Our weaknesses

Jesus’ ministry on earth involved a lot of miracles that were intended to persuade the children of Israel that their Messiah had finally arrived. Matthew’s gospel linked one incident in particular to a prophecy that verified this aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew stated:

And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. (Matthew 8:14-17, KJV)

The Greek word that is translated infirmities, astheneia (as-then’-i-ah) is typically used in reference to different types of physical ailments, but the primary implication of this word is moral frailty or weakness (G769). A word that is related to astheneia is asthenema (as-then’-ay-mah). “This word is found in the plural in Romans 15:1, ‘infirmities,’ i.e., those scruples which arise through weakness of faith. The strong must support the infirmities of the weak (adunatos) by submitting to self-restraint” (G771). From this standpoint, Jesus taking our infirmities upon himself means that his moral strength makes it possible for us to live godly lives. Paul talked about this in his final warnings to the Corinthians. Paul said:

I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:2-4)

Paul contrasted Christ’s human weakness with the power of God in order to point out that we have the same weaknesses that he did as well as the same power of God when we accept Jesus as our Savior. The word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 13:4 that is translated weakness is astheneia. Jesus experienced moral frailty because he lived as a human being and had a sin nature. In other words, just like us, Jesus had a natural tendency toward rebellion against God, and yet, Jesus lived a perfect life and therefore, overcame this weakness completely. Hebrews 4:14-16 talks about the example that Jesus set by living his life according to God’s commandments. It states:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

In order to draw near to the throne of grace, we have to understand Jesus’ role as our great high priest. It is explained to us in Hebrews 5:7-10 where it states, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” This verse indicates that Jesus was being made perfect. The Greek word teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) means to complete in the sense of being mature (G5048). In 1 Corinthians 13:10, teleios is used to refer to “the complete revelation of God’s will and ways, whether in the completed Scripture or in the hereafter…One who is teleios has attained the moral end for which he was intended, namely to be a man in Christ” (G5046).

Paul concluded his discussion of his sufferings as an apostle with the statement, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Paul understood that suffering was a part of the process of reaching spiritual maturity. The way that Paul seemed to view his weaknesses was that they were opportunities for him to grow in his faith. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained that our weaknesses are transformed into supernatural power when we are resurrected from the dead. Paul stated:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

According to Paul, the weaknesses of our earthly bodies will result in miraculous power that will benefit us throughout eternity.

One of the things that Paul made clear in his second letter to the Corinthians was that his weaknesses had kept him from thinking too much of his personal accomplishments or becoming conceited about his special position as an apostle of Christ. Paul shared his experience of being caught up to the third heaven in such a way that it couldn’t be misconstrued as a claim that he had somehow already been resurrected from the dead. Paul said, “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me” (2 Corinthians 12:1-6). Paul went on to say that because of this experience, he was given a physical affliction that plagued him the rest of his life. Paul said:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s personal message from the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) was most likely intended to encourage him in his spiritual growth. Paul may have been thinking about giving up on his goal of reaching the farthest regions of Asia because of the pain that his thorn in the flesh was causing him, but the Lord told Paul that his grace was sufficient to get him through. The Greek word that is translated sufficient, arkeo (ar-keh-o) is related to the word airo (ah’-ee-ro) which has to do with the expiation of sin with regard to the effect of atonement on the believer’s life (G142) which is moral purification (G2512) or in Old Testament terms, becoming clean (H2891) and therefore, consecrated to God.

The distinction between clean and unclean things made it difficult for the Israelites to remain in fellowship with God. Something as natural as her menstruation cycle could keep a woman from being able to come into the presence of God (Leviticus 12:4). The most extreme case was the disease of leprosy which could cause a person to be permanently separated from loved ones and quarantined for weeks at a time (Leviticus 13:4-5). Leviticus 13:45-46 describes what happened when the priest determined that a person had leprosy. “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Jesus demonstrated that he had the power to make a leper clean. In fact, one of the first miracles Jesus performed was the cleansing of a leper. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus later explained to his disciples that a person becomes defiled or you might say spiritually weak by the things that come from inside the person’s heart. Mark’s gospel states:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)

Paul made it clear in his letter to the Corinthians that he wasn’t ashamed of the thorn in the flesh that was given to him as a result of the surpassing greatness of his revelations. Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul looked at his weaknesses as an advantage in getting God’s attention. The Greek word that is translated rest, episkenoo (ep-ee-skay-no’-o) means “to spread a tabernacle over” (G1981). Paul may have been thinking of the way that God dwelt among the Israelites when they were in the Sinai Desert before they entered the Promised Land. Exodus 14:19-20 describes the protection that God’s presence provided the Israelites when they were fleeing from Pharaoh’s army. It states:

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was a cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

Moses indicated that the pillar of cloud moved from the front of the Israelite camp and to a position behind it in order to create a barrier between them and the Egyptian army. Psalm 51, which was written by King David after his sin of adultery was exposed, talks about the presence of God being associated with a clean heart and a right spirit. David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12). The Hebrew word that David used that is translated clean in Psalm 51:10, tahowr (haw-hore’) is used six times in Leviticus 13 in reference to a leper being pronounced clean. Tahowr means “pure (in a physical, chemical, ceremonial or moral sense)” (H2889). According to the Mosaic Law, “Clean things were considered normal; unclean things were considered polluted, but they could be restored to their state of purity (Leviticus 11-15)…God expected his people to be morally pure and to imitate Him (Habakkuk 1:13). This word served to express this state. Clean hands merited God’s favour (Job 17:9), and pure words were pleasing to the Lord. God judged a sacrifice’s value by the quality of the offerer’s heart (Psalm 51:10[12]); thus, David prayed for a pure heart.”

Paul told the Corinthians, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul’s statement, “when I am weak, then I am strong” may have been designed to make his listeners aware of the fact that God’s power is available to us on an as needed basis. If we think we are powerful enough to do something ourselves, we are not going to rely on God’s ability to intervene on our behalf. Paul said that he was content with his weaknesses, meaning that he accepted them and had no problem admitting that they were affecting his ability to do the work that God had assigned to him. Paul’s attitude made it possible for God to do extraordinary things through him and resulted in his ministry becoming a focal point of the book of Acts. Paul’s defense of his ministry included an explanation of how he was able to accomplish so much when his bodily presence was considered to be weak and his speech of no account (2 Corinthians 10:10). Paul said:

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:1-5)

Paul’s reference to using divine power to destroy strongholds and destroying arguments by taking every thought captive was linked to spiritual warfare. Paul indicated in his letter to the Ephesians that the key to defeating our adversary the devil is to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).

The grace of God

The grace of God is an overarching theme of the Bible and a central element in God’s plan of salvation. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians stated plainly that God’s grace is what makes it possible for us to be saved. Paul said, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9). The Greek word that is translated grace in Ephesians 2:8, charis (khar’-ece) refers to the unmerited favor that God shows us in saving us from sin, “the grace exhibited in the pardon of sins and admission to the divine kingdom…especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude” (G5485). Charis is derived from the word chairo (khah’ee-ro) which means “to be ‘cheer’ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off…Particularly, to rejoice, be glad” (G5463). Paul talked about how the grace of God had caused the churches of Macedonia to give beyond their means. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul said:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

Paul contrasted the Macedonians abundance of joy with their extreme poverty in order to make it clear that the Macedonians’ generosity wasn’t a result of their circumstances. It was actually in spite of their circumstances that the Macedonians had chosen to participate in the relief of the saints. Paul referred to the Macedonians “wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2), their sincere desire to give to others according to God’s riches rather than their own. Paul used the phrase “the favor of taking part” (2 Corinthians 8:4) to emphasize the spiritual aspect of the Macedonians giving. The two Greek words that are translated the favor of taking part, charis koinonia literally mean the gift of fellowship or you might say that the Macedonians’ were actively responding to the saints’ common financial need.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to follow the Macedonians example by participating in the act of grace that was being presented to them by Paul’s companion Titus. Paul said, “Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also” (2 Corinthians 8:6-7). Paul might have viewed the collection of money for the relief of the saints as an act of grace because he knew that the Corinthians would not be inclined of their own free will to give as generously as the Macedonians had. His plea for them to excel in this act of grace as they had in all the other areas of their relationship with Christ may have been Paul’s way of stirring up the Corinthians’ collective conscience and was perhaps intended to make the Corinthians feel uneasy about the fact that they weren’t doing their part. Paul understood that the grace of God was not something that could be initiated from a material perspective. God’s grace originates in the mind of Christ and is transmitted to believers through the Holy Spirit. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers are the object of God’s effort to bless mankind. Paul said, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The idea that we are God’s workmanship, a product that is made by him (G4161) is based on Paul’s comprehension of how transformation occurs in the heart of a believer. Paul understood that it is impossible for us to make ourselves good and therefore, good works are the result of God’s grace, his divine influence upon the heart (G5485).

Paul talked to the Ephesians about the new life that is possible when we yield ourselves to God’s divine influence. Paul told them:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Holiness was the primary objective of the legal system that Moses established after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Ongoing sacrifices had to be made in order to cleanse the people from their sin. Even if someone sinned unintentionally, atonement had to be made for the sin so that the guilt of the offense would not be held against the person or the congregation of Israel as a whole (Leviticus 4).

The key to the Israelites’ release from guilt when they committed a sin against God was the grace of God which was demonstrated through his act of forgiveness. The Greek word that is translated forgiving and forgiven in Ephesians 4:32, charizomai (khar-id’-zom-ahee) means “to bestow a favor unconditionally” (G5483). Charizomai is derived from the word charis (khar’-ece) which means graciousness. “Grace indicates favor on the part of the giver, thanks on the part of the receiver. Although charis is related to sins and is the attribute of God that they evoke, God’s eleos (1656), the free gift for the forgiveness of sins, is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in his efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt; mercy removes misery” (G5485). The Old Testament concept of forgiveness is similar in that it depended on God’s grace, but atonement had to be made in order for forgiveness to be effective before Christ died on the cross. The Hebrew word calach (saw-lakh’), which means to forgive, is reserved especially to mark the pardon extended to the sinner by God. It is never used to denote that inferior kind and measure of forgiveness that is exercised by one man toward another. It is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another. Though not identical with atonement, the two are closely related. In fact, the covering of the sin and the forgiveness of the sinner can only be understood as two aspects of one truth; for both found their fulness in God’s provision of mercy through Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:22)” (H5545).

Forgiveness is mentioned most often in chapters four and five of the book of Leviticus, where it states that the priest must make atonement for a sin, and then it shall be forgiven him or them (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, 5:10, 13, 16, 18). Jesus made a point of letting people know that he was able to forgive sins. On one occasion, Jesus was accused of blasphemy because he told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. Matthew’s gospel records the incident this way:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

Jesus associated his forgiveness of the paralytic man’s sins with the faith he saw in the people that brought the man to him to be healed. Matthew 9:2 states, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.‘” The connection between faith and forgiveness seems to be our reliance upon God to save us from our sinful behavior. The Greek word that is translated faith in Matthew 9:2, pistis (pis’-tis) is “a technical term indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life. Such can be termed gospel faith or Christian faith (Romans 3:22ff.)” (G4102).

The important thing to note about the way faith and forgiveness work together to save us from our sins is that action is required on both parts. God’s act of grace toward us would have no effect if it weren’t for our act of faith in receiving his gift of salvation. Jesus commanded the paralytic man to “take heart” (Matthew 9:2). Essentially, what Jesus wanted was for the man to activate his faith. The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase “be of good cheer” instead of take heart to express what Jesus expected from the paralytic man. Another way of stating it would be “to have courage” (G2293). The reason why the paralytic man needed to have courage was because his guilt was getting in the way of him being able to recover from his disease. What was likely going on was that the paralytic man knew he deserved to be punished for the sins he had committed and may have associated his disability with something specific that he had done wrong in the past. It appears that the man was correct because Jesus told him his sins were forgiven (Matthew 9:2) before he commanded the paralytic man to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6).

Leviticus 4:27-31 points out that it is possible for us to sin unintentionally and therefore, a penalty can be incurred without us knowing about it. This passage states:

“If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.”

John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus made it clear that his sacrificial death on the cross was intended to pay the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed. John said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Greek word that is translated takes away, airo (ah’-ee-ro) means “to take away what is attached to anything, to remove” and speaks of the effects of Jesus’ Atonement in the believer’s life (G142). John’s declaration of Jesus taking away the sin of the world was connected with the original punishment for sin that was enacted in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Paul indicated in his letter to the Romans that Jesus brought justification and the free gift of righteousness to all when he died for the sins of the world. Paul explained:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Paul went on to talk about the gifts of grace and pointed out that God’s grace should result in generous giving. Paul said:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

The principle behind generosity is that there should be unity in the body of Christ. We should think of the needs of others as we do our own needs and give as we would want others to give to us if we were the ones in need of assistance. Paul told the Corinthians, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).

Paul told the Corinthians that he expected them to finish what they had started. Apparently, the Corinthians had pledged to give a certain amount toward the relief of the saints, but hadn’t followed through on it. Paul said, “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Corinthians 8:10-14). The fairness that Paul was talking about had to do with equality in their conditions rather than their status as citizens or positions in society. Paul stated plainly that he didn’t want to make things easier for the Christians in Jerusalem at the expense of believers in Corinth. Paul indicated that the Corinthians gift would be considered acceptable if is what according to what they had, not according to what they didn’t have.

One of the final requests that Jesus made of his Father when he was dying on the cross was that God would forgive the sin that was being committed against his only Son. Jesus petitioned, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The conclusion that Jesus’ crucifixion was an unintentional sin may seem a little far fetched, but our Lord understood that the collective heart of mankind was hardened by centuries of rebellion against God and the people’s lack of faith was due in part to the misrepresentation of God’s character by the Jewish priests. The Greek word that is translated know, eido (i’-do) refers to perfect knowledge (G1492) or you might say knowing someone completely. Jesus’ conclusion that the people didn’t know what they were doing was based in part on the fact that the Holy Spirit had not yet come into the world and made Jesus’ work on the cross evident to everyone. From that standpoint, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was still somewhat of a mystery. It wasn’t until the people had the influence of the Holy Spirit that they were able to see things clearly, repent of their sins, and seek God’s forgiveness (Acts 2:32-41).

Charting a new course

Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6) set in motion a course of action that was naturally hostile toward God. Generation after generation, life on Earth became more unbearable, until finally it was clear that every man’s inclination was only toward evil (Genesis 6:5). Spiritual death caused mankind to seek out ways to harm others and to disrupt the harmony that God had intended our world to have (Genesis 6:5).

Approximately 1000 years after Adam and Eve’s original sin, a man was born by the name of Noah, of whom it was said, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:29). The Hebrew word translated relief, nacham (naw-kham’) means to repent and is properly translated as “to sigh” (H5162). You could say that Noah’s birth marked a point in human history when evil became the norm on Earth and the situation was in desperate need of change.

Psalm 12 expresses the despair that Noah’s parents probably felt about their lives. Verses 1-2 state, “Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” The psalmist requested that God would get rid of those who rejected his authority and prayed, “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, ‘With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?'” The rhetorical question “who is master over us?” implies that God’s sovereignty was no longer being acknowledged on Earth and that universally, people believed they could do as they pleased.

Noah’s father Lamech was the grandson of a man named Enoch. It says in Genesis 5:24 that “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” God taking Enoch away meant that Enoch went to heaven without dying (H3947). This unusual experience most likely had a significant impact on Lamech who was 48 years old at the time that it happened. Lamech’s desire for relief (Genesis 5:29) may have been rooted in a belief that God’s curse on the land would eventually result in Earth’s natural resources being depleted and mankind ceasing to exist.

Noah’s name is derived from the Hebrew word nuwach (noo’-akh) which means to rest or settle down (H5117). Lamech may have chosen to give this name to his son because of the day of rest that God established after he completed his work of transforming the Earth into a paradise for Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:2). It says in Genesis 2:3, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” It could be that Lamech intended his son to be an example of godly behavior and in particular that his family would observe the sabbath as a way of expressing gratitude or honor to God.

One of the things that is evident from mankind’s weariness from work is that God didn’t design man to labor alone. The Apostle Paul talked about Christians being built together or constructed “into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). This activity takes place by means of “the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers as the outcome of faith” (G2842). Koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah) is derived from the root word sun (soon) which denotes union, “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition, etc.” (G4862).

Paul used the Greek word koinonia to describe the partnership or fellowship of the gospel which began with God’s creation of the world (Ephesians 3:9). Paul made it clear that Jesus was present and active in the events that took place on the first six days of recorded history. God’s Holy Trinity worked together in creation and was probably meant to be an example to mankind of how to achieve the transformation of material resources through a joint effort. The end result of koinonia is completeness or perfection from God’s standpoint (G4862).

Noah was the first man on Earth that was described as being blameless. The Hebrew word translated blameless in Genesis 6:9, tamiym (taw-meem’) “means complete, in the sense of the entire or whole thing” (H8549). “When one is decribed by tamiym, there is nothing in his outward activities or internal disposition that is odious to God (Gen 6:9). This word describes his entire relationship to God.” One of the ways you can look at Noah’s relationship with God is that he was completely obedient to God’s word. Noah did exactly what God told him to.

Noah’s obedience to God stood out in stark contrast to a culture that had been completely corrupted by sin. It says in Genesis 6:5-6, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The Hebrew word translated regretted in Genesis 6:6 is the same word that is translated relief in Genesis 5:29 where it states, “this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” The connection between Lamech’s desire for relief from God’s punishment for sin and God’s regret over the wicked condition of the world was that both of them felt sorry about what was happening (H5162).

The Hebrew word translated regret in Genesis 6:6, nacham (naw-kham’) means to repent. “To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action. The emphasis is on turning to a positive course of action, not turning from a less desirable course” (H5162). In the King James Version of the Bible, nacham is also translated as comfort. “Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action.” Typically, comfort is associated with man’s actions and repentance with God’s, but Jesus commanded people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated repent in Matthew 4:17 is somewhat different than the Hebrew word nacham. Metanoeo (met-an-o-eh’-o) means to think differently or reconsider and is connected with changing one’s mind (G3340). Wickedness is associated with a negative condition of the human mind. It says in Genesis 6:5 that, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil.” The Greek word translated intention, yetser (yay’-tser) is also translated as imagination and has to do with the formulation of an idea or conception of a thought (H3336). When God concluded that man’s intention was only evil, he was essentially saying that mankind as a whole was going in the wrong direction. Every person was thinking the opposite of what he wanted them to.

Because God doesn’t change his mind, the concept of repentance has been disassociated with his behavior, but I believe at the heart of Jesus command to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), there was meant to be a similarity between the sinner’s behavior and God’s. Jesus’ instruction to repent may have implied the charting of a new or common course that would result in an individual walking with God rather than disobeying his commandments. It says in Genesis 6:9 that “Noah walked with God.” The Hebrew word translated walked, halak (haw-lak’) “does not refer to walking uprightly on one’s feet but to living a righteous life” (H1980). You might say that Noah’s behavior was in step with or consistent with God’s.

The Greek word Metanoeo is derived from the words noieo (noy-eh’-o) which means to exercise the mind (G3539) and meta (met-ah’) which denotes accompaniment or an interaction between two things that results in a transfer or sequence of thoughts. A more literal translation of metanoeo might be to exchange ideas or share your thoughts on a topic. What Jesus may have meant when he commanded sinners to repent was that they needed to seek God’s input or more importantly, they needed to ask God for guidance and should agree with him about the future course of their lives.

One of the things that is similar about God and man is that they both have the ability to feel pain. It says in Genesis 6:6 that “the LORD regretted that he made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The pain God felt in his heart motivated him to do something to change the course of the world. God was sorry that he made man, but he was also pleased with Noah’s behavior and it says in Genesis 6:8 that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” The Hebrew word translated favor, chen (khane) means graciousness or grace (H2580). Chen is derived from the word chanan (khaw-nan’) which means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior” (H2603). I believe the reason Noah received God’s grace was because he repented. In other words, Noah agreed with God that the world was corrupt and wanted to do something about it.

God made a covenant with Noah that guaranteed his safety, but he also made him responsible for preserving the lives of others. God said, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch” (Genesis 6:14). Noah was given the exact dimensions of the ark and then told, “Everything that is on the earth shall die. but I will make my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark…And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you” (Genesis 6:17-18, 19). God’s instruction to keep the animals alive meant more than just sustaining them physically. Noah was expected to maintain God’s original construct on planet Earth. In other words, God expected Noah to replicate his original creation after the flood.

One of ways of looking at the world we live in is a spiritual ecosystem. It is a complex, interconnected system of life that depends on God to sustain it. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, an unraveling or decomposition of that system began taking place which resulted in a situation that required God to intervene. Although God’s plan of salvation was set in motion before the beginning of time (Ephesians 1:4), the specific details of how God would recreate the earth were left open to his sovereign will.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians talked about transforming believers into the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:16). Paul told the Ephesians that a mystery had been revealed to him by way of a revelation from God. He said, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:4-6).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated revealed in Ephesians 3:5, apokalupto (ap-ok-al-oop’-to) means to take off the cover or disclose. “The subjective use of apokalupto is that in which something is presented to the mind directly, thoughts that had previously been hidden in Paul’s heart (G601). Paul said that he had insight into the mystery or “a mental putting together, i.e. intelligence” (G4906) about God’s plan of salvation. The thing that Paul had discovered was that the Gentiles were fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6).

One of the essential keys to understanding God’s plan of Salvation is that he always intended to save the entire world. God made an unconditional divine promise to Noah and his descendants (Genesis 9:8-17) before Abraham was born. “God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth…But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Genesis 6:13, 18).

Even though God determined to make an end of all flesh (Genesis 6:13), he provided a way for Noah and his family to be saved by means of an ark or large wooden box that was able to float on top of the water. God gave Noah specific dimensions that would produce a seaworthy vessel. Genesis 6:22 states, “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” Noah’s obedience was evidence of his faith in God. It says in Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Paul described the Gentiles as “fellow heirs” and “members of the same body” (Ephesians 3:6). What this seems to suggest is that God’s covenant with Abraham was somewhat of an addendum to his original covenant with Noah rather than a new or different covenant that was expected to replace it. God wasn’t narrowing his selection of participants in his plan of salvation, merely specifying more exactly who he intended to bless within Noah’s family. Paul acknowledged that ultimately, everyone is a child of God because of their descent from Adam, and therefore is entitled to an inheritance in God’s kingdom. Paul said:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength was likely aimed at the non-Jewish believers in Ephesus that had a hard time believing they were also recipients of God’s love. Paul wanted these believers to understand that God’s love is limitless and therefore, can be obtained by anyone, no matter how far away from God one may feel he or she is.

Paul used the Greek word katalambano (kat-al-am-ban’-o), which is translated comprehend, to describe the awareness he wanted believers to have of God’s love for them. Katalambano has to do with possession and is used in connection with obtaining a prize (1 Corinthians 9:24). Katalambano is also used metaphorically with the added idea of overtaking and “to lay hold of with the mind, to understand, perceive” (G2638). What Paul seemed to be getting at was that we have to make a conscious effort to believe God loves us, but if we do, we will experience its effect in immeasurable quantities.

The covenant God established with Noah charted a new course for mankind because it made a way for the effects of sin to be overridden by God’s grace. Rather than destroying everything and starting over from scratch, God chose to save one family and charged them with the responsibility of preserving life on Earth (Genesis 6:18-19). At the heart of God’s covenant was his intention of developing a partnership with mankind that would result in unbroken fellowship throughout eternity. Paul acknowledged God’s remarkable plan of salvation with these final words, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 6:20-21).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment and write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

God’s will

God’s plan of salvation was designed to ensure that everyone that wants to go to heaven will, but at the same time, no one can be saved unless he or she is predestined to be saved according to God’s will. It says in Ephesians 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (NKJV).

The Greek word translated predestined, proorizo (pro-or-id’-zo) means to determine beforehand (G4309). In other words, God knew ahead of time who would want to be saved and made provision for every person’s salvation when Jesus died on the cross. Even though we weren’t saved until the moment we accepted Christ and put our trust in him, the transaction that covered the payment for our sins occurred 2000 years ago. Paul described this transaction as a mystery and said, “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he had purposed in himself” (Ephesians 1:9).

If you think of your salvation as a secret that wasn’t revealed until the day you were born again, you might wonder why God waits for us to make a choice to be saved rather than imposing his will on us and forcing everyone to go to heaven. It says in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (NKJV). If God had his way, everyone would go to heaven, but he allows us to make up our own minds about where we will spend eternity and unfortunately, some people don’t want to have their sins forgiven, but would rather go to hell than ask God to save them.

Paul explained that God’s grace is what makes people want to repent (Ephesians 2:5). The Greek word charis (khar’-ece) has to do with the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life; including gratitude (G5485). Some people are able see God’s goodness and want to have a relationship with him. Others are bitter toward God and blame him for everything that has gone wrong in their lives. The fact that some people choose to be saved is evidence that God is making an effort to bring us to repentance. Paul described salvation as a gift from God and said, “For by grace you have been saved faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Guilty

Paul indicated the common denominator between Jews and Gentiles was that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). What Paul was saying was that the human race as a whole was affected by Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. The only hope for mankind was being justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24). Paul differentiated the physical and spiritual aspects of Judaism and said, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28-29). Paul wanted non-Jewish believers to understand that “the true sign of belonging to God is not an outward mark on the physical body, but the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit within” (note on Romans 2:29).

The primary reason Paul wanted to remove the distinction between Jews and Gentiles was so that the Roman believers could see that they were on equal footing with Paul. There was no advantage to being born Jewish. Paul stated, “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10). Paul went on to say that spiritual blindness was the reason no one could satisfy God’s requirements. He stated, “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” The Greek word Paul used that is translated good is chrestotes (khray-stot’-ace). “This word refers not to a virtue of a person that encompasses only to a person’s word and countenance, it refers to the virtue that pervades and penetrates the whole nature, that mellows anything harsh and austere. It is that virtue that is gentle, charming, and calm, suited to the company of all good people, attracting their friendship, delightful in encouragement and moderate in manners” (G5544).

Paul’s declaration that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) was meant to bring the Romans to the conclusion that they, like the Jews, were in need of a savior. Paul explained that Jesus’ blood was the only way to remove the guilt of sin and stated, “God gave Jesus Christ to the world. Men’s sins can be forgiven through the blood of Christ when they put their trust in Him. God gave His Son Jesus Christ to show how right He is” (Romans 3:25, NLV). Paul’s explanation of salvation centered on the fact that the blood of Christ could only atone for sins through an act of faith, putting one’s trust in him. Paul concluded by stating, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). In other words, we cannot be made righteous by doing what God’s law commands; the guilt of our sin can only be removed by putting our trust in the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s sinless son.

A double standard

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians covered several topics that dealt with the distortion of his teaching about grace. Apparently, the Corinthian believers had interpreted God’s grace to mean they could do anything they wanted to and not be punished for it. Paul stated, “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much named amongst the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1). Fornication or porneia (por-ni’-ah) in the Greek was a general term that referred to all kinds of sexual sin including adultery and incest (G4202). Paul pointed out that these kinds of sin were not even considered acceptable behavior for unbelievers. Paul’s frustration with the situation seemed to be focused on the fact that the person that was committing incest was boasting about it in the church as if he was proud of the liberty he had to do such a thing. Paul instructed the Corinthians “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5).

Paul suggested a double standard was appropriate for judging Christian behavior. His comment “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:5) was probably meant as a stern warning against the acceptance of sinful behavior from a person that was born again. Paul explained that we shouldn’t expect unbelievers to act morally because they don’t have the means to do so, but Christians have the ability to overcome sin if they want to. He stated, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

Paul concluded that the best way to handle bad behavior in the Corinthian church was to excommunicate the person that was saved who was continually practicing sin. Paul’s instruction “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” basically meant that this type of person shouldn’t have a spiritual support system. Outside the church, he would be open to satanic attack and demonic influence that might eventually drive him to a state of despair, and if he was truly saved, a point of repentance. Paul’s logic may have seemed unusually cruel or even barbaric, but it seems clear that he was extremely concerned about the negative influence this unrepentant believer was having on the Corinthian church. Paul stated plainly that believers should not associate with a person that calls himself a Christian, but habitually practices sin. He said, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11).

What we believe

Around the middle of the first century, the preaching of the gospel became more solidified by the documentation of important doctrines in letters or scrolls that were circulated throughout the churches. James’ letter that was addressed to the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad is thought to be the first of those types of documents. A dispute about the Pharisees’ requirement to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:5) led to a more intentional effort by Jesus’ apostles to make clear the teachings of Christianity. Act 15:11 states plainly, “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” The Greek word translated grace, charis (khar’-ece) refers to “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). One way to describe grace would be an action of God that removes the misery of guilt.

Peter, who was probably considered to be the final authority on Jesus’ gospel message, stepped in to clarify the issue about Jews and Gentiles being treated equally. Peter reminded the other apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem of his experience with the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:17-48). He said, “Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:7-9). The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians expounded on the concept of grace and what it meant to be saved by faith. He stated, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The idea that salvation was something that anyone could receive without doing anything to earn it was very difficult for Jewish believers to accept. The Jewish religion referred to as Judaism emphasized the importance of keeping the Ten Commandments. In their struggle to abandon the rules of their former religion, James suggested a compromise. He said, “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions to idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20). These requirements have little relevance to us today, except for the sin of fornication. The Greek word translated fornication, porneia (por-ni’-ah) is typically associated with adultery and incest, but from a broader perspective porneia refers to anything that is considered to be illegal sexual behavior, including pornography and sex outside of marriage.

The problem with the stipulations the Jewish leaders placed on believers in Jesus Christ was that it distracted people from the real purpose of salvation, to obtain God’s forgiveness for the sins we commit. Paul’s letter to the Romans emphasized the guilty state of all who are unsaved. He stated, “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-12).

 

Grace and mercy

The terms grace and mercy are used frequently in the Bible, but these words may be misunderstood with respect to how they relate to God’s plan of salvation. Noah was the first person that benefitted from God’s grace (Genesis 6:8). He and his family were saved from the flood that killed everything that was living on the earth. Grace is something we obtain, or are given by another person, and is equivalent to saying in English, I like you or I love you (2580). Grace is an attribute of God, meaning it is a part of his character, something he does naturally. “However, God extends His ‘graciousness’ in His own sovereign way and will, to whomever He chooses (Ex 33:19)” (2603). A proper translation of the Hebrew word that is translated gracious would be “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior” (2603).

Mercy or in Hebrew, chesed (kheh´ – sed) means loving-kindness. “The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel)” (2617). One way that mercy has been described is, not getting what you deserve. Lot was the first person in the Bible associated with God’s mercy (Genesis 19:19). He and his daughters were rescued from Sodom before the city was destroyed by God and later conceived two sons through incest.

Ezra, the priest’s description of the situation in Jerusalem centered on God’s grace and mercy in returning his people to the Promised Land after they had blatantly rejected him and turned to idol worship. Ezra said, “And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage” (Ezra 9:8). God caused circumstances to work out so that his people could return to Jerusalem. In particular, he prompted two kings of Persia, Cyrus and Artaxerxes, to issue decrees that made it possible for anyone that wanted to return to go back without any negative repercussions. The phrase Ezra used, “give us a little reviving in our bondage” meant that God had even provided sustenance for his people through the freewill offerings of king Artaxerxes and his counsellors (Ezra 7:15).

Ezra was appalled when he found out that some of the Jews that had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon had married foreigners that were idol worshippers (Ezra 9:2). The Jews knew this was illegal, and that it had been the cause of their downfall, and the primary reason they had been taken into captivity in the first place. In his intercessory prayer for the Jews, Ezra declared, “And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest thou not be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?” (Ezra 9:13-14). Ezra pointed out that God had punished his people less than they deserved. In other words, God showed them mercy; his loving-kindness was still at work in spite of the Jews continual failure to live up to his standards.

 

The nation of Israel

God’s promise to Abraham to make a great nation of his descendants was only partially fulfilled when the twelve tribes of Israel settled in the Promised Land. Abraham’s grandson Jacob was the father of the twelve men from whom the twelve tribes became established. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel after he was overpowered by him in an all-night wrestling match (Genesis 32:28). The name Israel means “he will rule (as) God” (3478). When the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria and its people sent into exile, it appeared that God’s effort to establish a nation from Abraham’s descendants had failed, but the nation of Israel was never intended to be a political institution. God wanted his spiritual kingdom to be manifested physically on earth.

A nation is similar to a body in that its individual members are considered to be a single unit that functions interdependently. The real purpose of a nation is to give its people a shared identity. When God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, he was giving him a new identity, one that would remain in tact until God’s kingdom was manifested on earth. In order for the nation of Israel to look like God’s kingdom, all of the twelve tribes had to be included. Speaking of the final outcome he was working towards, God told Jeremiah, “The fierce anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have done it, and until he have performed the intents of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it. At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 30:24-31:1).

The issue that had to be resolved in order for Israel to be restored to a single united kingdom as it had been in king David’s day was its people had to turn away from their practice of idolatry. Isaiah described the situation as a covenant with death (Isaiah 28:15). God’s remedy was Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He said, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation…And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isaiah 28:16,18). God’s love for his chosen people was so powerful that his grace became a way for him to turn them away from their idols. He said, “For I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow… And my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:13-14).

God’s restoration of the nation of Israel was identified as a “new thing.” Isaiah declared on behalf of the LORD, “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you them” (Isaiah 42:9). The voluntary return of God’s people to their homeland was considered a new thing because they had rejected him over and over again. The only way to adequately describe the difference between the former things and the new that was expected to take place was a transformation of the heart. The once proud and rebellious people of the northern kingdom of Israel would become like an adoring bride (Jeremiah 31:22). All of Israel will one day embrace with tender and unfailing love the one they crucified.

Grace

God’s concern for the people that were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar was evident when he told Jeremiah to write them a letter to remind them of his plan to bring them back to the Promised Land after their 70 years of captivity was completed. Jeremiah began by instructing the people to settle down and make the best of their difficult situation. He said, “Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).

A key aspect of God’s plan for the remnant of his people that went into captivity in Babylon was the restoration of their relationship with him. Many false prophets, including Hananiah the son of Azur, were telling the people they would be brought back to Jerusalem shortly (Jeremiah 28:3-4). The false hope that was being instilled in their hearts made the captives vulnerable to disappointment and discouragement in the face of great trials. In his letter, Jeremiah told them specifically when they could expect to go home. He wrote, “For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10).

The period of seventy years represented the average person’s lifespan. By establishing that number as the length of their captivity, God was essentially assuring that none of those who left Jerusalem would actually return, unless he granted them an extension of their life on earth. The hope of a return to the Promised Land was really meant for the next generation, but they would only make it back if those who were taken captive believed in the LORD and followed his instructions. In order to stir up their faith, Jeremiah wrote these familiar words:

For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

An expected end is one in which the outcome has already been decided. Each person in his own heart had to know and believe the truth of Jeremiah’s message or God’s plan could not be carried out. Therefore, to say that the outcome was already settled and God could guarantee a certain result, meant the people’s faith had to be based on God’s decision, not their own. Although Jeremiah’s letter to the people exiled to Babylon did not specifically use the word grace, his message implied it. The only way God could cause his people to return to Jerusalem was to “grace” them, make them want to return by way of his divine influence upon their hearts.