John’s second letter is written to a local congregation (‘the elect lady and her children’ – the bride of Christ). The apostle has been encouraged to have come across some of the congregation who are ‘walking in truth’ as God wants of us (2 John 4).
The Christian life is often depicted as a journey – a path that is to be walked out. Although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, this does not result in inactivity. Movement, even intentional effort is implied by the word picture John and other writers of Scripture used for the Christian life.
John uses ‘walk’ three times in this short section each time, indicating that progress and intentional effort in a certain direction are expected of believers.
It is a great encouragement to know that all believers in Jesus are on the same road/journey. We might be at different points along the way, but we share the same road!
Roads have borders that define the road’s edge; in this instance, it is the commandments of God define the roadway that God has laid out for us to journey along. We are to be those who ‘walk according to His commandments’ (2 John 6), commandments which have not changed since the beginning but commandments which we ‘should walk in’ (2 John 6).
It is safe to summarise the two borders of the Christian road as love for God (1 John 5:2-3 & Matthew 22:37) and love for people (2 John 5 & 1 John 3:11).
In 2 John 8, the apostle shares wisdom for the journey with these believers and with ourselves;
“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 8)
This one verse is richly dense with meaning! In it, we find assurance and warning and encouragement.
1. Warning! ‘We are to watch ourselves.’
Don’t go off the path; don’t get distracted or diverted by the schemes of the enemy. Obeying God’s commandments & listening to the Holy Spirit will keep you on the road. We have a responsibility to do this ourselves, but we are helped greatly if we have others around us who can spot if we are veering towards the edge of the path. It’s your responsibility to watch yourself, but it is wise to enlist the help of some brothers or sisters who will love you enough to keep watch too.
2. Warning! ‘So that we do not lose what we have worked for.’
There are serious consequences if one does not adhere to the first warning. You can lose something; you can have regret even as a believer. But what can you lose?
The apostle says that we can loose ‘what we have worked for’. And what have we worked for? Well, we know that we haven’t worked for our salvation! Jesus did the heavy lifting, not us; Jesus did what could not do. So what is in focus here is not us losing salvation which was given to us not by works but by grace alone so that no person can boast (Ephesians 2:4-8)!
In what way have we ‘worked’? Well, we have worked out the impact of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), we have worked harder than anyone in response to the grace of God in us (2 Corinthians 15:10). We worked in that we have responded to God’s free gift in giving us salvation. We have worked in that we should ‘work for’ our reward…
3. Encouragement: ‘But may win a full reward.’
This is what God’s desire for us, to give us our full reward that He always intended to give us. God is so good; He saves us not on the basis or our work/merit but purely by grace. Then God inspires us, works in us by the Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13) changing us at the level of our desires so that we now want to do His will and obey His commandments. And then God plans to reward us for walking the road He has laid out for us – incredible!
If you have believed in Jesus, your salvation is secure, guaranteed! But whether or not you will ‘walk God’s road’ obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings and God’s commands is not guaranteed. And so, the possibility exists that some of your reward that God wanted to give you may be lost, that we by our lack of response, our lack of working and walking God’s ways may lose some of what He had always intended to give to us – rewards.
John doesn’t want this for the believers he is writing to, and God doesn’t want it for you either. So take heed of the warning, watch yourselves and ask others to watch you too. Invite people into your life who can speak with a loving honesty and who in turn will be blessed if you do the same for them.
In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.
Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.
Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).
The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!
The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.
True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.
I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!
True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.
And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!
Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.
So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.
- Who are you finding hard to love right now? Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle. What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you? And what ought you to do now?
- Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others? Be encouraged. We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress. Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.
This one verse at the end of the whole book sums up the book and our response to it. There are two paths before every one of us; God’s way and the way that Israel took which the prophet has been at pains to describe.
Scripture frequently contrasts the way of the wise and that of the fool or the righteous person’s way, and the ungodly person’s way. Everyone chooses a way; it is unavoidable.
The question is, what will you choose?
Hosea 14:9 brings the book to a conclusion forcing the reader to consider their own personal response. Much of the book has been written to the collective of Israel, but now the focus is undeniably personal.
The wise person will take to heart, will understand the themes and emphases of the book; they will listen and obey God and choose to walk in God’s ways.
On the contrary, the foolish person will continue to stumble in their sinful ways, disregarding God’s commandments, His appeals of love and His repeated invitation to repent.
We all choose continually. What will you choose? Which path are you on right now and will you stay on that path?
These are the questions. Will you learn from Israel’s mistakes? Will you respond to the love of God that graciously woos us back time and time again or will you harden your heart and close your ears as the Israelites did?
I urge you to continuously keep in step with God by obeying the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25) & allowing Scripture to lead and direct you (Psalm 119:105).
Ask God to keep your heart soft and your spiritual ears open. Because the ‘paths of the LORD are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them’ (Hosea 14:9 in the NLT).
I remember encountering the short story genre in senior school with Jeffrey Archer’s, “A Twist in the Tale”. You needed to read to the end of each story to work out what the whole story was about.
Hosea is something like that. If you had stopped reading Hosea a few chapters back, you might have reached an inaccurate, premature conclusion about God.
You might have felt that the God portrayed in these pages of this prophetic book seems too far removed from the God on the pages of the New Testament.
But Hosea 14, however, is a clear demonstration of the fact that God has never changed and never will (Malachi 3:6). The God of Scripture has always been the God of grace.
Hosea 14 begins with the frequent OT refrain; “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God” (Hosea 14:1). God’s harsh words through the prophet have been justified at every point, and yet the heart of God is that His people would recognise their sin and repent, that they would repent and return to God.
God, through the prophet, invites Israel to ask God to forgive them, ‘to take away all iniquity’ (Hosea 14:2). God appeals to Israel to say to God;
- Assyria (humankind) will not save us (vs3)
- Abandon faith in false gods and human-made idols (vs3)
- Say that you will never bow down to these idols again (vs3)
- Say that in God alone will we find mercy (vs3)
And then God will respond saying;
- ‘I will heal you of your faithlessness my love will know no bounds for my anger will be gone forever’ (Hosea 14:4 in the NLT)
- I will refresh Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven causing flowers and fruitfulness (vs5)
- I will be like shade to Israel, and so Israel will flourish again like the vine I originally intended it to be (vs7)
- ‘O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.’ (Hosea 14:8 in NLT)
The question is, will we repent, will we stop our sinful ways and love and worship God only? Only we can respond to God’s invitation – I urge you to respond and to keep responding to God daily.
All through the collection of prophecies in this book, God has likened His anguish and pain felt because of Israel’s unfaithfulness as being like the human experience Hosea was having in his painful marriage to Gomer.
Now in the eleventh chapter, God uses another human experience to communicate the pain He feels over His people’s rejection of Him – parenting.
Israel is a beloved child who has walked away from the parent who raised it (vs3), turned its back on them despite the incredible love and parental care (vs4) that has been shown.
God’s anguish is evident; ‘My people are bent on turning away from me’ (vs7). The God of Scripture, our God is not aloof, untouched or cold. The language of the whole book of Hosea is of profound human experiences that help us to understand how God feels when we are in a state of sinful rebellion or rejection of Him, living and acting as though He were not our God who has loved us.
Because of Israel’s refusal to turn back to God (vs5), ‘the sword will rage against their cities’ (vs6) and God will not answer them anymore when they do call out to Him (vs6).
God’s heart is in pain and conflicted like a parent who has had to discipline their child; ‘My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender’ (vs8) and so God will not totally destroy Israel when He sends them into exile because of their sin.
God promises a future day when a remnant of Israel will be gathered back to God from the nations they are about to be scattered to in exile;
They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. (vs10-11)
God will remain faithful to His covenant promises; God is faithful even when we are unfaithful.
What does this mean for us today?
- All the language of human experiences throughout this book of prophecies reveals the profoundly personal nature of God and our relationship with Him.
- How we live really matters to God, God feels pain when we live as though He doesn’t exist, when we spurn His words to us, when we live in sin and compromise, when we give our hearts trust to other things or people.
- Ephesians 5:10 in the NIV translation instructs us to ‘find out what pleases the LORD’ and Ephesians 4:30 urges us; ‘do not grieve the Holy Spirit’. May we live to please God, live in such a way that we do not grieve God. May we bring joy to our Father, not tears!
Israel’s sin of idolatry is described in detail in Hosea 8-9, while enemies are waiting like a vulture readying itself to descend upon Israel in judgement (Hosea 8:1). Why?
Because these people cry; ‘My God…we know you’ (Hosea 8:2) However, the truth is that they had continually spurned the one true God (Hosea 8:3) and so they will be pursued by the enemy and taken off into exile in the nations.
Israel had appointed kings without asking for God’s guidance, appointed princes without God’s approval (Hosea 8:4 in NLT). They were worldly, no different from the nations around them, they lived and led as though God was not on His throne and as though God had no authority in their lives.
To make matters worse, Israel had made idols for themselves from their silver and gold. And because of this, they had brought about their own destruction (Hosea 8:4).
When the kingdom of Israel was divided (see 1 Kings 12) Jeroboam sinfully built altars for sacrifices in Bethel & Dan and had two golden calves built for these places of false worship. “And he said to the people, ‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.'” (1 Kings 12:28)
In Hosea 8, God expresses His righteous anger at this sinful offensive act and how it had been perpetuated in Samaria for nearly 200yrs – ‘I have spurned your calf, O Samaria. My anger burns against them…the calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.’ (Hosea 8:5-6)
The beginning of the Ten Commandments reads;
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:1-5)
This idolatry with the golden calves was outright rebellion against God, and it was going to be punished by Him.
The ‘worship’ and sacrifices in Samaria mimicked the worship God had ordained for the temple in Jerusalem. There were similarities, therefore. But God refused to accept the syncretistic compromised worship of the northern Tribes at their self-made temples with their golden calves – ‘but the LORD does not accept them.’ (Hosea 8:13).
So their external ‘religious’ actions had no effect; their sins were not going to be forgiven; rather, their sins would be remembered by God and punished by God (Hosea 8:13).
‘Israel has forgotten his Maker’ – (Hosea 8:14). A chilling echo of this passage is found in Romans 1:18-32 where also there is judgement coming because of the willful decision to exchange; ‘the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator’ (Romans 1:25).
Because of Israel’s idolatry, they will be exiled to Assyria and Egypt for; ‘the days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come.’ (Hosea 9:7) ‘Woe to them when I depart from them!’ (Hosea 9:12) ‘My God will reject them because they have not listened to Him; they shall be wanders among the nations.’ (Hosea 9:17)
These are sad chapters. There is no good news in them, no ray of hope as in earlier chapters.
So what does this mean for us?
- Warnings are important to take heed of! In life, we ignore warnings at our peril.
- I thank God for passages like this. Although you don’t find them on Christian bumper stickers or the like, they are essential.
- Passages like this contain solemn warnings. May we not be like these people who willfully disobeyed God’s clear commands, who compromised and mixed true worship of God with idolatry.
- Is there any way in which you are ignoring a clear command of Scripture?
- Is there any way in which you are dabbling in trusting in anything or anyone other than Almighty God?
- If you are, repent now, don’t delay even a minute.
- “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27)
Hosea Chapter 5 reads like a charge sheet or the pronouncement of the judge of the misdemeanours committed in a court proceeding against Israel/Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom).
The priests, the royal family & the leaders of Israel have led Israel into a snare/trap with their idol worship and their ‘deep slaughter’ (vs2 in ESV might refer to child sacrifice see 2 Kings 17:17).
Israel was so thoroughly gone, so far from God that reconciliation at that point seemed impossible; “Your deeds won’t let you return to your God. You are a prostitute through and through, and you do not know the Lord” (vs4 in NLT).
They might go and seek God to make sacrifices with their livestock, but they will not find God for ‘he has withdrawn from them’ (vs6). Nothing is more terrifying than this! That God removes Himself from us, that He won’t reply any more to our calls. That is the very definition of hell – existence without God, without the possibility of God, listening, without God willing to respond to our cries for mercy, grace or help. Hell, CS Lewis said was a monument to human freedom – people want nothing to do with God and so that is what God eventually gives them.
The leaders of Israel are full of dishonesty, corruption & injustice like those who move their neighbour’s landmarks (stealing land from people) (vs10 in ESV).
And because of all of this the day of judgment is coming, war is coming, and Israel will be reduced to a pile of rubble (vs 9 in NLT), ‘The people of Israel will be crushed and broken by my judgment because they are determined to worship idols.’ (vs11 in NLT).
When Israel realised the terrible moth-eaten state of her clothes, when they saw that destructive rot had set in to eat away their wooden things (vs12) – they called out for help.
But they did not call out in repentance to God the only One who could truly help them. Rather they sought political & military alliances with surrounding nations to secure protection. They paid money to Assyria (2 Kings 15:19) to buy protection – but these nations, these men can’t help Israel (vs13)!
We are like this sometimes aren’t we? We have made some mess of our lives, wandered from God, and when we realise our predicament we don’t repent and turn back to God the only One who can truly help us, we make a plan, seek wisdom, solace or solutions from those around us. And yet we know, God is the One we need. Christ Follower, don’t be like Israel was.
Foreign nations will not be able to stop what God has determined. Israel and even later Judah too are going to be punished by God (vs14). God is going to ‘tear them to pieces’ and ‘carry them off’ like a lion does it’s prey (vs15). Israel will be judged, punished and taken off into exile for God has finally declared; ‘enough!’ (see 2 Kings 17).
And yet even this terrible day that awaits Israel is not the end of the story;
Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and turn to me. For as soon as trouble comes, they will earnestly search for me.” (vs15 in NLT)
God is anticipating that judgement will produce repentance in the future and a change of heart and a longing for God again. There is a flicker of hope still as God vs15 hints at God’s desire for this to be restorative justice that will re-unite His people to Him in the future.
What does this mean for you and I today?
- Remember that God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. This judgement of God on Israel was a long time in coming (approximately 200yrs and the reign of 13 kings).
- God had spoken over and over and over again to Israel through the prophets (2 Kings 17:13-14); however, they would not listen but rather were stubborn in their idolatry and unbelief.
- Decide today not to be like Israel was! Decide today to listen to the soft inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, the whispers of God through your own Bible reading and listening to Bible-based preaching, listen and repent, turn back to God when He whispers to you. Because if you don’t listen to the private whispers, God will eventually raise the volume and what was private will become more and more public.
- What’s God been trying to whisper to you about that you’ve maybe been shutting your ears too? Speak to God now, repent now, return to Him the only One who can truly help.