Remember those highly important, yet secretive little notes passed between desks in junior high? Each person in the chain must be trusted not to open the note, not on the way to the intended person, not on the way back. Yes, you guessed it, this was before cell phones and texting. Their content was simple, but vital. They had check-boxes with ‘like,’ ‘really like,’ ‘friend,’ and ‘love’ written next to them. One’s entire future depended on which box was checked. It meant the difference between getting a date after school, or walking home with despair. In reading certain verses in the Bible, it can really be the same sort of thing.
An unflappable person has the patience of Job, as the saying goes. And for many who are familiar with the Old Testament book, Job’s patience seems to be on full display. After all, most remember that Job’s life appears to be the subject of some form of wager between God and Satan. But, by looking at the book that way we might conclude that Job really didn’t deserve all that happened to him. We might, secretly, do exactly what Job did NOT do.
I remember a time when a friend of mine was visiting and a carnival set up near our house. This friend had a few brothers and we were all pretty close in age. For some reason, he was the only one who came to visit. We wanted to go to the carnival, but thought that perhaps it would cause his brothers to feel left-out. My friend’s comment was, “I think they’ll be happy for me.”
I won’t leave you in suspense, we didn’t end up going. But for some reason, that event has stuck in my mind. I’ve thought about it many times over the years. It happens to line up with the third earmark of love: It does not envy!
If there’s a human out there who got past the patient/long-suffering and kind benchmarks with flying colors, this one might sting.
Okay, it’ll smart.
Seriously, it’s something that is worse than a plague. I’ll illustrate with another pop culture reference: I Am Legend. Before it was a Will Smith action/horror movie, it was a 70s apocalyptic movie called The Omega Man, starring none other than Charlton Heston.
Before that … okay, it was a book by Richard Mattheson in which a plague swept the world, turning everyone into zombie/vampires … except THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (the title of the first movie with Vincent Price). The end of the movie
finds that the healthy protagonist is the problem, killing off the “normal” vampires during the day, unseen by them. The twist is that the vampires have learned to live with their illness, and the one man who doesn’t have their sickness is actually the scourge of humanity.
Envy is just like the plague and we’re all like the vampires. We all have envy. It’s a sign of the flesh. Unless you’re born without a sin nature, you envy. That’s the default.
Politics operates on this principle. One group pits everyone against the 1%, another group entices people with promises of a booming economy that will give them easy pay.
Advertisers use envy ALL THE TIME. This product will make you more attractive than your friends. This drink will give you the good time that everyone else is having. This phone will give you the family life everyone else has already discovered!
Envy. It drives politics and the economy.
But it doesn’t fuel love. In fact, it’s the opposite of love. Here’s what Matthew Henry says:
Charity suppresses envy: It envieth not; it is not grieved at the good of others; neither at their gifts nor at their good qualities, their honours not their estates. If we love our neighbour we shall be so far from envying his welfare, or being displeased with it, that we shall share in it and rejoice at it. His bliss and sanctification will be an addition to ours, instead of impairing or lessening it. This is the proper effect of kindness and benevolence: envy is the effect of ill-will. The prosperity of those to whom we wish well can never grieve us; and the mind which is bent on doing good to all can never will ill to any.
Unfortunately, we’re pulled into envy so fast. If a friend gets a promotion at work, we’re happy for them … but we might start to wonder why we haven’t had that success. We might compare ourselves to that friend and start thinking they didn’t really deserve that promotion, that wife, that life.
In other words, we start to put ourselves in the place of God, deciding what should or shouldn’t be.
The world is full of this sort of thing. We make our own destiny! We alter the course of history! And, to the extent that our personal responsibility to do our work affects the lives of those around us, that’s true.
The Christian view, however, is that God is in supreme control. He ordains all things, including the promotions, firings, economy booms and great depressions. He rains down on the righteous and the unrighteous. He has in mind the discipline for all whom He calls to Himself. Christians trust that His will is perfect and all things will work for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
In light of such a belief, we have no reason to envy. We should rejoice at everyone’s good fortune, even if they don’t appear to deserve it. Because, guess what? none of us deserve what we’re getting. We’re all equally deserving of God’s wrath. Yet, He’s patient, kind and merciful to us. Gracious, even, giving us what we don’t deserve.
Perfect love doesn’t envy. All of us need to pray for God to put that love in us, then test ourselves to see if we have accepted that gift from Him. Have we stood up on those lame legs, believing that He has healed them?
He’s commanded us to love one another. With pure love. To quote a Peter Furler song, get up, get off your seat, move your feet, just do what He said!
The Apostle Paul gives us benchmarks for what define true love in 1 Corinthians 13. As I noted in part 1, none of us can claim to show perfect love all the time. A big reason for this is that in our fallen natures we are rebels against God, who is love. The more we resemble the Lord, the more we will show true love (which is what Paul is getting at with the Corinthians).
The first characteristic was patience, or long-suffering. The next is kindness. We have to be careful with these because the Bible isn’t written so we can tell when everyone else is failing. It’s written to reveal our own hearts to ourselves so that we can repent and follow the Lord, reflecting His glory more perfectly.
Here’s what Matthew Henry says about this trait:
It is kind – chrēsteuetai. It is benign, bountiful; it is courteous and obliging. The law of kindness is in her lips; her heart is large, and her hand open. She is ready to show favours and to do good. She seeks to be useful; and not only seizes on opportunities of doing good, but searches for them. This is her general character. She is patient under injuries, and apt and inclined to do all the good offices in her power. And under these two generals all the particulars of the character may be reduced.
Benign, bountiful, courteous and obliging. That paints a picture, but I like the part about seizing on opportunities to do good, searching for them, in fact.
Do we look for ways we can help those around us? Do we anticipate someone’s feelings or needs and then try to meet them to the best of our ability?
Or, are we mostly focused on what interests us and everyone else needs to get with that program?
Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Jesus tells of a man who was overcome by thieves and ravaged, left for dead. That’s you and me at various points in our lives. We are ravaged by the temptations of this world, we’re beaten by the desires of our flesh, we’re left alone to die. The Pharisees and the people who have human religion and are full of pride will walk by, pretending not to see us. We, will walk by, pretending not to see our neighbor, friend or spouse. That’s their issue, and they need to work it out!
But, the heart of love looks with compassion on the person who–some might say–got themselves into that mess. Love is kind and will look to do good for people.
This shows up in little things. We teach our kids that if they see a mess in the kitchen, don’t just walk by–help clean it up. Take out the trash, keep the bathrooms looking nice. But this is easier taught than put in practice. It’s not in the human nature (mostly) to look for something good to do that doesn’t impact our own immediate needs. After all, someone else made the mess, and why should it be me to clean it up?
Love is kind. It thinks of the good it can do, then does it at great cost. God could have scrapped the whole creation, sending us all to Hell. And it would have been just to do so. But since God is love, He made a way that we can be given freedom from the sentence of death that is justly ours. He did the most good, the most benign thing, the most compassionate thing, and actually took the penalty for our sin.
Shouldn’t we be able to show such kindness to those around us who may be equally as wicked as we were toward God? Perhaps we should imitate God more in our daily life and let the kindness of His love work through us.
The Bible is full of contradictions!
That probably ranks up there with one of the most common charges against the Christian faith. Those who follow Christianity are deemed to be soft in the head because they follow an “ancient book” that is filled with “errors.”
These errors will often be of the “Judas hanged himself in Matthew, but threw himself over a cliff and was smashed on the rocks in Acts.” Or there are discrepancies of when Jesus cleared the Temple. There appear to be two accounts of a woman anointing Jesus with perfume and wiping his feet with her hair (an account in Luke 7 and then another in John 12).
All such errors, however, have plausible explanations based on perspective, or added information. For instance, one suggestion is that Judas went to hang himself, but then threw himself over the cliff so that his death would not be a mockery of Jesus hanging between heaven and earth. Another perspective says he did hang himself, but the branch broke, thus he fell.
It really doesn’t matter.
But there are other passages that create more division, and are far less easy to pin down. These are the passages that amount to Biblical Roulette in which a passage is taken out of context to prove a point. In fact, there are a lot of places that create paradoxes for us.
Consider an age-old argument of Free Will vs. Election. Or, as is commonly referred to as Arminianism vs. Calvinism. There are passages that clearly state that each must repent, turn and follow Jesus as Lord. This is absolutely their decision that must be made.
Then there are passages that talk of those whom the Lord foreknew and whom he predestined for salvation. These are referred to as the elect chosen before the foundation of the world (Rom. 8:29, Eph. 1:5, Eph. 1:11, Matt. 13:20, Eph. 1:4).
These concepts seem to be at odds with one another. How can there be a chosen elect, and then have the invitation be to whosesoever will? How is it mankind’s choice, but not mankind’s choice, but God’s?
It gets worse. There are passages that suggest we can lose our salvation. Then there are others that affirm that those who belong to the Lord will never be lost! Coincidentally, the divide on this issue is very much the same as the free will/election issue.
The solution isn’t simple, unfortunately. Some might throw up their hands and say that this proves the Bible is just a potpourri of ideas that are inconsistent, proving it is full of errors. Pass the strong drink, please.
Turns out, the answer is in understanding the context of the Bible. And this is a task that many, many people take very seriously. They discuss, read, discuss, research and work through these issues.
I believe that true Christians are not alone in this effort. I believe the Holy Spirit teaches us as we study God’s word with the tools available to us (1John 2:20-21).
I also believe that our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). This will allow Christians to get drawn away in pride and start cherry-picking verses that support one idea or the other, leading to division, hurt feelings and more. It’s easy to castigate someone’s choices with a quick quote. It’s equally easy to justify one’s choices with a verse.
For instance, on one hand we are to “love our enemies” and “do good to those that hurt us.” Yet, Jesus told the disciples to “shake off the dust from their feet” as a testimony against anyone who would not receive them.
We know that a “friend loves at all times,” but then sometimes it’s the very definition of love that is lacking. Remember, our hearts are deceitful. And our idea of love is largely a product of our culture. That’s why so many do not see God as loving. They don’t really understand the meaning of the word.
We tend to see love in the warm, accepting aspects, but reject it when it makes a decision that is hurtful, but for the long-term good.
Taking a look at Paul’s Love Chapter in 1 Corinthians, let’s note what love is:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Cor. 13:4-8.
I think most people pick up on patient, kind, bearing all things, believing all things and enduring all things. But we forget that when we’re envious of someone else, we’re not showing love. If we boast about something, that’s not coming from a place of love. Arrogance and rudeness are not hallmarks of love. Insisting on one’s own way violates the love principle.
How about rejoicing in wrongdoing? Of course, no one would be out there like a soccer fan when someone is robbing a bank! But, how do we apply that to our entertainment? Do we give sorcery or meditation or other worldly issues a pass for the sake of watching a movie? Do we have a level of smut that we are ‘okay with’ when deciding to watch a show? Wouldn’t giving money to a product that advocates wrongdoing be at least close to rejoicing in it? Or, when we advocate for a liberal position that ignores personal holiness in our lives? That’s essentially rejoicing in wrongdoing.
The fact is, no one meets these requirements for love. We all demand our own way, or pout when we don’t get it. We are all rude to someone we should care about. We are all envious at various times.
Paul is pointing out what love is, so we can measure ourselves and realize when we should repent of something.
Bottom line is, we can’t–and shouldn’t–cherry-pick Bible verses for other people, or ourselves. It is the whole word of God that requires careful study for our personal walk with the Lord. Personally, I believe that if we’re doing that, we’ll be very conscious of our own sin and unworthiness (in the midst of the flame, as it were) while those around us will be seeing us walk with one that shines like the son of man.
When we think of the Ten Commandments, probably the “law” that seems the most out-dated is “Thou Shalt Not Commit Idolatry,” or put another way, “Thou Shalt Not Make Unto Thyself Any Graven Images!”
Whew! Well, thank goodness we no longer carve images out of wood and bow down to them. But, look at those wacky Catholics! Boy, they sure didn’t get the memo! As for most civilized people, we’re waaaaay beyond that primitive stuff.
So, did God write a law akin to the law that if your car spooks a horse you need to hide it until the animal settles down? (that’s actually a law in Pennsylvania). Or, maybe it’s like the law in Missouri against driving down the highway with an uncaged bear. Or, laws that require a woman to get her husband’s permission before going to the stylist in Michigan!
Something tells me that God wasn’t short-sighted. He is the first and the last. Nothing is outside of His awareness and we don’t “out-grow” God’s laws. When He tells us that idolatry makes the top ten, we better understand that it’s a problem.
But, you might say, I don’t have any carved idols. In fact, I haven’t bowed down to anything since the time Justin Beeber was in town! And, his acting is wooden, so touche!
No, really, who worships carved idols? Nobody except some Aborigine somewhere, right?
We know the answer that people will worship their cars (what a sweet ride!) or sports (gotta have my ESPN!). The Sunday School answer is that anything that takes our attention away from God is idolatry.
That’s true, I might add. But it’s not the whole story.
How about our desire to know the future? Sure, we don’t put much stock in it, right? I mean, those fortune cookies are just lame. But, how about horoscopes? How about visiting mediums? Or rares? *rimshot*
Seriously, how many times have we seen some supposed Christian “declaring” what is going to happen? Something super-specific like “There will be an amazing event this year that will shake you to the core!!” Or maybe, “An old world leader who’s riddled with cancer will die this decade!” Or, “I’m seeing thousands of mis-matched socks that will be found right after you spend money on new pairs!”
Do you ever get sucked into believing the “predictions” of some “prophet” or sooth-sayer? Do you think that they are tapping into some force that allows them to predict the future?
If the answer was a “nooooo, not really,” then it’s probably really a “yes, I do!” And it shows the idolatry of our hearts more clearly than someone who waxes their car every day or follows all the sports stats religiously.
Idolatry, after all, is trying to tap into God’s power apart from God. This definition is synonymous with paganism. It’s believing that there’s power out there that does what only God can do, but God is trying to chase us away from it. Sound familiar?
It should. It’s what Satan told Eve in the garden. If she’d eat the forbidden fruit, she’d become like God, her eyes would be opened, etc. The same is true with idolatry. We start to believe that there’s this power we can tap into. We can speak things into existence. We can declare the future, and it will happen. We can invoke God’s power by our own will.
That’s straight up idolatry. It’s blasphemy. Our words cannot create anything. Only The Word of God creates. It is through Christ that all things were made and in Him sustained. (Col. 1:16-17). And yet, there are so-called Christian preachers who tell people this stuff. They tell them that they can declare money into their accounts (and then pay the pastor, I suppose). They tell them they can declare health to themselves (though the Apostle Paul couldn’t heal himself of the thorn in his flesh and couldn’t heal Timothy of his stomach issues).
These false teachers are wolves. They prey upon our natural desire to have money and health. They’re snake-oil salesmen who claim to offer a power that only God work. Anyone who believes them commits idolatry.
So, do you think there actually is this power? Do you think God has warned us away from witches because they can tell the future and affect things magically? If so, consider this passage:
Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come.
Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified.
Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. Is. 41:21-24
The idols and the false prophets cannot tell the future. They cannot explain the past. They cannot do harm or terrify anyone. Their works are ‘less than nothing,’ and those who believe in them are an abomination.
Short version: God has all power and he doesn’t share it with idols and false prophets. Idolatry is ascribing the power or attributes of God to anything else.
One of the more popular verses applied to America’s political relationship with Israel is Genesis 12:3:
“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The context is Abram’s call out of Haran to a land God would show him. This was Abram’s second call, but that’s another story. Here God makes various promises to assure Abram.
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
Abram responded with obedience to the call out of the life he’d always known.
“So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him.”
So, the application of the “bless those who bless you” seems to apply to Abraham and his descendants. That’s the clear meaning from the context.
Of course, Paul clarifies who the descendants of Abraham really are.
“…not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, ….it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Romans 9:7-8
Remember, through Hagar Abraham fathered Ishmael, a symbol of a child of the flesh. Paul writes more about this in Galatians 4:23-25. To understand how this works we must remember that Isaac was a child of promise, born miraculously to a woman who was barren and post-menopausal and to a man whose body was “as good as dead.” In other words, there was no physical possibility of Isaac’s conception and birth. It was completely the work of God, which worked through the faithful cooperation and obedience of Abraham and Sarah.
The descendants of Abraham are those who are children of promise. They are born miraculously, awakened from the dead by the call of the Lord. They are given the gift of repentance (2Tim. 2:25) and faith (Eph. 2:8).
So, applying this to the Nation of Israel today misses the point. I’ll explain.
Who Really Gets Blessed/Cursed?
When reading about Abram being called out, we can see a type of us, the believer, receiving the call. We see this with the disciples, when Jesus calls them out. We see it again with Lazarus who is called out of the tomb to new life.
The application of Genesis 12:3, as we see, can be applied to all true children of Abraham who are his descendants by promise and faith.
But there’s an added meaning to this. To understand the types and symbols of the Old Testament and how they point to the New Testament, we need to realize that they indicate a couple meanings, sometimes. And if we miss this, we might apply the verse in a way that isn’t consistent with Scripture.
An example of applying it poorly is how people try to say that America, the political entity, is blessed when it politically supports the political entity known as Israel. This amounts to mysticism. It suggests that God is not concerned with the repentance and obedience of the people that inhabit Israel, or America, but rather is concerned with the earthly politics of the two nations.
Ask yourself this: When has God ever been concerned with earthly prosperity over faithfulness to His Word?
So, Abraham as being a father of an earthly people apart from faith and promise is not the point of verse 3. I believe it does apply to true Christians who are treated well by the world being a blessing of God upon those “nations.” I also believe that when the world curses true Christians they will suffer curses.
But that application should be expanded in light of Abraham’s other “type.” Remember, he is the father who had an only begotten son, the son he loved, whom he would sacrifice for God. In that story, found in Genesis 22, Abraham is like God the Father, offering up his only son, Isaac, the one born of promise, not of the flesh.
So, when vs. 3 says, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” it is referring to Isaac, who is a type of Christ. And since we understand that God the Father and the Son are one, we should apply verse 3 the following way:
Those who bless the Lord, Jesus, will be blessed, and those who curse the Lord Jesus will be cursed. Jesus confirms this in John when he describes the work of the Holy Spirit:
“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;” John 16:8-9
Sin is rejecting Christ, not believing in Him as Lord and Savior. Those who turn in repentance (leaving the life they’ve known and is common in the world) and believe in Jesus as the source of all life, trusting in His promises, counting Him as their great reward, will be blessed by God with eternal life. Those who reject Christ, or dishonor Him, will be cursed with eternal punishment.
So, Genesis 12:3 doesn’t suggest some mystical earthly prosperity if we support Israel. It demonstrates God’s blessing to those who turn to the Lord and bless Him, showing Him the honor He deserves.