"But now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." I Corinthians 13:13
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The Christian Walk of Faith
The Cleansing Power of Christian Hope
Fulfilling the Law of Love
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Habakkuk wrote about 600 years before the birth of Christ. He lived in a time of many prophets, among them Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Nahum. Babylonia was coming into power, threatening the security of Judah. The Babylonians were fierce warriors. They conquered the Assyrians to the north. The Egyptians under Pharoh Necho marched northward to stop them from further expansion. But in 605 B.C. at the historic Battle of Carchemish, the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar soundly defeated the Egyptians. With Egyptian power largely broken, the Babylonians had free reign to consolidate and expand their power over Palestine.
As Habakkuk watched the Babylonians grow in strength, he wondered why God would allow pagans to become so powerful. He also wondered why God would allow those who had been faithful to Him to be overrun by such terrible warriors. In Scripture reminiscent of Job or of Abraham's discussion with God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Habakkuk frankly but respectfully entered into conversation with the Lord. God told Habakkuk that He was about to use the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to bring judgment upon the people of Judah. The Babylonians would not fare better than the people of Judah, for the Babylonians would face judgment for their own sins later on. In the meantime, the Babylonians would be used as God's instruments of judgment, and it was the task of those who sought to be faithful to God to endure the difficulties of the coming days.
The coming years would include the military conquest of Judah culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, and the "Babylonian captivity," a period of seventy years when many Jews were deported to Babylon to serve those who had conquered them. Jermiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel wrote of those trying times.
In the midst of God's message is this charge: "the righteous will live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). The self-confident pride of the Chaldeans (1:7,10-11, 2:4) and, indeed, all who sin (2:9-19) is in stark contrast to the humble confidence in God that is characteristic of God's people. The arrogance of the sinner is based upon what is immediately obvious, whether success in some endeavor (such as military conquest) or reliance upon tangible objects like idols (1:15-17, 2:18-19). The person who knows God relys upon the character of God and His Word. Habakkuk would witness terrifying and discouraging events. No miracles of deliverance would make the presence of the living God obvious to His people. Instead, the knowledge that God had forecast these events and promised a future time of salvation (2:14) was to sustain His people as they lived through these difficult times.
Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in no less than three places in the New Testament: Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. In each case, this verse is used to help explain the very basis of our spiritual fellowship with God. In Galatians and Romans, Paul argues that faith in God's work through Jesus Christ can do for us what our "good works" can never do. Abraham himself, father of all Jews, entered into relationship with God by faith. All who desire to be true children of Abraham must also enter into a saving relationship with God by trusting in the character, word, and work of God.
Just as Habakkuk was asked to trust God regardless of circumstances, so, too, each true child of God must trust Him regardless of what the world seems to indicate. Hebrews 10:38 is at the beginning of a discussion of faith that continues through chapter 11 into chapter 12. After pointing out that none of those who were faithful received all that they hoped for and deserved while here on earth, the author of Hebrews turns our attention to "Jesus the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart" (12:2-3). Indeed, when others saw only defeat, when all of His disciples deserted Him and one denied knowing Him, when Roman soldiers mocked Him, when Herod and Pilate shared a joke about Him, when the Jewish religious leadership slapped Him around and spat upon Him, Jesus was able to go on to conquer the cross because of His faith. He saw beyond what was happening to what He knew would happen because of His faithfulness. In other words, Jesus saw "the joy set before Him," His resurrection and the salvation of all those who wished to turn to God, as if those events were already accomplished. He "saw" what was unseen because His hope and trust were in the realities of the one true God.
This is not a "leap of faith," which has nothing to do with true Christian faith. True Christian faith has its basis in the reality of God, His character, and nature as revealed by God in history. The Gospel begins with John the Baptist because the character of the witnesses to Christ, including John the Baptist, is of the utmost importance. Most, if not all, of the twelve disciples had been a part of the religious revival led by John the Baptist, a revival that stressed personal righteousness. It was not morally questionable men who lived with Jesus and observed His life and glory, but men who would not lie. Perhaps the clearest statement of the importance of the witnesses to Christ's resurrection is in I Corinthians 15, although Luke reminds his readers that his interest is in relating "the exact truth," and both Peter and John stress that they were first hand witnesses of what they proclaim about Christ (II Peter 1:16, I John 1:1-3). A "leap of faith" says, "no matter what you see about you, believe anyway," Christian faith says, "the evidence in favor of Christianity is stronger than the evidence around you that may seem to disprove it, take a stand on the strongest evidence, the resurrection of Christ." Or, to be more precise, the leap of faith says, "the evidence for Christianity is irrational," while Christianity says, "the evidence for Christianity provides a rational reason to ignore daily circumstances as the basis of your faith."
A Christian faith built upon circumstances lives or dies moment-by-moment according to what seems to take place. A Christianity built upon certain historical events is an eternal faith with a foundation in the real world. If Christians believe in God's desire to draw them close to Him in spite of the coldness of the world around them, it is because Christmas is always a part of their thinking. If Christians continue to believe in a resurrection to eternal life in spite of the prevalence of decay and death around them, it is because the triumph of Christ at Easter lives in their hearts.
The faith described in Scripture is not a faith in events in themselves, but a faith in the reality, nature, and character of God Himself. It is faith in the reliability of a living, supernatural, supreme Person. We are not called to have faith in salvation, but in a God who saves; in healing, but in a God who heals; in Divine intervention, but in a God who rules history - all in the time and manner that He chooses.
Walking by faith does not preclude miracles. Certainly God has used miracles to validate the ministries of His servants, especially the work of the early apostles (Hebrews 2:4), and God often intervenes in a supernatural manner to bring people to Him (Acts 10:1-7). However, if the Christian life is one of constant, predictable, visible miracles, there is no longer a walk of faith, but a walk by sight. It is for a reason greater than the need to maintain variety that God did not continue to provide manna and quail to the Israelites who entered the promised land, but forced them to produce their own sustenance.
The witch doctor, medium, whirling dervish, native high on narcotics, all seek assurance of the supernatural in an altered state of consciousness or a type of physical manifestation. The idolator seeks it in some tangible object such as wealth, a "charm," object of worship, holy place, or some other physical religious object.
Paul had something far different in mind as he explained faith. The re-ordering of three pieces of Scripture helps us to understand his teaching without, I believe, doing violence to the texts themselves: "for we walk by faith, not by sight," "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen;" "for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one hope for what he sees?" (II Corinthians 5:7, 4:18, Romans 8:24).
For Peter, faith is the basis for all Christian actions. The Christian does not decide what is right or wrong according to the results, but according to what pleases God (I Peter 1:14-19). If those actions lead to suffering, that is not an indication that God is absent or doesn't care, for those circumstances have nothing to do with the Christian's true status or reward (I Peter 1:3-9, 4:19).
Faith is not just the entrance into the Christian life, the means whereby we receive God's grace, faith is the proper posture of the Christian toward God throughout this age. This does not preclude any manifestation of God's presence and glory as He chooses, it does preclude making the presence of these a requirement for Christian spirituality, worship, or security.
First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume III, Part 4, April 1995.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
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This hope is completely foreign to a world that does not walk with God. The only people who have some grasp of hope in the same manner as Christians are believing Jews, the people from whom Christians inherit their hope, the "hope of Israel" (Acts 28:20, 26:4-8). The apostle Paul explained to Felix, "according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men (the Jews) cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts 24:14-15). This resurrection would occur on the "Day of the Lord," a day when God would rescue His people and initiate a new age in which He would abolish evil and rule over His people forever.
The difference between the hope of Jews and the hope of Christians is, however, profound in one important manner. Jews have the promises of God and wonderful examples of God's work in history, such as the Passover. Christians have all of this and also the physical evidence that this hope that is alive and sure in the resurrection of Christ (Acts 26:22-23, 17:31, I Peter 1:3). In all truthfulness, it is not fully correct to say that the Jews do not have the resurrection of Christ, because Jesus Christ, a Jew according to the flesh, is God's "Anointed One," the Messiah promised to and long awaited by Jews; and the Gospel is the "good news" to the Jew first, and only then to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). It is more precise to say that many Jews do not recognize the resurrection of Christ, and in that manner do not "have" it. Christian hope, then, is centered upon trust in God, focused on a future time of deliverance, evidenced by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and helps determine how Christians live their lives.
The hope of Christ's return and the coming "Day of the Lord" with all of its wonders and rewards Paul called "the blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) and spoke of non-Christians as those who "have no hope" (I Thessalonians 4:13). It isn't that there isn't anything worth hoping for on earth. There are good and beautiful things in this world, things that God placed here for us to enjoy (I Timothy 4:1-5). It isn't even that there cannot be a growth in righteousness on earth prior to Christ's return. There have been many occasions since the ministry of Christ where the Kingdom of God has forced back the kingdom of darkness. But this world has nothing to offer when it comes to the ultimate things. In fact, even the salvation offered in this age is incomplete. When we so often speak as if it were, we rob people of the hope that God means to sustain us in our journey through life.
Peter spoke of a "salvation ready to be revealed" and told Christians to "fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Christ" (I Peter 1:5, 13). The author of Hebrews pointed out, "But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him (Jesus)" (Hebrews 2:8). Paul spoke of "the hope laid up for you in heaven" (Colossians 1:5), taught that even those Christians who have died feel a sense of incompleteness until they are joined with their resurrected and glorified bodies (II Corinthians 5:1-4), and that even the creation "longs" for the Day of the Lord in the sense that the time when things decay and die will end (Romans 8:19-23). All of this is consistent with the teaching of Jesus, who taught us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, not on earth (Matthew 6:19-20).
Yes, healing is in the atonement (Isaiah 53:5). But complete health can never be achieved on earth, only with the resurrection. Yes, there will be full reward for everyone who sacrifices for the Lord (Matthew 19:29). But it will be given at a time when Jesus judges His servants after His return. Yes, there will come a time when there is no more suffering (Revelation 21:3-7). But not until evil and death have been conquered at Christ's return. Until then, there will be healings, there will be blessings, and there will be comfort, but they will be sufficient, not complete, in this age. And those who try to act as if they will be find the difficulties of this age unfathomable.
On the other hand, for those who place their faith in God and look to the future He promises, there is a cleansing of one's mind and spirit. John wrote, "And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (I John 3:3), so that this hope is part of God's plan for the sanctification of Christians in this age. But we need to be careful here. This is a verse of great promise, but also a verse that requires careful application.
When John writes that we can be as pure as God, he means "in the same manner as God" not "to the same degree as God." We know this because, in the words of Christ, "No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:17-18). We also know that Christians are entirely dependent upon the grace of God for their purity and salvation. Anything that God calls upon us to do that helps our spiritual growth can only be done with His empowerment (John 15:5).
Surely the purification of which John speaks is the purification of replacing something bad with something good, similar to the command of James for the double-minded to "purify" their minds ("hearts," James 4:8). The "blessed hope" of Christians both gives an incentive to rid our lives of anything that is sinful (II Corinthians 7:1-2) and gives us something to fix our minds upon so that evil and destructive thinking has no place to take root. All three of Paul's "things that abide," love, faith, and hope, preclude evil in this manner (I Corinthians 13:13, I Thessalonians 1:2-3).
Not only does hope preclude wickedness, it cleanses us from being tied too tightly to the circumstances of daily life, giving us a stability rooted in the eternal trustworthiness of God.
First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume III, Part 5, May 1995.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
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Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, part of the "shema" (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) to emphasize the importance of the love of God, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." The shema was recited by faithful Jews on a daily basis in both private and public worship in response to the teaching of Deuteronomy 6:7. These words, among others, were inscribed upon parchments, placed in leather cases, and mounted on the doorposts of Jewish homes to remind the occupants of the importance of being faithful to God and His Word. Other parchments containing these words were inserted in leather pouches meant to be tied to the head and left arm during times of prayer. They reminded the faithful Jew to keep God as a central part of thought and to honor God in all that was done. Some Jews wore these "phylacteries" all the time to draw public attention to their devotion to God, and there is a possibility that the "lawyer" who addressed Jesus was wearing them when he questioned Jesus. In any case, the verse was already an important part of his worship. Jesus called the commandment to love God the first of all commandments.
For the second part of Jesus' answer, Jesus went to Leviticus 19:18, which states "you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord." Interestingly, the influential Jewish rabbi Hillel, whose life and ministry preceeded that of Christ by only a few years, had said that all of the teachings of the Law could be summarized by this verse, so the lawyer would not have found Jesus' words at all strange. Underscoring the importance of this to us, Paul refers to this teaching in Romans 13:9-10 and Galatians 5:14, James in James 2:8, and John in I John 4:21.
It is useful to read the context of the original verse in Leviticus. The immediate context begins with a charge to Israel to remember "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" in 19:1. In the following verses God enjoins the Israelites to provide for the poor, give fair treatment to all individuals regardless of their position in society, be honest in all testimony and business dealings, and to refrain from mistreating the weak and injured and from all lies, slander, and theft. In other words, to be holy means to seek social justice in the fullest meaning of the words.
In Mark's account of this meeting between the lawyer and Christ (Mark 12:28-34), the lawyer replies that the fulfillment of these verses is "much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices," a statement which Jesus strongly approved. Indeed, the superiority of obedience to God's Word over religious ceremony is stressed by Samuel (I Samuel 15:22), David (Psalm 40:6-8, 51:16-17), Asaph (Psalm 50:7-23), Hosea (Hosea 6:6), and Micah (Micah 6:6-8), so there are numerous Scripture verses that led the scribe to this conclusion.
The message of these verses is not that there is something wrong with religious ceremonies. Jesus participated in worship of His day. And the ceremonies of the Hebrew tabernacle, and later the Temple, came into existence by the commandment of God. Rather, it is that the willingness to love God and others forms the only basis for true worship (Matthew 5:23-24, Psalm 51:16-19), and that without love true worship does not exist. The turning to this attitude is called "repentence."
This places in perspective not only ceremonial sacrifices, but personal sacrifices made for the sake of faith: sacrifices of money, property, or food given to sustain the Lord's work or to the poor, sacrifices of time given to the Lord's service or to worship, or the sacrifice of one's own life as a martyr. There can be no doubt that in this world sacrifice is often a part of true service to God (Mark 12:41-44, John 15:13, Acts 20:17-24, II Corinthians 8:1-5). Christian love always carries with it the willingness to sacrifice. However, it is not true that this kind of sacrifice, in and of itself, represents true Christian spirituality. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing" (v.3).
In the early years of the Christian church, the risk of persecution was high. Many early Christians were jailed or put to death for their faith. When Christianity became an officially recognized religion, much of the pain went away. So people invented ways to experience pain. They went without sufficient food, water, clothing or shelter, subjected themselves to personal torture, or invented tasks that were beyond what any human being should have to do, all of this to draw attention to their supposed dedication to the Lord or to make themselves feel "spiritual." But all of this was to the detriment, not the advancement, of true Christianity. In Christianity, love can be called a law, without which everything else is completely without value.
How, then, shall we fulfill this "law of love?" First, by recognizing that this is something that we cannot do ourselves. Love is part of the gift of God's Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). When God dwells in us, He communicates a heart of love that affects everything in our life. So we should ask God, not just for love, but for the Spirit of Christ to fill our hearts. Secondly, we can obey the commandments of God as an act of worship (John 15:10, I John 2:1-6). Finally, we can love God by identifying with His purposes in the lives of others. We should not try to take God's place. We cannot be the Redeemer, for that is the place of Christ (I Timothy 2:5). It is not our place to forgive sins that God has not forgiven (Jeremiah 6:14ff), nor is it our place to take vengence for people's misdeeds (Romans 12:19), for only God is Judge. But we can identify what God wants to do in the lives of others and, as far a possible, promote and support those goals as His instruments.
First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume III, Part 3, March 1995.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
"Things That Abide" is Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. "The American Night Watch" is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.
Permission is granted to reprint "Things That Abide" or any portion as long as all copyrights are included, this statement is included, the text is not altered in any way, and the text or reprint is not sold to the recipients.
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