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Lesson 21: Fasting for the Bridegroom (Luke 5:33-39)

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It is not a strange thing in any of the gospels to see certain segments of the Jewish population of Jesus’s day question His ministry. This passage is no different, and Jesus urges His questioners to consider the uniqueness and blessing of His presence with them. In this instance, the inquiry is about fasting and why Jesus doesn’t seem all that concerned to have His disciples engaged in it. Pastor Daniel, in taking us through this passage, helps us to see that “fasting is the feast believers partake in as they long for the return of their Redeemer.” Helping his listeners understand both the misconceptions about fasting and its true purpose as revealed in the Scriptures, we come to see that this practice is ultimately about us longing for His glory and all-consuming presence, recognizing that everything in regard to fasting is based upon where Jesus is…chronologically and geographically. This is a message for those who want (or need to want!) to long more for Jesus. Fasting can be a beautiful means to help us toward that end.

Summary by Seth Kempf, Bethany Community Church Staff

Related Topics: Discipline, Fasting, Spiritual Life

Lesson 83: Grief And Hope (Genesis 49:29-50:14)

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The novelist, Somerset Maugham, said, “Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” We all wish we could follow such advice. Death is a subject we would rather not think about.

In light of that, it may seem odd that Winston Churchill planned his own funeral. It included many of the great hymns of the church and used the eloquent Anglican liturgy. At his direction, a bugler, positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, played “Taps,” the universal signal that day is done.

But then came the most dramatic turn. As Churchill had instructed, as soon as “Taps” was finished, another bugler, placed on the other side of the great dome, played “Reveille”: “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning.”

I don’t know if Churchill was a true believer in Jesus Christ, but by following “Taps” with “Reveille,” he seemed to be testifying that death is not the final note in history. There will be that “great gittin’ up morning,” when the dead in Christ shall rise. When a loved one dies, there is the sorrow and grief of loss, but for the believer, there is also the hope of eternal life that overcomes the grief.

Genesis 49:29-50:14 records the death of Jacob. More space is given to his death than to any other person in Genesis, and probably to any other person in the Bible, except for Jesus Christ. Moses’ reason for this lengthy treatment seems to be to renew for his readers the covenant promises of God concerning the Promised Land. Although Jacob only possessed a small burial plot in Canaan, he wanted to be buried there rather than to stay in Egypt, because God had promised Canaan to Abraham and his descendents. When Jacob died, his son Joseph grieved over his father, but also he had hope and faith in God’s promises, pictured here in Jacob’s burial in Canaan. From this account of Jacob’s death and funeral, we can learn how we, as believers, can face the death of a loved one.

Though we grieve at the death of a loved one, we have hope by faith in God’s promises.

Some Christians have the mistaken notion that it is not spiritual to grieve at the death of a loved one. They reason that Christ has defeated death, that the loved one is in heaven, and so we should be joyful. I was consoling a weeping young widow at her husband’s funeral when another pastor came up smiling and said, “Well, praise the Lord! Scott’s in glory!” In my opinion, that was an insensitive and unbiblical denial of our humanity. Our text shows that

1. It is proper to grieve at the death of a loved one.

Joseph was a godly man. His father’s death was not unexpected. Yet when Jacob died, Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept (50:1). Then he observed 70 days of mourning (50:3), plus seven more days after the funeral procession arrived at the borders of Canaan. There is no hint in the text that Joseph was unspiritual or excessive in his grief.

Although it is possible to grieve excessively, the Bible teaches that normal grief is a proper human emotion and that tears are the normal response in grief. Jesus Christ entered into Mary and Martha’s grief by weeping at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:33, 35). In fact, God the Holy Spirit is capable of grief, as seen in the admonition, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph 4:30). One of the most difficult commandments God has given anybody was when He told the prophet Ezekiel that He was going to take his wife and, as a sign to the disobedient nation, he was not allowed to mourn outwardly or weep for her (Ezek. 24:16-17). But that was clearly an exception. Grief is normal and proper when we lose loved ones in death. You’re not more spiritual if you don’t grieve.

A. We grieve because death is our enemy.

Death is not a natural part of life, as some would have us believe. Death is our enemy! Death entered the human race as God’s curse against our sin. As we saw in our study of Genesis 5, the history of the human race has been marked by the grim notice, he lived so many years, “and he died; ... and he died; etc.” As the infidel playwright, George Bernard Shaw, pungently noted, “The statistics on death are quite impressive; one out of one people die.”

That death is a curse may be hinted at in the name “Atad” (50:10): In Hebrew it means “thorn bush.” It is a flashback to chapter 3, where God declared that as a result of man’s sin, the earth would yield thorns. Here, as the funeral procession comes to this threshing floor of the thorn bush, it is a reminder of the curse of death stemming from man’s sin.

You may be wondering, “But didn’t Christ conquer death through his resurrection? Doesn’t the Bible say that He abolished death (2 Tim. 1:10)? Doesn’t death usher us into the presence of Christ? Then how can you say that death is still our enemy?”

Yes, Christ conquered death, but that triumph will not be fully realized until He returns to give us resurrection bodies like His own. Yes, He abolished death, in the sense of breaking its ultimate victory over believers. But the Bible never teaches that He abolished death in the sense of making it nonexistent, as the Christian Science cult teaches. It was not until the Apostle John saw the new heavens and new earth that he stated, “and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 21:1, 4). Until then, death is a painful reminder of God’s curse upon our sin. We grieve because death is our enemy.

With regard to death ushering us into the presence of Christ, it’s true: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). That’s wonderful for the person who has died in the Lord. But that doesn’t relieve all the pain for those who are left behind.

B. We grieve because death separates us from loved ones.

Joseph knew that he would never be able to talk with his father again in this life. Joseph lived for another 54 years. I’m sure that there were many times during those years that he longed to talk with his dad about something, but he wasn’t there. It’s that sense of loneliness, of missing the departed person, that makes grief linger, often for years. We have to work through our grief to the point where we establish a new “normal,” without the deceased person in our lives. That process takes time.

In his booklet, “Grief” (Christian Medical Society, pp. 11-16), Dr. Haddon Robinson states that there are three stages of grief through which we normally must pass. First is the crisis stage, which lasts up through the funeral. During this stage, a person at first feels shock and then numbness. Crying is a healthy sign of emotional release during this time. To help a person during these difficult hours, your presence is the most important thing. Sit with the person, listen a lot, and say very little. Let the person tell you the details of what happened. You can gently try to instill hope, but this isn’t the time to give out familiar Bible verses with the implication, “If you’d just trust God, you wouldn’t feel this way.”

A funeral or memorial service is a helpful part of the grieving process for family and friends. It helps to give a sense of closure to the person’s death. While we talk about paying our respects to the deceased person, funerals are for the living, not for the dead. This huge funeral procession up to Canaan, with all of Pharaoh’s court officials, wasn’t for Jacob; it was for Joseph and his brothers. The Egyptians were showing their respect for Joseph by entering into his grief. The 70 days of mourning were just two short of the time of mourning for a Pharaoh, which shows how highly Joseph was regarded.

Joseph had his father embalmed in accordance with the Egyptian custom, partly so that he could transport his body to Canaan, as Jacob had made him swear. (So Joseph’s daddy became a mummy.) The Bible does not prescribe a method of burial, although the most common practice was to place the corpse in a cave or hewn out tomb. Some Bible teachers argue that cremation dishonors the body, but it seems to me that it is permissible if a family decides for it. When Christ returns, He can resurrect a cremated body just as easily as a decomposed, buried body.

The main consideration should be the way a family will feel about it later. While putting flowers on a grave seems pointless to me, I think it can be helpful for a grieving person to go to the gravesite as a place of remembrance and mourning. You can’t do that if the ashes are scattered at sea. Visiting the gravesite of godly family members can help us to recall their example and spur us on to follow in their way of life.

Regarding the cost of the funeral, I urge moderation. For a family member of someone of Joseph’s rank, it was obviously a huge affair. That’s not improper. A family should do what they feel proper within their means as stewards of the Lord’s resources. They should think about what they want the funeral to say to friends and relatives. I’m bothered when people spend needless thousands of dollars for caskets and flowers. Often the motive for such extravagance is either pride or guilt. Why not give testimony to the person’s values by having a simple service with a single bouquet and by giving a large donation to a Christian work? There is freedom in the Lord on these matters, but a family should think it through in light of the biblical principles of stewardship and witness.

The second stage of grieving is the crucible stage. This lasts 12 weeks or more and is most intense during the first six weeks. The extended family and friends have left to return to their routines and the grieving one is left alone. During this time, he must work through the fact that the dead person will not be a part of his life again. He has to deal with emotional ties from the past and with expectations for the future which were bound up with the one who died. Edna St. Vincent Millay captures the feelings of grief during this phase in her poem “Lament” (quoted in Robinson, p. 14):

Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten.
Life must go on,
Though good men die.

Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on,
I forget just why.

It’s not uncommon for a person to have periodic bouts of depression and crying for two or three years after an “expected” death, let alone after a sudden, unexpected loss. As a friend, being there and listening is again the most helpful thing you can do. You won’t open wounds to mention the person who has died. The grieving person probably feels a need to talk about him.

The final stage is the construction stage, when the grieving person creates new patterns for living that are not tied to the past. This is implied in verse 14, which reports that Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt, where they had left their children and jobs (50:8). At this stage, the person accepts reality and is ready to move on with what God has given him to do with his life.

So, as Christians, it is proper to grieve at the death of a loved one. But as Paul says, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13).

2. Though we grieve, we have hope by faith in God’s promises.

Jacob mentions that he is about “to be gathered to his people” (49:29; see also verse 33). While some argue that this phrase is just a Hebrew euphemism for death or for burial in the ancestral burial plot, I think it implies more. Jacob wasn’t reunited with his ancestors when his body was carried into the cave of Machpelah, where their bodies lay. His soul was gathered to the souls of his ancestors in heaven the moment he expired. So the expression is an early statement of the hope of life after death.

Two thoughts about our hope:

A. We must exercise hope in God’s promises by faith.

The author of Hebrews makes the point that the greats of the faith died without receiving the promises (Heb. 11:39). God had promised Jacob the land of Canaan, but here he was, dying in Egypt, with no claim on Canaan except a burial plot. God had promised to make him a great nation, but he was only a company of 70 strong when he entered Egypt.

But by faith, he blessed his sons and predicted their future as the 12 tribes of the nation Israel. By faith he made Joseph promise to take his body back to Canaan. He could have been buried in the finest of Egyptian tombs, but he chose to make a statement in his death about his resolute trust in what God had promised. So he said, “Bury me in the cave ... in the land of Canaan” (49:30). Jacob’s faith gave him hope in God’s promises, hope that sustained him as he faced death.

How do we know that our hope in God’s promise of eternal life is not just wishful thinking? What if we die and there is nothing else? How do we know that our loved ones who have died in Christ are in heaven, and that we will be with them someday?

The Apostle Paul deals with all these questions. In 1 Corinthians 15 he argues that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the basis for our future resurrection. He shows that Christ’s resurrection has solid evidence supporting it and argues that if Christ hasn’t been raised, then our faith is worthless. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul argues that the resurrection of Christ is the basis for our hope of being reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ.

But even though we have that solid evidence, we must exercise faith in God’s promises when we are faced with death, simply because we haven’t gone beyond the grave and returned. But Jesus has, and we can take Him at His word. When we do, He gives us genuine hope in the face of our greatest enemy.

B. We must extend our hope to those who are without God and have no hope.

Both the Canaanites (50:11) and the Egyptians observed Joseph during his grief. No doubt the Egyptians wondered why Jacob wanted to be buried in some cave in Canaan, when he could have had a beautiful tomb in Egypt. James Boice (Genesis [Zondervan, 2:322]) observes, “If Joseph had not expressed grief over the death of his beloved father, the Egyptians would have concluded merely that he had not cared for him, that perhaps he was even glad to have the old man out of the way. If he had expressed nothing but grief, the Egyptians may have concluded that the hope of an afterlife by these Semitic people was no better than their own dark hopes and may even have been inferior to theirs.” I agree with Boice as he goes on to argue that Joseph undoubtedly used the occasion of the funeral and the trip back to Canaan to tell his Egyptian friends about his hope in the living God.

The time of death and funerals can be a great opportunity for witness to those who otherwise put death and eternity out of their minds. We should always be sensitive, but also we must be bold, in telling others of the hope of the gospel at such times.

The late Joseph Bayly was a godly man who knew grief through the death of three of his children, but who also knew the hope that is in Christ. The day after he and his wife buried their five-year-old boy, who died of leukemia, Bayly went to thank the doctor who had been so kind to them through their ordeal. As he sat in the waiting room, the receptionist beckoned to him and whispered that a little boy playing in the waiting room had the same problem as his son had.

Bayly sat down next to the boy’s mother. They were far enough away from the boy so they could talk. “It’s hard bringing him in here every two weeks for these tests, isn’t it.” Bayly didn’t ask a question; he stated a fact.

“Hard?” She was silent for a moment. “I die every time. And now he’s beginning to sense that something’s wrong ...” Her voice trailed off.

“It’s good to know, isn’t it,” Bayly spoke slowly, choosing his words with unusual care, “that even though the medical outlook is hopeless, we can have hope for our children in such a situation. We can be sure that after our child dies, he’ll be completely removed from sickness and suffering and everything like that, and be completely well and happy.”

“If I could only believe that,” the woman replied. “But I don’t. When he dies, I’ll just have to cover him up with dirt and forget I ever had him.” She turned back to watching her little boy push a toy auto on the floor.

“I’m glad I don’t feel that way.” Bayly didn’t want to say it, but he felt compelled.

“Why?” This time the woman didn’t turn toward Bayly, but kept watching her child.

“Because we covered our little boy up with dirt yesterday afternoon. I’m in here to thank the doctor for his kindness today.”

“You look like a rational person.” (Bayly was glad she didn’t say, “I’m sorry.”) She was looking straight at him now. “How can you possibly believe that the death of a man, or a little boy, is any different from the death of an animal?” (The Last Thing We Talk About [David C. Cook Publishing], pp. 12-13.) Although Bayly ends the story there, I’m sure that he went on to tell her the basis for his hope in Jesus Christ.


Years ago I answered the phone and someone said, “Father Cole?” I said, “I am a father, but I’m probably not the guy you’re looking for.” He wanted the Catholic priest, but when he found out I was an official minister, that was good enough, so he asked me to conduct the funeral for his father. A son, a daughter, and her husband came in to see me before the funeral. After we had talked a while, I said, “At a time like this, you probably would like to know what the Bible says about what happens after we die. As I talked about the gospel, they got upset and said, “Are you saying our dad is not in heaven?” I had not said anything about their father. I replied, “I didn’t know your father, and I know nothing of what took place between him and God. I was simply telling you, not what I think, but what the Bible says, about how a person can go to heaven. I thought that you would want to know that important information.”

That’s the most important thing I can share with you today. The most crucial question you can settle is, “Am I ready to die?” Many people have a false hope for heaven. They think that God is loving and good, so He won’t judge sin or send anybody, except the very worst of sinners, to hell. They assume that if you’ve lived a good life, that’s going to be good enough when they stand before God.

An Indiana cemetery has a tombstone, over 100 years old, which bears the words, “Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be, so prepare for death and follow me.”

Some unknown passerby scratched this reply: “To follow you, I’m not content, until I know which way you went.”

Jesus plainly taught that there are two ways to go. He spoke often of both heaven and hell. The Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). It also promises that if you will repent of your sin and trust in Jesus as your Savior, you will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). That’s the only solid hope in the face of death!

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some ways Christians communicate the mistaken notion that “to show grief is not spiritual”? When does grief become excessive?
  2. How would you defend, biblically, that it is possible to be grieving deeply and yet be trusting God fully?
  3. What has helped you most and least when you were grieving? Why?
  4. What do you say to someone whose loved one has just died without knowing Christ? How do you share hope in that situation?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

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

Related Topics: Character of God, Comfort, Faith, Widowhood

Lesson 84: Forgiving One Another (Genesis 50:15-21)

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Three mean-looking guys on motorcycles pulled into a truck stop cafe where a truck driver, a little guy, was sitting at the counter, quietly eating his lunch. The three thugs saw him, grabbed his food, and laughed in his face. The truck driver didn’t say a word. He got up, paid for his food and walked out.

One of the bikers, unhappy that they hadn’t succeeded in provoking the little man into a fight, bragged to the waitress, “He sure wasn’t much of a man, was he?”

The waitress replied, “No, I guess not.” Then, glancing out the window she added, “I guess he’s not much of a truck driver, either. He just ran over three motorcycles.”

The familiar saying, “Don’t get mad, just get even” sums up the world’s philosophy of how to deal with someone who wrongs you. But in contrast to the world’s way, God prescribes a radical approach when we are wronged: We are to be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32).

It’s easy to say that, but it’s tough to apply it. The difficulty increases in proportion to how badly you’ve been hurt. When you’ve been hurt badly, you don’t feel like forgiving the person, even if he repents, at least not until he’s suffered a while. You want him to know what it feels like. You want him to pay.

Some of you are struggling with those feelings right now. Your pain may be from a recent situation, or it may go back for years. But if you’re bitter and unforgiving, you’re not obeying the two great commandments, to love God and to love others. Bitterness not only displeases God; it spreads to others, defiling many (Heb. 12:15). So if we want to please God, we must ask, How can we root out bitterness and truly forgive those who have wronged us?

Joseph had to avoid bitterness and learn to forgive. He had been repeatedly hurt, but he didn’t develop a trace of bitterness. His own brothers had planned to kill him, but sold him into slavery at the last moment. As Potiphar’s slave, Joseph’s life is a classic lesson on how to overcome bitterness. He was faithful and upright, but was falsely accused of attempted rape by Potiphar’s wife. He spent years in prison and was forgotten by a man he had helped, who could have pled his case with Pharaoh. Yet in spite of all this, Joseph never grew bitter toward God or toward those who had wronged him.

Now, after his father Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers began to worry. They couldn’t forget how they had wronged him. They knew that he had forgiven them 17 years before. But now that dad was dead, would Joseph pay them back for all the wrong they had done to him? So they sent a message to Joseph saying that their father, before his death, had charged them to tell Joseph to forgive their sin against him. The brothers may have been making this up, because Jacob would have talked directly to Joseph if he had been concerned about the matter. But at any rate, Joseph’s response shows that he truly had forgiven his brothers. From Joseph’s attitude in these verses, we can learn how to forgive others who have wronged us:

To forgive others, we must take our proper place before God and express the proper attitude toward others.

Joseph’s attitude was the key to his great success in life. Notice, first, his attitude toward God.

1. To forgive others, we must take our proper place before God.

When Joseph’s brothers approached him, his spontaneous response was to weep, which showed his tender heart. Then he reassured his brothers and asked: “Am I in God’s place?” (50:19). Even though Joseph was the second most powerful man on the face of the earth, a man who could have given the command and had his brothers imprisoned or executed with no questions asked, Joseph didn’t forget that he was not in God’s place. He assumed his proper place under God.

Joseph’s question is a good one to ask yourself when you’re tempted to withhold forgiveness or to seek vengeance against someone who has wronged you: Am I in God’s place? Joseph was powerful in the world’s eyes, but he knew he was never big enough to take God’s place. To take our proper place before God involves three things:

A. We must allow God to be the judge of all.

The Lord says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19). He’s the only competent judge, the one who knows the thoughts and intentions of every person’s heart. We need to trust Him to deal rightly with each person.

Most of us want God’s justice for the guy who wronged us, but God’s mercy for ourselves. But to love our neighbor as ourselves means that we will want God’s mercy for him, just as we want it for ourselves. I’m convinced that one reason Joseph forgave his brothers is that he always remembered that he had no claim against God, no matter how severe the treatment he received. He allowed God to be the judge of his brothers and of himself. Taking our proper place before God also means:

B. We must humble ourselves under God’s sovereignty.

When terrible things happen to you, you have two options: Either God is sovereign and, for some reason, He allowed it to happen; or, God isn’t sovereign and this one slipped by Him. Rabbi Kushner, in his best-selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, argued that God means well, but He can’t quite cope with all the evil in the world. I find that “solution” awfully depressing. What kind of God is that?

The Bible declares that God is the sovereign God who “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). Nothing, including the evil deeds of wicked men, can thwart God’s plan. Joseph saw this clearly. He says to his brothers, “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (50:20). What a great perspective to have when people wrong you!

I don’t say that glibly. Some terrible things have happened to godly people down through the centuries. Missionaries have been slaughtered for trying to take the gospel to people who desperately needed to hear it. Godly pastors have been falsely accused and driven from their churches. Faithful spouses have been devastated when their mates left them for someone else. Innocent children have been abused by a parent they trusted. The list could go on and on.

The Bible doesn’t hide this sort of thing. John the Baptist, the man most highly praised by Jesus Christ, was beheaded at the whim of a drunken king. The apostle James was murdered by a tyrant as a young man. Many of God’s choicest servants were persecuted and murdered (see Heb. 11:36-38). But none of that threatens the sovereignty of God.

You may not like it, but you’ve got to submit to the sovereignty of God in your life when someone wrongs you. Although you may not know the reason this side of eternity, God sovereignly allowed this person to wrong you for some purpose. To forgive the person as God commands, you must submit to God’s mighty hand in the situation.

So to take our proper place before God means allowing Him to be the judge of all; humbling ourselves under His sovereignty; and,

C. We must believe that God is good in all His ways.

“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” That’s the Old Testament equivalent of Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

The classic philosophic problem of suffering revolves around the question of how God can be both sovereign (or all-powerful) and good at the same time. If He were good, then He wouldn’t will our suffering; if He were powerful, He would do something about it. Yet we suffer. Thus, God must be either weak or not good.

There are several fallacies in that syllogism. It ignores the presence of sin in the world as the reason for suffering. Also, it assumes that all suffering is bad. But in our fallen world, God often brings great good out of terrible suffering. Also, the argument assumes that God must alleviate suffering immediately, while the Bible affirms that God’s final solution will only come when He creates a new heavens and earth.

When someone wrongs you, you need to be on guard. Satan tempted Eve by getting her to doubt the goodness of God. He implied that God was withholding something good by keeping the forbidden fruit from her. The devil will tempt you by whispering, “If God really cared for you, He wouldn’t have let this happen.” No doubt Joseph often had to resist that temptation over the years. But in each case, Joseph affirmed by faith, “They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Elisabeth Elliot, whose first husband was murdered by the savage people he was trying to reach for Christ, and whose second husband died of cancer, wrote, “The experiences of my life are not such that I could infer from them that God is good, gracious and merciful necessarily. To have had one husband murdered and another one disintegrate, body, soul and spirit, through cancer, is not what you would call a proof of the love of God. In fact, there are many times when it looks like just the opposite. My belief in the love of God is not by inference or instinct. It is by faith.” (Cited by James Boice, Genesis [Zondervan], 3:332.)

There’s a way you can tell whether you have taken your proper place before God or not: Do you grumble about your circumstances or about the people who have mistreated you? If you do, you aren’t in submission to the sovereign goodness of God. You may not think you’re grumbling against God. You’d say you’re angry with the person who did you in. But really, you’re angry at God, grumbling against Him for allowing it to happen. You’ve got to deal with your attitude before God or you’ll live and die a bitter, unforgiving person. You must come to the place where you can say, “That person meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, and I submit to and trust His purpose in it all.”

2. To forgive others we must express the proper attitude toward them.

Our attitude is often revealed in our spontaneous reaction. Joseph wept. I think he wept because he suddenly saw that his brothers still didn’t trust him, even after 17 years of what Joseph thought was a restored relationship. They were trying to use their dead father’s influence to protect themselves, when there wasn’t any need for protection. Joseph’s attitude reflects three qualities we must express if we want to forgive others:

A. To forgive others, we must be humble.

When somebody wrongs you, it’s easy to become proud. You start thinking, “I’m better than that jerk! I’d never do to anybody what he did to me.” That proud spirit leaks out in a lot of ways that prevent you from truly forgiving the other person. But Joseph here comes across with a humble spirit. He’s not lording it over his brothers, even though he could have. He puts himself on their level, under God, and lets them know that they’re forgiven. He shows us how to express true humility in forgiving those who have offended us.

1) You don’t use your power to make the other person pay for what he did. Joseph could have made his brothers pay dearly for their sin. He could have enslaved, imprisoned, or killed them and their children. He could have let them sweat under the fear that someday the axe might fall. But Joseph reassured his brothers with the words, “Do not be afraid.”

The real test of forgiveness is when you have the power to make the other person pay, but you choose not to use it. Forgiveness absorbs the wrongs others have done without exacting payment. If there’s payment, there’s no need for forgiveness.

2) You don’t keep score. Joseph didn’t say, “You guys owe me big time. So now that dad’s gone, pay up.” No, Joseph wasn’t keeping score.

There are Christians who carry scorecards. They keep track of every wrong their mate has ever done. They stay in power by reminding them of the score. They can’t forget what someone at church said about them. It doesn’t matter if the person has sought their forgiveness. Like a cow chewing its cud, they keep bringing it up: “Do you know what Mrs. Jones said about me?”

After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that Union soldiers had destroyed its limbs and trunk. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least for sympathy for her loss. After a brief silence, the general said, “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.”

That’s good counsel: Throw away the scorecard! Forgive and forget it! Joseph had named his firstborn son Manasseh, which means “making to forget,” because he said, “God has made me to forget all my trouble” (41:51). Forgetting doesn’t mean having amnesia. It means that you make a deliberate decision to put the incident behind and not bring it up for ammunition again.

3) You don’t put the offender down. Often, we extend forgiveness in a way that makes the other person feel beneath us. We use his offense to make him feel like the scum of the earth. We come across as the most big-hearted guy on the earth to forgive his offense. But Joseph didn’t do that with his brothers. He put himself on the same level they’re on, under God.

4) You don’t take offense easily. If Joseph had been proud of his forgiving spirit, he would have been offended at his brothers’ plea. They hadn’t understood his real motives and it hurts to be misunderstood, especially when you mean well. “How dare they imply that I haven’t forgiven them? How can they be so ungrateful?” But instead of being offended, Joseph was grieved because his brothers still lived under a cloud of fear and mistrust.

Some people are always reading between the lines, assigning wrong motives to the other guy. A few years ago, I went to call on a man who had left the church. He told me that our elders were unfriendly. I asked him which elders were unfriendly. He named one. I asked what this man had done. “He walked right past me at church and didn’t even look at me or say hello.” I said, “He probably had something else on his mind. I walk past people at church every week without saying hello, but it doesn’t mean I’m unfriendly or don’t like them! If you think that elder has something against you, go to him and get it cleared up.” But he wouldn’t do it. If you’re easily offended, you’re proud, and you’ll never be able to forgive others.

5) You don’t remind the offender of how you were right and he was wrong. Joseph’s brothers came and fell down before him (50:18). Guess what flashed into his mind? His dreams from years before! But Joseph didn’t say, “Hey, guys, remember my dreams? I was right and you were wrong.” God had vindicated Joseph and exalted him, but Joseph didn’t exalt himself.

If you have a humble attitude toward those who wronged you, you don’t bring up the past as ammunition, to remind them how you were right and they were wrong. Instead, you let it drop and you try to make them feel at ease.

Humility is the first ingredient in a proper attitude toward those who have wronged you.

B. To forgive others, we must speak the truth in love.

Joseph’s brothers didn’t say to him, “If we wronged you somehow, we’re sorry,” as if it was an accident. They were honest in admitting that they sinned against him (50:15, 17). For his part, Joseph didn’t say, “Hey, no big deal. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.” Rather, he was gently honest when he said, “You meant evil against me.”

True forgiveness doesn’t deny the offense or cover it as if it didn’t hurt. But neither is it brutal in rubbing it in. For healing to take place, the offended person needs to admit his guilt and know that you heard him. Joseph’s brothers needed to hear him agree that they had wronged him, because they couldn’t be sure he had forgiven them until they were sure that the offense was in the open.

Two questions about forgiveness come up at this point. I can only touch on them briefly. First, Does forgiveness require that I don’t press charges when someone has criminally wronged my family or me? I believe that you may forgive an offender personally, but for the protection of society and the upholding of justice, go ahead and prosecute. God has ordained government to punish wrongdoers and to carry out justice. So forgiving a person doesn’t necessarily mean that I must drop the charges, although God at times may lead me to do so.

The second question is, Should I forgive a person who is not repentant? The Bible is clear that we are to forgive just as God has forgiven us. God doesn’t extend forgiveness until we repent. But, God aggressively offers forgiveness to us and seeks through His kindness to bring us to repentance. He paid the price for our forgiveness in the death of His Son while we were still His enemies. The barrier to reconciliation wasn’t with God; it was our own lack of repentance.

So we must distinguish between forgiving the person in our heart and extending forgiveness to him verbally. We must forgive the person in our heart before he repents, which means that we will sincerely pray for God’s mercy toward him; we will look for ways to be kind; we will make it clear that we want to restore the relationship. We’ve got to root out our bitterness by submitting to the sovereign goodness of God. Then, the moment the offender repents, like the father of the prodigal son, we rush to welcome and embrace him. That leads to the third aspect of our attitude toward others:

C. To forgive others, we must actively care.

Joseph could have said, “I forgive you guys. Now get out of my life!” But instead, he provided personally for them and their families (50:21). His words of forgiveness proved themselves in his kind deeds long after the fact. Words are nothing if they aren’t backed up by action. If you say that you forgive someone, but you couldn’t care less what happens to him after that, you haven’t really forgiven. A forgiving spirit shows itself in kind deeds.


Dr. Henry Brandt tells of a man he visited in Uganda. As they drove to his home, they passed a huge, beautiful home. The man told Dr. Brandt that he used to own that house. They headed out a dirt road and pulled up to a mud shack. The only furniture inside on the dirt floor was a wood packing crate, which the two men sat upon. The man related how he used to be a wealthy businessman. One day Idi Amin’s soldiers came and took his Mercedes. He burned with anger as he saw them driving his car through the streets. Then they took his business. He was even angrier. Finally they took over his home for their headquarters. He moved to this mud hut.

One day a missionary stopped by the mud hut and told this man about God’s love in Christ. The man threw the missionary out, but he kept coming back. The man finally accepted Christ and as a result, he was able to forgive those soldiers who had taken away all of his material possessions. He told Dr. Brandt, “Because through Christ I have forgiven those soldiers, I am the richest man in all of Uganda.”

Bitterness holds your soul in bondage and hinders God’s blessings from flowing to you and through you. Forgiveness frees you to experience God’s abundant grace and to make you a channel of that grace even toward those who wronged you. God has not put anyone through anything He Himself was not willing to experience. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to seek our welfare, but was rejected and killed. He suffered, the just for the unjust, in order to offer us God’s forgiveness. You may never in this life understand the why of your wrong treatment. But Jesus understands, because He suffered much more than any of us ever could. If we will learn to submit to His sovereign goodness when we are wronged and assume an attitude of humility, honesty in love, and caring toward those who have offended us, we will grow to know Him.

Discussion Questions

  1. If vengeance is wrong, how do you explain the imprecatory psalms? Should we ever pray those psalms against our enemies?
  2. How can a victim of rape, child abuse, or some terrible crime honestly believe that God meant it for good?
  3. How do you get the feeling of forgiveness when you don’t have it?
  4. Agree/disagree: A person can truly forgive and yet press charges against the offender?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

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

Related Topics: Forgiveness, Spiritual Life

Lesson 85: A Mindset for Enduring Trials (Genesis 50:20)

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Two boys were walking along a street when they encountered a large dog blocking the sidewalk. “Don’t be afraid,” one of the boys told his more timid companion. “Look at his tail, how it wags. When a dog wags his tail he won’t bite you.”

“That may be,” admitted the other, “but look at that wild gleam in his eye. He looks like he wants to eat us alive. … Which end are we going to believe?”

You may have felt like those two boys when you’ve had to face trials in your life. The Bible exhorts us to “count it all joy” when we encounter various trials (James 1:2). We are assured that God is working all things together for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). But sometimes we aren’t quite convinced whether to believe the wagging tail of God’s promises or that wild gleam in the eye of the big trial confronting us. What if we count it all joy and the trial bites us?

Joseph was a man who had developed a godly mindset that carried him through the many trials in his life. He had been badly mistreated by his own family, as well as by others whom he had not wronged. He spent the better part of his twenties in an Egyptian dungeon, separated from his father, not knowing if he would ever see him again. Yet in spite of all these trials, he could say to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). He knew that even though his brothers hated him at the time and were trying to get rid of him, behind them it was God who was at work, sending Joseph to Egypt for God’s sovereign purposes (Gen. 45:5, 7, 8). Joseph’s trust in the sovereign goodness of God carried him through these terrible trials with a joyful spirit, free from bitterness and complaining. That same mindset will help us bear up under trials:

To bear up under trials, we must trust in the sovereign goodness of God in every situation.

A mistaken idea, widely promoted in Christian circles, is that all trials are from the devil and that a good God would never send trials to His children. Thus when we are hit by a trial, whether sickness or a difficult person or a financial setback, we are supposed to rebuke the devil and claim our victory by faith. If we don’t experience fairly rapid deliverance, then our faith may be defective. I believe that this is a faulty paradigm for facing trials. We need to see that …

1. God is sovereign over all, even over the evil things people do.

In this fallen world, there are many evil people who will seek to harm you. Often, as with Joseph, these evil people are close family members. It may be a parent who abused you emotionally, physically, or even sexually when you were a child. In Joseph’s case, his half brothers hated him and would have killed him had not the slave traders providentially come by at just the right moment.

What is even more galling, often the family members who mistreated you seem to be doing quite well in life. Genesis 38 shows how Judah, who had suggested selling Joseph into slavery, was doing quite well even though he was so far from God that he didn’t hesitate to go in to what he thought was a harlot for a moment’s pleasure. He had his pagan friends and seemed to be enjoying life, all the while that Joseph was grinding out an existence as a slave in a foreign country.

You have to keep in mind as you work through Joseph’s story that at the time he was suffering, Joseph didn’t know how the story would turn out. He didn’t know yet that if he just held on for a few years, God would raise him up as second to Pharaoh. But it is clear that he knew one thing for certain, that God is sovereign, even over the evil things people do (45:5, 7, 8; 50:20). Joseph’s trust in the sovereign God carried him through many bleak days in the dungeon.

Let me clarify that trusting in God’s sovereignty does not mean that you must passively endure the situation. If you are a child being abused, you need to report it to proper authorities. If you are being badly mistreated at work or at school, you may need to take some action to deal with it. What I’m saying is that there is great comfort for the believer in knowing that, however difficult your situation, the sovereign God is still in control. The devil is not in control; evil people are not in control; God is in control.

Many Scriptures teach us that God is sovereign even over evil men, and yet He is completely unstained by their sin. In the story of Job, the Chaldeans raided and stole Job’s camels, killing his servants who kept them (Job 1:17). These wicked men were not acting simply on their own accord, but were impelled by Satan. And yet God was over Satan, giving him permission to go so far and no farther. Satan could not do anything unless God willed it.

Take another story: God willed that the wicked King Ahab be killed in battle. How did God do it? A demon presented himself before God with the plan that he go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s prophets. God granted permission; the wicked prophets prophesied falsely; Ahab believed them, so that he was killed. God’s righteous judgment was carried out by a demon using deception, and yet God is not tainted by the evil. The prophets were responsible for following demonic counsel.

Samson wanted to marry a Philistine woman, which was clearly a sinful thing. His parents tried in vain to dissuade him from doing such a thing. Yet, we read, “his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines” (Judges 14:4). Samson was sinning, yet God sovereignly used that sin to achieve His righteous judgment!

Many more examples abound in Scripture. David’s son Absalom sinfully committed incest with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel, yet God declares the work to be His own: “You did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel” (2 Sam. 12:12). Rehoboam foolishly rejected the counsel of his elders, resulting in the division of the kingdom, but “it was a turn of events from the Lord, that He might establish His word” through his prophet (1 Kings 12:15). Nebuchadnezzar selfishly and brutally wiped out Jerusalem, yet he was doing God’s work and is called God’s servant (Jer. 1:15; 25:9; 27:6; 50:25). Cyrus, another pagan king, who like all pagan kings sought to build his own empire for his own glory, is called God’s anointed, whom God was using for His purpose (Isa. 45:1). Wicked men falsely accused and crucified the Son of God, and yet they only did what God’s hand and purpose predestined to occur (Acts 4:28).

After citing such examples, of which there are many more, John Calvin concludes, “Yet from these it is more than evident that they babble and talk absurdly who, in place of God’s providence, substitute bare permission—as if God sat in a watchtower awaiting chance events, and his judgments thus depended upon human will” (Institutes, 1.18.1).

Joseph not only knew that God was sovereign over the evil his brothers had done; he realized that God is sovereign over even insignificant things that we would tend to shrug off as chance. You’ll recall the story of when his father sent him to check on his brothers, and he didn’t find them at the place where they were supposed to be. A man found Joseph wandering in a field and told him that his brothers had moved the flocks to Dothan. So Joseph went to Dothan and found them. They threw him into the pit, planning to kill him after lunch. But it was precisely at that moment that the trading caravan “happened” by, and they sold him into slavery (37:14-36).

As that caravan made its way south, Joseph had plenty of time to think, “What rotten luck! Why did I happen to run into that man in the field who happened to know where my brothers were? Why did that caravan have to come along just then, when Reuben had indicated that he was going to try to get me out of the pit and back to my dad? Where was God in all this?” But Joseph didn’t believe in luck or happenstance. He believed in a sovereign God who sent him down to Egypt for reasons that, at the time, Joseph did not know (45:5, 7, 8).

Thus it is important to affirm God’s sovereignty not only over the major things that happen, but also over the little daily mundane details of life. Car problems, traffic jams, interruptions, clogged drains, sick kids, and a million other frustrations in life, as well as the bad things that evil people do to you, are under God’s sovereignty. Nothing and no one can thwart God’s sovereign, loving purpose toward you in Christ. He will work all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. We need that mindset to endure trials.

But, also, we must understand and affirm that …

2. God is good in everything He does.

“God meant it for good” (50:20). He “works all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28). As God said through Jeremiah to the exiles who had been carried off to Babylon, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jer. 29:11). Although God’s people may suffer terribly, they must affirm by faith with the psalmist, that even though God afflicts us with trials, He is good and does good in all His ways (Ps. 119:67-68; 75).

Most of us are quick to see God’s goodness in the blessings of life, but not so quick to discern His goodness in the trials. Jacob was like that. When his sons returned from their first trip down to Egypt to buy grain, and the unknown lord of the land (Joseph) had taken Simeon captive and was demanding that Benjamin accompany them on the return visit, Jacob wailed, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me” (42:36). But, in fact, all these things were not against him. The truth was, God was for him. Even the trial of the famine was being used to reunite him with his beloved Joseph and to provide for all his needs for the rest of his life.

I have often profited spiritually from the incident in the life of David where he hit bottom. He had gotten himself into a mess because he had doubted the sovereign goodness of God in his life. God had promised David that he would sit on the throne of Israel, but for years he had been chased by the mad King Saul. In a moment of despair, David said, “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul” (1 Sam. 27:1). So he went and allied himself with the pagan Achish, King of Gath.

For a while David was able to play the dangerous game of convincing this pagan king that he was on his side. At first, things seemed to go much better for David and his men. Saul stopped pursuing them. Achish gave David a city, Ziklag, where he and his men could live with their families, instead of having to hide in caves.

But then a ticklish situation came up, where Achish and the Philistine warlords were going into battle against Saul. David went up with them, pretending to be one of them. But it was awkward for him to be going into battle against the Lord’s people, including his dear friend, Jonathan. At the last minute, God rescued him by making the Philistine warlords insist that he not accompany them into battle. So David and his men returned to Ziklag.

That’s when the bottom dropped out. Raiders had burned Ziklag with fire and had taken all their wives and children captive. David’s men were so upset that they were talking about stoning him.

But then comes a great verse: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. 30:6). I can’t say for certain what all that entailed. But, based on his many Psalms, I believe that David probably confessed his sin of doubting God’s sovereign goodness when he had gone over to Achish. He also probably reaffirmed God’s gracious covenant promises. He definitely humbled himself under God’s sovereign hand, because he inquired of God as to whether he should go after the raiders and recover their wives and children. That was not an easy thing to do! What if God had said, “No”? But David now was bowing before God’s sovereign lordship.

But the great thing about the story is that even though David had brought about many of his troubles by his own lack of faith, God was graciously working things out to give him the kingdom. In the battle against the Philistines, Saul and Jonathan were killed, opening the way for David’s taking the throne. God graciously allowed David and his men to recover their wives and children, along with much spoil. So even though it seemed to David in his low point that God was not good, he could look back and see how God’s sovereign goodness was directing all the events of those difficult years.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out how when difficult things happen to us, and we are quick to grumble and wonder why God would allow this to happen, and even to doubt His love, it should awaken us to our own sinfulness. We should realize in a new and deeper way how prone we are to harbor unworthy thoughts of the God who has loved us with an everlasting love, and we should be humbled. But, he points out, such humility is good for us, and anything that so humbles us is working together for our good. It also shows us our desperate need of God’s forgiveness, help, and strength. “It is only in this way,” he concludes, “that we really get to know the love and grace of God, His kindness, His compassion, His tenderness, His patience, His longsuffering. How little we know of them!” He sums it up by saying “that our greatest trouble is our ignorance of God. We know things about God, but our real trouble is our ignorance of God Himself—what He really is, and what He is to His people.” (Romans, The Final Perseverance of the Saints [Zondervan], pp. 166-168).

This affirmation of God’s goodness, even in our trials, has been the refrain of the saints down through history. John Calvin cites many Scriptures that show how God tenderly cares for and protects His children. He sums it up: “Indeed, the principal purpose of Biblical history is to teach that the Lord watches over the ways of the saints with such great diligence that they do not even stumble over a stone [Ps. 91:12]”(Institutes, 1.17.6).

In 1895, the beloved pastor and writer, Andrew Murray, was in England suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury he had incurred years before. One morning while he was eating breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Murray handed her a paper he had been writing on and said, “Just give her this advice I’m writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.” This is what he had written:

“In time of trouble, say, ‘First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.’ Next, ‘He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.’ Then say, ‘He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.’ And last, say, ‘In His good time He can bring me out again. How and when, He knows.’ Therefore, say ‘I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in His keeping, (3) under His training, (4) for His time.”

So in times of trial, we can and must know that God is sovereign, even over the evil things people may do to us. But also we must know that God is good and that He will work every situation together for good for His children. Finally, knowing this, …

3. We must trust the sovereign goodness of God in the midst of our trials.

The reason we must trust God is that it may be years, or perhaps only in eternity, before we figure out specifically how God is using our trials for good. Joseph had to keep trusting for years as he sat in that Egyptian dungeon. Every morning when he awoke in that foul place, he had to direct his thoughts to God and say, “Lord, I trust that You have some good and loving purpose in this situation. I submit to Your sovereign purpose, even though I do not understand.” He may have had to do that a hundred times a day. But I contend that he did it. If he had not, we would not hear him say, “God sent me here”; “God meant it for good.”

Trusting God is a mindset; it occurs in your thought life. It is a mindset that puts God at the center, where He rightfully should be. If we are focused on our happiness as the center, we will not be able to trust or glorify God in the midst of our trials. But, as we have seen, Joseph lived a God-centered life. As Scripture makes clear, God’s glory is the supreme thing in all of life. If we daily, moment-by-moment, put our thoughts on glorifying God, showing by our trusting attitude that He is both sovereign and good, then He will bless us in many ways as a by-product. But if we are focused on our own happiness, we will find it hard to trust God and we will be miserable people.

In the Institutes (1.17.11), John Calvin develops at length the blessings that come to the believer when he learns to live under the loving providence of God. He cites a number of assuring verses from the Psalms: “The Lord is my helper” [Ps. 118:6]; “I will not fear what flesh can do against me” [Ps. 56:4]; “The Lord is my protector; what shall I fear?” [Ps. 27:1]; “If armies should stand together against me” [Ps. 27:3], “if I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death [Ps. 23:4], “I will not cease to have good hope” [Ps. 56:5; 71:14]. Then he comments, “Whence, I pray you, do they have this never-failing assurance but from knowing that, when the world appears to be aimlessly tumbled about, the Lord is everywhere at work, and from trusting that his work will be for their welfare?” In other words, they trust in the sovereign goodness of God.


A believer confided with his Christian friend, “I find it terribly hard to trust God, and to sense His presence in the dark passages of life.” “Well,” said his friend, “if you cannot trust a man out of your sight, he isn’t worth much. But you can surely trust God even when He is hidden in the shadows, for you have His promise that He will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

Another man who loved the Lord was going through deep and discouraging trials, and his trust in God was near the breaking point. One day he went for a walk in an orchard with his young son. The boy wanted to climb an old apple tree, so the father patiently stood below watching. Many of the limbs were dead, and some of them began to break under the boy’s weight. Seeing his son’s plight, the man held up his arms and called, Jump, Buddy, Ill catch you. The boy still hung on, and then as another branch snapped he said, “Shall I let go of everything, Daddy?” “Yes,” came the reassuring reply. Without hesitation, the boy jumped and the father safely caught him.

Later the man said, “That incident was God’s message directly to me! I understood what the Lord was trying to teach me. At that moment I did trust Him completely, and it wasn’t long until He wonderfully supplied my need.” (“Our Daily Bread,” July, 1982).

That’s the mindset we need to endure trials—to trust in the sovereign goodness of God in every situation. Whatever you’re going through, you can know that though others may mean it for evil, God means it for good. He wants you to trust Him so that He will be glorified in your life.

Discussion Questions

  1. We are often told today to let God know how angry we are at Him. Is it sin to be angry at God? Should we be encouraged to express it?
  2. A skeptic sneers, “How can God be good and allow innocent children to be abused?” Your answer?
  3. How can God be sovereign over everything and yet not be responsible for evil?
  4. If God is sovereign, how can we know when to submit passively to some wrong and when to take action against it?

Copyright 1997, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

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

Related Topics: Faith, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 86: Epitaph Of A Truly Successful Man (Genesis 50:22-26)

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A successful businessman had what he considered to be his greatest stroke of luck: an angel visited him and promised to grant him one wish. The man asked for a copy of the business news one year in the future. As he received it and began to pore over the stock market pages, he drooled as he thought of the killing he would make with his insider knowledge of the future. Then his eyes happened to glance across the page to see his own name--in the obituary column! His perspective and goals for the coming year were suddenly changed as he realized his own mortality.

Our studies of the life of Joseph have helped us define true success. Joseph succeeded in a worldly sense, with his career. But more importantly, he succeeded with God. These final verses of Genesis give us the epitaph of Joseph, a truly successful man. They help us to refine our priorities as we think about the direction of our lives.

These verses that sum up the life of this truly successful man are striking for what they include as well as for what they omit. They include mention of his family, that he lived to see his great-grandchildren. Surprisingly, they exclude any mention of Joseph’s career and position of power in Egypt. They also include Joseph’s final words of faith and hope that he left with his brothers. The book of Genesis, which began with the majestic words, “In the beginning God ...,” and with the description of man and woman enjoying the beauty of the paradise God placed them in, ends with the rather unsettling words that Joseph was “placed in a coffin in Egypt.” It reminds us that any correct definition of success has to take into account the fact of death. This text shows us that:

A truly successful man is one who succeeds spiritually with his family.

Joseph’s brothers may have outlived him, since he gives his final charge to them (although verse 24 could refer to their children). A successful life is not measured by its length. Even though Joseph lived relatively long by today’s standards, he did not live as long as his father (who complained about the shortness of his 147 years) or his grandfather, who lived to 180. But Joseph enjoyed the blessings of God with his family, and he left them with his strong faith and hope in God’s yet-to-be-fulfilled promises.

1. A truly successful man is content with the blessings of family.

In summing up the life of this great man who had fame and fortune, who saved a whole nation from starvation, Moses only mentions the rather simple fact that he lived to see his great-grandsons. The phrase, to be “born on Joseph’s knees,” here is probably a way of picturing this old man joyously holding his newborn great-grandsons on his lap. In this somewhat subtle way, Moses underscores the fact that no matter how successful a man may be, the family is one of God’s greatest blessings. As someone has said, no one ever gets to the end of his life and says, “I wish I had spent more time on my career.”

Moses has woven this theme throughout the book of Genesis. His outline is to trace the generations of various families, beginning with the first family, as seen in the recurring phrase, “These are the records of the generations of ...” (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2). God began His work in history with families. At the flood, He saved one family and began over again with them. Then He singled out Abraham and promised to give him a son and through his descendants to bless all the people on earth. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, had 12 sons, and those sons are, at the close of Genesis, in the incubation period of becoming the nation from whom God would bring the Savior. Joseph lived to witness the beginning of God’s multiplying his family in line with His earlier promises. That’s what Moses emphasizes as he closes this book.

As you know, the family in America has become increasingly fragmented. There are many factors involved--the erosion of Christian moral and family values, higher divorce rates, more mothers in the work force, and more. The most popular TV shows of the 1950’s, when I grew up--”Leave It To Beaver,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show”--all portrayed what then were fairly normal families: working dad, mom at home, first (and only) marriage, and kids working through the normal struggles of growing up under the wise tutelage of their parents. Now, most people viewing those shows think, “How quaint,” or “How unrealistic!”

It would be naïve to think that these cultural changes have not affected the church. We are more affected by our culture than we care to admit. As Christians, we need to fight this cultural erosion of the family by redefining success in family terms, not in career or financial terms. If I could give you some practical advice, I would say to those of you with young children, do everything you can to have the mom at home during those child-rearing years. I encourage the men to be home with your wife and children as much as possible. Play with your kids, read to them, do things together as a family. Take a yearly vacation together as a family. You will not regret it! You can’t influence your kids with the things of God if you never spend time with them.

Christian author and speaker, Gary Smalley, reports that he interviewed 30 families across the nation that he chose because they all seemed to have close relationships. Their children, though many were teenagers, all seemed to be close to their parents and happy about it. He asked them, “What do you believe is the main reason you’re all so close and happy as a family?” Without exception, each member of the family gave the same answer: “We do a lot of things together.” Even more amazing was that all 30 families had one particular activity in common. Guess what it was? Camping! After he tried it for the first time, Smalley concluded that the reason camping unites a family is that any family that faced sure death together and survived would be closer! (If Only He Knew [Zondervan], pp. 135-137.)

Let’s not forget that God didn’t design our families to be ends in themselves, so that we are simply to enjoy one another. One of the main messages of Genesis is that the godly family is to be God’s channel for blessing those who are separated from God and alienated from one another. We are to pass God’s blessings on within the family, to our own children and grandchildren, but also beyond the family to lost people. And the church is the extended family of God. We are to reach out to lonely, alienated people, showing them how to be rightly related to God and to one another. The church is to model for the world what caring, loving relationships are like.

So the first unusual thing about this epitaph of this great man is that it singles out the blessings of his family life. After all his impressive accomplishments, Joseph was content to see the births of his great-grandchildren.

The second unusual thing about this epitaph is what it omits. If an American reporter had researched and written this story, it would have told about Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and to the fact that he held onto his high government position for 80 years. He was respected by all, no small feat for a politician! But Moses completely skips what we would emphasize the most!

2. A truly successful man is unimpressed with worldly success.

It’s somewhat risky to make a point out of what the text is silent about. But it seems to me that in this case, it’s an awfully loud silence, glaring by its omission. To me it’s saying that a man who is successful in God’s sight is not impressed with what the world labels as success.

Think of who Joseph was: The Prime Minister of the most advanced, civilized nation on earth in his day. Not many men can handle that kind of power and fame for even a short while. Yet Joseph remained in his position for 80 years, through the reigns of at least three Pharaohs. And it never went to his head.

Often Christians relate to the world in one of two unbalanced extremes. Either they separate so much from the world that they are too detached to have any impact. Granted, not too many Christians are like this, but there are a few.

The other extreme is Christians who buy into the world completely. They seek after the money and status symbols the world offers. They live for the same goals the world lives for. There’s no observable difference between them and the world, except that sometimes they go to church on Sunday mornings.

But Joseph maintained that fine balance of being in the world, but not of it. He held a difficult and important position in a pagan government and did his job well without compromising his faith in the one true God. He was married to an Egyptian wife whose father was a well-known priest in the Egyptian religion. He had to interact socially with the upper crust of Egyptian social circles. Yet when God blessed him with sons, Joseph named them with Hebrew names which gave testimony to his God. And when it came time to die, he did not want to be buried in a fine Egyptian tomb but, rather, he chose to be identified with the unsophisticated, unimpressive covenant people of God. It would have been so easy for Joseph to have groomed his sons for worldly success. But instead, by his dying wish, he communicated that the things of God are far more important than the things of this fleeting world. Joseph was unimpressed with worldly success and acclaim.

George Washington Carver stated rightly that the only advantage of fame is that it gives you a platform for service. The same is true of money for the Christian. If God grants you either fame or money, you have an increased responsibility as His steward. But don’t fall into the common trap of being impressed with worldly success. Instead, like Joseph, identify yourself with God’s people and use any fame or fortune God gives you as a platform for greater influence for His kingdom. Joseph’s epitaph shows us that a successful man is content with the blessings of family and unimpressed with worldly success. Finally,

3. A truly successful man leaves his family faith and hope in God’s promises.

As Joseph was about to die, he left his family the greatest inheritance any man can leave--not money, but faith and hope in God’s promises: “‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of [or, visit] you, and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.’ Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here’“ (50:24-25).

That’s a remarkable final charge to his family in light of Joseph's position in Egypt and the fact that he had lived there for the last 93 of his 110 years! The author of Hebrews thought so, because out of all that he could have chosen from Joseph's godly life, he chose this incident to commend Joseph: "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones" (Heb. 11:22). In light of all the space allotted to Joseph in Genesis, it seems a bit strange that this is the only thing for which the New Testament remembers and praises him. It focuses us on the fact that Joseph was a man of faith and hope.

A. A truly successful man leaves his family faith in God’s promises.

Two little words in verse 24 reveal Joseph’s faith. They are words that almost always reveal faith, the words, but God. Jacob, from his deathbed, had said the same thing to Joseph over 50 years before: “I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers” (48:21). Joseph could have thought, “That wasn’t true. God didn’t bring me back, as my father said.” But rather than doubting God’s promise, which is not always fulfilled in our timetable, Joseph, from his deathbed, by faith assured his family, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you [the Hebrew is emphatic], and bring you up from this land to the land which he promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.”

As a proof of that faith, Joseph gave the unusual instructions that he was not to be put into one of the pyramids or some Egyptian tomb. But instead, his body was to be kept accessible enough that when Israel went back to Canaan, they were to carry Joseph’s bones with them! Bible scholars are divided on the chronology, but it was between 200 to 400 years later when Moses finally led Israel out of Egypt. They had to leave in haste, two million people heading out through the desert with all their belongings and livestock.

Yet in all that confusion, after all those years, we read in Exodus 13:19 that Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. During all those years of slavery and oppression in Egypt, Joseph’s bones stood as a witness of faith in God’s promises to Israel: “We’re not going to stay in Egypt forever. Remember Joseph’s bones!”

Who do you suppose got the job of carrying Joseph’s mummy out of Egypt? If their wagons were like our car when we leave on vacation, I can’t imagine anyone telling Moses, “Sure, we have some extra room. Just stuff that mummy right here by the sleeping bags!” Do you suppose some Hebrew family was grumbling, “Here we are taking off across the desert with everything we own, and Moses insists that we haul along this mummy!”

But the significance of that mummy was that it said to Israel, many of whom were unbelieving grumblers, “God can be trusted to keep His promises.” It may take 400 years, but you can count on it. If God promised, that should be enough for our trust. But when God promises on oath, then what excuse do we have for not believing Him?

Joseph’s family had leaned on him for support. But he taught them to look beyond himself to the living God who would support them after he was gone: “I am about to die, but God ....” That’s a great thing to leave to your family—”but God!” Teach your family that in the little problems as well as in the major crises of life, we have the God of Jacob as our refuge and strength (Ps. 46). We can go to His Word for wisdom and go to Him in prayer to make our requests known to Him. Leave your family faith in God’s promises.

B. A truly successful man leaves his family hope in God’s promises.

Faith and hope are closely related. As Hebrews 11:1 [NIV] puts it, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hope is not an uncertain, vague wish. It is certain because God promised, but it’s not yet realized. Hope involves an attitude of patient expectancy as we wait for God to do what He has promised.

Hope is often displayed against the backdrop of severe trials. Joseph’s descendants would be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years before God visited them with deliverance in Moses. Even then, God seemed to be in no hurry, from a human perspective. He set Moses aside in the desert for 40 years of additional training before he was ready to lead Israel out of bondage. During those 400 years there is no record of the Lord appearing to any of Israel’s descendants. It’s interesting, by the way, that in spite of Joseph’s godliness, there is no record of God appearing to him as He had done to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So during all those years of oppression, when God was silent, His people had to hang on to the hope of God’s promise made to their fathers hundreds of years before.

The book of Genesis ends on this note of hope, that God will surely visit His people. He did, as the book of Exodus makes clear. But that wasn’t a final visitation. The Old Testament ends with the Lord giving the hope of the coming of “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” ... (Mal. 4:5-6). But then there were 400 more silent years, when God’s people languished under the oppression of foreign rule, with no word from God. Then Zecharias, the father of that second Elijah, John the Baptist, prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people” (Luke 1:68).

Zecharias was prophesying of Jesus Christ, born in fulfillment of God’s promises that had gone unfulfilled for almost 2,000 years. Jesus Christ provided salvation from God’s judgment for all who will accept His death on the cross as God’s free gift. But after His death and resurrection, He did not remain to set up His kingdom on this earth, but returned to heaven. As He ascended, the angel told the apostles, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

And so the final book of the Bible ends by looking forward in hope to that great event: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). And now, almost 2,000 years later, we know that His return is near. We are to be looking for His coming in holy conduct and godliness, with expectant hope (see 2 Pet. 3:3-13).


Are you leaving your family a legacy of faith and hope in the promises of God? So often, as adults we grow cynical, negative, and unbelieving. Let’s face it, there’s a lot in life to shove us in that direction. But if you’re always grumbling, if you have a cynical attitude, you’ll poison your family toward God.

A six-year-old boy found a penny and excitedly showed it to his grandmother. Like many adults who have lost the simple perspective of children, she said, “What’s so great about finding a penny? You can’t buy anything with it.”

“Oh yes, you can!” the boy shot back. “You can buy a dream in a wishing well.”

There’s a big difference, of course, between a dream in a wishing well and the sure promises of God. But the boy’s spirit of expectancy was right. As men, ordained by God to lead our families and to pass on to them the legacy of God’s promises, we need to convey to them that even after we’re gone, they can trust and hope in the living God and He will not disappoint them.

Put yourself in the place of that businessman who saw his own name in the obituary column. You’ve only got a year to live. What do you want to leave your family: a successful career or faith and hope in the promises of God? True success is succeeding spiritually with your family.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some forces that have served to tear apart the American family? How can we fight against them?
  2. Is it wrong for a man to strive for career success? If so, how can he endure work? If not, how can he keep his priorities straight?
  3. Is it wrong for a Christian mother to pursue a career? Why/ why not?
  4. What are some practical ways Christian parents can instill faith and hope in their children?

Copyright Steven J. Cole, 1997, All Rights Reserved.

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

Related Topics: Christian Home, Discipleship, Fathers, Mothers, Parenting

From the series: Genesis PREVIOUS PAGE

Lesson 87: From The Garden To A Coffin (Genesis Recap)

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Our family does a lot of hiking when we’re on vacation. Sometimes you take a hike that meanders through the forest and you begin to wonder where you’re going. Then, you finally come out on a high point, where you can look back and see the way you came. Suddenly the whole thing fits together in a way it hadn’t before as you see the relationship between the parts and the whole.

We’ve spent the better part of two years hiking through Genesis, enjoying the details as we’ve gone from chapter to chapter. Many of you have started attending this church since that time, so you didn’t have the benefit of the first message, when I gave an overview of the book and some of its themes. The rest of you have probably long since forgotten that overview. So I thought it would be profitable, now that we’ve walked through the book, to give a final recap of this first book of the Bible, to look back from the summit and see where we’ve come.

In broad outline, Genesis answers the question, “How did it all begin?” It starts with the creation and the first man and woman, without sin, in the Garden of Eden. It ends with Joseph in a coffin in Egypt. Of course the pivotal event, which led from that glorious beginning to that disturbing conclusion, was the fall of the human race into sin. Genesis graphically portrays the effects of sin on the human race. But it also shows God’s great mercy in redeeming fallen man and calling out a people for His purpose, a channel for His blessing to all nations. Moses, the author, is supplying the historical basis for God’s covenant with His people, Israel. He wanted them to know where they had come from and where they were going. God had promised Canaan to them; thus there was no future for them in Egypt or in the wilderness. Moses wrote Genesis to show Israel that they must, by faith and obedience, go forward to conquer the land God had promised to give them.

Genesis hinges at the call of Abraham in chapter 12 into two major sections, each with four subsections:

1. Human history from Adam to Abraham: The beginnings of the human race (chap. 1-11).

A. Creation (1-2)

B. Fall (3)

C. Flood: Increase of sin culminating in judgment at the flood (4-9)

D. Dispersion: Sin after the flood, culminating in the judgment at Babel (10-11)

2. Human history from Abraham to Joseph: The beginnings of the chosen race (12-50).

A. Abraham (12-24)

B. Isaac (25-26)

C. Jacob (27-36)

D. Joseph (37-50)

The sovereign hand of God over human history is a major emphasis in all of these events. By reading Genesis, God’s people can see that He is behind all their history. He is the one who has brought them to where they are, and He has promised many blessings regarding their future. And yet God’s sovereignty doesn’t negate human responsibility, as is demonstrated in the lives of the characters of Genesis. God confronted Cain with his anger, but Cain disregarded God’s warning and went on to murder his brother. Noah, on the other hand, refused to go along with his godless contemporaries and was delivered from God’s judgment through his obedient faith in building the ark. Throughout the book there are marked contrasts between those who obeyed God and were blessed and those who disobeyed and suffered the consequences: Abraham and Lot; Ishmael and Isaac; Esau and Jacob; Joseph and his brothers.

Genesis is rich in theology. As I mentioned in my first message, someone has said, “The roots of all subsequent revelation are planted deep in Genesis, and whoever would truly comprehend that revelation must begin here.” I am not going to attempt to go through the many doctrines and topics treated in Genesis nor to mention all the beginnings that are covered. But I’d like to point out some of the fundamental teachings about God and man as we look at the central theme of Genesis.

God has graciously redeemed us from the curse of sin so that we may be His channel for blessing all people.

1. Genesis tells us who God is.

The book begins by bringing the reader face to face with the awesome reality of God as the creator of all that is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There is no introduction to lead up to the point, no argument to prove His existence, no room for speculation or curiosity. By revelation, not speculation, we are brought face to face with the eternal God who spoke the universe into existence. There’s not even time to duck. You must either accept God as the source of all or reject Him. The Bible begins with an authoritative declaration that demands a response to the Creator of the universe.

The revelation of God’s awesome power in creation might tend to put us off, to make us feel like we can’t approach such an omnipotent God. Yet the early chapters of Genesis show that the omnipotent God is also a personal God who communicates with the people He has created. He talks with Adam and gives him meaningful work to do in the garden. He knows Adam’s need for a helper and creates Eve for his wife. The first couple communes with God each day in the garden.

But just when we’re starting to relax and feel like we might be able to approach this awesome, but personal God, sin enters the picture and we see God pronouncing curses on the serpent, the woman, the man, and the ground. We learn that God does not take sin lightly as He expels the fallen couple from the garden. Then, as sin spreads through the fallen human race, we recoil at God’s terrible judgments in the flood and again at the tower of Babel. We see that God is a holy God who must judge all sin.

But in all of this, there is hope. Rather than striking the fallen couple in the garden dead on the spot, God graciously offered them hope in the promise of the seed of the woman. He would bruise the serpent’s head, although the serpent would bruise him on the heel (3:15). This is the earliest promise in the Bible of the coming of Christ the Savior, born of a woman (not a man, through the virgin birth). In His death, He was bruised on the heel, and it seemed as if Satan had triumphed. But Christ’s resurrection turned what seemed like Satan’s victory into his defeat, as the seed of the woman bruised the serpent’s head.

Then God graciously provided animal skins to clothe the fallen couple (3:21). This provided for their physical nakedness, but obviously it went far beyond that. Just as man’s nakedness goes beyond the physical and points to the exposure of the soul resulting from sin (3:7), so God’s provision of clothing went beyond the physical need for garments. It is a beautiful illustration of what God would do through the Lord Jesus Christ to provide salvation for all who stand shamefully exposed before Him in their sin. God’s provision of the animal skins shows us four things:

First, we need a covering for our sin. The thought of standing with my sin exposed in the light of God’s holy presence is more intolerable than the thought of showing up for a job interview at the White House stark naked. I need some sort of covering.

Second, our attempts at covering ourselves are inadequate. Adam and Eve made fig leaves, but that wouldn’t do. Modern man tries the fig leaves of good works to cover his sin and to make himself presentable to God, but God cannot accept that.

Third, only God can provide the covering we need for our sin. He takes the initiative in properly covering our sin and guilt. Adam and Eve were passive; God did it all. We cannot receive God’s salvation as long as we offer Him our fig leaves. We must let Him provide everything, as He has in fact done in Christ.

Fourth, the covering God provided required the death of an innocent substitute. An animal had to be slaughtered to provide this covering for Adam and Eve. If, as we can probably assume, Adam and Eve witnessed this slaughter, it must have shocked them. This was the first time they had witnessed death. As they saw the animals (lambs?) having their throats slit and writhing in the throes of death, they must have gained a new awareness both of the seriousness of their sin and of the greatness of God’s grace in not requiring their own immediate death for their sin. They learned that without the shedding of blood, there is no adequate covering for sin, but that God would accept the death of an acceptable substitute. In light of subsequent revelation, we know that that substitute is Jesus Christ, to whom these animals pointed as a type.

So Genesis shows God as the Almighty Creator who yet can be known personally. It shows Him as the Holy Judge of all sin, yet the Savior who Himself provided the payment of the penalty for our sin.

Genesis also shows God as the Sovereign Covenant God, who works all human history according to His purposes. He calls Abraham, a pagan man, and promises to bless him by making him into a mighty nation and by blessing all the families of the earth in him (12:1-3). In spite of the foul-ups of Abraham in taking Hagar and fathering Ishmael; of Isaac in favoring Esau; of Jacob in scheming to secure the birthright; and, of Jacob’s sons in selling their brother into slavery; God’s purpose for His people moves forward. As Joseph told his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (50:20).

We see God’s sovereign grace in choosing men. He chose Abraham over his older brother Nahor, Isaac over the older Ishmael, Jacob the schemer over his older twin Esau, and the younger Ephraim over Manasseh. But Messiah would not come through Joseph’s descendants at all, but through the tribe of Judah, again demonstrating that it is God’s grace, not human merit, that matters. In all this we learn that our salvation depends upon our sovereign, gracious God, not upon our merit and good works.

If I had time, I could develop much more fully this theme of who God is as revealed in Genesis. We could study the names of God as revealed throughout the book: Elohim; Yahweh; the angel of the Lord; El Roi, the God who sees; El Shaddai, God Almighty; El Elyon, God Most High; the fear of Isaac; the God of Jacob; etc.

But before I move on, let me apply this by saying that we need to submit personally to God as He has revealed Himself rather than create a God of our own liking. The God who reveals Himself in the book of Genesis isn’t necessarily to our liking. Modern science tells us that everything has evolved through random chance. Genesis says that God created the heavens and the earth. Either you create your own god out of science, which is ultimately to make fallible man your god; or, you submit to God the Almighty Creator revealed in Genesis.

Genesis reveals God as a holy God who judges sin. That’s not popular in our day. We’d rather have a nice god who is tolerant of sin. But either you create a false god of your own liking, or you submit to the God revealed in Genesis. The God of Genesis is one who provides salvation from His judgment apart from man’s efforts. You may not like that, since human nature wants to earn salvation. But you must either submit to the God of Genesis or create your own false god.

Genesis reveals a sovereign God who works all things after the counsel of His will, who chooses His servants according to grace, not human merit. Again, you may not like that, since human nature likes to think in terms of man’s freedom to determine his own destiny. But you must either submit to the sovereign God of Genesis or make a god who fits your fancy, who is not God at all. Genesis tells us who God is, which confronts us with our need to submit to Him.

2. Genesis tells us who we are.

The British skeptic, George Bernard Shaw, in response to the German concentration camps, reluctantly concluded, “There is only one empirically verifiable doctrine of theology--original sin.” While that doctrine looms large in Genesis, it is not the first picture of man. The first statement about man is God saying, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). While the image of God in man was marred by the fall, it was not obliterated. We know this because after the flood, God establishes the death penalty for murder, basing it on the fact that man was created in God’s image, a truth that still applied (Gen. 9:6).

That great truth lies behind the proper Christian view that every human being should be treated with respect. It lies behind Christian opposition to the slaughter of unwanted children through abortion and infanticide. It is the basis for respect and care for the elderly and dying. It is the motivation behind Christian hospitals and health care. It lies behind Christian charity toward the poor and underprivileged. It lies behind a proper Christian respect of men for women and of women for men, since Genesis 1:27 distinctly states that God created man in His image as male and female. It hints at what the second chapter confirms, the basis for Christian marriage and family relationships. It forms the basis for the proper understanding of one’s self, showing that we each have a unique role in God’s purpose.

But Genesis also shows us as fallen in sin, alienated from God. The devastating effects of sin are displayed in full view throughout the book. The beauty of the first couple, innocent in the garden, is destroyed as they are expelled because of their sin. Their oldest son, the first man born into the first family on the earth, jealously murders his younger brother. In Noah’s time, the sinful condition of the human race is summed up: “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5).

So our view of self has to be molded not only by the encouraging truth that we have been created in God’s image, but also by the sober reality that our hearts are inclined against God and toward sin. While it may not be a pleasant thing to look into the mirror that Genesis holds before us, it bears witness with reality. You read the book of Genesis and come away saying, “Yes, that is what human nature is like. Even more, that is what Im like!” It’s an accurate picture of the human condition. But Genesis doesn’t leave us there. That would be hopeless.

3. Genesis tells us what we must do.

Genesis shows us, as we’ve already seen, that God offers us redemption and how we must respond. I could illustrate this from the great passage in Genesis 15:6, where Moses writes that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. The apostle Paul uses that text to demonstrate that salvation is by grace through faith apart from human works (Galatians 3; Romans 4). But instead, I’d like to illustrate it from the first instance of faith, when Adam believed God’s promise of redemption.

After God pronounced the curse for man’s sin (3:14-19), there is a verse that at first seems to be out of context. Genesis 3:20 reads, “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.” Then the text goes on to tell of God’s provision of animal skins and of His expelling the couple from the garden. But after the grim words of verse 19, which inflict toil and death upon the human race, you would not expect verse 20. At best, you would think that it would read, “Now Adam called his wife ‘the Grim Reaper,’ because she was the mother of all the dying.” It was ultimately because of her sin that death came to the human race. Yet Adam calls her “Eve,” which means life-giver or mother. And, remember, this was before she had any children.

What does Genesis 3:20 mean? It is Adam’s response of faith to God’s promise to send a Savior through the seed of the woman (3:15). Adam heard and submitted to God’s penalty of death (3:19), but he also grabbed on to God’s promise that there would come forth from the woman a descendent who would bruise the serpent’s head. And so by faith, before his wife had conceived, Adam named her Eve, the mother of all living.

Salvation is now and always has been by faith in God’s promise. Before Jesus Christ came into the world, a person’s faith had to look forward to the promised Savior. Since Christ, faith looks back to the Savior who has come. Salvation has never been based on keeping the commandments or on a person’s good works balancing out his sins. We are made right with God by trusting what He has said concerning His Son, Jesus Christ, the only Savior, who took our penalty on Himself on the cross.

Saving faith always results in obedience. Noah didn’t just say, “I believe You, God, that You’re going to send a flood to destroy the earth.” His faith resulted in 100 years of hard work and ridicule as he built the ark and got on board when God told him to. Saving faith always affects our behavior in this evil world. If we believe God concerning His promise of salvation from judgment through Christ, we will turn from our sin and seek to live in accordance with God’s purposes.

That means that we will commit ourselves and all the resources God has graciously entrusted to us to His great purpose of blessing all the families on earth through the seed of Abraham, who is Jesus Christ. If we really believe what Genesis teaches about God’s judgment on sin and about His provision in Christ, we cannot be complacent as billions go into eternity without Christ. Rather, we will do all we can to be channels of God’s blessing to those who are lost and perishing.


An old man, walking along the beach at dawn, noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the youth, he asked what he was doing. The young man answered that the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun.

“But the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish,” countered the old man. “How can your effort make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves. “It makes a difference to this one,” he said.

Paul tells us that the Lord is “abounding in riches for all who will call upon Him; for ‘whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:12-15). God wants those beautiful feet to be your feet!

Genesis tells us who God is, who we are, and what we must do. God has graciously redeemed us from the curse of sin so that we may be His channel for blessing all people. Let’s obey the message of Genesis!

Discussion Questions

  1. Which is emphasized more in our day: God as loving Redeemer or God as righteous judge? How can we restore the biblical balance?
  2. Which view of man is most emphasized today: Man as created in God’s image or man as fallen hopelessly in sin? How do we find the biblical balance?
  3. Some emphasize God’s sovereignty to the neglect of human responsibility. Others focus on “free will” to the detriment of God’s sovereignty. Where is the biblical balance?
  4. Why is proper theology about God and man the necessary basis for world missions?

Copyright Steven J. Cole, 1997, All Rights Reserved.

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

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Soteriology (Salvation)

God, Money, and You

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This 5 part study on Finances was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 1993. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.

Related Topics: Finance, Tithing

Lesson 1: Financial Freedom (Selected Scriptures)

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Preachers are notorious for preaching about money. Maybe it’s because their income depends on the generosity of God’s people. But I hope it’s for a different reason, namely, that they’re preaching the Bible, which has a lot to say about money. Of the 38 recorded parables of Jesus, 16 deal with money or possessions. In the Gospels, one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.

Perhaps the reason the Bible puts such an emphasis on money is because, in Jesus’ words, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). I would have thought He would have said, “Where your heart is, your treasure will be also.” But your heart follows your treasure. If you put your treasure in the things of this world, your heart will be in this world. If you put your treasure in the kingdom of God, your heart will be there. Since your heart and your money are so inextricably bound together, it is crucial to your spiritual life to study what Scripture teaches about money.

We begin today a brief series on “God, Money, and You.” In the next five weeks, I want to develop four qualities which God wants to enlarge in the life of every believer. Each quality is in opposition to the world’s perspective:

  1. Freedom (from bondage to greed and debt). The world says, “I want more and I’ll go in debt to get it.”
  2. Integrity. The world winks at cheating and dishonesty.
  3. Faithfulness. The world is marked by irresponsibility.
  4. Generosity. The world says, “Hang onto it!”

Because your attitudes toward money are closely tied in with your heart, I’ll probably offend you at some point in this series! If I do, before you stomp out mad, please stop and consider that: (1) This stuff applies to me as well as to you, so I’m struggling to apply it just as I hope you are; (2) It may be God, not me, stepping on your toes. If it’s just me, I apologize. Feel free to disagree with me. But if I’m true to Scripture, please don’t shrug it off. God calls us all to be doers of the Word, and there are few of us who don’t have room to grow on this important topic.

Today I want to talk about financial freedom. God wants us to be free from bondage to money which takes two forms:

God wants us to be free from bondage to greed and debt.

Greed and debt are two main ways we become enslaved to money. God’s answer to greed is contentment; His answer to debt is control.

1. God wants us to be free from bondage to greed.

Greed is a major danger whether you are rich or poor. Many who are rich got that way because the love of money was the driving force in their lives. Many who are poor love money just as much as the rich do; the problem is, they don’t have any! Of course the root problem which causes both rich and poor to be greedy is the love of self. Money (including the power, prestige, and possessions it brings) is just the means through which the person who loves himself more than God and others thinks he can live comfortably. Since we all battle the love of self, we all must be on guard against greed.

A. Greed enslaves all who do not master it.

Jesus drew the line and put us all into one of two camps when He said (Matt. 6:24), “You cannot serve God and mammon.” (“Mammon” comes from an Aramaic word meaning “wealth” or “property” and refers to material riches.) If Jesus is not Lord of all your life, you are enslaved to money and greed! That sounds extreme, but Jesus didn’t allow for a middle camp, where God is sort of your Lord, where you can drop $10 in the plate whenever you feel generous, or even where you can give ten percent, but the rest is yours to spend as you please. Jesus was quite radical: “No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Either God or greed is your master; not both.

The main way greed enslaves us is through deception. If it marched up and diabolically said, “I am greed and I want to control your life,” few would fall for it. But Satan uses the desire for riches to appeal to our love of self and gradually entrap us. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained the seed sown on the thorny ground as “the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19). The thorns of greed can choke out the seed of the Word and make you unfruitful. This deception operates in at least four ways:

(1) Greed can deceive us by gradually becoming our master. In Jesus’ parable, the thorns are different from the birds that stole the seed and the sun that scorched the plants in that thorns grow more gradually. The birds steal the seed immediately. The sun can scorch the young plants in a day or two. But it might take weeks for the thorns gradually to strangle the plant.

None of us would say, “I’m going to make money my master.” Rather, it is a gradual, subtle process. “As soon as I get the business on its feet, I’ll have more time for my family and for the Lord. But right now I need to give it some extra time.” Sure! Each one of us needs to ask ourselves honestly: Is God or is mammon my real master?

(2) Greed can deceive us by making money our focus for happiness. Paul said (1 Tim. 6:9-10), “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.” Note the deception (“snare”; “pierced themselves”; “wandered away”). Nobody deliberately steps into a snare, pierces themselves through, or gets lost. They get trapped or pierced or lost before they know it.

The delusion is based on a desire--to get rich. People often want to get rich because they think that if they just had more, they’d be happy. But how much do you need for happiness?

One of the best modern parables on this is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl [Bantam Books]. A young man on a Pacific island dreams of finding the perfect pearl and of the happiness it will bring him and his family. One day he finds it, but he discovers that instead of happiness, it makes life miserable. Everyone is after him to steal his pearl. It almost costs him his life; it does cost him his son’s life. The pearl becomes the dominating thing in his life, his master, until ... (you’ll have to read it!).

(3) Greed can deceive us if we make money our present source of trust. (See Deut. 6:10-12; 8:11-14, 17-18.) When Israel was in the wilderness, they were forced to trust God. If the manna stopped, or if God didn’t bring water from the rock, they all would have died. The spiritual danger increased when their economic danger subsided. It’s easy when you have plenty to trust your plenty instead of the Lord who can give or take away your riches.

(4) Greed can deceive us if we make money our future hope for security. “As soon as I get enough for the future, then I’ll kick back a bit,” we say. “I just want myself and my family to be financially secure.” But what is financial security? How much is enough? Those are questions every Christian must ask honestly before God and in light of His Word.

It is not wrong, and, in fact, is quite right, to save for future contingencies and needs such as retirement, illness, emergencies, and death. But how much is enough? Larry Burkett reflects the balance when he writes, “Those who make no provision for their families are clearly outside of God’s plan and suffer as a result. Those who hoard and live lavishly are also outside of God’s plan and suffer accordingly” (Christian Financial Concepts, p. 67).

Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). He then told the parable of the rich man who thought he would obtain financial security by building bigger barns to store his produce. But God required the man’s soul that very night and called him a fool because he didn’t plan for riches in heaven.

A modern version of that story is told, where a businessman had an angel visit him who promised to grant him one request. He asked for a copy of “The Wall Street Journal” one year in the future. As he was studying the stock prices and gloating over the killing he would make through his view into the future, his eye glanced across the page to the obituaries, where he saw his own name. Suddenly, that financial killing lost its significance.

The Lord is our only true source of security. With that in mind, we should prayerfully and prudently answer the question, “How much is enough?” Greed can enslave us through deceitfulness. You are either the servant of greed or of God. Be on guard!

What is God’s answer to the bondage of greed?

B. God wants us to develop contentment in Him.

After warning of those who think that godliness is a means of financial gain and before warning of the danger of pursuing wealth, Paul states (1 Tim. 6:6-8), “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” In Philippians 4, Paul says that he had learned to be content in all circumstances.

I must be brief, but contentment counters each of the four ways greed can subtly enslave us:

(1) Make God the master of all you are and have. We do not have the right to use anything as if it belongs to us. All our money and everything we have belongs to the Lord; we only manage it for Him. His Word gives us the wisdom we need to be faithful in managing His resources. If we constantly reaffirm God as the owner, we will avoid the gradual encroachment of mammon as master.

(2) Make God your focus for happiness. We are to rejoice in Him whether we have much or little (Phil. 4:4, 10-13). If we think, “I’ll be happy as soon as I get ____” (fill in the blank), we’re serving mammon, not God. If we rejoice daily in the Lord, then we can be happy with much or with little.

(3) Make God your present source of trust. If you are doing well financially, be especially careful! That’s when the danger is the greatest of shifting your trust to your bank account. If God is your trust, you won’t anxiously be seeking the things the world seeks (Matt. 6:25-34) nor will you be resting comfortably in your financial security.

(4) Make God your hope for the future. Hebrews 13:5 commands us, “Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you.’” Scripture directs us to make reasonable financial plans for the future (Prov. 6:6-11). I believe that providing for our family (1 Tim. 5:8) includes carrying a moderate amount of life insurance, having a will, and enough savings or liquid investments to cover normal emergencies. But God must be our hope for the future, not our investments or financial planning.

If we will develop contentment in the Lord, we can remain free from the bondage of greed. But there’s a second form of financial bondage:

2. God wants us to be free from bondage to debt.

A. Debt enslaves us to the lender and hinders the development of key Christian character qualities.

Proverbs 22:7 states, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” First Corinthians 7:23 instructs us not to become slaves of men. Romans 13:8 states, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” Going into debt puts you in bondage to pay off those debts. It makes you the tail, not the head (Deut. 28:43-44). While it would be too strong to say that the Bible forbids all debt, it does strongly caution against it.

There are a lot of definitions of debt (take your pick). I’m referring to spending more than you are taking in. If you are paying monthly installment interest on credit cards (half of American families do), in my book you’re in debt. A 1980 survey disclosed that the average American family in the 25-35 year-old bracket was spending $397 a month more than they earned. A 1975 Reader’s Digest article stated that one-sixth of married couples in the U.S. owed (apart from home mortgages) more than they earned in a year.

Debt goes hand-in-hand with greed, because it feeds off greed and self-gratification by giving us what we want now, rather than making us wait for it or work for it in advance. It reflects impulsiveness and hinders the development of discipline and self control (a fruit of the Spirit). Debt runs counter to waiting on the Lord in prayer and faith to provide what we need, reflecting a lack of pa-tience. Debt presumes on the future (our ability to repay), which the Bible says is arrogance, since we don’t control the future (James 4:13-16). Debt often reflects mismanagement and irresponsibility with the Lord’s resources. And debt creates unnecessary tension in your life and marriage. It truly is a form of bondage!

Debt also prevents us from giving generously to the Lord’s work. Ten years ago Larry Burkett stated that the average American family paid $1,000 a year in interest (not counting their house mortgage). If they were out of debt, they could give that money to the church. If only 40 families in this church gave $1,000 more per year, we could pay off the mortgage on the property next door the first year and then have more for ministry and mission needs every year after that!

If you get so far in debt that you can’t repay what you owe, it’s a bad testimony (Ps. 37:21). How can you default on your debt and tell your creditor about your Savior? Bankruptcy may be the easy way out (due to our legal system), but it doesn’t honor the Lord. What is God’s answer to debt?

B. God’s answer to debt is control.

Here’s a simple principle: You won’t get into debt if you don’t borrow! Control your spending habits so that you live within your means. I can’t go into detail on the pros and cons of borrowing for a home mortgage or other expensive purchases, such as a car. But on home loans, be very careful; on cars, avoid borrowing unless it’s absolutely necessary (which it seldom is). A lot of things we think are necessities are really luxuries. Christian financial counselor Ron Blue states, “Getting in debt is as easy as getting down an ice-covered mountain. Getting out of debt is just as difficult as climbing that same mountain” (Master Your Money [Thomas Nelson Publishers], p. 59).

If you’re already in debt, the only way out is to discipline yourself to spend less than you make and to use the difference to systematically meet your obligations until you’re free from debt. You can also sell off needless items and use the money to pay down your debts. Then you must continue living with self-control so that you can build up a surplus for expected future needs. If you can’t control credit card spending, do plastic surgery: Cut all your cards in half and throw them in separate trash cans so they can’t spontaneously reunite!


If you can get free from the bondage of greed and debt by developing contentment and control, you will realize a number of benefits. Here are three:

(1) Personally, you will be free from anxiety and pressure over money matters. Jesus showed the anxiety that results from living for things--worry about moths, rust, and thieves (Matt. 6:19-33). Debt and the pressure of how to hold off your creditors also causes anxiety. You don’t need that! It’s great to be free from money worries.

(2) Maritally, you will be free from strife and tension over money matters. Money is one of the leading causes of domestic unhappiness and divorce. There are enough pressures in marriage and the family without having money pressures.

(3) Spiritually, you will know that you are pleasing the Lord as His faithful steward. Pleasing God (not the other benefits) should be the primary motive for developing contentment and control in the financial realm. Also, you are free to give generously to the Lord’s work. There is the satisfaction of knowing that you are laying up treasures in heaven as you give. God promises to bless the effectual doer of the Word (James 1:25).

Are you financially free from the bondage of greed and debt? Do contentment and control characterize your financial life? If not, the only way to please God is to confess your sins, turn to His way, and begin to walk in obedience. It may take a long time and a lot of work, but you can commit yourself to begin the journey today.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does being content mean that I shouldn’t work toward improving my financial condition? What does it mean?
  2. How much is enough? At what point do we violate Jesus’ command not to lay up treasures on earth?
  3. Is it wrong for Christians to live in luxury? How can we tell if we have a problem with greed?
  4. Since God is to be our security, are things like insurance or investments wrong?
  5. How can an impulsive spender develop self control?

Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

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

Related Topics: Finance, Hamartiology (Sin), Spiritual Life

Lesson 2: When No One Is Looking— Integrity in Money Matters (Selected Scriptures)

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A story is told about a not-too-honest judge who was trying a case involving two railroads. When he received the briefs from the two lawyers, they both contained bribes. The first lawyer had sent a check for $10,000. The second lawyer’s check was for $15,000. The judge looked at the two checks, thought a moment, then called his secretary. “Make out a check for $5,000 and send it to the second lawyer,” he said. “We’re going to decide this case on its own merits.”

Integrity in money matters is a rare thing. But God wants His people marked by financial integrity. The English have a saying, “A gentleman is one who uses the butter knife when he is alone.” In other words, what someone does when no one is looking indicates their true character. Integrity in money matters has to do with being honest and upright when no one is looking. It means acting according to biblical principles, even if you think you’ll never get caught, because you know that God is watching and you want to please Him.

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary ([Merriam-Webster], p. 589) states, “Integrity implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge.” If you take that definition strictly, no one has integrity, because no one is incapable of being corrupted. We’re all susceptible to temptation. But we don’t need to yield. God’s Word is clear:

A Christian must act with integrity in financial dealings.

We live in a dishonest, corrupt world. In 1980, the IRS estimated that it lost up to $26 billion a year in unreported taxes. When I worked as a room service waiter, the other waiters told me not to report all my tips or it would tip off the IRS that all the other waiters were cheating! On more than one occasion I’ve been urged to falsify loan information on real estate deals, being assured, “Everyone does it.” Since we live in that kind of world, our financial integrity as Christians will stand out and give us opportunities to testify to the transforming power of the gospel.

I would like to share four aspects of financial integrity:

1. Integrity means having a clear conscience in all finan-cial dealings.

This is foundational to all of life, including finances. Note Paul’s testimony (Acts 24:16): “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” In view of what? Verse 15: In view of having a hope in God and in view of the fact of the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked! Because Paul kept in view the certainty of standing before God, he maintained a clear conscience.

The conscience is our inner warning system (“faults” alarm) that goes off when we violate our standards. A mother helping her son with his spelling words asked if he knew the difference between “conscious” and “conscience.” He said, “Sure, Mom, ‘conscious’ is when you’re aware of something; ‘conscience’ is when you wish you weren’t.”

The popular saying, “Let your conscience be your guide,” is not completely sound advice, because the conscience must be shaped by knowledge of and obedience to Scripture. If you vio-late your conscience and don’t repent, your conscience becomes hardened or calloused. If this continues unchecked, you reach a point where your conscience is seared--insensitive to right and wrong (1 Tim. 4:2). I read of a mafia hit man who said that he didn’t have the slightest twinge of conscience when he shot a man in the face at point blank range. And, although it is rare in our day, some people are on the other end of the spectrum with an over-sensitive conscience.

My associate pastor in California was standing in line at the 7-11 convenience store behind a man who had recently started attending our church. This guy was buying a six-pack of beer and $5 worth of lottery tickets. The cashier only charged him $1 for the lottery tickets. He told her that she had undercharged him and then turned and said to my associate, “After Steve’s sermon, what else could I do? I have to be honest!” His conscience wasn’t totally shaped by Scripture yet (with regard to drinking and gambling), but at least he’s was growing!

You can see Paul’s conscience in money matters in 2 Corinthians 8:19-21. He was appealing to the churches in Greece and Macedonia to raise money for the Christians in Judea who were hard hit by a famine. There were a lot of religious hucksters in Paul’s day (as in ours). It would have been much easier then than it is now to get away with unscrupulous practices. There were no laws governing contributions for charitable causes nor agencies to track down fraudulent operators. Paul easily could have skimmed from the collection for personal expenses.

But he was scrupulous to avoid any charge of profiteering from the gospel. He had the church appoint several respected men to travel with him and help administer the funds so that no one could accuse him of impropriety. He was concerned not only about what is honorable “in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (v. 21).

It is important not only what God thinks about your financial dealings, but also what people think, because it affects your testimony of the gospel. It saddens me, but I often hear comments like, “If a guy claims to be a Christian businessman, I take my business elsewhere!” Or, I’ll hear about Christians who don’t pay their bills. Integrity involves having a clear conscience before God and man in financial dealings. If you’ve done something wrong, you need to get it cleared up first with God, then by making it right with the ones you’ve wronged.

2. Integrity means total honesty in financial dealings.

Note Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore [because you are a new person in Christ, created in righteousness and holiness of the truth], laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Technically you could argue that this verse only applies to relationships between Christians. But in our relationships with the world, we represent the Lord Jesus who is the Truth (John 14:6); therefore we must be honest in all our financial dealings. Those in the world may never read the Gospel of John, but they read the gospel according to you!

There are at least three factors in total honesty:

A. Total honesty means telling the truth, even when it hurts.

I’ll tell you from personal experience, “It hurts!” It will cost you financially to be totally honest. It has cost me many times. Once I had some car repairs done and was charged for the parts but not the labor. I had to argue with the cashier to get her to see how she had undercharged me! But when she saw it, she thanked me profusely, because she would have been fired. Sometimes it will be just a few dollars you’ve been undercharged; sometimes it will be substantial. In each case it not only costs the money, but it’s inconvenient and time-consuming to have to go back and make it right. You’ll be tempted to think, “The Lord has provided this extra money for me!” But total honesty involves telling the truth, even when it costs you.

I try to use such occasions as opportunities to bear witness for Christ. People will often say, “My, you are an honest person!” I could say, “Aw, shucks, it’s nothing” and take the glory for myself. But I come back with, “No, I’m a greedy crook. But Jesus Christ is my Lord and He’s the reason I’m honest!” If I can I leave them with a gospel tract.

It’s easy to make true statements, but to omit part of the truth that would damage your cause. For example, you are selling a used car. The mechanic has informed you that a major transmission overhaul is imminent, and you have decided to unload it. The person who has come to look at it doesn’t know much about cars, and innocently asks, “Does it run well?” You reply, “The engine’s in great shape. It was rebuilt just 10,000 miles ago. And it has new tires!” But you don’t mention the transmission.

I’m not saying that you have to go out of your way to point out every minor flaw on the car. But it seems to me that Christian honesty would mean telling the prospective buyer, “Most likely the transmission is going to need an overhaul soon.”

B. Total honesty means no cheating or stealing, even in small things.

(See Eph. 4:28). It’s easy, even for Christians, to cheat and steal. The opportunity to cheat brings out the “best” in the human ability to rationalize: At tax time we excuse our dishonesty with, “The government is so wasteful. And besides they’re ripping us off because inflation has pushed me into a higher tax bracket. And no one else reports everything, so why should I?” Or at work we think, “The company is so big, they won’t miss this little item. Besides, I work hard and they don’t pay me what I’m worth.” Or when we shop, if the checker fails to ring up an item, we excuse it by thinking, “I shop here a lot and give them a lot of business. And besides, their prices are too high anyway.”

With regard to taxes, I believe in taking every legitimate deduction. Otherwise you’re giving the Lord’s money to the government. But that does not mean knowingly cheating the government out of taxes we owe. The Bible is clear that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. And stealing pencils from work or small items from the store is still stealing. If you cheat or steal in little things, chances are you would succumb to bigger temptations if you thought you wouldn’t get caught.

C. Total honesty means resisting all bribery.

It is wrong to take or make bribes. This may not be a problem for many of us because we’re not in a place where this sort of thing goes on. But some of you may be in such a place. In some jobs, bribery is almost standard operating procedure. It’s a problem for missionaries who live in countries where bribes to government official are expected.

God’s Word acknowledges that bribery often works (Prov. 17:8; 18:16; 21:14), but in the same context condemns it as evil (Prov. 15:27; 17:23; see also, Ex. 23:8; Ps. 15:5; Dan. 6:4). Integrity means maintaining a clear conscience and total honesty in all our financial dealings.

3. Integrity means not taking advantage of anyone in financial dealings.

This point stems from the many biblical injunctions to love our neighbor. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10). It also flows out of the quality of contentment regarding material things. If we are content with what we have, we will be less likely to take advantage of someone to make a profit than if we are greedy for gain. A godly man even “swears to his own hurt, and does not change” (Ps. 15:4). This principle means that if you can make a killing on a business deal, but you know that someone will be taken advantage of, you don’t do it. You can’t disregard the command to love others just because you can make a profit.

One way the modern church violates this principle (in my estimation) is by giving special honor or power to those who are large donors (see James 2:1-4). This passage means that if someone offered to give the church $500,000 to purchase a building, it would be wrong to treat him differently than anyone else in the church. That’s why I’m against naming buildings or rooms in honor of a donor. It’s wrong to cater to a big donor’s preferences so that he won’t take his money elsewhere. To do so would be to take advantage of him and to despise a poor donor, who may be just as faithful and generous in the Lord’s sight. I deliberately do not know what anybody gives to the church because I don’t want to play favorites. Each person should give as to the Lord, not to gain prestige or influence in the church.

Thus being a person of integrity in the financial realm means having a clear conscience, being totally honest, and not taking advantage of anyone.

4. Integrity means not being involved in gambling.

The Bible does not directly say much about gambling. But gambling violates a number of Scriptural principles and must, therefore, be avoided by Christians. According to a 1989 poll, 63 percent said they had placed at least one be in the past year; 23 percent reported playing the lottery weekly. More than half of all Protestants and nearly half of those who said religion is very important to them reported having gambled at least once in the last year (Christianity Today [7/14/89], p. 54). Here are five reasons gambling is wrong:

A. Gambling appeals to and feeds greed.

The lure is, “Get something for almost nothing! Strike it rich! Today may be your lucky day!” This is opposed to the contentment which is to mark the Christian and it makes money the focus. But whenever material gain becomes uppermost in our minds, Jesus Christ has been dethroned.

Gambling feeds greed. You see somebody hit the jackpot at the slot machines or you hear about the guy who wins $1,000,000 in the lottery and you think, “That could be me! Think what I could do with all that money!” Your thoughts are seldom, “Think of all the missionaries I could support.” But Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

B. Gambling is opposed to the Christian work ethic.

There is a principle in the Scriptures of work and of being rewarded for honest labor (1 Tim. 5:18). Gambling is the idea of getting something for nothing. It treats money lightly (“Easy come, easy go”) instead of attaching the value of labor and the responsibility of stewardship to money.

C. Gambling denies the principle of stewardship.

Our money is not ours. All we have is entrusted to us by God, to be managed for Him. We must give an account to Him someday of how we have used the things He has entrusted to us. If I entrusted my funds to you to manage for me while I was on a lengthy trip, would you be a good steward if you gambled with it? Hopefully, you would take good care of it because it did not belong to you. Gambling is opposed to good stewardship.

D. Gambling glorifies risk and chance and denies God’s sovereignty.

Our God is not a God of chance. Evolutionists believe that we are the product of chance, but we believe that we are the product of divine choice. There is no such thing as luck for the Christian. To gamble is to deify luck and chance above the sovereign God and thus fall into idolatry.

E. Gambling takes advantage of people.

It takes advantage of those who lose. To attempt to make a profit out of somebody else’s loss is the antithesis of loving our neighbor. And gambling takes advantage of those who become enslaved to it. In 1980 there were already over 500 chapters of Gamblers Anonymous in our country. To be involved in a practice which enslaves so many and which potentially could enslave you is dangerous at best.

Thus for these reasons I believe that Christians, as people of financial integrity, should be opposed to all forms of gambling.


God wants us to be people of integrity in our financial dealings. Following God’s way will cost you financially. But it will give you a clear conscience before God and men. Your family will respect you because of your convictions and will follow your leadership in other areas as well because of that respect. Your children will see the reality of your faith and follow your example. And you will have true joy which money cannot buy.

Here are some practical steps of action:

  1. Clear your conscience of any wrongs in this area. Confess your sin before God and appropriate His power to obey Him.
  2. Discontinue any corrupt practices you are now engaged in. You can’t pray for God’s blessing and continue to do wrong.
  3. Seek forgiveness and make restitution to any you have wronged. If you have stolen, you need to pay it back. Use your confession as an opportunity for witness.
  4. Make a prior commitment to total honesty. You cannot wait until the situation arises to decide whether or not you’ll be honest. You must weigh in advance the cost of discipleship and commit yourself to it because you believe in the living God and His Word.
  5. Make a prior commitment to abstain from gambling. You need to be ready when the office football pool hits you up for your share. If it’s a raffle for a good cause, then buy the ticket and view it as a donation. But I can’t understand why a committed Christian would want to go to a place like Las Vegas to gamble.
  6. Develop a testimony to share when opportunities arise. Think it through in advance so that you aren’t tongue-tied when you take a stand for your convictions. Let people know that Jesus Christ is the reason for your behavior. People may be shocked and they may ridicule. They may test you to see whether you are true to your convictions. But if they see you as a person with convictions, they will ultimately respect you and perhaps be open to hearing about the God you serve.

An evangelist preached with great zeal on the text, “Thou shalt not steal.” He pressed upon his audience the necessity of absolute integrity in all things. The next morning he boarded a bus and gave the driver a dollar bill for his fare. Counting his change, he found that he had received an extra dime. He could have said, “No big deal, I’ll just forget it; anyway, it wasn’t my fault.”

But without hesitation he went to the driver and said, “You gave me a dime too much.” “Yes, I know,” was the reply. “I did it on purpose to see what you would do! Last night I was in your audience and heard your sermon. I’ve always been suspicious of Christians. So when I recognized you this morning, I said, ‘If he practices what he preaches, I’ll go hear him again, but if he keeps the dime, I’ll know he’s a fake.’” That man did go back to the meetings and yielded his life to Christ as Savior and Lord. He was won by a ten-cent testimony! (From “Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1978.)

The world is often looking, even when we aren’t aware of it. And God always is looking. That’s why we must be people of integrity in all our financial dealings.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can I know if my conscience on money matters is rightly “tuned” to God’s Word?
  2. Is dishonesty always a sin? What about covering a friend’s wrong? What about lying for the boss?
  3. If it’s okay to smuggle Bibles why isn’t it okay to bribe officials if it leads to the spread of the gospel?
  4. What is the difference between gambling and playing the stock market (if any)?

Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

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

Related Topics: Discipleship, Finance, Spiritual Life

Lesson 3: Financial Faithfulness— Can God Trust in You? (Selected Scriptures)

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Around the turn of the century a magazine editor needed a bit more copy for an issue. So the night before the deadline, he sat down and typed out an article. He ran it on the back page, without a title.

He didn’t think much more about it until a few weeks later, when requests for that issue of the magazine started to pour in. When he checked as to why that issue was so popular, he discovered that people wanted that titleless article he had hastily banged out the night before his deadline.

The trickle of requests turned into a stream and then a flood. He got requests for 10, 100, 1,000 copies. He was just a small-time operator, and soon it looked as if he would have to be running full-time just to meet the demands for the back issue with that particular article. Then he got a request for 100,000 copies from the president of a large railroad. The editor replied that it would take him two years to fill that order. The railroad president persisted until he obtained permission to have the article printed at his own expense.

Somehow the article found its way into the hands of a Russian army officer, who ordered copies for every member of the Russian army. The Russians were at war with the Japanese at the time, and the article found its way into the Japanese army, where again it was printed for every soldier. In the final analysis, millions of copies of this article were distributed around the world.

What subject could possibly elicit that kind of response? Why did so many leaders want that article for those who served under them?

The article subsequently gained the title, “A Message to Garcia.” It concerned an incident in the Spanish-American War. The President had wanted a particular message delivered personally to a general named Garcia who was in the interior of Cuba. A man under the President had just taken the message from the President and, without fanfare, without questioning why, without procrastination or complaining, had taken the message through enemy lines, into the difficult mountainous terrain, had found Garcia, and delivered the message. The article was simply an essay extolling the faithfulness of that unnamed man who did his job well without anyone needing to harangue him about it.

The reason there was such an overwhelming demand for the article on the part of leaders in business and in the military was because there is such a lack of people who are faithful enough to pick up a task they have been assigned, to do it well, and to follow through without complaint or harassment.

This rare quality--faithfulness-should not be rare among God’s people. It is, in fact, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22); and, it applies directly to our handling of money. Not only do we need to trust in God; He should be able to trust in us because we have proven ourselves to be faithful. The testing ground for faithfulness is money:

Christians must be faithful in financial matters.

Here are four biblical facets of financial faithfulness:

1. To be faithful in finances, I must operate as the manager, not the owner.

The psalmist proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1). Jesus pointedly said that our money is not ours, but “that which is another’s” (Luke 16:12 in context), namely, God’s. God is the true owner of everything and everyone. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (= material possessions, riches; Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). He clearly means that either God or money is our master, but not both. There is no middle ground.

Thus one of the fundamental biblical principles in the realm of money is: I do not own anything; I only manage the money and possessions that God has entrusted to me. God does not own just ten percent, so that I’m free to spend the rest as I please. He owns it all, money and possessions. This concept has several ramifications:

A. As manager of God’s assets, I should be responsible.

Paul said that it is required of stewards (managers) that one be found trustworthy (1 Cor. 4:2). I was taught that if I borrow or use something belonging to someone else, I should treat it more carefully than even my own things, so that I can return it to the owner in good condition. That is especially true if the owner is God!

Proverbs 27:23-24 exhorts us, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations.” In other words, possessions do not manage themselves. You must take care of your money and possessions, even if you are a king, or you will lose them. To be irresponsible with money or things is to be an unfaithful manager.

I’m often shocked by the way that Christian parents fail to teach their children to respect both their own and others’ property. We built a new church building in California, and I once saw some boys having a contest to see who could put a scuff mark with their shoes the highest on the wall! Someone gave me several large bags full of “gummy bears” candy, which I thought the kids would enjoy. I ended up throwing most of it away, because instead of eating it, the kids used them for ammunition (so that they got trampled into the carpet) and for sticking to the walls.

One couple, who graciously let the high school group meet in their home, told me that the kids would often step onto their couch to climb over it in order to get to another part of the living room, rather than walk around! Why aren’t parents teaching kids respect for property? Church buildings and property as well as personal possessions and money do not belong to us, but to the Lord. We need to treat these things responsibly. The fact that we are not to live for money or things does not imply that we are free to be negligent or irresponsible.

B. As manager of God’s assets, I am relieved from pressure.

As long as I’m being responsible and careful with what God has entrusted to me, when something beyond my control happens, it is not my problem. It’s God’s “problem”!

Many years ago, my office was at home. A woman from the church had been to see me. I watched out the window as she backed up her big car, and I winced as I saw my beautiful Mustang get bumped. Apparently she didn’t even realize what happened, because she just drove off. I went out and looked, and sure enough, there was a fresh crease in my fender. This woman had enough problems that I didn’t feel I should talk to her about what she had done. I remember feeling more grief than anger, because I thought, “Lord, this is Your car, and if that’s how You want to treat it, that’s Your business!” If it had been my car, I would have been a lot more bothered! Seeing it as God’s car relieved the pressure.

C. As manager of God’s assets, I have the opportunity for advancement.

Note Luke 16:10-12. Jesus’ point is not, if you’re faithful with a little money, God will give you more money to manage. Neither is His point that if you’re faithful in some trivial job, God will give you a more important job (although both statements may be true). To interpret this passage correctly you must see that money is the “little thing” and that the “much” is the “true riches,” namely, heavenly riches which can’t be taken away. In the context of the parable, true riches are the souls of people who have been won to Christ through your faithful and wise use of money.

In other words, God views our faithfulness in managing the money He entrusts to us as the practice game. Money is a “little thing” to God, although it’s not to us! If we goof off in the practice game with the little thing (money), God isn’t going to put us in the big game (entrusting us with spiritual oversight of the souls which Jesus purchased with His blood). That’s why one requirement for elders is that they be good managers of their households, which includes finances (1 Tim. 3:1-7). If they aren’t faithful with the little matter of money, they won’t be faithful with the big matter of souls.

This means that if you desire to be used of God in evangelism and discipling others, you need to get your financial life in order. It also means that God will not bless our church with converts and solid growth unless we, the members, get our financial houses in order. If you want to advance in terms of responsibility in God’s service, prove yourself faithful in money matters and the Lord will give you true riches. To be faithful in finances, I must operate as the manager of God’s resources, not as the owner.

2. To be faithful in finances, I must keep the Owner’s objectives in mind.

Managers must know and carry out the will of the owner. Managers are not free to take a business any way they choose, unless the owner has given them that prerogative. They must work closely with the owner, under his direction, to find out how he wants his business managed and then to carry out his purpose.

In Luke 16:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the unrighteous manager (or steward). Many have puzzled over this story in that, at first glance, it seems that Jesus is praising a crook. But Jesus explains the point in verse 9: “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” In other words, use your money to win souls.

Jesus praised the shrewdness (not the crookedness) of the steward because he took the long-range view. He saw that his stewardship was quickly coming to an end. Thus he used what had been entrusted to him in the present to secure a comfortable living for himself in the future. Even so, our stewardship of this life is temporary; “unrighteous mammon” will fail. We will soon give an account of our stewardship. If we (“sons of light”) were as shrewd as the “sons of this age,” we would use “unrighteous mammon” (money and possessions), entrusted to us in the present, to win people to Jesus Christ, so that in the future when this earthly stewardship ends, we will be welcomed into heaven by all those who have been won through our wise use of money.

This means that a primary way that the Owner wants His managers to use their money is to further His kingdom. Years ago, Billy Graham received a copy of a letter sent by a young man to his fiancee, breaking off their engagement because he had become a Communist. It said in part:

We Communists ... live in virtual poverty. We turn back to the party every penny we make above what is absolutely necessary to keep us alive.

We Communists don’t have the time or the money for many movies or concerts or T-bone steaks or decent homes or new cars. We’ve been described as fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one great overshadowing factor--the struggle for world Communism. We Communists have a philosophy of life, which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty, personal selves into a great movement of humanity, and if our personal lives seem hard or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the Party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us in his small way is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind. (Billy Graham, Call to Commitment [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association], pp. 1-2, cited in Teacher’s Manual for the Ten Basic Steps Toward Christian Maturity [Campus Crusade for Christ], p. 389).

I wonder, could somebody tell by looking at your checkbook and the way you spend your money that are a manager for the Owner who is not willing that any should perish, but wants some from every tongue and tribe and nation to come to faith in Jesus Christ? A faithful manager keeps the owner’s objectives in mind.

3. To be faithful in finances, I must be hard-working and obedient to the Owner.

No owner is pleased with a lazy manager who doesn’t follow directions. To please our Owner, we must work hard and follow the instructions He gives us in His Word about money. I touch briefly on four areas:

A. To be faithful, I must be industrious, not lazy.

See 2 Thess. 3:8, 10-12; Acts 20:34-35; Prov. 6:6-11; 24:30-34. Hard work should not be mistaken for overwork! The Bible extols working hard; it condemns making a god out of your work. But so many people have never learned to work hard when they work. They play at their work, wasting time with unproductive things; and then they feel guilty when they take time off, so they don’t enjoy that.

B. To be faithful, I must provide for my family and have extra to give to those in need.

See 2 Thess. 3:6-12; Acts 20:34-35; 1 Tim. 5:8. We are responsible before God to work hard to provide for personal and family needs and to have extra for someone unable to work due to physical inability. If we do not provide for our families, Paul says that we’re worse than unbelievers, since even those who have never heard of Christ work to provide for their families.

C. To be faithful, I must be orderly with finances.

See 2 Thess. 3:7, 11 (“undisciplined”); Luke 14:28-30 (building a tower, count the cost in advance); Prov. 27:23 (“know well”; “pay attention”). If you owned a company and your manager didn’t keep good records of business transactions, everything would soon be utter chaos. You wouldn’t know whether you were making a profit or a loss, whether money had been set aside for taxes, whether employees’ paychecks would bounce, or what inventory you had.

Yet many Christians are disorganized when it comes to personal finances. If they had to give account to the Owner, they’d get fired! Being orderly means having some sort of family budget, so that you’re not wondering where the money went; you’re telling it where to go. It means having a filing system for records (not a piling system!), so that you can give an account to the government at tax time. It means having a current will, so that your family is cared for in case of your death. It means giving in a systematic, planned way, not just when the impulse grabs you. It means saving for needs that will arise (like car repairs).

D. To be faithful, I must be resourceful.

The principle of not wasting God’s resources runs throughout the Bible, but is personified in the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 (esp. vv. 13, 14, 16, 19, 24). By resourcefulness, I mean being thrifty and efficient, not wasting things, shopping carefully, getting the most for your money, and fixing things rather than throwing them away whenever you can. While it can be carried to extremes, Christians should be concerned about ecology. Wasting the earth is a violation of good management.

Thus financial faithfulness means operating as the manager, not the owner; keeping the owner’s objectives in mind; being hard-working and obedient.

4. To be faithful in finances, I must follow through with the Owner’s plan.

See Matt. 24:45-46. It doesn’t do any good to start as good managers if we get sloppy and don’t follow through. Setting up a budget is a start; sticking to it and making it work is financial faithfulness. Promising to give systematically is wonderful; doing it is faithfulness to the Owner. Jesus said that the faithful servant is the one whom his master found doing his job when he returned.

A pastor was asked to define “faithful church involvement.” He replied: All I ask is that we apply the same standards to our church activities that we apply to other areas of life. If your car started three out of four times, would you call it a faithful car? If your paper boy skipped Mondays and Thursdays, would you call him faithful? If you didn’t show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful? If your refrigerator quit a day every now and then, would you say, “Oh well, it works most of the time”? If your water heater greeted you with cold water one or two mornings a week when you were in the shower, would you say it was faithful? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year’s time, would your mortgage company say, “Ten out of twelve isn’t bad”? And yet we’re hit and miss about our giving, our involvement in ministry and worship, and we somehow think we’re being faithful!

When we talk about giving our life for Christ, it sounds glamorous. We think of something big, something dramatic, maybe like Corrie ten Boom’s story, or some adventurous missionary saga, maybe even martyrdom. Someone put it this way, “We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table: Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.”

But the reality for most of us is that He sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there: Listen to the hurting person’s troubles, rather than saying, “I’m too busy.” Going to a committee meeting when you’d rather stay home. Giving a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory. Its harder to live faithfully little by little over the long haul (from Leadership [Fall, 1984], p. 47).


Your response to this message may be to feel overwhelmed. Your management of the finances God has entrusted to you is so bad that you don’t know where to begin. Don’t let the enormity of the task make you procrastinate. Ask God to help you pick the most important area first, and begin there. Perhaps you’ve been acting as the owner, squandering everything on yourself; you need to turn your finances over to the true Owner and start managing it for Him. Maybe you need to work on a budget that is in line with the Owner’s priorities. Perhaps you need to set up a filing system or a will. Maybe you’re sloppy about giving to the Owner’s cause.

Whatever the area, start being faithful there. Remember, if you’re not faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, God will not entrust the true riches to you (Luke 16:11)! If you are faithful, you will someday hear the joyous words, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).

Discussion Questions

  1. 1.              How can we know where to draw the line on personal things, such as homes, cars, entertainment, etc.?
  2. 2.              When does hard work become overwork? Is it wrong for Christians to aim at financial success?
  3. 3.              If a Christian is financially successful, is it wrong to live “well”? Must he give away everything above basic needs to the cause of Christ?
  4. 4.              In view of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, is welfare right? Should the church help those who don’t work?

Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

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

Related Topics: Discipleship, Finance, Spiritual Life