Jeremiah 23-34

Jeremiah 23-34…A text out of context is a pre-text for a proof text (D.A. Carson).

This quote, attributed to Carson’s father by Carson himself, is essentially saying that when you take a passage from the Bible out of its context it leads the reader to come to false conclusions.  As we work through this bible reading plan, which takes us through all of scripture in one year, we see the context of all of scripture, which is helpful.  Taking a single verse and using it as a theological sword is extremely unhelpful, but unfortunately wildly popular today.  Jeremiah 29:11 is arguably the single verse most misused in the past few decades (interestingly it wasn’t misused prior to contemporary American prosperity).  It is often used to support the thinking that God’s purpose for us individually is one of blessing and not hardship and suffering.

Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

We need to interpret the Bible correctly. Some interpret this verse by taking it out of context and then universalizing it. This is both a faulty and harmful way of reading scripture. That is not to say that it has no application for our lives today, but just that we need to be careful how we understand and apply the verse.

The bottom line is that this verse is not to be used as a cliché that for the believer, that we can expect God to always bless our lives and keep us from suffering. That is certainly not the case. Many examples could of course be given of faithful, loving Christians who have had to undergo suffering. To think that God will keep us from all suffering is just a naïve viewpoint. God of course uses suffering in our lives to test our mettle, which is clear throughout scripture.

In Jeremiah, we have a word of hope to his exiled people. Jeremiah’s point was not that God keeps pain away from his children, but that in the midst of suffering, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Suffering is temporary. We may have hope, because our God is a God of hope. We need not sink into despair or cynicism.

One other important point to note was that they were to occupy the land they were in. They may have been in exile, but they were to marry, have children and to pray for the welfare of Babylon. That’s right! Here it is in black and white:

(Jer. 29:4-7) “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

The very city that God would later punish for its pride in conquering Israel and other nations, God said that they were to pray for its welfare. I think the lesson here is clear. Whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, we need to be praying for the welfare of others. Jesus said himself that we are to love our enemies. The exiles in praying for the welfare of Babylon, would certainly have been praying for its enemies. There is no doubt there. The hope of verse 11, says to God’s people, that their exile is not permanent. After 70 years, they were to be brought back. God was faithful to his covenant. They were to occupy the land again.

 

 

Genesis 12-14

Genesis 12-14…God calls Abram and initiates a covenant with him, Abram and Lot separate, and Abram rescues Lot from the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah.

God chooses Abram, that he might reserve a people for himself, among whom his true worship might be maintained until the coming of Christ. This is THE subject of the entire Bible; God choosing, redeeming, and preserving a people for Himself through Christ; set apart by their love for Him, to glorify Him by growing in holiness. Abram was challenged to love God above all else, and to willingly leave all to go with God. He was faithful, but there is no state on earth free from trials, nor any character free from blemishes. There was famine even in Canaan, the glory of all lands; and unbelief, with the evils it brings, even in Abram the father of the faithful. Perfect happiness and perfect purity exist only in heaven.

In Genesis 13, we see that Abram was very rich, which made him very “heavy,” so the Hebrew word is. Riches are a burden, and those that are rich are “weighed down with thick clay,” Habakkuk 2:6. There is also typically a burden in getting riches, fear in keeping them, temptation in using them, guilt in abusing them, sorrow in losing them, and an account at last to be given about them. Yet God in his providence sometimes makes good men, rich men. Here we see that God’s blessing made Abram rich without sorrow, Proverbs 10:22. Though it is hard for a rich man to get to heaven, there are some cases where it’s possible; Mark 10:23-24. Ultimately, outward prosperity, if well-managed, is an opportunity for doing more good. When used to accumulate stuff and show off how the “King’s Kids” are blessed, it is sadly abused, and prosperity preachers serve as a good example of how not to live.

Abram had been blessed and had resources at his disposal to help others. In Genesis 14, he gives real proof of his love for Lot. We need to be ready to help those in need, especially those in our church. Abram rescued the captives, including those who had been quarreling with his own family. As we have opportunity, we must do good to all, even those who wrong us.

Titus 1:11

Titus 1:11…”They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” The false teachers Paul is referencing were a big problem in the early church. Nothing has changed though, and thankfully faithful saints like Martin Luther have been used by the Lord to correct false doctrines throughout the history of the church. Today, any teaching that includes a bible verse is often considered true by church goers, and biblical illiteracy is prevalent. This environment has been a fertile ground for false teachers. Unfortunately, most pastors are afraid to point out which teachers to avoid, or even worse, they don’t recognize false doctrine. In this verse, one clear mark of a false teacher is dishonest gain, which should tip us off to a number of popular teachers today who have clearly sought riches through ministry. We need to carefully examine what we are being taught, lest we follow the kinds of teachers Paul is referencing here. Since we can’t “silence” these teachers (see the verse above) because of their popularity, we should at least know who to avoid specifically.

Here is a very helpful video by Shai Linne, explaining why identifying false teachers is not only biblical, but loving:

Malachi 4:5

Malachi 4:5…”See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” John the Baptist preached repentance and faith, as Elijah had done. The turning of souls to God is the only preparation for the great and dreadful day of the Lord. On this day, the only way we can stand is with Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. The gospel we believe needs to include an understanding of the massive chasm between us (because of our sin) and God (because of His holiness), otherwise it’s not the gospel. The more clearly we understand this, the greater our faith, because we’ll esteem Jesus for the right reason. A weak, lukewarm, casual faith often comes from believing that we’re generally OK outside of Christ, or that following Christ will bring perfect health and abundant wealth.

God knows authentic faith and recognizes the fruit, particularly evidenced by concern for the spiritual well-being of others (John 13:35). Two practical litmus tests are discipling and evangelism. If we really believe the gospel, and if we think God’s word is authoritative, then those two things will mark our lives because of love for others. If we are unfruitful, and don’t do those things, we may not really believe, and the day of the Lord will be dreadful for us. Let us not be like the seed Jesus referenced in Matthew 13:22:

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Malachi 4:2

Malachi 4:2…”But for you who revere My name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” By the Sun of Righteousness we understand this to be Jesus Christ. Through Him believers are justified and sanctified, and are brought to see light. His influences render us holy, joyful, and fruitful. It is also a reference to the graces and comforts of the Holy Spirit, brought into our souls. Christ gave the Spirit to those who are His, to shine in their hearts, and to be a Comforter to them, a Sun and a Shield.

In terms of perfect, physical healing (which is not the main point of the passage, but is often used out of context in association with this verse), this will be carried out in heaven, but not in this life. Otherwise, there would be no sickness and death for Christians. Can God heal the sick, and does He do so miraculously? Absolutely, and it happens every day all over the world, but every one of those people will eventually die. Should we pray for physical healing? Yes, we should, with the expectation that God is big and powerful and sovereign enough to heal miraculously. What if I prayed for healing, but the person wasn’t healed; does that mean I didn’t have enough faith? No, there is not a guarantee of physical healing in this life, and all humans are still affected by the curse of sin, which includes sickness and death. Does He heal non-Christians? Yes, which shows that He is not a cosmic genie, dependent upon our prayers and/or faith for healing to occur.

Malachi 3:15

Malachi 3:15…”Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.” On the surface, it often appears as though God is not just. Why does it seem like the worst people in this life prosper? Our experiences have shown us that the guilty seem to go unpunished, and are sometimes better off than those who seek to do good. We need to view things through God’s lens though. He is perfectly just, and all accounts will be brought into proper balance one day. Be thankful that he hasn’t given you all the vain earthly things you desire, because they are fool’s gold. Remember that ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).’

For the Christian, we have much to celebrate everyday because we are not getting what we deserve (eternal punishment). With this eternal perspective, we can be freed to serve the Lord with joyful hearts, knowing that he’s blessed us in the heavenly realms, regardless of our earthly circumstances. Getting our minds and hearts lined up properly in a vertical manner (repentance and faith in Christ) will inevitably allow us to have healthy relationships horizontally (with other people) because we’ll see ourselves rightly; we are sinners saved by grace, and God has blessed us graciously despite our unbelief, pride and selfishness.

Acts 17:31

Acts 17:31…”For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.” Christ proved that He was the one appointed by God to judge the world by conquering death. He validated His claims of being supernatural by overcoming the one thing that none of us can overcome as finite humans. Death came into the world through the sin of one man, and persists because of our sin as well. Creation was broken, but will be restored on that day when He returns. How can we stand before Him on the day of reckoning? By repenting and believing in Him. This changed life will produce fruit, which is how the elect are identified. Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is the one characteristic Jesus points out in describing His people (John 13:35). For the elect, they will persevere until they are finally glorified (Romans 8:30 – And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified). However, where there is no fruit through conscious rebellion, practical unbelief, or following false gospels, there will be eternal punishment (Matthew 13:47-50).

Acts 14:22

Acts 14:22…”‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.” Paul and Barnabus were preaching the gospel and encouraging the believers in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch (South Galatia then, Turkey today). For prosperity gospel teachers/preachers here again is a portion of scripture exposing their heretical view that suffering is not for the Christian. According to the bible, not only are we guaranteed to suffer in this life (1 Peter 1:6-7), it MUST happen for us to enter the kingdom of God. This is how the Lord tests our faith, and according to James 1:2-4, it’s how he makes us more like Christ. Flee from any teacher who is telling you that suffering should not be part of this life for the Christian. Just because they weave in some scripture to their messages doesn’t mean they are safe to follow. Their gospel is fool’s gold, and the false hope they peddle includes perfect health and abundant wealth in this life. Our real treasure if we’re saved is Christ, and we look forward to being with Him forever in heaven.

Acts 9:35

Acts 9:35…”All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” Christ chose patients whose diseases were incurable in the course of nature, to show the desperation of fallen mankind. Aeneas had been paralyzed for eight years. Similarly, when we were without strength, as this poor man, he sent his word to heal us. Peter does not pretend to heal by any power of his own, but directs Aeneas to look up to Christ for help. The power and mercy God demonstrated through restoring His fallen creation (Aeneas) was used to turn hearts toward Him as we read in verse 35. This was only a temporary restoration though, as Aeneas, like all those the Lord heals, eventually died a physical death. However, when Christ returns, there will be an eternally permanent restoration of all creation, where there is no longer any disease or death.

Acts 7:51

Acts 7:51…”You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” Stephen uses the example of the hard-heartedness of the Israelites to show the Sanhedrin their own sin. It’s easy to read this passage and to quickly gloss over applying it to our own hearts. However, we all are stiff-necked, rebellious, and resistant to the Holy Spirit. All of us are in need of Christ’s perfect righteousness. Our hearts and ears need to be softened and humbled increasingly. Therefore, we should pray for a better understanding of our smallness and God’s bigness.