Character

Declaring Dependence

Are you faithful to God? If you consider yourself faithful, then what do you mean by “faithful”? Does that mean that your faith is so full that you are humbly submissive and eagerly obedient to your Creator?

Do you only serve God periodically, or during special times? Do you love and obey Him in good times and in bad times? Consider the following cycle of faithfulness/unfaithfulness in the early life of the Israelite nation:

Point #1: Failure (Judges 2:10-13).
Point #2: Fight/Fear (Judges 2:14-15).
Point #3: Freedom (Judges 2:16).
Point #4: Faithfulness (Judges 2:18b).

The people would cry out to God during their times of “terrible distress”, but they did not fully give up their idolatrous practices or their lack of real love for Yahweh (Judges 2:17-19). You will find this pattern or cycle repeated multiple times throughout the book of Judges.

Do we ever fall into a cycle of faithfulness/unfaithfulness? Is such a cycle even faithfulness at all?

What was the ultimate problem during this period of Israelite history? The answer is given four times in this book: Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:5. The heart of the problem is often stated right before some horrible atrocity is described (see 18:1; 19:1). The very last verse of Judges explains, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

But what does that mean? Is that simply a reference to the fact that there was no civil king like Saul or David sitting on a throne in the land?

The real problem was that Yahweh, who was their rightful king, was not king in their hearts and lives. They had rejected Him as their Sovereign Ruler (cf. 1 Samuel 8:1-9; 12:12; Luke 19:14). Yahweh had chosen them as a treasured nation for Himself, but now they had abandoned Him and His Word (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Judges 2:12-13).

Do we ever strive to be “good” so God will give us good things? Are we serving Him because of how great He is, or because of how great His blessings and promises are? Do we ever treat Him like a Genie in a bottle that we rub whenever we need something?

We should pray to God and seek His help in times of trouble (cf. 1 Peter 5:6-7), but we must be careful that we are not engaging in “mourning cloud religion.”

When times are good, some begin to think that they do not need God because they're doing just fine by their own abilities (cf. Revelation 3:17-19). When times are rough, some begin to think that they do not need God because He has not kept them from trouble and pain. Both of these forms of inconsistent faithfulness manifest a lack of dependence on and delight in God. Both forms of unfaithfulness declare, “I do not need/want God.”

So what is the solution to this problem of inconsistent service to God? The solution is making God king on the throne of our hearts (see again Judges 21:25). If we are in the reign of God by submission to immersion into the Messiah (Colossians 2:11-12), then we must live each day as loyal subjects in the kingdom of the Messiah. If King Jesus is sitting on the throne of our hearts, then we are declaring that we are totally dependent upon Him and His will.   

How Do You Hear?

Following an explanation of temptation and discussing the fact that God does not tempt us (James 1:13-15), James reminds us that all good things come down from God (James 1:16-17). He then writes, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18a). Christians are “born again” by the teachings of the Bible. Jesus taught us that the word of God is like a seed planted in human hearts (Luke 8:11). Peter declares, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God...And this word is the good news that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:22-23, 25). New life (or a “newness of life") is granted to the children of God in Christ (see Romans 6:1-ff). The purpose of this new birth is “that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures” (James 1:18b). God's people are very special to Him (first-fruits = first and best) and are to carry out His work in the world (Ephesians 2:8-10).

James continues his letter by exhorting, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19). It has often been pointed out that God created us with two ears, but with only one mouth. Now this principle is quite useful in interpersonal situations, but is that the point James is making? What exactly does he want us to be eager to hear in this context? Keep reading. “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

James wants us to put aside our anger (v. 19-20) and worldliness so that we then may humbly pull in Divine truth. If we properly implant the word in our hearts, it will bring about our salvation (compare 2 Timothy 3:14-4:6). As we begin to put this all together, we should ask ourselves certain application questions... How quick are we to spout our opinion? How easily do we get annoyed or even angry in life? Do we ever get mad at what the Bible teaches? Do we meekly, eagerly, and faithfully listen to the teachings of God?

But James is not finished with us just yet, for he says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). As important as it is to believe and receive the words of God, it is essential that we actually practice what it says. Our saintly profession must include holy practice; our loving words must be followed up with loving deeds. Notice the contrast between salvation in verse 21 and deception in verse 21. Sobering fact: We deny our own salvation and lie to ourselves when we hear (maybe even gladly), but neglect to obey His truth. James goes on to compare a hearer only to someone looking at their face in a mirror, then walking away and immediately forgetting what they look like (James 1:23-24). Mirrors in the ancient world were made by polishing metals like tin and copper. The most accurate reflections were achieved with Corinthian bronze, but even their best paled in comparison to the accuracy of our modern glass mirrors. Most ancient people rarely saw their own faces, and James describes someone who quickly forgets their reflection. James warns us to not use the Bible like a rare mirror, but we must look deeply and intently into the word, retain a knowledge of it, and then follow it each day. “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25).

Let the record show that proper faith is always connected to actions of faithfulness. Our faith is tested by the trials of life (James 1:2-4, 12; 5:7-11). We are to pray in faith (James 1:5-8; 4:2-3; 5:16-17). Our faith should cause us to be careful of our speech (James 1:26; 3:1-12; 4:11-12; 5:12), to take care of others (James 1:27; 5:1-6), and to live above worldliness (James 1:27; 4:4). True faith in Jesus does not show partiality (James 2:1-13). Faith is dead without works of obedience (James 2:14-26). Genuine wisdom (or faith) is always displayed by a wise lifestyle (James 3:13-18).

For His infinite worth,

Gantt Carter

The Work of God 3

After commending Timothy to the Christians in Philippi, the apostle Paul then writes at length about another faithful work and friend - Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus also provides an example of kingdom-life in the Messiah. Paul writes the following about him: 

"I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of the Messiah, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me" (Philippians 2:25-30). 

Later in this letter, we discover that Epaphroditus had brought a gift of money and some news from the Philippian congregation to the apostle Paul. Paul explains, 

"I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18). 

Clearly, Epaphroditus' return to Philippi was greatly delayed, and the Philippians began to be concerned as to what might have happened to him. Regardless of what they may have begun to conclude about him, Paul wants to make it quite clear that sickness was the reason for his delay. It was not just that he go sick with something like the common cold, but he was so sick that he almost died. However, God compassionately kept him from death, so that the apostle would not have even more coals of pain heaped upon his heart. God's mercy and grace shine brightly in this passage!

Please note that even Paul's anxiety was not like some kill switch (v. 28), but it was something he had to work at in his own life (compare Philippians 4:6-7). It is also interesting that Paul starts by setting forth all of  the roles/characteristics of Epaphroditus, a man they all knew well. May we all follow his example in being willing to risk our lives for our fellow-workers and for the sake of the Messiah!

For His infinite worth,

Gantt 

The Work of God 2

Individuals who begin thinking and acting like the Messiah stand in stark contrast to the world in which they live. Following Jesus of Nazareth means thinking, talking, and behaving in ways that are quite different and often rare in any culture.

In the Philippian letter, Paul gives a poetic summary of the King's work on earth and ascension to the throne of glory (Philippians 2:5-11). He also sets forth some key application points regarding what it truly means to think and live like the Messiah Himself (Philippians 2:1-4). Possessing the mind of the Messiah will always lead to joining in the work of God (Philippians 2:12-18).

Paul then writes a lengthy section about two specific people: Timothy and Epaphroditus. At first glance, one might think that these two commendations are somewhat of a sidestep from the surrounding theological teaching, but a closer look shows that these words are quite connected to the theological content in the context. Timothy and Epaphroditus are both provided by the apostle as models for the Messianic lifestyle. 

Paul writes the following concerning Timothy:

"I hope in the Master Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has been a slave alongside me in the good news. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Master that shortly I myself will come also" (Philippians 2:19-24).

In these verses, Paul strongly commends Timothy, his spiritual child, to the church in Philippi. He is hoping to send Timothy to them so that he may learn further of their status and well-being (v. 19). His hope of sending Timothy is rooted in the Messiah and in His power/love.

But he tells them that he is waiting to see the outcome of his trial - whether he is released from prison, executed, etc (v. 23). It seems that Paul knows Timothy is eager to know what is going to happen to Paul and this way Timothy can bring the news of Paul's condition to the Philippians. Paul is confident that he will be released (at least for a time), and therefore, that he will soon follow Timothy in coming to them.

But notice that Paul singles out Timothy as someone who actually cares about the Philippian Christians (v. 20). Caring about the Philippians is made synonymous with being concerned about the matters of Jesus and His reign (v. 21). Seeking the interests of others (especially other children of God) is a fundamental part of seeking the interest of King Jesus (cf. Philippians 2:1-4). Timothy, like the apostle Paul, realized that the only thing that really matters is the Messiah and the good news about Him - that everything else is secondary to the King and His work (see also Philippians 3:4-11; and Matthew 6:24-34). What is the most important concern in our lives?    

Timothy had adequately demonstrated or proved his value to Paul and others in the past 9v. 22). Sons working with their father was very common in the ancient world - sons would usually become apprentices to their fathers. Such is the touching way Paul describes Timothy - regardless of the consequences, he was willing to loyally obey (as a slave of God) God right beside his father in the faith. Is that the way we see ourselves as a part of the body of Jesus? That we are all working as fellow-slaves together for the glory of God and the edification of God's people? May we all work together to that end! 

For His infinite worth,

Gantt 

The Work of God

Are you working today? Is God working in you and through your life? How seriously do you take your Christianity? Are you a complainer about the problems you are facing, or a grumbler about the commands of Deity? Are you shining like a light in the middle of a dark room? All of these and more are questions we need to be asking ourselves as we read the following section from the inspired pen of the apostle to the Gentiles: 

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of the Messiah I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me" (Philippians 2:12-18). 

This portion of Holy Writ (vs 12-18) starts off with another "therefore", and we would do well to ask, "What is it there for?" Paul is informing the Philippian Christians that they are to continue learning what it truly means to live as a people who know the Messiah and are in the process of possessing His mindset or attitude (see Philippians 2:5-11). Properly viewing the Messiah teaches us to be selfless toward others (Philippians 2:1-4), but now we see that it also shows us how to live in a much broader fashion - in a way that applies to every part of who we are to be as humans on this planet.

When Paul instructs them to "work out" their salvation, he is is not talking about earning anything or adding good behavior to their lives to balance out the bad... His exhortation refers to the outworking of our salvation as we learn what is means to be a part of this united family in the Messiah. Salvation is when the grace of God works in us and through us to accomplish His holy and loving will. An explanation of what Paul means is found in verse 13 - he makes it clear that God supplies the will and energy to carry out this working of salvation. Note: All of this is to the great pleasure of Deity. "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus the Messiah" (Philippians 1:6).  

We are to engage in this work of obedience to God with a thorough seriousness, or "with fear and trembling." I submit that this phrase is not about being afraid of God (see 1 John 4:17-18), but that is it actually about being afraid of ourselves. We are to be ever mindful of our own weaknesses and to keep a careful watch over the way we're living our lives before God and others. "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12; see also 2 Corinthians 13:5). One man translated the phrase as, "and naturally you'll be taking this with utter seriousness." 

Paul then writes, "do everything without grumbling or disputing." Everything? Did he really mean everything? Absolutely. We may be working for the Messiah (v. 12), but how many of us are doing so without any complaints?

For His infinite worth,

Gantt