An example of why it’s good to reference different Bible translations when you read.
Have you ever thought of God as the victim of an unfaithful spouse?
Here in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he has to defend and assert his authority as an apostle because there were those in the church there who questioned it. He said, “Look. James, Peter and John…the pillars of the church in Jerusalem accept the fact that God called me as an apostle” and no one doubted their authority. This was important, because Paul’s entire ministry rested on the authority given to him by the calling Jesus personally gave him.
Not only were there those in the Galatian church who questioned Paul’s authority, but there were some who insisted that the Gentiles (or non-Jews) who had come to believe in Jesus should follow the Mosaic Law. This is something that came up often in the early church. Some insisted that Gentiles needed to be circumcised, that the Sabbath should be followed, etc.
Paul declared that this was completely unnecessary. He told them that the Law was given 430 years *after* Abraham was declared righteous simply on the basis of his belief in the promise given him by God. The Law was given to reveal sin, not to save. The Law cannot save, because we are totally incapable of following it, because breaking it only once is still breaking it. One way to think about it is this. Some types of material can hold together even if part of it is broken, right? Think of a sheet of styrofoam. I can break off a corner of styrofoam and the rest of the sheet is fine. The remaining portion is unaffected by the corner being broken off. But if I have a sheet of tempered glass and try to break off a corner, the entire sheet shatters into little pieces. If you’re not familiar with what tempered glass is, that’s the kind of glass you have in your car’s side and back windows. Have you ever seen what happens when one of those windows is broken? Right. A million little pieces.
That’s what happens when a person breaks even one part of the Law. They have broken it all, and are therefore declared unrighteous. It is impossible to live without breaking the Law.
Paul told the Galatians that the only way to have righteousness is to get it the way Abraham got it: to believe. Abraham believed God’s promise, and we must believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise…that He is the only one through whom our sins are forgiven.
No rule following on our part will save us. No supposed righteousness of ours will save us. There is nothing I can do to *earn* forgiveness. All I can do is accept the *gift* of righteousness Jesus offers because of His sacrifice on the cross. If anybody earned my righteousness, it was Him. He is the only One to live a sin free life. And He became the only sacrifice worthy to pay for our sin.
So Paul told the Galatians to stop trying to put Gentile believers into the bondage of the Law.
My question is: do we put ourselves or others under bondage to some set of rules?
Have you ever done something that you know must have disappointed the Lord? Have you ever gotten angry at God and cried out, “It just isn’t fair! YOU aren’t fair, God!”
How do you think God reacts to us when we do that?
Here in chapter 15, Jeremiah was complaining about how he had been mistreated by the people. They didn’t like his message, and they took it out on him. And Jeremiah said, in essence, “Hey God. I have served you and done what you said. I have loved you and I have loved your Word. I’ve lived right and kept my nose clean. So why am I going through all this junk? Why is my pain without end? You, God, have misled me! I cannot rely on you!”
How’s that for a tantrum? Have you ever thrown a tantrum like that at God?
So let’s look at God’s response.
Look at chapter 15, verses 19-21. God says, “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the Lord. “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”
Notice that God doesn’t respond in kind. He doesn’t respond with frustration or anger. He just says, “Jeremiah, if you apologize for this little episode, we’re good. I’ll keep using you as my spokesman, and I guarantee that no harm will come to you because I will save you from the wicked.”
So God can take it when we have a lapse in faith and blow up at Him. He knows how it feels to be human, and how our emotions can get the best of us sometimes. Remember, He is our loving, perfect Father. He doesn’t hold grudges, but He does expect a certain amount of respect and reverence when we come to our senses.
I’m going to let you in on something that I struggle with. It’s a sin that I have a very hard time getting victory over. I know it’s a sin. I confess it, but I have yet to conquer it. It’s been a problem in my life for a very long time, and I would appreciate it if you would pray for me about it. I’m serious.
What’s the sin? It’s the sin of unforgiveness. I was reminded of it near the end of our reading today. I am really just dumbfounded sometimes by God’s willingness to forgive.
Listen again to verses 14 through 16:
14This is what the Lord says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. 15But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. 16And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people.”
God is referring to the people who badly mistreated His chosen people…the people He had given incredible promises to. They had put His chosen into slavery and destroyed everything God had given them.
And yet, God says that if these people would learn to love Him, if they would seek His ways, He would forgive them and give them the same status as His chosen people.
Isn’t that incredible? God had a special kind of relationship with the Jews. He loved them with a kind of love that is hard to fathom. And yet, He says that if the people who brought His people so much hardship and heartbreak would turn to Him, He would forgive them.
Listen, if you hurt my loved ones, you and I are going to have a problem. You hurt them, I’m gonna hurt you. That’s just the way it is. Maybe I’ll forgive you once you’ve felt the payback. But not until then.
Ok, so that’s my flesh talking. See? I have a hard time with forgiving. Thankfully, God has given me an amazing, caring, loving, giving, selfless wife who has a forgiving heart, and she models forgiveness to me constantly. I read and understand God’s Word, and He uses her to put flesh on what I read.
So as the bumper sticker says, “God isn’t finished with me yet.” I’m glad He doesn’t give up.
Let’s continue a thread we spoke about yesterday, shall we?
How can we do that when we were in 1 and 2 Corinthians? Because this is God’s Word, He doesn’t change, and He is the divine author of Scripture. The manner in which He dealt with people in the OT was different, but His ultimate goal is the same. Don’t believe it when people say that the God of the OT was angry and vengeful, but the God of the NT is loving and forgiving. He is the same God.
We talked about a believer who chooses to sin and then is rebuked, is ostracized, repents, and then is brought back into a loving fellowship of believers. Remember?
Well, in the first two verses we read today in chapter four of Jeremiah, we read, “If you will return, Israel, return to me,” announces the Lord. “Put the statues of your gods out of my sight. I hate them.
Stop going down the wrong path. Take all of your oaths in my name. Say, ‘You can be sure that the Lord is alive.’ Let all of your promises be truthful, fair and honest. Then I will bless the nations.”
So in these two verses God is inviting His people to repent of their sins. To really turn from them and live lives pleasing to God. Sound familiar? Sure.
And then He says, “Then I will bless the nations.”
Ok. So what does that mean? It means that when outsiders see these people who so obviously turned their backs on their God, who began to live like the heathens around them, give all that garbage up, their God blesses them. He welcomes them back with open arms. He forgives them.
And when they see that, they begin to believe that He is a loving and forgiving God, and they follow Him.
When, as people of God, we forgive others as God has forgiven us, the world sees that God is real. They begin to believe that they can be forgiven, too. And the so called outsiders, or “nations” are blessed.
Are you aware of the fact that the church (and I’m not referring to one specific local church or even a denomination, I’m talking about all of the church which is made up of all the believers) is made up of imperfect people? You are? Good. Because I don’t want to be the guy that bursts your bubble.
Yep. Whenever people are involved, there will be difficulties. People mess up. Sometimes there are what might be considered minor infractions and sometimes there will be major sins. Yeah, I know. Big surprise.
Back in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul addressed a major sin that was happening there in the church at Corinth. There was a man who was married to his father’s wife. It was an incestuous relationship, and Paul chastised them for not dealing properly with the sin. In fact, they were not dealing with it at all. Paul even said that they were being arrogant about it. Accepting of it. He told them that they should remove the man from their fellowship. He said, “… hand such a person over to Satan to destroy his corrupt nature so that his spiritual nature may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
Do you remember that?
Are you aware that we Christians sometimes do that today? Thing is, as far as I know, it rarely happens in local churches. You know where it happens quite often? When a prominenant, well known Christian’s sins become known. Then we ostracize him or her. We destroy them. We cast them out.
In my years of podcasting, I have been blessed to have gotten to know several Christian recording artists pretty well. And I have heard more than once how this person or that person lost a career because the church found out about a sin in their life.
You say, “Well, Steve. Isn’t that what Paul told the Corinthians to do? Isn’t that the Biblical thing to do?”
Let’s take a look at chapter two from our reading today. In the first four verses, Paul reminds them of the fact that he told them that he had wanted to visit them. But then he said that he didn’t come because he was distressed because of the situation with the incestuous man. His previous writing to them about this was done tearfully, and he was deeply troubled and anguished.
Is that how we feel when we find sin in the life of someone we hold in high esteem? I’m not so sure.
And then Paul goes on here in chapter two to say that “The majority of you have imposed a severe enough punishment on that person.“ It’s enough.
So now what? Paul continues. “So now forgive and comfort him. Such distress could overwhelm someone like that if he’s not forgiven and comforted. 8 That is why I urge you to assure him that you love him.”
Let that person know that you still love him. Don’t let him become overwhelmed. Why? Because then the enemy has a chance to come in and keep him from being restored.
Friends, I have seen that happen to more than one person, because we don’t take the extra step of reaching out to them once they have dealt with the sin. We continue to rub their noses in it. We don’t forgive them. It’s shameful.
How can we claim to represent a loving God who is faithful and just to forgive if we don’t forgive? How can we expect to be forgiven for our sins if we won’t forgive the sins of others?
Did you ever look at someone famous who is supremely talented, but is not a believer and think, “Just think of the impact they could have if they would live their life for the Lord?”
I have, many times. I was born just about the same time as rock & roll. I remember doo wap music playing on the radio, I remember Dave Seville and Alvin and the Chipmunks, I remember The Purple People Eater, Elvis and so many others in the 50s. And then came perhaps the greatest decade of music…the 60s. The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Sir Douglas Quintet, Three Dog Night, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin. I could go on for hours.
Anyway, I’ve often thought, “It’s too bad these guys don’t see that their gift, their talent, is from God. Man, if they would only believe and use that talent for Him! What an impact that would make on the world.”
The Apostle Paul, when he was still Saul, was famous in his time. His talent was in studying the Law and persecuting Christians. He was well known as a hater of Christians. Until he met Jesus. Once Jesus changed his life, Paul had the greatest impact of anyone since, besides the Lord Himself.
Is there something in your past that you are ashamed of? Something that holds you back from proclaiming your story with boldness? Do you think the people that knew you before will say, “He talks a good talk, but I’ve seen him do some really bad things.”
Well guess what. Those things you did before have been forgiven. Sure, they’re part of your history…part of your story…but if Jesus could take a person like Paul and use him, He can surely use you.
Paul didn’t hide his past, did he? He acknowledged it, and then he said, “But then I met Jesus!”
Your past does not define you. Your relationship with Jesus defines you. Because of that, you are perfect in the sight of God. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
Be like Paul. Share your story with confidence. Make an impact in your world.
Amidst the prophecies of judgment in much of the book of Isaiah, chapter 12 brings a ray of hope.
The prophet tells us that a righteous king is coming. And as we have seen in many previous books in the Bible, when a righteous king is on the throne, God not only blesses the land with peace and prosperity, but the people also act with righteousness.
I like verses 4 and 5. “Even the hotheads will be full of sense and understanding. Those who stammer will speak out plainly. In that day ungodly fools will not be heroes. Scoundrels will not be respected.”
As I record this on June 7, 2016, the United States is in the midst of the ugliest race for president that I can remember. And my earliest political memory is of the Kennedy/Nixon race of 1960. )Yeah. I’m an old guy.) I have seen very hotly contested presidential campaigns, but none as ugly as this one. Not only are the candidates conducting themselves in unseemly ways, but many of their supporters are, too.
The candidates are hotheads and scoundrels, and their followers take those characteristics and amplify them. It’s just plain ugly.
And it can be disheartening. It makes one say, “Is there any hope? Has it gone too far? Will we ever have peace again?”
The answer is a resounding “YES!” God has not forgotten us, beloved. He is allowing the ugliness and depravity because our nation has turned its back on Him. But because of my belief in His Word, because history repeats itself, because God never changes, I believe that there will come a day when the people will cry out to God for forgiveness. They will confess their sins, and He will forgive them.
I believe that.
But if that does not happen, if people refuse to turn to God, we know that a time of ultimate judgment is on the way. Jesus will return and bring an end to this age. The enemy will be bound, and Jesus will reign with righteousness. There will be peace. There will be no wars, there will be none of the ugliness we see today. “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together; and a little child will lead them.”
I, for one, am longing for that day.
How about you?
Do you remember the first issue that Paul talked to the Corinthians about in the last letter? There was a man in the church who was in the midst of sexual sin. In fact, it was incest. He told them that they must discipline the person and not let the sin continue or condone it.
In this letter, he tells them that as he wrote that, he was heartbroken, and there were tears in his eyes as he wrote.
Do you remember how he ended his last letter? Sure. He assured them of his love for them. And here in the second letter, he reminds them of that love. He says, “I didn’t write to make you uncomfortable but to let you know how much I love you.”
And now he tells them that most of them in the Corinthian church have punished the man who was in sin enough. He tells them to forgive and comfort him. Paul doesn’t want the man to be overwhelmed by grief and guilt at what he had done.
Because Satan could use that guilt and grief to separate the man from them and Christ.
My friend, sorrow and grief are appropriate when we come the realization that we have sinned. After all, it is our sin that made it necessary for Jesus to suffer and die. But the good news is that His sacrifice was sufficient. We don’t also have to suffer and die in order for our sin to be forgiven. His sacrifice was sufficient. It was all that is necessary. The work of Jesus, plus *nothing* brings forgiveness. Not His work plus ours.
When we come to Him and ask forgiveness, we can be confident that He will forgive. And then we can rest in the comfort and peace that He paid for.
Don’t let Satan rob you of that. If we let him, he will. Don’t let him. He’s a liar and a thief.