Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Glorious Name (Matthew 1:21)

“She [Mary] will bear a son, and you [Joseph] shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Joseph was bothered by the news that his betrothed Mary was pregnant with a baby that was not his. He was a just man, however. Deuteronomy 22:21 required that a woman caught in adultery be stoned to death. That law, however, was seldom carried out. (The incident in John 8:1–11 may offer us a reason for that reluctance.) The Jews opted for public humiliation; however, Joseph did not want even this lesser penalty, just a quiet end to the betrothal. He knew that she would be subject to scorn and ridicule anyway.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and encouraged him to follow through with the marriage. Mary’s condition was the work of the Holy Spirit. She would bear a Son and Joseph, as acting father, was to name the child. Names held great significance to the Jews, either reflecting character or signifying purpose and calling. In this case both aspects are evident. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yahushua (from Yeho, the abbreviated form of the Divine name, Yahweh, and shuasaviorYahweh Saves). Jesus was indeed Yahweh, the only Savior (Isa. 43:3; 45:21; Acts 4:12).
The angel also revealed the purpose and calling of Jesus: “He will save his people from their sins.” To reinforce the significance of that statement, Matthew adds that all this was to fulfill Isaiah 7:11. Isaiah also records another name, Immanuel (God with us), which also signifies God’s purpose to dwell among His people as their God and Savior (Ex. 29:45; 2 Cor. 6:16).
Book Two of the Psalms (42–72) is filled with lament and distress at Israel’s condition due to sin and rebellion, discipline and exile to Babylon. It was designed to raise expectation and hope that Yahweh would save His people (44:1–7). This collection ends with a psalm attributed to Solomon that is regarded as the epitome of royal theology. It expresses the purpose of God to fulfill the promise to Abraham that his Seed would one day bless the whole earth. “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! . . May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!” (vv. 8, 11).
Isaiah 62 expresses this longing for restoration. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give” (v. 2). That new name is Jesus and Joseph was commanded to call Him that. Psalm 72 joins this desire for God’s glory and His fame (name) in a unique phrase used only twice (Neh. 9:5; Psa. 72:19). “May his name endure forever, hisfame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed! Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory!”

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fear No Evil (1 Peter 3:18–22)

The passage before us has raised some interesting questions. Why does Peter bring up “spirits in prison” (v. 19)? Who are they? Why was it important that Jesus preached to them? What does this fact have to do with our suffering (v. 14)? How does this event relate to baptism (v. 21)? What does Peter mean when he declares that baptism saves us? How does baptism save us? Why does Peter bring in angels, authorities, and powers (v. 22)? One thing is clear; those to whom Peter wrote understood what he was saying.
Context is extremely important to proper interpretation. Also, we must keep an open mind and let Scripture interpret Scripture. The overall emphasis is to encourage the elect saints in their struggles to live holy lives in the midst of an evil world. Compromise is always a temptation when one is threatened for standing for what is unseen and tangibly uncertain. We are truly “strangers and pilgrims” as we live among the Gentiles (2:11). We must never retaliate with evil for the evil inflicted upon us (3:9). We are to turn away from the evil and pursue peace because the unseen Lord sees and hears the righteous (3:11–13).
Ordinarily, no harm should come to those who always do what is good (3:13). However, righteous people will suffer for righteousness’ sake (because of God’s standard of right). That is, the evil doer hates God and His righteousness as seen in His character and in His law. Thus, he will hate the godly also, and the godly will likely suffer in some way for it. So, since the Lord sees and hears all, the godly must have no fear of evil doers or be troubled by their threats and persecution (3:14). Instead, through deliberately setting the Lord Christ apart in the heart as holy, His people are to prepare to defend their steadfast (but seemingly futile) hope (that God will reward them for doing His will) in a reasonable way (v. 15). In this, one keeps a good conscience while he suffers for doing what is right.
That is the way Jesus acted (v. 18). In doing what was good in the will of God, He, the righteous One, suffered once for all in the stead of the unrighteous ones in order to bring them back to God. In His death and before His resurrection, in the spirit, He went and proclaimed (announced) something to “spirits” in prison (v. 19). These spirits are not human souls in hades, waiting for the resurrection and judgment. The Bible never uses spirit to refer to a human soul, especially those who are dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1; 1 Cor. 2:14).

There are some clues here to identify these spirits. First, they are in “prison” (literally, “to be kept under watch”). They are being kept because “they did not obey,” but we are not told the nature of their disobedience. We are told when they were imprisoned—when “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” (v. 20). What does this mean? The obvious reference is something that occurred in Noah’s time and in connection with the flood.
More on this to follow.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Proving the Worth of God (1 Peter 3:18–22)

Peter concludes his summary of the argument that we, as followers in Jesus Christ, have been called by God to suffer, even wrongfully (1 Peter 3:8-17). “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (v. 17).
Why would it be God’s will to suffer wrongfully? The simple broad answer is the cosmic conflict between God and Satan. God’s soldiers are His people on earth, living out the gospel in the grace and power of God. Satan and his minions will do everything that they can to defeat God’s army through compromise, deception, discouragement, and persecution.
Yet, there is an even greater purpose for suffering than warfare. John Newton, the famous slave-trader-turned-preacher and author of the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” had a profound understanding of suffering and its purpose. He saw trials as heavy weights on a grandfather clock, necessary for the Christian life to operate properly. We are sinners, but heaven is our home. We are as ships on the open sea, navigating to our destination. Everything we encounter has been appointed by God and made subservient to our sanctification and happiness.
Tony Reinke* has gleaned ten specific things from Newton’s letters about God’s sovereign design in our trials. I offer three. First, trials reveal the hidden idols of our hearts that we tend to overlook and think less vile than they really are. Trials smoke out these vile and evil vipers. Reinke writes, “Trials make us feel the power of the sins residing in our hearts, and such awareness is essential to the cure.”
Second, suffering drives us to prayer. We have a natural aversion to prayer, and we make every excuse to avoid it. We find it a chore to commune with the Almighty. Our praying is often mindless and remote. As Newton saw it, “We are dragged before God like slaves, and we run away from prayer like a thieves.” Suffering breathes necessity and desperation into our praying, bringing new energy to our seeking after God.
Third (number 8 in Reinke’s list), trials reveal God’s grace in our lives. Suffering reduces life to the bare essentials. It drives us to Christ and His Word, and we see just how much we need Him and how tightly we cling to His promises. In that hour, when all the artificial supports are gone, we begin to understand that our lives are anchored in His grace. We could not survive without it. That realization is massive to our faith and confidence. We see that He never fails us, and that is strong medicine in our most painful hours.
One of Newton’s favorite metaphors was to compare the suffering saint to Moses’ burning bush (Ex. 3:2). Christians are called to a disproportionate amount of suffering so that they might be a spectacle of grace to the world. Those outside the church will see them as burning, yet unconsumed. Only God’s amazing grace enables this miracle. It is this perseverance of faith by which Christians prove the worth of God in this sinful world.
*Newton on the Christian Life, by Tony Reinke © 2015, Crossway, from chapter 9, “Discipline in Trials.”

Ready to Shame Revilers (1 Peter 3:8–17)

In Acts 16, leaving Phrygia and Galatia, Paul and Silas were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go into Asia Minor. They turned to go north into Bithynia but were stopped there also. In Troas, Paul had the vision urging him to cross the Aegean Sea into Macedonia and Greece. Arriving at Philippi, they found no synagogue of Jews but spoke to a few women gathered at the riverside for prayer and worship on the Sabbath. A stranger, Lydia, from Thyatira, a city in the forbidden Asia Minor, was the first convert to Christ.
Returning to the place of prayer, the company was met by a slave girl possessed by a demon of divination. Her supernatural skills brought great profits to her owners. For some reason, this girl began to follow the apostle, loudly proclaiming that he and his helpers were servants of the Most High God. After many days, Paul, greatly annoyed, commanded the spirit to leave the girl, which, of course, meant that the girl was useless to her owners’ fortune-telling enterprise. They seized Paul and Silas, had them arrested on trumped up-charges, beat them with rods, and turned them over to the Roman jailor to imprison them. Bruised, bloodied, and bound, they sat in the darkness of the inner prison, no doubt, confused and questioning God’s purpose. However, instead of complaining, protesting their ill treatment, and demanding that their rights be upheld, they worshiped the Lord in prayer and song for all to hear.
The Lord wanted a Roman jailor for His kingdom. The means He used to secure him was the odd behavior of two strange prisoners and an earthquake at midnight. All of this illustrates Peter’s instructions in 1 Peter 3:8–17.
Summarizing his argument developed from verse 3 in the first chapter, Peter reiterates the point made in 2:20 and 21. We have been called to suffer wrongfully, and as we respond in a godly way, God uses our testimony against sinners. Thus, Peter repeats his command that his readers to be unified, sympathetic, loving, tender-hearted, and humble (v. 8). With this state of mind, we are to face persecution and tribulation. When wrongfully treated, we are to bless, just as Jesus instructed (Luke 6:28; Rom. 12:14).
Peter quotes Psalm 34:12–16 for support because this kind of response is not natural. Even those who are guilty of the crimes for which they are being punished will loudly protest their treatment as unfair and excessive. On the other hand, what harm comes to those who are good and do good?” (v. 13). The natural law of fairness demands that those who do good be rewarded in kind. However, what are we to do when we suffer for righteousness’ sake? We are to honor Christ the Lord, ready and able to make a defense to any who would ask a reason for the hope in us—that living hope unto which we were born again (1:3). We must do so for the sake of our good conscience and as a testimony to shame those who would revile our good behavior.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Called to Endurance and Faith, Part 2 (1 Peter 2:13–3:6)

To pick up where we left off, Peter tells us that the reason we are called to “do good” to those in authority who abuse and hurt us is because God wants to use us to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15). We should also note that the Greek term found here (agathosune) refers to God’s moral character reflected in us (Mark 10:18). Saints cannot “do good” naturally because, when God is ruled out of the equation, no one does good” (Rom. 3:12). The flesh profits nothing. However, when one is born of God, he takes on the character qualities of God, practicing righteousness—doing good because he is born of God (1 John 3:10).
In other words, Peter calls upon the believers to behave toward those who spitefully use them or abuse them with kindness and gentleness by doing good to them. Good in God is essential, absolute, and consummate. God is the only good. No one can do good who is not of God. Thus, the good that believers do is morally honorable, pleasing to God, and beneficial.
In this fallen world where no one does good, not even one,” how do we account for the apparent goodness around us? The world often puts the church to shame by acts of sacrificial generosity. It takes discernment to understand the root issue, which is, who gets the glory? That is why we are not to be “conformed to this world” but by being “transformed” so that we may, by testing, prove “what is the will of God, what is good” (Rom. 12:2). Why do we do “good”? Is it to promote self or glorify God? “Whoever serves, let him serve by the strength which God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).
If one retaliates to wrongful treatment, he proves that he is self-driven. When one responds with goodness, he proves that he is empowered by God. David is an example here (1 Sam. 25:9–39). Rebuffed by Nabal’s demeaning rejection of his plea for assistance, David sought revenge in anger (vv. 13, 22). His personal expectation of respect as Israel’s future king had been met with disdain and contempt (v. 10). His pride hurt, David thought that he had a right to retaliate. However, to do so would have tarnished the throne he was to occupy (v. 26) and would have brought dishonor to his God (vv. 31–34). God graciously intervened in the person of Nabal’s wife, Abagail, who did good to her foolish husband by humbling herself to David and assuaging his anger. Abagail saved Nabal’s life by owning Nabal’s folly in her own person. What sounds to western ears as criticism (v. 25) was, to a near-eastern woman, an admission of her own status. In a godly act, she owned that she was the wife of a fool by degrading herself before David. In that, she “put to silence the ignorance of foolish [David].”

Called to Endurance and Faith (1 Peter 2:13–3:6)

How are believers to behave in oppressive, difficult, or dangerous situations for which they are not at fault? Peter tells us that these situations are in the will of God for saints in order for Him to deal with “the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15). Foolish people are those who refuse to give God His rightful place in the order of things (Psalm 53:1). Their ignorance is willful rejection of good due to moral blindness. That ignorance often makes their response to Christians quite hostile. So, how do saints cope with such people? It is by the saints’ continuing to do good. It is to this that they are called (v. 21). Christ Himself is their example. When reviled, He would not match their ignorance. Instead, “He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (v. 23). He accepted the wrong by understanding that God would set it right eventually.
Revelation 13 makes it clear that God is sovereign because “the beast was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” Satan and his beast-minions are on a leash. They need permission to do anything. Thus, when God allows them to make war on the saints, He has a glorious purpose in their being beaten down and conquered. The saints should not be discouraged by this because Christ was beaten down, and through it He conquered Satan, sin, and death. So, the question is, why does He continue to allow the evil one to make it difficult for saints? John does not reveal the reason for this allowance; he informs that “here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (vv. 7, 10). In their patience and trust, they commit themselves to “Him who judges justly.”
Peter, however, does give us the answer to the question. It is to put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15). As we have stated, the means of doing this is through “doing good.” This is a problem because Paul makes it clear that “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12, citing Psa. 53:1–3). Psalm 53 states that the foolish person says no to God. He rejects God. He does not want to acknowledge God because he chooses evil. Thus, the psalmist writes that “they are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity.” Corrupters are those who spoil, ruin, and destroy. In Romans, Paul puts it that they have turned aside and become worthless. They are of no use to God’s kingdom, but they make a lot of noise. That is, “there is none who does good.” Good, in this text is a quality of morality that reflects the very character of God. Jesus told the rich young ruler that there is none good but God (Mark 10:18). Only those who are of God do good by being kindly disposed to others, especially those who oppose and abuse them.

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gospel Obedience (1 Peter. 1:22)

A great deal of confusion arises when grace is emphasized in contrast to law-keeping. Law is looked on by many as being at enmity with grace, and therefore any call to obedience is immediately suspected of being anti-gracious. Returning briefly to 1 Peter 1, we recall Peter’s admonition that we are to be holy (vv. 14–17). God’s people have escaped judgment on their sinful ways through the atoning work of Christ in their behalf (vv. 18–20). The qualification for enjoying this benefit is that one believes (v. 21).
Here is where understanding often goes awry and false conclusions are drawn. Careful attention to the text should clarify things, but how often does one’s preconceived opinions cloud what the text actually says? Does believing the gospel save? Yes, but how? Is faith the activating cause of God’s responding and rewarding the believer with salvation by grace? No, and Peter is very clear on this point. It is Christ’s work that saves, and it is through Christ that one believes to salvation. Reread verses 18–21 carefully. You were ransomed or redeemed (a passive verb). Believers believe because they were ransomed to believe. Thus, every ransomed person escapes punishment for his sins because Christ paid the debt in his stead. Through Christ, the saved believe God for what He did on their behalf. In other words, faith is the evidence of salvation, not the cause of it.
Notice also that grace did not remove the obligation to holy living because each one’s deeds will be judged by God (v. 17). Believers have nothing to fear in the judgment because they are covered by Christ’s blood (vv. 17–21) and because they continue to purify their souls in (Gk. en, “in”) obedience to the truth (v. 22, pointing back to vv. 14, 15).
Now, where do law-keeping and grace fit into this discussion? Right here. Obedience is a work of grace, fulfilling the obligation of the law. How? Peter does not tell us that we are to obey the law, per se, but we are to obey the truth. Obeying the truth results in keeping the law. Read verse 22 carefully again. We purify our souls by obeying the truth unto (Gk., eis) “a sincere brotherly love.” That is how the NT defines law keeping—loving others (Rom. 13:8–11). The one who loves God supremely and his neighbor sincerely fulfills the obligation of the law (Matt. 22:34–40).
A final question remains. What is the truth we are to obey? It is not the law because Peter states that we are to obey the truth unto sincere brotherly love, which is the law (4:8–11). What the truth is is implied in verse 21 with God’s raising Jesus from the dead in order that our faith and hope should be in God. The gospel is the truth we are to obey. We obey by believing and hoping in God’s promise to save us though the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1–4). God works through the gospel with great power to transform our lives as we put our whole trust and hope in Him.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Gracious Thing (1 Peter 2:18–25)

     The issue that Peter expounds in these final verses of Chapter 2 is how believers are to conduct themselves when they are suffering unjustly under human authority. Peter has already commanded them to be under submission to institutions ordained for people (v. 13) because doing so is in the will of God (v. 15).
There is a plan that God’s people must understand in order for them to endure suffering and not be discouraged by it. Without this understanding, our tendency is to buckle under the stress of suffering. Although we know that a certain level of trial is beneficial to our character building (James 1:2–4), we assume that God will grant us deliverance as quickly as possible. Our general welfare requires freedom from the stress of the trial. When that does not happen, we are tempted to unbelief, disappointed and thinking that either God was not caring or that we were unworthy.
The fact is God uses suffering as a means to get victory over the evil and bring glory to the Savior. “For to this you have been called” (v. 21). “For what credit [glory] is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (v. 20). Peter, then, gives an argument to support this thesis.
Christ established this principle in His suffering, leaving an example for all believers to follow (v. 21). Peter is very clear that this suffering has nothing to do with sin, either yours or God’s. Jesus promised to support His own (Heb. 13:6); and He does not lie (v. 22).
Suffering is vital to service. The passage began with the command for servants (slaves) to be subject (submissive and obedient) to their masters in every respect (v. 18). However, we live in a culture that is very sensitive to personal wrongs. We demand justice and recompense, going to whatever lengths needed to insure that the offense is challenged. Christ, on the other hand, teaches us to bear with wrong (v. 23). We are not to repay evil with evil but bless (do good) to those who mistreat us (3:9). Serving with kindness and generosity those who don’t deserve such treatment provokes a response of wonder. Christ served in this way, blessing us with salvation while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:8).
Believers can follow Jesus in this way because we, of all people, should understand what it is like to be on the other side. Christ served the undeserving by taking their sins and enabling them to die to sin and to live unto righteousness (v. 24). That Christ suffered for His enemies ought to continually occupy our hearts with awe and wonder. His suffering made the impossible a reality. Our sin wounds were healed and our desertion from God arrested. We have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (v. 25). Jesus did all this by entrusting Himself to the just Judge of all the earth (v. 23). We must also entrust ourselves to Him in our suffering.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Honorable Conduct (1 Peter 2:12)

The “builders” rejected God’s “cornerstone,” which became to them a “stone of stumbling” (1 Peter 2:6–8). This stumbling occurred because they “disobey the word” (v. 8). However, the obedient were found to be “a people for his own possession” (v. 9). Thus, Peter instructs them on how to live as the people of God in a pagan world (vv. 11–17). “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (v. 12). Gentiles (Gk., ethnos) refers to people groups who do not worship the true God (Deut. 32:8, 9).
Believers are to live life in keeping with God’s reputation. That is what it means to be honorable (Gk., kalos, “powerful,” “vigorous,” “excellent”). To be kalos is to have everything in proper order; thus, to reflect God’s character. This is important when believers are maligned as offenders. The accusations come because Christ is offensive to pagan principles. If one claims to be a Christ follower but is not spoken against, he is not living the Christ-life. The obstruction to his witness may be that his soul has surrendered to his fleshly passions, obscured his calling (v. 11). The Lord gave the Holy Spirit to believers in order for them to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in every situation of life (Gal. 5:22–26), especially when they are reviled (1 Pet. 2:23; Matt. 5:11).
The obligation of God’s people living among the pagans is to be a witness against them on judgment day because those being judged will have no excuse. They will have seen a Christ-like proper response (Gk., kalos ergon, how one does excellence) to their malicious accusations, forcing them to “glorify God”—to reluctantly admit that the Lord is just in their condemnation.
What follows in the next verses is instruction on how to live honorably in an evil culture. First, believers must be law-abiding citizens. They are to submit to every God-ordained human institution for the Lord’s sake, and this submission includes authorities at every level (v. 13). God instituted human authority for the welfare of the race by encouraging good behavior in a fallen world (Rom. 13:1–7). Remember, Peter wrote this instruction during the reign of Nero and with considerable personal experience in persecution (Acts 4:19; 5:29). The principle here is that authorities must be obeyed except when they claim for themselves what belongs only to God.
It is God’s will that believers’ doing good—properly responding to reviling—foolish ignorance (used only twice in the NT, meaning the willful rejection of the Word of God, 1 Cor. 15:34) will be silenced. The foolish are those who deny God any place in their scheme of life (2 Pet. 3:5, 8). The truth is self-evident but is overlooked when people refuse to investigate the facts (Acts 26:26).
Second, believers are to live free by not covering up evil (v. 16). Freedom is not the absence of restraint but willing submission to God’s plan to restore true liberty in Christ. Ironically, this freedom is enjoyed by those who become the slaves of God, not self (Rom. 6:16, 17).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The People of God (1 Peter 2:9–12)

Peter uses terminology that once identified ethnic Israel as the sole people of God. For example, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). The reference is Exodus 19: 5, 6: You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” It would appear that Peter was writing this letter to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He referred to his readers as “the elect exiles of the dispersion” (1:1). A wrong understanding here can lead to confusion when it comes to correctly interpreting Peter.
Most commentators lean towards Hebrew Christians as Peter’s target audience. He was the apostle to the circumcision as Paul was to the Gentiles, was he not (Gal. 2:7, 8)? However, Peter also uses language informing his readers that salvation brought them into a new covenant relationship with God that so they were no longer to be conformed to the passions of [their] former ignorance” (v. 14). Ignorance was a term used of Gentiles outside the old covenant community (Ephesians 4:18; Acts 17:30). Also, note that verse 9 is followed by this: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (v. 10, citing Hosea 6:9, 10). Paul cites the Hosea passage in Romans 9 to argue that Gentiles were also being called as a people for His name (vv. 24–26). The gist of the Hosea text is that Israel’s unfaithfulness made them like the Gentiles, “not a people of God.”
The confusion of many is due, quite frankly to dispensational error that insists that God has two separate and distinct peoples: the nation of Israel and the church of Jesus Christ. They teach that while Jews are being saved in this gospel age, most will not have God’s particular attention until the end times when He will remove the church and focus again on the nation of Israel. (I do believe that God will save a remnant of the Jewish nation when Christ returns as per Zechariah 13:8, 9.) This confusion is particularly noticeable in interpreting end-time prophecy.
Paul’s discussion in Romans 9 is key and pertinent to defining who the people of God are. In verse 6, Paul’s problem is stated: God’s promise and covenant to the seed of Abraham seems to have failed and His Word voided because, save a few, God’s people rejected their Messiah. Paul’s response is that God never intended to save all of ethnic Israel (vv. 6–13). He will save a remnant, but not all ethnic Israel is to be included into spiritual Israel, the true people of God.
The purpose of ethnic Israel was to bring in the true Israel, Jesus Christ. The gospel privilege was never intended to be limited to the Jewish nation but to include Gentiles as well (Eph. 2:11–22). The New Covenant people of God are not an extension of the Old Covenant community but a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:5).  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Lord’s Goodness

Peter presses the value of the Word of God as the source of the gospel message of salvation. It is only through the hearing of the Word that the Spirit grants faith to believe the message (Rom. 10:17). It is only through the living and abiding Word that the divine seed has produced the new birth in the spiritually dead (1 Peter 1:23). Because the Word is eternal, being the Word of the eternal God, it produces that which returns eternal fruit.
In light of this truth, Peter urges his readers to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander”—all motives and methods of carnal and worldly scheming for successful living in a sinful world (2:1). Instead, the new-born saint is to find his nourishment in the unmixed, unadulterated, pure Word that produces guileless people without dishonest intent (v. 2). It is only by this means that true believers will mature into the full and complete salvation Christ has prepared for them.
This operation of God’s Word, however, does not produce the same effect in everyone. Therefore, Peter adds, “If indeed you have tasted [experienced] that the Lord is good” (v. 3). This is taken from Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” The writer of Hebrews applies the psalm in this way, “You . . . have tasted the goodness of the word of God” (6:5). One cannot taste and see that the Lord is good unless he has tasted Him through the revelation of Christ in the Word. The Puritan, Stephen Charnock, wrote:
“Prize and study the Scripture. We can have no delight in meditation on him unless we know him, and we cannot know him but by the means of his own revelation. When the revelation is despised, the revealer will be of little esteem. Men do not throw off God from being their rule till they throw off Scripture from being their guide; and God must needs be cast off from being an end when the Scripture is rejected from being a rule.”
Have you experienced the Lord’s goodness—His gentleness and usefulness? Jesus invites us, “Come to me . . . take my yoke . . . and learn from me . . . for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:28–30). This invitation comes after Jesus declared, No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” He had just expressed wonder and delight in the fact the Lord of heaven and earth had willed to hide these truths of salvation from the “wise and understanding” but, instead, revealed them to “babes” (Matt. 11:25). No doubt Peter had this text in mind as he penned the exhortation to “new born infants” and that they should “long for pure spiritual milk” (2:2).
“As you come [are coming and keep on coming] to Him [having tasted of His goodness]. . . you yourselves are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (v. 4). 

The Lord's Portion

“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people” (Deut. 32:8, 9).
Believers are instructed, As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (1 Pet. 1:14). Paul echoes this admonition: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed” (Rom. 12:2). The issue here is huge. It is not that we must stop enjoying a few morally questionable habits for an austere life of joyless conformity to God’s law. If that is your view of the Christian life, you are not a Christian.
True believers have been born again to a whole new life (1:23) from a former existence compared to grass that withers and perishes. The new life is like the seed that produces it—eternal life (1:24, 25). The powerful image described here is the operation of the living God. His word, spoken by the Spirit, is the creative force that brought all things into existence (Psa. 33:6–12). “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The point is that the Lord is gathering out of the world a new race, a new nation, a new people, the Lord’s portion (2:9, 10). Each believer is a “stone” in the construction of God’s spiritual house (v. 5). The purpose of the house—a temple with priesthood—is to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This purpose “stands in Scripture” (Gk., to surround or encompass). In other words, this project of the Lord’s gathering His portion is the central subject matter of Scripture.
Jesus Christ is the focal point. Peter quotes from Isaiah 28:16, to which he applies, “You believers see His value, but unbelievers stumble over Him” (1 Pet. 2:7, 8). Why is this? It is because, as Peter declares, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” (v. 9). Every new creature in Christ now enjoys a glorious new privilege and opportunity. Believers, by their transformed lives, are to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v. 9).
Believers have received mercy. They were once lo-ammi, “not a people” (Hosea 1:9, 10; 2:23; cf. Jer. 30:22) now they are the people of God. What a responsibility! Peter started the passage by urging believers to put away malice (Gk., to lack something, thus, be incapable), deceit (Gk., crafty), hypocrisy (Gk., to wear a mask), envy, and slander. Instead, they are to long for “pure spiritual milk” in order to grow into salvation, the transformation they were saved for (v. 1). He finishes the passage with the same charge (vv. 11, 12). You do this if you have “tasted that the Lord is good” (v. 3; Matt. 11:28-30).

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Joyfully Redeemed (1 Peter 1:18-23)

The focus of the believers' quest for joy cannot be that God would relieve them from suffering. It is necessary that before the appearing of Christ, believers will be called upon to suffer various tests (vv. 5, 6). What makes them jubilant (literally, “much leaping”) is that salvation works for them even in the midst of their trials. The trial itself will cause grief (“sorrow”), so how do believers balance the command to be joyful with the sorrows that suffering brings? The answer is found in understanding salvation’s glorious hope in the end.
First, they needed to understand that trials reveal the genuineness of faith (v. 7). Saving faith always results in praise, glory, and honor at Christ’s revelation because fiery trials prove Christ faithful. Seeing God faithful in trial results in love for Christ, continued trust, and settled joy (a state of being as compared to the act or expression of emotion, v. 6), waiting faith’s full revelation (v. 9).
Second, they needed to understand that this salvation is a work of such grace that it captivated the attention of the prophets and angels to whom it was first revealed. They saw that their message was serving future generations of Gentile and not merely their own Israelite peoples. So, they were driven to search it out deeply (vv. 10–12).
Third, they needed to understand the purpose of this salvation to produce a holy and obedient people who refused to shape their lives by the passions that ruled them in their former ignorance. They were now to be governed by godly fear, protecting them in their sojourn (vv. 13–17).
Fourth, they needed to understand how this salvation accomplishes the purpose just stated (vv. 18-23). These believers needed to know that they were liberated from the slavery of futile ways inherited from their forefathers. This is a reference to v. 14 and their having been enslaved to the sin-conforming immoral passions of their pagan past. Redemption or ransom means that a payment was made to free them from sin’s bondage. The ransom payment consisted of Christ’s own blood. Here is the wonder that captivated prophets and angels: the sinless Son of God became the perfect sacrificial lamb, bearing the sins of His people. How can this be?
Our election (v. 1) rests on the election of Christ (“foreknown before the foundation of the world,” cp Acts 2:23). Foreknowledge cannot be understood here as God’s foresight of something Christ would do. It was determined before the first man sinned that the Lamb would die for sinners (note verse 21). Christ shed His blood and because of that, God raised Him from the dead so that, through Him, we can believe to salvation.
Now you see why we can jump with joy in the midst of trial. Our faith and hope are in God so that in the test our souls are purified through obedience to truth. The clear mark of sonship is obedience to Christ, manifesting genuine love from a pure heart (John 14:18–24). We do this because we are born again (vv. 22, 23; 1 John 3:9, 10, 16–18).

Thursday, September 10, 2015

True Faith (1 Peter 1:3-9)

       Believers in Christ Jesus have a glorious inheritance that is being reserved for them in heaven while they, the heirs, are kept on earth by the power of God (vv. 4, 5). This inheritance pertains to the complete deliverance from the effects of Adam’s fall. Such prospects are worthy of rejoicing in the anticipation (v. 6).
       Faith itself is nothing but trust in an expectation from another outside of us. The real question involves what we are expecting. This problem is illustrated for us in Luke 22. In verse 29 Jesus informed the disciples that they were appointed a place in His kingdom and that they would sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
       The very next thing Luke records is that Jesus turned to Peter and informed him that Satan wanted to sift him in the brutal mill of trial. Satan would destroy Peter, but Jesus prayed that his faith would not fail in that hour (v. 32). In fact, his emergence with faith intact would be the means of strengthening others, which seems to be the purpose that God designed in his trial. I wonder if this incident was the foundation of what Peter wrote in this chapter.
       Peter’s faith did not fail because of the intercessory work of the Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14, 15). The test came against Peter’s own self-assurance (v. 33). In spite of his insisted loyalty, he denied the Lord as predicted (v. 34). Discouraged by his own failure, Peter attempted to return to his former fishing career, only to fail again (John 21:1–3). However, when Jesus prays that your faith will not fail, He takes it upon Himself to assure that end (John 21:4–14).
       On the other hand, there is faith that rests on false assumptions. While God does not withhold what He promises, no one can force Him to grant what He never promised. This principle is illustrated in Matthew 13. When people hear the word of the kingdom, they must also understand what they hear (v. 19). Understanding is a work of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14 and 12). Nevertheless, the Word was readily and joyfully received (v. 20). Why was there joy? That is not explained, but we may assume that hope was set on what God never promised. And, as with Peter, Satan was there, testing faith with tribulation. The false believer fell away. Why? His faith was not supported by the prayers of the Great High Priest. Believers are not kept by their faith but by the power of God (v. 5).
       Faith that flourishes in the fire is like refined gold, resulting in praise, glory, and honor at Christ’s appearing (1 Pet. 1:6–9). Tested faith increases love for Jesus, trust in the Word, and inexpressible joy in the experience of waiting for faith’s outcome. As A. W. Pink observed, “The best is yet to come.”
       We have been appointed a kingdom. We are preparing now for that kingdom. Although it is often very difficult here, true faith enables us to rejoice in suffering, understanding that we are destined to share in the glories of our overcoming Lord.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Paul Tripp wrote about the importance of obedience in his blog recently.* He addressed the fact that our attempts at obedience could never gain God’s favor. Nevertheless, the Scripture is full of commands, laws, ordinances, and exhortations for us to obey. In light of this, Tripp wrote:
“We all live under the same weight of the law, crippled by the inability of sin. We’re better at rebelling than submitting, more inclined to arrogance than humility, more skilled at making war with our neighbors than loving them. We leave a trail of evidence every hour that we’ve fallen short of the glory of God one more time.*
So, does God really require obedience? Yes, He does. Peter refers to the believers as “obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14). Indeed, the whole context presses believers to obedience in light of the glorious change in us wrought by Christ’s salvation. The grace that saves is the same grace that enables obedience. That is why He saves. God intends to restore His kingdom on earth, so, the disobedience that characterized our fallen condition should also be reversed.
Peter calls upon believers to prepare their minds for action (obedience) in three ways (vv. 13–16). First, they are to set their minds fully on the grace that is to complete their salvation when Christ returns (v. 13). They do this by refusing the old desires that shaped them in their ignorance and disobedience. However, if the grace of salvation is to conform believers to the image of Son, then conforming to the image of the world must stop.
Second, what negatively controlled their desires before salvation, causing them to obey the desires of their evil hearts, must be replaced with the positive control of the Spirit in new desires to be holy, as God is holy (vv. 15, 16). The term that Peter uses (anastrophe, translated “conduct” [ESV], “conversation” [KJV]) refers to deportment—one’s manner of living or life-style. One’s life must demonstrate the change wrought by grace (Eph. 4:22; 1 Peter 1:18; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16; 2:7; 3:11). The point is simply this, if salvation takes away the old heart of rebellion and replaces it with a new heart of submission, should not obedience to God characterize our life-style before the world. If we are children of God, then, we must act like it (1 John 3:7–10).
Third, even though we are saved from the penalty and power of sin, we, as God’s children, still face God’s judgment (v. 17). He will impartially judge all on the basis of their works (Rom. 14:12). So, let us be motivated to living that conforms to God’s righteous standards and holiness. Our life-style will be scrutinized by God, not for salvation, but to weigh our progress in becoming more like Jesus. Let us “perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). This fear is necessary because of remaining sin. Thus, a continual awareness of God’s purpose of grace in us and His careful attention to us and supervision of us should make us careful in our obedience before the world as His witnesses.

* /posts/why-obedience

Friday, August 28, 2015

Obedient Children

In verse 13 of the first chapter of First Peter, the apostle begins to apply the glorious doctrinal truths of salvation to the practical lives of his readers. This application requires preparation, seen in the metaphor of men tucking the hem of their robe skirts into their belts, allowing their legs to move freely. This figure is applied to our minds. We are to have a mindset of sober or serious and clear thinking that leads to sound judgment. Something with respect to the salvation we claim to possess must shape and control our thoughts and resultant actions.
With this caution, Peter commands us to fix our hope completely on this salvific grace that we do not yet fully possess. It will be conferred on us as the reward of obedience when Jesus returns. What we now possess is hope or better, living hope (v. 3) in what is promised. But what is promised? Peter calls it an inheritance reserved for us (v. 4). It is an expectation ministered to us by the prophets, announcing the good news to us through the Spirit (vv. 10–12). What is promised is unqualified acceptance with God with full forgiveness of all sin and everlasting life (Jer. 33:8–11; Rom. 3:23–26).
We possess this hope, not by wishful thinking; we experience it with confidence. It is a reality now though not fully realized (vv. 8, 9). The evidence of true faith is seen in our rejoicing in the unseen even while we may suffer (v. 6). God’s purpose in this suffering is to test our faith, not prove it false, but to purify it and, thus, demonstrate its genuineness (v. 7).
Peter addresses our responsibility (v. 13). First, we must not see responsibility as an effort to earn grace by doing something. Our obedience is not to provoke a response from God. Rather, we obey in order to demonstrate grace already at work in us (Phil. 2:13). Neither is our responsibility automatic. We are to learn obedience by trusting God as we struggle to keep His commandments and exhortations (Heb. 5:8). That is our goal, and we will not deviate from the course or compromise in our pursuit of it.
To encourage obedience, Peter cites one issue that we must overcome and two behavioral modifications to help us to govern obedience (vv. 14–17). First, our new position, as “obedient children” requires that we overcome and abandon worldly “conformity” due to former patterns of desiring. These deeply ingrained desires produce habits of sinning established through long practice. We fail to take them into accountable and deal with them because they come so naturally. Second, in order to establish new patterns of right conduct, we need to establish habits of holiness in the fear of God (vv. 15–17). Holiness refers to how we are to present ourselves to God in His service (Rom. 12:1, 2; 1 Pet. 2:9, 10). The fear of God is the conscious awareness that God really does see us and will impartially judge our works according to His established standards, not ours (Isa. 40:10).

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Glorious Grace

I recently read an article by a pastor who shared some of the strange things people have told him over the years. Some were barbs, criticizing him of often very silly things. One that amused me greatly was the charge that he was “trying to preach caffeineism.” I identified with that. Caffeineism, I guess, is sovereign grace with an extra kick. But, then, I am in good company. Peter is also guilty of preaching Caffeineism, long before John Caffeine gave it his name.
Peter addressed his first letter to the “elect exiles” (1:1, 2). Election is choosing. God chose certain people to salvation according to His foreknowledge, a term relating to their relationship to His elective love. He set His love on them while they were still His enemies (Rom. 5:8).
Election involves means, “the sanctification of the Spirit.” The elect are set apart to God’s ordered purpose. Predestination (Eph. 1:5) is twofold. (1) Predestination is “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” (2) Predestination is “for sprinkling with [Christ’s] blood.” Sprinkling is a covenantal commitment referenced in Exodus 24:3–8 where God confirmed and sealed the covenant with sacrificial blood. Jesus sealed the New Covenant with His blood (Mark 14:24; Heb. 9:13, 14). In this, the promised obedience of His people is secured and the full benefits of His suffering are guaranteed (Eph. 1:13, 14).
Verses 3–9 expand on why we must praise God for elective love—mercy. He lists ten things to praise the God of grace that caused us to be born again to a living hope in an inheritance that cannot be destroyed, defiled, or wasted. This hope rests on the power of God that shields us through faith as we hold on to His promises while we wait for Christ’s return.
In light of our great salvation, we must also “prepare our minds for action” (vv. 10-22) in order to live out the purpose for which God saved us. Four things support this preparation. First, we need to appreciate the glory of God’s salvation. It was a mystery so great that OT prophets carefully searched it out (vv. 10-12). In fact, angels longed to investigate it; it was that glorious.
Second, we must “prepare our minds” in order to serve this holy God who saved us (vv. 13-16). The holiness that God requires here refers to how His servants present themselves in their service to Him (Rom. 12:1, 2). God expects no less of us than He did of the sons of Aaron who served Him in His temple, bearing the inscription, “Holy to the Lord” (Ex. 38:36).
Third, preparing our minds relates to our duty to conduct our lives in the fear of God (v. 17). Our sojourn here is very brief and our God is a just judge. Therefore, we are to fear God and not man, particularly those who would persecute us.
Last, preparing our minds means that we reckon the cost as seen in the example of the Son of God, who gave Himself for us (vv. 18-21). That sacrifice is to shape our own pure-hearted love as we love one another in Christ, holding to the example of our Savior (v. 22).

Friday, August 14, 2015

Living Hope

We are living in a very unsettling time. We have witnessed the rise of terrorism on a global scale that seems to be escalating with no end in sight and no solution confronting it. At home, we are seeing the country deeply divided over issues ranging from racial and moral ideologies to political philosophies. Can anything bring us together? Is there any leadership with real answers?
With much hand-wringing and head-shaking, we wonder if there is any hope at all, although, of course, we have been promised hope and change. Still, we don’t see much to make us hopeful. Should we just believe in hope? But what does that mean? Just wishing things would get better is a fool’s errand. We need something solid on which to hang our hope.
The apostle Peter wrote to suffering churches in Asia Minor near the end of the first century to encourage them with hope that they already possessed. This hope was the gift of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Moved with mercy, He caused them “to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). This is more than hope; it is living hope because it is the work of the living God. Peter likes to use that term, living—living hope, living stones, and living Word. It is this term that makes all the difference, for it defines hope in the framework of, not just possibility, but reality. That reality is assured because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
The resurrection of Christ is an irrefutable fact of history. More than five hundred eyewitnesses saw the risen Lord after his crucifixion, which solidly supports the claim (I Cor. 15:3-8). Skeptics could have interviewed witnesses still living when Paul made his assertion.
To the persecuted saints in Peter’s audience, the resurrection of Jesus Christ formed the solid foundation of their hope. Those who were martyred would not die in vain, for like Jesus, they too would be raised again to “an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for them (1 Pet. 1:5). This inheritance was guarded by nothing less than the power of God through their faith until its unveiling in the last time (v. 6). Note, however, that the hope outlined here does not immediately fix things for these people living in difficult straits. Nevertheless, it comforts, guides, and fills them with inexpressible joy as they wait for Jesus to return (vv. 6-9).
The bottom line is the realization that nothing is out of God’s control and that all that happens, good and evil, is directed by His certain hand to fulfill His purposes in the earth. God is a just God, and all injustice will be settled before the Judge (1 Pet. 2:23). This life is a brief staging area for eternity, and everyone is either part of the company of those sheltered in Christ’s salvation (1 Pet. 3:18) or those who “will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet. 4:5). In which company are you?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Josiah’s Revival

Scripture records a reprieve in Yahweh’s determination to judge Judah after years of persistent and heinous devotion to idols. This reprieve occurred during the reign of Josiah (640-609 b.c., recorded in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chron. 34). He was only 8 years old when he began to reign, but he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. In his eighth year of rule, Josiah began to seek God. This seeking manifested itself in an active reformation in Judah, purging the land of its idolatry.
We need to look deeper into this account. First, we must ask how Josiah came to seek the Lord. His fathers were evil, leaving him no godly example. Yet Josiah sought the Lord in the final years of Judah’s spiritual decline. Judgment was already pronounced on the nation. Babylonia would soon defeat Judah, indeed, just four years after Josiah’s death. So, what caused Josiah to seek the true God? Paul, quoting Psalm 14:2, argues that no natural man will seek after God (Rom. 3:10, 11). He loves only his unrighteousness. It is only when God’s Spirit sovereignly opens a sinner’s heart that he seeks Him. Again, Paul affirms this in Romans 10:20 (quoting Isa. 65:1), “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
God was working in Josiah to accomplish His own purpose in that dark hour of Israel’s history. That is what drives the narrative. It spotlights God’s glory, not Josiah’s goodness. We are prone to read Scripture from a human standpoint, looking for personal encouragement. Of course, we do find such encouragement, but we also need to understand that what is revealed there is not ultimately about us. It is all about God and how He will get glory to Himself through His incredible acts and power.
In the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah set about to repair the house of the Lord. In the process of clearing debris from years of accumulated neglect because of forsaking the Lord in the worship of other gods, the high priest, Hilkiah, discovered a copy of the Pentateuch, which he delivered to the king through his secretary, Shaphan (2 Kings 22:8). This discovery humbled the king in repentance because saw that God’s wrath was already kindled upon Judah because of her disobedience. What should he do next?
To this point, the reform was apparently driven by remembered tradition. The discovery of the book of the law set the revival on the proper foundation. Nevertheless, the king still sought the counsel of a prophetess who affirmed that judgment was indeed coming but that there would be a short reprieve because of Josiah’s humbling as he heard the Scriptures read.
Surely God had a special purpose in this stay. It is very probable that the Lord did so to prepare His servants to be His witnesses in Babylon. Daniel was born two years before the book was discovered and its truth revealed. Josiah’s revival furthered God’s kingdom plans. May this understanding encourage our own hearts in our dark hour of spiritual decline. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Nourishing Faith

True believers are sinners who were predestined by God in order that they might be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). To accomplish this, Christ came to replace Adam, thus becoming the federal head of a redeemed new race (Rom. 5:10-21; I Cor. 15:44-49). The Holy Spirit regenerates His chosen ones into believers and children of God, transferring them from Adam’s condemned race into Christ’s new family (1 John 3:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:17). Thus, the entire world is either in Adam (bearing his image and being condemned) or in Christ (bearing His image and being redeemed).
Although believers are immediately made children of God, they do not at once fully reflect Christ’s image. Yet Christlikeness is to be the believer’s main pursuit. It is to be a life-long work that will not be finished until Jesus returns in glory (2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21, 22; 1 John 3:2). Progress in this process is non-negotiable. We are to “pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). The great blessing is that God has provided for His own “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1 Pet. 1:3). Therefore, there is no excuse,  for each is commanded to “make every effort” to avail himself of God’s provision (v. 5).
These things are given as a gift (granted) “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and virtue.” They are packaged in “his precious and very great promises” that may be claimed in order that one may “become a partaker of the divine nature.” Just as humans bore the nature of Adam, they must now evidence the new nature of Christ (1 Cor. 15:49. For one to continue life based on sinful lust (Adam’s nature) would probably mean that no spiritual transformation took place. On the other hand, the new birth provides “escape from the corruption that is in the world.”
In His infinite wisdom, the Lord knows just the right conditions to motivate His people to this work of developing Christlikeness, which is affliction, persecution, and suffering. 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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:12, 13). There are three reasons why suffering is God’s incubator in producing Christ’s image in us.
1. Suffering drives us to what is real and true and away from the tawdry, counterfeit, and corrupting influence of the world. 2. Suffering allows us to share in Christ’s sufferings, which end in victory and triumph (1 Cor. 15:57). 3. Suffering drives the believer to the sympathetic Savior for protection and comfort (John 17:10, 11).
When believers make every effort to nourish their faith with the seven virtues listed in 2 Peter 1:3-11, they will be fruitful in the correct and precise knowledge of Jesus (v. 8). However, when a believer fails to procure God’s grace in this process, he will be blind and forgetful (v. 9). 

God’s Heavy Hand

God is a God of justice. While His patience is very long, He will recompense judgment upon those who sin against Him (Deut. 7:23; Joel 2:13). He often uses third-party means to judge His own people after careful and prolonged warning (Jer. 7:25; 25:9; 26:5; 46:27, 28). This was true of his judgment on the house of Eli (1 Sam. 4; Jer. 7:12, 14; 26:6, 9). The Philistines were His agents to judge His sinful priests. Having done so, He turned His wrath on the Philistines, first defeating Dagon in his own temple at Ashdod (1 Sam. 5:1-5). Then, His hand (signifying His acts of might and power) was heavy against the people—“He terrified [destroyed (KJV); ravaged (NASB); brought devastation on (NIV); Micah 6:13] and afflicted them with tumors” (v. 6). The exact affliction here called tumors is probably lymph abscesses of the groin or possibly a hemorrhoid-like abscess. The fact that it seems to be associated with a plague of mice (6:4, 5) also suggests that it may have been the bubonic plague common in the coastal region.
There were five city-states that composed the confederation of the Philistines in the south of Canaan on the coast of the Mediterranean: Ashdod, Gath, Ekron, Ashkelon, and Gaza. The Ashdodites complained to the five Lords of the Philistines assembled to evaluate the situation (v. 8). It was decided that the ark should be moved to Gath, a move which met with the same results, causing a very great panic. When the Lord afflicted the people of Gath, they sent the ark to Ekron but were met with loud protests (v. 10). Another meeting of the five serens or lords was called to answer the protest of the people of Ekron. Nevertheless, a deadly destruction spread throughout the city (v. 11; the ESV has “deathly panic”) killing many men and afflicting the rest to suffer from the horrible tumors (v. 12).
Seven months the ark remained in Philistia and the question persisted: “What shall we do to the ark of the Lord?” (6:1, 2). Everyone agreed it must be returned to Israel, but how was that task to be accomplished without inflicting further damage on Philistia? The priests of Dagon and the diviners were called to advise. This revelation emphasizes the level of disobedience that characterized the Philistines. Yet, they had no understanding of either the Creator’s expectations of them or of their failure in those expectations. As we stated before, the Philistines do not abandon their powerless and humiliated Dagon for the true God. They just want to get Him out of their lives. That is the true human condition with respect to God.
Without question, the level of thinking that permeates modern culture reflects the Philistine mindset. Having fallen under the judgment of God, as evident in the ceaseless barrage of bad news, the “lords” of the nation remain clueless as to the condition or the cause of the humiliation. Yet, the cries of men under judgment reach to the skies (v. 12) while they refuse to acknowledge the Lord in all things (Rom. 1:28-32).

Overcoming Defeat

The tragedy of the period before us (1 Sam. 4 through 7) is the revival of mere religiosity devoid of the deep experiential trust and fellowship with God that results from true repentance. Religious people confuse symbols with reality. Isaiah wrote, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isa. 29:13). Israel’s sin, while different in its expression was essentially the same as that of Eli’s sons. Their religion was a mere externalism played out in heathen tones established on carnal pride. For this reason, God judged both the house of Eli and the nation of Israel by removing from them the symbol of His presence, the Ark of the Covenant.
The elders of Israel immediately understood that their initial defeat at the hands of the Philistines was due, not to any secondary causes, but to Yahweh Himself. Yet, they did not inquire of the Lord as to the reason for His displeasure. It never occurred to them that their sin was the problem. Thus, they presumed that victory was assured by the presence of a mere symbol and determined to bring it to the fight.
This approach to life is not confined to ancient Israel. Many professing Christians use the same logic. If one experiences spiritual defeat, the way to overcome that defeat is to renew commitment to some activity—Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, counseling, or perhaps, giving up something like TV-watching. This approach is good for the conscience but fails ultimately to restore real spiritual vitality. Only genuine repentance and wholehearted seeking after God Himself will produce a proper solution. Only God’s Spirit can bring that about, and that destroys pride. Eli’s response to the prophetic messages pronounced upon him reveals this lack of true spiritual discernment: “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him” (1 Sam. 3:18). It was a half-hearted resignation due to his own spiritual disinterest. How different was David’s response to Nathan’s word from God (Psa. 51).
It is the work of God that we are tracing in this narrative. Israel’s focus on externals, deliberate disregard for God’s standards, disobedience to His commandments, and open flirting with pagan idolatry became the very avenue of Yahweh’s plan to restore His kingdom on earth. The Israelite elders’ false presumption provided the means to fulfill His will to judge Eli and the priesthood. At the same time, God would judge the Philistines and inflict more damage upon them than Israel’s armies could do. Thus, we read, “The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory” (1 Sam. 5:6).
To the discerning reader, the Philistines demonstrated an identical pattern of thinking as that of Israel. One need only observe the Ashdodites’ remedy for their affliction: “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us” (1 Sam. 5:7). Would it not be better to abandon Dagon and sue Yahweh, the true God, for mercy? 

The Word of LORD

We live in a culture that, in an effort to promote an atmosphere of acceptance, has adopted a form of logic that literally contradicts itself. Each is encouraged to hold his own “truth” but never to impose that truth on any other. In other words, one must never judge others by his standards because another’s truth is just as valid.
Such a philosophy is based on the notion that there is no knowable truth, everything being considered relative. As a result, diametrically opposing opinions are considered equally valid. The product is nothing but confusion, as the mayhem in unfolding current events demonstrates.
1 Samuel 3 opens with the phrase, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent [or published] vision.” The culture of this period was much like that of today: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:35). God’s Word had little or no influence on people’s beliefs and conduct. This is clearly evident in the way Eli and his sons conducted their lives. They were priests of God following their own rules. Practicing religion, even biblically established ritual, is not the same as obedience to the Word of God.
Eli believed in the Lord and ministered the sacrifices and worship of the tabernacle at Shiloh. However, Eli, unlike Samuel (v. 1), was not “ministering to the Lord.” He and his sons scorned (or “kicked at”) the offerings of the Lord by indulging themselves on the choicest parts of those offerings (2:28; see Jer. 5:5). In their pampered pride, they disregarded the laws regulating their share of the animals. They were ruled by passion and covetousness, not God’s will. Eli permitted this self-will (iniquity) by which they literally called curses upon themselves (v. 9). Being God’s high priest, Eli could and should have removed his sons from office. It was his duty to promote pure worship, but he honored his sons instead of the Lord. His failing eyesight was the physical complement of his spiritual condition.
God’s calling Samuel’s name three times in the night no doubt stirred the old man’s guilt-ridden conscience. The divine summons of the lad was a clear marker that the prophet’s message was coming to pass (2:27-36) and the old order was giving way to the new. Nevertheless, the old priest submitted, giving the lad proper instruction to respond to Yahweh when He called again.
The fourth time, “the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times” (v. 10). Samuel responded as Eli instructed (v. 11). His young and tender ears received a message from God that pronounced awful judgment against the man he had grown to love. He feared to tell his mentor the difficult news (v. 15). Nevertheless and because of Eli’s threats (v. 17), the whole message was shared. This was Yahweh’s test for his newly called prophet, confirmed in the verses following.
In spite of human culture to the contrary, God was moving forward with His undefeatable plan to rule all things through His Word. May we all, like Eli, graciously submit to that Word: “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him” (v. 18). 

A Prophet for the Times

First Samuel 3 opens with Samuel’s call and commission to the office of prophet. Samuel is first compared to the faithless sons of Eli: “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli” (v. 1). The emphasis is that Eli could not but take notice of the contrast. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the promise emphasized the establishment of a sure house (2:35). Samuel’s sons did not follow the Lord (8:3). Still, the Lord declared that He would raise up a faithful priest and Samuel was pointing to that truth fulfilled in Zadok during the rule of David and Solomon, the Lord’s anointed (1 Chron. 24:3).
The apostasy in the nation of Israel was desperate and critical. God was not talking to His covenant people. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (v. 1b). While the people needed a faithful priest, they needed a prophet more. One cannot but notice the irony here. The tabernacle served as God’s temple—His dwelling place among His people (Ex. 29:45; Psalm 132:14). Twice the tabernacle here is called “the temple of the Lord (1:9 and 3:3). He was in the midst of His people, but their sin was so great that He would not speak to them! Does this resemble our day? Yet, Samuel’s great contribution to the times was not to be the head of a priestly family but to be the spokesman of God.
The account of Samuel’s calling is detailed in verses 2 through 15. It appears that, because Eli’s eyesight was failing, Samuel was put in charge of trimming the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand that burned perpetually to light the sanctuary. To accomplish this task, Samuel slept in the sanctuary.
Again, we must take note of the imagery set forth here. The tabernacle was to serve as a miniature version of the creation as it was meant to be before Adam’s sin. The lampstand signified the light of witness and truth lighting up the darkness of that sacred space. Both the lampstand and the ark symbolized God’s presence in the tabernacle, making it the temple of God. God was in the midst of His people, revealing Himself to them (Rev. 21:22-26).
In this setting, Yahweh chose to make Himself known to the young boy. He called to the youth three times, confirming that it was indeed the Lord (v. 8). Verse 7 is illuminating: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” It conjoins two inseparable truths—that God cannot be known unless and until He has revealed Himself through His Word to us. Samuel knew of the Lord, but He did not know the Lord personally and intimately until He made Himself known. Do you know the Lord?

A Man of God with a Message of Doom

Following Eli’s lame attempt to rebuke his wicked sons for their folly, God sends an unnamed prophet to the priest with a message of judgment from God. Eli’s sons did not listen to the warning of their father for two reasons: One reason is announced in the text; the Lord was about to end their lives. The second reason is found in the prophet’s message from God: “You scorn my sacrifices and my offerings . . . and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel” (v. 29). Eli was just as guilty of degrading the priest’s office as his sons were. They were not serving the Lord in their position; they were serving themselves.
The prophet’s message began with a significant question: “Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh?” (v. 27). In a word, the Lord declared that the purpose of the priest’s office was to show the God who revealed Himself. The Lord chose Aaron out of the tribes of Israel to be His priest, serving Him before the people. It was the priest’s duty to display a holy God before Israel by the service of sacrifices (the holiness of acceptable approach to God) and appearance (holy garments representing personal holiness to reflect God—v. 28).
The judgment was not directed solely against Eli and his wicked sons but against all who descended from Ithamar, Aaron’s youngest son. We are not told how Eli was related to Ithamar (comp. 1 Kings 2:27 with 1 Chron. 24:3) or how and why the priesthood passed from Eleazar’s to Ithamar’s line (note 1 Chron. 6:4-15; see also Numbers 25:10-13). E. Robertson writes that a Samaritan tradition the descendants of Ithamar seized the priesthood when Uzzi was rejected due to racial bias (The Old Testament Problem, 1950, p. 176). This family would now cease to exist due to the failing of Eli (his name means “my God,” note Matt. 27:46). The only one left, Abiathar, who escaped Saul’s massacre of the priests (22:18-23), would spend his years grieving his ruined family.
The sign that this judgment was fulfilled would be the fact that Eli’s two sons would both die on the same day (v. 34). In their place, God would raise up a faithful and reliable priest. In language similar to Deuteronomy 18:15-18, pointing to Samuel’s place in the forward development of God’s Kingdom, God declares that He will sovereignly do what sinful humans could never accomplish. Yahweh will build His faithful Priest a sure house and a perpetual priesthood (v. 35). This promise was later fulfilled in Zadok (1 Kings 2:35); ultimately, however, the language can point only to Christ Himself. (Note verse 36 and the fact that any survivors would beg a place to serve in order to get just a crumb of bread to sustain life. What sin enjoyed in abundance, judgment reduced to poverty.)