He Does It For His Sake: Ephesians 2:1-10

Image1This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel. I pray that the Lord is using this series to deepen your understanding of the Gospel. Please use the Comments Section to suggest topics for future studies.

This study of verse 7 encourages me because it shows the Lord’s determination in saving a people for Himself. Sadly,  my schedule prevented me from moving beyond this one verse, or even writing as much as I wanted to about it. So, to make up for my omissions, I  hope you’ll take the time to look at the cross-references I’ll provide, as they offer deeper insight into the text.

But first let’s go back to the text itself, shall we?

 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. ~~Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV)

Paul begins verse 7 with the assuring statement that  God will, in the ages to come, give a fuller revelation

  • of the immeasuarable riches
  • of His grace
    • in kindness toward us
    • in Christ Jesus

Commentators differ on whether the “ages to come” denote succeeding generations of Christians who would understand the Ephesians’ conversions as a demonstration of God’s rich mercy or to the ages that will begin when Christ returns. The former interpretation finds support in 1Timothy 1:16, where Paul claims His own conversion as  an example of God’s mercy. Compare Titus 3:4-7, which states that the believers in the church Titus pastored experienced the same mercy as did the Ephesians. Yet 1 Peter 1:3-13 implies that God will display His mercy and grace at the time that Christ reveals Himself universally. I tend to favor the  latter understanding because Christ’s return is part of the Gospel.

God’s purpose in showering believers with grace and mercy benefits us, but ultimately it refers back to His character. Vincent’s Word Studies says that the grammar of the Greek phrase translated here as “He might show” implies that God does all this for His glory first, and then for our benefit.

The Lord showed similar mercy to Israel, not because they deserved it (they certainly didn’t!), but for the sake of His reputation (Ezekiel 36:21-23, Deuteronomy 7:7-8, Psalm  106:8, Psalm 115:1-2, Ezekiel 20:41). God bestows His mercy on us, just as He did on Israel, out of concern for His reputation among unbelieving nations. For this reason, as well as because of the way verse 7 flows from preceding verses, I tend toward the opinion that these “immeasurable riches” will coincide with Christ’s return when all will see Him (Matthew 24:30).

Notice that God shows “the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us” in the Person and work of Christ Jesus. Again, Paul insists that we did nothing to merit God’s favor, but Jesus gives us all these blessings because we are in Him. Accordingly, we take  joy in Christ, honoring Him for making such treasures available to us.

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Autobiography With Purpose: Swallowing Hard

John & Deb Anniversary 2008When Brookville Baptist Church completed the 40 Days of Purpose campaign, John and I returned to Adult Sunday School cautiously, wondering if the Bible Study groups and Sunday School classes would start using more of Rick Warren’s curricula. To our great relief,  no such thing happened.  We praised the Lord that we saw no noticeable effect of the program.

At least not in the church itself.

I noticed myself becoming more distrustful of the pastors and elders. I began praying for them to develop better discernment in regard to doctrine. They had fallen for Rick Warren enough to bring the entire church though the PDL campaign, so I feared future theological compromises. While I realize that  Christians should always assess their leaders against Scripture (indeed, I implore the readers of this blog to evaluate everything I write by testing it against God’s Word), the skepticism I felt toward the leaders at Brookville went beyond being a good Berean.

Yet, my doubts about their discernment didn’t give me a desire to  change churches. I felt wary, but I also believed it was a better church than anything else in our  immediate area. John agreed that we probably couldn’t find anything more faithful to Scripture. Additionally,  he took encouragement from the fact that, because he taught Adult Sunday School two months out of the year, he  could be a positive influence.

In the next few years, John and I noticed changes here and there. Less hymns. An entertainment quality to the Praise Group.  Topical sermons replacing verse-by-verse exposition.  The pastors no longer standing behind the pulpit when they preached.  We told ourselves that all these were minor changes, and admonished each other against being legalistic or judgmental.

I particularly struggled with the content of the music,  having recently acquired an appreciation for hymns. I saw that contemporary praise music,  despite being fun to sing, typically focused on Christians rather than on the Lord. And even those praise songs that actually tried to focus on Jesus lacked the rich theology that I’d found in hymns.  Occasionally, the Praise Group included hymns or songs with strong Biblical content, but increasingly I found the singing portion of the services something to endure rather than a vehicle for worship.

As my struggle with the music progressed, I learned to pray for the Praise Group to gain discernment in selecting songs.  But I especially disciplined myself to daily confess my judgmental attitude.  Over time, I accepted the music as best I could.  John quietly adjusted the lyrics he sang whenever a song expressed unbiblical ideas, and I refrained from singing certain songs altogether.

For better or for worse, Brookville was our church family and we decided to persevere through the problems and praise God for the Biblical elements that, by God’s grace, still remained. Many people there genuinely loved the Lord and served Him as best they could. Yes, the 40 Days of Purpose had caused spiritual erosion,  but we believed love compelled us to overlook the church’s flaws and celebrate its strengths. Little did we know how profoundly they would love us during the roughest storm in our marriage.

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A Sober Christianity

African Teen Flower BackgroundLadies, we must understand that our time of cultural acceptance won’t last much longer. Although the Founding Fathers crafted the United States of America on principles largely derived from the Christian Scriptures, politicians, educators and the media have worked tirelessly to move public opinion away from Christian values.  Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling prohibiting Texas from regulating abortion clinics represents yet another defiant step away from Biblical morality.

Sadly, I haven’t said anything here that other Christian writers haven’t said.We’ve been saying things like this at least since Roe vs Wade, though with increasing intensely since the State Judicial Court of Massachusetts legalized same sex marriage in 2005. Many other bloggers do a better job than I at explaining the erosion of godly values in American society, making it unnecessary for me to state the case.

We must face the obvious fact that serious persecution of Bible-believing Christians rapidly approaches. Those of us who equate abortion with murder (might I suggest genocide?) and insist on calling homosexuality sin will not be tolerated much longer.  Eventually, blogs like mine will be shut down.  Pastors like mine, who boldly preach the whole counsel of God, will be jailed. Whether persecution comes from the LBGTQ community, Islamic fundamentalists or a curious mixture of both (as exemplified in the aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando), we can’t deny that persecution is on the way to anyone who takes the Bible seriously.

How must Bible-believing Christians respond to this impending reality? I believe we must, before anything else, make  sure that we actually do believe the Bible. In this time when doctrinal error affects even the best of churches (often coming in though women’s ministries), we need to increase our vigilance against false teaching. We need to cut out the seeker-sensitive marketing strategies, the “Holy” Yoga, the accommodation of Gay “Christians,” the erotic relationships with Jesus and the subjectively of Charismatic theology in favor of doctrinal purity.

Okay,  I realize that embedding ourselves within compromising churches might offer temporal protection. Single women who preoccupy themselves with “dating Jesus” pose little threat to those who would persecute representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, for example.

But such compromise simply doesn’t befit godly women (or godly men, for that matter). Even though our commitment to truth angers the world,  we must serve as witnesses to His truth.

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. ~~2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (ESV)

As Christians, we bear the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel by word and behavior whether or not people appreciate our message. Consequently, we must understand what the Word of God actually teaches and we must live lives consistent with its teaching.

This blog offers biblical  instruction to women, as well as warnings about false teachers and harmful practices within evangelical churches with the goal of preparing women to stand firmly in the face of persecution.  Although it could appear that writing about God’s goodness in bringing me out of various errors trivializes this blog, please understand that I write this autobiography for the purpose of demonstrating the problems with these errors and the sovereignty of God.  Although criticisms of Beth Moore and Bible journaling may  seem like judgmental nit-picking, please understand that I want to direct my readers back to sound teaching.

The times we live in demand that we cultivate sobriety in our faith.  We must represent the Lord Jesus Christ accurately as we call people to repent and believe the Gospel. And we must just as accurately know Him so that we can rest in His grace during persecution. Praise God that He promises to keep us faithful to Him!

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Obergefell, One Year Later

Same Sex MarrriageChristians (and by that, I mean those who truly believe the Bible) have reason to feel concern over the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision on same sex marriage last summer. Because I live in Massachusetts, where the Supreme Judicial Court legalized same sex marriage eleven years ago, initially I didn’t feel quite as panic-stricken as people in other parts of the country did. The year that has followed Obergefell, however, has demonstrated that the federal ruling carries much weightier implications than our state ruling has. Grief and righteous indignation are as appropriate now as they were in 2005.

Certainly, I foresee more overt persecution of those who publicly oppose same sex marriage. Businesses have already been ruined for refusing to participate in same sex weddings, as in the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein. And consider this chilling op-ed piece, SCOTUS: Religious Freedom Must Bow To New Rights, from Townhall.com. In 17 states (beginning with Massachusetts), Catholic Charities had to make the agonizing choice between allowing same sex couples to adopt children from them (thus violating Catholic doctrine) or close their adoption agencies (which they did). And just over a month ago, President Obama mandated that public schools allow transgender students  to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their perceived gender identity.

I have absolutely no doubt regarding a relationship between same sex marriage and the erosion of religious freedom. At the time of the  ruling, the dissenting justices warned of a clash. As I write, the California State  Assembly is considering a bill that would penalize Christian  colleges from “discriminating” against  LBGTQ students and employees. I firmly believe that the Obergefell decision has already opened the door to the persecution of Bible-believing Christians.

But my concern doesn’t  mean last year’s decision alarms me. Neither does the fallout that has ensued. Since God is sovereign, this misruling only demonstrates that the Bible accurately predicted mankind’s progressive rebellion against Him.

 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. ~~2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

While this passage doesn’t mention homosexuality specifically, it definitely describes the underlying attitudes of LGBT activists and their supporters. In fact, America’s legalization of same sex marriage comes from centuries of rejecting the Lord’s authority. Western society has always thumbed its nose at Him, but in recent decades, that defiance has intensified. Since Obergefell, as well as since the Orlando massacre, anger toward Bible-believing Christians has further escalated, so that most Americans believe it’s patriotic to fly rainbow flags. The very suggestion that homosexuality is sinful draws accusations of bigotry. Americans will  no longer tolerate the Lord interfering with their sexuality! 

Such rebellion should not surprise Christians. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit, Who has restrained humanity from giving full vent to its sinful inclinations, will remove His restraints just before Christ returns (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). He will abandon people to their depravity in order to show the righteousness of His judgment and condemnation of those who reject His rule. 

Therefore, I consider the Supreme Court’s misruling, in spite of its blatant disregard for the law of the Lord, to be an possible indication of Christ’s return! I don’t look forward to any persecution I may face as I stand for the truth that God designed marriage exclusively for opposite sex couples, but I most assuredly rejoice in anticipation of Christ returning and at last establishing His kingdom. My concern over the ramifications of Obergefell, though entirely justified, gives way to the joy of knowing I’ll see Him soon.

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He Looks On Him And Pardons Me

Certainly we have cause to recognize, accept and confess our absolute wretchedness in contrast to God’s perfect holiness. Too few professing Christians understand the depth of human sinfulness or the height of His righteous purity. Indeed, one of this blog’s main purposes involves showing women how completely unable we are to live in a manner acceptable to the One Who knows and judges the secrets of our hearts.

That said, the Lord exposes our vileness, not to brow-beat us, but to show us His tender mercy and abundant grace. Gloriously, our sinless Savior bears the shame for our rebellion, firmly securing the Father’s favor toward us (if we trust in His shed blood for the remission of our sins). When I remember His flabbergasting love that caused Him to die on the cross for my sins, my heart floods with joy, gratitude and adoration for the spotless Lamb of God. Today’s hymn reminds me of His wonderful grace in bringing me before His Father’s throne.

Saturday Sampler — June 19 Through June 25

Tulip Sampler 01

In Night Song, Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life encourages us to be irritating mockingbirds…sorta.

Before you share that Facebook meme that, “after all must be okay because it mentions God,” read Elizabeth  Prata’s essay, #memeHeresies on Facebook, how to spot and refute them on The End Time blog. What we post on social media really does make a difference.

Do you know much about Catholicism’s teachings on the Virgin Mary? Test your knowledge against Sam Storms’ article, 10 Things You Should Know About What The Roman Catholic Church Believes Regarding Mary on his  Enjoying God blog. Not one of these teachings has Scriptural substantiation.

So Beth Moore Complains About People Criticizing Her False Teachings. I appreciate Jeff Maples of Pulpit & Pen for reminding us of her unteachable attitude.

Blogging at Abandoned to Christ, Sunny Shell gives us A Mother’s Counsel: Attractive Girls Are a Dime a Dozen. I wish young women everywhere would read this blog post and take it to heart!

Still Be Discerning about Discerners – Discerning Discernment Ministries is a great “tongue-tangler” (I actually challenged Michelle to say it three times fast). It’s also an interesting blog post by Michelle Lesley that discusses the pros and cons of following discernment blogs and podcasts.

Gabe Hughes’ WWUTT video on  David and Goliath clears up several common misconceptions about this well-known story:


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Bible Study Or Art Exhibition?

Journalig BibleYes, I highlight my study Bible (which happens to be e-Sword software on my computer). Because I’ve assigned a specific meaning to each color, my highlights are not about my artistic sensibilities.As a matter of fact, sometimes the colors clash terribly, making the page decidedly unappealing even though they help me trace themes in my study of God’s Word.

I also take notes to help me keep my mind on the text as well as to make sure I understand a verse in proper context. I don’t write a journal entry using the verse as a springboard for exploring “personal revelations” that I imagine the Holy Spirit to be “speaking to my heart,” nor do I pull up any of my digital art programs to illustrate how a verse makes me feel. If I do type out an application of the Scripture before me, I do my best to first make sure I interpret the Scripture correctly.

Furthermore, I study a book of the Bible verse-by-verse, using commentaries, dictionaries and cross-references to best apprehend the original meaning and intent of the book as a whole. Understanding how verses fit together and how they work with other parts of the Bible helps me guard against twisting Scripture and applying it subjectively.

In other words, I do my best not to let my time in God’s Word degenerate into a time of introspection and self-flattery. The Lord certainly speaks to me through my study of His Word, often in ways that apply to my everyday life, but He speaks in a straightforward manner directly from a correct reading of the text.

Before you accuse me of spiritual boasting, let me hasten to say that my intent is not to elevate myself as an accomplished Bible student. Embarrassingly, after being a Christian for 45 years, I’m only just now learning proper methods of Bible Study. But I have an important reason for detailing why I mark my Bible and how I write my study notes. Although I still have much to learn about studying the Word of God, I’m grieved and troubled  by a new form of “Bible Study” becoming popular with Christian women.

The new trend of “Bible journaling” contrasts with more traditional Bible Study methods, especially as blogs, Pinterest boards and Facebook groups encourage Bible journalists to  “share” their journaling pages. As much as they post disclaimers that Bible journaling isn’t about showing off your artistic skills…it basically is.

Marking a Bible with a specific color scheme to assist in understanding Biblical themes is one thing. Posting pictures of how you’ve prettied up John 3 or 1 Corinthians 13 is quite another. Peter’s instructions to Christian women don’t merely apply to how we adorn our bodies, but also perhaps to how we decorate our Bibles.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. ~~1 Peter 3:3-4  (ESV)

The ostentatious nature of Bible journaling represents only one concern with this fad, and not even the most serious concern. But as we begin to examine this trend, we should ask ourselves why we want to turn our Bibles into art projects and why we post photographs of them to social media. Are we truly interested in serious Bible Study, or in showing off our creative interactions with isolated verses that give us emotional butterflies?

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Beyond Mere Rescue From Hell: Ephesians 2:1-10

This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel.So far in this series, we’ve seen our total inability to attain spiritual life, God’s riches in showing us mercy and the resurrection life that He gives to us. Let’s look a bit more closely at the implications of that resurrection life.

Even though we looked at verse 5 of our passage in some detail last Thursday, we need to study it again–this time in conjunction with verse 6. By paring these two verses, we gain a richer view of how Christ’s resurrection directly affects those of us who believe in Him. So let’s review our text with verse 6 added, shall we?

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, ~~Ephesians 2:1-6 (ESV)

As we discussed week, God raises our dead spirits with the risen Lord. When we couple these two verses, we see our spiritual experience reflect Christ’s physical experience (Ephesians 1:20). To clarify this point, look at Romans 6:4-5, in which the apostle Paul states very plainly that we positionally share in His death (because we put our sin nature to death) and in His new life. See Colossians 3:1-3.

I realize that Paul uses concepts that, apart from the aid of the Holy Spirit, we struggle to understand. Sometimes commentaries help. As I grappled with these two verses, John MacArthur’s analysis of verses 5-6 certainly offered  me insight: 

raised us up together, and made us sit together. The tense of raised and made indicates that these are immediate and direct results of salvation. Not only is the believer dead to sin and alive to righteousness through Christ’s resurrection, but he also enjoys his Lord’s exaltation and shares in His preeminent glory.
in the heavenly places. This refers to the supernatural realm where God reigns. In Ephesians 3:10 and Ephesians 6:12, however, it also refers to the supernatural sphere where Satan temporarily rules. This spiritual realm is where believers’ blessings are (cf. Ephesians 1:3), their inheritance is (1 Peter 1:4), their affections should be (Colossians3:3), and where they enjoy fellowship with the Lord. It is the realm from which all divine revelation has come and where all praise and petitions go.

MacArthur helps us catch a glimpse of the exciting reality that salvation isn’t merely about rescuing us from the eternity in hell that rightfully belongs to us. Wonderfully, salvation assures us of a new life, even now, that gives us victory over sin and fellowship with the Lord. Later  (in verse7) we will see fuller implications of our union with  Christ, probably referring to our physical resurrection. What we experience positionally now, we will experience in totality then.

Note the qualifying phrase, “in Christ Jesus,” which points to the exclusive nature of the Gospel. John 3:16 limits eternal life to those who believe in Him, and Jesus said quite explicitly in John 14:6 that He alone provides access to the Father. The apostle Peter declared in Acts 4:12 that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. Jesus can make this exclusive stipulation because He made atonement for sin, as we discussed a few days ago. Only He has the right to determine the criteria for escape the terrors of hell and to enjoy the wonder of heaven.

The Believers Bible Commentary concludes, “The key to verses 5 and 6 is the phrase, in Christ Jesus. It is in Him that we have been made alive, raised, and seated. He is our Representative; therefore His triumphs and His position are ours. George Williams exclaims, ‘Amazing thought! That a Mary Magdalene and a crucified thief should be the companions in glory of the Son of God.’”

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Promises That God Never Made

High School

Age 19 and still disabled

Jesus healed a badly disabled woman who had suffered with her condition for eighteen years.

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. ~~Luke 13:10-17 (ESV)

As an 18-year-old girl who had been born with Cerebral Palsy, I “claimed” this passage as a promise that the Lord would, at some point during the course of that year, heal me.  Clearly, I’d made an application of this passage that completely missed the point of that particular healing, thereby skewing the passage and forcing an incorrect interpretation. Christ healed that woman as an expression of His compassion, certainly — but also as a rebuke to the hypocritical Pharisees.

My folly back then underscores the truth of the quote I read on Twitter a couple years ago:

In your approach to  Scripture, If application is more important than interpretation than you’ll inevitably misinterpret and misapply.

While my teenage misapplication of Luke 13:10-17 is obvious (and somewhat amusing), let’s admit that Christians often are too eager to apply snatches of Scripture at the expense of proper interpretation. The most infamous example is making Matthew 18:19-20 a promise about “agreeing in prayer.” In context, Jesus intended that verse to highlight His judgment on unrepentant sin and church discipline:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” ~~Matthew 18:15-20 (ESV)

In context, this passage instructs Christians on how  to deal with a professing believer who persists in   sinful behavior. When two or three agree to bind such a person  away from church fellowship and loose him to Satan, they do so in the Lord’s authority. This passage should cause us to tremble at the seriousness of sin rather than to suppose that we can manipulate God’s will by group prayer.

While I certainly plead guilty to twisting Scripture far too often for the sake of application, I believe the Lord is curing me of such sin, teaching me to understand His Word in its proper context. Once I find the correct interpretation of a passage, I can make a correct application. And it’s applying the Word correctly that honors the Lord.

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God’s Will Is Bigger Than Just You

Cinderella's  ClosetSo often, Christians agonize, clinging to the phrase, “God has a plan for you.” Typically they’ll quote Jeremiah 29:11, believing that verse to be a personal promise rather than part of a prophecy to Judah at the dawn of the Babylonian Captivity. They strain to find His plan, supposing it involves marriage, career and/or ministry opportunities. And on one level, those suppositions are correct. Certainly, the Lord guides us to where we can most effectively serve Him.

Ah, did you catch that concept? “Where we can most effectively serve Him! Most Christians, it seems, seek how they can feel fulfilled, blessed or useful, subtly perceiving themselves as the focal point. I find myself thinking along those lines, as if my well-being was uppermost on His list of priorities. And, while it’s true that He numbers the very hairs of my head, it’s evident as I study Scripture that my self-focused attitude concerning His will is slightly out of alignment.

Let’s think about Jeremiah 29:11 in its context to determine if we really want to apply it personally, and then let’s think about God’s plans for us as 21st Century Christians. Jeremiah wrote a letter to the Jewish leaders whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into slavery, instructing them to settle into Babylonian life because they wouldn’t return to Jerusalem for 70 years (meaning their generation would pretty much die out before the Lord restored them to their land). The he wrote the following prophecy from the Lord:

10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. ~~Jeremiah 29:10-14 (ESV)

But before you turn that paragraph into an allegorical promise that God will turn your earthly circumstances around, you might want to consider the next paragraph of Jeremiah’s letter.

15 “Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ 16 thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: 17 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, 19 because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’ 20 Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: 21 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. 22 Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” 23 because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.’” ~~Jeremiah 29:15-23 (ESV)

We’re quite fine with that part of Jeremiah’s prophecy applying specifically to the Jews, aren’t we? But in reality, the entire prophecy pertained to them. It teaches us God’s faithfulness to His people Israel as He disciplined them and then restored the remnant to the Land He had promised to Abraham.

Clearly, reading ourselves into Jeremiah 29:11 abuses the text. As much as it appears to  assure individual Christians that the Lord has monumental plans for our temporal lives, we should keep it in proper context. Whatever plans He actually does have for you and for me have more to do with how we can glorify the Lord Jesus Christ than with how He can fulfill our “felt needs.”

Instead of limiting our understanding of His will in terms of how it will affect and (in all honesty) benefit us, shouldn’t we broaden our vision to ask about His overall will? As I read through Genesis, for example, I see God arranging marriages, not primarily to make the patriarchs happy, but to 1) build the nation of Israel and to 2) form the bloodline of Messiah. While many of those marriages probably were happy, that happiness was a by-product to the Lord accomplishing His purposes.

We are created for His pleasure, but all too frequently our attitudes and behavior betrays our unacknowledged belief that His job is to bless us. Well, God does bless us, and in abundance, but does so for His glory and honor. His will in our lives works for the advancement of His Kingdom, not our individual lives. Is it possible that we should stop clamoring to find His will for us in favor of seeking His will for His own glory?

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