We have five more days of 2020. Five more days until the new year. To me the new year means beginning another through-the-Bible reading program. I hope you have one picked out and are ready to read through the Bible in the coming year.
I want to share with you a quote from a letter I received back in January of 2008. If you have been listening to me for a while you know that I occasionally harp on you to read your Bible through every year. I have had people come to me at a conference or write me to tell me that I challenged them to read through their Bible in a year. I have never had anyone tell me that reading through the Bible in a year was a waste of their time and that they got nothing out of it. They always tell me what a blessing it has been.
I met a couple at our Spring Conference one year who challenged and convicted me because they had taken my challenge to the "nth degree." The woman had read though her Bible nine times in a year and a half. She was so excited about what she was learning she could hardly contain herself. They told me at the conference that they were working on a program of reading that would take them through the Bible every thirty days. That's about forty chapters a day, about an hour and a half to two hours a day. Here is a quote from a letter they sent me this week. "We are eight days into our new goal of reading the Bible through every thirty days. [This would mean they have read a fourth of the Bible, or 96 days' worth of a one-year program.] It is awesome and so rewarding. If people only knew what reading the Bible would do for them, I fear we wouldn't be able to afford one!" That is powerful, convicting, and encouraging. Let's dismiss, I can't improve on that!
Two weeks ago, I talked to that man and asked him how he was doing in his Bible reading. It has been twelve years since they wrote me that letter. His response was, "We are both doing well and reading through regularly—howbeit at a little slower pace."
I started memorizing and with the time I needed I had to cut down on my reading (I'm now on a two-month schedule, 6x a year)."
Why is Bible reading so important? The Bible provides information that is not available anywhere else. The Bible is divine self-disclosure. In it the mind of God is revealed on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture, we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is and what He values. In the Bible, God reveals Himself.
Why do we need to know about God? A.W. Tozer, in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, says: "Whatever comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you." What we think about God determines our response to Him, and our response determines our behavior. And we cannot think right about God apart from knowing the Scripture.
Believers, Truth Matters! And no more so than when it comes to God. It is imperative that what we believe about God is true. What we believe about God (Theology Proper) affects how we live. Theology is very practical; it touches our lives every day. Worry, anxiety, fear, and depression can all be the result of faulty theology. A proper view of God is what strengthens us in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances. It appears to me that Biblical literacy is at an all-time low in our society.
The solution to our fear and anxiety is not a psychologist, counselor, or self-help book. Our solution is Theology Proper, a study of Yahweh. We must come to know the God of the Bible. Martin Luther said to Erasmus, "Your thoughts of God are too human." I think that most of us fall into this same category; our thoughts of God are too human. A.W. Pink said, "The God of modern religious thought no more resembles the supreme sovereign of the Bible than does the dim flickering of a candle resemble the glory of the noonday sun."
Only as we come to know the God of the Bible will we know what it is that He expects from us. Does He expect anything? I would have to say that most Christians live as if God expects nothing from them. What does God want from us? We could name a lot of things, but what is number one? What does God want from us more than anything else? It is a one-word answer—faith. He wants us to trust Him.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 ESV
The God who created us wants us to trust Him. The writer of Hebrews lays down an axiomatic truth. He uses the aorist tense in the infinitive "to please." The statement is universal in its application and timeless. The idea is that without faith it is impossible to please Him at all.
It is not belief in the existence of "a god" that is meant but rather belief in the existence of "the God" of the Bible. The God of the Bible is Holy, Just, Good, Loving, Wrathful, Merciful, and He is Sovereign. In order to live by faith, we must believe that God is who He says He is.
I think that it should be obvious that we cannot live by faith unless we understand what faith is. Do you know what faith is? If someone asked you "What is faith?" could you explain it to him? I would dare say that most of the people involved in "churchianity" could not give you a Biblical definition of faith.
Biblically defined, FAITH IS: UNDERSTANDING AND ASSENT TO A PROPOSITION. If you were to ask me, "Where is my money?" and I said to you, "The check is in the mail," you are either going to believe me, which is faith. You are either trusting in what I said or you are not. Notice what the Bible says about Abraham:
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." Romans 4:18 ESV
God made a promise to Abraham; He promised him children. He promised him that he would be the father of a great nation. Now, Abraham was about 100 years old, and his wife Sarah was 90. And she was barren. Look at Abraham's response to the promise:
He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. Romans 4:19 ESV
Notice that Abraham's faith was not weak. The Greek word used here for "considered" is katanoeo. It means "to consider attentively, fix one's eyes or mind upon." The KJV mistranslates this verse as:
And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: Romans 4:19 KJV
The four oldest manuscripts of the New Testament do not have the negative. Abraham did consider his own body and Sarah's dead womb. The Scriptures verify this:
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, "Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" Genesis 17:17 ESV
Abraham faced the facts; he didn't deny them. He looked at the facts as they were, at their very worst; but having looked at them, he believed the promise of God. He believed God in the face of all opposition. Faith does not close its eyes to reality. He knew physically that it was impossible for him and Sarah to bear children, but he believed God's promise:
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21 ESV
We see from verse 21 that faith is believing a promise; it is understanding and assent to a proposition. You cannot trust God for what He never promised. Abraham believed what God told him. That is faith. No matter what the subject, whether it be God or botany, the psychology or linguistics of belief is identical in all cases. Believing that 2+2=4 is arithmetic. Believing that asparagus belongs to the lily family is botany. Botany is not mathematics, but the psychology or linguistics of believing is identical. Believing is always thinking a proposition is true.
The difference between various beliefs lies in the objects or propositions believed, not in the nature of belief. Faith must begin with knowledge; you can't believe what you do not know or understand. This is why you must read your Bible. You have to know before you can believe. I understand the teaching of evolution, but I do not assent to it. Belief is the act of assenting to something understood. But understanding alone is not belief in what is understood. I understand the theory of evolution, but I do not believe it.
The Christian life starts with an act of faith. We believe that Christ will give us eternal life if we trust in Him alone for our redemption.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV
That is a promise. When I believe in Christ, I am given everlasting life. When I come to the living God as a guilty sinner, trusting in Yeshua and Him alone to do for me that which I cannot do for myself, I am engaged in an act of faith. I have never seen God. I have never seen this place called heaven. I have never seen Yeshua. But by faith, those things which I cannot see become realities to me. They take on substance for me. And by faith, I gain assurance and conviction about things that my eyes cannot behold. That is what faith is all about. But trusting God for my eternal salvation is only the beginning. It is the start of a journey that cannot be traveled successfully in any other way but by faith. Thousands of believers have trusted Christ for their salvation but are not living in faith. They are not trusting God in each and every area of their lives.
Every day and in every way, we should be trusting God in our daily lives. But are we? Do we really trust God? When you are hurting and your life seems to be coming apart at the seams, do you trust God? When we fail to trust God, we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. God views our distrust as seriously as He views our disobedience. When the children of Israel were hungry, they spoke against God:
They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?" Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, Psalms 78:19-21 ESV
Why was it that God was so angry with them? The next verse tells us.
because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power. Psalms 78:22 ESV
In order to trust God, we must always view all of our circumstances through the eyes of faith. Faith pleases God.
Your faith in God is the bottom line in your ability to deal with difficulty, let's just say with life, because life is difficult. A knowledge of God is essential in the matter of trust.
The Bible is the revelation of God so that in knowing Scripture, we come to know God. And in knowing God, we come to trust in Him. It is hard to trust someone whom you really do not know. I believe that the first and foremost thing we must know about God is that He is sovereign. But most of the church today denies the absolute sovereignty of God. Christians speak of accidents or of things just happening by chance.
One of the major problems in the church today in the matter of spiritual instability is the wide acceptance of Arminian theology. Calvinism and Arminianism are at opposite ends of the theological spectrum. Traditional Calvinism, or Reformed theology, says "God is sovereign over everything!" To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and on earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will.
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalms 115:3 ESV
Can you do whatever you please? No, of course not. You cannot do whatever you please because too many things are out of your control. But God can do whatever He pleases because He controls all things.
The Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign:
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:11-13 ESV
God did not simply create the world and then walk away. He constantly sustains that which He created. Seventeenth-century deism constructed a god who created a universe and then walked away to leave it running according to its natural laws and man's devices. Many Christians are practical deists. They act as if God has left the world to run on its own.
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 yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,' calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. Isaiah 46:9-11 ESV
To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth, so that no one can defeat His counsels, thwart His purposes, or resist His will. The sovereignty of God is absolute, irresistible, infinite. God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases; whatever takes place in time is but the outworking of that which He decreed in eternity.
One commentator writes, "The Bible teaches that God is all-powerful. And He has complete authority over everything that happens. But we must never forget that He also chose to give us free will. And He does not use His power to overrule our freedom to choose the direction we go in life."
Like this commentator, many of us are prepared to grant God's sovereignty over nature and impersonal circumstances, such as a mechanical failure in an airplane. After all, nature does not have a will of its own. God is free to operate through His physical laws as He pleases. But the concept of divine sovereignty over people can seem to destroy the free will of humans and make them no more than puppets on God's stage. Yet, the Bible repeatedly affirms God's sovereignty over everything, including people. It speaks of God making the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the Israelites:
The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus, they plundered the Egyptians. Exodus 12:35-36 ESV
The Bible tells us of God moving the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to fulfill His word:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: Ezra 1:1 ESV
The Bible also tells us of God causing King Nebuchadnezzar's official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.
And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, Daniel 1:9 ESV
One of the strongest such assertions is found in Proverbs 21:1 (ESV).
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1 ESV
The heart to the Hebrew was the thought process, his thinking. So here we see that Yahweh controls the thoughts of the King. The truth of God's sovereignty over the hearts of all people is taught by the strongest illustration—His control over most absolute of all wills, the "king's heart."
In Solomon's time, the king was an absolute monarch. There was no legislature to pass laws he did not like; no Supreme Court to restrain his actions. The king's word was the last word. His authority over his realm was unconditional and unrestrained. Yet, this verse teaches that Yahweh controls the heart of the most powerful monarch on earth as easily as the farmer directs the flow of water in his irrigation canals.
The argument, then, is from the greater to the lesser. In other words, if God controls the king's heart, then he certainly controls everyone else's. All must move before His sovereign influence.
All of us at times find ourselves and our future, immediate or long range, in the hands of others. Their decisions can determine the success or failure of our plans. A government official can deny a visa to enter a country. A professor can determine the academic success of a graduate student. A supervisor can block a career. I was thinking of this last week. Back in 1977, I was in the U.S. Navy and living here in Norfolk when my father died. My mother was a mess after his death, so I put in for a hardship discharge so I could move back to Erie, PA to take care of my mother. I was turned down. I refiled, putting together a strong package which many told me was sure to get my hardship discharge granted. I was turned down again. And I was thinking last week how different would my life have been had we moved back to Erie. I am so glad Yahweh is sovereign.
In reality, we are not at the mercy of those over us because God sovereignly rules over those decisions and actions. God moves people to do His will and restrains people from accomplishing the evil they would normally carry out. A striking illustration of this is found in what appears to be an almost passing comment in Exodus 34.
Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. Exodus 34:23-24 ESV
Let's apply this passage in our present setting. What God commanded Israel to do was equivalent to commanding our nation to shut down all its commerce, close all its educational institutions, furlough all its military personnel simultaneously, and gather all those people into one giant Christian assembly three times a year. Think of how vulnerable our nation would be during those occasions.
Yet, that is what God commanded Israel to do. But along with the command, He promised them that no one would even covet their land during those times, let alone invade it. God could make that promise because in His sovereignty, He had the power to restrain people from even desiring to harm them. God is sovereign over not only our actions; He is sovereign even over our desires.
If we are going to trust God, we must understand that He is in control of every aspect of our lives. The doctrine of God's sovereignty clearly affirms that we can trust Him:
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Lamentations 3:37-38 ESV
No one can act outside of God's sovereign will or against it. Rather than being offended by the Bible's assertion of God's sovereignty in both good and ill, believers should be comforted by it. Whatever it is that we are going through, we may be sure of two things: 1. God is controlling it. 2. If you are His child by faith in Yeshua, He loves you.
How comforting is it that the God who loves us controls every event in time. We need to learn to trust God even when we do not understand because faith pleases God. Do you know Him well enough to trust Him no matter how painful or fearful a situation may be?
God controls everything that happens. Everything! If a business man has a total financial collapse, this is an act of God. If a loving Christian parent loses a child through sickness or murder, this is an act of God. Now I know that when I say that, most people who call themselves Bible believers have a fit. The response of most would be, "You are crazy, God is good, God is loving, God is kind, He would never do that." Really, is that what the Scriptures say? Notice what Job says.
And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21 ESV
Job was a real man, not a mythological figure. He is mentioned by Ezekiel, and he is classified as one of the three great men of the Tanakh, along with Noah and Daniel. He is mentioned also by James, who refers to Job's patience and steadfast endurance. He was a contemporary of Abraham, most likely, so this book goes back to the very beginnings of Biblical history.
After a total financial collapse and the death of his ten children, Job says, "The Lord has taken away." Is that what the Scripture says? Yes, it is. Look it up in any translation; they all say the same thing. Job is saying, "God did this! God destroyed me financially, and He killed all my children." Most Christians today would go crazy over this and say that Job is demon possessed. They would say that Job is blaspheming. But they are the ones who are blaspheming because the Scriptures say that Job was worshiping.
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. Job 1:20 ESV
Job is not angry and attacking God. He is worshiping when he says, "The Lord has taken away." Job not only recognizes God's sovereignty, but he also rejoiced in it. Job trusted God because he knew God. He knew that God was sovereign, and in this he rejoiced.
Just in case you still think that Job is wrong in saying that God did this, the inspired writer of the book makes a comment to avoid a misunderstanding. Lest anyone say that Job should not have attributed Satan's work to God, he writes:
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Job 1:22 ESV
Let's jump to the last chapter:
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Job 42:7 ESV
The Bible says that Job, who accused God of killing his ten children, did not charge God with wrong but rather he spoke of God what is right. Does this fit your theology? God killing and destroying? If not, you had better work on making some changes in your theology because God is not going to change.
Job's rock of refuge and hope when everything else seemed to be crumbling was the absolute sovereignty of God. Most of our grief and pain does not come as a clear punishment for sins. Most of it comes out of nowhere and baffles our sense of justice.
That is why the book of Job is so relevant. Job's suffering seems to come out of nowhere and to have no connection to his character. His story is recorded for us so that we will have some help in living through these calamities.
In the midst of life's worst circumstances, Job worshiped.
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. Job 1:20 ESV
When you hear the word "worship," what picture comes to mind? Do you think of a service with instruments, songs and hymns, and, of course, preaching? That can be worship. The word "worship" means "Honor paid to a superior being." It means "To give honor, homage, respect, adoration, praise, and glory to God."
The Hebrew word for worship is a powerful one. It describes the physical act of actually prostrating yourself on the floor before a Sovereign, someone who has complete control over you.
I think that a simple and working definition of worship is "Aligning ourselves with God's will, both written and providential." Worship is not a spiritual "warm fuzzy" on Sunday morning. It is God's people actively responding to Him.
Recognizing God's sovereign rights (The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away), Job praised the Lord. It is truly remarkable that Job followed adversity with adoration and woe with worship. He could do this because he knew his God. He knew that God was sovereign, and he trusted Him and praised Him.
Many years ago, a military officer and his wife were aboard a ship that was caught in a raging ocean storm. Seeing the frantic look in her eyes, the man tried unsuccessfully to alleviate her fears. Suddenly she grasped his sleeve and cried, "How can you be so calm?" He stepped back a few feet and drew his sword. Pointing it at her heart, he said, "Are you afraid of this?" Without hesitation she answered, "Of course not!" "Why not?" he inquired. "Because it's in your hand, and you love me too much to hurt me." To this he replied, "I know the One who holds the winds and the waters in the hollow of His hand, and He will surely care for us!" The officer was not disturbed because he had put his trust in the sovereign Lord.
As we grow in our faith, we will learn to trust God in the worst of circumstances, understanding that all occasions of pain and sorrow are under His absolute control. Faith has the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God; our suffering has meaning and purpose in God's eternal plan, and He brings into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good.
Job knew and trusted in God, which allowed him to worship in the worst of circumstances. Joseph also understood the sovereignty of God and thus trusted Him through the worst of circumstances. Genesis 37 tells us that when Joseph was 17, his brothers hated him and wanted to kill him; but instead of killing him, they sold him as a slave to Ishmaelites. That sure would cause anxiety and fear in most people. How do you think you would feel if it happened to you? Talk about rejection!
Genesis 39 tells us that Joseph is sold as a slave to Potiphar, an Egyptian. As he was working for Potiphar, Potiphar's wife tried to get Joseph to sin by committing adultery with her. Joseph did what was right. In order to not sin against his God, he literally ran away from her. Consequently, Potiphar's scorned wife had him put in prison because he would not go along with her plan. Joseph did what was right. He refused to sin, and because of this, he was put in prison. How would that make you feel?
After thirteen years of living as a slave, Joseph interprets a dream for Pharaoh, and because of this, Pharaoh promotes Joseph to the number two man in the most powerful nation on earth at that time. Because of his position in Egypt, during a severe famine, he was able to take care of the very brothers who hated him and had sold him into slavery.
Joseph had no bitterness or unforgiveness toward his brothers because he knew that God had sovereignly ordered the events of his life. In other words, God's sovereignty was very practical for Joseph. Notice what Joseph told his brothers.
And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. Genesis 45:5 ESV
Joseph saw the hatred of his brothers as God's sovereign hand.
And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. Genesis 45:7 ESV
Joseph saw God as the one who put him in slavery for thirteen years.
So, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Genesis 45:8 ESV
Three times he stresses this idea: "God sent me here." Joseph had this divine viewpoint: he saw things from God's perspective. He saw his brothers as instruments in God's providence to get him into Egypt. It was his brothers who sold him into slavery, but Joseph says, "It was not you who sent me here, but God." Joseph's strength and comfort in adversity came from his knowledge of God. He trusted in his sovereign God.
Many years later, Joseph's father died, and his brothers were afraid that Joseph would try to get revenge on them for selling him into slavery. Look with me at Genesis chapter 50 to see Joseph's response to them.
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him." So, they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died: 'Say to Joseph, "Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you."' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:15-20 ESV
Joseph tells his brothers that he is not in the place of God, meaning that he would not take vengeance against them. Joseph knew that vengeance belongs to the Lord. Notice very carefully what he tells his brothers in verse 20: "You meant evil against me." He knew that, and yet he had no anger or bitterness against them because he knew that "God meant it for good." Because of all that happened, he was in a place to save the lives of all of his family. For thirteen years, things did not seem too good to Joseph, but in the midst of his suffering, he trusted God. Thirteen years is a long time to sit in prison. For thirteen years Joseph had no idea why his brothers hated him. For thirteen years Joseph trusted his God when he could not see any light at the end of the tunnel. He knew God was sovereign; he knew God controlled all things, so he rested in Him.
Believer, there is great comfort in Theology Proper for our daily lives. The hurts in your life are controlled by God for your good. The way that you handle problems, temptations, trials, and difficulties is a reflection of your view of God. If you know God, if you know that He is omnipresent, omniscience, all powerful; and if you understand that He loves you, why would you ever worry? He's Sovereign, and He's working everything out for your good and His glory. Everything that happens is for His eternal purpose.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 ESV
The text does not say that all things are intrinsically good or pleasant. All things are not necessarily in themselves good. We know that, but God works them into good. That does not mean He works toward our short-term happiness or delight. He works towards what is best for us, doing what is eternally good in us and for us. But in all experiences of life, even the most difficult and painful, God is still at work doing something good. Believer, no matter what happens to you, God meant it for good. Trust Him.