gods-will

1 Peter 5

Today we’re reading 1 Peter 5.

As Peter closed his first letter to the persecuted believers scattered through modern day Turkey, he urged the elders over these churches to lead God’s people well (vv. 1-4). In verses 5-7, he turned to “you who are younger” and commanded them to “submit yourselves to your elders.” My interpretation of this passage is that the “younger” refers to people in these churches who were not elders. Just as Christ referred to his disciples as “my children,” so Peter plays off the literal meaning of the office “elder” to speak to those who were not elders in the church.

The command to people not leading the church, then, was “submit yourselves to your elders.” Submission, in this context, means to fall into line behind the leaders. It is about surrendering control of decision making to someone else. This does not mean taking orders from the elders of the church about every detail in your life. As elders, we have no business telling you to marry this person, have four children--and we’ll name them for you, take that job, not this one, etc.

What this means is to let the elders of the church lead the church. If the elders decide to start a ministry, support the ministry in whatever way you can. If the elders choose to shut down a ministry--especially one you love--then understand that it is their decision to make before the Lord, not yours.

It also means listening to the wisdom of your elders in the moral aspects of your life. We as elders would never tell someone whom to marry. But we have told professing believers in our church not to marry--or to date--unbelievers. We have also told people in our church that we have concerns about someone they intend to marry. The goal here is not to control their lives but to help them apply Biblical truths.

Sometimes people listen to us and do what we tell them is right. Those people have obeyed the command in this passage to “submit yourselves to your elders.” Others have pushed back--hard, at times--against what we have told them. Inevitably, their pushback does not come from a place where they interpret the scriptures differently than us. The resistance we get as elders usually is about avoiding the application. People are really good at justifying what they want to do. When we try to help them make godly and wise decisions, they will often give reasons why the biblical principle, which they admit is true, does not apply to them. People often think they are the exception to God’s word. Sometimes God is gracious to them anyway, but more often than not things turn out exactly as we warned them they would.

If you have godly elders, like the ones described here in verses 1-4, you can trust them. Submission is about trust. It is not about agreement; it takes no effort to “submit” to someone that you agree with. You’ve both made the same decision, so there’s no submission involved. Submission only happens when you disagree. You want something different from what your leaders think is wise and best. If you trust them, and trust the Lord’s command here in 1 Peter 5:5, you will do what your elders advise you to do. Not because they’re trying to control you or because it is easy or because you agree with them. No, you’ll submit to your elders because (a) you know they want to glorify the Lord, (b) you believe that they want what is best for you which is the will of God, and (c) because the Lord commands you to submit. This takes humility (vv. 5b-6) and it is never easy. But look at the Lord’s promises: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (vv. 6-7).

Could you benefit from godly counsel in your life right now? Are you making decisions within the will of God or are you hoping to be an exception? Godly leadership--in the family, in the church--will protect you from bad choices, from the self-deception that operates so powerfully within us all. Do yourself a favor--seek counsel from your elders and submit to what we tell you. We are not perfect or infallible, but we know the scriptures, want to see God glorified, desire the very best for you, and have seen a ton of stuff over the years. Is it wise to ignore all of that?

Acts 21

Back to the book of Acts today, specifically Acts 21.

It has been a while since we read Acts 20, so when Acts 21:1 said, “After we had torn ourselves away from them...” we need to be reminded that Paul had been speaking to the elders from the church in Ephesus at the end of Acts 20. He was completing his third missionary journey and was on his way to Jerusalem with money collected from the Gentile churches for the Jewish believers struggling in poverty in Jerusalem. Here in Acts 21, we read repeated warnings for Paul not to go to Jerusalem:

  • Verse 4 said that the disciples in Tyre told him not to go: “Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.”
  • Verses 10-11 told us that in Caesarea a prophet named Agabus “took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”’”
  • Verse 12 recounted how Luke, the other traveling companions of Paul, and the Caesarean believers begged Paul to change his mind. The verse said, “we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.”

This is a tough situation to interpret. All of these people were speaking to Paul “through the Spirit” (v. 4), so it would seem that Paul went to Jerusalem in spite of God’s revealed moral will. Yet back in chapter 20, when speaking to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “...compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem” (20:22a). He also knew that the result of his going would be personally painful: “not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me” (20:22b-23). So what caused him to keep going? Acts 20:24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” And here in Acts 21: “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” His motives for going were pure and righteous and to the glory of God. The warnings about suffering, then, must have been to prepare him and the churches so that they would not lose faith in God when Paul was arrested.

And, sure enough, he was arrested (v. 33). We’ll see in the chapters to come what the results of that arrest were. For now, though, we should reflect on the warnings in Scripture. The Bible tells us that the way of following Christ is a narrow way. It tells us that there are few who go that way, so we will be in an uncomfortable minority throughout life if we follow Christ. Other passages tell us that following Christ means dying to ourselves and that it will cost some disciples their families, their homes, their inheritance on earth, and even their lives. These warnings were not given to tell us not to follow Jesus; they were written to prepare us in advance for the costs of following him. So, don’t be surprised or unhappy with God when being a Christian costs you something. Instead, understand that you are on the right path because what is happening to you is exactly what God said would happen to his children. So trust him to do his will (v. 14b) in and with your life.

Judges 14, Acts 18, Jeremiah 27, Mark 13

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 14, Acts 18, Jeremiah 27, Mark 13. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 14.

After a great start as parents to Samson, things go wrong here in Judges 14. Old enough to marry now, Samson chooses a bride based completely on her looks. Note that he “saw” her in verse 1 but didn’t talk with her until verse 7. So his decision was based on attraction alone. Being attracted to your spouse is a good thing, but if that’s your only reason for marrying him or her, you are taking a great risk (see Prov 31:30). 

Beyond the shallow basis for Solomon’s desire to marry her, marrying a non-Israelite was forbidden in the Old Testament law (Deut 7:3). Samson’s parents may have known that or they may not have. It is hard to know how well the law had been taught to the people during the dark days of the judges. Their response in verse 3 shows that they at least knew it was not wise; yet it was Manoah’s responsibility to secure a wife for Samson. He could have put his foot down and refused Samson’s command, “Get her for me.” Why didn’t he? Perhaps the prophecy he and his wife had received about Samson and the fact that “the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him” (Judges 13:24) when he was young man caused Manoah to defer to Samson when he was young. Regardless of why, this passage shows that the early concern Manoah and his wife had for raising Samson according to the Lord’s commands that we saw yesterday in Judges 13 was not sustained into Samson’s young adulthood. Since Samson was an adult, he probably could have overridden his parents’ wishes and married her anyway, but it still would have been right for Manoah to encourage Samson to live by God’s word. It would also have been best for him to stand by his convictions and not cave to his son’s foolish desires.

As we’ve seen recently, God can use the sinful desires of people to work his will; that’s what Judges 14:4 is showing us. Although Samson was living in violation of God’s commands, God was using his sinful choices to accomplish his will and start the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistines. So although Samson’s great start before he was born and as a young child did not produce a young adult who was strong for God, he still was used by God to accomplish God’s will for Israel. 

What strikes me in this passage is how a great start in following the Lord can be easily disrupted through sin. Samson had every advantage a spiritual leader could need. He could have been a man after God’s own heart years before David was even born. But instead of developing into the man he could have been based on all the grace God had poured into his life, Samson settled for positional leadership and leaned on his miraculous physical strength instead of developing strength of character. He became a successful military leader, yes, but not a godly man or a spiritual leader for Israel. 

It’s easy to start coasting in our Christian life, isn’t it? We see how much God has blessed us and grown us by his grace and we start living by what seems right in our own eyes rather than how God has commanded us to live. Even before his marriage week ended, Samson was paying the price for his foolish decisions (vv. 10-19). His “marriage” was over faster than many of the celebrity marriages we’ve heard about that last a year or less (v. 20). The seeds of his own moral destruction were being sown, but he was blind to it. Later in his life, decisions like this would lead to him literally becoming blind as well as limiting his effectiveness as a servant of the Lord. The message to me is, don’t coast on the grace the Lord has given in the past. Recognize how easily we fool ourselves and be diligent, by the grace of God, to follow his word day by day.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 36, Psalm 80, Isaiah 28, 2 John

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 36, Psalm 80, Isaiah 28, 2 John. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Numbers 36.

This passage in Numbers discusses how property rights in Israel’s promised land were to be managed, but in the middle of this passage there is an interesting statement. In order for the daughters of Zelophehad to retain their family property, they had to marry within their own family. Verse 6 says, “This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan.” Notice that phrase, “They may marry anyone they please….” When I was a young, unmarried man, I wondered and worried about who the Lord wanted me to marry. Since I believed (and still do) that God knows all things because he has sovereignly decreed all things either directly or by allowing them to occur, I believed that God had chosen my wife. But how would I find her and, when I did, how would I know that she was “the one?” Furthermore, what if I misjudged the will of God or wanted to be with someone so much that I missed the will of God for my life? These are heavy questions and the Bible seems to give little to no insight on them.

Until I read this passage, that is. When I read this passage I noticed that God did not specify who the daughters of Zelophehad must marry. He could have! He could have revealed their names to Moses and paired them up right then and there. Instead, however, he said that they had the freedom to marry “anyone they please.” This was a great relief to me. God’s will for my life would not be someone revealed by mysticism nor would I be forced to pledge my faith to someone I might actually dislike. No, God’s word allows his people to marry “anyone they please” as long as that person meets a few other important qualifications. Instead of giving us steps for finding “the one,” God’s word tells us that there are certain things that a godly believer should be looking for in a spouse. God wants us as believers to marry other believers (see 1 Cor 7:39 and notice that the widow “…is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord”). This is not just someone who claims to be a believer, but who claims it and shows it by a growing Christian life so that together they can raise a godly family (see Mal 2:15). Further, the book of Proverbs specifies some characteristics of a wise woman. So, instead of looking for “the one” and wondering how I would find her, I sought out Christian girls I thought were attractive and looked to see if they had evidence of a growing faith and the character qualities that would contribute to a godly marriage. And, in God’s grace, he led me to a beautiful woman who compliments me well and has been an excellent companion for me for over 20 years now.

Did God decree that I would marry Suzanne? Yes, but the factors that explain that decree are complex. God knew what would be attractive to me and who would find me attractive. He knew how we would meet and the circumstances under which we would get to know each other and want to be together. There are many, many factors that God in his infinite wisdom understands that we never will. Although there is much more to this than I can explain in this simple devotional, I think it is important to understand that making godly decisions in key areas of your life is not so much about discerning or divining what God had decreed. Rather, it is about understanding that God has designed you in a certain way and he has allowed your life to develop in certain ways and he has given you the scriptures and the Spirit and godly counselors to purify your desires and give you wisdom about making these key decisions. If you make them in faith, applying God’s wisdom from the Word as best as you can, you can follow your desires with confidence that God’s providence will lead you to his will in your life.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.