How Does Salvation Happen? (Jonah 2:9)

Salvation comes from the LORD.” (Jonah 2:9, NIV ‘84, '11) “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (ESV) “Salvation is of the LORD.” (KJV)

Which is it? Did you first accept/believe Jesus and then God saved you? OR did God save you first and then you accepted/believed Jesus?

(Related post: Jonah: an Introduction.)

Not a new question. Throughout church history , Christians have explained salvation in 2 predominant ways. Those who emphasized God’s sovereign grace or divine election have been called Calvinists (after John Calvin), or Augustinians (after St. Augustine), while those who objected to this emphasis and contented for a rational doctrine of free will have been called Arminians (after James Arminias) or Wesleyans (after John Wesley). It is important to note that both perspectives are compatible with traditional orthodox Christianity. Thus, Calvinists and Arminians are friends in Christ, not angry argumentative combatants, just as George Whitfield a Calvinist was friends of John Wesley an Arminian. A “3rd category,” which is non-Christian, is Pelagianism (after the heretical monk Pegagius who was excommunicated from the church), because they reject that man is a sinner and deny the need of grace for man’s salvation. Finneyism (after Charles Finney of the 2nd Great Awakening) has also been regarded by some to be non-Christian because of his vagueness about salvation through justification, and his narrow and primary focus on man’s free will in determining his salvation.


Babel: Let's Do Away With God (Gen 11:1-9)


"Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves" (Gen 11:4).

The onslaught of atheism against God is not a modern invention, nor a recent 20th century occurrence. It already happened ions ago when man built the tower of Babel to do away with God, and to regard God as irrelevant, redundant or non-existent. Yet there is still a need to affirmatively declare their own independent autonomy and self-rule. They indeed lay claim to a heaven without God, while the world continues to pine away amidst the constant din of ongoing and escalating unrest.

But don't we all build our own towers of Babel? Biblically, Babel reflects every man's utmost longing for significance and security. Before I became a Christian in 1980, what drove and motivated me was my intense desire to become a doctor. It was not that I really wanted to be a doctor. (All my 4 kids sensed that, and my life as a doctor did not inspire any of them to want to be a doctor!) What motivated me? It was the praise and recognition by others if I became a doctor. It was also my longing for financial security by being a doctor. So, I built my "tower of Babel" through 5 years of medical school, and after that by coming to the U.S. to solidify my status and security and significance as a doctor. Surely, all human beings are building their own "towers of Babel" in their own unique ways. For a time, they may seem triumphant. But the song that reflects the sentiment of the last century still cries out even among the affluent, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction!" Or in the ancient words of Solomon, it would be, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity." (Eccl 1:1)

In Gen 11:1-9, let's examine why God was so displeased with those who built the tower of Babel that he confused their languages? What was so wrong about building the tower of Babel?

The ESV Study Bible says, "The Babel enterprise is all about human independence and self-sufficiency apart from God. The builders believe that they have no need of God. It presents a unified humanity using all its resources to establish a city that is the antithesis of what God intended when he created the world. The tower is a symbol of human autonomy, and the city builders see themselves as determining and establishing their own destiny without any reference to the Lord." Thus, "this episode is significantly more important than its length suggests."

Previous/related posts: Sin, Faith and Salvation (Gen 6:1-14); Divine Judgment (Gen 6:5-13); Am I Really That Bad? (Gen 6:5).

Gen 10-11 is the bridge between the story of Noah (Gen 6-9) and Abraham (Gen 12ff). Gen 11:1-9 is the last picture of what the world is like prior to Abraham. The rest of Genesis will concentrate on the line of Sham, especially the line of Abraham and Sarah. Gen 11:1-9 divides easily into 2 parts:

  1. Rebellion: What Man Does in Rebellion (Gen 11:1-4).
    • 4 expressions
    • 2 sins
    • Root sin
    • Quest for a name without God
  2. Response: What God Does to Fulfill His Will (Gen 11:5-9).
I. Rebellion (Gen 11:1-4): 4 Expressions of Rebellion: What was the motivation for building Babel? They expressed 4 things quite explicitly in Gen 11:4:
  1. To build a city.
  2. To build a tower that reaches to the heavens.
  3. To make a name for themselves.
  4. To not be scattered over the face of the whole earth. This is contrary to God's plan that people fill the earth (Gen 1:22,28; 9:1,7).
2 Underlying Sins. The 1st 2 correspond to the 2nd 2: #1 is related to #4; #2 is related to #3. To build a city (#1) is to avoid being scattered over the whole earth (#4); to build a tower to the heavens (#2) is to make a name for themselves (#3). The city and the tower (#1 & #2) are outward expressions of 2 inward sins:
  1. The love of praise (make a name for yourself; exalt or glorify self).
  2. The love of security (build a city and not risk going out to fill the earth).
The root of sin. God's will for man is that He made man in God's image (Gen 1:26-27) not to find joy in being praised, but to find joy in knowing, praising and glorifying God (Jn 17:3; 1 Cor 10:31). God's will is also not that we find security in cities, but in God whom we love, trust and obey (Prov 3:5-6; John 14:1,15,21). Thus, they were determined not to build the "City of God" that glorifies God, but the "city of Man" that exalts the achievements of man. Even the severe judgment and warning against sin by the Flood did not change man's heart (Gen 6:5, 8:21). His heart was like it was with Adam and Eve: We decide for ourselves what is best. By default we do away with God. This is the story of all mankind to this very day apart from the redeeming grace of God.

Our name is our identity. In the Bible, to get a name is to have our identify. When God names a person, He refers to what He has already done or what He is going to do in their lives. In God, through his undeserved grace, we find our security, priority, sense of worth and uniqueness, which is based on what God has done for us and in us. If we do not have a "name" we cannot but live in vague insecurity, as a restless wanderer (Gen 4:12,14) still in search of who we are. Thus the people of Babel sought their identity ("name") in 2 ways:

  1. in the greatness of their personal accomplishment. They wanted to build "a tower that reaches to the heavens" (Gen 11:4). They are assigning value to their work and attaching significance in their accomplishment. It is their subconscious attempt to "save themselves" through their work and trying to "get to heaven" without God. They are boldly declaring, "I don't need God to face the world with confidence and joy. Look at the skyscraper I've built!"
  2. in the size and power of their group. Their sense of power is derived from the size and wealth of their city and of their people. In #1 they make an idol out of their accomplishments. Here they make an idol out of their group. They feel they have a name if their group is great and powerful. This leads too various forms of imperialism, colonialism, racism, intellectualism, etc. We look at the world and we can sense how much one group despises another group, regardless of whether the groups are religious or irreligious.
II. Response (Gen 11:5-9)
  1. God knows them (Gen 11:5).
  2. God laments at them (Gen 11:6).
  3. God confuses them (Gen 11:7).
  4. God scatters them (Gen 11:8).
The narrative shows the utter folly of man in rebelling against God's ordinances. "Babel" (Gen 11:9) in Hebrew occurs over 200 times in the OT and is translated Babylon in all but a few. Babylon perhaps might strike us today as something ancient. But in Moses' day and in OT times, Babylon was the city of cities, the ultimate city, a symbol of power, wealth and pleasure, like London, Paris, Tokyo, New York, etc. Yet this great city which was the epitome of man in all his ability and sophistication, was easily humbled and decimated by the slightest action of God, without God even “breaking a sweat,” so to speak. Today, Babylon is no more. Similarly, all the Babylons of the world, through presently impressive, will one day come to naught (Rev 18:1-10).

Finally: Babel can also represent man's attempt to reach God and find "salvation," which is the way of all religions in the world. We are rewarded according to our effort. But the Gospel is God's initiative to reach and save man only by His grace alone through His Son's death and resurrection. When we live religiously, we never quite know how much is enough. We cannot but be nervous and uncertain. When we think we do well, we are confident. But when we think we do poorly, we are humble. But only the Gospel of Grace that is not depended on our performance frees us to receive his grace and live a life of thanksgiving and joy.

"Babel." Ligon Duncan
"City of Man; City of God." Tim Keller, What Were We Put in the World To Do?, 81-90.
"Gen 11:1-9." A sermon by Scott Lindsay
ESV Study Bible, 2008.
"The Pride of Babel and the Praise of Christ." John Piper, Spectacular Sins, 65-73.

John Piper shares 5 ways how even the blatant rebellion of Babel magnifies the glory of Christ:

  1. Christians guarded. (We humans are far too evil to be allowed to unite in 1 language or 1 government.)
  2. Pride destroyed (2 Thess 2:8).
  3. Every group claimed (Mt 28:18-19).
  4. The gospel glorified (from every language) (Rom 1:16).
  5. Jesus praised (from all the different languages).

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A Woman's Beauty (1 Peter 3:1-6)


"Your beauty ... should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit..." (1 Peter 3:3-4).

"What a beautiful woman she is! She is the kind of woman any man would want to marry!" This was my immediate thought when I heard the story on the radio years ago of how James Dobson (of Focus on the Family) came to marry his wife Shirley.

(Related posts: Marriage as Unjust Suffering, The Search for One True Love, Abraham Lincoln's Very Unhappy Marriage.)

Before marriage, Dobson and Shirley, both Christians, were dating in college with the understanding that they would marry in the future. But when Dobson had to serve in the National Guard he proposed to Shirley that they keep their options open when he was away on duty, and that they could each date other Christians if they wanted to. Because Shirley was in love with him, this shocked her. But she did not express it or react to his "hurtful" proposal. On their last date before he left, he wanted to kiss her good night as he usually does at the door of her house. But she politely refused. Rather abruptly, she went home and closed the door. This surprised Dobson. What he did not know was that after she closed the door she cried all night. But she did not reveal any of this to Dobson. Then when Dobson was away on duty, he did not date others. Instead, he kept writing her over and over, while she was quite lukewarm in her response to him. As a result, Dobson kept pursuing her until they married. Isn't Shirley the kind of woman with the poise, mystery and beauty that any man would want to marry?

Probably, it is somewhat awkward for a man to address the topic of a woman's beauty. A safe statement may be that every woman wants to be beautiful. Also, every man wants to see or to be with and to marry a woman who is beautiful. But our perspective regarding beauty has been affected by our sin. As a result, many a man inclines toward sexual sentiments in his reflections about a woman's beauty, while many a woman obliges a man to pursue them by their subtle and not so subtle behavior and attire or non-attire.

1 Peter 3:1-6 is addressing a Christian wife who is presumably married to a non-Christian (or to an immature husband). Briefly, the woman described here is not that of a pathetic, mousy, spineless, mindless woman. Rather, she is a joyfully obedient woman (not stupid!), a fearless woman whose hope is in God (not man), and who accomplishes great things through quiet, patient, obedient living. She is indeed a happy woman (Prov 31:25), and not a slave to her weak husband, as Leah was to her husband Jacob (Gen 29:32-34). Thus, the principles Peter addresses applies to all marriages, not just one with an unbelieving or immature husband. What does 1 Peter 3:1-6 teach us about a happy, mysterious and beautiful woman?

1. She is submissive to her husband (1 Pet 3:1a). This does not mean and has never meant that she is inferior to him (Gen 1:27). She is his "helper" (Gen 2:18-22). The word "helper" has been demeaned to mean nothing more than a domestic servant. But the Hebrew word "ezer" is a combination of 2 roots, meaning "to rescue, to save" and "strength." Ezer is used 21 times in the OT, twice referring to Eve (Gen 2:18,20), 3 times to nations providing military assistance to Israel, and 16 times in reference to God as a helper. Thus, a weak wimpy woman will have no strength, no power and no wisdom to help her husband be the man that he should be.

2. She wants to win her husband to Christ (1 Pet 3:1b). Even though he may not want to be won over, she is out to melt this cold, cruel man into a tender kind disciple of Jesus. Her heart's utmost desire is not to win him over to her, but to Christ. But if she wins him to Christ, she also wins him to her, for he will love her more.

3. She witnesses to him not through words (certainly not through nagging), but in a much harder way, by her life and her example (1 Pet 3:1c).

4. She is pure and reverent (1 Pet 3:2). She knows more about fixing her spirit, than about fixing her face. Instead of looking at herself in a mirror, she looks at herself through the lens and figurative mirror of Scripture.

5. Her beauty comes from inner gentleness and quietness (1 Pet 3:3-4). She does not win her husband just by looking beautiful. She amazes her husband not by physical seduction, but by her purity and reverence that displays the love, quietness, meekness, gentleness and humility of Christ (Mt 11:29).

6. She puts her hope in God (1 Pet 3:5). Her submission/obedience to her husband is like the obedience of the church to Christ, or the obedience of Christ himself to the heavenly Father, an obedience which engages all her gifts, her creativity, her thought. When we put our hope in man, our emotions go up or down depending on the man. We become like a yo-yo, being controlled by some man. But hope in God is steadfast and unfailing.

7. She does not live in fear (1 Pet 3:6). She is a person of great strength, a calm in the storm. When we live in fear, or when we fear a man, we are insulting God. When we fear God, we have poise, knowledge and wisdom (Prov 1:7, 9:10). Moreover, when we fear God, we fear nothing and no one (Prov 29:25). How glorious and victorious it is to live without fear. How painful it is to live in fear and anxiety.

Conclusion: Man's irresistible affinity for beauty. That God created man and woman in God's image (Gen 1:27) means that our heart craves for what is most beautiful, for God is the Ultimate Beauty. But sin severed our view of the beauty of God. Thus, we seek endlessly all our days for alternate sources of beauty--our counterfeit gods and our idols of choice. Our craving for counterfeit beauty invariably disappoints and disillusions. Our hearts need redemption to be able once again to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord (Ps 27:4), and to see the king in his beauty (Isa 33:17). How?

Jesus is the most beautiful one. But in his incarnation, he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him (Isa 53:2). On the cross he was disfigured and marred beyond recognition (Isa 52:14). On account of our sins, Jesus lost all of his beauty. Why? So that we can be made beautiful once again.

ESV Study Bible, 2008.
Marriage As Unjust Suffering (1 Peter 3:1-7), John Frame.
Hebrew word "ezer" explained.

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Jesus' Resume (Heb 1:1-3)


Karl Barth (Swiss Reformed theologian, 1886-1968) was asked if God had revealed himself in many religions besides Christianity. His answer: "No. God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has spoken in his Son, Jesus Christ." The beginning of Hebrews tells us Jesus' short resume.

Hebrews is about persevering in the faith (Heb 13:22). It was written to (Jewish) Christians (in Rome) who were struggling in the faith (Heb 10:38-39). It was for drift prevention--for they were tempted to wonder away. Since Rome detested all things Christian, they endured suffering, ridicule, imprisonment, the confiscation of their possessions, and, under Nero, the possibility of being fed to the lions in the Coliseum (Heb 2:14-18). Should they give up being Christians? To the author of Hebrews, rather than forsake Jesus, they should be willing to surrender everything to have him. Why? It is because of who Jesus is. He is:

  1. Creator
  2. Sustainer
  3. Heir
  4. Son
  5. Priest
  1. Jesus is the Creator God. "...he made the universe" (Heb 1:2). Since Jesus is the creator, he existed from eternity (John 1:1-3). See Col 1:16, 1 Cor 8:6.
  2. Jesus sustains "all things by his powerful word" (Heb 1:3). See Col 1:17. If God did not continue to sustain the world each and every moment, the world would lapse into non-existence. God executes his providential purpose simply: by the sheer power of his word. Without stress, burden, sleepless nights, 2nd guessing, ulcers, effort whatsoever.
  3. Jesus is heir "of all things" (Heb 1:2). Sons inherit everything. Everything that has ever been created has been created for the Son of God (Ps 2:8). Nothing will escape his heirship--not 1 rebellious angel, not 1 rebellious human, not 1 rebellious atom. But as God's adopted sons through Jesus, we too are heirs (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:6,7; Heb 1:14). Jesus is the cosmic Lord.
  4. Jesus is the Son. "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Heb 1:3). The glory of deity is not so much to be explained as it is to be adored. This visible glory was seen by Moses in the burning bush (Exo 3:1-6); it appeared at the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai; it came upon the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and later in the temple in Jerusalem. But its primary location was a place within the temple called "the Holy of Holies." It contained the ark of the covenant. On top of the ark rested the mercy seat. On both sides was positioned mighty cherubim--angels uniquely associated with the very presence of God. Above the mercy seat, between the cherubim was the visible manifestation of the glory of God. It was the most holy place on this planet. Because of idolatry God's glory abandoned the temple. But God came as the incarnate Son, revealing his glory (John 1:14), and became the temple (John 2:19,21), the dwelling of God with humanity. The glory has returned and its locus is in Jesus Christ: he "is the radiance of God's glory."
  5. Jesus is the Priest. Jesus is the priestly king; he "provided purification for sins" (Heb 1:3). Sin does many devastating things to us. Among the most graphic is that sin defiles us. It stains us. In the holy and pure eyes of God (Hab 1:13), sin makes us filthier than a soiled menstrual cloth (Isa 64:6). We need purification. How? In Leviticus, dirty people are made clean by means of priests offering sacrifices. One day a year, the high priest enters the Holy of Holies and sprinkles blood on the mercy seat. But the priests' work never ended. Regarding the furniture in the temple (Exo 25,37; 1 Kings 7:15-50), there is no provision of a place to sit. No chair. No bench. No stool. Why? Because the priests' work of making purification was never done. This foreshadows the coming of the Son, who said with his sacrifice on the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Then Jesus "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven" (Heb 1:3). For the first time in the entire history of redemption, a priest sat down, because finally purification had been achieved (Tit 2:14; Rev 1:5).
References: "The Greatness of God's Ultimate Word" by Arturo G. Azurdia III, a sermon in Heralds of the King, 2009, 203-219.
"Jesus, the Great Revelation of God" (Heb 1:1-3), Ligon Duncan.

From a previous post on Heb 1:1-4 (Jesus, God's Final Word) Jesus is:

  1. The Creator. "He created the world." (John 1:3, 10; Col 1:16)
  2. The Heir. "(God) appointed the heir of all things." As God's adopted sons through Jesus, we too are heirs (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:6,7; Heb 1:14).
  3. The Glory of God. "He is the radiance of the glory of God." (2 Cor 4:4-6)
  4. Upholder. "He upholds the universe by the word of his power." (cf. Col 1:17)
  5. Mediator. "(He provided) purification of sins." (Tit 2:14; Rev 1:5)
  6. Inheritor of an exalted/excellent/superior name. "The name he has inherited is more excellent."

  1. How did God speak to us in the past (Heb 1:1)? In these last days (Heb 1:2)?
  2. What does Jesus' resume mean when the author describes him as (Heb 1:2-4):
    1. Son (John 1:18, 10:36)
    2. Heir (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:6-7; Heb 1:14)
    3. Creator (John 1:1-3,10; Col 1:16; 1 Cor 8:6)
    4. God's glory, the radiance of (John 1:14, 2:19,21)
    5. God's being, the exact representation of (John 14:7,9)
    6. Sustainer (Col 1:17)
    7. Providing purification for sins (Tit 2:14; Rev 1:5)
  3. What does sin do to us (Eph 2:1-3)? How does God see sin (Hab 1:13)? Why do priests in the temple not sit down (Ex 25,37; 1 Kings 7:15-50). Why did Jesus sit down (Heb 1:3; John 19:30)?

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The "Joy" of Death (Gen 25:1-11)


"...he died at a ripe old age, having lived a long and satisfying life" (Gen 25:8, NLT).

Previous passage: The Lord Will Provide (Gen 22:1-14).
Contrasting passage: Lot's End is God's Judgment (Gen 19:1-38)

Death is gut wrenching and crippling to countless billions, to put it mildly. One of my most vivid memories is that of a successful Chicago lawyer in his mid to late 30s. He was a brilliant confident self-made man. He built up his law firm from the ground up, has dozens of lawyers working for him, lives in a 5 million dollar house (25 years ago), has countless luxury cars, and a stunning wife. I met him as a trainee oncologist. He came to see my mentor oncologist with complaints of mild difficulty in swallowing for 3 weeks. He just had a biopsy taken from his throat and came to the oncology office to discuss the findings. He was jovial as he entered the office with his gorgeous wife. He said jokingly, "Doc, am I gonna live?" But the mood soon changed. After some elaborate explanation by the oncologist, it gradually dawned on him what his biopsy report meant when his diagnosis read "small cell carcinoma of the esophagus." The moment arrived when he suddenly realized that he had inoperable terminal cancer and had about 4 months to live.

His response was worthy of an academy award performance, except that it was reality. In literally a split second, his face turned ashen white. The look of horror on his face was visibly palpable. His whole body went limp and he spontaneously slumped over onto his wife's lap, for she was sitting next to him. Then for half an hour he sobbed uncontrollably, in silent morose sobs and with spasms of unashamed loud wailing, as his wife gently and tenderly caressed his hair. Finally, he left the oncology office with the posture of one who has been mortally wounded.

This is a dramatic response of one who was facing his own mortality. Let us contrast this with the death of our father of faith, Abraham. Gen 25:1-11 has 3 sections:

  1. God Kept His Promise (1-4): Abraham’s new wife.
  2. God Showed His Grace (5-6): Abraham’s provision for Isaac.
  3. God's Friendship Made All the Difference (7-11): The death and burial of Abraham.
I. God Kept His Promise (Gen 25:1-4): Abraham's New Wife

Abraham took another wife Keturah (Gen 25:1), who bore him children (Gen 25:2), who then bore him even more descendents for many generations (Gen 25:3-4). This shows that God is faithful to keep His promise to make Abraham a father of many nations (Gen 17:5-6; 15:5,18-21). Midian (Gen 25:1,4), one of Keturah's sons was the father of the Midianites, Israel's half-brothers. They would play a role in Israel's future. Moses' father-in-law, Jethro was a priest of Midian (Ex 2:16). God kept his promise to Abraham to the very end of his days. Like Abraham, we are called to trust God (Prov 3:5) and His promises. We never outgrow our need to trust God. God keeps his promises to us as long as we have breath.

II. God Showed His Grace (Gen 25:5-6): Abraham's Provision for Isaac

"Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac" (Gen 25:5). Abraham secures the unique place that Isaac is going to have in the plan of God. From Isaac, who received everything from his father, we learn that grace affords us benefits that we have not earned and do not deserve. The covenant of grace affords us unearned favors. Isaac did nothing to deserve this. God had chosen him even before he was born (Gen 17:19). Then to the sons of his concubines, he gave them gifts and sent them away from Isaac (Gen 25:6), to keep them from battling over the land that was given to Isaac.

Why did Abraham leave everything to Isaac? It was God's revelation (Gen 17:19). Though Abraham struggled for God's blessing to fall on Ishmael (Gen 17:18), God choose Isaac instead. Such inequality in the treatment of our children would be the surest way to spoil or hurt our children. But this was not the reason behind Abraham's "bias." He did not do so out of favoritism or his own personal preference, but because of God's revelation to him.

This part teaches us the doctrine of unconditional election and free grace (Eph 1:4; 2 Tim 1:9). God choose Isaac before he was born (Rom 9:6-16). God choose Jacob not because he was better than his older brother Esau. God does not choose his servants because of something in them or in us. God's election is never based on our merit or our works (Eph 2:8-9), but on the love of God in Christ. God always bestows his blessings based on the unearned favor of God. No one earns it. No one merits it. It is given by the free grace of God.

III. God's Friendship Made All the Difference (Gen 25:7-11): The Death and Burial of Abraham

How did Abraham die? "Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him..." (Gen 25:7-9). There is a richness and a fullness in the description of Abraham's death. The NLT says, "having lived a long and satisfying life." In sharp contrast to Abraham's full and satisfying life when he died (Gen 25:8) is Lot's tragic last description in the Bible (Gen 19:27-38). What do we learn here? 2 things:

  1. Lot's unfavorable end, despite being a righteous man (2 Pet 2:7-8). He died lonely, isolated and a drunk, with his 2 daughters having sex with him. Why? He lived in fear (Gen 19:30), rather than by faith (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6).
  2. Abraham's full and satisfying life. The most important lesson is that friendship with God makes all the difference in the world.
John Calvin says, “The chief part of a good old age consists in a good conscience and a serene and tranquil mind.” Calvin also says, “We see how many in our own day are in bondage to the desire of life; yet nearly the whole world languishes between on the one hand, a weariness of the present life, and, on the other hand, an inexplicable desire for it to continuance. The contentment with life, therefore, which will cause us to be ready to leave live, is a favor from God.”  In other words, it is God who gives us contentment that enables us simultaneously to enjoy life, but also to be ready to leave it when God calls. God had given that blessing to Abraham.

Sadly, people of various ages, whatever their status in life, show such an ingratitude for their lot in life. They become cynical, jaded and bitter as they age. In contrast, Abraham’s love for God and his fellowship with him, had made his life singularly full.

During a tornado in Oklahoma City, a man and his wife had their 3 week old son snatched from their arms, carried a mile away, and killed. When reporters asked him about this, he said, "I just want to thank God that He allowed me to be a father for 3 weeks." That is the difference between one with the fullness of life and one who doesn't have it.

In fullness of years and life, Abraham "was gathered to his people" (Gen 25:8). There is a sense of the continued existence of those who believe in the Lord after death. Matthew Henry says, “Death gathers us to our people. Those that are our people while we live, whether they are the people of God or the children of this world, are the people to whom death will gather us.” Will we be gathered to the children of promise, or will be gathered to the children of this world?  It depends upon with whom we find our ultimate fellowship in this life.

At the funeral of Abraham his 2 sons Isaac and Ishmael were temporarily united (Gen 25:9), as they shared the responsibility of their dad's funeral. Jacob and Esau would also be reunited in a similar fashion at the death of Isaac (Gen 35:29). After the funeral, God Himself confirms the covenant blessings on Isaac (Gen 25:11). So the blessing of Abraham did not die with him. God continued to favor all the children of promise.

The fullness of Abraham’s life was because of his friendship with God. The things that made Abraham’s life rich was not his possessions, it wasn’t the great age which God had granted him, but rather it was his relationship with God. 3 times in the Scripture, Abraham is explicitly called the friend of God (II Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; Jas 2:23). The fullness of his life was based upon that redemptive friendship he had with the living God.

God through his Son has chosen to call us friends (John 15:15). He longs for us to be an eternal, saving, redemptive friendship with Him. May God make that a reality in all of our lives that we should be called the friends of God.

Reference: ESV Study Bible, 2008.

Genesis 25:1-11 "The Death of Abraham," Ligon Duncan.

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Why Do We Need Elders (1 Tim 3:1-7)

"Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task" (1 Tim 3:1).
Related post: What Kind of Elders Do We Need? (1 Tim 3:1-7)

In 1 Timothy, Paul is laying down for Timothy--a young evangelist, minister, church planter--a permanent pattern for ministry in the church. 1 Tim 3:1-16 focuses on officers in the church. Why do we need elders (1 Tim 3:1-7)? 3 answers:

  1. Paul required that elders be appointed in every church (Tit 1:5).
  2. Jesus gave elders as gifts to the church. We must need them, because Jesus doesn’t give unneeded gifts.
  3. Elders are given to the church for the purpose of discipleship and spiritual oversight.
I. Paul Directed that Elders (pleural) be Appointed in Every Church that was Planted
"The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you" (Tit 1:5). In Acts, 1 Peter, James, Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, we have a body of elders (pleural). "Obey your leaders" (Heb 13:7). "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church" (Jas 5:14). "To the elders among you..." (1 Pet 5:1). Also Acts 20:28. Over and over in the NT we find everywhere there is a settled church, there is a body of elders which has been given spiritual oversight.
II. We Need Elders because Jesus Gave Them to the Church
After Jesus ascended on high, "Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:11) This can be translated as "pastor teachers." In this passage it is clear that Jesus has given officers to the church, and among those officers that He has given are pastors and teachers. Paul also calls elders shepherds and pastors. An elder is a pastor. As elder is an overseer.
Why do we need elders? "...to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:12-13). Elders are given, and necessary, for our spiritual edification. Jesus gave elders to the church:
  1. to equip Christians for works of service, for the work God made us to do. We need elders to equip us.
  2. to build up of the body of Christ.
How do elders build up the body of Christ? "...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature" (Eph 4:13). Elders are there to foster the unity of the fellowship, to build us up to be mature in the faith, to help us grow in grace, to disciple us into spiritual maturity, etc. That’s why we need elders. Paul says to the Ephesian elders, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God" (Acts 20:28).

What Kind of Elders Do We Need? (1 Tim 3:1-7) Paul tells us 6 things:

  1. Elders who want the work, not just the status of being an elder.
  2. Elders who are godly men, for holiness is God's qualification for an elder.
  3. Elders who are able to teach--to be able to convey God's truth to disciples.
  4. Elders with godly homes and families.
  5. Elders who are spiritually mature.
  6. Elders whose moral reputation is good with local non-Christians
Reference: Why We Need Elders and Why Kind of Elders We Need, Ligon Duncan, 2002.


Moses Himself Needs a Humble Savior (Numbers 12:1-16)


Our Daily Bread passage on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 was "Moses' Humbleness" (Num 12:1-16). Later that day, someone asked me, "Teach us about Moses' humbleness." These are my reflections.

My Initial Thoughts: Without the gospel of grace, at best we Christians will act humanly humble, usually by being soft spoken or silent. Though Moses was "humble," 8 chapters later he was proud, impatient and filled with anger, when he struck a rock twice in defiance of God's instructions to him (Num 20:8-11). This caused him to forfeit his life dream of entering the promised land (Num 20:12). Moses the humble man, needed a humbler Man. Moses, the mediator of Israel, needed a Mediator himself. Moses who delivered his people needed a Deliverer himself. Moses who saved his people needed a Savior himself. Only the gospel of Christ being butchered for me produces true sweet humility. This narrative is ultimately not about Moses' humility, since Jesus said that Moses wrote about Jesus (John 5:39, 46).

My Questions. I asked myself a few questions: What is the main biblical teaching of Num 12:1-16? Is it to be humble like Moses, who allowed God to deal with his dissenters? Is it to never complain against God's appointed leader, or else face very harsh and severe consequences? Absolutely and surely without question, as God fearing and God honoring Christians, we should always seriously heed the obvious answer to both questions with fear and trembling in our own frail and proud hearts. But do such teachings help us to see Jesus and to understand the gospel? My above thoughts suggests, "No." Outside of the gospel, no one can be truly humble. Also, outside of the gospel no one can overcome his or her own pride and jealousy. These are my burning thoughts as I looked into Num 12:1-16.

My key verse is Num 12:11: "I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed." A title could be "Complaining in the Camp/Church."

A Painful Reality. A sad and painful reality in Christian ministry is when dissension arises within a church family or community, even among good, godly, God fearing, God honoring Christians. This was apparently what happened in Numbers 12. It is similar to the 2 prior incidents of grumbling in Num 11:1,4-6,10, except that this 3rd time it occurred in the highest ranks of Israel's leadership. Moses was a great leader. Aaron was the chief priest and Moses' older brother. Miriam was a prophetess (Ex 15:20) and Moses' older sister. Both Aaron and Miriam were greatly honored servants of God in Israel in their own right, and whom God had also used mightily. Was there jealousy over Moses their younger brother playing the lead role in Israel? Perhaps so. Regardless, it displeased and angered God, because Moses was God's appointed servant and mediator. Though God had used Aaron and Miriam greatly, yet there was folly and sin in them. 2 observations:

1. God violated the traditional and expected iron law of primogeniture. Primogeniture is a hard and unfamiliar word. It means that the chain of command in any family begins with the oldest son, for the oldest son always receives the largest share of the family inheritance--ALWAYS. But God does not follow "human rules and tradition." God's calling and election is ALWAYS by grace alone, and never based on a person's status or standing. As a result, God often breaks this "iron law" and expected tradition of man. For instance:

  • God chose Abel the younger instead of Cain the older.
  • God chose Isaac the younger instead of Ishmael the older.
  • God chose Jacob the younger instead of Esau the older.
  • God bypassed the older 10 sons and chose Joseph the 11th of Jacob's sons.
  • God chose Ephraim the younger son of Joseph instead of Manasseh the older son.
  • God chose David, the youngest of the 8 sons of Jesse.
  • God chose Moses, the youngest one in his family.
2. Dissension arose within the senior leadership and God dealt with it (Num 12:1-10). This shows that even among the most gifted and God-appointed/anointed leaders sin can creep in and cause serious dissension. Little sins can cause tremendous ruptures in the life of God's people. Most of all this passage points us to man's utmost dire need for a Mediator, just as Moses was a mediator of the Lord for Israel, and also for Aaron and Miriam. This passage can be divided into 4 parts: Rebellion, Mediator, Judgment, Intercession.
  1. Rebellion: Rebellion Against Moses by His Own Family (1-3).
  2. Mediator: A Mediator is Necessary to Stand Between God and men (4-8).
  3. Judgment: God's Judgment Against Those Who Reject His Mediator (9-12).
  4. Intercession: The Mediator as Intercessor for Sinners (13-16).
I. Rebellion Against Moses by His Own Family (Num 12:1-3)

The complaint against the mediator Moses' wife (perhaps for racial reasons) masked their real complaint against Moses' leadership and unique position and authority (Num 12:1-2). God, who searches all hearts, "heard this" (Num 12:2b), for this was a complaint against God who had appointed Moses. Their complaint against Moses was not unlike the complaint against Jesus in his own hometown and by his own family.

Moses' humility was like that of Jesus who did not speak up or retaliate when falsely accused (Num 12:3; 1 Pet 2:23; Isa 53:7). Moses humility is commendable. Jesus' humility is ultimate.

II. A Mediator is Necessary to Stand Between God and Men (Num 12:4-8)

Because of the challenge against the mediator Moses, God becomes the advocate for the mediator. God summoned all 3 of them to the tent of meeting, where "the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud" and "summoned Aaron and Miriam" to step forward (Num 12:4-5). Then in the 11-line poem in Num 12:6-8, God describes Moses' unique mediating role (Ex 33:11, 18-23). To vindicate the mediator, God shows us the uniqueness, the necessity, and the indispensability of the mediator. To God, any challenge to his appointed mediator will ultimately result in our own destruction, because the mediator has been provided by God for our good, and without him we are undone. To Christians, it is a foreshadowing of Christ, the prophet greater than Moses (Deut 18:15; Acts 3:22, 7:37).

III. God's Judgment Against Those who Reject His Mediator (Num 12:9-12)

In anger, God departs and Miriam becomes leprous (Num 12:9-10). Aaron pleaded with Moses, "Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed." This plea is a picture of the doctrine/teaching of the non-imputation of our sin to us through God's imputation of our sin to His Mediator. This doctrine underlies the great gospel doctrine of justification by faith alone, where God freely justifies us by grace, which we receive through faith, not because of our own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Christ imputed (reckoned, counted, credited) to us, while our sins are credited to him (2 Cor 5:21). Here God is demonstrating the necessity of a mediator.

IV. The Mediator as Intercessor for Sinners (Num 12:13-16)

Here Moses the mediator intercedes for those who sinned against him. It is like Jesus' prayer of intercession on the cross on our behalf in Luke 23:34. When we sin and our heart is weighed down by our guilt, our only place of true rest is to come to Jesus (Mt 11:29). Like Moses, Jesus did not defend Himself against His accuser. But Jesus is the greater Moses (Heb 3:1-6).

Final Thoughts. Though Moses was a humble man (Heb 12:3), he too needed a humble Savior and Mediator himself. Though Aaron and Miriam sinned against Moses, their sin was primarily and ultimately against God (Ps 51:4), from whom they needed forgiveness. Moses the human mediator and leader could not heal or forgive them. Only God can (Num 12:13-15; Lk 23:34)

References: ESV Study Bible, 2008
Numbers 12:1-16 “Murmuring In the House.” Sermon by Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III July 18, 2007.

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Laziness is Incompatible with Being a Christian (Phil 2:12-13)


"I'm not lazy. I'm just tired." This was a catchphrase I used when I preached a sermon on Cain about the secrecy of sin, that sin always starts very, very, very small, since sin in its beginnings is "crouching" (Gen 4:7) almost out of even our own view or awareness.

Misunderstanding Grace
: There is a prevalent idea today that if grace is taught and proclaimed in the church, Christians will think that since they are saved by grace (that has nothing to do with them), then they do not have to do anything. But there is no such suggestion or teaching through out the NT (Heb 13:20-21; 1 Pet 4:11). Paul in particular never had such an idea that "grace" = "I don't have to do anything" in his thought or in any of his writings. In fact, Paul communicates the very opposite thought--that grace ALWAYS results in work (Eph 2:8-10; Rom 6:17; 2 Thess 1:11-12; Gal 5:22-23). Also, because of grace, Paul himself was constantly compelled and motivated to work even harder (1 Cor 15:10), with far greater joy, hope and intensity.

The Pervasiveness of Grace
: Grace is a free gift of God. "The gospel of the grace of God" is what Paul gave his life proclaiming (Acts 20:24, ESV). Grace is "synonymous" with "the gospel" and with "God." It is a theme in all of Paul's 13 epistles. He begins and ends each epistle with the greeting of grace. He is not ashamed of grace (Rom 1:16). Grace is what compelled him to work harder than anyone else (1 Cor 15:10). He never tires of proclaiming grace (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Cor 11:23-29). Because of his proclamation of grace, he was misunderstood and hated, even by his own countrymen, and finally he was beheaded and martyred by Nero. Yet he was not defeated, but victorious (2 Tim 4:7-8). Most of all, he gave all the glory to God (1 Cor 10:31).

The Results of Grace: In Phil 1:12-13, Paul spells out the result of the grace of Jesus, which is our sanctification. Briefly, justification is God accepting us, while sanctification is God changing us all the days of our life. Justification requires nothing of us. But sanctification requires that we work and cooperate with what God is doing in us. Paul gives 4 exhortations for our sanctification to those who know the grace of Jesus:

  1. Continue to obey (Phil 2:12a). Obedience is natural and vital to the Christian life.
  2. Work out your salvation (Phil 2:12b). Grace causes us to be active in the Christian life, No one grows in grace or is sanctified passively.
  3. Obey and work with reverence and awe (Phil 2:12c). Grace causes us to be humble and God-fearing.
  4. Obey and work because God is at work in us (Phil 2:13). God works in us for our growth in godliness, therefore we pursue holiness. There is no greater encouragement than the realization that the Holy God is working in me.
In the NT, grace which never depends on what I do NEVER means "I do not have to do anything." Instead, it means the very opposite. Therefore, laziness is incompatible with being a Christian.

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Marriage as Unjust Suffering (1 Peter 3:1-7)


What kind of title is that? I suspect that many would not like this title. They might even be a little upset by the title. I was personally surprised to see such a title. So I was quite curious to see how John Frame (born 1939, renowned American philosopher, presuppositionalist, Calvinist theologian) would "justify" or explain such a title, since he is a godly married Christian man. (He married rather late in 1984 at age 45, which perhaps might explain why he came up with such a title in the days when he was still a bachelor!).

Christian marriage portrayed as too rosy? Before I read his sermon, I did think about several things regarding the way we older Christians portray Christian marriages which might actually be a disservice to our young Christian couples when they marry:

  1. Sometimes Christian marriages and Christian families do not turn out as flowery and sweet, or as blessed and happy, as our Christian marriage sermons might make them out to be. There are several great Christians in history who were, sorry to say, horrible husbands: John Wesley, William Carey, AW Tozer. Sorry, if I burst the bubble of some.
  2. Also, we older Christian couples tend to not share the "bad stuff" in our own marriages, but only the "good stuff." Worse yet, we imply that there is "mainly bliss" in our marriages, which may be true. Yet, such a tendency gives young Christian couples an unhealthy unrealistic expectation of their own marriage. As a result, they would have a tough time when they face issues and problems, since "the marriages of our older couples are so much happier than ours."
  3. I need to state that my position is that I am pro-marriage in Christ, and those who know me know that I am VERY pro-marriage. So, if a Christian marriage goes south, or if the marriage is not happy, it bothers me. It doesn't surprise me. But it does bother me, because God is not glorified when a Christian marriage is unhappy, or when children of Christian parents are unhappy with their parents.
  4. Sorry, kids, for the times I made your mom cry, primarily because of my roughness, insensitivity, self-centeredness, pride, and lack of compassion. What Frame says in his sermon touched my heart:
    "A wife in her frail body is a glorious child of God. For her Christian husband to be unkind to her, to treat her wrongly is to fail to honor the great work of God's grace in her. Dishonor God's image in your wife and you dishonor God himself."
How does Frame justify/explain his title of "Marriage as Unjust Suffering"? This is how he does it exegetically from 1 Peter:
  1. A major theme of 1 Peter is the suffering of Christians. Peter wrote to Christians who were enduring various kinds of suffering (1 Pet 1:6). Some were persecuted for the sake of Christ (1 Pet 4:14), while others were suffering due to their own fault (1 Pet 2:20, 4:15). Our natural tendency would be to complain and blame God and others. But when we suffer, justly or unjustly, we Christians should look to the innocent One (1 Pet 1:19, 2:21-22) who endured the most wrongful, unjust suffering ever, and yet he did not retaliate (1 Pet 2:23). In this way, he saved us from all our vile sins against God (1 Pet 2:24; Ps 51:4).
  2. Peter talks about suffering in different situations, such as under governments that give Christians a difficult time. Yet we should be good citizens, we should not break the Law, and we should submit to the governing authorities (1 Pet 2:13).
  3. Next, Peter addresses suffering in the master/slave relationship (1 Pet 2:18-25), since more Christians were slaves than masters, and often their masters were wicked and cruel. Yet, they must be willing to suffer wrongfully, for that is the way of Christ.
  4. What is the next suffering in Peter's next application? Look at the text. It is marriage! Marriage as persecution! Marriage as wrongful suffering! So, yes, there is a downside of marriage. So sorry to the starry eyed single Christians who are waiting for their very own knight in shining armor, or their very own Miss Christian Universe!
OK, I was being sarcastic there. But truly, marriage is not all fun and games, and not all romance and exhilaration. Why? It's simply because we are still selfish sinners, who need daily sanctification through the grace of God. But yes, there is an upside of marriage as well, which is surely nothing but the grace of Jesus. Hopefully, I may expound on the upside of marriage soon...

Reference: Marriage AsUnjust Suffering (1 Peter 3:1-7), John Frame.

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The 2 Preaching Key Verses of John Piper (1 Pet 4:11; 2 Cor 3:18)


Related post: Don't You Just Love the Way John Piper Writes!

Over the last few years, I began to read books and sermons and attend conferences where John Piper preached and taught. Over time I heard and read Piper share 2 Bible verses he regards as guides to his preaching and Bible teaching over the last 30+ years. They are 1 Peter 4:11 and 2 Corinthians 3:18.

1 Peter 4:11 says, "If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." (NIV, 2011) 2 questions are:

  • "How do you speak the very words of God when you are using your very own voice to speak?"
  • "How do you serve with the strength God provides when you have to use your own strength to serve God?"
It is a delight and a mystery to ponder these questions and to work it out with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-13). As Christians, Bible teachers, and preachers, these are surely crucial and critical questions, for if we fail to do so, we would be showing off ourselves or our churches, rather than giving God the glory.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (ESV) Piper writes: "The principle is this: true gospel change of a person's character comes from steady gazing at the glory of Jesus. "Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into his image." We become like what we treasure enough to spend time focusing on. Some say, "Seeing is believing." This text says, "Seeing is becoming." You become like what you behold." From A Year-End Look at Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:9-20).

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Freedom (John 8:31-32)


This morning, Lyndon, a member of Philippines UBF, asked me to speak about "freedom." I quoted what I considered the most famous verse in the Bible about freedom--John 8:31-32--which says, "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” (This appealing popular verse has often been quoted out of context.) I also mentioned Galatians 5:1 and 2 Corinthians 3:17. For an hour, these are the points I shared in no particular order:

  1. Freedom is not a matter of the human will. No one can truly free himself no matter much he wants to be freed, especially from vices, such as pornography, addiction, gluttony, greed, infidelity, jealousy, covetousness, etc. Only the truth of the gospel of the grace of God sets us free (John 8:32; Acts 20:24).
  2. Freedom is freedom from the power and influence of sin (John 8:34). Christian or non-Christian, no one can make himself stop sinning or stop his bad habits, even if they want to stop sinning.
  3. Freedom is the power to say "No" to ungodliness (Titus 2:12). But how? Not by human will power (see #1), but only by knowing, reflecting, and applying the grace of God (Titus 2:11).
  4. Freedom enables us to "taste and see" that the grace of God is sweeter than our sins (Psalm 34:8). To "taste" expresses that there is a difference between being told that honey is sweet and tasting that honey is sweet (Jonathan Edwards, A Divine and Supernatural Light). When we do not taste and experience how sweet the grace of Jesus is, we cannot stop wanting to taste our sins again and again, even all of our lives.
  5. Freedom leads to the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace... (Galatians 5:22-23). No one knows, tastes and experiences eternal love, joy and peace, who is bound and captured by any sin, "big or small."
  6. Freedom uncovers our ultimate Enemy who wants to master us (Genesis 4:7). Though Cain was a religious man who knew God and made an offering to God, he had no freedom because he was captured by his sin of judging God for not accepting his offering, instead of examining his own wicked heart (Genesis 6:5).
  7. Freedom comes from holding to and learning from the teaching of Jesus (John 8:31). Otherwise, we will be mainly holding on to our own proud ideas (that blames God and blames others) and our sinful feelings.
  8. Freedom comes from knowing that Jesus was completely bound unto death on the Cross to set us free (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christians need to taste the sweetness of the grace of Jesus by willingly dying for us in our place. Otherwise, we will never be freed from bondage to sin.
  9. Freedom is to be able to do whatever you want to do. So the question is: What do you truly want to do? Sin? Love God with all your heart (Deuteronomy 6:5)? Glorify God in whatever you do (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
  10. Freedom is to know that God wants all of me or none of me. Though Lot was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7-8), a Christian, he kept something back for himself. As a result, unlike Abraham, he was a curse to his wife, his 2 daughters and all of his descendents (Genesis 19:1-38).
Do you have freedom from sin? As a Christian, what teaching are you holding to whereby you experience freedom (John 8:31-32)?

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A Song of Danger (Psalm 91:1-16)


"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty" (Ps 91:1).

Previous passage: A Song for the Afflicted (Psalm 90:1-17)

Theme: How to trust God in impossible and dangerous circumstances.

God intends for every Christian to experience a measure of safety and security in an unsafe and insecure world. If we do not know the security that comes from God and His gospel, it leads to all kinds of problems in the Christian life--relationship distance, an inability to forgive, an inability to repent, or the fear of man (Pro 29:25). Then we look to change our circumstances, which is never the ultimate cause of any of our problems. Not knowing where our safety comes from cripples our Christian life.

Intro: The Psalms in large measure answer the question of what a true believer experiences in his/her life with God in this fallen world, what a healthy Christian experience feels like that can even lead to singing! Psalm 91, a beloved song, a beautiful song, is a song for danger. It’s a psalm for those who are surrounded on all sides by danger – real danger, intense danger, comprehensive danger, immediate danger – and it tells us how to react as believers to that danger. One of the great themes of Psalm 91 is how believers learn to trust in God in the midst of the most real and intense danger. This is absolutely vital. Believers need to believe down to their socks that they are shadowed by God, that they are under the care of God the Almighty (Rom 8:28). The Psalmist presses this theme of absolute trust in God in the midst of grave danger in 3 stanzas:

  1. The Psalmist's testimony (1-2)
  2. The Psalmist's exhortation to us (3-13).
  3. God's promises are security only for His people (14-16).
I. The Psalmist's Testimony (Ps 91:1-2)

No shelter in the world. The only truly safe and secure person is the one who finds their shelter and refuge in God (Ps 90:1-2, 32:7). Many in the world, self-confident in their own autonomy and ability, seem to be quite safe and secure (Ps 73:2-16). But any adversity can throw them into a tailspin. Their most dreaded day would be the day of their death. As much as they "eat and drink" (1 Cor 15:32; Isa 22:13), awaiting that inevitable dreaded day of death, yet when it comes, it is never a welcomed day, though they await it all the days of their life.

Real security. David was a great and powerful king. Yet when he thought of the day of his death, he shuddered. But he found shelter, safety and security when God revealed to him the path of life, and that he would not be abandoned to the grave (Acts 2:25-28; Ps 16:8-11). What or where is your source of security?

II. The Psalmist's Exhortation to Us (Ps 91:3-13)

What does God protecting us mean? The exhortation of the Psalmist in Ps 91:3-13 is this: "You, believer…you, Christian, can be safe in all times and in all circumstances because of God’s providence over you." This does not at all mean that God will spare us from all unbearable agonizing difficulties. It is not that God will spare us hard circumstances in life, or that He will get us out of hard circumstances in life – even though He often does. The ultimate reason the Psalmist wants us to feel safe and secure is because God’s providence is comprehensive and minute, stretching all the way to the smallest detail of our life. Not a hair on our head can be touched apart from the sovereign discretion and will of your heavenly Father (Mt 10:30; Lk 12:7). Our God, because of His faithfulness, always delivers us or covers us (Ps 91:3-4). He may not deliver us out of a situation, but He will cover us in a situation. Most often He does both. He both delivers and covers us.

Did God protect Jesus? Amazingly, Satan used this Psalm to tempt Jesus (Ps 91:11-12). Did God send his angels to guard, keep and protect Jesus? God didn’t do it to spare Him from the cross. Where did He do it? He sent angels to minister to Him in the garden, to prepare Him for the cross. God did not deliver Him from His troubles, but He covered Him in His troubles, and God enabled Him to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

How to feel safe and secure? God always delivers or covers His people, one way or another. Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him" (Lk 12:4-5). Jesus says that if you fear God, there’s nothing else to fear in this world, there is no un-safety in this world that can match His strength and power. If you trust in God, believe in Him, He will always deliver and cover you, no matter what your circumstance.

III. God's Promises are Security Only for His People (Ps 91:14-16)

What is the requirement for safety and security? The promise of safety and security is not for everyone. The promise is made only for those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. In Ps 91:14-16, God says that we are safe, not in being rescued from every evil circumstance in life, but that we are safe by faith in Him – a faith that is evidenced and manifested by our love for God, our personal knowledge of God, our prayer to God, and our communion with Him in prayer. What is the requirement for safety and security? Faith in God (Ps 91:14).

What does God promise Christians? Simone Weil was an anarchist, soldier, factory worker, labor organizer, school teacher, mystic, resistance fighter, philosopher. She was born in 1909, in Paris, France. Towards the end of her very short life, she began to be very interested in Christianity, and she wrote: The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” She understood that Christianity does not promise us that we will escape from suffering, but it does promise us that God will use the suffering which He has appointed for His own purposes and that He will cover us, even though He may not deliver us in the way we expect.

References: Psalm 91 “Shadowed.” Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, June 22, 2008
ESV Study Bible

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