29 May 2021
We as believers know the Lord reigns and He is Creator and King of His universe. He “works all things after the counsel of HIs own will” (Eph. 1:11). The sovereign lordship of God is the basis of the biblical message and the foundation fact of Christian faith, and we have noted that on it is built the great assurance that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom.8:28).
But can this assurance stand? The claim it makes raises problems for sensitive and thoughtful souls. Circumstances in life raise painful doubts. Some of the things that happen to believers hurt and bewilder us. How can these misfortunes, these frustrations, these apparent setbacks to God’s cause, be any part of His will? For some, we are inclined to deny either the reality of God’s rule or the perfect goodness of the God who governs. It is easy to draw either conclusion but it would also be false.
We need to examine this by asking ourselves certain questions and at the end of it come to a conclusion that is satisfying and helpful for our Christian living.
1) Ought we to be surprised when we find ourselves baffled by what God is doing?
No! We must not forget who we are. We are not gods; we are creatures, and no more than creatures. As creatures, we have no right or reason to expect that at every point we shall be able to comprehend the wisdom of our Creator. He Himself has reminded us that His thoughts are not our thoughts…as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are….His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). The Lord God also has made it clear that it is not His pleasure to disclose all the details of HIs will and policy to human subjects . Moses declared, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God but those things which are revealed belong unto us that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
God has disclosed His mind and will, so far as we need to know them for practical purposes, and we are to take what He has disclosed as a complete and adequate rule for our faith and life. There still remain “secret things” that He has not made known and that, in this life at least, He does not intend us to discover. And the reasons behind God’s providential dealings sometimes fall into this category.
Job’s case illustrates this. Job was never told about the challenges God met by allowing Satan to plague His servant. All Job knew was that the omnipotent God was morally perfect and that it would be blasphemously false to deny His goodness under any circumstances. Did the bewildering series of catastrophes that overtook Job mean that God had abdicated His throne or abandoned His servant? Not at all, as Job proved by experience. But the reason God had plunged Job into darkness was never revealed to him. Now may not God for wise purposes of His own, treat others of His followers as He treated Job? When this happens to us, do we insist that God must explain to us the reasons and why this is happening to us? Are we forgetting that the Creator is not obligated to do so, and that the Potter has every right to mould the clay in any manner He seems fit? (Rom.9:19-24). But we can be assured that God is the perfect God who loves us and desires the best for us even though for the moment, it may not look like it.
2) Has God left us entirely in the dark as to what He is doing in His providential government of the world? No! He has given us full information as to the central purpose that He is executing and a positive rationale for the trying and difficult experiences of believers.
What is God really doing? He is “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). He is saving a great multitude of sinners. He has engaged in this task since history began. He spent many centuries preparing a people and a setting of world history for the coming of His Son. Then He sent HIs Son into the world in order that there might be a Gospel, and now He sends His Gospel through the world in order that there may be a church. He has exalted His Son to the throne of the universe, and Christ from His throne now invites sinners to Himself, keeps them, leads them, and finally brings them to be with Him in glory.
Within that restored relationship, God continually works in and upon the believers to renew them in the image of Christ, so that the family likeness shall appear in them more and more. It is this renewal of ourselves, progressive here and to be perfected hereafter, that Apostle Paul identifies with the “good” for which “all things work together…to them that love God…the called according to HIs purpose” (Rom.8:28). God’s purpose, as Paul explains, is that those whom God has chosen and in love has called to Himself should “be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that the Son might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom.8:28-29). All God’s ordering of circumstances (even painful and perplexed ones) is designed for the fulfilment of this purpose. The “good” for which all things work is not the immediate ease and comfort of God’s children (as too often supposed), but their ultimate holiness and conformity to the likeness of Christ. It follows that the process to ultimate holiness would include adverse circumstances for God’s children and this is part and parcel of God’s plan.
To Christians who had grown disheartened and apathetic under the pressure of constant hardship and victimization, the author to the book of Hebrews wrote, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished (or reproved) by Him. For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? We have earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11).
The Christian “good” is not to be equated with ease and quiet, but with sanctification. The passage is clear and plain; frequent reading is needful whenever we find it hard to believe that the rough handling that circumstances (or fellow Christians) are giving us can possibly be God’s will.
A third question is necessary but we would address it in a subsequent sharing.
29 May 2021
What is God’s ultimate end in His dealings with His children? Is it simply their happiness or is it something more?
The Bible indicates that it is the glory of God Himself.
God’s end in all His acts is ultimately Himself. There is nothing morally dubious about this. If we say that man can have no higher end than the glory of God, how can we say anything different about God HImself? The idea that it is somehow unworthy to represent God as aiming at His own glory in all that He does reflects a failure to remember that God and man are not on the same level. It shows lack of realisation that, while sinful man makes his own well-being his ultimate end at the expense of his fellow creatures, our gracious God has determined to glorify Himself by blessing His people. His end in redeeming man, we are told, is “the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:6,12,14). He wills to display His resources of mercy (the ‘riches’ of His grace and His glory) in bringing His saints to their ultimate happiness in the enjoyment of Himself (Eph. 3:16).
But how does the truth that God seeks HIs own glory in all HIs dealings with us relate to the problem of providence? It gives us insight into why God does not take us to heaven the moment we believe; we now see that He leaves us in a world of sin to be tried, tested, belaboured by troubles that threaten to crush us in order that we may glorify HIm by our patience under suffering and in order that He may display the riches of HIs grace and call forth new praises from us as He constantly upholds and delivers us. Psalm 107 is a majestic declaration of this truth.
The heart of true religion is to glorify God by patient endurance and to praise Him for HIs glorious deliverances. It is to live one’s life through smooth and rough places alike in a sustained obedience and thanksgiving for mercy received. It is to seek and find one’s deepest joy in discovering through each successive storm and conflict the mighty adequacy of Christ to save us. It is the sure knowledge that God’s way is best, both for our own welfare and for His glory. No problems of providence will shake the faith of the one who has truly learned this.
The fact we need to grasp is that God the Creator rules His world for His own glory. “To Him are all things (Rom. 11:36); He HImself is the end of all His works. He does not exist for our sake, but we for HIs. It is the nature and prerogative of God to please Himself,and HIs revealed good pleasure is to make Himself great in our eyes. “Be still,” He says to us, “and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps. 46:10). God’s overruling goal is to glorify Himself.
That God aims always to glorify Himself is an assertion we at first find hard to believe. Why so?
Some may feel that such an idea is unworthy of God; it depicts God as essentially no different from an evil man or even the devil himself. The Old Testament’s teaching that depicts God so persistently as a ‘jealous’ Being, concerned first and foremost about His ‘honour.’ cannot be regarded as divine truth – this may be the conclusion of these same individuals. These people know that the desire to gratify self is at the root of most weaknesses and shortcomings. They are themselves trying as best they can to face and fight this desire. Hence they conclude that for God to be self-centred would be equally wrong. The determination with which these individuals reject the idea that the holy Good would exalt Himself reflects their acute sense of guiltiness of human self-absorption.
Is their conclusion valid? If it is right for man to have the glory of God as his goal, can it be wrong for God to have the same goal? If man can have no higher purpose than God’s glory, how can God? The reason it cannot be right for man to live for himself, as if he were God, is because he is not God. However, it cannot be wrong for God to seek His own glory, simply because He is God. Those who insist that God should not seek HIs glory in all things are really asking that He cease to be God. And there is no greater blasphemy than to will that.
The wrong conclusion is derived from our habit of making God in our image and thinking of Him as if He and we stood on the same level. In other words, His obligations to us and ours to HIm correspond – as if He were bound to serve us and further our well-being with the same selflessness with which we are obligated to serve Him. This is, in effect, to think of God as if He were a man, albeit a great one. If this way of thinking were right, then for God to seek HIs own glory in everything would indeed make Him comparable to the worst of man and to Satan himself.
But our Maker is not a man, not even an omnipotent superman, and this way of thinking of HIm is gross idolatry. You do not have to make a graven image picturing God as a man to be an idolater; a false mental image is all that is needed to break the Second Commandment of the Ten commandments. We must not imagine that the obligations that bind us creatures to HIm, bind Him as Creator equally to us. Dependence is a one-way relationship and carries with it one-way obligations. Our dependence upon our Creator binds us to seek His glory without committing HIm to seek ours. For us to glorify Him is a duty; for Him to bless us is grace. The only thing that God is bound to do is the very thing that He requires of us – to glorify Himself.
It is the glory of God to make all things for Himself and to use them as a means for His exaltation. The clearheaded Christian will insist on this. He also will insist that it is the glory of man that he is privileged to function as a means to this end. There can be no greater glory for man than to glorify God. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God” – and it is in so doing that man finds true dignity for himself. Life without God has no real worth; it is a mere monstrosity. When we say that human beings are no more than a means to God’s glory, we also say that they are no less than that – thus showing how life can have meaning and value. The only person in this world who enjoys complete contentment is the person who knows that the only worthwhile and satisfying life is to be a means, however humble, to God’s chief end – His own glory and praise. The way to be truly happy is by being truly human, and the way to be truly human is to be truly godly.
God’s unchanging purpose is to display to His rational creatures the glory of His wisdom, power, truth, justice, and love so that they come to know HIm and knowing HIm, to give Him glory for all eternity by love and loyalty, worship and praise, trust and obedience.The kind of fellowship that He intends to create between us and Him is a relationship in which He gives of HIs fullest riches, and we give of our heartiest thanks – both to the highest degree. When He declares Himself to be a ‘jealous’ God and proclaims: “My glory will I not give to another” (Isa. 42:8: 48:11), His concern is to safeguard the purity and richness of this relationship. Such is the goal of God. The only answer that the Bible gives to questions that begin:”Why did God….? is: “For HIs own glory.” It was for this that God decreed to create and for this He willed to permit sin…..”for HIs own glory”. Why did God choose to redeem? He need not have to do it. He was not bound to take action to save us. Why did God choose to love and redeem the unlovely? The Bible tells us: “To the praise of the glory of HIs grace..to the praise of His glory…” (Eph. 1:6,12,14).
Once and for all, let us rid our minds of the idea that things are as they are because God cannot help it. All things are as they are because God has chosen that they should be, and the reason for His choice in every case is His glory!
(With appreciations to the late J.I. Packer for his thoughts on this matter)
30 May 2021
We have seen that the “good” for which all things work is not the immediate ease and comfort of God’s children, but their ultimate holiness and conformity to the likeness of Christ. We noted also that the ultimate end in God’s dealings with His children is to glorify Himself by blessing His people; HIs end in redeeming man is the ‘praise of HIs glory’. Previously, we have shared that God’s ability to save a people in Adam who were children of wrath, dead in their trespasses, wretched and disobedient creatures, and transform them into the likeness of Christ truly stunned even those in the heavenly realm; and to achieve this in the face of resistance and accusations of the evil one and his minions cause all creatures in all the realms to give glory to Him, albeit reluctantly by those who are enemies of the cross.
But the process of transforming wretched disobedient people into holy and godly people in the likeness of the Son of God would mean that the process has to involve God’s working and dealing in their lives, moulding them, training them, disciplining them and enabling them to put on the ‘new man’ and to put off the ‘old man’ progressively until the image of Jesus Christ is formed in them. And such a process would surely involve unpleasant circumstances, painful relationships, antagonism and resistance from ungodly individuals, incited by the evil forces, and even serious hurt in the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual spheres of believers.
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness o f man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name..”(Philip. 2:3-9).
This is a passage that focuses on the incarnation: God has become man. In this passage, the Apostle Paul invites us to reevaluate our perception of God, and to reevaluate our notion of what is “good and happy and beautiful,” in view of what the incarnation necessarily involved.
In that light, Paul urged the Philippian believers, in his opening call, to maintain their unity by doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than themselves. Each one should look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. In adopting this attitude the Christian follows the example set by Jesus Christ in HIs incarnation. The good, happy and beautiful are not found in looking out for one’s own interests, but in spending oneself in the interest of others.
Christ’s underlying attitude was displayed in HIs act of emptying or making Himself ‘nothing,’ and in taking the very nature of a servant or slave (doulos). A slave has no social advantage but is in fact disadvantaged by the absence of all status, so Jesus totally abandoned HIs status as God to live as a ‘nothing’ among men. Jesus humbled Himself even more, and permitted HImself to suffer the most shameful and painful of all ancient forms of execution: crucifixion. Thus Christ’s attitude was totally selfless, totally self-sacrificial, solely directed toward the interests and needs of others.Thus in the Incarnation, we discover truths about God and His love for human beings that no one could imagine before: God so loved the world that He sent HIs Son and His Son voluntarily gave Himself to us in the incarnation, in HIs perfect obedience to the Father as the God-man, and in the crucifixion, taking our place in bearing the wrath of God for our sin.
So for Christians to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, we must choose the way of self-humbling; we must hold God’s approval a far greater good than anything we might gain here; we gladly choose to abandon status for servanthood; and because we hold happiness in eternity of greater benefit than any pleasures enjoyed during our brief existence here on earth, we treasure the opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ. Indeed, for the Christian, the way up leads down; and giving is the path to gain.
What then do all these entail: it means that transformation into the likeness of our Master is a painful process; it would involve humility; the willingness to be a servant; the preparedness to suffer and to give up the values of the world. Many believers would not mind being called servants of God (it might even give one a sense of importance) but few would like to be treated as servants (it makes you feel ‘small’, insignificant, with no self-esteem).
“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45).
The secular model is hierarchical; the ruler is above others, his will and purposes central, and other persons are used by him to win him greater glory. In contrast, Christ, although endowed with all authority by His Father, lived among human beings as a servant, and used HIs power to meet the needs of others. Rather than exercise His power to win personal glory, Christ used it for the benefit of others, and in so doing revealed the loving heart of God. Our Master calls us to follow Him.
“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13: 12-17).
Do take note that Jesus is our example and He has gone before us to be a servant, even though He is God. Take note also God’s perception of greatness and leadership – the Christian leaders must model their leadership on Christ the Servant rather than on the powerful of this world. Spiritual leaders and God’s workers are to subordinate their interests to the needs of the flock, and rather than use, to permit themselves to be used as Christ was used by those who are hurting and those who are lost. Indeed, all things are for good for those who are called according to His purpose, for those whom He foreknew and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. So as we travel as pilgrims here on earth, and encounter to some degree what our Lord and Master Jesus had encountered, do we complain, react and withdraw from the path of discipleship and transformation? Will we be unwilling to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Him? Do not be surprised if the ‘world hates us’, for they also hated the Lord Jesus Christ; do not be alarmed if the world thinks us foolish and insignificant, for it is God’s valuation of us and God’s values that truly matter.
Jesus chose the way of self-humbling, and the result was that God super-exalted Him. God is a rewarder of those who live out His values. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life…will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26). Notice the clear unmistakable implications of these various verses and statements.
Let us be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises of God. Let us persevere and press on even though the journey may be rough and filled with ‘ups’ and ‘downs’, for Jesus is waiting for us at the finishing point.