Sovereignty

A True God-Follower (Hosea 1:1-3)

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Are you a Christ Follower? Not in name but in reality! I am drawn to ‘Christ Follower’ as a way of identifying believers in Jesus because it speaks of movement – it’s not simply an idea but a lifestyle that can be observed. 

And so if Jesus said ‘go left’ and you’re going right at the moment then you can justifiably be challenged to alter your current trajectory.

Being a Christ Follower also necessitates looking for Jesus, His will, His ways (laid out for us in Scripture) and listening for His voice in Scripture and also in all of life.

Now Hosea was a prophet in the Old Testament times. And he was a remarkable God Follower (since Jesus had not come as our incarnate Messiah yet) as we shall see from the shocking first three verses of the book bearing his name.

In the days of the evil king, Jeroboam 2 of Israel’s Northern Tribes God spoke to Hosea (1:1). And it’s a rather shocking thing God said to him;

Hosea 1:2 (NLT): “Go and marry a prostitute…”

Gulp! I can imagine some of Hosea’s dialogue with God.

Hosea: Who’s this speaking to me LORD? 

Hosea: It sounds like the enemy again unsettling me.

Hosea: Or maybe I’m having a bad dream, indigestion not inspiration!

God: Nope, it’s me speaking Hosea. Go and marry a prostitute.

Hosea: But Lord! That wasn’t my plan for life and marriage.

Hosea: You want me to be happy, right?

Hosea 1:2 (NLT): “Go and marry a prostitute…”, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshipping other gods.” 

Remarkable. God as God, is entitled to ask us to do anything for Him. How we react to this command of God to Hosea says something about our perspective and how we are relating to God. Is God in His rightful place in your life or is God not much more than a ‘genie in a bottle’ for you, someone who must come and do what you command when you summons Him in prayer?

It’s easy to say Jesus is your LORD, easy to label yourself as a God/Christ Follower until Jesus tells you to do something that will require serious sacrifice, discomfort or challenge.

  • What’s Jesus calling you to do about your commitment to His church?
  • What’s Jesus calling you to do about using your time/talents for His plan & purposes?
  • What’s Jesus calling you to do about that relationship that’s not honouring Him or that relationship that needs restoration?
  • What’s Jesus calling you to do about the money He entrusted to you?
  • ….

What makes us Christ Followers is not what we say, but what we do when God has spoken to us through His Word or some other means.

Hosea 1:3 (NLT): “So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she became pregnant and gave Hosea a son.”

Hosea was a true God Follower because he did what God had said; he obeyed God. Even though he must have had questions about how this was all going to work out to accomplish God’s purposes which clearly transcended his comfort and convenience.

Now, it is a relief that Hosea is the only guy in the Bible that God told to marry a prostitute. So we imitate not his action as our pattern, but his heart and his obedience and trust displayed. 

May you and I be like Hosea who trusted God enough to obey even though he could not have understood fully.  

May we be like Jesus who likewise trusted and obeyed the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and so destroyed our enemies of sin, Satan and death and won for us our freedom.

Christ Follower, trust and obey. For then, we shall see God’s plan and purposes unfold in and through our lives, and God will be glorified in us.

What’s your lens? (Philippians 1:12-20)

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What’s your lens? What gives you meaning in life, and what helps you make sense of all that happens in your life?

As he writes to the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul is a prisoner of Rome because of his faith in Jesus. We know he was confined to ‘house arrest’ for two years, and yet he is isn’t found complaining in his letter to the Philippians.

Consider this for a moment, what would you have been writing about if his experience was yours?

It’s hard to know for sure how I/we would have responded, but a brief analysis of our prayers when life is feeling unfair or hard for us now are probably a good indication.  

And yet Paul was rejoicing! (vs18) How could this be?  

Paul’s joy, his sense of meaning and purpose was clearly not tied to his personal comfort or freedom – since he wrote this from a period of imprisonment, most likely chained to a Roman soldier.  

His lens for life, his life purpose was that the good news of Jesus would be proclaimed & that Jesus would be glorified through his life or death.

And because of this, he wrote; “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (vs12)

His imprisonment gave him access to the praetorian guard (vs13) – a special unit of ten thousand selected soldiers in Rome that had unusual privileges & were influential. He could write that the whole guard knew that Jesus was the reason for his imprisonment. It seems as though God, through Paul’s imprisonment, had inserted him inside the ranks of those who were influential in the great city of Rome, sowing gospel seeds for the future behind enemy lines.

There was meaning in his suffering, in the curtailment of his freedom. And so there could be rejoicing because his lens was God’s purpose, plan and God’s glory, not his comfort or liberty.

What’s your lens? Your lens will focus your attention and define your reaction to life’s varied circumstances.

Paul was strengthened in his imprisonment, knowing that the Philippians were praying for him & knowing that the Helper was with him. And so he was confident that God would deliver him either in the present from Roman captivity or in the glorious future at the return of Jesus (vs19).

Paul embraced his circumstances because of his lens which was that all of his life was to proclaim Jesus and to bring glory to Jesus in how he responded to all of life’s circumstances believing that God was sovereign in them.  

And so he wrote;

“…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (vs20)

What’s on display here is the focus of Paul’s life – that Jesus Christ would be honoured by my life whether that means I live or whether I die – Jesus be glorified.

What an inspiration! May his lens be your lens and mine. May Jesus being proclaimed and Jesus being glorified be the priority that pulsates through our every decision and our every thought in every circumstance we endure.

Confidence! (Philippians 1:1-11)

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What are you confident in? What are you relying on when it comes to faith and the continuation of that faith? Life is filled with unexpected complexity and challenge – so what anchors you and your faith?

Paul prayed for these Philippian believers, thanking God with great joy and certainty for their faith because he had great confidence that was anchored in God alone.

The early converts of this church were a successful businesswoman, a redeemed fortune teller & a converted jailer (see Acts 16 for the full story of this churches inception). This diverse bunch of newly saved ones must have faced many challenges to their faith. Challenges that came from both from within & from outside the church. 

To this group of believers in Jesus Paul could write;

“I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (vs6)

He wasn’t there to hold their hands! But he was confident that they would make genuine progress in spiritual growth. So what was Paul’s confidence anchored in?

1. That salvation is a work of God

No doubt Lydia, the Slave-girl & the Jailer could all remember the day that they put their faith in Jesus. But this is not Paul’s confidence; it is not that they ‘really’ believed. His confidence is that God started it all! Acts 16:14 says of Lydia’s salvation moment; “the LORD opened her heart”. God was at the bottom of it all as Charles Spurgeon said;

One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me; How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. 

How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so?  Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.” — Charles Spurgeon 

Friend, your faith is sure and secure only if God is at the bottom of it all.   

2. God will bring what He started to completion.

‘So my faith had a good start, but will I be able to keep it going?’ – I hear you wondering.  

Friend, Philippians 1:6 says that not only was God the originator of your faith in Him, more than that it is God Himself who will bring to completion what He started in you.

God doesn’t do half-jobs. God doesn’t get distracted or dejected because of slow progress. The writer to the Hebrews says it like this; “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 in NIV).

It would make no sense; it would not honour Jesus’ life, death & resurrection in our place for our sin for God to start and not bring to fullness our salvation. Friend, God is supremely invested in, God is behind not just the origination of your faith but the sustenance and progress of your faith. For some more verses on this theme check out: 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 & 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 & Colossians 1:21-22.

3. The Outcome and the Day are Guaranteed

There is a timeline when this completion will be fully realised. It is not today or tomorrow or in 1years time, but it is on THE DAY of Jesus Christ – the day Jesus returns in glory. 

Sometimes spiritual progress in our own lives or in the lives of those we love or lead can feel like three steps forward and two backwards! Don’t despair, don’t give in during the long dark nights when you feel like you have to hold on to what faith you still have.

There is a day coming. And you can be confident that God who inaugurated your faith will bring it to complete fullness by the time of the return of Jesus Christ. That day on which you will see Him face to face, and you will be transformed & raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-43 & 51-55).

If you have believed in Jesus, you can know with absolute certainty that you have believed because God is at work within your life, and you can rest assured that what God has started in you He Himself will continue until it is fully complete at the Day of Jesus Christ. Be secure, be full of praise and thanks!

The Day of Jesus’ Return (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)

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Writing to believers enduring persecution for their faith and wanting to encourage and fortify them the apostle Paul lifts their gaze to the future horizon – the great Day of Jesus Christ’s return.

Right thinking or understanding about the impending return of Jesus will help one to know how to live today and tomorrow. A biblical and eternal perspective focusses us on what’s truly important and fortifies us in the present realities which might be hard.

‘God considers it just to repay…’

Have you ever questioned the revealed will of God or the revelation of God’s ways in Scripture? I am astounded how commonplace this is these days. People read something in Scripture only to then react with statements like;

  • ‘Well I’m not happy with that!’ or
    ‘I don’t think that’s fair/right/loving.’
  • And yet Scripture never apologizes for God, never tries to defend God. Here in our passage, it says that;

“God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven.”(1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

A passage like this calls one to decide whether or not Scripture has authority over our thoughts and questions over our preferences.

Someone once said to me; “Well my Jesus would never…” To speak like this is tantamount to making your own god (idol).  But then the god you made is not the God of Scripture!

God considers it just to repay evil for the evil done to His beloved children and therefore, it is just.

Are you wrongfully accused or mistreated in some way? God will repay that person. You don’t have to try to take revenge or fight back or defend yourself; God will do it, He will repay that person for their wrong.

And when will this happen? At the Day of Jesus’ second coming. You might not see the wrong being righted in your lifetime, but you can know God will vindicate you.

Only Two Groups of People

It is human nature to want to belong to a group of people to identify with others. The world is full of a myriad of tiny groups of people who all hold on to their differentiated sense of identities.

And yet according to our passage, on the Day that King Jesus returns there will only be two distinct groups of people;

  1. Those who did know God, who did obey and accept the Gospel about Jesus
    And those who did not
  2. On that Day, all other identities will be worthless & irrelevant. All that will matter is whether or not you believed the good news about Jesus Christ or not prior to that Day’s sudden arrival.

Two different experiences

And depending on whether you believed in Jesus and knew Him as your Saviour and LORD or not, there will be two very different experiences on that Day and into eternity.

  1. You will be in the great crowd of ‘saints’ (vs10) to whom God will grant relief from their suffering (vs7) and who will glorify Jesus as they marvel at His majesty (vs10).
  2. Or you will experience the judgement and the vengeance of God (vs8) and ‘suffer the punishment of eternal destruction’ being shut out from the presence of God forever (vs9) – terrifyingly bad news.

Who would not want to be in the first group? And who would not do everything in their power to urge all those they know and love to do the same by believing in Jesus Christ?

Surprised? (1 Thessalonians 3:1-13)

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In 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5, we discover that Paul desired deeply that no one in the church in Thessalonica would be moved/shaken/unsettled by the afflictions/pressures that faced them. Because of this, Paul sent a person, Timothy to encourage them, to help them think clearly. In addition to this through his letter, Paul also reminded them of truth. He did so because it’s the truth that undergirds us, reinforces us so that we can face trials, stand firm when pressure situations hit.

So what truth did Paul seek to reinforce them with?

He said;

“YOU YOURSELVES KNOW that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (vs3-4)  

He expected these believers in Jesus to know that pressure, suffering, persecution are not abnormal for the believer in Jesus but rather part of our normal experience.

We often say we are ‘followers of Jesus’, but did we forget that Jesus suffered from almost continual opposition during his 3yrs of ministry on earth and ultimately that Jesus died on a cross at the hands of His enemies!

Did we forget that Jesus said things like; “then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9 NLT) & “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13)

Jesus knew Paul knew that we are living through wartime, not peacetime this side of Jesus’ return. Having a biblical perspective and expectation regarding suffering, trials, persecution and pressure will help you massively when such things do come. So let’s not be naive, but rather let’s KNOW that we are destined for such things but also KNOW that greater is He that is within us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4) and let us KNOW that ;

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28&35-39)

Are you surprised when suffering or pressure comes? Does it knock you sideways?

Be strengthened by knowing what Scripture teaches in these verses & knowing that God has promised amazing things concerning His ever-present help to you IN what you are going through.

Mystery & Clarity (Romans 11:25-36)

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Learning to live with mystery is an integral part of the Christian life. The topics Paul has been writing about, election, human responsibility, God’s plan in redemption for the Jewish people and the Gentiles are hard to grasp fully.

God’s words to us recorded in Isaiah 55:8-9 are a helpful reminder of our limited capacity to grasp the ways of God;

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Moses counselled God’s people who were trying to wrap their heads around God’s actions in judging the nation of Israel for their sin in breaking His covenant with them saying;

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Similarly, the apostle Paul, having written about the mystery of salvation history and having written to the Roman believers about how the majority of Israel has been hardened so that the full number of elect Gentiles will be saved. Having written about how God will do a new work in the future in Israel in which He will save all “Israel” somehow, in faithfulness to His covenant promises. Then after writing about these things, the apostle breaks out in wonder and worship at the mysteries of God’s ways;

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)

We are so limited in our understanding. If I am honest, I don’t even really know how the toaster I am about to use works! May we remember that, when we dive into the deep end of the mysteries of God’s ways in election and redemption history and what does it mean that ‘in this way, all Israel will be saved’? (vs26)?

Living with worshipful trust in the presence of mystery is essential for the believer. There will be lots of things, even in our little lives and the lives of those we love that will not be solvable to our limited understanding. May you, may I trust God and worship God in those moments, knowing and holding on to that which is clear in Scripture;

And this is what is clear; “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

  • All things are from God; God is sovereign over all things
  • All things are through God; God is both the creator, the author & the sustainer of all things (Colossians 1:15-17)
  • All things exist for God’s eternal purpose of His glory being displayed and magnified in all things and by all people and all of creation forever and ever!

And, you and I are part of that good plan of God to glorify Himself. Election, grace and all of the mysteries of redemption history are part of that good plan to glorify Himself. What we can understand and what we can’t understand are all part of God’s plan. So even though we don’t understand it all, we can know with utter certainty that God will always be working in us and through all of creation for His glory and we can know that we who believe in Him are wrapped up in that grand plan and through it are blessed forever and ever!

So trust God and worship Him in the midst of mystery thanking Him for the clarity He has given us which is enough to worship Him forever with.

God: Free to Choose (Romans 9:16-29)

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In Romans 9:1-16, we learnt that God is mercifully sovereign in choosing anyone to be His people.

(Romans 9:16-18): God’s sovereign choice of actions is not limited. God works in all of human history; God even works through evil despots for the purpose of His will – “that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (vs17). God is free as the sovereign One to have mercy on those He chooses to and to harden whomever He wishes for the broader purpose of His will.

God is not unjust in acting in this way. After all, as Paul demonstrated in the early chapters of his letter, that all human beings are sinful and guilty in God’s sight (3:9,19&23), nobody deserves to be saved or chosen by God. “Therefore, if God hardens some, He is not unjust, for that is what their sin deserves.” – John Stott

(Romans 9:19): But if God is so much in control and since we cannot resist His will – then the question arises; “How can God find anyone guilty?” The answer to this question completes the verses of the chapter.

(Romans 9:20–23): Scripture never defends God’s sovereign free will to choose to show mercy or to express His righteous wrath and to still hold people accountable for their sin. Instead, Scripture insists that we, as finite human beings, are totally out of order rebelliously questioning God’s ways! When we do so, we are like the clay disrespectfully calling the potter to account for his actions in choosing to make what He wanted to out of the clay. “God created a world in which both his wrath and his mercy would be displayed. Indeed, his mercy shines against the backdrop of his just wrath, showing thereby that the salvation of any person is due to the marvellous grace and love of God. If this is difficult to understand, it is because people mistakenly think God owes them salvation! ” (ESV Study Bible)

(Romans 9:24-29): In his grace and mercy, God has called people to himself from both the Jews and the Gentiles just as He promised He would do through the prophet Hosea (Hosea 2:23 & 1:10). God did this to illustrate His stunning undeserved grace. All people who are called by God are sinful underserving people; God has shown His grace to the Gentiles just as He showed His grace to Israel by saving them and choosing them as His own even though they were all undeserving. Anyone being chosen by God for mercy and not wrath is pure mercy on the part of God!

(vs27-29) Remember that not all of ethnic Israel was saved, or were truly God’s people, but only a remnant was the true Israel of God as was prophesied in Isaiah 10:22–23 and experienced salvation and not God’s judgement (Isaiah 1:9).

Are you battling with some of what’s revealed about God in Romans 9? Ask yourself why you’re battling? Is not all of Scripture God-breathed and useful to teaching and rebuking us (2 Timothy 3:16)? Are you not in danger of being the clay screaming at the potter about what ought and ought not to be? We need to be so careful that we do not elevate our thoughts or questions above the revelation of Scripture in such a way that we end up judging Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to interrogate our hearts and minds!

Spurgeon once said when asked about defending the Bible;

“Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it, and it will defend itself.”

This is the revelation of Scripture regarding God’s sovereign merciful free will in choosing some and not others to be saved. May we, may I humble ourselves grateful that God elected to choose to show mercy to us and may we rejoice in His gracious choice and worship Him for His mercy.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?