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第 26 屬靈爭戰 (以弗所書6:10-20)

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6:10 最後,你們要在主裏堅強,並在他的大能大力裏得力。6:11 要穿戴 神的全副軍裝,就能抵擋魔鬼的詭計。6:12 因我們並不是與屬血肉的爭戰,乃是與那些空中執政的、掌權的、管轄這幽暗世界的,以及天空屬靈氣的惡勢力爭戰。6:13 所以要拿起 神的全副軍裝,好在兇惡的日子抵擋仇敵,並且完成了一切,還能站立。

6:14 所以要站穩了,用真理當作帶子束腰,用公義當作護胸甲遮胸;6:15 用平安的福音當作鞋子穿在腳上;6:16 此外又拿着信心的盾牌,用以滅盡那惡者一切的火箭;6:17 並戴上救恩的頭盔;拿着聖靈的寶劍,就是 神的道。6:18 在聖靈裏,隨時多方禱告祈求,並要為此儆醒恆守,為眾聖徒祈求。6:19 也為我祈求,當我開口,賜我有信息,能以自信,講明福音的奧秘;6:20 我為這福音的奧秘,作了帶鎖鍊的使者。並祈求我照着所當說的放膽講論

引言

隨著希特勒對權力和領土的胃口增加,他揮軍橫掃歐洲。好些情況,不能稱那些戰事為一場戰爭,因為德國擁有坦克和先進的軍備,而有些落後的國家並沒有任何裝備來迎戰,有些只有矛,有些更只有石頭來對抗希特勒的侵略,情況完全失控。

有些被撒旦攻擊的對象,情況和上述的戰事相似,有些受害人甚至不知道戰事正在進行,他們很容易便成了撒旦的獵物,有些基督徒卻不相信他們正處身於屬靈爭戰中。更令人痛心的是有些基督徒知道自己「處身於戰鬥中」,既不明瞭撒旦的鬼計,也不知道自己有甚麼武器可使用,亦不知神給我們供應了那些武器可用來抵禦。

使徒保羅所寫的以弗所書6:10-20給屬靈爭戰下了最清晰的定義。這段經文明明白白地告訴我們屬靈爭戰正在進行,並且告訴我們若不使用神所賜的裝備,我們會無力對抗,並會處於絕望的境地。經文不單告訴我們神賜給我們甚麼武器,也給我們提示了所處戰事的本質。神所賜的裝備,是對抗撒旦攻擊的最佳武器;當我們參詳這些裝備時,便可從中領悟到很多關於撒旦所發動的攻擊的性質。

在這關於屬靈爭戰的第一課,我們會集中處理戰事本身,即第10至13節,讓我們瞭解戰事的嚴重性。得到一些有關這場戰爭的概括資料後,我們會仔細地檢視保羅所提及的每件武器和背後撒旦的攻擊策略。願神給我們開放的心思意念去認識屬靈爭戰和祂為我們提供的抵禦方法。

舊約中的屬靈爭戰

作為基督徒,在這裡讀到我們正身處於一場屬靈爭戰,應該不會感到奇怪。在舊約最初幾章經文中,已表明撒旦是神的敵人,並且他不斷地尋求敵擋神、敵擋神的旨意和祂的子民。讓我們先看看記載在舊約的屬靈爭戰,再探索新約相關的資料。

讓我們先看看創世記第3撒旦是怎樣發動那觸目的第一場屬靈爭戰。這場爭戰其實在亞當和夏娃被造以先,便早已存在。兩卷舊約先知書中有撒旦敵擋神的記載:

14:12 明亮之星,早晨之子啊!你已從天墜落!你這攻敗列國的,你已被砍倒在地上!14:13 你曾對自己說:「我要升到天上!我要設立我的寶座在 艾(El)眾星以上;我要坐在聚會的山上,在撒分(Zaphon)的遠坡。14:14 我要升到高雲之上;我要與至上者同等。」(以賽亞書14:12-14)

28:12「人子啊,你為推羅王作哀歌,對他們說:『主耶和華如此說:「『你是完美的典範,智慧充足,全然美麗。28:13 你曾在伊甸 神的園中,佩戴各樣寶石,就是紅寶石、紅璧璽、金鋼石、水蒼玉、紅瑪瑙、碧玉、藍寶石、綠寶石和紅玉,寶石座都是金子造的,都是在你受造之日預備齊全的。28:14 你是那受膏護衛的基路伯,我將你安置在 神的聖山上,你在發光如火的寶石中間往來。28:15 你從受造之日所行的都完全,直到在你裏面發現了罪。(以西結書28:12-15)

先知在這兩段經文所指的明顯並非地上君王,而是一位擁有更大能力的人物——撒旦。他是神所創造的天使(以西結書28:13),並賜予在神之下的最高權柄,但他仍不滿足,他在神的園子——伊甸園(以西結書28:13),雖然他被造時是完美的,後來卻墮落了(以西結書28:15),他擁有佳形美容、權力與權威,但他要升到高雲之上,要與神同等(以賽亞書14:14)。

當撒旦叛逆神的時候,其他受造物也加入他的行列敵擋神和祂的旨意。因此,在創世紀第三章中,撒旦 第一次出現時,他化身為在神和亞當夏娃管治下的另一受造物,以另一身份接觸亞當和夏娃。他的誘惑被聽從了,而神的話卻被違背,所引致的後果不單是亞當和夏娃的墮落,而且他們的後裔也落在同樣的地步。

創世記第6告訴我們「神的兒子」娶了「人的女兒」。按舊約的表達,「神的兒子」是指天使而非人類,看起來似是撒旦僱用了其他墮落的天使去敗壞「女人的後裔」,因為他是神應許要打敗撒旦,並將人類從罪惡中拯救出來(創世記3:15)1

約伯記所記載的事件,相信發生在族長時期。撒旦在約伯記第1和第2章出現的時間,很可能發生在創世記第3章和第6章以後。撒旦和其他「神的眾子」(約1:6)侍立在耶和華面前,撒旦質疑約伯事奉神是因為他蒙神賜福,因此,神給撒旦權柄苦待約伯,不過神也給撒旦定下界線。雖然撒旦是約伯面對厄運的起因,但終極的原因卻是神。神掌管祂僕人的生命是從未動搖的。然而有一點我們必須加以留意,約伯所面對的,表面看來是自然因素,但實質是源於撒旦;再看深一層,地上舞台的背後,並不是掌握在撒旦的手中。神的旨意是指示撒旦和其他「神的眾子」榮耀神。

列王紀下第6,亞蘭王要攻打以色列,神將亞蘭王的計劃預先告知先知以利沙;以利沙則轉告以色列王,因此亞蘭的攻擊都無功而回。. 當亞蘭王得悉是以利沙破壞他的計劃時,他派軍隊去捉拿以利沙。一個早上,亞蘭的軍隊圍困以利沙所住的城鎮多坍。當以利沙的僕人早上起來打水時,看到了圍困城池的亞蘭軍隊,這驚懼的僕人衝往他的主人,並告訴他所看見的。

正當僕人被所見的嚇壞了的時候,以利沙卻非常鎮定,因為他知道一些他的僕人所不知的事情,他知道天上的主宰與他同在時,就無懼地上的軍隊。故此,他禱告開了僕人的眼目,讓他看到正在值班守護神子民的「隱形軍隊」。

6:15 先知的僕人清早起來, 他出去。看見車馬軍兵圍困了城。僕人就對先知說:「不好了!我主啊,我們怎麼辨?」6:16 先知說:「不要怕!我們這邊的比他們那邊的多。」6:17以利沙禱告說:「耶和華啊,開這少年人的眼睛,讓他看見。」耶和華開僕人的眼目,他就看見滿山有火車火馬圍繞以利沙。6:18 敵人接近以利沙,以利沙禱告耶和華說:「請以眼瞎打擊這些。」耶和華就照以利沙的請求,使他們的眼瞎。6:19 以利沙就對他們說:「這不是正確的道路和城市,你們跟我走,我必領你們到要找的人那裏。」於是領他們到了撒馬利亞。(列王紀下6:15-19)

天軍降下,以利沙禱告神使敵軍眼目昏迷,結果,以利沙就憑他一個人將全數亞蘭軍隊交在以色列軍的手;但他不容許以色列軍殺掉亞蘭軍隊,卻要給他們食物和水,並將他們送回家鄉。天軍常存,並回應信徒的禱告。

在歷代志上,我們也可以一瞥撒旦怎樣敵擋神和祂的子民。歷代志上記載了「撒旦起來攻擊以色列人,激動大衛數點他們。」(歷代志上21:1和合本),這節經文並沒有記錄在撒母耳記下24,若非我們得到這節經文的啟示,沒有人會認為大衛的行動不只是錯誤的判斷,在他愚魯和充滿罪的決定背後,我們發現了用盡千方百計與神和神的子民作對的撒旦。

最後,在但以理書中,我們來到屬靈爭戰中最具戲劇性的例子:

3:24 然後,尼布甲尼撒王吃了一驚,急忙起身,對謀士說:「我們捆起來扔在火裏的不是三個人嗎?」他們回答王說:「王啊,是。」3:25 王說:「但我見有四個人,並沒有捆綁,在火中行走!沒有受傷!那第四個的相貌好像神明。」(但以理書3:24-25)

10:10 忽然,有一手觸碰我,使我能用膝和手掌支持微起。10:11 他對我說:「大蒙眷愛的但以理啊,要明白我將與你所說的話。站起來吧,因為我現在奉差遣來到你這裏。」他對我說這話的時候,我便戰戰兢兢地站起來。10:12 他就說:「但以理啊,不要懼怕!因為從你第一日專心求明白,又在你 神面前謙卑自己,你的言語已蒙垂聽。我是來回應你的言語。10:13 但波斯國的君攔阻了我二十一日。忽然有大君中的一位米迦勒來幫助我,因我停留在波斯諸王那裏。……10:20 他就說:「你知道我為何來見你嗎?現在我快要回去與波斯的君爭戰。我去後,希臘的君必來。10:21 但我先要將那錄在一本真確書上的事告訴你。(除了你們的大君米迦勒之外,沒有幫助我抵擋這兩君的。」(但以理書10:10-13, 20-21)

在但以理書第3章,但以理的三個朋友因為不肯向尼布甲尼撒王所造的金像下拜而被扔進烈火的窯裡。當三人被扔入窯後,尼布甲尼撒王卻發現窯中並非三人而是四人,並且他們沒有痛苦、也沒有被火吞噬,他們在火中遊行。那第四個人若非主自己,亦肯定是被派來拯救神忠心子民性命的天使。

在第10章,一位天使被派往回應但以理的禱告(12節)。他告訴但以理他原本是早點到來的,但遇到「波斯國的君」攔阻他21日,米迦勒來幫助他。他預期和但以理說話後,他會和「波斯國的君」與及「希臘的君」相遇(20節)。值得我們留意的一個重點,天使積極參與人類和國家的事務之中。敬虔的天使來回應但以理的禱告,但那些叛逆的卻與他對抗。還有一點值得留意的是那些叛逆的天使似乎和地上的政權和君王相連。

福音書裡的屬靈爭戰

屬靈爭戰在新約福音書中亦十分普遍,在馬太福音(4:1-11)和路加福音(4:1-13)記載了主耶穌受撒旦的試探。撒旦企圖要引誘主背棄對天父的忠心,而為自己的利益而獨立行事。撒旦當然失敗了,我們為此感恩。撒旦的計謀加諸亞當和夏娃,或許其他人身上時會得逞,但對這君王卻是徒勞無功。

三卷福音書都記載了主在加大拉(格拉森)趕鬼的事蹟2,但每卷福音書的記載各有獨特之處,讓我們更瞭解屬靈的爭戰:

8:28 耶穌到了對岸,來到加大拉人的地方,有兩個被鬼附的人從墳塋裏出來迎着他。他們極其兇惡,所以沒有人能從那條路經過。8:29 他們喊着說:「 神的兒子,我們與你沒有相干!時候還沒有到,你就來叫我們受苦嗎?」(馬太福音8:28-29)

5:6 當他遠遠的看見耶穌,就跑到他面前拜他,5:7 又大聲呼叫說:「至高 神的兒子耶穌,我與你沒有相干!我指着 神懇求你,不要叫我受苦!」5:8(因耶穌曾對他說過:「污靈,從這人身上出來!」)5:9 耶穌問他說:「你名叫甚麼?」他回答說:「我名叫兵團,因為我們多的緣故。」5:10 他再三的求耶穌不要叫他們離開那地方。(馬可福音5:6-10)

8:30 耶穌問他說:「你名叫甚麼?」他說:「兵團。」因為附着他的鬼很多。8:31 鬼就央求耶穌,不要吩咐他們到無底坑裏去。(路加福音8:30-31)

按馬太福音的記述,我們得悉那群鬼是知道牠們時日有限,牠們預期基督的降臨,只是遇到基督的時間比牠們想像的要早多了。他牠們和別人一樣以為基督只降臨一次,而非兩次。

馬可福音第5章告訴我們,鬼再三要求耶穌不要吩咐牠們「離開那地方」(5:10),而路加福音第8章的記載卻是要求耶穌不要「吩咐牠們到無底坑裡去」(8:31)。綜合這兩段經文,我們得出的結論是吩咐鬼「離開那地方」便是將牠們限制在「無底坑」。同樣地,在但以理書裡,墮落的天使的活動也似有地域疆界。假如鬼被送離所屬的地方,牠們便不能再自由地敵擋神和在地上屬祂的子民,而是被禁鎖在無底坑裡。

從馬太福音我們知道那將成立的教會,會受到撒旦的攻擊(馬太福音16:23)。而路加告訴我們撒旦厚顏地要求主「把彼得如篩麥子般篩掉」(路加福音22:31)。撒旦進入了猶大,透過他出賣主,把主交給那些捉拿祂的人(約翰福音13:27)。撒旦這「世界的王」(約翰福音12:31; 14:30; 16:11),盡管他費盡力氣,他將會得到相反的效果,他將被各各他的十字架打敗。

教會裡的屬靈爭戰

在使徒行傳的開端,撒旦已被發現攻擊神的子民和破壞神的旨意。在使徒行傳第5章,我們讀到亞拿尼亞和他的太太撒非喇為主的工作捐獻,不過他們卻在金額上說謊。當彼得斥責亞拿尼亞時,他把說謊的誘因歸給撒旦:「亞拿尼亞!為甚麼撒但充滿了你的心叫你欺哄聖靈,私自留下部份賣田地的價銀呢?」(使徒行傳5:3

使徒行傳13:10,保羅斥責行法術的以呂馬,因他敵擋福音,保羅稱他為「魔鬼的兒子」。在哥林多後書第2章,保羅責備教會對饒恕一名願意悔改的弟兄這事上保持緘默,是給撒旦留地步,他並說我們並不是不曉得他的詭計(哥林多後書2:10-11)。稍後,保羅在這封書信以「世界之神」來稱呼撒旦,並稱他使不信的人瞎了心眼,看不見基督榮耀福音的光(4:4)。在這書的較後部份,保羅警告撒旦和他的差役偽裝作基督使徒的模樣,以權威的領導使部份信徒走入歧途:

11:13 那等人是假使徒,行事詭詐,裝作基督使徒的模樣。11:14 這也不足為怪,因為連撒但也裝作光的天使。11:15 所以他的差役,若裝作仁義的差役,也不算希奇。他們的結局,必然照着他們的行為。(哥林多後書11:13-15)

帖撒羅尼迦後書2:1-12當保羅談及後來那邪惡的世代,當「不法的人」被顯露,他們照着撒但的作為,行各樣的異能、神蹟和虛假的奇事(2:9)。在提摩太前書3:6,保羅警告初入教的不可作監督,免得他自高自大,就落在魔鬼要受的刑罰裏。在第4章,他警告將來有人會跌倒,離棄真道,因此需要留心「引誘人的邪靈,和鬼魔的教導」(4:1)。在提摩太前書第5章,保羅則勸勉年青的寡婦再婚,免得她們懶惰,又說長道短,好管閒事。這聽起來很人性化,但保羅卻把這些事和撒旦的活動連起來:「所以我寧願年輕的寡婦嫁人,生養兒女,治理家務,不給敵人毀謗的把柄;因為已經有轉去隨從撒但的。」(提摩太前書5:14-15)試想,保羅指說三道四的背後是追隨撒旦。現在讓我們回答誰曾以說長道短,搬弄是非是邪惡的?保羅。

雅各在他的書信譴責信徒中的衝突和爭鬧,是屬血氣的互鬥和這些事是從私慾而來的(4:1-3),他繼而指出這罪是叛逆神和使聖靈憂傷(4:3-4)。接著雅各把衝突和爭鬧指向撒旦:

4:6 但他賜更大的恩典,所以經上說:「 神阻擋驕傲的人,賜恩給謙卑的人。」4:7 故此,你們要順服 神,抵擋魔鬼,魔鬼就必離開你們逃跑了。(雅各書4:6-7)

彼得在認識撒旦上學了艱苦的一課(參馬太福音16:21-23路加福音22:31)。因此,他以領導和順服作為背景,向其他人發出警告:撒旦是我們的仇敵,他威脅我們。(彼得前書5:1-9):

5:8 務要謹守、儆醒。你們的仇敵魔鬼,如同吼叫的獅子,遍地游行,尋找可吞吃的人。5:9 你們要抵擋他,信心堅定,因為知道你們在世上的弟兄姐妹,也在忍受同樣的苦難。(彼得前書5:8-9)

記載在啟示錄第2-3章給教會的七封信,主耶穌經常提及撒旦是教會裡誘惑和試探的來源(參啟示錄2:9, 13, 24; 3:9)。啟示錄的其餘部份描述與撒旦的最後爭戰和他終極被擊敗(特別參看第12章和第20章)。

我有一個關於撒旦極力攻擊教會的理論,他和我們都知道教會被天使察看,他們從所看到的得到指示。

11:10 因此,為天使的緣故,女人應當在頭上有服權柄的記號。(哥林多前書11:10)

3:8 我本來比眾聖徒中最小的還小,然而他還賜我這恩典,叫我把基督那測不透的豐富傳給外邦人;3:9 又使眾人都明白,這歷代以來隱藏在創造萬物之 神裏,奧秘的計劃,3:10 就是要藉着教會使天上執政的、掌權的,現在得知 神百般的智慧。(以弗所書3:8-10)

我明白當撒旦叛逆神時,一個可觀數目的天使參與撒旦的行列,也有一些如以賽亞書14以西結書28所述,是較後期才加入的。我也偏向相信啟示錄12:4所說那將會發生的(即以弗所書6:13所說的「兇惡的日子」),那時,其他的天使或許會和撒旦一起叛逆神。若是這樣,天使在觀察教會時所學的「課」的顯著性,就更加明確了。當天使看到婦女們順服丈夫(哥林多前書11:10),也被提醒他們順服神的重要性。也許約伯記第1章,撒旦不單嘗試說服神,也希望說服天使,受造物敬拜上帝是出於私心。那麼,撒旦努力去破壞教會就不足為奇了,因那是他給天使的信息。

按上述引述的經文和聖經的其他部份,稱撒旦為教會的頭號敵人是正確的。他恆常地尋找機會使信徒跌倒和阻撓神對教會的旨意和計劃。

以弗所書描繪的屬靈爭戰

保羅在以弗所書前數章經文的教導,已經鋪排好信徒在屬靈爭戰中應有的行為表現,因此保羅在第6章討論屬靈爭戰,我們一點也不感到奇怪。

試把自己想像為一個奴隸,作為一個奴隸,你的天地是渺小的,你的自由和對外接觸受到很大的限制。當保羅所寫的信在以弗所的教會裡被大聲讀出來時,當讀第1章時,你明白在創世以前,你的救恩已是神計劃的一部份,繼而知道神的旨意是要把你從罪中救出來,最終要將一切在基督裡合而為一。你雖然只是一名奴隸,你是那永恆計劃中的一員,有幸參加將榮耀歸給神。透過這一章你也知道基督的大能、特別是那從死裡復活的大能是超乎人類所能領略的。祂被高舉高於其他的權能,向我們這信的人顯示浩大的能力,萬有都服在他的權能之下(參以弗所書1:18-23)。

在第二章,保羅提醒你們從前死在過犯之中,與神隔絕,過著隨從肉慾的生活,按實際情況是撒旦的走卒,並在不知不覺中執行了撒旦的計劃和目的,就如其他悖逆之子(2:1-3)。因著神豐富的憐憫,把你們從罪中拯救出來,在基督裡與神和好(2:4-10)。你們原本是外邦人,與神的子民間隔斷,並且敵擋神的子民;而現時在基督裡,你不單與神和好,也與神的子民和好。

得救,並非成了歸信猶太教的外邦人。神與外邦人和好並非使他們成為猶太人。祂與猶太人和外邦人和好,將兩下藉自己造成一個新人。意即外邦人並非天堂裡的二等公民,而猶太基督徒的地位並不比外邦信徒崇高。藉著聖靈所有信徒成為一體,成為神的居所。

第二章指出屬靈爭戰的一個重要原因。作為一個不信者,雖然我們未必知曉我們在撒旦的管轄和權勢之下。但當我們藉著神的恩典歸信基督,我們便被拯救離開撒旦的「黑暗國度」,成為「光明國度」的子民。救恩使我們不再是神的敵人,但與此同時,我們卻成了撒旦的敵人。無怪乎他積極地攻擊那曾是他臣民的基督徒。

在第三章,奴隸被給予一幅有關神旨意和永恆計劃的完整圖畫。在這裡,保羅談及神透過他揭示的「奧秘」。這奧秘是2:11-22的延伸,這奧秘就是神使猶太人和外邦人與祂和好,亦兩下和好,藉著福音得以同為後嗣,同蒙應許。雖然保羅已經把這奧秘向教會啟示了,現在這奧秘要透過教會彰顯;這奧秘同時是給天使的指示:

3:8 我本來比眾聖徒中最小的還小,然而他還賜我這恩典,叫我把基督那測不透的豐富傳給外邦人;3:9 又使眾人都明白,這歷代以來隱藏在創造萬物之 神裏,奧秘的計劃,3:10 就是要藉着教會使天上執政的、掌權的,現在得知 神百般的智慧。3:11 這是照 神從萬世以前,在我們主基督耶穌裏所成就的永恆旨意。3:12我們因着耶穌的信實,就在他裏面放膽無懼,篤信不疑的來到 神面前。(以弗所書3:8-12)

假如教會是天使的教室,基督徒在教會裡的行為,必須與神所授的「課」一致。因此,保羅勸勉信徒「行事為人就當與所蒙的召相稱。」(4:1)接著在以弗所書4:1–6:9,便談論基督徒的生活之道。那是…

當與所蒙的召相稱(以弗所書4:1)3

你們不要再像外邦人虛枉的生活(以弗所書4:17)

活在愛中(以弗所書5:1-2)

當像智慧人(以弗所書5:15)

智者行事為人的特質是被聖靈充滿和受聖靈的約束(5:18),以互相順服作為明證(5:21–6:9)。故此,保羅在給信徒互相順服的指示後立即把主題轉往屬靈爭戰便不會使人感到突屹了。在這裡,撒旦自己的叛逆最為明顯,同時亦可預期他發動攻擊。

當奴僕初次聽到保羅的這封信被讀出來時,他會否認為他的世界太渺小,他的順服也太微不足道呢?若是這樣,保羅的這封信應給他一個相反的教導。他正處身於一個極大的爭扎、一場屬靈爭戰裡,他被召喚穿上神賜的全副軍裝,以確保他不被打敗。假如第1-3章讓我們明白到我們的救恩和祝福的根源是神的旨意和祂永恆的計劃,那麼第6章便讓我們理解到我們和罪搏鬥的來源——撒旦。

有很多的罪,看似完全人性化,但實質是源於撒旦。故此,保羅在這封信的結語,揭開了撒旦的面紗,讓我們能從一個更寬闊的角度看到我們和罪搏鬥的影響,並且提醒我們將來撒旦必完完全全地、終極地滅亡。保羅給我們展示了救恩的起源是從遠古開始;而在永恆臻至完美。他讓我們知道神的旨意和神正進行的工作,讓我們知道我們是活在怎樣的一幅圖畫裡,因而調節我們的生活來就神為祂的創造所定下的旨意,卻不是企圖說服神來就我們的意願。

至於保羅教導順服(5:21–6:9)和屬靈爭戰(6:10-20)的關係,還有一點要加以說明:順服是放棄我們的權利和放棄追求個人利益;而屬靈爭戰並不是放棄,而是堅定不移、不後退。我們豈不是經常把這兩種情況倒過來嗎?我們豈不是傾向在需要堅定不移時,我們卻放棄;而在應該撤退時卻堅持。我們要學習那些地方當我們收到指示要堅持時,我們堅持;當指示我們要順服時,我們順服。

從以弗所書6:10-13的經文看屬靈爭戰

6:10 最後,你們要在主裏堅強,並在他的大能大力裏得力。6:11 要穿戴 神的全副軍裝,就能抵擋魔鬼的詭計。6:12 因我們並不是與屬血肉的爭戰,乃是與那些空中執政的、掌權的、管轄這幽暗世界的,以及天空屬靈氣的惡勢力爭戰。6:13 所以要拿起 神的全副軍裝,好在兇惡的日子抵擋仇敵,並且完成了一切,還能站立。

(1) 信基督為救主可以被理解為透過基督進入屬天的祝福(以弗所書1:3同時亦開始了與撒旦和他的黨羽的大搏鬥。讓那些憑著信在祝福裡的人,注意到我們是因信基督而進入這場戰爭,我們必須倚靠基督的力量作戰。

(2) 教會也在這場屬靈爭戰中,敵人是撒旦和一群看不見的天使與及屬天的敵人,他們的能力遠遠超過我們。我們只能看到極小部份的敵人,我們雖然看不到我們的敵人,但他們是真確地存在的,他們敵對我們的行動也是真確的。那些屬天的敵人以不同的形態出現,保羅使用了不同的名詞來描述:「空中執政的」、「空中掌權的」、「管轄這幽暗世界的」和「天空屬靈氣的惡勢力」(第12節)。我疑惑我們是否有能力全面掌握那眾多不同形式敵對我們的力量。我只能單單的給你提醒,天使看來有不同的等級,而啟示錄有關天堂的描述,當中的生物,恐怕在我們來到神面前以先,是無法明白的。(啟示錄5:6, 8, 11

天使有很大的權力,而撒旦看來擁有最大的權勢,我們最好還是不要小噓這力量。過去我曾聽過有一位牧者稱撒旦為「懦弱的人」,我感到十分驚訝!從我們所引用的經文或是其他經文,怎可能得出如此結論呢?我們若輕視撒旦的力量,我們就低估了屬靈爭戰的嚴重性,也低估了若要抵抗撒旦的攻擊時,我們對神加添給我們力量的需要。我只想提醒你,那些輕看屬天惡勢力的,透過以下幾節經文應該能糾正過來:

2:9 既是這樣,主知道如何搭救敬虔的人脫離審判,把不義的人留至審判之日的刑罰,2:10 特別是那些放縱肉慾、輕慢權柄的。他們膽大任性,毫不畏懼毀謗那尊貴的;2:11 即使是天使,雖然力量權能更大,也不用毀謗的話在主面前告他們。2:12 但這些人好像沒有理性的畜類、憑本能的動物,生來就是為被捉拿宰殺的;他們不知道自己所毀謗的,後果是敗壞人的時候,自己必遭遇敗壞;(彼得後書2:9-12)

1:8 同樣,這些作夢的人,污穢身體,拒絕權柄,毀謗那尊貴的。1:9 連天使長米迦勒為摩西的屍首與魔鬼爭辯的時候,尚且不敢用毀謗的話罪責他,只說:「主責備你吧!」1:10 但這些人不知道他們所毀謗的,他們像無理性的畜類一樣,在按本能知道的事上滅亡。(猶大書1: 8-10

我們實在不應低估我們的敵人,我們的敵人「如同吼叫的獅子,遍地遊行,尋找可吞吃的人。」(彼得前書5:8)從彼得前書的經文,我們可以知道撒旦並非紙老虎,他不單止有吞噬的慾望,而且會吞噬那些沒有穿上神所賜全副軍裝的人。

(3) 保羅在這段經文的重點,並非撒旦敵擋神和人的每一個環節,而是撒旦與聖徒的戰爭。撒旦的戰略是多方面的,他阻攔未信的人認識真理,他使鬼附上人身。但在以弗所書第6章,保羅的關注點是撒旦與教會的戰爭與及神賜予基督徒的防禦裝備。

(4) 在屬靈爭戰中,撒旦使用各種不同的策略攻擊和打敗基督徒。保羅所談論的,並非魔鬼的某一個策略,而是多個策略。按記載在馬太福音第4章和路加福音第4章撒旦試探耶穌的經文,撒旦暫時放棄他的誘惑,但路加清楚表明撒旦只是暫時放棄,當他重整棋鼓時,他又捲土重來:「魔鬼用盡了各樣的試探,就離開耶穌,等待好時機。」(路加福音4:13)撒旦不單止使用了很多不同的方法來試探主,他並且定意只要有機會,就不停地試探祂。撒旦是一個機會主義者,他並且有無窮的「方案」。

(5) 現在撒旦對教會並非進行正面的攻擊,而是透過陰謀詭計、欺騙和弄虛作假的顛覆性攻擊。在加大拉,當鬼遇到耶穌時感到錯愕,他們預期耶穌在最後審判時才來(馬太福音8:28-29)。撒旦現時的策略(直至最後爭戰)是使用顛覆性的方法。他使用欺詐的手段和陰謀詭計來絆倒基督徒。這是一場使用狙擊手和陷阱的游擊戰,並非正面的攻擊。

(6) 「邪惡的世代」將會來臨,那時屬靈爭戰會白熱化,信徒面對的危險也隨之而增加。世代邪惡是真確的:「你們要謹慎生活,不要像愚昧人,當像智慧人;要珍惜時機,因為現今的世代邪惡。」(以弗所書5:15-16)但保羅並非泛指整個邪惡世代,而是指一個邪惡的日子,據我理解是撒旦進行激烈的攻擊導致主再來,同時是撒旦和他的黨羽的終極被毀滅(參帖撒羅尼迦後書2:1-12啟示錄12和20章)。基督徒武士的特徵是警惕,故此他並沒有因為沒有防衛而被撒旦的詭計所俘虜,並且在終極的審判站立得穩。

(7) 基督徒所使用的武器是神籍基督所賜予。那是祂為屬祂的在邪惡的日子帶來救恩;穿上神所賜的全副軍裝,也就是披戴基督。

11:1 從耶西的墩必發一條,嫩芽必從他的根而出。11:2 耶和華的靈必住在他身上──是使他有超凡智慧的靈、能執行計劃的靈、絕對效忠耶和華的靈。11:3 他必以順從耶和華為樂,行審判不憑眼見,斷是非也不憑耳聞。11:4 他必以公平對待貧窮人,為世上的卑下人作正確的決定。他必以口中的杖擊打全地,下令處決邪惡的人。11:5 公平有如他的腰帶,信德如同脅下的帶子。(以賽亞書11:1-5)

59:16 他見無人代言,無人干預,甚為驚動。就親自動手,他對公平的願望催迫著他。59:17 他以公義的意願為鎧甲(註:或作「護心鏡」),以拯救的心願為頭盔。他以報仇為衣服,以熱心為外袍。59:18 他必按人的行為施報,分發惱怒的審判給他的對頭,懲罸他的仇敵,向眾海岸施行報應。59:19 西方的人必敬重耶和華的名;東方的人也必認出他的榮美。因為他來好像急流的河水,被耶和華差派之風驅動。59:20「必有一位保護者來到錫安,到雅各族中從悖逆行為悔攺的人那裏。」這是耶和華說的。(以賽亞書59:16-20)

當我們穿上神所賜的全副軍裝時,我們實際上是披戴主耶穌基督。

13:11 我們這樣行,因為曉得現今就是早該睡醒的時候,因為我們的得救比初信的時候更近了。13:12 黑夜已深,白晝將近。我們就當放下暗昧的行為,帶上光的兵器;13:13 行事為人要端正,好像行在白晝。不可荒宴醉酒,不可好色邪蕩,不可爭競嫉妒。13:14 反要披戴主耶穌基督,不要為肉體安排去惹動私慾。(羅馬書13:11-14)

有些人討論屬靈爭戰時,常常突顯了撒旦和屬他的邪惡黨羽。但經文並不是這樣說的,在我們所讀的這段經文也絕對不是這樣的。按保羅所說的,基督才是那超群的,撒旦和他的僕役是敵人,而基督與及穿上祂所提供的軍備的聖徒是勝利者。

(8) 保羅指示穿上神所賜的全軍裝是一個命令。在第二次世界大戰時,我的父親和其他人收到一封信。這封信的的開端是這樣的:「美國總統向你們問安。」,相信你已經猜到這是一封徵召入伍的信,總統發出的並不是一個邀請,而是一個命令。沒有人膽敢把這封信置諸不理,因為這樣做會帶來嚴重的後果。

保羅關於屬靈爭戰的指示亦是一樣,保羅通知每一個信徒他們被召入伍,但那場戰事並非血肉之戰,而是屬靈爭戰。他並不是鼓勵我們穿上神所賜的全軍裝」,而是命令我們穿上。這幾節經文是命令我們操向戰場,我們不能置之不理,也不能不全執行。

(9) 只有當我們穿上神所賜的全副軍裝時,才能肯定得到抵擋撒旦攻擊的足夠保護。撒旦的攻擊層出不窮,只要他認為有機可乘便會發動攻擊。故此,我們必須穿上全套軍裝,而不是按我們的意思隨意挑選,否則我們便暴露於被攻擊的危險。

保羅在以弗所書第6透過強調神所賜的「全」副軍裝,暗示若不穿上「神所賜的全副軍裝」便站立不穩,而以弗所書第6章所列出的軍備也就是我們所需要的全部軍備。為何保羅那麼強調要穿上神所賜的全副軍裝而又沒有告訴我們是那些軍備因此我得出的結論是我們所需要的軍備在以弗所書6:10-20完整地列出;並且,若有人提出其他的軍備,都是不需要的。

(10) 我們的責任並不是攻擊撒旦,或把他打敗;而是被他攻擊時能站立得穩。我們的工作是防禦而非攻擊。那些向撒旦發動攻擊的,並不瞭解撒旦的能力,也不明白神的計劃。打敗撒旦的是基督,並不是我們。我們的責任是抵擋撒旦而不是剷除他。我曾聽見有基督徒說要「捆綁撒旦」,也有基督徒唱詩歌的內容要把「撒旦趕出城外」;然而聖經並沒有提及這樣的爭戰,聖經只說當我們面對撒旦的攻擊時,要站立得穩。

神才是這場戰事的得勝者,而我們的責任是要站立得穩。在啟示錄中,得勝的聖徒並沒有打敗撒旦,當中不少聖徒死於撒旦之手(12:11。撒旦被終極打敗(20:7-10)並非經由聖徒之手,而是神從天上降下火把撒旦擊敗(20:9)。

12:10 之後,我聽見天上有大聲音說:「我 神的救恩、能力、國度,並他基督治理的權柄,現在都來到了,因為那在我們 神面前晝夜控告我們弟兄的已經被摔下去了。12:11 但是弟兄勝過他,是靠羔羊的血和自己的見證;他們雖至於死,也不愛惜性命。(啟示錄12:10-11)

20:9 他們上來遍滿了地面的平原,圍住聖徒的營與蒙愛的城,但有火從天降下消滅了他們。20:10 那迷惑他們的魔鬼就被扔在硫磺的火湖裏,就是獸和假先知所在的地方。他們必晝夜受刑,直到永永遠遠。(啟示錄20:9-10)

屬靈的爭戰是屬神的戰事,神給子民的命令是「站穩」並觀看神戰勝這場戰事,祂並不需要人的協助:

14:10 法老臨近的時候,以色列人舉目看見埃及人在後面趕來,就極其懼怕,向耶和華呼求。14:11 他們又對摩西說:「難道在埃及沒有墳地,你把我們帶來死在曠野嗎?你將我們從埃及領出來是怎麼一回事呢?14:12 我們在埃及豈不是對你這樣說:『不要攪擾我們,容我們服事埃及人,因為服事埃及人比死在曠野還好。』」14:13 摩西對百姓說:「不要懼怕!只管站住,看耶和華今天向你們所要施行的救恩;因為你們今天所看見的埃及人,必永遠不再看見了。14:14 耶和華必為你們爭戰,你們只管靜觀。」(出埃及記14:10-14)

雖然基督徒積極參與戰鬥,但得勝的是神(參約書亞記5:13–6:27)。另外,大衛和歌利亞戰鬥時,他並沒有劍,只有機弦甩石;大衛能得勝,是神賜他勝利。就是從歌利亞所說的話中,亦清楚表明大衛這年青人無法靠自己的能力戰勝,而大衛的話就更清楚表達得勝的是神:

17:41 非利士人也漸漸地迎着大衛來,拿盾牌的走在前頭。17:42 非利士人觀看,見了大衛,就藐視他,因為他年輕,面色光紅,容貌俊美。17:43 非利士人對大衛說:「你拿杖到我這裏來,我豈是狗呢?」非利士人就指着自己的神咒詛大衛。17:44 非利士人又對大衛說:「來吧!我將你的肉給空中的飛鳥、田野的走獸吃。」

17:45 大衛對非利士人說:「你來攻擊我,是靠着刀槍和銅戟;我來攻擊你,是靠着萬軍之耶和華的名,就是你所怒罵帶領以色列軍隊的 神。17:46 今日耶和華必將你交在我手裏。我必殺你,斬你的頭;又將非利士軍兵的屍首給空中的飛鳥、地上的野獸吃,使普天下的人都知道以色列中有 神;17:47 又使這眾人知道耶和華使人得勝,不是用刀用槍,因為爭戰的勝敗全在乎耶和華。他必將你們交在我們手裏。

17:48 非利士人起身,迎着大衛前來。大衛急忙迎着非利士人,往戰場跑去。17:49 大衛用手從囊中掏出一塊石子來,用機弦甩去,打中非利士人的額,石子進入額內,他就仆倒,面伏於地。17:50 這樣,大衛用機弦甩石,勝了那非利士人,打死他;大衛手中卻沒有刀。17:51 大衛跑去,站在非利士人身旁,將他的刀從鞘中拔出來,殺死他,割了他的頭。非利士眾人看見他們討戰的勇士死了,就都逃跑。(撒母耳記上17:41-51)

(11) 福音書也談及撒旦被打敗與及我們的防禦。耶穌在福音書中曾經多次提及撒旦被打敗。每次提及撒旦被打敗時,都是透過各各他的十字架把撒旦打敗。當耶穌在各各他被釘十字架,並且在第三日復活,我們的救恩和撒旦被打敗都已經成就了。主已戰勝了祂的敵人,最重要是撒旦已被戰勝了。

12:31 現在這世界要受審判,這世界的王要被趕出去。(約翰福音12:31)

16:8 他既來了,就要證明世人在罪、在義、在審判的錯誤。16:9 在罪,是因他們不信我;16:10 在義,是因我往父那裏去,你們不再見我;16:11 在審判,是因這世界的王受了審判。(約翰福音16:8-11)

基督徒的防禦也和福音書有直接連繫,他們是真理、公義、平安的福音、信心的盾牌、救恩的頭盔和神的道。在基督裡和因基督的死和復活所成就的福音,把我們從撒旦的手拯救出來和防衛他的黨羽所策動的攻擊。

(12) 武器的性質給我們很多關於戰事本質的資料,與及撒旦努力毀滅我們所使用的方法。當我們稍後研究每一種裝備時,我們就會發現神所賜給我們的裝備正正針對撒旦的不同詭計,與及他怎樣引發與聖徒的爭戰。因此,認識神為我們預備的裝備,就是認識撒旦使我們跌倒的方法。

從闊角度看屬靈爭戰

以弗所書第6章是新約裡給我們有關屬靈爭戰最詳盡的處理方法,但它只是在這課題給我們亮光的眾多經文中的其中一篇。除了以弗所書第6章的貢獻外,讓我們也參考別的經文,幫助我們研讀以弗所書6:10-20:

(1) 我們戰勝撒旦的攻擊時,通常不能明顯看到撒旦被打敗或我們得勝;反過來,有些時候我們戰勝了卻看似撒旦得勝我們敗下陣來當耶穌在各各他被釘死在十字架上,豈不像撒旦勝了嗎?然而當我們的主表面上看似被打敗時(和撒旦表面上得勝),我們的救主卻給我們成就了救恩,打敗了撒旦。這情況同樣在一些聖徒身上發生。啟示錄告訴我們,撒旦和他的僕役一度為戰勝聖徒而奏凱歌,但這只能說是一時失利,卻成就了神的旨意,成為撒旦被終極毀滅的前奏。

6:9 到了羔羊揭開第五印的時候,我看見在祭壇底下,有為 神的道並為作見證被殺之人的靈魂。6:10 他們大聲喊着說:「聖潔真實的全能主啊!還要等多久你才審判住在地上的人,給我們伸流血的冤呢?」6:11 於是有白袍賜給他們各人,又有話告訴他們還要安息片時,等着一同作僕人的和他們的弟兄,也像他們被殺,滿足了數目。(啟示錄6:9-11)

(2) 撒旦通常使用既自然又人性化的方法並不常使用異乎尋常或超自然的攻擊你會發現我們的經文並沒有把撒旦惡魔化,雖然撒旦的武器包括行各樣異能神蹟和虛假的奇事,但在這段經文卻沒有加以強調。撒旦引誘亞當和夏娃時,是使他們懷疑神的美善和違背祂的命令。撒旦攻擊約伯時,他使用天然災害和疾病。他也使用疾病來折磨保羅(參哥林多後書12:7)。他利用大衛的驕傲來試探大衛(歷代志上21:1)。而試探我們的主時,他透過人的野心和慾望(馬太福音4:1-11路加福音4:1-13)。

(3) 撒旦極少正面攻擊信徒,他會透過別的方法,一些我們難以察覺是出於撒旦的途徑。只有少數的例子,撒旦會自己正面攻擊人,例如他親自試探我們的主,但很明顯,這是一個很獨特的例子。通常他會透過別的工具「說話」,使我們無法辨別是他正在攻擊我們。在伊甸園,他透過蛇說話;他透過彼得阻撓基督死在十字架上的計劃(馬太福音16:23)。他更常使用的方法是指示他的差役執行他的命令(參哥林多後書12:7)。

我們對世界、肉體(肉慾)和魔鬼這三種對信徒懷敵意的勢力,都非常熟悉。我認為撒旦經常使用世界和屬肉體的情慾來攻擊信徒。故此,有些時候看似試探的來源是世界和屬肉體的情慾,但我們卻找出罪魁禍首就是撒旦。誰察覺到大衛數點以色列民的背後因素是撒旦?誰能想像到猶大的試探,在貪婪以外還有別的原因?誰能想到亞拿尼亞和撒非喇企圖誤導他人的謊言,他們的動機除了貪心和希望得到別人的稱讚外,還有別的?這些事件表面看來那麼自然,我們又怎會預期這些事件的背後有更深層次、更險惡的來源?故此,經文告訴我們撒旦才是一些試探的幕後黑手。

撒旦樂於接納世人間接地膜拜他和順服他。當我們為自己的興趣和追求滿足個人的肉慾而成為他的僕役時,他會開心地接納我們對他間接的順服。我想,實際情況是他會感到興奮,因為他是一名大騙子,他讓人以為是得到了自由,實質是他的奴隸,他豈不樂不可支!

我並不建議把一切惡行都歸功於撒旦,或把一切的攻擊、困難和試探,都推到撒旦頭上。約伯並不知道撒旦是他所面對的苦難的幕後黑手,他也無需要知道這實況。他需要知道的是那全智、全能的神掌管宇宙萬物和他的生命。約伯應該做的,是比「捆綁撒旦」更重要的事情,那就是相信神和順服神。世界裡很多苦難和邪惡的事件,我們都找到撒旦的指紋;但有些惡事的主因源於我們肉體的情慾(雅各書1:13-15)與及我們是活在一個充滿罪的墮落世界(羅馬書8:18-25)。

(4) 撒旦的攻擊他自己的叛逆和扭曲觀念產生的簡單而言,撒旦使用經過他自己包裝那對事實扭曲了的觀念,來引導他的攻擊。他不能相信任何人敬拜神是單純因為神是神,而是因為神的賜予。撒旦以神是人按祂的命令而行時的受益人,他不能想像神本身就是我們的獎賞。故此撒旦攻擊約伯,因他認為這樣做會令約伯不再順服神。

撒旦利用掌權者的驕傲和野心來引誘他們,他這樣做是基於他自己對權勢的反應,他誘使那些擁有權力的獨立行事,而不聽從那位份比他們高的人。他呼籲我們為自己的利益行事,竭力勸告我們避免自我犧牲。他不知甚麼是恩典,他只因其他人跌倒而快樂。

撒旦的觀點是扭曲的。他並非全知的、也不是全能的,他的工作是以他對事物的扭曲觀點為基礎。罪人很容易、也毫不遲疑地認同他的思想取向、心態與動機;但基督徒卻拒絕這些惡。當基督徒學效他們的主,撒旦就會感到困惑和憤怒,他無法理解為何有人會順從神和敬拜神。

(5) 撒旦是被打販的敵人,但仍需等待他被完全殲滅我們已提及撒旦已被各各他的十字架打敗了,在這裡我們再重申我們肯定撒旦被殲滅。

(6) 撒旦現時敵擋神的旨意和神的子民看似對教會不利,但事實上,撒旦是把神的旨意和創造計劃推得更遠。神有意延遲將撤旦扔進火湖,任由這「世界的王」自由運作,讓他在不知不覺中完成了祂的旨意。他也可算是為神帶來榮耀,神也使用他成為我們的益處。當撒旦給猶大出賣耶穌的靈感時,這正好是完成救恩所需要的。雖然撤旦的差役以一根刺來使保羅受痛苦,但這卻成了對保羅的益處(參哥林多後書12:7-10)。撒旦經常被捆鎖,被神捆鎖。當撒旦含惡意地進行他的工作,神卻使用他,讓我們從中得益處,也讓神得榮耀。若非能成就神的旨意、神的榮耀或我們能從中得益處,沒有一件事情撒旦會被容許進行。神和撒旦之間的屬靈爭戰,戰果是肯定的。我們經歷掙扎是神永恆計劃的一部份;而穿上神所賜的屬靈軍裝來抵禦撒旦的攻擊和站立得穩,卻是我們的責任。

結語

一場戰爭正在進行,這戰爭並不像今天國與國之間的戰事(雖然這些戰事是這場大戰爭的一部份),而是一場屬靈爭戰,是撒旦和其他墮落天使與基督和祂的教會的戰爭。在這場戰爭中,我們的敵人是肉眼看不到的勢力,這是一場隱形的戰事;我們不能靠我們自己的力量戰鬥,必須以神所賜的力量應戰。

這場戰事的重點並不是誰勝誰負,因為神已經透過祂兒子在各各他十字架上之死已得勝(參約翰福音12:31; 16:11)。現時進行的戰事是為了我們的益處,也為神帶來榮耀。這場戰事是神給天軍的部份指示(參以弗所書3:8-11)、也是神為祂的創造所定下的永恆計劃和旨意的一部份。

這場戰事最大的問題並不是「誰會得勝」或「誰能站立得穩」,問題也不在於神是否站在我們這一方,或倒過來我們是否站在祂的一方。我記起舊約有這麼一件吸引的事件:

5:13 約書亞靠近耶利哥的時候,舉目觀看,看見有一個人手裏有拔出來的刀,對面站立。約書亞到他那裏,問他說:「你是幫助我們呢?是幫助我們敵人呢?」5:14 他回答說:「不是的,我現在來是要作耶和華軍隊的元帥。」約書亞就俯伏在地下拜,說:「我主有甚麼話吩咐僕人?」5:15 耶和華軍隊的元帥對約書亞說:「把你腳上的鞋脫下來,因為你所站的地方是聖的。」約書亞就照着行了。(約書亞記5:13-15)

起初,約書亞並沒有認出神的元帥,故此,當他近前去的時候,他問那「人」是敵是友。那名天使自稱是耶和華軍隊的元帥,並清楚表明以色列人要跟從他。有時,我們過於熱衷拉攏神站在我們的一方,取代我們站在祂那方。神是元帥,這是祂的戰事,大衛很明白這點,故此他獨自奉主之名面對歌利亞:

17:44 非利士人又對大衛說:「來吧!我將你的肉給空中的飛鳥、田野的走獸吃。」17:45 大衛對非利士人說:「你來攻擊我,是靠着刀槍和銅戟;我來攻擊你,是靠着萬軍之耶和華的名,就是你所怒罵帶領以色列軍隊的 神。17:46 今日耶和華必將你交在我手裏。我必殺你,斬你的頭;又將非利士軍兵的屍首給空中的飛鳥、地上的野獸吃,使普天下的人都知道以色列中有 神;17:47 又使這眾人知道耶和華使人得勝,不是用刀用槍,因為爭戰的勝敗全在乎耶和華。他必將你們交在我們手裏。」(撒母耳記上17:44-47)

因此我的朋友,我必須要向你詢問這一簡單的問題:在這場浩大的屬靈爭戰中,你站在那一方?假如你仍「死在罪和過犯中」,你乃在不知不覺地在撒旦的掌控中,事奉撒旦而叛逆神(以弗所書2:1-3),你正與神爭戰。假如你承認自己的罪,信靠基督,並且相信耶穌基督透過十字架已經得勝,你也得救,那麼,你是為神爭戰。神爭戰和神爭戰的分別真是天淵之別。在這場屬靈爭戰中,你站住誰的一方呢?

我們身處一個極危險的處境,這並不是因我們遇到了勁敵;只要我們相信靠自己的能力能站立得穩而不倚靠神給我們提供的力量時,我們就處於險境。彼得上了嚴峻的一課(參路加福音22:31-34)。保羅警告每一位信徒有關自信的危險:「所以自己以為站立得穩的須要謹慎免得跌倒。」(哥林多前書10:12)當神將以色列民從埃及為奴之地拯救出來,將他們帶往迦南時,神刻意不趕出所有迦南人,祂定意以色列人要和迦南人爭戰才得到那地:

23:29 我不在一年之內將他們從你面前攆出去,恐怕地成為荒涼,野獸多起來害你。23:30 我要漸漸地將他們從你面前攆出去,等到你的人數加多,承受那地為業。23:31 我要定你的境界,從紅海直到非利士海,又從曠野直到大河。我要將那地的居民交在你手中,你要將他們從你面前攆出去。(出埃及記23:29-31)

神並沒有給予以色列人即時的勝利、也沒有給予他們完全戰勝他們的仇敵——迦南人。以色列人要和迦南人爭戰,把他們趕出迦南地,但勝利是神所賜予的,故此,祂派祂的天使打敗敵人(出埃及記23:20-23; 32:34; 33:2)。我們正處於屬靈爭戰中,我們必須穿上神所賜的軍裝。勝利是屬於神的,而我們只有靠祂的力量才能站穩。

當我們沒有按神的命令參戰,後果是極其嚴重的。在這裡,我希望提醒你:大衛兩次嚴重的罪行為他自己和他的國家帶來毀滅性的後果。請留意,這兩次都是大衛作為以色列的王應該出戰,但他卻沒有盡作為以色列王應肩負的責任。在這兩個情況,我們讀到「列王出戰的時候」,但大衛卻留在耶路撒冷:

11:1 有一年春天,列王慣常作戰的時候,大衛差派約押和以色列全軍出戰。他們打敗亞捫人,包圍了拉巴。但大衛留在耶路撒冷。(撒母耳記下11:1)

20:1 到了春天,列王出戰的時候,約押率領軍兵毀壞亞捫人的地。他圍攻拉巴,而大衛留在耶路撒冷。約押打敗拉巴,將城傾覆。(歷代誌上20:1)

在撒母耳記下,大衛不出戰而留在耶路撒冷,結果他犯了極大有違道德的罪。他不單與拔示巴犯奸淫,他為了要掩飾自己的罪而設計令拔示巴的丈夫烏利亞戰死沙場。大衛並非殺敵,而他是殺死忠於自己的武士。

按歷代志上的記載,大衛決定留在家中(也許這和撒母耳記下11是同一事件),沒多久,他就決定數點以色列人的人數,引致神審判以色列。如果我們不參戰,我們就已經敗下陣來。

在這篇有關屬靈爭戰的學習,我最後要提出的一點:若以全卷以弗所書作上下文來理解保羅在第6章所描述的屬靈爭戰,我的取向是我們現時所處身的屬靈爭戰,並不是一場大戰或英雄行動,而是保羅在第1-3章所教導的信心和第4-6章的順服。

在以弗所書,兒童的戰線在那裡?那就是他們服從父母如同服從主。奴僕服從主人就是他們在信仰上站穩;作父親的,在真道上站穩的表現就是愛妻子和教導兒女們遵守「神的律例和指示」;作妻子的則是順服丈夫如同順服神;我們站立得穩就是行事為人不要再像教外人(以弗所書4:17-32),我們要憑愛心行事(5:1-6),行事為人要像光明的兒女(5:7-13)和要像聰明人(5:15),要彼此順服(5:22–6:9);這場戰爭實質是對神的信和順服。在邪惡的日子我們按上述而行,我們就準備好面對那將要來的極「邪惡的日子」。

當我們在世的日子終結時,我祈求我們能像保羅所說的:「那美好的仗我已經打過了,當跑的路我已經跑盡了,所信的道我已經守住了;」(提摩太後書4:7


譯者註:除特別標示的地方,中文經文採用NET(中文版)


附: 以弗所書 4, 5, 6章, 弟兄組討論問題


第1部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題

教會參與了一埸屬靈爭戰,敵人是撒旦和一群看不見的天使和天上的敵人,他們的能力遠超過我們。

1. 在你的教會裡,你在哪裡看到和經歷過屬靈爭戰?

2. 它是如何影響你的靈命成長?

3. 描述它對你家人的影響。

4. 你採取怎樣的步驟來持守你的信仰?

現在撒旦並非正面攻擊教會,但通過顛覆性的欺騙、和陰謀詭計。

5. 你在哪裡看到對你的教會產生負面影響的陰謀?

6. 你的教會裡存在甚麼教義或行為上的謬誤?

7. 描述撒旦如何使用詭計,在你的教會發動屬靈爭戰。

8. 與組員分享你曾上當或受騙的事件。


第2部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題

我們戰勝撒旦的攻擊不一定顯而易見,我們見到的不一定是我們戰勝了,撒旦被打敗;有些時候看到的卻恰恰相反——看似我們敗下陣來而撒旦卻是勝利者。

1. 描述一個你在撒旦攻擊時,倚靠聖靈的力量站穩的例子。

2. 你曾經歷過看似被打敗,但實質是勝利的經歷嗎?請加以描述。

撒旦對信徒的攻擊很少是直接的,他經常通過我們可能無法識別是來自他的其他手段。

3. 你能道出幾個撒旦間接攻擊你的方法嗎?

4. 撒旦怎樣間接攻擊你的家庭?

5. 撒旦使用了哪些「偽裝」的手法?

6. 撒旦怎樣間接攻擊你的教會?

7. 當你,你的家人和你的教會受到撒旦攻擊時,你採取了甚麼步驟使你能夠站穩?


第3部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題

以弗所書4:1-16 弟兄要在基督裡合一,運用神所賜的屬靈恩賜,避免詭詐,活出基督的樣式。屬神的人明白神所賜予的屬靈恩賜的唯一目的是建立基督的教會。

1. 作為基督的追隨者,你擁有甚麼性格的特徵來支配自己的行為?

2. 我們的呼召帶來了甚麼希望?

3. 保羅列出了好些基督給人的恩賜,你有哪些恩賜?請說明。

4. 神給你恩賜的唯一目的是甚麼?

5. 在以下領域,你怎樣應用你的屬靈恩賜:

         你的家

         家庭

         教會

6. 小組討論: 以弗所書4:1-5所列出的性格特徵,有哪些方面你需要加以改善,並且會承諾立即這樣做?可以請求組員來幫助你。


第4部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題

以弗所書4:17-5:8 人的生命應是聖潔、純正、誠實和順服。屬神的人要純潔、順服、坦率,並在任何時候都願作犧牲。

1. 試述保羅在以弗所書4:17-19提供了哪些有關弟兄應如何生活的具體方法。

2. 成為「新人」是甚麼意思?

3. 個人行為在哪些方面會給撒旦立足之地?

4. 有益身心的話會帶來甚麼果效?

5. 在哪些領域你要潔淨你的言語?

6. 在以弗所書5:1-2,跟隨基督的人應怎樣生活?

7. 以弗所書5:3-4禁止甚麼行為?

8. 你正面對甚麼掙扎?必須誠實和具體地回答。

9. 那些不道德的,不純正的或貪婪的人,會有甚麼後果?

10. 神將如何處理那些不順服和欺詐的人?

11. 小組討論: 哪些思想和行為是你要活出保羅在以弗所書4:17-5:8的生活最大障礙?


第5部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題

以弗所書 5:9-6:9. 男人要明智、清醒、順服創造秩序、揭發詭詐,並且為神所給予的呼召而感恩。屬神的男人愛他們的妻子,願為妻子作出犧牲,按真理教導兒女,熱忱地服侍主人,對待他人時,都給予對方應有的尊嚴。

1. 順服結出怎樣的果子?

2. 為什麼我們要把欺騙者公諸於世?

3. 以弗所書5:15-21,保羅繼續陳述追隨基督的人必須具備的性格特徵。它們是甚麼?

4. 這經文教導作丈夫的應怎樣去愛妻子?

5. 描述你如何實踐這種對妻子的愛。

6. 按以弗所書6:4,你應成為一個怎樣的父親?

7. 你每天應怎樣在主裡教導你的兒女?

8. 試述「管教孩子卻不惹他們的氣」是什麼意思?

9. 在主裡管教和指導孩子,你要面對那些艱難的決定?

10. 小組討論:愛妻子,願意為她犧牲和更著意地管教孩子,你需要考慮哪些個人風險?


第6部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題

以弗所書6:10-20 弟兄要穿上神所賜的軍備,才能在屬靈爭戰中不敗。屬神的人在屬靈爭戰中,不論是對抗不道德的事、欺詐和不順服,都需要神所賜的軍備。

1. 在屬靈爭戰中誰是我們的敵人?

2. 我們在那裡可以找到用來束腰的真理?

3. 為何要以公義為「護胸甲」?

4. 「撒旦的火箭」指的是甚麼?

5. 信心的盾牌怎樣保護我們避開撒旦的攻擊?

6. 為甚麼救恩被比喻為「頭盔」?

7. 聖經如何作為一把劍?

8. 不論何時,我們必須做什麼?

9. 小組討論:在你生命的哪些領域,你經歷了最嚴重的屬靈爭戰?請具體說明。


第7部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題
在你家庭中的屬靈爭戰
互聯網

1. 在你的家裡,你維持了哪些使用互聯網的規則?

2. 你的電腦放在共用的地方嗎?如果不是,你把它們放在那裡?

3. 你有使用過濾軟件嗎?若果沒有,是甚麼緣故呢?

4. 你的孩子可以在自己的臥室上網嗎?為什麼?

5. 你的孩子有要求自己的網上賬戶嗎?

6. 他們有自己的網上賬戶嗎?為什麼?

7. 你會在互聯網上瀏覽甚麼網頁?

8. 小組討論:和組員分享你所採取的步驟,讓你的家人能安全使用互聯網?


第8部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題
電視

1. 你有衛星電視或有線電視嗎?

2. 你讓你的孩子觀看什麼節目?

3. 你會否檢查電視節目的內容是健康的、還是不純正的嗎?

         語言?

         劇情?

         含色情?

         含暴力?

4. 你怎樣將不合宜的廣告過濾?

5. 你會選擇甚麼節目觀看?

6. 小組討論: 有沒有一些特定的節目你不容許你的孩子收看,為甚麼?你容許他們觀看的節目會否含有道德或靈性相異、使人反感的內容?你和你妻子所看的節目,是否也適合你的孩子收看?


第9部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題
衣著

1. 在下列場合,你女兒的衣著端莊高雅嗎?

         學校?

         教會?

         公眾場合?

         與朋友交往時?

2. 她們的衣服:

         太緊?

         透視?

         含暗示性?

3. 在下列場合,你兒子的衣著合宜、有品味嗎?

         學校?

         教會?

         公眾場合?

         與朋友交往時?

4. 他們的衣服:

         太鬆垮垮的?

         令人不快的?

5. 你讓他們在那裡購物?

6. 誰倍同他們前往購物?

7. 小組討論: 你和孩子之間,有沒有因為他們希望穿著的衣服和你希望他們穿的衣服不同而出現爭吵?你如何解決衝突?


第10部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題
生活方式

1. 你的孩子放學返家後,誰照顧他們?

2. 你會允許你的孩子與他們的朋友一起逛商場嗎?

3. 你認識你孩子的朋友的父母嗎?

4. 你容許孩子在外過夜,不回家嗎?

5. 誰會幫助孩子解決學習上遇到的困難?

6. 你有否每天和家人一起禱告和讀經?

7. 你的孩子聽那類音樂?

8. 你的孩子有iPod播放器嗎?

9. 誰替他們下載音樂?

10. 他們有自己的手機嗎?

11. 他們和誰通話?

12. 他們的手機有拍攝裝置嗎?

13. 他們會拍攝甚麼影像?

14. 小組討論: 那些文化帶來的影響會引發靈性上、情緒上和身心健康上的危機?


第11部份: 屬靈爭戰, 弟兄組討論問題
個人問題

請詳細描述在下列領域你會採取甚麼行動來保護你的家人,包括那些可能會破壞你和妻子或和孩子的關係的行動:騙局、不道德的事、叛逆的文化、媒體和不良娛樂 。

譯者註:除特別標示的地方,中文經文採用NET(中文版)

Translated by: Jenny Pao 鮑婉玲譯


1有些人認為猶大書1:6所指的,就是這些「神的兒子」(這也是我的取向)。若是這樣,這些天使被禁鎖在深淵,因為他們超越了那被禁止超越的人和天使的界線。此外,他們尋求破壞神的計劃和應許。

2馬太的記述告訴我們當時確實有兩隻鬼,而馬可和路加的焦點是其中之一。

3當保羅陳述主賜給教會的屬靈恩賜時,這些屬靈恩賜是主祂勝過了「一群被擄的」而成為「被擄」所結的果子。這「一群被擄的」顯然是敵擋祂的。若不是正面、也間接指向那些與撒旦聯合一起敵擋神的天使。

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Do you ever get discouraged in serving God, to the point that you feel like quitting? Many pastors do. I read recently that 1,500 pastors a month in the United States are leaving the ministry. Some leave because of moral failure, but many leave because of spiritual burnout or discouragement because of opposition or contention in their congregations.

Several recent surveys revealed that 85 percent of pastors said that they are weary of dealing with problem people. Seventy percent said that they felt that God had called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only 50 percent still felt called (from an email sent out on January 30, 2003, by the late Bill Bright and the Global Pastors Network).

At our men’s retreat last weekend, I was chatting with our speaker, Dennis Ahern, who is the West Coast Regional Director for CB International. He said that while there are many short-term mission workers, few are accepting the call to be career missionaries, and even of those, many are serving only one term. Apparently, many pastors and missionaries need to think through the question, “Why serve God?”

I encounter many in the local church who have served God, sometimes for many years, but they feel burned out and they are not involved in serving any longer. In some cases, they drop out of church altogether, claiming that they can worship God better by avoiding the church. In other cases, they may attend church, but that’s all that they do. If you ask them to serve, they say, in effect, “No thanks! Been there, done that!” In many cases, they were criticized or attacked for their efforts. Often, they feel unappreciated and used. But whatever the reason, they are not serving. Our text speaks to all such burned out workers, answering the question, “Why serve God?”

The people in Malachi’s day had grown indifferent to God’s great love. The theme of Malachi is, “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But the callused response of the people was, “How have You loved us?” (1:2). The prophet seeks to show them that the problem was not on God’s part. It never is. The problem was their sinfully selfish, temporal perspective. They needed to see things from God’s eternal perspective and serve Him by faith.

Behind their wrong attitude was the age-old subject that we covered in 2:17: Why do the wicked prosper and the godly suffer? You may wonder, Why bring it up again so soon? The answer is, this problem doesn’t get put to rest once and for all. It keeps creeping back into our thinking. God knows that we wrestle with it, and so He graciously addresses the subject repeatedly, so that we will maintain His perspective when we are tempted to think that it is vain to serve Him. The prophet shows us:

We should serve God because He notices and cares deeply for all who serve Him.

There are two groups in our text. Group A (3:13-15) is the group to Avoid. This group grumbled against God, complaining that there is no reward for serving Him; you may as well be an arrogant, wicked person who tests God and escapes. Group B (3:16-18) is the group to Be in. These people feared God and esteemed His name. They encouraged one another to continue serving God in spite of the seeming prosperity of the wicked and suffering of the righteous. God takes special notice of them and promises that He will spare them in the day of judgment because they are His special treasure.

1. Group A: Avoid being among those who complain about serving God (3:13-15).

This group spoke arrogantly or harshly against the Lord, but when the prophet confronts them, they ask, “What have we spoken against You?” As verses 14-15 show, they weren’t directly shaking their fists at God. Rather, they were complaining to one another, but God was eavesdropping! He always does, of course!  He notices all that we think or say. But these people were not God-oriented, and so they spoke brazenly to one another, voicing their common complaints as if God were deaf or non-existent.

Their complaint was, “It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” (3:14). They went even farther, probably in sarcastic mockery. They called the arrogant blessed, and said that wicked people are not only built up, but also they test God and escape (3:15). There are four characteristics of this group to avoid:

A. These people were sitting in judgment on God, rather than submitting to His dealings with them.

Whenever we grumble about our circumstances or the wrong treatment that we have received, we are really elevating ourselves above God. We are saying, in effect, “God, I could run this universe better than You are running it! I’m just trying to serve You, and all I get is unfair treatment and trouble. But the guy who arrogantly defies You is living a happy life. I’d fix this problem if I were in charge!” What arrogance, to think that somehow I’d do a better job of running the universe than the Lord of hosts!

One of the most prevalent sins of the Israelites in the wilderness was their spirit of grumbling and complaining against God. They rather would have returned to slavery in Egypt than to trust God and endure hardship in the wilderness! He had delivered them from bondage in a dramatic and miraculous way through the Red Sea. From there, they went three days into the wilderness, found no water, and began to grumble (Exod. 15:22-27).

Later they grumbled about the boring manna that God faithfully supplied every day, and so the Lord graciously provided quail (Numbers 11). They grumbled at the report of the spies about the giants in the land, and talked about appointing a leader to return to Egypt (Numbers 14). God was displeased with their grumbling. That entire generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, who trusted God, died in the wilderness (Num. 14:26-38).

Whenever we grumble about our circumstances, we are impugning the character of God and exalting ourselves above Him. We’re saying, “God doesn’t really love us, or He wouldn’t let us be in this difficult place.” And, we’re saying, “I know better than God what is good for me.” John Calvin observes, “But in the service of God the chief thing is this— that men deny themselves and give themselves up to be ruled by God, and never raise a clamor when he humbles them” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker reprint], on Malachi 3:13, pp. 595-596). As Paul exhorts us from his prison cell, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).

B. These people had a self-centered attitude.

They ask, “What profit is it that we have kept His charge …?” (3:14). What’s in it for us? The Hebrew word translated “profit” was a technical term for a weaver cutting a piece of cloth free from the loom. The idea here is that these people expected their “cut” or percentage, much as a gangster would demand his cut for his dirty work (Walter Kaiser, Malachi, God’s Unchanging Love [Baker], p. 98). They were grumbling that God hadn’t given them their fair share.

Be careful here! The flesh is inclined to self-pity, self-focus, and self-centeredness, and the world feeds this. If there’s nothing in it for you, why do it? If the church isn’t meeting your needs, bail out. You deserve some happiness. You can’t worry about the needs of others! God understands. Your needs come first!

We need to be careful about how we present the gospel. If we approach it as, “Come to Jesus and He will meet all your needs,” we aren’t giving the full picture. It’s true, of course, that Jesus satisfies the deepest longings of every heart that trusts in Him. But He is not Aladdin’s Genie, waiting to grant our every wish. While following Christ brings us deep and lasting joy, the path to that joy is daily self-denial and the cross (Luke 9:23-24), which are not immediately pleasant experiences!

I always chuckle when I read about the time Peter said to Jesus, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.” Jesus affirmed that whatever they had given up to follow Him, they would receive a hundred times as much in this present age. Then, while I’m sure the disciples were nodding in approval, Jesus added almost offhandedly, “along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:28-30).

What’s in it for you, if you serve the Lord? He gives abundant blessings, both in this life and in eternity. But don’t forget the persecutions! “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Self-centered people don’t last long in serving God.

C. These people had lost the motivation for holy living.

They asked, “What profit is it that … we have walked in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” (3:14). Outwardly, they went through the motions of fasting and humbling themselves before God. But they were not doing these things out of a heart of love and devotion for God. Inwardly they were thinking, “This religion stuff is a drag! We want some fun out of life!”

Motivation is everything when it comes to obeying and serving God. I read about an elderly Christian lady who was a shut-in. She had two daughters, both Christians, who came by to clean and help out. Both made everything shine, but the first daughter left the impression that her task was an awful burden. The second daughter was cheery and made her mother feel loved. Both daughters did the same task, but the first did it out of duty alone. The second did it out of love for her mother. Her motive made all the difference.

Jesus rebuked the church at Ephesus. They were doing many good things. They had persevered and endured for Christ’s sake. But they had left their first love for Him (Rev. 2:1-4). When Jesus restored Peter to service after his fall, He asked three times, “Do you love Me?” With that as a foundation, He said, “Tend My sheep” (John 21:15-17). Paul said, “… the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Love for the Lord Jesus, who gave Himself on the cross for me, should be the motive behind everything that I do for Him.

So this group to avoid was sitting in judgment on God, they had a self-centered attitude, and they had lost the motivation of love as the basis for holy living and service.

D. These people had focused on the seeming prosperity of the wicked, but had lost the eternal perspective.

While saying that it is vain to serve God, they were calling the arrogant blessed. From all that they could see, there was no reward for following God, and there were many rewards for defying God and seeking your own prosperity.

Whenever we start thinking that way, we have lost God’s eternal perspective and adopted the world’s temporal perspective. Asaph wrote about this in Psalm 73. He contrasted the prosperity of the wicked with his own trials and concluded that he was following God in vain. This was troublesome in his sight until he went into the sanctuary of God. There he considered the end of the wicked and the reward of the righteous. I encourage you to meditate on that Psalm whenever you’re tempted in this manner.

Also, read Paul’s great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. He states (15:19), “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Why serve Christ if this life is all there is? Rather, “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (15:32). But, if Christ is risen and if we will be raised from the dead also, Paul’s conclusion is, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (15:58). So avoid Group A. But there’s a second group:

2. Group B: God notices and cares for those who fear and serve Him in spite of hardships (3:16-18).

This is the group to Be in! They were probably the minority group, numbers-wise. But God always has a faithful remnant that serves Him in spite of many difficulties. Note that Group B, those who serve God, are called righteous, whereas Group A are called wicked (3:18). That is not to say that serving God earns the label of “righteous.” We can do nothing to commend ourselves to God. Our righteousness is in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is imputed to us as a gift of God’s grace through faith (Rom. 3:21-26). But serving God is a distinguishing mark of the righteous person, whereas not serving God marks the wicked, who live for themselves. There are two, and only two, groups here. Either you have not trusted in Christ and you live for yourself, or you have been justified by faith in Christ and now you live to serve Him. Make sure that you’re in Group B, not in Group A! Three characteristics mark Group B:

A. These people fear God and esteem His name above the opinions of others.

Twice verse 16 emphasizes that these people feared God, and it further adds that they esteemed His name. “Esteem” (KJV = “thought upon”) means to meditate, to regard, and thus to set value on something. Isaiah (13:17) uses the word to describe the Medes, who “will not value silver” when they invade Babylon. In other words, they would not be bought off with silver, because they did not value it above victory. (See also, Isa. 53:3.)

In our text, this group valued the Lord and His character (“name”) above the majority opinion. They didn’t go with the prevailing flow of their day, because they looked to God in His majesty, and they feared Him and valued Him above everything else.

In my opinion, the Christian world today needs a revived emphasis on the proper fear of God. We rightly emphasize God’s love, because “God is love” (1 John 4:8). But we are out of balance if we emphasize God’s love to the neglect of the fear that is due to His holy name.

I wish that many of God’s people today, who view God as their Good Buddy, would read John Bunyan’s excellent “Treatise on the Fear of God” (The Works of John Bunyan [Baker], 1:437-491). He writes, “When God comes to bring a soul news of mercy and salvation, even that visit, that presence of God, is fearful” (p. 438). In God’s presence, he says, “even our best things, our comeliness, our sanctity and righteousness, all do immediately turn to corruption and polluted rags” (p. 439). The proper fear of God causes us to hate evil and turn from it (Prov. 3:7; 8:13; 16:6). Too many pastors today fear what people think of them more than they fear what God thinks of them! Fearing God gives us the courage to confront sin, even if people don’t like us for doing so.

B. These people encourage one another in the face of surrounding evil.

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another” (3:16). “Then” refers to verse 15. when the wicked called the arrogant blessed. Group B had to counter the evil talk of Group A. They had to be as bold for God as Group A was bold for evil. They did it by getting together and talking. We are not told specifically what they said, but they probably encouraged one another by saying, “Don’t listen to these scoffers. Don’t give up serving the Lord! He will reward all that serve Him and He will judge the wicked scoffers.”

The point is, we need fellowship with like-minded believers in order to stand firm against the wrong ideas that come at us from the world, the flesh, and the devil. If all you do is attend church and leave, but you don’t fellowship with other Christians during the week, you will struggle to maintain a godly perspective in the face of the evil around us. That’s why Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us to think about how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, and not to forsake assembling together, but to encourage “one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Group B fears God and encourages one another. Finally,

C. These people are especially noticed and cared for by God.

“The Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him…” (3:16). The Hebrew word translated “gave attention” means to prick up the ears, as an animal does when it hears something. The word “heard” means to bend over so as not to miss a word. The picture is that of a parent, eavesdropping on the conversation between his children (Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible [Zondervan], 10:620-621). The book of remembrance probably refers to the record book that Persian kings kept with the names and favorable deeds of those who had helped the king (Esther 6:1-2).

God hears and remembers everything said by everyone at all times, of course. But these human pictures applied to God remind us that He is not forgetful of His children when they take a stand for Him or when they pay a price to serve Him (Heb. 6:10).

God promises that they will be His on the day that He prepares His own possession, or treasure. He will spare them when He judges the earth, as a man spares his own son who serves him. So God is assuring His people that He hears and takes notice of that which the world overlooks or despises. The world notices the powerful, rich, and famous. God notices those who fear Him and serve Him out of love. They are His special treasure. And so we should not despair at the seeming prosperity of the wicked or at our own trials. When God judges the earth, the line between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not, will be clear (3:18).

Conclusion

Years ago, an elderly missionary couple who had served for years in Africa, was returning to New York City to retire. They were feeling discouraged, defeated, and afraid. Their health was broken and they had no retirement pension. When they got to the wharf to board the ship, they discovered that they were booked on the same boat as President Theodore Roosevelt, who was returning from a big game hunt. No one paid any attention to this old couple, but they watched the fanfare as the President arrived. A band was playing and the crowd was waving and straining for a glimpse of the great man.

As the ship crossed the Atlantic, the old man grew more and more depressed. He said to his wife, “Something is wrong. Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these years, and yet no one cares for us? This man comes back from a hunting expedition, and everyone throngs to see him. It doesn’t seem fair!” His wife tried to comfort him, but he couldn’t shake his depression.

As the boat docked in America, more bands were playing and more crowds had turned out to greet the President. Many dignitaries were there, and the papers carried the story on the front page. But no one noticed the missionaries. They slipped off the boat and went to hunt for a cheap apartment and for jobs.

That night, the man’s spirit broke. He felt that God had abandoned them. He complained to his wife, “We don’t have anyone to help us and no where to go. Why hasn’t God met our needs?” His wife wisely replied, “Why don’t you go in the bedroom and talk to the Lord about the whole thing?”

Some time later, he came out of the bedroom, but his face was different. He was happy now. His wife asked what happened. He said, “I went in and told the Lord the whole thing. I told Him that it’s not fair. I told Him how I was bitter because the President received this tremendous homecoming, but no one met us as we returned home. And you know, as I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and said simply, ‘My child, you’re not home yet.’” Why serve God? Because He notices and cares for all who serve Him!

Discussion Questions

  1. What does it mean to serve God? Is it a position, a role, or a mindset?
  2. How has our self-centered culture permeated the church? How has the church fostered this mentality?
  3. Where is the proper balance between the love of God and the fear of God? How can we know when we’re in balance?
  4. What would you say to a Christian who bitterly said, “I can worship God better by myself, apart from the church”?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipleship, Leadership, Missions, Pastors, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 11: The Coming Day (Malachi 4:1-3)

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We live in a day when very few fear God’s judgment. The “god” of most Americans is a feeble, tolerant old man, who would never send anyone, except the very worst, to hell. This American “god” grades on the curve, and it’s a very lenient curve. Unless you’re a terrorist, mass murderer, serial rapist, or habitual child molester, you have nothing to fear come judgment day.

This attitude was reflected in a letter to the editor of our local newspaper last week (Arizona Daily Sun [10/26/03], p. A-6) regarding the recent death of the well know local liberal protester, Bruce Green. The author commended the departed man for his respect and willingness to listen without anger to those with whom he disagreed. Those are certainly commendable qualities. Then she said, “He is in a much better place now, a place where there is no anger, bitterness, resentment or hatred—only love. God bless you, Bruce. Save me a seat. It would be my pleasure to sit next to you.”

That’s the popular theology of our day—if you’re a “good” person, it doesn’t matter what you may believe about God or Jesus Christ. Don’t worry about your sins. God understands and will overlook them. Some day we’ll all be together in heaven, in spite of our many faults.

It is vitally important that we base our view of God and His future judgment on His revelation in His Word, not on the common notions of popular culture. If we join our culture in thinking that God’s judgment is nothing to fear when, in fact, we are in danger of coming under that judgment, we would be in for a horrible shock on that day. On the other hand, if in fact we will be delivered from that judgment according to God’s promise in Christ, we would be putting ourselves through needless misery to live in fear of that day. Our text shows us that…

The coming day of judgment should bring great fear to all that scoff at God, but great comfort to all that fear His name.

In the context, these verses (there is no chapter break in the Hebrew Bible) continue to address the problem that was raised in 2:17 and again in 3:13-15 of the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. The skeptics looked at the seeming prosperity of the wicked and concluded that there is no benefit in serving God. They said that the arrogant seemed to be blessed and to get away with their evil deeds. There did not appear to be a God of justice, and so it is a waste of time to live according to His righteous standards.

To counter this scoffing, Malachi showed that God especially remembers those who fear His name; in fact, they are His special treasure (3:16-18). There is a huge difference between those who serve God and those who do not. That difference will be unveiled at the coming day that God has prepared, a day that will consume the wicked like a furnace. But those who fear God need not fear that coming awful day, because for them it will be a day of great comfort and triumph. So our text is written to disturb the comfortable and to comfort the disturbed.

1. The coming day of judgment should bring great fear to all that scoff at God (4:1).

“Behold” should arrest our attention. “Wake up, pay attention to what is about to be said!” Malachi makes two points about this coming day:

A. The day is coming with certainty.

Verse 1 states twice, “The day is coming….” Verse 3 underscores that God is preparing that day. Twice it is emphasized that this warning comes from none other than the Lord of hosts, who rules over the entire universe, both physical and spiritual. As the apostle Paul told his skeptical audience on Mars Hill, God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). If the Lord of hosts has fixed that day, you can count on it: It is certainly coming!

Malachi mentions this coming day four times in the closing verses of his prophecy (3:17; 4:1, 3, 5). Walter Kaiser points out (Malachi: God’s Unchanging Love [Baker], p. 102) that this “day of the Lord” was both “near” and “at hand” for each of five Old Testament prophets working in four separate centuries: Obadiah (15) and Joel (1:15; 2:1) in the ninth century; Isaiah (13:6) in the eighth; Zephaniah (1:7, 14) in the seventh; and Ezekiel (30:3) in the sixth. Each of these prophets saw fulfillments in specific events of his own times, and yet each of these prophecies has a still yet unfulfilled future nuance. Thus Kaiser concludes that “the day of the Lord” encompasses a number of successive judgment events throughout history, all of which depict some aspect of the final climatic fulfillment at the culmination of history. In other words, there have been a number of precursor days of the Lord (such as the destruction of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar and again under Titus) that point ahead to the final great and terrible day of the Lord at the end of history (Mal. 4:5).

The irony is that the very people who need to fear this coming day of judgment are usually the ones who scoff at it. Peter (2 Pet. 3:3-4) pointed this out, that in the last days mockers will come, who will say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” The Book of Revelation (18) makes the same point, that the world will be reveling in luxurious splendor and sensuality, oblivious of impending judgment, right up to the end. But then, in one hour, judgment will fall and all of proud Babylon’s splendor will be laid waste.

So the biblical warning is clear: Just because judgment is delayed does not mean that it will not happen. God has fixed the day! It is coming with certainty or else God is lying!

B. The day is coming with awful terror for all that scoff at God.

Those who should fear this coming day are described as the arrogant, evildoers, and the wicked (4:1, 3). “Arrogant” is a relatively rare word in Hebrew, but is the same word used in Malachi 3:15. It has the idea of “a sense of self-importance, which often is exaggerated to include defiance and even rebelliousness” (Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, ed. by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke [Moody Press], 1:239). The words “evildoer” (4:1) and “wicked” (4:3) come from the same Hebrew root word and point to evil thoughts, words, and deeds that are contrary to God’s character and hostile to others (ibid., 2:863).

So at the root of wickedness or evil in God’s sight is human self-reliance and self-centeredness. The person who thinks that he is good enough in himself to get into heaven is arrogant in God’s sight. He does not understand how absolutely holy God is, nor how utterly corrupt his own heart is. He establishes himself as his own standard of righteousness and arrogantly thinks that his good deeds will commend him to God on the day of judgment. But God, who sees the heart, is not impressed! He describes them as chaff and that day as burning like a furnace. It will be so hot as to leave them neither root nor branch. In other words, no one will recover from this scorching heat.

Our paper showed last week a picture of a car in Crestline, California (where we used to live), that had been burned in the terrible fires there. The fire was so hot that the aluminum rims had melted into streams of liquid! Whether there will be literal flames in hell or whether God uses symbolic language to make a point, it ought to be clear that you don’t want to go through the blaze of God’s judgment! It will be thorough and completely devastating.

We need to be careful here not to fall into the error of annihilationism. Some modern evangelical theologians, most notably Clark Pinnock and John Stott, recoil at the idea of God tormenting people in flames forever and ever. They teach that the wicked will suffer in hell for an appropriate time, but then will cease to exist.

While that idea is emotionally appealing, Jesus mentioned eternal punishment in the same sentence that He mentioned eternal life (Matt. 25:46). If eternal life is forever, then eternal punishment must be forever. Revelation 20:10, 15 makes it clear that the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be thrown into the lake of fire, where they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. If anyone’s name is not found written in the book of life, he will also be thrown into the lake of fire. “Day and night forever and ever” sounds like a long, long time! Jesus described hell as a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). As difficult as the doctrine of eternal punishment may be, we cannot change it into the more comfortable idea of annihilationism without contradicting Jesus Himself.

Another common error that we need to avoid is universalism. This is the idea that somehow in the end, everyone will be saved. There are variations of this teaching. Some say that sinners may go through a time of punishment in hell, but that ultimately they will be saved. Others teach that because Christ died for all, all will be saved (based on a faulty interpretation of Rom. 5:18-19). Universalism goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. It probably originated with the early Gnostics, and was taught by some of the early church fathers, most notably Clement of Alexandria and his student, Origen, whose teachings were later condemned as heresy (D. B. Eller, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Walter Elwell [Baker], p. 1128).

Universalists make the mistake of putting God’s love above His justice and holiness. They would have to interpret our text as God’s purging with a view to restoration (as in Mal. 3:2-3). But the words, “it will leave them with neither root nor branch” (4:1) indicate that recovery will be impossible. The arrogant wicked who do not repent will suffer God’s eternal punishment. Those who scoff at God should be fearful, although they seldom are.

2. The coming day of judgment should bring great comfort to all that fear God (4:2-3).

The purpose of these verses is to comfort the Lord’s people, especially those who were being persecuted because of their stand for God. As in 3:16, they are identified as those who fear the Lord and esteem His name. God’s name means all that He is in His glorious attributes. Two thoughts here:

A. If we fear God now, we do not need to fear His judgment on that terrible day.

It is ironic that often those who should fear God’s judgment scoff at the idea, whereas those who need not fear His judgment do worry about it. Perhaps it is because God has given His true people a tender conscience, along with a higher view of His holiness and justice. We know and believe that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God for judgment. The enemy of our souls comes along and uses this healthy fear of God to produce in us an unhealthy anxiety about standing before Him someday. He accuses us of all of our sins, which we must admit are true. The only way to overcome his accusations is through the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 12:11). Cling to the cross and you do not need to fear judgment.

The Bible is abundantly clear that we are justified (= “declared righteous”) through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 3:21-31). In the act of justification, God takes our sin and places it upon His Son, who paid the awful penalty for it on the cross. He takes the righteousness of His Son and places it around us, so that we stand before God with the perfect righteousness of Jesus, not with any righteousness of our own. Along with the free gift of justification, God makes us a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Rather than scoffing at God and living in accordance with our proud wisdom, we submit to God and His wisdom. We live in the reverential fear of God, and yet, because of His abundant grace, we no longer fear His judgment on the last day, since Christ bore that for us.

This is illustrated by a technique used by those fighting forest fires: They light a backfire along a break in the path of the advancing fire. The idea is that when the fire gets to where the backfire has burned, there will not be anything left to burn, and so the fire will die out. God judged our sins in Jesus on the cross. The fires of judgment burned Him. If we are in Him by faith, the fire will not harm us. It has nothing left to burn, since Jesus bore that Himself.

B. God causes the sun of righteousness to rise with healing in its wings for all that fear Him.

Some scholars do not interpret this as a reference to Jesus, but rather to the conditions that will exist in the millennium. But I think it is a reference to Jesus Christ. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, seemed to pick up the language of this verse when he prophesied that John would prepare the Lord’s ways, “to give His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:77-79). Because of the link between John the Baptist in Malachi 3:1 & 4:5, and because of Zecharias’ similar language about the Sunrise from on high, I believe that our text is messianic. It has at least five implications:

1) The sun of righteousness brings light where there was darkness.

These verses refer to the blessings of our salvation that begin at the moment we trust in Jesus, but grow brighter and brighter until that glorious moment when He comes again and we shall be caught up to be always with the Lord. Outside of Christ, the world lives in spiritual darkness, blinded to the truth of God’s Word (Acts 26:18). Only Christ can open blind eyes. By His power, God delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son  (Col. 1:13). Jesus made the bold claim, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). When Jesus Christ shines into your darkness, suddenly you see. As Charles Wesley put it, “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.”

2) The sun of righteousness brings healing where there was disease and brokenness.

The darkness of the evil one’s domain brings spiritual sickness and death to the human race. The warm rays of the sun of righteousness bring restoration and healing. (“Wings” is poetic language for the rays of the sun.) One of the devil’s lies is to get us to think that sin brings satisfaction, whereas righteousness is restrictive. But the truth is, sin always brings disease and death, whereas righteousness heals and restores.

Have you ever had the flu, where your bones ache? If it’s gloomy and damp outside, it only seems to add to your misery. But then the sun breaks through the clouds and you find a chair in the sunlight streaming through a window. Those warm rays of the sun feel so good on your aching bones! That is an earthly illustration of the spiritual truth of the gospel. When you repent of your sins and begin to live in the warm rays of God’s righteousness, He brings healing from the wounds of sin in your life.

3) The sun of righteousness brings comfort and hope where there had been despair.

I think that we who live in Arizona, where the sun shines over 300 days a year, don’t appreciate how wonderful the sunlight is. When Marla and I traveled in Eastern Europe, we learned that sunshine in the winter there is a rare thing. Studies have shown that people who live in the extreme north suffer from what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). They get depressed because they live in the dark for months during the long, cold winters. When the first rays of the sun appear over the horizon, they throw a party! The sunlight brings them hope.

Outside of Jesus Christ and the salvation that He brings, there is no hope. One of the most depressing phrases in the Bible is Paul’s description of unbelievers, that they have “no hope and [are] without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But when the sun of righteousness rises in your heart, He brings the wonderful hope of eternal life!

4) The sun of righteousness brings great joy where there was sadness.

“You will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” Perhaps many of you who are city-borne and bred have not seen this, although I have. After being cooped up in a stall, calves will literally jump as if for joy. Part of this for the believer is the great joy of being freed from the bondage of sin and judgment. The angel announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds by saying, “I bring you good news of a great joy” (Luke 2:10). There is simply no greater joy than the news that God has sent a Savior to set us free from the penalty and power of sin, so that we may dwell with Him in the glory of His presence forever!

So, the sun of righteousness brings light where there was darkness; healing where there was disease; hope where there was despair; and, joy where there was sadness. Finally,

5) The sun of righteousness brings right where there was wrong.

“You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under your feet….” In this evil world, God permits the wicked often to triumph over the godly. There are many injustices, where the innocent suffer and their tormentors often literally get away with murder. But when the sun of righteousness rises in that final day that God is preparing, all wrongs will be righted. Perfect justice will prevail. Every sinner will be judged according to his works, and the righteous will rejoice.

You may wonder, “I thought that vengeance is wrong. How can the righteous rejoice over treading the wicked underfoot like ashes?” While personal vengeance is wrong, it is not wrong to long for the day when God will exercise His perfect justice. In Revelation 6:9-11, John looks into heaven and sees the souls of those who have been slain because of their testimony for Christ. They cry out, asking God how long it will be until He avenges their blood. God tells them to rest for a bit longer, until the number of martyrs is complete. Then, in Revelation 18, when wicked Babylon has finally fallen, the angel proclaims, “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her” (18:20). God’s final answer to the problem of the prosperity of the wicked and the unjust suffering of the righteous is the coming day of judgment. His promise of that day should bring great comfort to all of God’s elect.

Conclusion

A ninth-grade civics teacher had to issue one student an F. The boy reacted as though the teacher had caught him by surprise, by asking, “How come?”

“You didn’t pass a single test,” the teacher explained. “You never turned in one homework assignment. You would not participate in classroom work.”

The boy stood there in silence for a moment, then exclaimed, “And you mean you flunked me for that?” (Reader’s Digest [4/79], p. 64.)

Don’t be caught off guard when God’s day of judgment hits! If you’re comfortable in your sins, and your notion of God is that He would never judge anyone, I hope that you are disturbed enough to flee to Jesus Christ. Unless you are in Him, the blaze of that day will leave you with neither root nor branch. If you are in Him, looking ahead to that coming day should be a source of great comfort. The sun of righteousness will right every wrong and give you eternal peace and joy.

Discussion Questions

  1. How much should we emphasize God’s judgment when we present the gospel to someone?
  2. Should we mourn or rejoice over the thought of God’s coming judgment? Consider both Luke 19:41-44 & Rev. 18:20.
  3. Why is the doctrine that God will annihilate the wicked incompatible with Scripture?
  4. Discuss: The extent to which we dislike the doctrine of hell reveals our inadequate understanding both of God’s holiness and man’s sin.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Comfort, Eschatology (Things to Come)

From the series: Malachi PREVIOUS PAGE

Lesson 12: Reconciled Families (Malachi 4:4-6)

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A boy once asked his father, “Dad, how do wars begin?” “Well, take the First World War,” said his father. “That got started when Germany invaded Belgium.” Immediately his wife interrupted, “Tell the boy the truth. It began because somebody was murdered.” The husband drew himself up with an air of superiority and snapped back, “”Are you answering the question, or am I?”

Turning her back on him in a huff, the wife walked out of the room and slammed the door as hard as she could. When the dishes stopped rattling in the cupboard, an uneasy silence followed, broken at length by the son. “Dad, you don’t have to tell me any more. I know now!”

It is not news that American families are fracturing at an alarming rate. Only 34 percent of all children born in America will live with both biological parents through age eighteen. Seventy percent of African-American babies and 19 percent of white babies in the United States are born out of wedlock. Most will never know their fathers, let alone experience their love (source, James Dobson newsletter, March, 2002).

If those statistics were only “out there,” it would be alarming enough. But evangelical Christians don’t fare much better than the world when it comes to fractured families. At a recent pastors and wives conference that Marla and I attended, the speaker said that he grew up in an evangelical family, but his parents’ faith never quite connected with the way that they related to one another in the home. That’s tragic, in light of the fact that the second great commandment is to love one another! What good is our faith if it doesn’t result in daily loving relationships in our families?

Malachi’s parting shot tells us how to have reconciled families. It is significant that this is also God’s parting shot to His people for 400 years. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. After him, there was no fresh word from the Lord for four long centuries, until John the Baptist began preaching in the wilderness. In His parting shot, God speaks to His people about reconciled families. It is not a minor subject: God indicates that the only alternative to reconciled families is His curse upon the land! Our families are the building blocks of our churches and of our entire society. If our families fracture en masse, we will have a fractured nation. It’s vital that we all follow God’s directives on how to have reconciled families.

Many commentators interpret “fathers” in verse 6 to refer to the Jewish patriarchs, and “children” to refer to the disobedient people of Malachi’s day. I reject that interpretation for two reasons. First, in 2:10-16, we have already seen that the people in Malachi’s day were intermarrying with unbelievers and experiencing fractured families. Second, Malachi here does not just refer to the children being reconciled to their fathers, but also the fathers to the children. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob didn’t need to be reconciled to the people of Malachi’s day. So I interpret it in the normal sense, to refer to literal fathers and children being reconciled.

There is a progression here: First, there was personal alienation from God due to neglecting His Word (4:4). Next, there was family alienation (4:6a). If that were not corrected, the final step would be national deterioration (4:6b). God’s remedy for the nation was to send Elijah the prophet to call the people to repentance before the day of judgment (4:5). God only sends judgment if we reject His offer of mercy. These people were indifferent to God’s great love (1:2). So they needed first to get right with God by obedience to His Word and then to get right with one another. These are the two great commandments that sum up all of the Law and Prophets. Malachi is saying,

The key to reconciled families is that we obey God’s Word.

That may strike you as an overly simplistic answer to complex problems. You may protest, “That answer ignores my abusive father and all of the emotional pain that I have suffered as a result!” You may say, “That answer glosses over the poor communication that causes friction between my spouse and me!” “That answer doesn’t help me deal with my rebellious teenager.”

I grant that it’s not always easy to get to the root of these problems and it’s not easy to apply the solution. But I contend that virtually all of our relational problems in our families stem from disobedience to God’s Word on the part of at least one, and almost always more than one, family member. If we obeyed God’s Word, we would love Him fervently, and we would love one another as we do in fact love ourselves. We would treat others as we wish to be treated. Since God’s Word is sufficient to equip us for all of life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), we do not need to go to therapists to get in touch with our feelings and to learn to cope with our rage. We need to go deeper with God through His Word!

Let’s look then at the root cause of fractured families:

1. Family alienation results from forgetting and disobeying God’s Word.

Sin always results in alienation, both toward God and toward one another. When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God and they suffered distance in their own relationship. Adam began to blame Eve (and God) for his problems (Gen. 3:12). Sin leads to guilt; guilt not properly dealt with leads to blame; blame leads to anger and alienation. Pride causes us to justify ourselves and to attack the other person.

This is a basic pattern that applies to all relationships. One party wrongs the other party. That party retaliates with anger or resentment or some way to “even the score.” Instead of humbling themselves before God, asking His forgiveness, and then asking forgiveness of the other party, both sides begin blaming each other. The increasing blame and anger create further distance and alienation. At the bottom of the whole cycle is the root sin of pride.

What is the solution? God says (4:4), “Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statues and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.” “Remember” is used 14 times in Deuteronomy with regard to the law. It means not only to recall what the law says, but also to obey it (Craig Blaising, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. by John Walvoord and Roy Zuck [Victor Books], 1:1587). Note that, contrary to liberal critics, Malachi believed that God inspired Moses to write the first five books of the Old Testament! John Calvin observed, “God makes himself here the author of the law, that all the godly might reverently receive it as coming from him” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker reprint], on the Minor Prophets, p. 625). There is a threefold progression:

A. We forget God’s Word.

Forgetting assumes prior knowledge! Some may need to back up a step and learn God’s Word in the first place! I am appalled at how many Christians have never even read through their Bibles once, let alone repeatedly. I have read through the Bible many times, and each time I find many things that I forgot from the last time. My brain leaks! So God says, “Remember My law!” If we forget it, we won’t obey it.

B. We disobey God’s Word.

As the Lord accused this people (3:7), “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them.” As we’ve seen, every time Malachi confronted them they protested, “What do you mean? How can you say these mean things about us?” They were disobeying God, but because they had forgotten His Word, they didn’t even know that they were disobeying! They were blaming God because things weren’t going well for them, but it never occurred to them that the problem might lie with them, not with God.

Proverbs 19:3 (New Living Translation) says, “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.” I encounter this all the time. People come for counsel because they are having severe family problems. I don’t have to listen long before I can see that they are violating God’s Word in many ways. But, invariably, they moan, “Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” Like the people of Malachi’s day, they are blind to their own disobedience because they have forgotten God’s Word.

C. We experience alienation.

God never divorces the spiritual from the relational, although we often do. We’re prone to say, “Things are fine between the Lord and me, but that wife of mine! Those kids of mine! Those parents of mine!” But God connects our relationship with Him and our relationship with others. The apostle John bluntly says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20; see also, Matt. 5:23-24).

When fathers turn away from obedience to God’s Word, the result will always be alienation between them and their children. Scripture is clear that fathers should not be angry and harsh with their children (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). The fruit of the Spirit includes love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, whereas the deeds of the flesh include strife and outbursts of anger (Gal. 5:19-23). “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). There are many more such verses—it’s not as if the Bible rarely mentions this!

Yet so many professing Christian fathers are perpetually angry with their children. They sound like a drill sergeant, yelling and barking orders at their kids. When they correct them, they sound like they’re correcting their dog. They don’t bring their anger under the control of the Holy Spirit, and they never humble themselves before their kids to ask forgiveness when they sin. They don’t demonstrate to their kids the gracious love of Jesus. Then when the kids hit their teen years and rebel, the dad shakes his head and says, “After all that I’ve done for that kid, I just don’t understand why he’s giving us all this trouble!” When we forget and disobey God’s Word, we will experience family alienation.

How do we reverse the process and experience reconciliation in our families?

2. Family reconciliation results from remembering and obeying God’s Word.

The entire Bible is a manual of relationships: How to be rightly related to God and to your fellow man (the two great commandments). It explains why we are alienated from God (our sin), and how we can be reconciled to God through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It tells us how to maintain a close walk with God through daily faith, obedience, and repentance. It explains why we are alienated from one another (same reason: our sin) and how to be reconciled to one another through following God’s commandments in all our relationships. To reverse the cycle…

A. We need to remember God’s Word.

You can’t obey it if you don’t remember what it says. You can’t remember what it says if you haven’t diligently studied it in the first place. But we can’t use our lack of knowledge or our short memories as a valid excuse for disobedience. Much could be said here, but I limit myself to two observations:

1) You only remember what you already know.

That sounds so obvious as to be ridiculous, but it is not. Many Christians disobey God’s Word all over the place, often through ignorance. But when they start reaping the consequences of their disobedience, they blame God or they blame others. But at the root of their problems is the fact that they never learned God’s Word in the first place.

Dorothy Sayers (referred to on a tape by Dr. Haddon Robinson) pointed out that there are two kinds of laws: man-made laws, and natural laws. A man-made law, for example, would be a city’s parking ordinances. A natural law would be, “If you put your hand in the fire, you will get burned.” Natural laws are not affected by man. The city council could pass a resolution that said, “You can now put your hand into the fire and not be burned.” I wouldn’t advise you to test that city law!

Sayers points out that the law of God is like the natural law. You don’t break it without it turning around and breaking you. It has built-in consequences. The human race can get together and agree that it’s okay now to engage in premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, and abortion. We can decide that anger is not a sin; it’s just a natural human emotion. But our opinions and resolutions do not alter the law of God. He has ordained that if we sow to the flesh, we will reap from the flesh destruction (Gal. 6:8). If a man sticks his hand into the fire and then complains, “I didn’t know that it would burn me,” his ignorance doesn’t alter the fact that he got burned. The fire burns everyone, even those who are ignorant of its characteristics. Sin destroys people and relationships, even when those sinning don’t realize that they are sinning.

So if you want to remember God’s Word, you must apply yourself to learn what it says. Read it over and over. Memorize key verses that tell you how to love others. You will only remember and obey what you already know.

2) You remember what you regard as important.

I’ve heard many complain that they just can’t remember what the Bible says. They say, “I’ve just got a bad memory.” But that is seldom the case. Unless you’re suffering from a brain disease, like Alzheimer’s, you can remember the things that are important to you. The key is to regard the information as important.

Marla and I often chuckle over the different things that we each remember. I once heard her talking with one of our daughters about the color of the table settings at a wedding reception. As far as I can recall, they must have had table settings, or we couldn’t have eaten there, and I would have remembered that! Or, sometimes we will talk about someone new that we met at church. She will ask me, “What was she wearing?” I’ll say, “I know she was clothed, but beyond that, I can’t remember!” The details weren’t important to me, so I forgot.

A main reason we forget God’s Word is that we don’t regard it as crucial for our survival. You’ve got to come to the place where you see that this Book holds the answers to life’s most important issues. It tells you how to know God and walk with Him, and how to love your neighbor, including the neighbors who live under the same roof as you do. Remember God’s Word!

B. We need to obey God’s Word.

Both Moses and Elijah are mentioned in our text. Moses wrote the law, the first five books of the Old Testament. Elijah symbolizes the prophets, although he did not write any prophetic books. “The law and the prophets” was a common way of referring to the entire Old Testament (Luke 24:27, 32).

As I said in our study of Malachi 3:1, there is a double fulfillment of this prophecy about Elijah. John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah as the forerunner of Christ in His first coming (Luke 1:17; Matt. 17:10-13). Before Christ’s second coming, another will come, probably Elijah himself, to give people one last chance to repent before judgment (Matt. 17:11; Rev. 11:3-6). The application for us is that we need to obey all of God’s Word, especially as it relates to our family relationships. Note two things:

1) God’s Word contains commandments.

God didn’t give Moses some helpful hints for happy living. He commanded Moses statutes and ordinances for all Israel. God’s moral and relational commandments are not just for the Old Testament era. Living under grace does not mean living without commandments. Believers under grace are given all sorts of commandments, including the oft-repeated command to love one another. If you are not acting in love toward your family members, including your church family, you are sinning! Obedience to God’s commandments is not legalism. Legalism is when a person tries to earn acceptance with God or status from others by outward behavior. Obedience to God’s commands should stem from the heart because of His grace and love toward us. But the point is, loving one another is not just a nice thing to do when you feel like doing it. It is God’s commandment.

2) God’s Word is often very confrontational.

God doesn’t say, “Behold, I am going to send a therapist to help you work through your rage toward your emotionally abusive father!” He promised to send Elijah the prophet. Elijah was probably the most confrontational prophet in the Old Testament. So was John the Baptist, who called his audience a brood of vipers.

If God’s Word steps on your toes, welcome to the club! That’s what it is designed to do. We wouldn’t budge from our selfish, sinful ways if it didn’t clobber us once in a while. The Jews didn’t like the confrontational way that Malachi ended his prophecy, talking about a curse on the land if they didn’t obey. So in the Hebrew Bible, verse 5 is repeated after verse 6, and in the Septuagint, verse 4 is repeated after verse 6. In fact, they did the same thing at the endings of Isaiah, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes.

But the Lord knew that our proud, stubborn hearts need some direct confrontation as the parting shot to remember. We need an occasional Elijah to get in our face so that we will deal with our sins and be ready for the coming great and terrible day of the Lord. That’s one of the great benefits of reading the Bible consistently: it is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). It will hit you with your sins.

You may be thinking, “I thought that God is love. Confronting me sounds judgmental.” But what can be more loving than to shout a warning at someone heading toward destruction? God’s warnings through His Word stem from His love. We will experience His love personally and in our families if we submit to His Word by correcting our sinful behavior.

C. Family reconciliation will result from obedience.

The hearts of fathers will be restored to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. One mark of true conversion is when the bitterness of past alienation between fathers and children is healed and their hearts are reunited in love.

Maybe you’re wondering, “Steve, why are you mentioning fathers, but not mothers?” The answer is, the text mentions fathers. We can easily extend everything I’ve said to mothers. If they obey God’s Word by dealing with their sin, they will be reconciled to their children. But I mention fathers because so many American men, even Christian men, are relationally passive in their homes. They leave the spiritual training of their children to their wives. They put in excessive time on the job, rationalizing it by saying that they are showing their love by providing for their families. But if you are an absent, passive father, or if you are not relating to your family in God’s love, you are not providing what they need most.

When you begin to obey God by judging your anger, by demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit towards your family, and by setting an example of walking with God, He will bring healing into your home. It won’t happen all at once, but it will begin. If you have been sinning against your wife and children by not loving them, first ask God’s forgiveness. Then ask your family’s forgiveness, and begin to obey God by walking in love, just as Christ loved you and gave Himself up on the cross (Eph. 5:2).

Conclusion

Former First Lady, Barbara Bush, spoke these words several years ago at a college commencement:

As important as your obligation as a doctor, a lawyer, or a business leader will be, you are a human being first, and those human connections with spouses, with children, with friends are the most important investments you will ever make. At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent. Our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens inside your house. (Reader’s Digest [1/91], pp. 157-158.)

What should happen inside your house and mine is that we obey God’s Word so that our hearts turn toward one another in love. The alternative is that God will come and smite the land with a curse.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it simplistic to say that virtually all of our family problems stem from disobedience to God’s Word? Why/why not?
  2. When I preach on obedience, there are always some who label the message “legalistic.” Why is obedience not legalism? What is legalism?
  3. Suppose someone says, “It’s better for my children to live in a single-parent home than in one where there is constant fighting.” What would you say?
  4. Does the Bible label all feelings as neutral? Are some feelings sinful? How do we deal with sinful emotions?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Children, Christian Home, Fathers, Fellowship, Forgiveness, Marriage, Mothers, Parenting, Relationships

Lesson 1: Putting First Things First (Haggai 1:1-15)

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Every day you exchange a day of your life for something. It’s as if at the start of life each of us were issued a certain number of coins. They’re hidden inside a large machine so that we don’t know how many we were issued or how many we have left. Each day, the machine issues us a new coin. It may be the last coin we get, or we may get many more. All we know is that the average person in America gets between 70 and 80 years’ worth, but some get far less; a few may get more.

You take each day’s coin and exchange it for something: a day at work or school, shopping, church, leisure, or whatever. Once spent, you can never get the coins back to spend them differently. The art of living wisely is largely a matter of spending your coins on the things that really matter in light of eternity and not frivolously wasting them. Living wisely is difficult because often the choice is not between the bad and the good, but between the good and the best.

The Book of Haggai, second shortest in the Old Testament, has a potent message. It tells us to put first things first in our lives. It was written to people, like us, who would have told you that God must be first. They believed that; we believe that. But, they had drifted into a way of life where their intellectual belief in the supremacy of God was not reflected in the way they were living. They gave lip service to the priority of God, but in fact they lived with other priorities. God sent this prophet to help His people get their priorities in line with what they knew they should be.

The historical setting is the early chapters of Ezra (see Ezra 5:1). In 536 B.C., a remnant of about 50,000 Jews had returned from Babylon to Judah under the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia. They quickly rebuilt the altar and began offering sacrifices. Two years after returning, they had laid the foundation to rebuild the temple. Their Samaritan neighbors had offered to join in the work, but the Jews refused their offer. The Samaritans, in turn, threatened the workers and sent men to Persia to lobby against the Jews, bringing the work to a halt.

At least 14 years had passed. The people got caught up in the routine of life—farming, building houses, raising families, and that sort of thing. They got used to life without a temple. Even their leaders, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, had gotten used to things as they were. Into that scene, God raised up Haggai and (two months later) Zechariah to proclaim His message to this returned remnant.

The Book of Haggai consists of four precisely dated messages from the Lord. The first (1:1-15) was on the first day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius (1:1, August 29, 520 B.C.). The second (2:1-9) came on the 21st of the seventh month (2:1, October 17th). The third (2:10-19) and fourth (2:20-23) messages came on the same day, the 24th of the ninth month (2:10, 20; December 18th). To sum up the first message:

God will grant true blessing when we put His house first.

Charles Feinberg (The Minor Prophets [Moody Press], p. 240) put it, “In short, Haggai is saying, ‘Give God the supreme place in your life.’” Or, as Jesus put it, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). We all know this, but …

1. We all are prone to put our prosperity above God’s house.

This is the default mode on all of our fallen “computers”! If we give no thought to how we’re living, we will naturally live for our agendas, not for God’s. All of us who have trusted Christ as Savior know (intellectually) that it is foolish and vain to live for the things of this world. We know that these things never deliver the satisfaction that they promise. We know that we will not find true happiness apart from God. And yet we keep drifting towards loving the world if we don’t fight against it. Note four things about those who put their prosperity above God’s house:

A. Those who put their prosperity above God’s house are often committed believers.

We would not understand Haggai’s message properly if we forgot that the people to whom he was speaking had made the difficult commitment to leave their established way of life in Babylon and make the dangerous journey back to the land of promise. They had homes and jobs in Babylon. Most of them had been born and raised there. But they knew that God’s purpose for His people involved the Promised Land. By faith they had responded to the call to return and had committed themselves to the hardships of getting re-established in the land that had been devastated by war. Probably most of them made that commitment because of their commitment to God.

Shortly after returning, they had made an attempt to rebuild the Temple, but the opposition had stopped the project. Gradually, they had lost their vision and had drifted into a lifestyle where God’s house was no longer the priority. They probably viewed it as nice, but not necessary; extra, but not essential.

We need to see ourselves in this picture. If you know Christ, there was a time when you made a personal commitment to Him. You decided to follow Jesus, as the chorus goes. At first, you were zealous for spiritual things. You read your Bible every day. You got involved with groups like Campus Crusade or Inter-Varsity during college. You got involved serving in a local church. But perhaps your efforts met with difficulties. You had a personality clash with another Christian, or you were disillusioned with the disappointing results, or you encountered personal trials that God didn’t remove, even after much prayer.

Meanwhile, life moved on. You started a career and a family. You had bills to pay and other demands on your time. Church and the Lord’s work drifted into the background. You still attend church as often as you can, but it has become a slice of life, not the center. You tell yourself that you just don’t have time to serve as you used to. Someone else who doesn’t have the responsibilities that you have will have to get involved. Without deliberately rebelling against God, you have drifted into putting your house above God’s house. When your conscience nags, you have reasons to explain why things are this way:

B. Those who put their prosperity above God’s house have “reasons” (excuses) for their lifestyles.

They were saying, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt” (1:2). If you had asked them why the temple had not been built, they would have responded, “Don’t get me wrong! I’m all for rebuilding the Temple. It’s a great cause. But the timing just isn’t right. We’re in an economic downturn right now. Everyone’s pinched for money. There aren’t enough good jobs. It’s all I can do to provide for my family. But times will get better, and then we’ll rebuild the temple!”

Again, we must see ourselves here! We’re all prone to make up excuses for why we are not obedient to put God first with the time and money He entrusts to us. Sometimes we even use the Bible to support our excuses. “The Bible says that if a man doesn’t provide for his own family, he’s worse than an unbeliever and has denied the faith! I’m just trying to obey that verse by providing for my family. But someday I’ll have all the kids through college and the bills paid, and then we’ll give more to the Lord’s work.” Or, “This is a hectic time in our family life. The kids demand so much attention. Every day is taken up with meeting their needs. But someday we’ll be through this phase, and then we’ll get involved in the church.”

C. Those who put their prosperity above God’s house are blind to God’s chastening hand.

The people in Haggai’s day were having problems. They sowed plenty of seed, but there was a drought and the crops didn’t yield as much as they had hoped. That meant that they had less to sow the following year, even though they needed to make up for the previous bad year. No matter how hard they tried, they just seemed to be spinning their wheels. Inflation seemed to gobble up the little bit that they earned. It was like putting money into a bag with holes (1:6). By the end of the month, there was nothing left. Of course the hard times meant that they didn’t have any extra to give toward the temple building fund. But surely God understood their difficult circumstances!

What they didn’t see was that God not only understood their circumstances, He had caused them! They were working harder but going behind faster, but they hadn’t stopped to consider that God was trying to tell them something. Haggai came along and said, “Hey, folks, it’s God who controls the rain and the harvest. He is withholding His blessing because your priorities are not right! Put His house first and He will bless you. Seek first His kingdom and all these things will be added unto you.”

People who slip into putting their prosperity above God’s kingdom have lost the spiritual perspective they need to get out of the quicksand they’ve fallen into. They’re working for the food that perishes, but not for the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27). They’re forgetting that if their ways are pleasing to the Lord, He will give them all that they really need. They need to stop and consider that they are working against God, who merely blows on their take-home pay and scatters it (1:9). He does that to get them to reconsider their mixed up priorities.

D. Those who put their prosperity above God’s house never get what they’re after.

Some of these people had a measure of material success. They lived in fine, paneled houses (1:4). But the point of verses 6 & 9-11 is, even if you get what you’re working for, it never satisfies. Solomon, who tried money, fame, knowledge, sensual pleasure, and everything a man could dream of, ended up cynically saying, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” (Eccl. 1:2). In the words of the Rolling Stones, “I can’t get no satisfaction”!

What good does it do to work hard all your life so that you can retire and enjoy the good things in life, if a month after your retirement, you have a heart attack and die? You have just put your wages into a purse with holes! What good does it do to build bigger barns to hold your increased wealth if God says, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” (Luke 12:20)?

History is strewn with people that devoted themselves to climbing the ladder of worldly success, only to find out too late that it was leaning against the wrong wall! Sadly, some of those people have been God’s people who just drifted downstream with the world. The truth is, only God can satisfy your soul. As Jesus promised, when we put God and His kingdom first, He gives us all the material things we need. But we have to fight constantly the drift toward wrong priorities.

2. We must deliberately and continually put God’s house above our prosperity.

Let me clarify what I mean by “God’s house.” In our text, of course, it refers to the temple in Jerusalem, which was the center for worshiping God. Although God is everywhere, the temple was the place on earth where God dwelled in a special sense. He revealed His glory there. The sacrifices offered there pointed ahead to the coming of God’s Messiah, Jesus, who would offer Himself as God’s final and complete sacrifice for our sins. To allow the Temple to lay in ruins was to neglect the worship of God. It was to have inverted priorities, and as James Boice puts it, “in the final analysis all inverted priorities are idolatry. They put the creation before the Creator” (The Minor Prophets [Baker], 2:469).

In the church age, God’s temple is not a physical building, but rather, His people, both individually and corporately (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). God dwells in individual human hearts, and together we are being built into the temple or house of God (Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:5). To make God’s house the priority in life means that your number one aim is to make your body a fit dwelling for the Holy Spirit and to devote yourself to building others in Christ so that their lives are a proper dwelling for God. It means that your main goal is to know Christ at home in your heart by faith and to do all that you can to help others do the same. Note two things:

A. To put God’s house above material prosperity requires deliberate and continual effort.

As I said, our default mode is to put material prosperity above spiritual prosperity. That is the strong pull of the world. If we want to go God’s way, we have to fight every inch of the way.

It is striking that in contrast to many of the prophets, like Jeremiah, who preached all their lives to stubborn and disobedient people, Haggai preached and the people obeyed! It started with the leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua (1:12). That took humility on their part. It would have been easy for them as the political and spiritual leaders to resist Haggai’s message in order to preserve their esteem in the eyes of the community. “Who does this upstart prophet think that he is? We’ve never heard of him before. He has no credentials. He just comes along and says, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts’ and we’re supposed to believe him?” Yes, they were, and thankfully they did!

It’s interesting that proportionately, Haggai claims to speak the word of the Lord more than any other prophet in Scripture (25 times in 38 verses) and he refers to God as “the Lord of hosts” 14 times. He is saying, “God is the Lord over all the armies of heaven and earth, and I am bringing you His message, so you’d better listen!” In this case, the people did listen and obey.

The application is that we must accept the Bible as the authoritative word of the Lord of hosts and submit to it. When it confronts the way we live, we can either resist it by making up more excuses, or we can obey it. But one-time obedience is not enough. We must deliberately and continually obey if we want to keep our priorities in order. How do we do that?

B. To put God’s house above material prosperity requires constant self-evaluation in the fear of God.

Twice the Lord tells the people, “Consider your ways” (1:5, 7). That means to stop long enough in your busy schedule to evaluate your life in the light of God’s Word and fearing Him (1:12).

(1) How are you spending your time? These people had plenty of time for themselves, but they didn’t have time for God. Rearrange your schedule!

(2) How are you spending your money, which is really Gods money? These folks claimed that they had to get their own houses built first, and then they could build God’s house. That was backwards. God says that we are to give Him the first fruits, off the top. We are to give Him the best. We are managers of all that He has given us, to invest it profitably for His kingdom.

(3) What are your goals? What is it that you’re aiming at in life? If you live to an old age, what do you want to look back on as far as accomplishments?

(4) What do you think about the most? What secretly occupies your thought life? Do you dream of getting rich, of achieving fame, of some hobby or leisure pursuit, or do you think about the Lord and how He wants you to spend your life?

(5) Who are your heroes or models? Whom do you most admire? Whom would you like to be like? Why?

(6) Who are your friends? Whom do you like to spend time with? Why do you like to be with them?

(7) How do you spend your leisure time? When you have time off, how do you spend it? Do you watch TV? Do you live for sports? Do you hang out with friends? How does your leisure time reflect and affect your devotion to Jesus Christ?

It’s helpful to write down your goals and re-evaluate every so often to see where you’re at. Otherwise, you drift off course.

Undergirding all of these questions should be the fear of God (1:12). Some think that the fear of God is an Old Testament concept, and that we are to focus on His love. But the New Testament has plenty of references to fearing God (Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 5:21; Col. 3:22; 1 Pet. 2:17; Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 19:5). While we do not need to fear His final judgment if we are in Christ, Peter tells us, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Pet. 1:17).

What is the result when we reverently obey God by putting His house above our material prosperity?

3. When we put God’s house above our prosperity, He is pleased and glorified, His work gets done, and He truly blesses us.

A. When we put God’s house above our prosperity, He is pleased and glorified (1:8).

God is looking for pleasure and glory from His people. The main problem when we fail to put His house first is that we are indifferent to His glory. I commend to you John Piper’s deep, but worth wrestling with, Gods Passion for His Glory [Crossway Books], which includes the full text of Jonathan Edwards’ The End for Which God Created the World. God created and called a people for Himself for His glory (Isa. 43:7). Our aim should be God’s glory.

B. When we put God’s house above our prosperity, His work gets done.

The Lord stirred up the hearts of the leaders and the people (1:14), “and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.” While we are responsible to get our priorities in order, when we do it, it is because God has moved in our hearts. As I said recently, whatever you do to pay bills, the chief business of every Christian is to extend the kingdom of God.

C. When we put God’s house above our prosperity, He truly blesses us.

When the people obeyed, God sent word, “I am with you” (1:13). If we have God with us, we have everything. If God is with us and for us, who can be against us (Rom. 8:31)? If God seems distant in your life, perhaps your priorities have gotten mixed up. When you put God truly in first place, you experience a new awareness of His presence. That is true blessing!

Conclusion

I’ve shared before the story of the time management expert who was speaking to a group of business students. He pulled out a large, wide-mouth jar and filled it with fist-sized rocks. When he couldn’t put any more in, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

The class responded, “Yes.” He said, “Really?” Then he pulled out a bucket of gravel and poured it in, shaking it down through the cracks. Then he asked, “Is the jar full?”

The students were onto him, so they said, “No.” “Good,” he replied. He dumped in a bucket of sand. Once more he asked, “Is the jar full?” “No,” they shouted. Again he said, “Good.” He poured in a pitcher of water until the jar was full to the brim.

Then he asked, “What is the point of the illustration?” One student ventured, “No matter how full your schedule, if you try hard, you can always fit more in.”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that is not the point. The point is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.” (First Things First, by Stephen Covey, Roger & Rebecca Merrill [Simon & Schuster], pp. 88-89.)

What should your “big rocks” be? God and His house! Put them into your life first!

Discussion Questions

  1. Should every Christian put God and His house first, or is this just for “full-time” Christian workers? Defend biblically.
  2. How can a Christian succeed in a career if he puts God’s house first? Does God want Christians to excel in their careers?
  3. Is it okay for a Christian to have and enjoy nice things? Where do we draw the line? Is “luxury” sin?
  4. To what extent (if any) is the notion of retirement biblical? How should Christians view their “retirement” years?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship, Finance

Lesson 2: God’s Encouragement for Discouraged Servants (Haggai 2:1-9)

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The famous inventor, Thomas Edison, tried again and again to find the right filament for the incandescent electric light bulb. One day he had completed his 10,000th experiment only to discover another way that would not work. When he arrived home that night, he shared this bit of news with his wife. “Aren’t you pretty discouraged, Tom?” she asked. “Discouraged?” responded Edison. “Certainly not! I now know 10,000 ways that won’t work!”

Perseverance seems to be an outdated concept in our day of instant everything. If it doesn’t come easy, why pursue it? If it’s hard or requires endurance, maybe it isn’t your thing.

It’s easy to start a new diet. It’s tough to stick to it when you crave that cinnamon roll. It’s easy to start a new exercise program. It’s tough to persevere when your aching muscles scream, “No more!” It’s easy to get married. It’s tough to hang in there and work through problems over a lifetime. It’s easy to begin a new ministry in the local church. It’s tough to keep on when problems arise or when the results don’t match your initial expectations.

That describes the people in Haggai’s day, just shy of a month after they had obeyed his first message and resumed work on rebuilding the temple. The foundation had been laid about 15 years before, but the project had been set on the shelf. But now, in response to Haggai’s word from the Lord, the leaders and people had begun to rebuild on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month of the second year of Darius (Sept. 21, 520 B.C.; 1:15). The seventh month in Israel began with the Feast of Trumpets on the first day, followed by the Day of Atonement on the tenth day. Then the Feast of Tabernacles went from the 15th to the 21st. On the last day of that feast (Oct. 17th), Haggai delivered his second message to the people (2:1-9). It is a message of God’s encouragement to discouraged workers. We learn that …

God encourages His discouraged servants to persevere in His work.

These verses teach us three things about persevering by turning our discouragement in serving the Lord into encouragement:

1. God understands and cares about the discouragement we face in serving Him (2:1-3).

The Lord did not gloss over or ignore the reality of the situation. He knew what they were thinking and feeling, and He brings it up to show them that He understood and that He cared for them. If we do not keep in mind that in all our troubles the Lord understands and cares for us, we will easily become discouraged. The text and historical context reveal several potential sources of discouragement when we get involved in serving the Lord:

A. The loss of initial excitement can discourage us.

There is always a certain sense of excitement when you begin a new ministry or project. But the glow easily rubs off in the grind. There were probably piles of rubble that needed to be removed. Perhaps some of the workers had envisioned putting the finishing touches on some gold work or other craftsmanship, but they hadn’t thought about hauling rubble. Their initial enthusiasm was already wearing thin.

The summer after I graduated from seminary, I was involved with a group of men in starting a new church that was branching off of an existing church. We received some wise counsel from the elders of the mother church. They said, “What you’re doing now is new and exciting. But the time will come when the glamour wears off and then you’ll need to know that God has called you to this work and persevere in it.” The leaders did persevere, because last year I received an email from the pastor telling me that they were celebrating their 25th anniversary.

B. Delays can discourage us.

Work for the Lord seldom moves as quickly as we had hoped. Perhaps working around the numerous feasts and Sabbath days in the seventh month had dampened the initial enthusiasm because the work was going so slowly. It’s easy for that to happen in anything we do for the Lord, and the delays get us down.

C. Outside opposition and criticism can discourage us.

In verse 5, the Lord says, “Do not fear!” He would not say that unless they had a reason to be afraid. Probably the same men who had threatened them and lobbied against them at the Persian court 15 years before were at it again. Any time you attempt to do God’s work, Satan will stir up opposition. We’re in a battle with the forces of darkness that are opposed to the church of Jesus Christ. Expect opposition!

D. Inside pessimism, comparisons, and faulty expectations can discourage us.

When I began in ministry, I naively thought that most of the opposition would come from outside the church. Boy, was I wrong! Most opposition comes from within, and it takes different forms.

One common form is pessimism. “We tried that before. It won’t work!” When they had laid the foundation years before, there was great joy mixed with weeping (Ezra 3:11-13). The young people who had not known the glory of the former temple were rejoicing. But the old-timers, who had seen Solomon’s Temple, wept at this new temple, because it just didn’t measure up. Although they would be in their seventies or older by now, a few were still around when the work got started again. Maybe they were saying, “God’s blessing just isn’t on this temple!” Pessimism!

A second form of inside opposition comes from those who drop little comparisons on you. The old-timers were saying, “You should have seen Solomon’s Temple. Now that was a temple! This new one is hardly worth calling a temple compared to the old one!” Sometimes people will say, “That church on the other side of town really has their act together!” (Implication: You don’t!) Or, “Have you ever heard Chuck Swindoll preach? He’s really good! You ought to listen to him.” Thanks for the encouragement!

And then there are those who have faulty expectations. This usually operates in conjunction with comparisons. “Where is all the gold? Solomon’s Temple was lined with gold. Why isn’t this one?” I’ve had people tell me about their former pastors who must never have slept and changed into their pastor uniforms in a phone booth! These pastors would visit everyone in the church, preach superb sermons (with great illustrations), attend all the youth activities, and always have time for drop ins. Besides that, they never neglected their families! Implication: “Why aren’t you like they are?”

E. A wrong view of success can discourage us.

Some view success externally rather than internally (or spiritually). “This temple isn’t as big as Solomon’s Temple was. This temple doesn’t have all the gold and fancy workmanship that Solomon’s Temple did.” But God says through Haggai, “I own all the gold and silver in the world, and I could cover this temple with gold if I wanted to. But I’m going to do something better. Instead of gold, I’m going to fill this temple with glory, the glory of My Messiah” (paraphrase of 2:7-9).

God doesn’t view things as we do. Just because one church isn’t as big or outwardly slick as another church doesn’t mean anything to God. A church may have a multi-million dollar facility, but if it doesn’t honor God’s Word or promote His glory among the nations, that facility is a big pile of wood, hay, and stubble! God is looking for the glory of Christ formed in the hearts of His people, not for the outward, superficial signs of success.

Another wrong view of success is the instant view as opposed to the eternal. None of the workers on this temple lived to see its glory exceed that of Solomon’s Temple. That didn’t happen until Messiah came into this temple over 500 years later, and even then many missed it! God says, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land” (2:6). While there may have been a partial fulfillment of that prophecy within a few years of Haggai’s day (in the overthrow of powerful kingdoms), the ultimate fulfillment is still future in our day! God will shake all the nations at the Second Coming of Christ, and they will bring the wealth of the nations to His temple in the Millennium.

If the people in Haggai’s day were viewing success from the short range, they would have been very discouraged. With God, a thousand years is as a day. True success will be measured in the light of eternity, not in our lifetimes. We need to keep this in mind as we labor for the Lord. The harvest is at the end of the age, not at the end of the meeting. God’s timing is not our timing.

Whatever our source of discouragement, God understands and He cares. But He doesn’t coddle us or let us stay there.

2. God’s word to us when we discouraged in serving Him is to persevere (2:4a).

Three times the Lord repeats, “Be strong!” (“Take courage!”) And He tells them to work. Keep going! Persevere! There are two aspects to this kind of perseverance: an attitude and an action.

A. Perseverance requires the right attitude: Be strong!

The people had the wrong attitude. They were weak because they had gotten their focus off the Lord and onto the slow, disappointing progress on the temple. Maybe they were thinking, “This will never get done. We’re just wasting our time!”

Have you ever noticed how much your attitude affects your ability to persevere? If you’re motivated, you can stay up all night on some project. But if you get discouraged, you procrastinate and never get around to finishing it.

We hear about many pastors burning out and quitting the ministry. While in some cases the cause of burnout is not properly managing one’s schedule, often the real cause is an attitude of discouragement because of setbacks or disappointments. I recently read that 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression. Eighty percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their ministries. I think every pastor should feel unqualified (2 Cor. 2:16), but not discouraged. As Americans, we’re far too emotionally fragile. Someone offends us, so we get our feelings hurt and drop out of service. Someone doesn’t do what we had expected, so we quit. Someone criticizes what we’re doing, and we say, “I’m out of here!”

But God says, “Be strong!” We aren’t to be strong in our own strength, of course, but in God’s strength (2 Cor. 3:5). But, be strong! Have the attitude that hangs in there in spite of obstacles. The real question is not how do we see things, but how does God see things? If we have not factored God into the equation, we don’t see things in the right perspective.

Do you remember the story of the 12 spies who went into the land of Canaan? Ten of them came back focused on the giants in the land and said, “We’re like grasshoppers in their sight. We can’t conquer them!” But Joshua and Caleb came back and said, “Because God is with us and He has promised us that land, we will eat them for lunch!” (Num. 14:9, paraphrase). Be strong in attitude!

B. Perseverance requires the right action: Work!

The attitude provides the motivation, but motivation without work won’t get the temple built. Joshua and Caleb had the right attitude of trust in the Lord. But they still had to go into the land and fight the giants. Much of the Lord’s work is far more perspiration than inspiration! That is certainly true of my weekly sermon preparation. These messages don’t come floating down from the sky! I have to work hard to prepare them. Just because you’re gifted in whatever you do for the Lord does not mean that it just flows effortlessly. To persevere we must not only be strong; we also must work.

Thus God encourages us in our service for Him by showing that He understands what we’re feeling and He cares. His word to us is, “Be strong and work!” Finally,

3. God assures us when we are discouraged in serving Him by His presence, His promise, and His prophecy (2:4b-9).

A. God assures us when we are discouraged in serving Him by His presence (2:4b).

After telling Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people to be strong and to work, God adds, ‘“For I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” The Jews may have feared a hostile host against them, but God is the Lord of hosts, the Supreme Ruler over all the armies of heaven and earth. If the Lord of hosts is with us, who can defeat us? If we’re serving Him, then nothing can happen to us accidentally or without His express permission. The assurance of His presence should lift our discouragement and enable us to press on.

After many years of hardship and danger in the heart of Africa, David Livingstone received an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow. On that occasion, he said, “Would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’ On those words I staked everything, and they never failed.”

B. God assures us when we are discouraged in serving Him by His promise (2:5).

“Promise” (2:5) refers to the covenant God made with Israel when they came out of Egypt. He promises them now, as He had then, that His Spirit would go with them and abide in their midst. Therefore, they need not fear.

God has made a better covenant with us than He did with them, the New Covenant, enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6). Jesus sealed that New Covenant with His own blood. He promised us the indwelling Holy Spirit to be with us forever (John 14:16). When we grow discouraged in our service for Him, we should remember His promise, that He would not leave us as orphans, but would come to us and that in the meanwhile, He has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to serve Him.

C. God assures us when we are discouraged in serving Him by His prophecies (2:6-9).

The many prophecies in Scripture are not given for us to speculate about the future, but to strengthen and encourage our faith. When we see how God has worked down through the ages in accordance with what He told His people in advance, it encourages us to keep serving Him, knowing that the remaining unfulfilled prophecies will surely yet be fulfilled.

Commentators differ on when the shaking of heaven and earth and the nations (2:6-7a) would take place. Some say that it referred to God’s stirring up Darius to supply help and materials for this rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 6:6-15). Others say that it refers to God’s bringing future judgment on the Persians, Greeks, and Romans (see James Boice, The Minor Prophets [Baker], 2:476-477). While that may be an initial fulfillment, like many biblical prophecies, there may be multiple fulfillments. In this case, it refers ultimately to the Second Coming of Christ, when God will shake the heavens and the earth (2:21; Joel 3:16; Matt. 24:29; Rev. 16:18-20) and conquer all the rebellious nations (2:22).

Haggai 2:6 is the only verse from this book quoted in the New Testament. In Hebrews 12:26-27, the author states, “And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” This refers to the final judgment when God will destroy the heavens and the earth, prior to establishing a new heavens and earth (2 Pet. 3:10, 12-13; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).

There is also debate about the translation of the phrase, “the wealth of the nations” (2:7). Some translations have it, “the desire of the nations,” which would be a reference to Jesus Christ. While this is possible, both the Hebrew grammar and the reference to silver and gold (2:8) probably tilt the evidence toward “the wealth of the nations,” a reference to the nations in the Millennium bringing their wealth in homage to Jesus Christ.

The Lord also says that He will “fill this house with glory” and that “the latter glory of this house will be greater than the former” (2:7, 9). Again there is some debate. How could Zerubbabel’s temple be greater in glory than Solomon’s? While Herod replaced this temple with more glorious buildings (the temple in Jesus’ time), this verse probably refers to the coming of Jesus into that temple. His presence made it even more glorious than Solomon’s Temple. In the Millennium, His presence as King of Kings and Lord of Lords will surpass the veiled glory of His first coming. In the new heavens and earth, there will be no temple, “for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).

Finally, the Lord promises that in this place He will give peace (2:9). Again, this has multiple fulfillments. In His first coming, Jesus preached peace to both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:17). We have peace with God and with one another when we trust in His shed blood (Rom. 5:1). But true and lasting peace for this world and for Jerusalem will only come when Jesus returns.

We could get hung up on the details of interpreting these prophecies. But the application for us is that since the Lord of hosts has predicted the certain final triumph of the kingdom of His Son, we should be encouraged in our work for Him, knowing that our work in the Lord is never in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

Conclusion

One of the most remarkable examples of a Christian persevering in the Lord’s work is that of William Wilberforce of England (1759-1833). He was converted in 1785. Two years later he gave notice in the House of Commons, where he served, that he would bring a motion for the abolition of the slave trade. This was a hugely lucrative business that brought much income into the British economy. The British plantations in the West Indies depended on slave labor for their profit. Owning slaves was a strong cultural institution. So it was an enormous task to undertake.

Numerous times Wilberforce’s life was threatened. There was political pressure to back down because of the international political ramifications. For example, if Britain outlawed slavery, the West Indian colonies threatened to declare independence from Britain and associate with the United States, which still allowed slavery. But in spite of all of these obstacles, Wilberforce persevered.

Finally, on March 25, 1807, after 20 years of setbacks, Wilberforce prevailed when the House voted to outlaw the slave trade. But the battle wasn’t over. Wilberforce battled on for the next 26 years, until his death, to abolish not only the slave trade, but also slavery itself. The decisive vote on that issue came on July 26, 1833, just three days before Wilberforce died. After 46 years of battle, slavery itself was outlawed in the British Empire.

But Wilberforce wasn’t just a one-issue man. He was also involved heavily in a number of missionary endeavors and in many social causes. He worked to alleviate harsh child labor conditions, for agricultural reform, prison reform, and the prevention of cruelty to animals. And he continually sought to win his colleagues to personal faith in Jesus Christ. (The above facts are taken from John Piper, The Roots of Endurance [Crossway Books], pp. 129-134).

Not many of us can rack up such a record! But we can persevere in whatever the Lord has given us to do for His kingdom. Just as the result of the people’s building the temple in Haggai’s day would bring more glory to God, so our obedience in building His spiritual temple, the church, will glorify Him. If you are discouraged in your service for the Lord, He wants to encourage you to persevere for His glory.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why are so many American Christians “burning out”? Are we too emotionally fragile, or are there other causes?
  2. How can we know if we are too committed to the Lord’s work? Where is the proper balance between work, home, and church commitments?
  3. What discourages you the most in your service for the Lord? How can you prevent and overcome it?
  4. What is a biblical definition of “success” in Christian service?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Comfort, Discipleship, Establish

Lesson 3: Seek First His Righteousness (Haggai 2:10-19)

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When asked what he needed for his birthday, a six-year-old said firmly, “I don’t want to need, I want to want.” Perceptive kid!

What do you want in life? That question requires careful thought! The story of King Midas, who was granted his ultimate wish that everything he touched would turn to gold, shows us how easy it is to want the wrong things. Midas quickly discovered that you can’t eat gold and you can’t relate to gold people! He made the wrong choice!

What I want more than anything—I covet it—is Gods blessing. When you’ve got God’s blessing, you’ve got it all. You may be rich or poor, healthy or ill, living in a mansion or hiding out in a cave. But if you know that God is blessing your life, you’ve got something that the world can’t give or take away. You are truly satisfied! On the other hand, if you lack God’s blessing, you may get what you think will satisfy, but you will have leanness in your soul (Ps. 106:15, KJV).

The prophet Haggai’s third message (2:10-19) to the remnant that had returned from the Babylonian captivity tells us how we can experience God’s true blessing. As we saw in his first message, the people to whom he was preaching were, for the most part, believers. They had made the difficult commitment to leave their familiar circumstances in Persia and return to the Promised Land. We see their commitment to the Lord in that one of the first things they did when they got back was to rebuild the altar and to begin to rebuild the temple. But they encountered strong opposition from the Samaritans and other peoples of the land, and the project came to a halt.

Meanwhile, they got busy with their own work and their own houses, and the temple got set aside. About 15-16 years later, God raised up Haggai with the message, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” (1:4). The people responded and the work on the temple started again.

In Haggai, the first and the third messages are similar, as are the second and fourth. The first and third are messages of rebuke or exhortation. The second and fourth are messages of encouragement. The first message told us to seek first God’s kingdom, not our own priorities. This third message shows that not only should we seek first God’s kingdom, but that we must do so from pure hearts. Thus it develops the second half of Matthew 6:33, “and His righteousness.” The first message was, God will grant true blessing when we put His house first. The third message is:

God will grant true blessing when we put His house first from righteous lives.

Why did this message come from Haggai when it did, on December 18, 520 B.C., about three months after the first message? A couple of factors may explain the timing. First, the early rains begin in Jerusalem in mid-October, softening the ground for plowing and planting seed. By mid-December, this work would be done, but there would be no evidence yet as to whether it would be a good year for the crops. As verse 19 implies, the seed was not in the barn; it had been planted. But neither the seed nor the fruit trees had yet given any evidence as to the harvest. Would it be another year of drought (1:11)? Would it be another frustrating year of sowing much, but harvesting little (1:6)? God assures the anxious people that because they had put His house first by rebuilding again, He would bless them.

But it was not enough just to reconstruct the physical temple. God never desires a fancy building and lots of sacrifices if the hearts of the worshipers are not right before Him. Among those working on the rebuilding project there were some, if not many, who thought that if they just got that building reconstructed, it would be like a good luck charm. Since they rebuilt God’s temple, He would bless them with a bountiful harvest. But their hearts were not right before God. They were not drawing near to Him with clean hands and pure hearts (Ps. 24:3-4). So Haggai delivers this message to exhort the people not only to keep working on the temple, but also to do it from hearts that are right before God. Outward religion is never enough. God looks on the heart.

We will look at the two sections in reverse order, because the second section really reiterates the message of chapter 1, whereas the first section adds to it the requirement of personal holiness.

1. God will grant true blessing when we put His house first (2:15-19).

Haggai’s message reveals both the negative and positive sides:

A. When we do not put God’s house first, He brings discipline into our lives.

There is some confusion over the time references here. It could mean, “Think back over the past years of drought and frustration and you will see that your problems began when you set aside the Lord’s house and put your houses first.” Or, it could have the nuance that the NIV gives it, “From now on, start thinking about the past and how your problems correlate to your neglect of God’s house.” Either way, the main idea is clear: “There is a direct correlation between your selfish priorities and your difficult circumstances of the past few years.” Perhaps the reason that they were still experiencing frustrating circumstances was that God had not removed the consequences of their past neglect.

God’s discipline is not pleasant but it really is a blessing, as Hebrews 12:1-11 tells us, because it is a mark of His love toward us as His children. Those who lack God’s discipline are not His true children (Heb. 12:8)! Sometimes His discipline stems directly from some sin in our lives. It is like a spanking: we sinned and our Heavenly Father administers the rod of His love to teach us not to sin.

At other times, His discipline is not directly related to any specific sin, but rather it is to bring us to spiritual maturity. This is like a loving parent who gives his child a difficult chore to do. It is not pleasant, but by submitting to his father, the child learns some valuable lessons that he will need throughout life. As a general rule, we do not learn to trust God and to submit to Him when everything is smooth as much as we do when things are difficult. The trials force us to rely on Him, because we have no where else to go.

In the case of the Jews here, the frustrations and hardships that they had been experiencing were due to their neglect, whether deliberate or inadvertent, of God’s house. They had slipped into the wrong priorities, putting their own pleasure and comfort ahead of God’s kingdom. God sent His discipline to get them to stop and consider their mixed up priorities.

B. When we do put God’s house first, He truly blesses us.

The people had begun to obey three months earlier, but as of yet, they did not see any results. But God graciously assures them through Haggai (2:19), “From this day on I will bless you.” Verse 18 has a couple of problems. First, why does Haggai seem to say that God would bless them from this day (Dec. 18th) on, when they had started to rebuild three months earlier? And, why does he mention the founding of the temple then, when it had been founded some 16-18 years before?

As to the first question, probably the sense of what he is saying is, “From today onward, start thinking about how things have been for the past 16-18 years. Write it down and you will later see that God’s true blessing began at this very time” (adapted from Robert Alden, Expositors Bible Commentary [Zondervan], 7:590).

As to the founding of the temple, the Hebrew word does not necessarily refer to the foundation being laid, but to the start of the work (Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [IVP], pp. 52-53). The work of rebuilding had begun 16-18 years before; now it was beginning again. Haggai’s point is that God would truly bless them because of their obedience in putting His house first. Note two things in this regard:

(1) God’s blessing is the most important thing in life’s labors.

Without God’s blessing, our work ends in frustration. We go to our store of grain expecting to find 20 measures, but only 10 are there. We expect to draw 50 measures of wine, but only find 20 (2:16). We plant expecting a crop, but blasting wind, mildew, and hail decimate the yield (2:17).

In Leviticus 26, God spells out for Israel the blessings that He would bring on them if they obeyed Him, as well as the curses that would come if they disobeyed. If they obeyed, God promised that five Israelites would chase 100 enemies, and 100 would chase 10,000 (Lev. 26:8). That is way out of proportion to any human explanation. The only explanation was God’s blessing. His blessing gives results that are out of proportion to human ability, calculations, or effort.

We see the same thing in the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus tested the disciples by asking them where they would get the bread to feed this huge crowd (John 6:5-6). They did some quick calculations and figured that 200 denarii would not be sufficient for everyone just to get a little. Of course, this was hypothetical, because the disciples didn’t have anywhere near 200 denarii (200 day’s wages). But the point of the miracle is that when Jesus blessed the five loaves and two fish, it was sufficient for everyone to eat plenty and to have 12 baskets full of leftovers.

When we scheme how to build God’s church by using the latest slick methods or how to raise money for God’s work by hiring professional fund raisers who could get the same guaranteed results from any group of people, we are operating outside the sphere of God’s blessing. Any time that I get a flyer advertising “proven methods” for building your church or boosting attendance, I know that while the methods may work, they work apart from God’s blessing. I am not interested in such approaches.

But when we simply obey God, honor His Word, depend on Him in prayer, and preach the gospel, and the results are far beyond any human explanation, that is His blessing! I must add, we may not see any such results in our lifetimes, and only eternity will reveal what God does with such sacrifices of obedience on His altar. Many missionaries have labored for years in dependence on God with no visible fruit. But because they were obedient to Him, He will bless their labors in eternity, if not in their lifetimes. We need to keep His perspective. But let’s ask Him for His blessing on all that we do in dependence on Him!

But what about godly people who are truly seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, but they have many great trials?

(2) True blessing does not mean that God removes our problems, but rather that He grants His presence in our problems and His promises for eternity.

These Jews were still under Persian rule. They were still surrounded by hostile nations. They were still just a small remnant in the land. None of them lived long enough to see God’s glory rest on this humble temple in greater splendor than it had on Solomon’s temple. I agree with John Calvin, who says, “It often happens that those who sincerely and from the heart serve God, are deprived of earthly blessings, because God intends to elevate their minds to the hope of eternal reward” (Calvins Commentaries [Baker reprint], on Haggai 2:15-19, p. 382).

In other words, the greatest blessings are not temporal blessings that quickly vanish, but the abiding joy and satisfaction that God’s obedient servants will know throughout eternity in heaven. While God often blesses His obedient servants on earth with material things (as He here promised the Jews), His greatest blessings are reserved for us in heaven. We need to keep the eternal perspective or we could easily become discouraged.

How can we get God’s true blessing on our lives and our work for the Lord?

2. God blesses those who put His house first from holy lives (2:10-14).

Through Haggai, the Lord asks two questions of the priests. First, if a man carries holy meat (meat offered in a sacrifice) in the fold of his garment and touches bread (or other food) with this garment, will that food become holy? The priests correctly answer, no (the meat would make the garment holy, but the process stopped there; see Lev. 6:27). The second question was, if one who is unclean through contact with a dead body touches any of these things, will it become unclean? The priests correctly answer, “yes” (see Lev. 22:4-6; Num. 19:11-16). Note three lessons:

A. Holiness is not contagious, but corruption is.

It’s like health and disease. If I am healthy and you have the flu, my coughing in your face won’t make you well, but your coughing in my face will make me sick. Health is not contagious, but disease is. As we all know, it’s much easier to get sick than it is to stay healthy, especially when you have constant contact with sick people. At school, kids pick up germs from other kids and then they bring those germs home. It takes a lot of careful effort to avoid catching whatever is going around!

Sin is like that! You don’t pick up “holiness antibodies” by hanging around holy people, but you do pick up “sin viruses” by hanging around sinful people. But we tend to think just the opposite. We think that if you hang out in church buildings around the “God crowd,” surely some of it will rub off! We also tend to think that we can hang out with godless people without any adverse effects on us. Wrong on both counts!

I’m not suggesting that you check yourself into a monastery to avoid contact with the world. But I am saying two things. First, you won’t catch godliness by joining a godly group of people. You must personally get right with God by repenting of your sins and trusting in Jesus Christ, and you must walk in personal holiness before Him. Hanging out with godly people will definitely help you to walk with God, but you won’t catch holiness by osmosis.

Second, you should view your contacts with the world, whether it’s worldly people or exposure to worldly ideas, as a doctor views his patients. There is a very real danger of infection, so you must exercise proper caution and keep your objectives in mind. You are not in the world to cavort with sinners. You are there to snatch them from the fire, “hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 23). In other words, you have contact to lead them to Jesus Christ, but you must be careful or you will be contaminated by their infection of sin. It’s contagious!

B. God will not bless a cause, no matter how great (e.g. the temple), unless the people involved in it are holy.

The temple was the greatest cause on earth in that day. God would manifest His presence and His glory to His people there. Sacrifices for sins would be offered there. The various feasts and celebrations took place there. These people were offering sacrifices and going through the prescribed rituals, but their hearts were not right before God. The contamination of their disobedient hearts was defiling the very sacrifices that they offered, just as those who touched a dead body contaminated others who touched them (2:14). To live in sin during the week and then come to the temple to worship was like dragging a corpse into the temple. It defiled everything. If they thought that God would bless them just because they were involved in rebuilding the temple, they were sadly mistaken. God isn’t fooled by anyone who labors for Him while hiding sin in his heart.

In our day, the church is the greatest cause in the world. Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). The church (people, not buildings) is God’s temple, where He dwells and makes Himself known on earth today (Eph. 2:21-22). But Haggai’s word to us is, “You can be involved to the hilt in the local church, you can give money to the church, you can even be on the staff of a church, but if your heart is not clean before God, you’re defiling everything you touch!”

As we all know, there are professing Christians who build multimillion dollar ministries, who are on TV and in the national news, and who have thousands flocking to hear them speak. Sometimes they sell millions of copies of their books on how to have God’s blessing in your life. But if they are not broken and contrite of heart, if they are not striving against sin and for holiness on the heart level, then they are just slick showmen who happen to be in the church business. God’s true blessing is not on them.

C. Holiness that pleases God must be inward, not just outward.

We often look on the outward activity: “Lord, look at all that I’m doing for You!” But God looks on the heart. Do we do what we do from hearts made clean through faith in Christ? Do we abstain from evil when no one else is looking, except God?

It’s not enough to build His temple; we must build from hearts that please Him who knows our every thought. Motives are important to God. Our private thought life matters to Him. Do we truly seek Him every day, or is our Christianity just a mask to cover the corruption of our hearts? Do we take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)? Do we pluck out our eye or cut off our hand, if need be, in order to be holy before God (Matt. 5:27-30)? If not, we’re only practicing our righteousness before men (Matt. 6:1), but God sees right through us. The godly 19th century Scottish pastor, Robert Murray McCheyne, said, “According to your holiness, so shall be your success. A holy man is an awesome weapon in the hands of God.”

So, what is the bottom line? What should we do?

Conclusion

Three times God repeats the same phrase that He repeated three times in the first section (1:5, 7): “Consider” (2:15, 18). It is literally, “set your heart,” or “fix your attention on this.” What God wants us to consider is, if we seek first His kingdom from righteous hearts, He will bless us. So we need to take frequent inventory of our lives, beginning on the heart level.

  • Do I spend frequent time alone before God, in the Word and in prayer (Matt. 4:1-11)?
  • Do I immediately confess any known sin and turn from it in genuine repentance, without blaming or excuses (1 John 1:9)?
  • Do I build into my life protection and accountability in order not to make any provision for the sins that so easily entangle me (Rom. 13:14; Heb. 12:1-2; James 5:16)?
  • Do I memorize and meditate on Scriptures that will keep me from temptation and sin (Ps. 119:9, 11)?
  • Am I completely truthful in my closest relationships, or do I put on a mask of hypocrisy through deception (Eph. 4:25)?
  • Is my love for Jesus Christ fervent and vital because I think often on what He did for me on the cross (Gal. 2:20; Rev. 2:4)?
  • Do I truly want God’s blessing on my life, on my family, and on the ministry that He has entrusted to me?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps. 139:23, 24).

Discussion Questions

  1. Are all problems (health, financial, relational, etc.) a part of God’s discipline? If we are seeking to live in obedience, will we be problem-free? Why/why not (cite Scripture)?
  2. Some equate God’s blessing with physical health and wealth. Why is this not biblical? (Cite Scripture to refute it.)
  3. How can we guard ourselves against hypocrisy?
  4. How honest should we be in sharing our inner struggles with others? Where does discretion fit in?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship, Spiritual Life

From the series: Haggai PREVIOUS PAGE

Lesson 4: God Will Prevail (Haggai 2:20-23)

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A correction notice in a local Oregon newspaper read, “The title of a First Christian Church program in last week’s paper was written as ‘Our God Resigns.’ The actual title is ‘Our God Reigns’” (Reader’s Digest, [9/93], p. 53). What a difference one letter makes!

But maybe that typo is more true in our experience than we care to admit! Many Christians live as if their God resigned, not as if He truly reigns as the Sovereign of the universe. As I mentioned recently, 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression and over 80 percent of pastors and their wives feel discouraged in their work. If we aren’t careful, we can easily develop that perspective, because as you look around, it seems as if the enemy is winning. In spite of all of the Christian influence and Christian resources available in this country, evil has escalated to unimaginable proportions in the past 35 years.

Most Americans used to agree with Christian moral standards, even if they didn’t keep them. But now even many professing Christians do not live by those standards, let alone those in the world. People flaunt their sin as if it’s a badge of honor. Several Christian denominations tolerate homosexual sin not only among their members, but even among the clergy! Very few churches take a stand for absolute truth, whether in morals or in doctrine. The gospel has been changed from how a person can be saved from God’s judgment to how we can use God for personal fulfillment!

When you consider the cause of world missions, it also can be discouraging. The worldwide threat of militant Islam is daunting. Often new converts in Islamic countries are killed, which is no small problem in founding new churches! There are still thousands of people groups with no gospel witness. Quite often, even in this country, let alone in developing nations, professing Christians mingle cultural folk religion with their Christian faith. If we focus too much on these problems, it’s easy to wonder if our God resigned!

Zerubbabel found himself in that sort of discouraging situation. He was the grandson of Jehoichin, the last ruler of Judah before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and conquered the land. Most of the population had been carried off to Babylon, and even now, only a small remnant of about 50,000 had returned under Cyrus’ permission. They were still under Persian rule and surrounded by hostile neighbors who opposed the Jewish resettlement. The Jews who returned seemed more concerned with their own comfort and prosperity than with the things of God. Although there was a good response to Haggai’s call to rebuild the temple, many of the Jews were religious outwardly, but their hearts were not right before God (2:14). The walls of Jerusalem were still torn down, leaving the city vulnerable. Somehow, Zerubbabel was supposed to govern in this bleak situation.

That was the picture on December 18, 520 B.C., the day that Haggai had a message from God for the people (last week, 2:10-19). He called them not only to continue the work on the temple, but to do it from hearts that were holy before God. He promised to bless them from that day on.

On that same day, God gave Haggai a message directly to Zerubbabel. As I said before, the first and third messages in Haggai are parallel, and the second and fourth are parallel. The first and third were messages of rebuke or exhortation. The second and fourth are messages of encouragement. To Zerubbabel and to all of God’s servants who may be discouraged, God has this word:

Because the Sovereign Lord will prevail in His eternal plan, His servants should be encouraged to trust Him and to do His will.

1. The Sovereign Lord will prevail in His eternal plan.

This is the explicit message of the text. The application (being encouraged to trust God and do His will) is by way of implication. Five truths drive home this overall message, that the Sovereign Lord (“Lord of hosts”) will prevail.

A. God has a definite plan for history.

Note the repetition of the first personal pronoun, “I”:

*“I am going to shake the heavens and the earth…”

*“I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms…”

*“I will overthrow the chariots and their riders…”

*“I will take you, Zerubbabel…”

*“I will make you like a signet ring…”

*“‘I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord of hosts.”

You get the impression that God has an idea about what He is going to do! History isn’t just careening out of control with God desperately trying to grab the reins! The Sovereign God controls all of the events of history for His purpose. As He declares through Isaiah:

The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand” (14:24).

Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure”; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it (46:8-11).

As you know, there are many Christians today who effectively deny God’s sovereignty over man’s will. One popular Bible teacher even has a message he calls, “The Sovereignty of Man,” which I consider to be a blasphemous title! Scripture affirms that people make choices for which they are responsible, but it also affirms that over and above the choices that we make is the sovereign purpose of God. His ultimate purpose is that He will be glorified: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). We have the choice of either cooperating with that purpose, in which case we will be blessed; or of fighting against it, in which case we will not in any way thwart it, and He will be glorified in our judgment.

B. God is mighty to accomplish His plan.

Our text does not contain any conditions. God does not say, “I hope to be able to shake the heavens and the earth, but it depends on how men respond with their free will! I would like to take you, Zerubbabel, if you’re willing, and make you My signet ring. I sure hope that you say yes!” God is quite absolute in declaring what He will do in the future to accomplish His plan.

Zerubbabel easily could have said, “But, Lord, we Jews who have returned to the land are few in number. We have no king, no army, no weapons to use in our defense. We’re surrounded by hostile and powerful nations and we’re subject to the most powerful kingdom on the face of the earth. How can we prevail?”

But clearly, God’s ability to accomplish His sovereign purpose does not depend on the puny resources of His people, but on His power and might. The Bible is loaded with stories of how God delights to overthrow powerful kingdoms that dare to exalt themselves over His weak, vulnerable, chosen people.

He is the God who brought the plagues on the mighty Egyptians and drowned their king and his army in the Red Sea. He delivered Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, into the hands of this ragtag bunch of refugees in the wilderness. He toppled the walls of Jericho. He used Joshua and Caleb, who trusted Him, to conquer the fearsome giants in the land. He delivered the horde of Midian into the hands of Gideon with a mere 300 men. He felled Goliath and put the Philistines to flight at the hands of a teenaged shepherd named David. He delivered Hezekiah and Jerusalem from the siege of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, by sending His angel to kill 185,000 soldiers in one night.

He repeatedly declares in His Word, as Jeremiah put it, “Ah Lord God! Behold You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You!” (Jer. 32:17; see Jer. 32:27; Gen. 18:14; Zech. 8:6; Matt. 19:26; Luke 1:37). Now, what is your problem?

C. God’s plan is carried out in accordance with His choice.

God plainly states the reason that He will make Zerubbabel like His signet ring: “‘for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord of hosts” (2:23). Again, note that God does not say, “I will make you like My signet ring because I can foresee that you will choose Me.” There are many Christians who would force that meaning onto this text, but I am content to let the text read as it stands. God accomplishes His sovereign plan through His choices. As John Calvin observes, “For God does not here ascribe excellencies or merits to Zerubbabel …; but he attributes this to his [God’s] own election” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], 15:387). Calvin goes on to say that if we ask why God had so much exalted Zerubbabel, “it can be found in nothing else but in the goodness of God alone.” In other words, God’s election is not conditional on anything that He sees or foresees in fallen man, but only on His grace and good pleasure.

I agree that Zerubbabel willingly cooperated with God’s plan; but the reason he cooperated with God’s plan was that God chose him to do so. God’s sovereign, eternal choice lies behind the temporal choices of men. But at the same time, men are responsible for the choices that they make.

It is the same in the matter of salvation. People must choose to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Indeed, God commands them to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). But when people make that choice, it does not stem from anything in them. It does not happen because they considered all the alternatives, and with their innate brilliance, they saw that it made the most sense to trust in Christ.

The natural mind is blinded by Satan and by sin, so that it cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). The natural mind cannot understand or accept the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). So when anyone chooses to trust Christ, it is only because God has sovereignly chosen them and because Jesus willed to reveal the Father to them (Luke 10:22). Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

In our text, the Lord says that He has chosen Zerubbabel to be like a signet ring. The signet ring was the instrument that the king used to seal all official documents. It was a symbol of honor and authority. When the wicked Queen Jezebel confiscated Naboth’s vineyard for her weak-willed husband, King Ahab, she wrote letters in his name and sealed them with his seal (1 Kings 21:8). That seal told the recipients of the letters that the king stood behind the message and it had better be obeyed (see also, Dan. 6:17; Esther 8:8). Since it carried such authority, the king’s signet ring was a precious object of great care, which he usually wore on his person so that no one could steal it (Jer. 22:24).

God had said concerning Zerubbabel’s wicked grandfather, Jehoiachin (Coniah), “even though … [he] were a signet ring on My right hand, yet I would pull you off; and I will give you over into the hand of those who are seeking your life” (Jer. 22:24, 25). But now God graciously is reversing that judgment and restoring the Davidic line through Zerubbabel. Although Zerubbabel himself did not reign on the Jewish throne, he is included in both of the genealogies of Jesus Christ, the son of David (Matt. 1:12; Luke 3:27). So God’s promise of His choice of Zerubbabel as His signet ring should have brought great comfort and encouragement to this discouraged man in these difficult times.

Other than the fact that the doctrine of God’s sovereign election humbles the flesh and gives us no reason to boast, I do not understand why Christians stumble over and invent ways to get around it. It is given to us repeatedly in Scripture to comfort and encourage us. God’s message to Zerubbabel was that even though the most powerful kingdoms on earth would shake and fall, he need not fear because he is God’s chosen one, as precious in God’s sight as a signet ring was to a king. God’s message to His church and to individual believers in frightening times, when world or personal events cause us to quake with fear is, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). The doctrine of God’s choosing us should comfort, encourage, and strengthen us when we face hard times!

Thus, God has a definite plan for history. He is mighty to accomplish that plan. He carries out His plan in accordance with His sovereign choices.

D. God’s plan centers on the person of Jesus Christ.

We cannot correctly understand our text unless we see that Zerubbabel is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ (Calvin saw this over 450 years ago, ibid., p. 384). Jesus Christ is the center and final goal of what God is doing in human history. All of the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus Christ. God’s promises to Abraham and to David find their fulfillment in Christ. All of the New Testament centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. As Luke records of Jesus on the Emmaus Road after His resurrection, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).

Richard Wolff (The Book of Haggai [Baker], pp. 80-81) writes,

[Zerubbabel] is a type of Christ, the true servant of God and God’s signet ring. All that has validity in God’s eyes, bearing the seal, the stamp of His approval, comes to us through Jesus Christ….

[Zerubbabel] led Israel out of the Babylonian exile and Christ delivered from the bondage of sin; Zerubbabel built the temple of God and Christ is building the spiritual temple, the church. Christ is the signet ring in and through whom all divine purposes are sealed. After the final shaking of the nations we shall receive a kingdom that cannot be moved and all nations shall walk in the light of God and He shall be all in all.

It is important to affirm that Zerubbabel is a type of Christ because these promises were not fulfilled in Zerubbabel’s lifetime. He never ruled on a throne over Israel. He didn’t live to see the thrones of kingdoms overthrown. He didn’t see his name in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. That points to the last thing about God’s plan for history:

E. God’s timing for fulfilling His plan is different than our timing.

In 2:6, the Lord says, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. And I will shake all the nations ….” Haggai 2:21 & 22 obviously refer to the same shaking, which God said would take place “in a little while.” Although there may have been some partial fulfillments of that shaking of the nations when Persia, Greece, and Rome were overthrown, the final fulfillment is still future in our day! Clearly God’s idea of “a little while” does not coincide with our idea of “a little while”!

Because these prophecies were not fulfilled in Haggai’s day, liberal Bible scholars make comments like these: “The nations did not press into the Second Temple of the prophet, here anticipated; the kingdoms of the world were not overthrown, the messianic age did not at once begin, and the governor Zerubbabel held no honourable place in it… ideals which, in the sense in which they were spoken, remain unfulfilled” (S. R. Driver, cited by Wolff, p. 79).

Such liberal commentators are the type of men of whom Peter wrote, mockers who say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” As Peter goes on to point out, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:4, 8-9).

As Hebrews 11:13 states with regard to the men of faith from the past, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Faith is the issue, isn’t it! We must accept by faith in God’s Word the promise of Christ’s return and all that it holds for us who believe, as well as the warnings about the coming judgment to those who scoff. That leads to the implicit application of our text:

2. God’s servants should be encouraged to trust Him and to do His will.

God calls Zerubbabel His servant (2:23), which is a title used of David (Ezek. 34:23; 37:24) and repeatedly of Messiah (Isaiah 40-55). So again in that sense, Zerubbabel is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. But also, we who believe in Christ are all His servants. Just as He chose Zerubbabel to serve a unique role in His sovereign plan, so He has chosen you, if you know Christ, to serve Him.

Haggai ends with this final triumphant note, but it is only a source of encouragement if we trust God’s word. If Zerubbabel heard this word through Haggai and hoped that it would be fulfilled in his lifetime, he would have died as a disappointed man. He had to take God at His word and trust that in His timing, the Lord would fulfill all of these promises in His perfect way. And he had to get on with the task of governing this people, which God had called him to do.

This final message of Haggai teaches us that frightening world circumstances, powerful enemies of the gospel, and personal discouragement are not good reasons for neglecting what God has called us to do. God’s Word to the leaders and the people in the second message, “Be strong and work,” is His message to us now. We have the great privilege of participating in God’s plan for the ages, the plan that brings Him eternal glory through Jesus purchasing for God with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). But to serve Him as we should, we have to trust His promises about what He is going to do in the future. Our God will prevail! He has not resigned. Our God reigns!

Conclusion

We don’t know what happened to Zerubbabel after this. Some scholars assume that both Haggai and Zechariah encouraged Zerubbabel to look forward to a time when Judea would be free from foreign domination and be governed by a descendant of the house of David. And they assume that the promise of our text led to the crowning of Zerubbabel, an act that was quickly crushed by Darius (R. K. Harrison mentions these views, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], 5:1057). But this is not likely. Although there are several legends about what happened after this, the Bible is silent. It leaves Zerubbabel with these hopeful promises, and we never hear of him again until he appears in the genealogies of Jesus Christ.

Maybe some of his unbelieving contemporaries scoffed, “You’re just believing in pie-in-the-sky when you die!” If they did, and if anyone scoffs in that manner at you, the correct answer is, “That’s true!” “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). As believers in the promises of God, we put all of our “eggs” in the eternity “basket.” If God’s promises about the resurrection to life and to judgment are not true, then “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).

But if God’s Word is true and if Christ is raised from the dead, then let us “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58)!

Discussion Questions

  1. Is the doctrine of God’s sovereign election a source of comfort or of confusion to you? Why?
  2. How can we know that promises given thousands of years ago will yet be fulfilled? What assurance do we have that they are true?
  3. Why is it important to trust God even when we die without receiving the things that He promised (Heb. 11:13)?
  4. Is Paul’s statement, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19), true of you? If not, why should it be?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipleship, Faith, Spiritual Life

Lesson 37: Hearing the Word, Part 1- The Path (Luke 8:1-21)

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Pastor Daniel here lays the foundation for what will be covered over these same verses in the coming weeks. The text addresses a problem that we have as human beings: “Both the hardness of the human heart and the active opposition of the enemy conspire to thwart our understanding of God’s good news.” It might be said that everyone, simply through normal living, has two strikes against him from the get-go. It would seem to us then to be a strange thing that Jesus would use a parable to explain the solution to these problems until we come to understand that He always delivered to each person what was most needful given the present state of their souls. There exist so many obstacles to receiving into our hearts the living Word that we hear, and we understand from texts like this one that it is only God who can overcome such obstacles to receiving the gospel. We are left then with the charge to examine our hearts to see if we really understand this message and then pray too that God would help us overcome any hindrances to our being able to share clearly the gospel with others.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Engage, Evangelism, Soteriology (Salvation)

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