[Preface: An oft-heard refrain among Christians is that it is impossible to live as Jesus teaches. Others admire His teachings too but from a distance and use them, if at all, as whips against erring Christians! But the truth is God wouldn’t command us something we cannot obey…..]There’s growth in Christianity Seldom attained; Though the water-mark is preset And all aid to be had on board!
GOD’S TESTS OF OBEDIENCE
This service is founded on the cumulative teaching of the following verses that speak for themselves:
In summation, the Spirit of God shall guide you into all truth, and the truth shall set you free to pursue righteousness and holiness according to the perfect and pleasing will of God.
SEEK HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS:
The study of God’s tests of obedience is one of the many steps toward it. An oft-heard refrain among Christians is ‘It is not possible to live as Jesus teaches. His commandments are good, but difficult to keep.’ Others admire them too, but from a distance and use them, if at all, as whips against erring Christians.
But the truth is God wouldn’t command us something we cannot obey! Eg. Abraham’s test. It simply calls for our trust. Our trust and our willingness to perceive His will in it.
For example, we are taught to worship God in the splendor of His holiness (Ps 29:2, 1 Chron 16:29). His holiness cannot come from ourselves. It has to be acquired from Him. Instead of doing that, we are in the habit of substituting His holiness with our own interpretations of it and end up offering something altogether detestable to Him (Isa 1:13).
God’s commands get distorted when we do that. They are lofty commands, as high as the heavens. Isa 55:8-9 show us how high and lofty are God’s thoughts and ways. In comparison, ours are as far removed from them as the earth is from the sky! A complete dependency on the Holy Spirit will only help us discern between the two and equip us to worship Him in the splendor of His holiness (Jn 4:24).
Take for instance, when God commanded prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute. God chose His obedient prophet to teach His people that all their acts of unfaithfulness towards Him are vilest adultery in His sight (Hos 1:2, Hos 4, Hos 4:12(b)). Jesus conveyed the same truth in Jn 8:1-11. Hence we find that all who had come to stone the adulteress woman had to instead retract shamefacedly.
Yes, He is the unchanging God. Heaven and earth will pass away. But His Words will remain. Read Hos 4:14, “I will not punish your daughters when they turn to prostitution, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery, because the men themselves consort with harlots and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes – a people without understanding will come to ruin!.”
Finally, when as was expected, Hosea struggled to keep his wife, Gomer, faithful to him, God commands him to receive her back along with her children to demonstrate His love for His people (Hos 3:1)all of whom He just longs to gather unto Himself as a hen gathers its chicks under her wings. Read Matt 23:37, “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
SURPASSING RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LORD:
So it is with all God’s commands. Unless we learn to see them in His perspective, we will not be able to obey them. Jesus, in whom was the Law fulfilled by His surpassing righteousness and holiness; and the wrath of God appeased by His vicarious death, commands, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20). And, indeed, to seek His righteousness and His kingdom we do not retrace our steps back to the Law but to Him Alone Who is the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2).
THE COMMANDMENTS OF JESUS CHRIST:
His commandments are classified into seven and dealt individually for better and concentrated perception. So they will be followed in seven small volumes under the following titles:
To minister to His people by the infallible Word of God is the sole purpose of this freely accessible service. Let His Word speak and drive out demons to bring deliverance to His people. Mk 1:38-39, “Let us go…..so I can preach there also. That is why I have come. So He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” and “My food”, said Jesus, “is to the do the will of Him Who sent Me and to finish His work .”(Jn 4:34)
This is the Master’s commitment to His work which continues even today, until the Day of the Lord. Jn 5:17, “Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” And Phil 1:6, “Being confident of this, that He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.” Yes, the Lord is working on us. Let us, therefore, yield unto the Spirit and persevere in seeking His righteousness, His kingdom. Surely goodness and mercy will follow all the days of our life; and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
May God bless you!
Faith Part III to be contd…Next: The Commandment to Love
SATAN’S TESTS OF TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS
A complete portrayal of trials and temptations that come from the evil one is summarized in the Book of Revelations – chapters 2 and 3. In order to do that, the Spirit of God addresses the Church by its seven ordeals, given here under the names of churches which epitomized them at that time. Our focus will only be on the Spirit’s confrontations of these tests, to encourage us and to get us back on track, as the case may be.
1. THE CHURCH OF EPHESUS KIND OF BELIEVERS: (Rev 2:4-5) Believers who have forsaken their first love!
Matt 24:12 reads, “Because of the increase of wickedness the love of most will grow cold.”
What is meant by first love? Matt 22:37/Mk 12:30 teach us the first and the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”. This is first love. But, how is this possible? King Josiah shows us how ( 2 Kings 23:25), “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.”
KING JOSIAH’S STORY: He (2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chron 34-35) sought the Lord at an early age and as king of Israel, he used his authority to cleanse the land of all ungodliness, idolatry, and all that was detestable in the sight of the Lord. He gave orders to purify and restore the temple of God. And when the book of Law was found, he read it carefully and diligently. He realized that Israel had gone astray and that the sins of his fathers would be punished. He sought the counsel of the Lord through prophetess Huldah, and he carried out everything that the Lord had instructed to its last letter. He assembled the people in one place and read out the Scripture to them. The people heard the Word of God and reacted in one accord. Everyone repented of their sins. He renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord to obey everything that was written in the Book and had the people pledge themselves to it. Thus, his reign not only restored the people to the Lord but also removed the judgement that was to fall upon them.
Jn 15:10 says, “If you obey My commandments, you will remain in My love, Just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love.” Refer Ps 119 and James 1:25. Simply put, forsaking first love means forsaking the Word of God. And, straying away from God.
Satan had lulled the believers in Ephesus into a sense of complacency because of their active church life, perseverance, endurance and intolerance of the wicked (Rev 2:2-3, 6), so much so that they fail to notice their total neglect of the Word (Rev 2:5(a)), which had caused lack of growth and wickedness to foster.
PROPHET SAMUEL: A good example of ‘the church in Ephesus’ situation is found in the book of 1 Samuel. The house of God in Eli’s time. Young Samuel is in full-time service of God (1 Sam 1:28, 1 Sam 3:1). He lives and sleeps in the temple of God (1 Sam 3:3). His sincerity and work had won him approval of both God and men (1 Sam 2:26). Yet, we find that he neither knew God nor the Word of God (1 Sam 3:7).
Clearly, being an active workman does not necessarily mean one is in fellowship and knowledge of God. The reason is always the same – 1 Sam 3:1, “…in those days the Word of the Lord was rare…..”. Eli’s sons’ wickedness (1 Sam 2:12), therefore, was no accident. And just as in the case of the believers in Ephesus (Rev 2:4-7), Eli and his sons were warned (1 Sam 2:27-36, 1 Sam 3:11-14). However, neither Eli’s sons heed the warnings nor Eli is able to make them (1 Sam 2:25). True to God’s warning, all of them perish!
Let it serve as constant reminder to us. Like Samuel, let us turn to the Word when It speaks to us. It is written (1 Sam 3:19), from then on Samuel did not let any of God’s Word fall to the ground. That is to say, he heeded them all. Hence he continued to receive God’s Word all his life and all Israel looked to him for It (1 Sam 3:19-1 Sam 4:1(a)).
EARLY CHURCH: In Heb 10:32, Paul recalls the memory of the early church. Acts 2:42-47 testifies to its devout adherence to the Word – daily fellowships, unity, common possession, joy, sincerity, signs and wonders, remaining in favor of God and men, and finally, daily growth. Truly, a church that had not forsaken its first love!
HOLY SPIRIT CONTINUES TO WARN: “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Rev 2:5) and “..overcome…” (Rev 2:7).
2. THE CHURCH OF SMYRNA KIND OF BELIEVERS: (Rev 2:9-10) Believers who are under severe trials of poverty, persecution, imprisonment and even death-threats!
James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
This is a church commended for its rich faith. Refer Rev 2:9, James 2:5. In fact this is one of the two churches that the Holy Spirit approves of entirely. However, we find that satan is in full play, tormenting the believers, not to forget, the slander of pretend believers in addition!
Most noteworthy is the fact that these believers are commended for their rich faith not because they have successfully prayed away their trials but for having persevered in God’s will. Rich faith, therefore, cannot be the size of a mustard seed!
When God allows something in our lives, like the trials of the believers in Smyrna, let us also understand it has a time limit set beforehand (Rev 2:10(b)). It cannot stretch beyond that. It will definitely pass away. Trust in Him and hold on. And just as we find the Spirit reassuring those believers, He will comfort, encourage and reassure everyone who finds themselves in such situations. He will neither leave us nor forsake us.
For our encouragement and strengthening, let us read Heb 2:10, 2 Cor 1:3-5, Lk 21:17-19, 2 Tim 3:12, Heb 12:2-3, 1 Pet 4:12-13, James 1:2, Rom 5:3-5, 1 Pet 2:20(b), Phil 1:29, Rom 8:17(b), Rom 8:18.
HOLY SPIRIT HAS THIS TO SAY: “Be faithful even to the point of death” (Rev 2:10) and reaffirms, “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (Rev 2:11(b)).
3. THE CHURCH OF PERGAMUM KIND OF BELIEVERS: (Rev 2:14-15) Believers besieged by the most prevalent-of-them-all trials – FALSE TEACHINGS!
Matt 24:24-25, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.”
Beware! The Word of God will judge (Rev 2:16). Balaams of today outnumber false teachers of all times. They spread falsehood, enticing the gullible and leading astray the weak! In the case of the church in Pergamum, influence of false teachings and evil practices become too powerful for even the faithfuls to resist.
Ezek 34 speaks about both shepherds and stronger sheep who devour and destroy God’s flock, particularly the weak among them. Ezek 34:18-19 make mention of ‘the trampling of the pastureland’ and ‘muddying of the clear water’, besides jostling out all who come near (Ezek 34:21). These are false teachers and prophets. And, their influence of destruction. The trampling of the pastureland is corrupting of God’s Word by false teachings, misinterpretations, and human instructions. Muddying of the clear water is introducing the works and influence of evil spirits. The Sovereign Lord will judge (Ezek 34:10, Ezek 34:17, Ezek 34:20) by the Sword of His mouth which is the Living Word of God (Rev 2:16).
THE GOOD SHEPHERD: As for us, let us turn to the only Good Shepherd and be led by Him, for this is His promise to us: Ezek 34:23-24, “…He will tend them and be their Shepherd…“, Jn 10:14-16, “I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father – and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be One flock and One Shepherd.” and Jn 10:5, “But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” For related references, please do not fail to look up Jn 10:4-5, Jn 16:13-15, 1 Cor 2:11, 1 Pet 2:2 and watch out! Mk 7:8-9, 1 Tim 6:20-21, 2 Pet 2, Jude 4, Acts 20:26-31, 2 Jn 9-10 – be on your guard!
HOLY SPIRIT EXHORTS: “Repent, therefore!..“(Rev 2:16) and “…overcome” (Rev 2:17).
4. THE CHURCH OF THYATIRA KIND OF BELIEVERS: ( Rev 2:20-24) “Believers under the sway of the evil and unchaste spirit of Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.”
1 King 21:25-26, “…There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner..”
It appears that for every Balaam, there is a Jezebeel – both holding their sway over the churches. Like king Ahab’s wife, Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31(b), 1 Kings 21:25), such women usually wield a lot of power, beauty, wealth and high social standing. They mislead and oppress gullible believers, even servants of God. They are unrepentant. They ruthlessly persecute those who do not follow their teachings or shameful ways. So great is their oppression that the few faithfuls can barely survive. Remember, how even Elijah (1 Kings 19:3-5) came close to giving up! Therefore, the Spirit is careful not to impose any additional burden on them (Rev 2:24).
HOLY SPIRIT HAS THIS TO SAY: “Now I say to the rest of you…, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets….hold on to what you have until I come” (Rev 2:25), “Overcome and do My will to the end” (Rev 2:26).
Judgement will not delay on all who mislead His flock, “I have given her time to repent……but she is unwilling..So I will cast her on a bed of suffering…and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am He Who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.“
5. THE CHURCH OF SARDIS KIND OF BELIEVERS: (Rev 3:1-2) “Believers who are spiritually dead!”
Ephes 5:14, “..’Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’.”
Spiritually dead means alive to sin (Rev 3:4). Backsliders! They only have a reputation of being spiritually alive, but in truth they are dead in sin. For all their pretenses, they lead a secret life of sin usually. Refer Eph 5:14, Rom 13:11-12, Mk 13:36, Matt 12:43-45, 1 Cor 11:27-32, Ps 13:3(b). Having given in to temptations of this world, they walk around with soiled clothes and disgrace themselves before the Lord. Like the man Jesus mentions in His parable of the wedding banquet (Matt 22:11-14)!
HOLY SPIRIT CALLS OUT: “”Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Rev 3:2), “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard: Obey it and repent” (Rev 3:3) and “He who overcomes will…….be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name…”(Rev 3:5).
6. THE CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA KIND OF BELIEVERS: (Rev 3:8) “Believers afflicted by long-term or terminal illnesses”.
James 5:10-11, “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the Name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
Believers of Smyrna and Philadelphia are the only two group of believers commended wholly by the Holy Spirit – for having endured patiently, steadfast in faith (Rev 3:10).
FALSE BELIEVERS: Rev 3:9 speaks about false believers, like the friends of Job, who make travails of these believers more challenging. Job’s wife was also no comfort to him (Job 2:9) and brazenly challenges his faith. For all her troubles, she was never heard of again! Even when he prospered in life, afterwards (Job 42:12-17).
And, just as it turned out for Job’s friends, all false believers will be brought down to their knees (Rev 3:9(b)) to acknowledge God’s love for these enduring saints (Rev 3:7-8(a)). Job 42:7 reveals how angry God was with Job’s friends for speaking falsely about Him. Instead of sharing his burden and being a comfort to him, they berate and condemn him with lengthy sermons. They were spared God’s wrath only because Job interceded for them. God listened to Job’s prayers and did not deal with them according to their folly (Job 42:8-9).
PAUL’S THORN IN THE FLESH: When apostle Paul testifies to his thorn in the flesh, he teaches us the great truth – that sometimes God permits a particular affliction to span our whole life (2 Cor 12:7-9). Our patient endurance is all He expects and in return assures us He’d keep us from the hour of trial that will come over the whole world (Rev 3:10(b), Isa 57:1-2). After having patiently endured, we reap the promised harvest of righteousness and foil Satan’s evil purpose entirely.
UNDERSTANDING THE PARABLE OF TALENTS: Another important lesson on this trial can be gleaned from Jesus’ parable of talents (Matt 25:14-30). Here, we find a man bestowed with just one talent. As a result, he is a bitter and grudging man (Matt 25:24-25). One would think it was better to have received one than none at all. But, if we really understood what these talents stand for perhaps we’d be more understanding of him. Therefore, firstly TALENTS ARE GOD’S GIFTS TO US, BEGINNING WITH LIFE. In other words, list of talents begins with God’s gift of the ‘breath of life’ or the spirit of life.
The man with the single talent of life just had the breath of life in him. Which makes him an invalid. He could be gravely ill or terribly crippled. He has nothing to boast of but his life which seems more like a burden. What’s more? Our attitude towards such a person borders along the following lines – How can such a person be of any use to the Lord, or even to himself? Why doesn’t God make this person well? What is the use of living like this? To be precise, we end up responding just like him, pooh poohing the single talent of life!
EARTHLY LIFE TO ETERNAL LIFE: These line of accusing thoughts fill the human world! Unless we are spiritually tuned, we’ll be of no comfort to our brethren in suffering. Therefore, first let us build the right attitude perfectly in compliance with the will of God. Read Matt 25:27, Rev 3:8, 10 and 11. The following are the eye-openers:
Rev 14:13, “…..’Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor; for their deeds will follow them.” Yes, the One Who has overcome the curse of death for us reassures. Death is no longer a curse, for those who die in the Lord. So stop treating it like a curse and have the spiritual insight to rejoice.
HOLY SPIRIT’S WORDS OF COMFORT AND REASSURANCE: ‘Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.‘ (Rev 3:10) . I am coming soon. ‘Hold on to what you have so that no one will take your crown.’ (Rev 3:11), ‘Overcome..’.(Rev 3:12).
7. THE CHURCH IN LAODICEA KIND OF BELIEVERS: (Rev 3:15-18) “Believers who cannot rid themselves of their love for riches.”
Matt 4:8-9, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
This is Satan’s greatest snare. Because, it is man’s biggest weakness! Refer James 1:13-15, Matt 19:16-22. Satan is not called the prince of this world for nothing. Desiring worldly riches is making oneself vulnerable to him. Granted that he will let us have it. But not without the price. It will cost us our everything!
As lukewarm believers, the rich believers of Laodicea are fit only to be spat out. Even as they gloried in their riches, spiritually, they were blinded and failed to realize how wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked they had become! Though they boasted they had acquired everything and did not lack anything, the Spirit reminds them all their riches would not suffice to buy them their salvation. Because they had compromised with true riches that could restore their sight and robe them with righteousness. Now they would have to pay a price to acquire the true riches for themselves (Rev 3:18). For which, they would have to first overcome their love for the wealth of this world.
Matt 16:26 teaches us, ‘What can man give in exchange for his soul?’ That which costs the entire world but given to us so freely cannot be staked for anything in this world. James 5:1-6, Matt 4:8-11, Ps 62:10(b), Lk 12:15(b), 1 Tim 6:10 etc. are verses that reveal the traps the rich are led to.
MATERIAL BLESSINGS FROM GOD: 2 Cor 9:11, Matt 19:29, Mk 10:29-30 etc. assure us of His material blessings in abundance! But because they are God’s provisions for us, they reach us with persecutions from the evil one. And though Satan intends evil by unleashing persecutions on our blessings, God uses it for our good so that while we are grateful for His abundant provision, our hearts remain detached from them. Matt 6:21, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
GOD MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE: God understands how difficult it is for us to overcome the love of riches. Not just difficult, rather, ‘impossible’! (Matt 19:24-26). Yet, if we put our trust in Him, He is faithful to make the impossible possible for us. And, there’s a great promise for those who overcome (Rev 3:21). May God help us savor the full measure of His joy in this. It is indeed an unparalleled blessing because Satan whose evil intent it was to sit on the throne of God will find that the victorious will indeed sit with the Lord on His throne (Rev 3:21).
Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Let us not forget that the Lord has paved a victorious path for us by overcoming the world in its entirety – sin, death, curse, sickness, the love of this world and what have you! In our struggle against the world, the Lord has only compassion and love for us. He does not look at us accusingly. Rev 3:19, “You are still loved.” and Mk 10:21, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” And He does not forsake us, (Rev 3:20), “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock…..”. Welcome in His fellowship and let the victorious Lord fight our battles for us, so that at His Coming we may enter into His door and fellowship with Him eternally.
HOLY SPIRIT COUNSELS: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Rev 3:18). Yes, there is a price to pay. Not with money though (Isa 55:1-3). And “So be earnest and repent.” (Rev 3:19).
Trials and temptations come from the evil one. But, it can only come in our lives with God’s permission (eg Job 1:9-12, Lk 22:31 etc). Why? Let us read 1 Pet 4:12-13, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” Again, refer Dan 11:35. But it is of great comfort to us that without His knowledge nothing can happen to us. In His own words, not a hair falls on the ground without His knowledge ( Lk 12:7). For our added assurance, let it be known that He grants the permission and sets the time frame. In other words, He will neither abandon us nor let our troubles continue forever.
2 Cor 1:5, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”
May God bless you!
To be contd….Faith Part III “God’s Tests of Obedience”