They knew the Son of God would be the victor. But they didn’t know until it happened that Christ was coming before the time of final defeat.
Christ is not going to wait for the end of the war to lead his troops into combat. He has begun to lead a subversive force into the territory of Satan. He has trained a “life-squad” to perform daring rescue operations. Christ has plotted many tactical victories before the time of the final strategic victory.
The resulting wartime mentality is this: Since Satan’s doom is sure, and he knows it, we can always remind him of it when he tempts us to follow him. We can laugh and say: “You’re out of your mind. Who wants to join forces with a loser?!”
The church is the liberated enemy of “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We are the guerrillas and the gadflies. We are the insurgency against the rebel kingdom of the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).
It is not safe. But it is thrilling. Many lives are lost. Satan’s forces are ever on the lookout for our subversive activity. Christ has guaranteed resurrection for all who fight to the death. But he has not guaranteed comfort, or acceptance from the world, or prosperity in enemy territory.
Many have gladly given their lives behind the lines running errands for the Commander. I can think of no better way to live — or die!
Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. (Isaiah 25:3)
Isaiah sees the day coming when all the nations — representatives from all the people groups — will no longer be at odds with Yahweh, the God of Israel and his Messiah, whom we know to be Jesus.
They will no longer worship Bel or Nebo or Molech or Allah or Buddha or utopian social programs or capitalistic growth possibilities or ancestors or animistic spirits. Instead they will come in faith to the banquet on God’s mountain.
And they will have the veil of sorrow removed and death shall be swallowed up and the reproach of God’s people will be removed and tears shall be gone forever.
That’s the setting for understanding the vision of Isaiah 25:3: “Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you.” In other words, God is stronger than the “strong peoples” and he is so powerful and so gracious that in the end he will turn ruthless nations to revere him.
So the picture Isaiah gives us is one of all nations turned to God in worship, a great banquet for all the peoples, the removal of all suffering and grief and reproach from the nations, who have become his people, and the final putting away of death forever.
This triumph is sure because God is doing it. Therefore we can be certain of it.
Not one life spent in the cause of world evangelization is spent in vain. Not one prayer or one dollar or one sermon or one letter of encouragement or one little light shining in some dark place — nothing in the cause of this advancing kingdom is in vain.
The triumph is sure.
All the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
Prayer is the place where the past and future are linked repeatedly in our lives. I mention this here because Paul links prayer with God’s Yes in this verse in a striking way.
In 2 Corinthians 1:20, he says (with choppy Greek that comes through in choppy English), “That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” Let’s try to smooth that out.
Here’s what he is saying: “Therefore, because of Christ, we say Amen to God in our prayers to show that God gets the glory for the future grace we are asking for and counting on when we pray.”
If you’ve ever wondered why Christians say Amen at the end of our prayers, and where that custom comes from, here’s the answer. Amen is a word taken straight over into Greek from Hebrew without any translation, just like it has come into English and most other languages without any translation.
In Hebrew, it was a very strong affirmation (see Numbers 5:22; Nehemiah 5:13; 8:6) — a formal, solemn, earnest “I agree,” or “I affirm what was just said,” or “This is true.” Most simply, “Amen” means a very earnest Yes in the context of addressing God.
Now notice the connection between the two halves of 2 Corinthians 1:20. The first half says, “All the promises of God find their Yes in him.” The second half says, “That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
When we realize that “Amen” and “Yes” mean the same thing, here’s what the verse says: In Jesus Christ, God says his Yes to us through his promises; and in Christ we say our Yes to God through prayer.
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (Isaiah 45:9)
The majesty of God is magnified when we see him through the lens of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). He commands nothingness, and it obeys and becomes something.
Out of nothing he makes the clay, and out of the clay he makes us — the pottery of the Lord (Isaiah 45:9) — his possession, destined for his glory, in total dependence on him.
“Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3). It is a humbling thing to be a sheep and a pot that belong to somebody else.
This morning I was reading in Isaiah and found another statement about God’s majesty. When I put it together with God’s absolute power and rights as Creator, there was a combustion that went off in my heart. Boom!
Isaiah 33:21 says, “The Lord in majesty will be for us!”
For us! For us! The Creator is for us and not against us. With all the power in the universe and with absolute right to do as he pleases with what he made — he is for us!
“No eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Can you think of anything (I mean anything) that is more comforting and assuring and delighting than that the Lord in his majesty is for you?
“ . . . declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:10)
The word “sovereignty” (like the word “Trinity”) does not occur in the Bible. We use it to refer to this truth: God is in ultimate control of the world from the largest international intrigue to the smallest bird-fall in the forest.
Here is how the Bible puts it: “I am God, and there is no other. . . . ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isaiah 46:9–10). And: “[God] does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35). And: “He is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me” (Job 23:13–14). And: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
One reason this doctrine is so precious to believers is that we know that God’s great desire is to show mercy and kindness to those who trust him (Ephesians 2:7; Psalm 37:3–7; Proverbs 29:25). God’s sovereignty means that this design for us cannot be frustrated. It cannot fail.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, befalls those “who love God” and “are called according to his purpose” but what is for our deepest and highest and longest good (Romans 8:28; Psalm 84:11).
This is why I like to say that the mercy and the sovereignty of God are the twin pillars of my life. They are the hope of my future, the energy of my service, the center of my theology, the bond of my marriage, the best medicine in all my sicknesses, the remedy of all my discouragements.
And when I come to die (whether sooner or later), these two truths will stand by my bed, and with infinitely strong and infinitely tender hands lift me up to God.
I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. (Revelation 5:4)
Have you ever thought of your prayers as the aroma of heaven? This is the picture we get when we read Revelation 5. Here is a glimpse of life in heaven.
In Revelation 5, we see God almighty on the throne with a scroll in his hand. The scroll had seven seals. They all had to be pulled off before the scroll could be opened.
I think the opening of the scroll represents the final days of history, and the pulling off of the seven seals represents the kind of history we will pass through as we move toward those days.
At first, John wept that there was no one worthy to open the scroll and look into it (Revelation 5:4). But then one of the elders in heaven says, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5).
By dying on the cross, Jesus had earned the right to open the remainder of redemptive history and lead his people victoriously through it.
In the next verse, the Lion is pictured as a Lamb, “standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). Isn’t this a beautiful image of Jesus’s victory on the cross? Standing, not lying, though it had been slain!
It is as sure as though a lion had devoured the foe — but the way he achieved the victory was by letting the foe slay him like a lamb!
So, now the Lamb is worthy to take the scroll of redemptive history from God’s hand and open it. This is such a kingly act that the twenty-four elders of heaven (God’s worship council, as it were) fall down before the Lamb in adoration.
And do you know what the golden bowls of incense are? Revelation 5:8 says they are “the prayers of the saints.” Does not this mean that our prayers are the aroma of heaven, sweet smelling before the throne of God and before the Lamb?
I am strengthened and encouraged to pray all the more often and all the more vigorously when I think that my prayers are being assembled and stored up in heaven and offered to Christ repeatedly in heavenly acts of worship.
Let’s all bless and honor and adore Christ here below with our prayers, and then doubly rejoice that the worship council of heaven offers them again to Christ as sweet smelling incense before the Lamb who was slain.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6–7)
Why is anxiety about the future a form of pride?
God’s answer would sound something like this (paraphrasing Isaiah 51:12):
I — the Lord, your Maker — I am he who comforts you, who promises to take care of you; and those who threaten you are mere men who die. So, your fear must mean that you do not trust me — and even though you are not sure that your own resources will take care of you, yet you opt for fragile self-reliance, rather than faith in my future grace. So, all your trembling — weak as it is — reveals pride.
The remedy? Turn from self-reliance to God-reliance, and put your faith in the all-sufficient power of the promise of his future grace.
You can see that anxiety is a form of pride in 1 Peter 5:6–7. Notice the grammatical connection between the verses. “Humble yourselves . . . under the mighty hand of God . . . [now, verse 7] casting all your anxieties on him.” Verse 7 is not a new sentence. It’s a subordinate clause. It starts with a participle: “Humble yourselves . . . [by] casting all your anxieties on him.”
This means that casting your anxieties on God is a way of humbling yourself under God’s mighty hand. It’s like saying, “Eat politely . . . chewing with your mouth shut.” Or, “Drive carefully . . . keeping your eyes on the road.” Or, “Be generous . . . inviting someone over on Thanksgiving.” Or, “Humble yourselves . . . casting your fears on God.”
One way to humble ourselves is to cast all our anxieties on God. Which means that one hindrance to casting your anxieties on God is pride. Which means that undue worry is a form of pride. No matter how weak it looks or feels.
Now, why is casting our anxieties on the Lord the opposite of pride? Because pride does not like to admit that it has any anxieties. Or that we can’t take care of them ourselves. And if pride has to admit that its fears are unmanagable, it still does not like to admit that the remedy might be trusting someone else who is wiser and stronger.
In other words, pride is a form of unbelief and does not like to trust in God for his future grace. Faith, on the other hand, admits the need for help. Pride won’t. Faith banks on God to give help. Pride won’t. Faith casts anxieties on God. Pride won’t.
Therefore, the way to battle the unbelief of pride is to admit freely that you have anxieties, and to cherish the promise of future grace in the words, “He cares for you.” And then unload your fears onto his strong shoulders.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench. (Isaiah 42:3)
Probably the most encouraging words I have heard in weeks came from a prophecy in Isaiah 42:1–3 about how Jesus will use his spiritual power.
Do you feel like “a bruised reed” — like one of those big top-heavy Easter lilies whose stem has been squashed so that the flower flops to the ground and gets no sap? Do you ever feel like your faith is just a little spark instead of a flame — like that little red dot at the end of the wick after you blow out the birthday candle?
Take heart! The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of encouragement: he will not snap off your flower; he will not snuff out your spark.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). “The sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). “[He is] gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).
It may be a grief to us that we are only a spark instead of a flaming fire. But listen! And be encouraged: Yes, there is a big difference between a spark and a fire. But there is an infinite difference between a spark and no spark! A mustard seed of faith is infinitely closer to being a mountain of faith than it is to being no faith.
Open the window of God’s promises and let the Spirit blow into every room of your heart. The Holy Wind of God will not break or quench. He will lift up your head and fan your spark into a flame. He is the Spirit of encouragement.
Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
How can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? How can we experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our church and ourselves that fills us with indomitable joy and frees us, and empowers us, to love those around us in ways so authentic that they are won to Christ?
Answer: Meditate day and night upon the incomparable, hope-giving promises of God. As Romans 15:4 shows us, that’s the way Paul kept his heart full of hope and joy and love. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
The full assurance of hope comes from meditating on the promises of God’s word. And this does not contradict the sentence nine verses later that says that the Holy Spirit gives us hope (Romans 15:13). This is because the Holy Spirit is the divine author of Scripture. His word is the means of his work. It is no contradiction that the way he fills us with hope is by filling us with his own word of promise.
Hope is not some vague emotion that comes out of nowhere, like a stomachache. Hope is the confidence that the stupendous future promised to us by the word of the Spirit is going to really come true. Therefore, the way to be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with his word. The way to have the power of the Spirit is to believe the promises of his word.
For it is the word of promise that fills us with hope, and hope fills us with joy, and joy overflows in the power and freedom to love our neighbor. And that is the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
You may be going through things right now that are painfully preparing you for some precious service to Jesus and to his people. When a person strikes rock bottom with a sense of nothingness or helplessness, he may find that he has struck the Rock of Ages.
I remember a delicious sentence from Psalm 138:6 that our family read at our breakfast devotions: “Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly.”
You cannot sink so low in despairing of your own resources that God does not see and care. In fact, he is at the bottom waiting to catch you. As Moses says, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
Yes, he sees you trembling and slipping. He could (and often did) grab you before you hit bottom. But this time he has some new lessons to teach.
The psalmist said in Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” He does not say it was easy or fun or pleasant. In retrospect, he simply says, “It was good for me.”
Last week I was reading a book by a Scottish minister named James Stewart. He said, “In love’s service, only the wounded soldiers can serve.” That’s why I believe some of you are being prepared right now for some precious service of love. Because you are being wounded.
Do not think that your wound has come to you apart from God’s gracious design. Remember his word: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me . . . I wound and I heal” (Deuteronomy 32:39).
May God grant a special grace to you who are groaning under some burden. Look eagerly for the new tenderness of love that God is imparting to you even now.
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. . . . They love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” (Matthew 23:5–7)
The itch of self-regard craves the scratch of self-approval. If we are getting our pleasure from feeling self-sufficient, we will not be satisfied without others seeing and applauding our self-sufficiency.
Hence Jesus’s description of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:5, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.”
This is ironic. Wouldn’t you think that self-sufficiency should free the proud person from the need to be made much of by others? That’s what “sufficient” means. But evidently there is an emptiness in this so-called self-sufficiency.
The self was never designed to satisfy itself or rely upon itself. It never can be self-sufficient. We are not God. We are in the image of God. And what makes us “like” God is not our self-sufficiency. We are shadows and echoes. So, there will always be an emptiness in the soul that struggles to be satisfied with the resources of self.
This empty craving for the praise of others signals the failure of pride and the absence of faith in God’s ongoing grace. Jesus saw the terrible effect of this itch for human glory. He named it in John 5:44, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” The answer is, you can’t. Itching for glory from other people makes faith impossible. Why?
Because faith looks away from self to God. Faith is being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus. And if you are bent on getting the satisfaction of your itch from the scratch of others’ praise, you will turn away from Jesus. That is not what he is like. He lives for the glory of his Father. And calls us to do the same.
But if you would turn from self as the source of satisfaction (repentance), and come to Jesus for the enjoyment of all that God is for us in him (faith), then the itch of emptiness would be replaced by a fullness — what Jesus calls “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. . . . I will rejoice in doing them good.” (Jeremiah 32:40–41)
This is one of those promises of God that I come back to again and again when I get discouraged. Can you think of any fact more encouraging than that God rejoices to do you good? Not just does you good. Not just is committed to doing you good — glorious as that is. But that he rejoices to do you good. “I will rejoice in doing them good.”
He doesn’t begrudgingly fulfill the promise in Romans 8:28 to work everything together for our good. It is his joy to do you good. And not just sometimes. Always! “I will not turn away from doing good to them.” There are no lapses in his commitment or in his joy in doing good to his children — to those who trust him.
That should make us so glad!
But sometimes it is hard to be glad. Our situation is so hard to bear that we just can’t muster any joy. When that happens to me, I try to imitate Abraham: “In hope he believed against hope” (Romans 4:18). In other words, you look your hopeless situation in the face and say, “You are not as strong as God! He can do the impossible. And I know he loves to do it for those who trust him. So, hopelessness, you will not have the last say. I trust God!”
God has always been faithful to guard that little spark of faith for me and eventually (not always right away) fan it into a flame of happiness and full confidence. And Jeremiah 32:41 is a great part of that joy.
Oh, how glad I am that what makes the heart of almighty God happy includes doing good for you and me! “I will rejoice in doing them good.”
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
Seeking the power of God to fulfill our good resolves does not mean that we don’t really resolve, or that we don’t really use willpower.
The engagement of God’s power never takes the place of the engagement of our will! The power of God in sanctification never makes us passive! The power of God engages itself beneath or behind and within our will, not in place of our will.
The evidence of God’s power in our lives is not the absence of our willing, but the strength of our willing, the joy of our willing.
Anyone who says, “Well, I believe in the sovereignty of God and so I will just sit back and do nothing” does not really believe in the sovereignty of God. For why would someone who believes in God’s sovereignty so blatantly disobey him?
When you sit back to do nothing, you are not doing nothing. You are actively engaging your will in a decision to sit back. And if that is the way you handle sin or temptation in your life, it is blatant disobedience, because we are commanded to wage a good warfare (1 Timothy 1:18) and resist the devil (James 4:7) and strive for holiness (Hebrews 12:14) and put to death the sinful acts of the body (Romans 8:13).
Second Thessalonians 1:11 says that it is by the power of God that we will fulfill our good resolves and our works of faith. But this does not nullify the meaning of the word “resolve” and the word “work.” Part of the whole process of walking worthy of God’s call is the active engagement of our will in resolving to do righteousness.
If you have lingering sin in your life, or if you keep neglecting some good deed just because you have been waiting around to be saved without a fight, you are compounding your disobedience. God will never appear with power in your will in any other way than through your exercise of that will; that is, through your good resolves — your good intentions and plans and purposes.
So, people who believe in the sovereignty of God must not fear to engage their wills in the struggle for holiness. “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). Only strive in the faith that in and through your striving God is at work to will and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
When Paul says to put to death the deeds of the body “by the Spirit” (Romans 8:13), I take him to mean that we should use the one weapon in the Spirit’s armor that is used to kill; namely, the sword, “which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).
So, when the body is about to be led into a sinful action by some fear or craving, we are to take the sword of the Spirit and kill that fear and that craving. In my experience, that means mainly severing the root of sin’s promise by the power of a superior promise.
For example, when I begin to crave some illicit sexual pleasure, the sword-swing that has often severed the root of this promised pleasure is, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). I recall the pleasures I have tasted of seeing God more clearly from an undefiled conscience; and I recall the brevity and superficiality and oppressive aftertaste of sin’s pleasures, and with that, God has killed the conquering power of sin.
Having promises at hand that suit the temptation of the hour is one key to successful warfare against sin.
But there are times when we don’t have a perfectly suited word from God in our minds. And there is no time to look through the Bible for a tailor-made promise. So, we all need to have a small arsenal of general promises ready to use whenever fear or craving threaten to lead us astray.
Here are four of my most oft-used promises in fighting against sin:
Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
And the promise implicit in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
And, of course, Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Be constantly adding to your arsenal of promises. But never lose sight of the chosen few that God has blessed in your life. Do both. Be ever-ready with the old. And every morning look for a new one to take with you through the day.
He [Pilate] entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:9–11)
Pilate’s authority to crucify Jesus did not intimidate Jesus. Why not?
Not because Pilate was lying. Not because he didn’t have authority to crucify Jesus. He did.
Rather, this authority did not intimidate Jesus because it was derivative. Jesus said, “It was given to you from above.” Which means it is really authoritative. Not less. But more.
So, how is this not intimidating? Pilate not only has authority to kill Jesus. But he has God-given authority to kill him.
This does not intimidate Jesus because Pilate’s authority over Jesus is subordinate to God’s authority over Pilate. Jesus gets his comfort at this moment not because Pilate’s will is powerless, but because Pilate’s will is guided. Not because Jesus isn’t in the hands of Pilate’s fear, but because Pilate is in the hands of Jesus’s Father.
Which means that our comfort comes not from the powerlessness of our enemies, but from our Father’s sovereign rule over their power.
This is the point of Romans 8:35–37. Tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword cannot separate us from Christ because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Pilate (and all Jesus’s adversaries — and ours) meant it for evil. But God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20). All Jesus’s enemies gathered together with their God-given authority “to do whatever [God’s] hand and [God’s] plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). They sinned. But through their sinning God saved.
Therefore, do not be intimidated by your adversaries who can only kill the body (Matthew 10:28). Not only because this is all they can do (Luke 12:4), but also because it is done under the watchful hand of your Father.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6–7)
Pilate has authority. Herod has authority. Soldiers have authority. Satan has authority. But none is independent. All their authority is derivative. All of it is subordinate to God’s will. Fear not. You are precious to your sovereign Father. Far more precious than the unforgotten birds.
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:13)
What are the rewards if we trust God’s promises, give lavishly, and open our homes to each other and the needy?
- The suffering of the saints will be relieved or at least diminished. That is what this verse means when it says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints.” We lift a burden. We relieve stress. We give hope. And that’s a reward!
- The glory of God is displayed. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Lavish giving and open homes display the glory and the goodness and the worth of God in your life. The reason God gives us money and homes is so that by the way we use them people can see they are not our God. But God is our God. And our treasure.
- More thanksgiving to God is unleashed. “The ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:12). God has given us money and homes not just so that we are thankful, but by our generosity and hospitality to make many people thankful to God.
- Our love for God and his love in us is confirmed. “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). In other words, when we give generously and open our homes, the love of God is confirmed in our lives. We are real. We are not phony Christians.
- Finally, we lay up treasure in heaven. “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail. . . . For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33–34).
Lavish giving and open homes are close to the center of life in Christ. The reasons we don’t open our checkbooks and homes as often as we should are rooted in the bondage of fear and greed. The remedy is the pleasure of Christ’s presence and the certainty of Christ’s promise: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Our reward is the display of God’s glory, the good of others, and the joy of treasuring Christ together forever. Therefore I exhort you, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33)
Paul could have said here, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” and then answered, “No one! We are justified.” That’s true. But that is not what he said. His answer instead is, “God is the one who justifies.”
The emphasis is not on the act but on the Actor.
Why? Because in the world of courts and laws where this language comes from, the acquittal of a judge might be overturned by a higher one.
So what, if a local judge acquits you, when you are guilty, if a governor has the right to bring a charge against you? So what, if a governor acquits you, when you are guilty, if the emperor can bring a charge against you?
Here’s the point: Above God, there are no higher courts. If God is the one who acquits you — declares you righteous in his sight — no one can appeal; no one can claim a technicality; no one can call for a mistrial; no one can look for other counts against you. God’s sentence is final and total.
Hear this, all you who believe on Jesus, and become united to Christ, and show yourself among the elect: God is the one who justifies you. Not a human judge. Not a great prophet. Not an archangel from heaven. But God, the Creator of the world and Owner of all things and Ruler of the universe and every molecule and person in it, God is the one who justifies you.
The point: unshakable security in the face of tremendous suffering. If God is for us, no one can successfully be against us. If God gave his Son for us, he will give us everything that is good for us. If God is the one who justifies us, no charge against us can stand.
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Paul concludes from his hourly danger, and his daily dying, and his fighting with wild beasts, that the life he has chosen in following Jesus is foolish and pitiable if he will not be raised from the dead.
If death were the end of the matter, he says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). This doesn’t mean: Let’s all become gluttons and drunkards if there is no resurrection. Drunkards are pitiable too — with or without the resurrection. He means: If there is no resurrection, what makes sense is middle-class moderation to maximize earthly pleasures.
But that is not what Paul chooses. He chooses suffering, because he chooses obedience. Ananias came to Paul after his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, with the words from the Lord Jesus, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). Paul accepted this suffering as part of his calling.
How could Paul do it? What was the source of this radical and painful obedience? The answer is given in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, Christ was raised, and I will be raised with him. Therefore, nothing suffered for Jesus is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The hope of the resurrection radically changed the way Paul lived. It freed him from materialism and consumerism. It gave him the power to go without comforts and pleasures that many people feel they must have in this life. For example, though he had the right to marry (1 Corinthians 9:5), he renounced that pleasure because he was called to bear so much suffering.
This is the way Jesus said the hope of the resurrection is supposed to change our behavior. For example, he told us to invite to our homes people who cannot pay us back in this life. How are we to be motivated to do this? “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).
This is a radical call for us to look hard at our present lives to see if they are shaped by the hope of the resurrection. Do we make decisions on the basis of gain in this world, or gain in the next? Do we take risks for love’s sake that can only be explained as wise if there is a resurrection?
May God help us to rededicate ourselves for a lifetime of letting the resurrection have its radical effects.
. . . among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:3)
All of God’s wrath, all of the condemnation we deserve, was poured out on Jesus. All of God’s demands for perfect righteousness were fulfilled by Christ. The moment we see (by grace!) this Treasure, and receive him in this way, his death counts as our death and his condemnation as our condemnation and his righteousness as our righteousness, and God becomes 100% irrevocably for us forever in that instant.
The question this leaves unanswered is, “Doesn’t the Bible teach that in eternity God set his favor on us in election?”
In other words, thoughtful people ask, “Did God only become 100% for us in the moment of faith and union with Christ and justification? Did he not become 100% for us in the act of election before the foundation of the world?” Paul says in Ephesians 1:4–5, “[God] chose us in [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.”
Is God then not 100% for the elect from eternity? The answer hangs on the meaning of “100%.”
With the term “100%” I am trying to preserve a biblical truth found in several passages of Scripture. For example, in Ephesians 2:3, Paul says that Christians were “children of wrath” before they were made alive in Christ Jesus: “We all once lived [among the sons of disobedience] in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Paul is saying that, before our new birth — before we were made alive together with Christ — God’s wrath was on us. The elect were under wrath. This changed when God made us alive in Christ Jesus and awakened us to see the truth and beauty of Christ so that we received him as the one who died for us and as the one whose righteousness is counted as ours because of our union with Jesus. Before this happened to us, we were under God’s wrath. Then, because of faith in Christ and union with him, all God’s wrath was removed and he then became, in that sense, 100% for us.
Therefore, exult in the truth that God will keep you. He will get you to the end because in Christ he is 100% for you. And therefore, getting to the end does not make God to be 100% for you. It is the effect of the fact that he is already 100% for you.
We all once lived among [the sons of disobedience] in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But 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 2:3–5)
Would you not love to hear the angel Gabriel say to you, “You are greatly loved”?
Three times this happened to Daniel.
“At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved.” (Daniel 9:23)
“O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” (Daniel 10:11)
And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” (Daniel 10:19)
I admit that each year when I read through the Bible and come to these verses, I want to take them and apply them to myself. I want to hear God saying to me, “You are greatly loved.”
In fact, I do hear this. And you can hear it too. If you have faith in Jesus, God himself says to you in his word — which is more sure than an angel of God speaking — “You are greatly loved.”
There it stands in Ephesians 2:3–5, 8: We “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But 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. . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith.”
This is the only place where Paul uses this wonderful phrase “great love.” And it is better than an angel’s voice. If you have seen Jesus as true and received him as your supreme treasure, that is, if you are “alive,” you are greatly loved. Greatly loved by the Creator of the universe. Just think of it! Greatly loved!
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
Everywhere Paul preached some believed and some did not. How are we to understand why some of those who are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5) believed and some did not?
The answer why some did not believe is that they “thrust it aside” (Acts 13:46) because the message of the gospel was “folly to [them], and [they were] not able to understand” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The mind of the flesh “is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).
Everyone who hears and rejects the gospel “hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). They remain “darkened in their understanding . . . because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). It is a guilty ignorance. The truth is available. But “by their unrighteousness [they] suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).
But why then do some believe, since all are in this condition of rebellious hardness of heart, dead in their trespasses? The book of Acts gives the answer in at least three different ways. One is that they are appointed to believe. When Paul preached in Antioch of Pisidia, the Gentiles rejoiced and “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
Another way of answering why some believe is that God granted repentance. When the saints in Jerusalem heard that Gentiles, and not just Jews, were responding to the gospel, they said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
But the clearest answer in Acts to the question why a person believes the gospel is that God opens the heart. Lydia is the best example. Why did she believe? Acts 16:14 says, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”
If you are a believer in Jesus, all of these happened to you: You were appointed to believe; you were granted to repent; and the Lord opened your heart. The rest of your life you should be overflowing with amazed thankfulness at the miracle that you are a believer.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:14)
Many Christians in the world today do not know the life-threatening danger that comes with believing in Christ. We have gotten used to being free from such persecution. It seems like the way things must be.
So, our first reaction to the threat that things might be otherwise is often anger. But that anger may be a sign that we have lost our sense of being sojourners and exiles (“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles . . .” 1 Peter 2:11).
Perhaps we have settled too much into this world. We don’t feel as homesick for Christ as Paul did: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
Many of us need the reminder, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). It isn’t strange.
Have you ever wondered how you will do in the hour of final trial? The gunman has you in his sights and asks, “Are you a Christian?” Here is a strong word to give you hope that you may do better than you think.
Peter says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). This encouragement from Peter says that in the hour of unusual threat (whether insult or death) there will be “a Spirit of glory and of God resting on us.” Doesn’t that mean that God gives special help in the hour of crisis to those who suffer because they are Christians?
I don’t mean he is absent from our other sufferings. I just mean that Peter went out of his way to say that those who suffer “for the name of Christ” will experience a special “resting” on them of “the Spirit of glory and of God.”
Pray that this would be your experience when the trial comes. There will be resources of endurance in that moment that we do not have any other time. Take heart.
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:16)
Just before the service last Sunday, the little band of praying saints was hard at work fighting for the faith of our people, and for the churches of the Twin Cities, and for the nations, as they prayed. At one point one man prayed the words of John 1:14, 16:
And 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. . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
It was one of those epiphany moments for me. God granted in that moment that the word “fullness” — from his fullness — carry a fullness that was extraordinary in its effect on me. I felt some measure of what the word really carries — the fullness of Christ.
I felt some of the wonder that, yes, I had indeed received grace upon grace from this fullness. And I was at that moment receiving grace upon grace. I felt right then that nothing would have been sweeter than to simply sit at his feet — or read my Bible — all afternoon and feel his fullness overflow.
Why did this fullness have such an impact on me — and why is it still to this moment affecting me unusually? In part because . . .
. . . the one from whose fullness I am being drenched with grace is the Word that was with God and was God (John 1:1–2), so that his fullness is the fullness of God — a divine fullness, an infinite fullness;
. . . this Word became flesh, and so was one of us, and was pursuing us with his fullness — it is an accessible fullness;
. . . when this Word appeared in human form, his glory was seen — his is a glorious fullness;
. . . this Word was “the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14) so that the divine fullness was being mediated to me not just from God, but through God — God did not send an angel but his only Son to deliver his fullness;
. . . the fullness of the Son is a fullness of grace — I will not drown in this fullness but be blessed in every way by this fullness;
. . . this fullness is not only a fullness of grace but of truth — I am not being graced with truth-ignoring flattery; this grace is rooted in rock-solid reality.
Is it any wonder, then, that I would feel astonished and full of joy at the fullness of Christ!
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Not only was he the servant of his people while he lived on earth, but he will also be our servant when he comes again. “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37). Jesus gave that as a picture of what he will do at his return.
Not only that, he is our servant now. “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5–6).
Does this belittle the risen Christ — to say that he was and is and will ever be the servant of his people? It would, if “servant” meant “one who takes orders,” or if we thought we were his masters. Yes, that would dishonor him. But it does not dishonor him to say that we are weak and need his help.
It does not dishonor him to say that he is the only one who can service us with what we need most.
It does not dishonor him to say that he is an inexhaustible spring of love, and that the more he helps us and the more we depend on his service, the more amazing his resources appear. Therefore, we can confidently say, “Jesus Christ is alive to serve!”
He is alive to save. He is alive to give. And he is thrilled to be this way.
He is not burdened down with your cares. He thrives on burden-bearing, not burden-giving. He loves to work “for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). He “takes pleasure . . . in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11). His eyes “run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
Jesus Christ is exuberant with omnipotent service for the sake of all who trust him.
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder. (2 Peter 3:1)
As Easter approaches, let’s stir up our thankfulness and joy and admiration and amazement at what the resurrection of Jesus means for us. The curse of our fallen nature is that what once thrilled us becomes ordinary. The reality hasn’t changed. We have changed.
This is why the Bible exists. Peter says of his two letters that they are written to “stir up” or “arouse” by means of “reminder.”
So, let’s stir up our sincere minds by way of reminder.
What has God done in raising Jesus from the dead? Here are a few biblical answers.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we are born again to a living hope.
1 Peter 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Because of Jesus’s resurrection, he now has the glory for which we were made. Our ultimate destiny is to see him as he is.
1 Peter 1:21: “God . . . raised him from the dead and gave him glory.”
John 17:5, 24: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. . . . Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
May the risen Lord Jesus himself awaken and arouse your sincere mind to new depths of worship and allegiance and joy.
He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. (Psalm 147:15)
Tonight it will be forty degrees warmer in our kitchen freezer than it is outside here in Minneapolis. The high temperature tomorrow will be five degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). We receive this from the Lord’s hand.
He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;
he scatters frost like ashes.
He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?
He sends out his word, and melts them;
he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.
This is the kind of cold you do not play with. It kills.
When I came to Minnesota from South Carolina, I dressed for it. But I did not prepare life-saving support in my car in case of a breakdown.
One Sunday night on the way home from church, in this kind of cold, my car died. This was before cell phones. I had a wife and two small children in the car.
There was no one on this road. I suddenly realized, this is dangerous.
Soon it was very dangerous. No one came.
I saw in the distance through a fence a house. I am the father. This is my job. I climbed the fence and ran to the house and knocked on the door. They were home. I explained that I had a wife and two small children in the car, and asked if they would let us in. They did.
This is a kind of cold you do not play with.
It is one more way God says, “Whether hot or cold, high or deep, sharp or blunt, loud or quiet, bright or dark . . . don’t toy with me. I am God. I made all these things. They speak of me, just like the warm summer breezes do, and the gentle rains, and the soft moonlit nights, and the lapping of the lakeside, and lilies of the field and the birds of the air.”
There is a word for us in this cold. May the Lord give us skin to feel and ears to hear.
When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. (Acts 23:12)
What about those hungry fellows who promised not to eat till they had ambushed Paul?
We read about them in Acts 23:12, “When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.” It didn’t work. Why? Because a string of unlikely events happened.
- A boy overheard the plot.
- The boy was the son of Paul’s sister.
- The boy had the courage to go to the Roman centurion guarding Paul.
- The centurion took him seriously and brought him to the tribune.
- The tribune believed him and prepared “two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen” to take Paul to safety.
Every one of those events was highly unlikely. Strange. But that’s what happened.
What had those hungry men lying in ambush overlooked? They failed to reckon with what happened to Paul just before they made their plot. The Lord appeared to Paul in prison and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11).
Christ said Paul was going to Rome. And that was that. No ambush can stand against the promise of Christ. Until he got to Rome, Paul was immortal. There was a final testimony to be given. And Christ would see to it that Paul would give it.
You too have final testimony to give. And you are immortal until you give it.
He set me apart before I was born, and called me by his grace. (Galatians 1:15)
Ponder the conversion of Paul, the sovereignty of Christ, and what Paul’s sins have to do with your salvation.
Paul said that God “set me apart before I was born,” and then, years later, on the Damascus road, “called me by his grace” (Galatians 1:15). This means that between Paul’s birth and his call on the Damascus road he was an already-chosen, but not-yet-called, instrument of God (Acts 9:15; 22:14).
This means that Paul was beating and imprisoning and murdering Christians as a God-chosen, soon-to-be-made-Christian missionary.
“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’” (Acts 22:6–7)
There was no denying or escaping it. God had chosen him for this before he was born. And now he would take him. The word of Christ was sovereign. There was no negotiating.
“Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.” (Acts 22:10)
Damascus was not Paul’s final, free will yielding to Christ after decades of futile divine effort to save him. No. God had a time for choosing him (before he was born) and a time for calling him (on the Damascus road). God called, and the call produced the yielding.
Therefore, the sins that God permitted between Paul’s birth and his calling were part of the plan, since God could have called him sooner.
Do we have any idea what the plan for those sins might have been? Yes, we do. They were permitted for you and me — for all who fear that they might have sinned themselves out of grace. Here’s the way Paul relates his sins to your hope:
Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. . . . But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:13, 16)
Oh, how sweet are the designs of God in the sovereign salvation of hardened, hopeless sinners!
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. (Hebrews 11:17)
For many of you right now — and for others of you the time is coming — obedience feels like the end of a dream. You feel that if you do what the word of God or the Spirit of God is calling you to do, it will make you miserable and that there is no way that God could turn it all for good.
Perhaps the command or call of God you hear just now is to stay married or stay single, to stay in that job or leave that job, to get baptized, to speak up at work about Christ, to refuse to compromise your standards of honesty, to confront a person in sin, to venture a new vocation, to be a missionary. And as you see it in your limited mind, the prospect of doing this is terrible — it’s like the loss of Isaac, the only son who can be an heir.
You have considered every human angle, and it is impossible that it could turn out well.
Now you know what it was like for Abraham. This story is in the Bible for you.
Do you desire God and his way and his promises more than anything, and do you believe that he can and will honor your faith and obedience by being unashamed to call himself your God, and to use all his wisdom and power and love to turn the path of obedience into the path of life and joy?
That is the crisis you face now: Do you desire him? Will you trust him? The word of God to you is: God is worthy and God is able.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16)
The love of Christ for us in his dying was as conscious as his suffering was intentional. If he was intentional in laying down his life, it was for us. It was love.
“When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
Every step on the Calvary road meant, “I love you.”
Therefore, to feel the love of Christ in the laying down of his life, it helps to see how utterly intentional it was.
Look at what Jesus said just after that violent moment when Peter tried to cleave the skull of the servant, but only cut off his ear.
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52–54)
It is one thing to say that the details of Jesus’s death were predicted in the Old Testament. But it is much more to say that Jesus himself was making his choices precisely to see to it that the Scriptures would be fulfilled.
That is what Jesus said he was doing in Matthew 26:54. “I could escape this misery, but how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
In other words, I am not choosing to take the way out that I could take because I know the Scriptures. I know what must take place for my people to be saved. It is my choice to fulfill all that is predicted of me in the word of God. It is my choice — every step of the way — to love my people to the uttermost. And I want them to feel this. And be utterly secure and free and radically different from the world.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life 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)
Why did God create the universe? And why is he governing it the way he is? What is God achieving? Is Jesus Christ a means to this achievement or the end of the achievement?
Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God. He is God in human form. As such, he is the end, not a means.
The manifestation of the glory of God is the meaning of the universe. This is what God is achieving. The heavens, and the history of the world, are “telling the glory of God.”
But Jesus Christ was sent to accomplish something that needed doing. He came to remedy the fall. He came to rescue sinners from inevitable destruction because of their sin. These rescued ones will see and savor and display the glory of God with everlasting joy.
Others will continue to heap scorn on the glory of God. So, Jesus Christ is the means to what God meant to achieve in the manifestation of his glory for the enjoyment of his people. No one would see and savor and celebrate the glory of God apart from the saving work of Christ. The aim of the universe would abort. So, Christ is a means.
But in that accomplishment on the cross, as he died for sinners, Christ revealed the love and righteousness of the Father supremely. This was the apex of the revelation of the glory of God — the glory of his grace.
Therefore, in the very moment of his perfect act as the means of God’s purpose, Jesus became the end of that purpose. He became, in his dying in the place of sinners and his resurrection for their life, the central and supreme revelation of the glory of God.
Christ crucified is therefore both the means and the end of God’s purpose in the universe.
Without his work, that end — to reveal the fullness of the glory of God for the enjoyment of God’s people — would not have happened.
And in that very means-work he became the end — the one who forever and ever will be the focus of our worship as we spend eternity seeing and savoring more and more of what he revealed of God when he became a curse for us.
Jesus is the end for which the universe was made, and the means that makes that end possible to enjoy by justified sinners.
He has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
No pollution, no graffiti, no trash, no peeling paint or rotting garages, no dead grass or broken bottles, no harsh street talk, no in-your-face confrontations, no domestic strife or violence, no dangers in the night, no arson or lying or stealing or killing, no vandalism, and no ugliness.
The city of God will be perfect because God will be in it. He will walk in it and talk in it and manifest himself in every part of it. All that is good and beautiful and holy and peaceful and true and happy will be there, because God will be there.
Perfect justice will be there and recompense a thousandfold for every pain suffered in obedience to Christ in this world. And it will never deteriorate. In fact, it will shine brighter and brighter as eternity stretches out into unending ages of increasing joy.
When you desire this city above everything else on the earth, then you honor God, who, according to Hebrews 11:10, is the designer and builder of the city. And when God is honored, he is pleased and not ashamed to be called your God.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
Abraham Lincoln, who was born on this day in 1809, remained skeptical, and at times even cynical, about religion into his forties. So, it is a most striking thing how personal and national suffering drew Lincoln into the reality of God, rather than pushing him away.
In 1862, when Lincoln was 53 years old, his 11-year-old son Willie died. Lincoln’s wife “tried to deal with her grief by searching out New Age mediums.” Lincoln turned to Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.
Several long talks led to what Gurley described as “a conversion to Christ.” Lincoln confided that he was “driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.”
Similarly, the horrors of the dead and wounded soldiers assaulted him daily. There were fifty hospitals for the wounded in Washington. The rotunda of the Capitol held two thousand cots for wounded soldiers.
Typically, fifty soldiers a day died in these temporary hospitals. All of this drove Lincoln deeper into the providence of God. “We cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it.”
His most famous statement about the providence of God in relation to the Civil War was his Second Inaugural Address, given a month before he was assassinated. It is remarkable for not making God a simple supporter for the Union or Confederate cause. God has his own purposes and does not excuse sin on either side.
Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war might speedily pass away. . . .
Yet if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid with another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
I pray for all of you who suffer loss and injury and great sorrow that it will awaken for you, as it did for Lincoln, not an empty fatalism, but a deeper reliance on the infinite wisdom and love of God’s inscrutable providence.
He who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. (1 Corinthians 7:22, my translation)
I would have expected Paul to switch the places of “Lord,” which means Master, and “Christ,” which means Messiah.
He correlates our liberation with Jesus being our Master (“a freedman of the Lord”). And he correlates our new slavery with Jesus being our Messiah (“a slave of Christ”). It seems strange because the Messiah came to liberate his people from their captors; and masters take control of their slaves’ lives.
Why does he say it this way? Why correlate slavery (rather than liberation) with Messiah, and liberation (rather than slavery) with Master?
Suggestion: The switch has two effects on our new liberty and two effects on our new slavery.
On the one hand, in calling us “the liberated of the Lord,” he secures and limits our new liberty:
His lordship is over all other lords; so our liberation is uncontested — absolutely secure.
But, free from all other lords, we are not free from him. Our freedom is mercifully limited. Jesus is our Master.
On the other hand, in calling us the “slaves of Christ,” he loosens and sweetens our slavery:
The Messiah lays claim on his own in order to bring them from the confines of captivity into the open spaces of peace. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).
And he makes them his own to give them the sweetest joy. “With honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Psalm 81:16). And that Rock is Christ, the Messiah.
So, Christian, be glad in this: “He who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord” — the Master. “Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ” — the loosening, sweetening Messiah.”
If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:15–16)
Faith sees the promised future that God offers and “desires” it. “As it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” Dwell on this for a moment.
There are many people who water down what saving faith is by making it a mere decision with no change of what one desires and seeks. But the point of this text in the great faith chapter in the Bible — Hebrews 11 — is that living and dying by faith means having new desires and seeking new satisfactions.
Verse 14 says that the saints of old (who are being commended for their faith here in Hebrews 11) were seeking a different kind of country than this world offered. And verse 16 says they were desiring something better than what a present earthly existence could offer. “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
They had been so gripped by God that nothing short of being with God would satisfy.
So, this is true saving faith: seeing the promises of God from afar, and experiencing a change of values so that you desire and seek after and trust in the promises of God above what the world has to offer.
Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:35)
We need to ponder the superiority of God as our great reward over all that the world has to offer. If we don’t, we will love the world like everyone else and live like everyone else.
So, take the things that drive the world, and ponder how much better and more abiding God is. Take money or sex or power and think about them in relation to death. Death will take away every one of them. If that is what you live for, you won’t get much, and what you get, you lose.
But God’s treasure is vastly superior, and it lasts. It goes beyond death. It’s better than money because God owns all the money and he is our Father. We are his heirs. “All [things] are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:22–23).
It’s better than sex. Jesus never had sexual relations, and he was the most full and complete human that ever will exist. Sex is a shadow — an image — of a greater reality, of a relationship and a pleasure that will make the most exquisite sex seem like a yawn.
The reward of God is better than power. There is no greater human power than to be a child of the almighty God. “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3). “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
And so it goes on and on. Everything the world has to offer, God is better and more abiding.
There is no comparison. God wins — every time. The question is: Will we have him? Will we wake up from the trance of this stupefying world and see and believe and rejoice in and love what is truly real, and infinitely valuable, and everlasting?
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! (Psalm 96:7)
Here’s at least part of the experience that the psalmist is referring to when he says, “Ascribe [= give] to the Lord strength.” What are we doing when we “Ascribe to the Lord strength”?
First, by God’s grace, we give attention to God and see that he is strong. We give heed to his strength. Then we give our approval to the greatness of his strength. We give due regard to its worth.
We find his strength to be wonderful. But what makes this wonder that we experience a “giving” kind of wonder — “Give to the Lord strength!” — is that we are especially glad that the greatness of the strength is his and not ours.
We feel a profound fitness in the fact that he is infinitely strong, and we are not. We love the fact that this is so. We do not envy God for his strength. We are not covetous of his power. We are full of joy that all strength is his.
Everything in us rejoices to go out of ourselves and behold this power — as if we had arrived at the celebration of the victory of a distance runner who had beaten us in the race, and we found our greatest joy in admiring his strength, rather than resenting our loss.
We find the deepest meaning in life when our hearts freely go out of ourselves to admire God’s power, rather than turning inward to boast in our own — or even think about our own. We discover something overwhelming: It is profoundly satisfying not to be God, but to give up all thoughts or desires to be God.
In our giving heed to God’s power there rises up in us a realization that God created the universe for this: so that we could have the supremely satisfying experience of not being God, but admiring the Godness of God — the strength of God. There settles over us a peaceful realization that admiration of the infinite is the final, all-satisfying end of all things.
We tremble at the slightest temptation to claim any power as coming from us. God has made us weak to protect us from this: “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Oh, what love this is, that God would protect us from replacing the everlasting heights of admiring his power with the futile attempt to boast in our own! It is a great gladness not to be, but rather to see, God!
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
One of the greatest hope-killers is that you have tried for so long to change, and have not succeeded.
You look back and think: What’s the use? Even if I could experience a breakthrough, there would be so little time left to live in my new way that it wouldn’t make much difference compared to so many years of failure.
The former robber (the thief on the cross next to Jesus) lived for another hour or so after his conversion. Then he died. He was changed. He lived on the cross as a new man with new attitudes and actions (no more reviling). But 99.99% of his life was wasted. Did the last couple hours of newness matter?
They mattered infinitely. This former robber, like all of us, will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of his life. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). How will his life testify in that day to his new birth and his union with Christ? How will his life confirm his newness in Christ?
The last hours will tell the story. This man was new. His faith was real. He is truly united to Christ. Christ’s righteousness is his. His sins are forgiven.
That’s what the final hours will proclaim at the last judgment. He is changed! And his change mattered. It was, and it will be, a beautiful testimony to the power of God’s grace and the reality of his faith and his union with Christ.
Now back to our struggle with change. I am not saying that struggling believers are unsaved like the robber was. I am simply saying that the last years and the last hours of life matter.
If in the last 1% of our lives, we can get a victory over some long-standing sinful habit or hurtful defect in our personality, it will be a beautiful testimony now to the power of grace; and it will be an added witness (not the only one) at the last judgment to our faith in Christ and our union with him.
Take heart, struggler. Keep asking, seeking, knocking. Keep looking to Christ. If God gets glory by saving robbers in the eleventh hour, he surely has his purposes why he has waited till now to give you the breakthrough you have sought for years.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3)
How does the promise in Psalm 1:3 point to Christ?
It says, “In all that he does, he prospers.” The righteous prosper in everything they do. Is this naïve or profoundly true?
In this life, it certainly seems that the wicked prosper. “Fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7). “Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape” (Malachi 3:15).
And in this life the righteous often suffer and their goodness is rewarded with abuse. “If we had forgotten the name of our God . . . would not God discover this? . . . Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Psalm 44:20–22). The psalmists themselves knew this. We are not protesting something they didn’t already know.
Therefore, when the psalmist says, “In all that he does, he prospers,” he is not naïve. He is pointing through the ambiguities of this life to life after death, where the true effectiveness — the true prosperity — of all that we have done will appear.
This is the way Paul thought.
First, he celebrates the victory of Christ over death. “‘O death, where is your victory?’ . . . Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57).
Then, he draws out the implication that, because of this triumph, every work that believers have ever done will prosper. “Therefore, my beloved brothers . . . in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). When something is not in vain, it prospers.
Because Jesus died in our place, he guaranteed that every good deed prospers — sooner or later. “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:8). “Blessed are you when others revile you. . . . Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11–12). Reviled here. Rewarded there.
What seems naïve in the Old Testament (“in all that he does, he prospers”) points profoundly to the work of Christ and the reality of resurrection. As the words of that great hymn by Katharina von Schlegel, “Be Still My Soul,” says, “Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay / From his own fullness all He takes away.”
We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:39)
Don’t look at the temporary cost of love, and shrink back from confidence in God’s infinitely superior promises. If you shrink back, not only will you lose out on the promises; you will be destroyed.
Hell is at stake in whether we shrink back or persevere. It’s not just the loss of a few extra rewards that hangs in the balance. Hebrews 10:39 says, “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed.” That is eternal judgment.
So, we warn each other: Don’t drift away. Don’t love the world. Don’t start thinking nothing huge is at stake. Fear the terrible prospect of not cherishing the promises of God above the promises of sin. As Hebrews 3:13–14 says, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
But mainly we must focus on the preciousness of the promises and help each other value above all things how great the reward is that Christ has purchased for us. We must say to each other what Hebrews 10:35 says: “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” And then we must help each other see the greatness of the reward.
That is the main task of preaching, and the main purpose of small groups and all the ministries of the church: helping people see the greatness of what Christ has purchased for everyone who will value it above the world. Helping people see it and savor it, so that God’s superior worth shines in their satisfaction and in the sacrifices that come from such a heart.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)
This verse shows that God sends affliction to help us learn his word. How does that work? How does affliction help us learn and obey the word of God?
There are innumerable answers, as there are innumerable experiences of this great mercy. But here are five:
Affliction takes away the glibness of life and makes us more serious, so that our mind-set is more in tune with the seriousness of God’s word. And mark this: There is not a single glib page in the book of God.
Affliction knocks worldly props out from under us and forces us to rely more on God, which brings us more in tune with the aim of the word. For the aim of the word is that we hope in God and trust him. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).
Affliction makes us search the Scriptures with greater desperation for help, rather than treating it as marginal to life. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Affliction brings us into the partnership of Christ’s sufferings, so that we fellowship more closely with him and see the world more readily through his eyes. Paul’s great heart longing was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
Affliction mortifies deceitful and distracting fleshly desires, and so brings us into a more spiritual frame and makes us receptive to the spiritual word of God. “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). Suffering has a great sin-killing effect. And the more pure we are, the more clearly we see God (Matthew 5:8).
May the Holy Spirit give us grace to not begrudge the pedagogy of God through pain.
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. (1 John 2:12)
Why should we emphasize that God loves, forgives, and saves “for his name’s sake” — for his own glory? Here are two reasons (among many).
1) We should emphasize that God loves and forgives for his own glory because the Bible does.
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)
For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11)
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake! (Psalm 79:9)
“Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake.” (Jeremiah 14:7)
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne. (Jeremiah 14:20–21)
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25–26)
Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. (1 John 2:12)
2) We should emphasize that God loves and forgives for his own glory because it makes clear that God loves us with the greatest love.
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” (John 17:24)
God loves us not in a way that makes us supreme, but makes himself supreme. Heaven will not be a hall of mirrors, but an increasing vision of infinite greatness. Getting to heaven and finding that we are supreme would be the ultimate let down.
The greatest love makes sure that God does everything in such a way as to uphold and magnify his own supremacy so that, when we get to heaven, we have something to increase our joy forever: God’s glory. The greatest love is God’s giving himself to us for our eternal enjoyment, at the cost of his Son’s life (Romans 8:32). That is what he means when he says that he loves us and forgives us for his own name’s sake.