Uncommon Servants and Unlikely Saints, part 2 (Philippians 1:1b)

Last week we saw how Paul introduces himself and includes Timothy.  What is most significant is that he claims that both of them were “servants,” or better “slaves of Jesus Christ.”  We talked about how this term emphasizes both total ownership and absolute obedience and how every Christian has been “bought with a price” and we are no longer our own but belong to Jesus.

We call him “Lord” and we should voluntarily and gladly submit to His authority 24/7 is every area of our lives.

Joy comes from being rightly submitting to Jesus Christ.

Today, we’re going to see from Paul’s identification of the believers in Philippi, that being a “saint” is the foundation of joy for every believer.

Satan accuses and confuses us, most often calling into question our identity.  Paul addresses the Philippian believers as “saints in Christ Jesus.”

This is one of Paul’s favored ways of referring to believers in various churches.  We find it in Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10 and Philemon 5 and 7).

We need to understand this word “saint.”  To some, it refers to someone who lived a noted religious life, maybe was martyred, but died and then had statutes erected in their honor.

To some in refers to a stiff, joyless religious person.

The word “saint” is a positional term.  Paul wasn’t saying that the Corinthians were “acting saintly,”—far from it—but from God’s point of view, they were “saints.”

Notice that Paul says “saints in Christ Jesus.”  The only way we can perceive ourselves as saints, genuinely, is to be “in Christ.”  Paul speaks of our union with Christ often, especially in Ephesians 1 and Romans 6.

When we put our faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, we were baptized into Christ and united with him so that what he experienced (death and resurrection), we experienced.  We died to sin and now live to righteousness.

“Saint” comes from the same word that means “holy” or “set apart.”  We have been set apart from sin and death for a special purpose.

This is true of every believer, not just a few, not just the most religious, but every believer.  You were baptized into Christ and now His righteousness is your righteousness.

2 Corinthians 5:21 is the great exchange and says…

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Through imputation, our sin was credited to Christ’s account—and He paid our debt—and Christ’s righteousness was credited to our account.

And 1 Corinthians 1:30 says…

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

There is our word, “sanctification.”  Jesus has become sanctification for us and since we are united with Him, we have “sanctification” applied to us.  God sees us as “saints.”

Now, admittedly, we don’t always act like saints.  But, now that we have a new nature, a new identity, the potential for living saintly is greater.  It is now possible.

Positional sanctification means that right now I am as righteous and holy as I will ever be in the eyes of God.

Progressive sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus Christ each and every day.  In that sense, I’m not nearly the saint that God sees me to be, but I’m working on it.

Ultimate sanctification refers to the moment when I either die or am raptured out of this world and the moment I see Jesus I will become like him—my experience will match up with my position.

Image result for sanctification

Chasing the Wind

The late, well-known Bible teacher, Harry Ironside, in the days before airplane travel, used to spend many hours traveling by train.  On one such trip, a four-day ride from the west to Chicago, he found himself in the company of a group of nuns.  They liked him for his kind manner and for his interesting insights on the Bible.  One day, Dr. Ironside began a discussion by asking the nuns if any of them had ever seen a saint.  None of them had.  He then asked if they would like to see a saint.  They all said, yes, they would like to see one.  Then Ironside surprised them greatly by saying, “I am a saint; I am Saint Harry.”  He took them to verses in the Bible, such as this one, to show that every Christian is a saint. (Told by Boice, p. 24.)

You may laugh at the idea of Saint Harry or Saint whatever-your-name-is.  But it’s an important New Testament truth that you view yourself as Saint whoever-you-are!

So if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are a saint in Christ Jesus.  It is vitally important for you to realize this and reckon it to be true.  You are not a sinner, but a saint.  You still sin, yes, but that it not your identity.

For people today who want to identify themselves by their sin, it robs them of the power to flourish in life.

Satan doesn’t want you to know who you are in Christ Jesus.  He wants you to live a defeated, condemning life.  He doesn’t want you to know the truth of who you are in Christ Jesus.

Just this past year the Kendrick brothers produced a new movie called The Overcomer.  It features a young girl who lives with her grandmother, has asthma and runs cross country.  Eventually she becomes a Christian but because of her background she is very insecure and doubts herself.  Her principal, played by Priscilla Shirer, gives her an assignment of writing down everything Ephesians 1 and 2 says is true about her.  Here is a list…

A Saint
Faithful in Christ Jesus
Given Grace
Made Part of Christ’s Body
Given Mercy
Given Peace
Blessed with Every Spiritual Blessing
Chosen Before the Foundation of the World
Holy and Blameless
Predestined for Adoption
Adopted as a Son
Redeemed through His Blood
Forgiven of Trespasses
Lavished with Grace
Given Knowledge of the Mystery of His Will
Sealed with the Holy Spirit
Guaranteed an Inheritance
Given Faith
Given Hope
Given God’s Power
Made Alive with Christ
Saved by Grace
Raised up with Christ
Seated with Christ in the Heavenly Places
A Display of God’s Grace/Kindness in the Coming Ages
Given the Gift of Salvation
God’s Workmanship
Created in Christ Jesus for Good Works
No Longer a Stranger to the Covenants of Promise
Brought Near by the Blood of Christ
Made Part of One New Man (Jews with Gentiles)
Reconciled to God
Given Access to the Father
A Fellow Citizen with the Saints
A Member of God’s Household
A Holy Temple (United with other Believers)
Being Built Together into a Dwelling Place for God with Other Believers

Brothers and sisters, if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, ALL of these things are true of you as well.  But Satan doesn’t want you to know that; he doesn’t want you to remember that.  He wants you to think you are a sinner, a loser, unacceptable to God.

Now, this special status of “saint” comes to us not because we are more deserving than anyone else.  It is given to us because God sovereignly chose to save us (Acts 16:13-16).

As “saints” have the power (the righteous life of Christ living in us and through us) to live saintly.  Our position can influence our practice.

Before salvation, we were “in Adam,” now we are “in Christ.”  That is where we accrue all these spiritual blessings and have our spiritual status.  Through the gospel our identity has been fundamentally (and forever!) changed.

Now, notice that Paul says, “to all the saints in Christ Jesus…”  He does this before he calls out the spiritual leaders because he wants all of them—leaders and congregation—all of them—even those who were involved in conflict—to know that they are saints.

Knowing that you are a saint is the foundation of becoming godly.  Remember the “grammar of the gospel,” the indicative always precedes the imperative.  What Christ has done for us always precedes, and is the foundation for, what we do for him.

The imperatives of the gospel are based on the indicatives of our relationship with Christ already established by his grace.  Another way of saying it is that promises precede commands.

There are only two kinds of people at Philippi, or in Mena—“saints” and “non-saints.”

Notice also that Paul addresses these people as being in two places—“in Christ Jesus” and “at Philippi.”  Later Paul will make a point that our citizenship is not really here, but in heaven.

We are “seated in the heavenlies” (Eph. 2:7) but we are right here in Polk County.

As a saint, a person set apart unto God, you are not to withdraw into a monastery, or to withdraw from our culture, as the Amish folks do.  You are to live in the culture, but to live distinctly from the culture, as one set apart unto God.  You are to engage with the culture, set apart by God’s truth (John 17:15-17).

Christ is the source of your life, Paul says, but Philippi is the sphere of your life.  We have a heavenly citizenship and an earthly residence.  Both are significant.  Both influence the other.

Ideally, our heavenly position should guide and influence our earthly involvements.

Now, Paul is establishing an important truth here—if you are going to enjoy relationships, you need to identify yourself as a saint—therefore capable of living rightly—and the person you are having conflict with as a saint.

Wow!  Have you ever considered that?  I know that in the middle of a fight, I’m not thinking that my wife, or anyone else I’m fighting with, is a saint.

Relationships among believers can be a source of great joy, but, frankly, they can also be a source of great pain.  As one wag put it, “To dwell above with the saints we love, O that will be glory; but, to dwell below with the saints we know, that’s a different story!”

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, I can predict with 100 percent accuracy that you have been hurt by fellow believers.  It just happens.

But if we live out of our position as saints, and believe that our opponent is also a saint, it can change the way we deal with conflicts.

How does one attack disunity and unselfishness?  By teaching (and modeling) that we are to honor one another above ourselves (cf. Phil. 2:3-4).  Thus, through the grace that God had lavished upon them, Paul and Timothy identified themselves as “slaves” (lower) and the Philippians as “saints” (exalted).

Paul ends verse 1 addressing the “overseers and deacons.”  This is the only time that Paul indicates both offices in one church, although it is likely that many churches had both elders and deacons.

Notice first of all that there is a plurality of each.  They also work together as a team, like Paul and Timothy.

In a local church God has designed that some men exercise spiritual leadership (overseers, or elders) and some men (and likely women as well) use their gifts and energies to serve the church.

The role of an elder/overseer/pastor as the terms are found in Acts 20:17, 28 and 1 Peter 5:1-4, refer to the office that provides spiritual care and gives guidance to the church to achieve its mission.

“Elder” emphasizes the maturity of the leader; “overseer” refers to management of resources; and “pastor” refers to personal ministry of feeding and leading the flock.

It was Paul’s practice to appoint elders in every congregation he founded (Acts 14:23).  Because this was an office that carried over from the Jewish synagogue, it is likely that the men Paul appointed were Jewish converts who had strong backgrounds in the Old Testament Scriptures.

The evidence suggests that most, if not all, of Paul’s churches had multiple elders (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5).  It is possible that each of them had responsibility for a “house church” or “small group” (1 Peter 5:2, “allotted to you”)

The primary responsibilities of elders are to “teach and rule” in the church (1 Thess. 5:12;13; 1 Tim. 5:17; Hebrews 13:7, 17).  We can define those responsibilities as promoting and protecting doctrine, providing direction and practicing discipline (positively through discipleship and negatively through disciplinary processes).

We noted last week the word “deacon,” which comes from diakonos and refers to someone who meets practical needs.  It originally referred to the serving of the Grecian widows in Acts 6 where the apostles stated, “It is would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word in order to wait tables” (6:2), so deacons were appointed for this task.

Deacons therefore meet practical needs and as many as are needed to serve the congregation can be elected or appointed.

Both elders and deacons had to meet high qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-12).

Again, Paul indicates two levels of leadership—one with authority, one serving—to emphasize how to get along in unity.

Let me close today with the words of Alex Motyer:

“Why should the world heed our evangelism if it does not see in the church that Christ has solved the problems of isolation, alienation, division, which curse and blight its own life?  This is what the world is waiting for today, as it did in Philippi in Paul’s day.  It waits for the sight of a people who have solved its problems in the reality of being in Christ, and whose lifestyle sets forth the old God-given morality with fresh loveliness as the holy likeness of Jesus is seen in them.”

Or, as Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Uncommon Servants and Unlikely Saints (Philippians 1:1a)

So far in our study of Philippians we have observed the historical background of Paul’s attempt to plant a church in Philippi, found in Acts 16.  We noted that, despite all the obstacles in his way, he persevered and expressed joy.  Joy is a dominant theme of Philippians.  Chuck Swindoll entitled his “commentary” on Philippians Laugh Again.

Do you lack joy in your life?

Psalm 86:4 is a prayer for joy.  “Bring joy to your servant…”  So you can pray for joy.

But we also get to joy through rejoicing.  Rejoicing is a choice we make to express our joy in God and His goodness.  Remember that grace, give thanks and joy all come from the same Greek root, char.  If you recognize how good God has been to you and thank him for it, joy arises in your heart.

So let’s dive into the introduction of the epistle to the Philippians.  Remember that “epistle” means letter.  Epistle is not the wife of an apostle.

As a letter, it follows the standard form of letters at that time, with a greeting, the body of the letter, and a closing.

So, in vv. 1-2 Paul introduces himself and Timothy, identifies his recipients—the Philippians—and salutes them with a blessing.

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yearbook—Who’s Who—sometimes the people with the most potential are the greatest disappointments.  They have no category for the “least likely to succeed,” but sometimes we’re surprised at who succeeds and who doesn’t.

Paul and Timothy…and the Philippians…don’t seem like the kind of people history would deem successful.  They seem unlikely candidates but…

In Paul’s introduction he follows the familiar cultural style of identifying the writer, then the recipients, and then voicing a greeting.  However, as Paul so often did, he here expands upon this literary formula and speaks to the central issues the Philippians were facing.

The primary problem that the Philippians were facing seemed to be disunity, spurred by selfish desires and an inflated sense of self-importance within some of the church members.  So, Paul uses his introduction to lay a foundation for addressing the issue of disunity.

Notice that Paul introduces himself by the name we are most familiar with…Paul.  But he started out with the name Saul.

This name brings to mind Acts 13:9 where Saul changed his designation to Paul.  He was never referred to as Paul before and never called anything else afterwards.  This transition from a Hebrew name to a Latin one, occurring at the outset of his ministry to the Gentiles, reflects his principle of being all things to all men, a Latin name probably being more acceptable to occupants of the Roman Empire.

Because this Latin word means “little,” many have conjectured that Paul adopted it because he was short in stature.

But let me offer another alternative.  Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin and given the name Saul after the king from that tribe.  Scripture informs us that King Saul was extremely tall, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the people.  I find it doubtful that had Paul been a 4 lb. 10 oz. baby his parents would have named him for this gargantuan king.  Imagine the ridicule they would have received from their friends.  It is more likely that Paul was large, reflecting the stature of his namesake.

He may have adopted the name Paul to reflect his self-evaluation as the “least of the apostles” and “chief of sinners.”  As we read the epistle, perhaps it is more valid to picture its author as a large man physically with spiritual humility.

Now, Paul doesn’t always include others in the salutation unless they were co-writers or functioned as his secretary.  To include Timothy again illustrates Paul humility and team spirit.

Timothy was Paul’s “son in the faith.”  That may not mean that Paul had led Timothy to faith in Christ, but simply that he had taken Timothy as his disciple, to train in godliness and ministry.

Timothy joined Paul on his second missionary journey.  He had a believing mother and grandmother, though it is likely his father was not converted.

Timothy applied himself to labor with Paul in the business of the gospel and did him very important services.  Through the whole course of his epistles, St. Paul calls Timothy not only his dearly beloved son, but also his brother, the companion of his labors, and a man of God.

It is fairly rare in life that one can find such a good friend and trusted confidant, but Paul had it in Timothy.

Timothy was well-known to the Philippians, having been a part of the team with Paul that had originally planted the church at Philippi (Acts 16).  They knew that there was “no one like him” (Phil. 2:20-21) and wanted Timothy to come back while Paul was in his first Roman imprisonment.

Timothy was Paul’s secretary at times (2 Thess. 3:17).  But in Philippians 2:19 he says, “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly…” which tells us that Paul was the author.

The unique feature of the Philippian introduction is not that Paul mentions Timothy’s name alongside his own, but that he applies equally to both the designation “servant,” “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.”

Generally Paul would distinguish himself in the introduction as an “apostle,” “slave of Christ,” or “prisoner” before he would name his teammates.

Why does Paul include Timothy here as a “servant of Jesus Christ”?  Most likely it is to reinforce to the Philippians a lesson they all needed to learn—“that relationships in the bosom of the church between collaborators were not those of authority, superiority or inferiority, but of humble equality” (Collange).

I’m sure that Paul’s acknowledgment of these coworkers served as an encouragement to them.

Paul’s example should challenge all of us to reflect on whether we display this propensity, highlighting the importance and contribution of coworkers and friends. Doing so costs nothing and can be a substantial blessing to others.

By the way, the word for “servant” here is the Greek word doulos, not diakonos.  The diakonoi, or deacons, and we will see that word at the end of verse 1, were originally “table waiters” and indicates someone who serves intentionally and usually temporarily.  These servants could work and then go home and live their lives.

The word doulos, on the other hand is someone who is not their own.  The NASB uses the word “bond slaves.”  It’s the same word the demon-possessed servant-girl used to identify Paul and his companions when they first visited Philippi: “These men are bond-servants of the most high God” (Acts 16:17).

Douloi are owned by another; possessed by someone else; and therefore have no will of their own but are totally subservient to the will of their master.

A slave didn’t clock in at 8 in the morning, put in his eight hours, and clock out for the night. He was the property of his master. He didn’t have a life of his own. He was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, always ready to do what his master commanded, even if it was unpleasant or inconvenient.

This is one of Paul’s favorite words to apply to himself and I think it is appropriate for us to consider adopting it for ourselves.

Now, we do not only object to this concept because of our sad history of owning slaves in the United States, but because we like to think that we are the “captain of our fate,” that we determine our own lives.

However, embracing this perspective for ourselves—of being slaves of Christ—can be quite liberating.

When the Apostle Paul identifies himself and Timothy as slaves of Christ, what are the implications?  We can frame the answer in two words, both beginning with the letter “O”—ownership and obedience.

Ownership is a tough word. Paul captures its primary implication in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “…  You are not your own.  You are bought with a price.”

Those of us living in the land of the free tend to equate being one’s own with the essence of personhood.  Therefore, losing our autonomy is tantamount to losing our humanity.

This perspective embodies an element of truth.  We become a slave of Christ at salvation.  Saving faith includes relinquishing our autonomy, which Scripture associates with death.  Baptism depicts this death by our submersion under the waters.  This graphically symbolizes death since left submerged we would die.

However, salvation does not leave us there.  Rather, it brings us into a new existence in which we live for Christ.  Though our American love of independence may invoke the parallel between loss of autonomy and loss of humanity, Scripture assures us that we achieve humanity to the fullest when we submit our lives to Christ.  We flourish precisely when we are submitted to God.

We find examples of submission and becoming fully alive at the human level.  Most married people would attest that life to its fullest began for them when they relinquished autonomy to take on the obligations of marriage.  Likewise, the man born to be a soldier becomes fully alive when he submits himself to the authority of the Army.

We were designed to be slaves of Christ.  Only when we submit to His ownership do we become the persons we were meant to be.

Ownership encompasses obedience.  If Jesus owns us, this reality obligates us to do His bidding.

Specifically what does Jesus call us to do—what is the nature of our obligation to Him?  In brief, God requires us to obey the law of love, that is, we are obligated to consistently seek to benefit others.

Doing so entails two elements.  First, we must give others what they deserve, that is, we must treat them ethically.  We must live righteously.  Not to do at least that much is certainly unloving.

In addition, we must employ all of our resources such as time, energy, capabilities, influence, money, etc. to benefit others in ways beyond our obligation to them, i.e. we are called to extend grace to them.

We maximize our display of grace to others by applying “stewardship,” which is an archaic word for “management.”  Our obligation to Christ requires that we manage our resources effectively in order to provide the greatest benefit to others.  In essence, Christ calls us to function as CEO of our lives, aggressively working to achieve the greatest profit for our Owner.  Doing so demands discipline, wisdom, and an understanding of biblical priorities.

Ultimately, this approach to life provides the greatest fulfillment and satisfaction, and it produces the greatest reward for time and eternity.

In choosing this term Paul was indicating that he was owned by Christ (1 Cor. 6:20).  Yet at the same time, for someone thinking theologically, it was a very liberating idea, for it meant he was voluntarily and gladly enslaving himself out of love to the One who had liberated him from a worst slavery, to sin and death (Romans 6:18-22; cf. John 8:33-34, 36).

In Exodus 21:1-6 we see this situation…

1 “Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

Now, slavery during these centuries could be horrible and cruel and demeaning, but many slaves enjoyed good lives.  Paul recognizes, like this man that this Master has been good to him, and he wants to voluntarily and gladly submit himself to Jesus Christ.

That Paul could speak of himself as a servant of Christ Jesus testifies to God’s grace in the life of a man who had been an arrogant and self-righteous persecutor of the church (Acts 9:1–2Phil. 3:6).

To be a Christian is to be a slave, not to your own lusts, but to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The foundation for knowing the abiding joy of the Lord is to recognize and submit to Jesus as your owner and Master, who has the right to command how and where you should live, how you should spend your time and money, and even how you should think. Your entire life must be focused on pleasing Him and doing His will as His slave.

James Boice points out (Philippians, An Expositional Commentary [Zondervan], p. 21) that in antiquity there were three ways a person could become a slave: by conquest; by birth; or, because of debt.  He goes on to observe that we all are slaves of sin by the same three causes.  Sin has conquered us, so that we are not free to do what we know is right.  We are sinners by birth, being born with a nature that is hostile toward God and oriented toward pleasing self.  We are sinners by debt, having run up an unpayable debt toward God who states that the wages of our sin is death.

But–and this is crucial–many people are not even aware of their condition as slaves to sin.  Having been born in sin, living all their lives to gratify the selfish desires of their corrupt nature, and being unaware of the huge, unpayable debt they have run up before the holy God, they’re like the Jews who argued with Jesus that they had never been enslaved to anyone (John 8:33).  They are like the frog in the kettle, unaware that the water is now boiling.

But Jesus replied, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin…. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36).  That is the startling truth we must all face.

Only Jesus Christ, by His substitutionary death, can set us free from bondage to sin.  But He only does it when we recognize our need and call out to Him for deliverance.  Then, having been freed from sin through faith in Christ, we become enslaved to God and begin to grow in holiness (Rom. 6:22).

If we call ourselves Christians, and Jesus is Lord, then we need to voluntarily and gladly submit to Him with all our strength in every area of life.

When Paul later says, “For me to live is Christ” captures this idea.  Our lives were bought by Christ and we should live every moment for Christ.  That doesn’t mean we can’t have a family or engage in business, but it means that obedience to Christ is central to all we do.

Every morning we voluntarily submit ourselves—our lives, our schedules, our families, our work—to the Lord.  We await His orders and obey His known will in every activity and interaction of the day.

The starting place for experiencing God’s joy is to yield yourself daily as a slave to Jesus as your Master; and to view yourself as being on duty for Him, listening for His voice, quick to obey His commands.

Again, in several of his epistles, but introduces himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, to emphasize his God-given authority.  Identifying himself here as a “slave” emphasizes humility, the very attitude that the Philippians needed for unity and for joy.

While we sometimes need authority, we always need humility.

End Notes:

Discussion on “bond slave” comes from Paul Brownback’s blog Hope That is Real, February 9, 10 and 17, 2017.

Joy on the Front Lines of Ministry, part 1 (Acts 15:39-16:15)

As parents or children you might remember the book Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  It reads…

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

So begins the trials and tribulations of the irascible Alexander, who has been earning sympathy from readers since 1972.  People of all ages have terrible, horrible day, and Alexander offers us the cranky commiseration we crave as well as a reminder that things may not be all that bad.  As Alexander’s day progresses, he faces a barrage of bummers worthy of a country-western song: getting smushed in the middle seat of the car, a dessert-less lunch sack, a cavity at the dentist’s office, stripe-less sneakers, witnessing kissing on television, and being forced to sleep in railroad-train pajamas.  He resolves several time to move to Australia.

As we open our text to look at Paul’s church planting attempt in Philippi, nothing seems to be going right for him either.

His first missionary journey had been a smashing success, establishing churches and disciples in several cities in Asia Minor.

But his second missionary journey starts out with one problem after another.

Would you be able to retain your joy if you and your best friend and comrade split ways, if your ministry plans were shut down by God, if your initial core group for your new ministry was “less than expected,” if you encountered demonic opposition, were flogged and imprisoned and eventually run out of town?

It sounds like a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad quarter for Paul!

All of these obstacles are what Paul faced in trying to plant a new church in Philippi.  It makes our failed attempt to plant a church in Little Rock seem like a piece of cake!

Right at the outset Paul had to start over with a new team.  After a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39) with Barnabas over John Mark, who had gone AWOL during the first missionary journey, Barnabas and Paul split ways and now Paul teams up with Silas (cf. Acts 15:22, 32) and then another young man named Timothy (Acts 16:1-3).

While these men would eventually be very faithful fellow ministers with Paul, he was breaking in new blood.  He believed in working together as a team and was likely very hurt to lose Barnabas.  They had served together in Antioch even before their first missionary trip.

But Paul doesn’t lose heart.  He simply puts together another team.

The second obstacle Paul faced was a change of ministry plans.  Paul’s initial plan was announce din Acts 15:36:

“Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

Now, after the disagreement and teaming up with Silas (Acts 15:41) Paul “went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches.”

They went to Derbe, Lystra and Iconium, “through the cities” (Acts 16:4) and the churches were “strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5).  So far everything was going great.

But then problems started.  They started with God standing in the way of Paul’s plans.

How dare He!

6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.

I have to admit, I would much rather God bless my plans than change them.

Apparently twice the Holy Spirit kept them from going to Asia and the area of Bithynia.  They were being “herded” by the Holy Spirit, God was redirecting their plans.

It reminds me of Proverbs 16:9 which says,

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

God doesn’t always do things the way we want Him to.  Paul was probably confused, frustrated and maybe even upset.  He had plans for a fruitful ministry and God was shutting the down on that.  Everywhere he turned the door was closing.

It reminds me of the story of Mark and Gloria Zook, who wanted to be missionaries, but were initially told they would be too old after getting the training they needed.  God seemed to be shutting the door on their dreams.  Finally, however, they got their training with New Tribes Mission and were sent to Papua New Guinea.

You can see their amazing story on YouTube by searching for Ee-Taow: The Mouk Story.  Ee-Taow means “it is true,” which was the eventual response of the tribal people after hearing weeks of teaching through the Old Testament and Gospels.

Now, because Paul didn’t give up, and He was submissive to God, God ultimately communicated to him in a vision, in which he saw a “man of Macedonia” (Acts 16:9), who stood and begged Paul, “Come over the Macedonia and help us.”

Now, whether Paul had had any previous plans or aspirations to go to Europe we don’t know, But he immediately perceived that it was God’s calling for him to head West into Europe.

There are two significant things I learn from Acts 16:10.  First, Paul’s obedience to this new direction was immediate and unwavering, even though it had not been his initial plan.  Would that our obedience would be so unquestioning and immediate!  He didn’t hold obstinately to his own plans but submitted his plans to the Lord’s direction.

Second, you will notice a change in pronouns beginning in v. 10.  From here on out in the book of Acts you will notice that it is “we,” not “they” that form the central players of these narratives.  This is when Doctor Luke officially joined the team.   Luke would be an invaluable addition to the team and would author two New Testament books.

Whether he was the “man of Macedonia” who appeared in Paul’s dream we don’t know.

So, this growing, redirected mission team went by sea from Troas to Neapolis and then inland to Philippi.

Image result for troas neopolis philippi

Let’s take a moment to describe this city of Philippi.

The name of the city of Philippi was originally “Krinides” (lit. springs). It stood about 10 miles inland from the Aegean Sea in the Roman province of Macedonia.  In 356 B.C. Philip II, King of Macedonia and father of Alexander the Great, renamed the town after himself and enlarged it.

In 42 B.C., the Roman commanders Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus defeated Brutus and Cassius in a battle fought just west of Philippi.  After that battle, Philippi became a military colony. Subsequent battles in 42 and 31 B.C. resulted in Philippi receiving even higher status.  The citizens enjoyed autonomous government, immunity from taxes, and treatment as if they lived in Italy.

Luke’s description of Philippi as a “leading city of the district of Macedonia” (Acts 16:12) probably refers to its colonial status, since it was the only Roman colony in the area.  Amphipolis was the capital of the district, and Thessalonica was the capital of the province.

The Via Egnatia, the main highway going from Rome toward the east, ran through Philippi, and brought much commerce and many travelers to Philippi.  The nearby Gangites (modern Angitis) River was another natural advantage to the city, since it constituted another ancient thoroughfare (cf. Acts 16:13).

Image result for gangites river

Thomas Constable notes:

The Macedonians were a distinct national group, though they had strong ties to the Greeks. They had offered the most stubborn resistance against Rome’s efforts to extend its influence. In an attempt to break down their strong nationalistic spirit of independence, Rome divided Macedonian territory into four districts, each of which had its own local government under Rome. We see this stubborn character in the Macedonians’ reaction to Paul’s preaching. Nevertheless once won over, the Macedonian converts became just as loyal to Paul as they had been hostile to him at first.

Upon entering Philippi Paul’s habit up to now was to find a Jewish synagogue and there reason with the men about the real identity of Jesus and His resurrection power.

However, there does not seem to have been enough Jewish men in Philippi to establish a synagogue, for 10 male heads of households were required to establish a synagogue.  And that leads us to a third obstacle Paul faced—the initial lack of men in the early days of his church plant.

When Paul went to the river Gangites looking for a place of prayer, again, probably trying to find some men there.  Instead, he found only women.

Now ladies, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but Paul likely would have been disappointed that he had no men to work with—only women.  On the other hand, it is significant that the first European converts were women, and Paul would come to value them more and more.

You see, Paul’s fellow Pharisees would not have stooped to teaching women and regularly in their rote prayers thanked God that they were not Gentiles, slaves or women.  Even the Greco-Roman society did not think highly of women.

Some believe that Paul hated women, yet in the 4th chapter of Philippians Paul will state about Euodia and Synteche, two feuding women, that they “labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers” (Phil. 4:3).

By the way, it is not surprising that then, as now, women were more spiritually attuned to God and regularly praying.

One commentator even suggests that it was in answer to these women’s prayers that Paul received the Macedonian call.  That’s something to think about!

Even though circumstances may not have been turning out as Paul had desired, he did not give up in frustration but worked with the people God gave him.  I’m sure even Jesus had times he could have wondered why God had chosen these twelve apostles, but He also realized that it was God’s pleasure to call them.

One of the principles you learn in church planting, and even in church work in general, is the people God brings to you is an indication of what God is leading you to accomplish.  It turns out that Paul’s first two converts in Europe were women.

Paul’s team began to “speak” (Acts 16:13) to these women and Lydia responded because “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”

Lydia was a businesswoman who was originally from Thyatira and was a “worshipper of God” (which is a typical way of referring to a Gentile who had developed a faith in and love for Jehovah, the God of the Jews).

As a “dealer in purple cloth” she would likely have been very wealthy.  It took 8,000 mollusks to product one gram of purple dye!  Purple was the most precious and desired of all colors and thus was very popular.

Image result for lydia seller of purple mollusks dye

Notice two things about Lydia’s conversion.  First, her belief in Jehovah wasn’t enough.  She needed something more.  I’ve heard many people say, “I believe in God,” but what counts is that they “believe in Jesus Christ” and what He did for them on the cross.

Second, in order for her to believe, God had to “open her heart.”  Something had to happen within the human heart before one can make the decision to trust in Christ.

Paul’s epistles tell us that we were “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1), our spiritual eyes were blinded by the God of this age (2 Corinthians 4:3) and our wills enslaved to Satan (2 Timothy 2:26).

In the book of Acts so far we can see that God’s rescue effort for helpless sinners is three-fold.

First, we see that some (or many) did not believe because they “thrust it aside” (Acts 13:46) because the message of the gospel was “folly to [them], and [they were] not able to understand” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  The mind of the flesh “is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).

Everyone who hears and rejects the gospel “hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20).  They remain “darkened in their understanding . . . because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). It is a guilty ignorance.  The truth is available.  But “by their unrighteousness [they] suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).

But why then do some believe, since all are in this condition of rebellious hardness of heart, dead in their trespasses?  The book of Acts gives the answer in at least three different ways.

One is that they are appointed to believe.  When Paul preached in Antioch of Pisidia, the Gentiles rejoiced and “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).

Another way of answering why some believe is that God granted repentance.  When the saints in Jerusalem heard that Gentiles, and not just Jews, were responding to the gospel, they said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

This is the only hope for those held captive by Satan, as Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25-26.  Timothy was to instruct with kindness and patience so that…

God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

But the clearest answer in Acts to the question why a person believes the gospel is that God opens the heart. Lydia is the best example.  Why did she believe?  Acts 16:14 says, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”

Spiritual eyes, once blinded to the gospel, were opened; spiritual ears, once deaf to the gospel, now hear; wills once bound to Satan have been set free.

If you are a believer in Jesus, all of these happened to you: You were appointed to believe; you were granted to repent; and the Lord opened your heart. The rest of your life you should be overflowing with amazed thankfulness at the miracle that you are a believer.

Notice then that in v. 15 she and her household were immediately baptized.  Baptism is the public expression of an inward faith that declares, “I am now a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

That “all her household” was baptized is not necessarily an indication of infant baptism, but is likely an indication that Paul had the further opportunity (or maybe Lydia did) of preaching the gospel to her family and they, too, responded.

It is quite common in some cultures to follow the example of an influential person (chieftain, father, for example) and believe.  The reason she was baptized immediately is that everyone could see that she truly believed and, in that culture, it was clear that baptism signified a change of allegiance to Jesus Christ.

Finally, it is significant that a key quality of a heart changed by the gospel is the offering of hospitality.  Lydia welcomed them to meet in her home.  When a heart has been opened, the home is soon to follow.  As Rosaria Butterfield says, “the gospel comes with a housekey.”

You can watch her message at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aaWG6V5phI

Lydia’s home was likely large enough to host Paul’s new congregation in Philippi.


End notes:


Paul, Apostle of Joy

Today we’re starting a new series of message on the book of Philippians.  The tone throughout the book is one of joy.

Joy is a central theme in the book of Philippians (even if not the primary theme). There are 15 explicit references to some form of either the noun “joy” (chara in Greek) or the verb “rejoice” (chairo) in this short letter.

    1. Paul prays for the Philippian believers with joy (chara) because of their partnership with him in the gospel. (1:4-5)

    2. He rejoices (chairo) that Christ is proclaimed – even when Christ is proclaimed with impure motives. (1:18)

    3. He rejoices (chairo) that his current hardship will turn out for his deliverance, through the prayers of the believers and the help of the Spirit. (1:18-1:19)

    4. Paul is convinced that the continuation of his ministry to the Philippians will contribute to their “progress and joy (chara) in the faith”. (1:25)

    5. Paul has joy (chara) when the believers are unified and single-minded. (2:2)

    6. Paul would be glad (chairo) in his sacrifice for the sake of their faith, so that his ministry was not in vain. (2:17)

    7. Paul would rejoice with (synchairo) the believers in his sacrifice for the sake of their faith, so that his ministry was not in vain (2:17)

    8. Paul encourages the Philippian believers to also be glad (chairete) in his life being poured out for them. (2:18)

    9. Paul encourages the Philippian believers to also rejoice with (synchairete) him in his life being poured out for them. (2:18)

    10. Paul is eager to send Epaphroditus back to them, so that they can rejoice (chairo) in seeing him again and be less anxious about his health. (2:28)

    11. Paul encourages the Philippian church to receive Epaphroditus back with joy (chara), since he risked his life for the work of Christ. (2:29)

    12. Paul has no problem with frequently repeating the reminder to “rejoice (chairo) in the Lord,” because he knows how important it is. (3:1)

    13. Paul encourages the Philippians to “rejoice (chairo) in the Lord always.” (4:4)

    14. For added emphasis, Paul again commands the Philippian believers to rejoice (chairo). (4:4)

    15. The Philippians’ renewed ability to support his ministry caused Paul to rejoice (chairo) in the Lord greatly. (4:10)

I think we can rightly say that Paul himself was an apostle of joy.  I teach my congregation at Grace Bible Church that joy comes from thanking God for His grace.  You see, in the Greek language, all three words—joy, give thanks and grace—come from a common Greek word root—Char.  “Joy” is Chara, “give thanks” is eucharisteo and “grace” is charis.  I believe that God, and Paul, intentionally links these words together to show us a key spiritual truth—whenever we need more joy, we need to concentrate on identifying God’s gracious dealings with us and then intentionally and verbally give thanks for them.

Paul’s joy is not at all dependent on his circumstances.  Although he has been imprisoned for almost four years (1:12-18), he still rejoices (1:18).  Even were he to be sentenced to death for his ministry, still he would rejoice (2:17, 18).  Paul had learned to be content in whatever his present condition (4:11).

Paul’s joy was related to his calling and his personal experience of the free gift of God’s grace.  He referred to “my grace” (1:7).  The grace he had been given was the reason he could rejoice in spite of his chains.  He had an enormous passion for preaching the grace given through Christ (1:12-18).  His joy came from knowing the name of Jesus was getting the attention it deserved.  That’s what mattered most to Paul.  When our joy lies in actually fulfilling our calling, the criticisms and persecutions of the world won’t make much difference.

Paul’s joy was also in people.  His life and sense of well being were always tied to the success in the faith of those he ministered to.  He calls the Philippians “my joy and crown” and exhorts them to stand fast (4:1).  He urges the church to “complete my joy” (2:2).  He describes in detail how they can do that (1:27—2:18).  If they will accomplish it, he says, he will be able to rejoice that his labors with them have not been in vain (2:16).  Self-centered people don’t have that kind of feeling for others.  Neither do they have much joy.  The joy of Paul and the Philippians was related to the bond that joined them (2:17, 18).  We don’t pay enough attention to that bond these days.  There should be great joy in our oneness, our fellowship, our common bond in Christ.

Finally, Paul’s joy was primarily related to Christ.  Paul said, “We . . . glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (3:3).  That is the explanation of everything else Paul has said.  Paul wanted the Philippians to know bad circumstances do not rob him of joy because his joy is in Christ.  Paul’s joy was in preaching Jesus Christ and in the fellowship of the followers of Christ.  It is Christ that was Paul’s joy, confidence and righteousness.  Paul knew that nothing matters but knowing Him (3:3-14).  We can know that when the Lord Himself is our joy (cf. Psalm 73:25) nothing can take it away.  Along with Paul we can say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (4:4).

Unlike other people, who can let us down and sometimes stifle our joy, Jesus Christ is a rock who never changes.

Paul was born in the city of Tarsus, in Cilicia (Acts 21:39; 22:3).  He was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin (2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5), originally named “Saul” but became known as “Paul,” an apostle to the Gentiles.

Image result for tarsusImage result for tarsus

Paul was brought up as a strict Pharisee (Acts 23:6), the protégé of Gamaliel (Acts 5:24; 22:4).  He excelled as a Pharisee (Acts 22:4; Phil. 3:5) and became a persecutor of the early Christians (Acts 7:58; 8:3-22; 26:9-11).  He had also learned the trade of tent stitching (Acts 18:3-20; 1 Cor. 4:12).

Image result for Acts 9 map

from Paul Miller’s Casual English Bible, Acts

Paul was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19), his destination for arresting Christians.  After his conversion he started preaching (Acts 9:20-22), but then spends 3 years in the Arabian desert (Gal. 1:11-17), getting some private tutoring from Jesus Christ.  He returned then to Damascus (Acts 9:23), then Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-29), where he faced opposition and had to flee to Tarsus (Acts 9:30).  He spent a year in Antioch (Acts 11:25), then returned to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30).

Back at Antioch Paul and Barnabas were commissioned for the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3).

Image result for first missionary journey

Map by Mark Meynell

This happened in A.D. 46-48.  That first missionary journey took them to Cypress and Asia Minor (what we call Turkey, today), where they made disciples and established new churches (Acts 13:13-14:21a).  Then they returned to encourage those new congregations (Acts 14:21b-25a), returned to Antioch to give a missions report (Acts 14:26-38).  They then went to Jerusalem to defend a grace-oriented gospel before the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.

It was on Paul’s second missionary journey in 49-52 A.D. that Paul, Silas and Timothy first came to Philippi.  We will talk more about that next week.

Paul established a church there.  This newly established church was immediately willing to help Paul financially.

While in Thessalonica for the space of “three Sabbaths” the Philippians sent Paul funds more than once (Phil. 4:15-16). Turmoil and opposition (this time, Jewish) again forced him to leave town, and he traveled through Berea, Athens, and finally, Corinth, where he received a divine promise of protection, allowing him to settle down for eighteen months (50-51 CE).  During his stay at Corinth, the Philippian church again sent him aid (cf. 2 Cor. 11:7-9).

Paul's Second Missionary Journey, Baker Publishing Group

(3) In the spring of 52 CE, Paulbegan his third missionary journey.

Paul's Third Missionary Journey, conforming to JesusThis journey involved more than church-planting or follow-up; it also involved raising money for the Jerusalem congregations (cf. Acts 18:23; Rom. 15:25-26; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 9:1-2, 12-23). “There was a theological as well as practical reason behind this effort. Paul’s emphasis on the gospel of grace entailed accepting Christian Gentiles without their being required to fulfill any Jewish ceremonies (cf. Gal. 5:2-6).  This approach raised a few eyebrows in some Jewish circles, created serious tensions even among moderate groups, and provoked furious opposition elsewhere (cf. Acts 15:1-5; Gal. 2:1-16).”  The opposition Paul was facing was from “Judaizers,” who attempted to sabotage Paul’s ministry of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

After almost three years in Ephesus, Paul resumed his fund-raising trek to Jerusalem.  He came to Macedonia in the spring of 55 CE.  Since the Philippians had given so much to Paul’s ministry, he asked nothing of them for this Jerusalem project.  However, they insisted, even though they themselves were poor (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-5).

Paul finally brought the money to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 21:17-19).  Shortly after the visit, he was arrested and spent two years in prison in Caesarea (spring, 56 CE–summer, 58 CE).  During this imprisonment, the Philippians were both uncertain as to Paul’s fate, and lacked funds to help him (Phil. 4:10).

When Paul appealed to Caesar in the summer of 58 CE, he sailed for Rome for trial (Acts 25:10-12; 27:1).  News of his appeal would certainly have spread to his churches.  The Philippians once again would have wanted a share in his expenses (Phil. 4:10).

We can see why this congregation had become so dear to Paul.

So they dispatched Epaphroditus to Rome with their gift (Phil. 4:18).  But Epaphroditus came with more than money: he also had questions for the apostle about the church’s opponents, and the members’ own poverty (cf. Phil. 3:2, 18-19; 4:6, 19).  As well, the church was hoping that Paul would retain Epaphroditus as his assistant and send Timothy back to them (Phil. 2:19-30).

Paul, however, was unable to send Timothy until he found out more about his own circumstances. Instead, he decided to send Epaphroditus back (Phil. 2:25-30).  “Aware that the Philippians would be deeply disappointed to see Epaphroditus rather than Timothy return, Paul was faced with a serious challenge.  How would he cushion the inevitable disappointment?”

So Paul wrote this letter and dispatched Epaphroditus with his letter to the Philippians.

Moises Silva says,

“The very difficulty of the task that was before the apostle would draw from him, under divine inspiration, a message full of comfort and joy, rebuke and encouragement, doctrine and exhortation.  Quite beyond Paul’s own powers of anticipation, the letter he was about to dictate would speak to the hearts of countless believers for many centuries to come.”

So why did Paul write this letter?

First, it is a “thank you” letter to the Philippians thanking them for their most recent gift and reminding them how faithfully God takes care of him AND them.

Secondly, it is a response to the various questions and problems raised by Epaphroditus, including issues of poverty, quarrelsomeness, selfishness, as well as outside opposition to Paul’s gospel.

Finally, the letter is a diplomatic reintroduction of Epaphroditus in light of the Philippians’ hope that Timothy would be sent.

Daniel Wallace says that…

Philippians is essentially a “thank you” letter for the sacrificial giving that the Philippians had made on Paul’s behalf.  But because their own sacrifice was so great they began to doubt God’s continued provision.  Thus the themes of (1) thanksgiving for God’s provision, (2) regarding one another as more important than oneself, (3) rejoicing over their salvation in the face of opposition, and (4) trusting God for his care are all found in this occasional letter.

So let’s talk for a few minutes about joy.  Few people realize how important joy is to the Christian life, and fewer experience it consistently.

Of course, joy can be distinguished from happiness (although not all agree).  Happiness can be said to be tied to happenings, to favorable circumstances, so that we experience a certain degree of pleasure and satisfaction when circumstances turn out in a positive way for us.

On the other hand, and we see it in this epistle, joy is something that is present even when circumstances are not favorable.  Paul is in prison, unsure whether he will get out or continue to live, yet he expresses joy.

As I mentioned earlier, in order for us to experience joy, we have to tie that joy to things that are unchanging—like God’s character and promises.  We have to anchor it in unchanging spiritual truths about God and ourselves.

While temperament and the rigors of daily life can certainly challenge our joy, the real joy-sapper is living in sin.

Thus, Jim Johnston says…

But the most miserable Christians I’ve seen are those who live with a foot in both worlds.

They hedge their bets.  They have one eye on heaven and one on earth.  They call on the name of Christ, but they still try to find security, satisfaction, pleasure, or fulfillment from this world.  They’re riding the fence.  And they’re not happy.

Is that you?  The only way to have joy is to say a full “Yes” to God.  Which means saying “No” to the world.

The Psalms drive this truth home.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:2)

And again,

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25)

And again,

I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are . . . my portion in the land of the living.” (Psalm 142:5)

In the New Testament, James writes,

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (James 1:16–17)

Calvin put it this way:

It will not suffice simply to hold that there is one whom all ought to honor and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him. . . . For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him — they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him. (Institutes, 1.2.1)

John Piper believes that God’s glory and our joy are not mutually exclusive, but that they fit together hand in glove.  When we find God to be our greatest joy, as He rightly is, then He is most glorified.  He says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied with Him.”

That is what is so wonderful about being a Christian—that we are clued in to what we bring us the greatest joy.

Sources for this message







Sources for this message





Love That Will Not Let Me Go, part 2 (Hosea 14:4-9)

Today is our last day in the book of Hosea.  I’ve enjoyed this series.  Hosea is one of my favorite books in the Bible.  In it, God calls Hosea to marry a prostitute.  Why?  Because God wants to illustrate the pathos of His love for faithless Israel.  Israel would betray Yahweh’s love by running to the Baalim and would rather trust in political alliances to save them than Yahweh’s mighty power.

In Hosea 14 Yahweh calls them once again to repentance.  He has been faithful to forgive them time and time again, but He is also just and will bring discipline.  Vv. 4-8 of Hosea 14 describes what Yahweh will do for Israel when they do finally turn in true repentance.

That will happen right at the end of the tribulation period, as described in Zechariah 12 when “the nations of the earth” are gathered against Jerusalem (12:3).  But Yahweh will deliver them so undeniably that the clans of Judah outside the city of Jerusalem will say “The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the LORD of hosts, their God” (12:5).  “On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them.  And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (12:8-9).

Then notice what happens in the hearts of those who are delivered.  Verse 10 says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

I believe that is the moment Paul speaks about in Romans 11:26 when he says “All Israel shall be saved.”  Those Jews who survive to the end of the tribulation period will see Yahweh’s deliverance and realize that they crucified their Messiah and they will repent and believe.  Then Yahweh will do for them what he describes here in Hosea 14:4-8

4 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be like the dew of Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; 6 his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you.  I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.

Remember that the name “Ephraim” means “fruitfulness.”  Yahweh is reminding them, and they will finally realize, that their fertility does not come from themselves or from the Baalim, but from Yahweh alone.

Like many promises of God, verse 4 starts with two “I will…” statements:  “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely.”  Why?  “Because my anger has turned from them.”

When they turned, or returned, to Yahweh, His anger would turn away from them.  That anger had to be satisfied before he could heal them and love them freely.  And God did that by offering His own Son to take the place of sinners and satisfy the wrath of God against sins.  That is our only hope and it is their only hope.

When God’s wrath is satisfied, He is no longer angry, but can love them freely and heal them.

Warren Wiersbe notes:

“When a person collapses with sickness, it’s usually the result of a process that’s been working in the body for weeks or months.  First an infection gets into the system and begins to grow. The person experiences weariness and loss of appetite, then weakness, and then the collapse occurs.  When sin gets into the inner person and isn’t dealt with, it acts like an insidious infection: it grows quietly; it brings loss of spiritual appetite; it creates weariness and weakness; then comes the collapse.”

That is what had happened to Ephraim, to Israel.  Soon, Assyria would come and conquer their armies, ravage them land and destroy their idols.  These Jews would never see their homeland again.

But at a future time—still future even today (though growing closer)—Israel will begin to return to the land and will finally repent and Yahweh will be able to heal them.

Israel was wounded (Hos. 5:12-14; 13:7-8) but could now be healed.

He will also love them freely, without constraint.  His justice being satisfied He can lavish them with love, just as He does to us who have believed in His Son Jesus Christ.

Now, remember that the book of Hosea has been about a love story.  Hosea married Gomer to illustrate Yahweh’s marriage to Israel.  As did Gomer, a returning Israel would find their “Husband” receiving them freely because of His great love for them.

In the earlier imagery Hosea had been told to seek his erring wife and bring her back to the family (3:1).  By that action he would demonstrate God’s own intention to “allure” His wayward wife Israel into a return to covenant relation with Himself (2:14-20).

God had warned His people again and again of their certain judgment and that He would withdraw Himself and leave them to their fate for whatever time was necessary (5:15a), yet He never stopped loving His people (11:8-9).  The implication was clear. Through Hosea His prophet God has been appealing to His people.

Although Israel’s restoration lay in the distant future because God’s people must yet suffer their deserved punishment, they have had divinely sent encouragement for them to return to full covenant relation with the Lord (6:1; 14:1-3).

In the verses that follow, there is language that is very reminiscent of the language between the lovers in Song of Solomon.

Yahweh will be able to love them lavishly and it will produce great expressions of love towards Israel.

In the familiar threefold literary style of the book the Lord uses three similes employing imagery of refreshment and revitalization (v. 5).

The Lord first promises to be “like the dew to Israel.”  Earlier Israel’s faithfulessness toward the Lord was declared to be as lasting and fleeting as the morning dew (6:4).  Subsequently, both Israel’s idolaters and idols were soon to disappear “like early morning dew” (13:3).  In a reversal of imagery the dew becomes symbolic here of a life-giving vitality that provides the source of renewed life and strength for Israel—God Himself—“I will be like the dew to Israel.”

Renewed water sources can bring health, beauty, and fragrance to a landscape.  A second simile promises that as once again in fellowship with the true Rain-giver (NOT Baal) Israel will “blossom like a lily.”  The image speaks of a renewed spiritual life that brings fresh blessings from the Lord of the covenant.

The lily may well also speak of the restored love relationship between wife Israel and “Husband” Yahweh, as we read in Song of Solomon 2:2; 5:13.  This spiritual restoration gives them life and health, true shalom.

In a third simile future Israel’s new strength and prosperity is compared to a cedar tree and its strong root system.  Although the word “cedar” does not appear in the Hebrew text, it is generally assumed that the reference is to the cedars of Lebanon.

It was those very cedars whose strength and fragrance were famous that were utilized in the building of the Temple complex (1 Kings 6:9; 7:2; 10:17; 1 Chron. 22:4).

Walton, Matthews & Chavalas (Bible Background Commentary, p. 760) remark that the cedars of Lebanon were “considered the most useful of the large growth trees in the ancient Near East” and sought after for their lumber as a “source for construction and a symbol of wealth in Mesopotamian literature, including the Gilgamesh Epic and the Annals of many kings from the Sumerians through the Assyrians.”

The idyllic imagery is furthered in verse 6 by stressing in yet another threefold list the growth and progress that will occur in a restored Israel.  New “shoots” testify that the nation is alive and well again.  That they are spreading out indicates that the nation is once again growing and expanding.

As Laetsch says

“No longer shall she be like a withered, dying, heath in the desert, but like a vigorous, flourishing plant spreading its shoots ever farther and farther” (Minor Prophets. P. 109).

 Israel’s prominence and influence will be felt far and wide (Jer. 16:19; Zech. 14:6).

In that day Israel’s splendor will be “as majestic as the olive tree, and will have the fragrance of Lebanon’s cedars.  Such will be the position of God’s people among the nations.“

Here, the attractiveness of Israel would appeal to both the eye and the nose.

Thus, “The three lines of the triplet allude to three aspects of Israel’s future status: stability (‘his shoots’), visibility (‘his splendor’), and desirability (‘his scent’)” (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 216).

This image also finds reflection in Song of Solomon 4:11, where the bride is addressed with the words “the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.”

God’s portrait of Israel’s grand future concludes with scenes of living once again in the Promised Land.  The people will find protection and rest under the shade of the new tree that is Israel.  Others will also seek to find their blessings in connection with the renewed Israel.

As Garrett observes, “If Israel is the metaphorical tree in whose shade others dwell, the conceptual unity of the text is maintained and the implied expectation, that Gentiles would in the eschaton would find blessing in Israel, agrees with many other prophecies of the future of the people of God.”

The remainder of verse 7 points to further productivity in the land.  Together with the previous mention of the olive tree, grain, and wine signifying God’s renewed blessings upon a newly faithful covenant people (cf. Hos. 2:8-9; Deut. 7:12-13; 11:13-14) the mention of the vine testifies to Israel’s fruitful condition.

Earlier Israel was likened to a luxuriant vine that had become wayward (Hos. 10:1-2).  In the future Yahweh would replant them and they would be luxurious.

The metaphor of Israel as a vine is quite familiar in the Scriptures (e.g., Isa. 5:2-6).  Together with the fig tree the vine often symbolized the blessedness of Israel’s covenant relation with Yahweh.  These included such things as security and serenity (cf. 1 Kings 4:25).  All of this God’s people will once again enjoy (Mic. 4:3-4).

The Lord’s final word through Hosea to His people is an impassioned one (v. 8).  Once more the most responsible tribe of Ephraim is singled out for rebuke.  It is expressed in terms of a rhetorical question (MT): “O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?”

The expected answer is: “Absolutely nothing!”

Duane Garrett clarifies

“God’s parting word … does not mean that God once had business with idols but no longer does.  Rather, the point is that he has already spoken as much as he can endure to speak about the gods of Canaan” (Hosea-Joel, p.

Even more to the point is the fact that God and the false gods, which the idols represent, have nothing in common.  God has been patient with Israel’s idolatry even though this has been an affront to His holy character.  When Israel has been chastised and corrected, all traces of idolatry will disappear.

Israel has never needed or benefited from its fascination with idolatry.  As a matter of fact, it is Yahweh who has cared for Israel all along. That provision will be especially true of the promised future.

The promise that God would “answer” Ephraim is predicated upon Israel’s words of confession and petition for forgiveness, which Hosea has just urged his people to communicate to God (14:2-3).

God’s promise to answer is reminiscent of the familiar call-answer motif that so often speaks of intimate communion between God and His people.  The call-answer motif underscores the fact of God’s ready availability to come to the aid of His people for refuge and deliverance from danger or distress (Pss. 20:6-9; 81:6-7; 102:1-2; 138:8).

Unfortunately, Israel has failed to do so (Hos. 7:7), choosing rather to call upon human resources (7:11).

As here, the motif also has an eschatological setting (cf. Zech. 13:7-9).  So sweet will be that future restored fellowship between Yahweh and His covenant people that, “Before they even call out, I will respond; while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24).

Israel must realize that its only basis for life lived on the highest plain is the Lord.  Previously Israel’s future blessing would make it “like an olive tree” (v. 6). In a reversal of imagery and in an unusual simile Yahweh compares Himself to a luxuriant tree with strong roots.

He alone is Israel’s true and unfailing source of power and success and it is He who provides real “fruit” to those who follow Him.

Ephraim was previously shown to be a fruitless plant (9:16), even though it had once been a fruitful vine.  For it had misconstrued and misused its God –endowed blessings by attributing its “fruit” to pagan deities such as Baal (10:1) and to raw military power (10:13).

Yet there is hope.  A repentant forgiven Israel could and will once again be fruitful for it will receive and acknowledge that its fruit comes from the Lord.  The life of God’s people will be lived out in true spiritual success that comes from their relation to Yahweh and surrender to Him as Lord of their lives.

The similes likening both Israel (v. 7) and Yahweh (v. 8) to trees is instructive.  If Israel is to be a productive, fruitful tree, it is because its character reflects and partakes of that of the Divine Tree.

The principle here anticipates Jesus’ teaching concerning the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8). Christian believers produce “fruit” (Gal. 5:22-23) on the basis of their union with the risen Christ (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27).

Hosea’s closing maxim provides the epilogue of the book.

9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Here Hosea is calling Israel to hear and give heed to what he has been preaching to them.  Whether they are wise and discerning is proven by their ability to understand and respond positively to his teachings.

Throughout the book Hosea has charged Israel with lack of knowledge and discernment.

As the recipient and transmitter of divine revelation Hosea issues here a final challenge.  The people should understand that it is God’s ways that are right.  Indeed, “The message of this wisdom saying and the entire Book of Hosea hinges on the categorical assertion that ‘the ways of the LORD are right’” (Charles H. Silva, “The Literary Structure of Hosea 9-14,” BibSac 164 (2007): 435-453).

But like the parables of Jesus centuries later, some would find those ways and walk in them, and others would stumble.

Unlike the rebellious or wicked person (cf. Ps. 1:6) who will stumble and bring on his own punishment (Prov. 16:25; 18:6-7), the wise man will succeed and avoid evil (Prov. 16:16-17), and also experience the Lord’s rich blessings (Ps. 119:1-3; Prov. 16:20).

Hosea’s advice is still relevant to today’s believers who walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7) and in the light of God’s revealed truth (1 John 1:5-7).

I hope that you have enjoyed the book of Hosea and will stay with me as we begin the book of Philippians next week.

Love That Will Not Let Me Go, part 1 (Hosea 14:1-3)

One of the things I love about the parable of the prodigal son is that it communicates the message: It’s always OK to come home.”  But coming home involved repentance on the part of the younger son.  In order to come home, we have to truly repent of our sins.

In Hosea 14 there is a call to come home and that call to come home must pass through the process of genuine repentance.  There is no other way.

Fortunately there is a way, a way out of our present predicament, a way beyond the level of our personal efforts.  Here in Hosea 14 we see Yahweh through Hosea calling the people to turn back, to make an about face and return to him.

It is the normal pattern for the Hebrew prophets to predict coming judgment but ultimate hope.  Hosea is not out of character here.  He has spent many chapters nailing Israel to the wall.  Their sins would be punished.  But beyond punishment lay hope.  Listen to the words of Hosea 14:

1 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. 2 Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” 4 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; 6 his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit. 9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

This is our last chapter in the book of Hosea.

Charles Spurgeon remarks on this chapter:

“This is a wonderful chapter to be at the end of such a book. I had never expected from such a prickly shrub to gather so fair a flower, so sweet a fruit; but so it is: where sin abounded, grace doth much more abound. No chapter in the Bible can be more rich in mercy than this last of Hosea; and yet no chapter in the Bible might, in the natural order of things, have been more terrible in judgment. Where we looked for the blackness of darkness, behold a noontide of light!” (Charles Spurgeon)

David Hubbard summarizes what we’ve seen in Hosea so far.  He points to the threats of judgment that have built up in the third section of Hosea (11:12-13:16), announcing a total and irreparable judgment that was soon upon them.

Here, in Hosea 14, Hosea is speaking to Israel’s distant future.  “His hope is that the divine constancy that has insisted on punishing a people who have abandoned their calling will reveal God’s holy love in forgiveness when the tattered remnant of the people seek it.  His approach to the future, there begins with a call to return (14:1-3), spelling out in detail the steps Israel must take to leave the days of judgment behind and move towards reconciliation.  That call is complimented by a record of God’s response in the form of a love song (14:4-8)” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 237).

Each term in the call to return (14:1-3) is chosen to recall and distill major aspects of Hosea’s messages to Israel.

This appeal is made to “Israel,” the nation.  We know from Israel’s history that Hosea’s generation of Israelites did not repent, but nevertheless, God’s invitation was open and genuine.  They cast off their God, but God did not cast off His people, whom He foreknew (Rom. 11:2).

The word “return” has been the characteristic way of stating God’s unfulfilled desire for Israel throughout the book (2:7, 9; 3:5; 5:4; 7:10, 16: 11:5; 12:6).  It is an old friend of Hosea.  He uses it twenty five times throughout his book.  But, as Derek Kidner aptly states: “Up to now it has brought only disappointment and reproach” (The Message of Hosea, pp. 120-121).

This word occurs four times in this concluding chapter (vv. 1, 2, 4, 7), expressing Yahweh’s longsuffering heart for Israel, as well as standing in contrast to the half-hearted return which Israel proposed in the earlier song in Hosea 6:1-3.  Remember that passage, the unfulfilled hope that it portrays?

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.  2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

How promising that had sounded!  But Yahweh saw right through the pretense and shallowness.

4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

The reality is that Israel had persistently turned the wrong way, away from the Lord, as Hosea had described in 11:7

7 My people are bent on turning away from me

Although the term “backsliding” has been used to describe such a disloyalty, the reality is that this was not an accidental mistake, but a perverse and stubborn treachery, born of pride (7:10) and a settled preference for their sin (5:4).  That is why Yahweh knew that any attempts at repentance now was false.

Yahweh is named specifically as the destination of their return (“Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God…”) because Israel’s confusion as to his nature and exclusive sovereignty over Israel has been the bone of contention between the prophet and people (cf. 2:16-17, where the very names of the Baals have to be eradicated in order that Yahweh’s true lordship be honored).

That exclusive right to their loyalty is driven home more forcefully by the addition, “the LORD your God…” (cf. 12:9 for this same self-introduction).

The need for return is expressed in the terms “stumbling” and “iniquity.”  That they have “stumbled” indicates the multiplicity of consequences that have accrued upon this defiant people, whose whole existence had become unstable and treacherously dangerous.

Sin makes life harder, as Jeremiah describes:

18:15 But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway,

Later, Isaiah would tell Judah that the same fate had befallen them:

Isaiah 3:8 For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence.

And even more graphic is Isaiah 59:10

10 We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men.

This word has been used twice before in Hosea in criticizing the attitude and actions of his people. In the first instance Hosea had challenged and condemned the priests as those most responsible for society’s spiritual infidelity and immoral behavior. For they have misled the people with their syncretistic teachings (Hos. 4:4-5).  In the following chapter (5:1-5) Hosea broadened the condemnation to include not only priests but also the upper class of society, especially those from the tribe of Ephraim (vv. 4-5).

They have all stumbled.

Given the paths they chose, Israel simply could not walk steadily and uprightly.  What they tripped over was their own iniquity.  According to Hosea 4:8 and 13:12, Ephraim was clinging to their iniquities as if they were priceless treasures.

The word “iniquity” itself has a sense of crookedness, which naturally causes stumbling.  “With a whole repertoire of terms at his disposal, Hosea chose this as the most encompassing and effective way of describing the endemic and manifold evil he decried.”

Again, this word “return” is used 4 times in this concluding chapter of Hosea’s prophecy.  First, Hosea calls his people to repent (vv. 1-2).  Then, Yahweh promises that his anger will turn (the same Hebrew word) from them (v. 4) and that the people would eventually return to Yahweh for their protection (v. 7).

The terms of a genuine return are listed in vv. 2-3:

2 Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”

While we may be tempted to say “words are cheap,” they still reflect the reality that repentance involves a verbal confession.

The worship of the Israelites at this time was full of action—sacrificing to Baal, so Yahweh calls them to respond to him in words.  It is through heartfelt words that they would return to the Lord.

This is the same idea that Paul expressed in Romans 10:8-10But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. God commands us to communicate with Him in words, not only ideas or feelings or actions.

So E. B. Pusey says…

  1. “He bids them not bring costly offerings, that they might regain His favor; not whole burnt offerings of bullocks, goats or rams; with which, and with which alone, they had before gone to seek Him [cf. 5:6]; not the silver and gold which they had lavished on their idols; but what seems the cheapest of all, which any may have, without cost to their substance; words; worthless, as mere words; precious when from the heart; words of confession and prayer, blending humility, repentance, confession, entreaty and praise of God.” (1:136)

Some believe that the words are words of confession.  We know from the Greek language that confession meaning “saying the same thing.”  In particular, confessing our sins means that we say about our sins what God has said about them.

We don’t excuse them, minimize them, rename them, we acknowledge that we have sinned sins which God has condemned.  Possibly the best example of a confession in Scripture is found in Achan’s confession:

20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them.  And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

Achan acknowledged that he had indeed sinned against Yahweh and describes exactly what he did, including the motivation (“I coveted them”) as well as the actual sin (“took them”).

Of course, David speaks about his confession in Psalms 32 and 51.

We are encouraged to confess our sins in 1 John 1:9

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Clearly, confessing our sins is a normal part of the act of repentance.

But most commentators believe we should treat “take with you words” as if it had a colon after it and the contents of the rest of vv. 2 and 3 are the actual things they were to say to Yahweh.

The first cry of their hearts will be “take away all iniquity.”  The word “all” comes first in this sentence, emphasizing the extent of their iniquity and completeness of the forgiveness they desired.

“The forgiveness pled for her is precisely what was denied in 1:6 and can be offered now only because judgment is complete.  Forgiveness deprived of justice would be a travesty of divine righteousness.  As 1 John 1:9 puts it ‘he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins.’  The cross is the ground of forgiveness because it is also the seat of judgment.” (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 239).

We are forgiven not because God winks at our sin, but because our sin was judged on the cross.  Jesus paid the cost in full and God’s justice was satisfied.

“Accept what is good” is notoriously difficult to translate in Hebrew, but it seems to suggest  the desire that Yahweh would take what was good in their confession at face value, even if not all of it was commendable.  Their confession was well meant and to be trusted.  Their prayer and praise were now “purged of the evil influence of Baalism” (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, p. 271).

The next clause is also difficult to translate, but the idea seems to be to pay God with the fruit of our lips.  “The prayer here is that God would pardon their transgressions and accept their prayers and praise as acceptable and good rather than reject them as tarnished by sin” (Duane Garrett, Hosea-Joel, p. 271).  It describes a commitment to fulfill the promises they are making.

The three pledges of verse 3 wrap up the major needs of reform.  Each contains the word not and represents a turning in Israel’s behavior.

“Assyria shall not save us” is both a fact and a commitment.  The silly dove has finally come to his senses and ceased his flitting (7:11); the unturned loaf of bread is finally done to a turn (7:8); the chronic sufferer has decided at last to change doctors (5:13); the wild ass is seeking to eat from the Trainer’s hand (8:9); the true identity of the Great King has been discovered, and his palace is not on the Tigris (5:13; 10:6).

The clause “we will not ride on horses” makes sense when we recognize the military significance of horses (cf. 1:7; Joel 2:4).  This is therefore a graphic way of denouncing all trust in military might for survival or expansion (cf. 8:14; 10:14).  Since the kings and the military commanders are often linked in Hosea as sources of national weakness or wickedness (7:7, 16; 8:4, 10; 10:3; 13:9-11), this vow may carry with it an unspoken commitment to a different role for the monarchy, as had been hinted at in 1:11 and 3:5.

Finally, “and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands” show their renouncing their former trust in idols.  The phrase “the work of our hands” epitomizes the folly of idolatry as Hosea saw it: human beings worshiping what they outrank; “they use the creativity granted to them by their Creator, in whose image they are made, to fashion images to pray to—a blatant case of a creator bowing before a creature and hence turning all of reality topsy-turvy (cf. on 2:8; 4:12; 8:5-6; 13:1-2).  The tragedy is that the idol lacks the capacity of inter-personal exchange: We may say ‘Our God’ to what we make; it can never say ‘my people’ to us (cf. 2:23)” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 240).

The closing confession “In you the orphan finds mercy” heads us full circle back to the opening of the book.  It says, in effect, that Not-pitied is counting on divine pity and that Not-my-people orphaned by the severing of the covenant, is now trusting for restoration to the family (1:9-10; 2:23).

When we come to God with our words, it involves admitting the truth about ourselves and acknowledging the truth about God.  The truth is, as John Newton once said, “I am a great sinner, but I have a great Savior.”  And we, too, have been adopted into the family of God, never to be separated from His love.


There is No Other, part 3 (Hosea 13:12-16)

Thank you for joining me this morning in the book of Hosea.  Sadly, this book written to the northern kingdom of Israel, records the continuing rebellion of Israel and their determined judgment.  Yahweh had redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and taken them as a bride to himself.  He had cared for them, providing for them and protecting them.  They showed such promise in the beginning.  But very quickly their true colors began to show.  Even before Moses could descend from the mountain with the tablets of the law, Israel was dancing around a golden calf.  Calvin said that the human heart is an idol factory and even from the beginning Israel would prove unfaithful to Yahweh, choosing to worship other gods.

Because of that, judgment was coming.  By the time Hosea is writing in chapter 13 of his prophecy, judgment was surely no more than a decade away.  Yet no one sees their destruction until it is too late, even those who are warned about it.

So, starting in Hosea 13:12 we read…

12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. 13 The pang of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb. 14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death.  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?  Compassion is hidden from my eyes. 15 Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the LORD, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

Verses 12 and 13 give us a double picture of Israel’s complacency: first, by picturing all their unforgiven sin as a well-kept store of trouble for the future; then, by the analogy of a birth that goes terribly wrong.  Where there had been signs of early promise in Israel, it had all gone horribly wrong, like a still birth.

The first metaphor in v. 12, with the verbs for binding and keeping, or hiding, suggest how firmly and intentionally Ephraim cherishes her sinful behavior.  In the words of Jesus in John, she “loved darkness.”  She bundled it up and stored it like a precious family heirloom.

This idea of the sin of Ephraim being unforgiven (and by this point, unforgiveable), was first introduced to us back in chapter 10, verse 2, where Yahweh had proclaimed, “now they must bear their guilt.”

The worst words we could ever hear is that we must bear our own guilt.  The Father has provided His Son to bear our guilt, to take our curse upon Himself.  Yet, when we reject that sacrifice and try to satisfy God with our own righteousness, we end up bearing our own guilt.

I said a moment ago that Ephraim’s sin would be unforgiven and by this point unforgivable.

Listen to me, there will come a point when, if we continue to reject God’s provision for the forgiveness of our sin, instead trusting in our own goodness and righteousness, then we will be bound to our sin and have to bear it ourselves.

God’s wrath is against sinners.  Only those who by faith in Jesus Christ have their sin and guilt transferred to Him have any chance at forgiveness.  The reason hell is eternal torment for sins is that there is only one thing that can satisfy God’s wrath against sins and that is the death of His Son.

Like Israel, we may start out with early signs of promise, yet tragically find that it all comes to nothing.  All our righteousness is “like filthy rags” says Isaiah (64:6).  To get an idea of a modern equivalent, would you take used toilet paper, frame it, and hang it in a prominent place in your home?  Yet that is what we do with our righteousness.  “Look at me, look at how good I am (especially when compared to that guy).”

But God says, “No, the only thing that matters is my son.  He alone lived a righteous life.  Unless you rely upon His righteousness to become your righteousness you will die in your sins.”

Thomas Constable says…

Israel was like a baby that refused to come out of its mother’s womb, in the sense that it refused to leave its comfortable sin.  Despite the mother’s (God’s) strenuous efforts to bring the child into freedom, Israel refused to repent.  This was evidence that Israel was a foolish child.  She would sooner die, rather than leave her sins, apparently feeling that the proper time for repenting was not yet.

Oestreich sees in the metaphor of the unwilling baby “a strange and absurd idea.”  He goes on to give several reasons why such imagery “can be called absurd.  First, naturally the unborn son has no way of deciding whether he will be born or not… . Second, the son that does not want to be born denies his own existence” and … “the birth of a son is normally an occasion of great joy.”

Interestingly, Hezekiah, when Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against the city of Jerusalem, clothed himself in sackcloth and sent two emissaries in sackcloth to Isaiah the prophet, saying, “This day is a day of distress, or rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth” (2 Kings 19:3).  This is certainly a figure of speech relaying the fact that at a time when strength is needed (against the Assyrian army), none is to be found.

Hubbard remarks:

“The time of his birth—his rejection of his haughty independence and the declaration of his total commitment to Yahweh—was being strongly and regularly signaled [like a mother’s contractions] both by historic events and prophetic proclamation.  But he was not moving–a stubbornness that endangered the life of both mother and child” (Hosea, p. 232).

Hezekiah went on to suggest that maybe God had heard Rabshekah, the spokesman for Shalmaneser mocking God and that God Himself would rebuke those words.  Hezekiah was not an “unwise son” like Israel at this moment, but had wisely put His trust in Yahweh’s help.

Remember that Israel had put their trust in their own political leaders and alliances with other nations, but that was all for naught.  Their own kings were weak and the other nations had become deceptive.

So the real issue was not the strength to come to birth, but the wisdom to trust in the right strength.  The absence of wisdom was well documented in Hosea.  They were “without sense” in 7:11, engaged in practices “which take away the understanding” (4:12) and thus became “a people without understanding” (4:14).

It was in particular the inability to make the wise decision to trust God and return to him—that stands at the core of Israel’s folly.  This need for wisdom will be sounded again at the very end of Hosea’s prophecy, in the words “whoever is wise…” (14:9).

We should see some irony in this verse.  The worship of Baal in particular was an attempt to control fertility, both personally and agriculturally.  Yahweh here declares that their cult will be cut down and their hope in Baal was futile, indeed self-destructive.

Indeed, Israel is foolish.  It has chosen to ignore the fact that its accumulated and stored-up sins would surely one day come in for judgment.  Although in this very late hour there yet might be hope for divine forgiveness based upon genuine repentance and return to the Lord, God’s people nevertheless go on in their own stubborn ways.  They are like the unwise son who delayed or refused to submit to the birthing process.

So, verses 12-13 leave us with the picture that Israel would die in a still birth due to their folly.

Yet, Yahweh’s grace is never far away.  Verse 14 says…

14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death.  O Death, where are your plagues?  O Sheol, where is your sting?

Whereas v. 13 indicates coming death, verse 14 promises coming rescue, or at least potential rescue.  I think Hubbard is right in saying that “verse 14a [is] an expression of his compassionate intent which has been frustrated by Ephraim’s foolish stubbornness” (Hosea, p. 233).  Thus, he translates these verbs, “I wanted to ransom…I wanted to redeem.”

Certainly Yahweh can rescue them even from the very precipice of death.  Rescuing beyond death will have to await the resurrection of Jesus.  The Psalms are filled with David’s expressions of confidence that Yahweh would rescue him from Sheol or death.

“This combination of sovereignty over the powers of death and the frustration at Ephraim’s failure to avail himself of this power—which failure turned his mother’s womb into his grave—lies at the heart of the divine complaint (cf. 11:1-9) and issues in the sharp commands implied in the rhetorical questions with which verse 14 closes” (Hubbard, Hosea, p. 234).

The Lord asked, rhetorically, if He would buy the Israelites back out of Death’s hand.  Would He pay a price for their redemption?  No, compassion would be hidden from His sight; He would have no pity on them.  He appealed for Death (like a thorn bush) to torment the Israelites, like thorns tearing their flesh.  He called on the Grave (as a hornet) to sting them fatally.

Later in history, God would provide a ransom for His people from the power of the grave, and He redeemed them from death.  He did this when Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again.  God’s future redemptive work for His people meant that death would not be the end for Israel, even though judgment in the near future was inevitable.

The Apostle Paul quoted the famous couplet in this verse in 1 Corinthians 15:55, and applied it to the resulting effect of Christ’s redemption on all of God’s people.  I love this declaration of the victory of the resurrection over death:

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are words not of judgment and death, but salvation and victory—a reminder of the difference Jesus has made.

Death and the grave are not the final judgment and home of the believer, because God did provide a ransom and redeemed His people.  God has a glorious future, beyond His punishment for sin—for His own people—both for national Israel and for Christians.

In the long term, Israel will see the glory of God’s redemption and His power over sin and death.  In the near term, Israel will be chastened for their rebellion against God.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.

–John Donne (1572-1631)

Once again (v. 15), Yahweh indicates how Israel had once showed supremacy.  He “flourishes” or “thrives” among his brothers.  You might remember that the name Ephraim means “flourishing” or “fruitful.”  In fact, Ephraim was a fertile area and, up until recently, had experienced great economic prosperity.

The imagery of Ephraim being compared to a fruit plant is in keeping with Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim’s father Joseph: “Joseph is a fruitful bough near a spring whose branches climb over the wall” (Gen. 49:22).

This statement hearkens back to the promise that was once there, as we saw in verse 1 of this chapter:

1 When Ephraim spoke, people trembled; he was exalted in Israel.  But he became guilty of Baal worship and died.

Israel had once flourished in such a fertile setting (13:5-6).  But that greatness would soon be destroyed.  Ephraim’s wealth was vulnerable like an orchard to the east wind.

That “east wind” was Assyria, who invaded from the east and north.  Assyrians from the east were already on the move.  When that happens, all of Israel’s goods and treasures will be plundered and carried off.

Notice that this wind is also “the wind of the LORD.”  In all events, God is sovereign.  Assyria did not act or become victorious just because they decided and were stronger.  This wind blew and overcame Israel because Yahweh determined that they would.  This should be obvious from all the predictions of judgment Hosea has been leveling against Israel.

This wind of judgment “shall come,” a strong indication that what Yahweh predicted would definitely happen.

Then, in picturesque language Hosea said, “and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched.”  The figure of the “east wind” naturally fits with drying up the source of life.  Without water, one dies.

Like a sirocco, Assyria would sweep over Israel from the east and cause the nation of Israel to wither.  The Assyrians would plunder everything valuable in the land.

Then, speaking very literally, Hosea says…

it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.

For years Israel had prospered, now “every precious thing” would be stripped from them.

Again, v. 16 emphasizes how Israel (in this case “Samaria” likely stands for the only part of Israel still independent), “shall bear her guilt.”  We’ve seen several times how Israel has come to the place where there is no hope of forgiveness.

I believe this is what the unpardonable sin is in the Gospels.  It is not a particular sin, or even one sin done many times, but is the sin of rejecting the provision for salvation God has given.  The Pharisees in Jesus’ day attributed the works of Jesus to Satan and just proved their stubborn refusal of the grace that is found in Jesus.  In other words, the only truly unpardonable sin is just stubborn unbelief.

That is evident on ancient Israel’s part by the inclusion of the words “she has rebelled.”

In a very literal, and gruesome description, Hosea foretells that Assyria would slaughter Israel’s soldiers in battle (cf. Lev. 26:25), unmercifully execute Israel’s children (cf. Deut. 28:52-57; 32:25) and even cut open her pregnant women with their swords (cf. Hosea 10:14; 13:8; 2 Kings 15:16; Isaiah 13:16; Amos 1:13).  Thus, because of Israel’s foolishness, the child would not be born.

This gruesome form of execution killed both the mother and the unborn child, making it impossible for the coming generation to rise up eventually and rebel against the conqueror.  These were curses that the Lord warned would follow rebellion against the terms of His covenant (cf. Lev. 26:25; Deut. 28:21; 32:24-25; Amos 4:10).

Garrett concludes:

The final outcome of the fertility cult is the carnage of babies and pregnant mothers throughout the country.  The metaphor of Lady Israel and her three children, Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi, has reached its denouement in a slaughter that is anything but literary and symbolic (Hosea-Joel, p. 268).