I wrote in my journal this morning that I have noticed a certain word has crept into my vocabulary in the last week or so… It’s the word ‘unprecedented’!
Last night my whole family sat together in our lounge watching the news together – unprecedented!
We then went on to listen to our South African President make some rather unprecedented announcements about our country being in a state of national lockdown from Friday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will remember this moment. Such a drastic announcement with such wide-reaching implications for personal freedom, for businesses large and small, has a way of eliciting a reaction.
Some citizens are compliant, some complaining while others are combative about the measures announced last night.
So, what does Scripture have to say to us at this time? How ought we to respond?
Scripture in Paul’s letter to the Roman believers says the following;
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the One who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)
What is our biblically inspired response when the President has announced such dramatic limitations on human freedom and movement?
Essentially it ought to be; ‘Yes Mr President, you have my full cooperation!’
We respond in this way because we believe something – God is the One who ultimately appoints those in authority (vs1) and so to resist authority is to resist those which God has appointed (vs2). Therefore, we submit to authority ultimately out of reverence to God.
Government and authority structures can be understood as being part of the common grace of God. Without order, respect of authority and law, sinful human nature would quickly descend into terrible atrocities.
For example, at present, the military is about to be deployed in our country to maintain the rule of law and to ensure we as citizens comply with the restrictions introduced as part of the Governments efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in our nation. Without police and the military presence of authority, sinful humanity will likely descend into sin and lawlessness.
Sadly, ‘authority’ is like a modern swearword! We hate the idea of authority rather loving freedom in its place.
However, authority, according to Romans 13, is good. It is part of the common grace of God (vs3), and those in authority over you are there as God’s; ‘servant for your good’ (vs4).
In this unique moment in our nation, may we as Christ-Followers be those who are fully compliant with the measures that have been introduced;
- May we support what our Government is trying to do for the benefit of the whole country by staying home and keeping our families at home too!
- May we be those who show remarkable selfless love at this time to others around us in a myriad of ways
- May we be grateful for the Government we have got
- May we be committed to praying for those in power during these difficult and challenging times
- May we stand in prayer with all those who will be called on in the coming weeks to work tirelessly to care medically for what is potentially hundreds of thousands of people.
- And may we be those who never let go of the certain hope that we have in Jesus!
[A little more for those asking; “But what about ungodly authorities?”]
God being sovereign over all authorities does not mean that all authorities are good or do good things all the time. Rather it means that God is the One who is in control always and that all authority is under God’s ultimate authority.
God’s good intention is that authority is for our common good (it is a form of God’s common grace), and so God can and does use the good that those in authority do.
However, God can use even the evil things sinful leaders do to fulfil His purposes in our lives and on the earth.
An example of this is 2 Chronicles 25:20 where it says; “But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies because they had sought the gods of Edom”. Amaziah would not listen to the advice given him so that God’s purpose would prevail.
Similarly, Scripture says of Pharaoh that God promised to harden his heart so that he would not let God’s people go (Exodus 4:21), but then Scripture makes it clear that Pharoah hardened his heart and would not let God’s people go (Exodus 8:15,32 & 9:34). This evil Pharoah was in authority under God’s control, and even the evil he did accomplished God’s good purposes in the end.
The challenge in Romans 3 is vs3-4. It is a challenge since authorities in their sinfulness do not always act for the good of those they are in authority over!
It’s helpful to remember that Paul is writing as a Jewish Roman citizen, he has experienced hostility from authorities towards Jewish people and towards Christians. Therefore, he is not naive concerning the experience of those who have lived under ungodly leaders. John Stott on this question from this passage writes;
“Paul means rather that all human authority is derived from God’s authority so that we can say to rulers what Jesus said to Pilate, ‘You would have no power [exousia, authority] over me if it were not given to you from above.’ Pilate misused his authority to condemn Jesus; nevertheless, the authority he used to do this had been delegated to him by God” – John Stott
So, in conclusion. The big idea of this passage is that governmental authorities are part of the common grace of God and are for our and societies good – that is God’s plan for humanity.
However, there are many moments in history when authorities in their sin have acted in ways that were not for the benefit of those under their authority.
And so there are times when to obey earthly authority would mean to disobey God. In those moments, I believe it is possibly justifiable to disobey earthly authority to obey God – but such situations are exceptional rather than the norm.
But in this time, with this COVID-19 pandemic let us give our ‘YES’ to our President and let us all play our part at this time of national threat.
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)