A challenging aspect of reading the Word of God is understanding what was meant when it was spoken or written. An example of translation differences follows. What do you think?
Paul thanks the church at Philippi for its generosity toward the work of Christ’s gospel. The generosity of this church is inspired by God the Holy Spirit who will continue to “bring it to perfection.” He will nudge the church to aid the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ.
5 so full a part have you taken in the work of Christ’s gospel, from the day when it first reached you till now. 6 Nor am I less confident, that he who has inspired this generosity in you will bring it to perfection, ready for the day when Jesus Christ comes. 7 It is only fitting that I should entertain such hopes for you; you are close to my heart, and I know that you all share my happiness in being a prisoner, and being able to defend and assert the truth of the gospel.
Or Paul recognizes that God has begun a work in the persons who move about in the church at Philippi because of their willingness to partner with him in spreading the good news. He knows that God “who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He feels this way about them because they “are all partakers with me of grace.” They, like him, defend and confirm the gospel.
5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (ESV)
Peter writes that after we suffer awhile, specifically a little while, “the God of all grace, who calls [us] to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish [us].” God isn’t going to relegate His responsibilities to anyone else, including us. Yes, Peter calls us to resist our adversary who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:9,8) But Peter knows, as should we, that it is God the Holy Spirit who enables us to “be sober-minded [and] watchful” and to stand “firm in [our] faith.” (1 Peter 5:8,9) This is the reason Peter exhorts us to “cast all [our] anxieties on Him.” After all, says Peter, Christ “cares for [us].”
Jesus cares for us. Let that truth sink into your heart. Jesus loves us. He loves us enough to give His life for us. Even when we are His enemies, He dies for us. Paul reminds us that if Jesus is willing to die for us when we are His enemies, how much more is He willing and able to give to us now that He has made us His friends!
God promises, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, My great army, which I sent among you.” God tells us that He sends His great army against us, to swarm, eat, and destroy. As God comes against us, we cry aloud in despair,”Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us: look, and see our disgrace!” (Lamentations 5:1) “Our pursuers are at our necks, we are weary; we are given no rest.” (Lamentations 5:5) “The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned!” (Lamentations 5:15-16)
After our near total destruction because of our unrecognized sins, the Lord restores to us all He has taken — “what the swarming locust has eaten.” With this restoration, God pours out His Spirit. His great promise comes true: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh: your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29) “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32)
“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong, fear not!'” (Isaiah 35:3-4) “‘He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” (Isaiah 35:5-7)
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
What are these “dead works” the author of Hebrews mentions? I want to travel back to Job, and suggest that the good things Job did in his life are “dead works.” “All our good deeds are as filthy rags” to the Lord God.
“Only in the Lord, it shall be said of Me, are righteousness and strength.” (Isaiah 45:24) “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I Am God, and there is no other; I Am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand and I will accomplish all My purpose.” (Isaiah 46:8-10)
“Woe to him who strives with Him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’ ” (Isaiah 45:9-10)
Do not argue with your Creator. Don’t be fooled into believing that if you do this and don’t do that, if you strive with all your might to be good, you somehow please Him. Believe instead that Christ “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12) Believe that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
As we have been delivered from “dead works,” we are now free “to serve the living God.”
“[Christ] enters once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” The blood of goats and calves secure only a temporary redemption, one that requires repeating and repeating, year after year. “Under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22)
“Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly.” (Hebrews 9:24-25) Instead, He “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9:26)
“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” (Hebrews 9:28)
Notice when Christ returns, He is not coming back to deal with sin, for He has already finished dealing with sin. Instead, when He comes again, He is returning to save. His sacrifice for us is once for all, and need not be repeated.
Once we were “under guardians,” under and “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” (Galatians 4:2,3) Then, “God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law.” Jesus came “so that we might receive adoption as sons” and no longer be “slaves.” (Galatians 4:5,1)
Paul is weary. He laments, “Now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Galatians 4:9) “Tell me,” he writes, “you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?” (Galatians 4:21) Don’t you understand that you are now “free children of promise” rather than bond “children of the slave.” (Galatians 4:28,31)
“For freedom Christ has set [you] free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) Paul warns, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” (Galatians 5:4-5) “Only faith working through love” “counts for anything” “in Christ.” (Galatians 5:6)
Abijah of Judah tells Jeroboam of Israel, “Do not fight against the Lord, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed.” (2 Chronicles 13:12) He says to Israel, “As for [Judah], the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken Him.” (2 Chronicles 13:10) “We keep the charge of the Lord our God, but you have forsaken Him.” (2 Chronicles 13:11) Jeroboam ambushes Abijah so that “the battle is in front of and behind [Israel].” (2 Chronicles 13:14) With a shout – a battle cry – the men of Judah call upon the Lord who “defeats Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah.” (2 Chronicles 13:15)
Abijah says to Jeroboam before the battle, “God is with us at our head.”
Paul says to us, “[Christ] is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1:18)
“O Lord, there is none like You to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on You, and in Your Name we come against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.” (2 Chronicles 14:11)
Christ set us free from the law of sin and death and we are “not [to] submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) Since we have died to the world in and through Christ, Paul wonders why we “submit to regulations” of the world as if we were still alive to the world. (Colossians 2:20) “For [we] are called to freedom, brothers, only [we are] not [to] use [our] freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love [we are to] serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13) In love, we serve one another and so fulfill “the whole law.” (Galatians 5:14)
In our efforts to conform to regulations which “indeed have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but have no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23); sometimes we attack one another. “But if [we] bite and devour one another, watch out that [we] are not consumed by one another.” Instead, we are called to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) Notice Paul calls us to “do good to everyone.”
“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Paul writes to Timothy, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: ‘He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.’ (1 Timothy 3:16) Then Paul warns that some in later times will “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:3) In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensual mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Colossians 2:16-19) The rules and regulations these persons demand of you, says Paul, “have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23)
“Rather,” writes Paul to Timothy, “train yourself for godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7) “Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10)
The example Timothy is to set is “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12) The godliness he seeks is Christ Himself.
I admit I am disturbed now and then by persons who seem to have figured out God — who speak as if God talks to them personally, directly on a regular basis, telling them big secrets, revealing Himself to them in some peculiar manner. Before you protest — I’m not saying that God is not known to speak to His children with that still voice, leading us to turn one time to the left, another time to the right. However, one of my cautions is checking that still voice against the Word; for there are times I hear a voice inside my mind, telling me something or other. I am always fearful it is my own self speaking and not my Lord at all. I am concerned that “behold, they are all a delusion; their words are nothing.” (Isaiah 41:29) After all, “to whom will [we] liken God, or what likeness compare with Him?” (Isaiah 40:18)
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the Word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:1-2,3)
We live in “the last days,” in the time in which God “speaks to us by His Son.” In these last days, there is no special knowledge reserved for only a few. Rather God has fully revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ and through His Holy Spirit.
“Whom did [God] consult, and who made [God] understand?” Do we really believe we can measure the Lord of Hosts, that we can encapsulate Him inside our idea of His Truth? “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)
“Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord?” No one.