Archive for the 'Satan' Category

07
Sep
10

the trying of your faith… (3)

Faith faces testing.  We are considering the testing of faith by troubles in life.  Ill-health, difficult relationships, unemployment, and many other difficult circumstances test faith.  We noted that we should not be dismayed by these as they are precisely what the Bible says life in this world will be like.  Many, says the Psalmist, are the afflictions of the righteous (Ps 34:19).

One important distinction to bear in mind is that in all testing both God and Satan and God are active in quite different ways.

  • In any trial Satan is at work to destroy us and God is at work to discipline us and define us in the image of Christ.  Satan acts out of malevolent loathing but God acts in merciful love.

We are told by Peter (in the context of persecution but the principle holds good for all trials) that Satan intends to destroy

    1Pet 5:8-9 (ESV)
    Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

However, God in the same trial, is deepening faith that will receive a rich reward

    1Pet 1:6-7 (ESV)
    In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

He is disciplining (training) his children.

Heb 12:5-11 (ESV)
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  ​​​​​​​​For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

    This distinction is important because it is all too easy when under extreme pressure to feel that God has a hostile face.  This, of course, is exactly Satan’s intention.  He is intent on destroying our faith.  He wishes to cast God in a poor light and alienate us from him. He sows in our minds doubts about His goodness and love.  He accuses God of injustice, of harshness, and of  malignity.  If he can get us to cast God as the villain in our suffering, as cruel and sadistic, he has won.

    Satan’s intention with us, as with Job, is to incite us to curse God.

    Job 1:8-11 (ESV)
    And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”

    The way of faith in the heat of suffering is to hold resolutely to God’s goodness, however much circumstances and our pain push us to the contrary and to recognise that while Satan may mean it for evil God means it only for our good.  Like Job, faith says,

    Job 13:15 (ESV)
    Though he slay me, I will hope in him.

    12
    Mar
    10

    seeing the church as god sees it

    Do you ever look at the local church and feel discouraged?  If you’ve been in any local church long enough to get beyond the romantic stage (about two years or so) you will know the flaws.  You will know about the little cliques.  You will be aware of the power struggles.  The nepotism will be evident.  You will be conscious of the grumbles against the leadership.  And so and so who seemed so friendly and welcoming may not ring as true as they did.  You will know those who are too sweet to be wholesome, those holding grudges, those with a foul temper, those always looking for attention, those…  And then there is the gossip network. And the tensions between deacons and elders.  You will have discovered that the band is beyond criticism and the preaching is the butt of criticism.  These, and a thousand other ugly features you will have discovered, deform the church and discourage.  But the worst discouragement of all is realising you are part of the ugliness.  You have gradually become enmeshed in the criticising, rivalry and undercurrents.  What you see in the church you see in yourself.

    I know this speaks to you for it is the story of every church and every Christian.  The church is made up of people who sin.  Yes there is another side to your church.  There is evidence of God’s Spirit in the generosity, self-giving, kindness and a thousand other graces but sometimes it seems we can only see the faults and failures, the ugliness.  Sometimes the faults in the church and ourselves are so dominant in our minds that we wonder if we really are the people of God at all.  Will we really enter heaven at journey’s end?  Can such a pitifully small and weak group of people really be those whom God has chosen?  Of course at root this focus on failure is a device of Satan.  He is expert at showing us the faults in others and the faults in ourselves.  He is the accuser of God’s people.  He wants to blacken and curse them whenever possible.

    How do we resist this accusation?  We must learn to see God’s people as God sees them.

    The OT incident in Israel’s history involving Balak, King of Moab, and Balaam, mercenary Prophet, son of Beor, is instructive (2 Pet 2:15,16).  Balak wants Balaam, a soothsayer for hire,  to prophesy against Israel,  to curse God’s people.   Israel is on the brink of the Promised Land and Moab is the last hurdle.  The issue is simple.  Is it possible for Satan to accuse God’s people and prevent them entering the Promised Land?  Israel has been redeemed but they have been anything but perfect.  Their spiritual history has left them open to all kinds of criticism.  Faithfulness has hardly been their hallmark.  Grumbling, rivalry, bickering and rebellion have frequently broken out among the people.  There is no shortage of reasons to suppose that accusation would stick.  Balak’s plan seems a masterstategy.  To curse them is to point out their sins and call upon a just God to punish.  Balak knew that Israel couldn’t be stopped by force – for God was with them.  Perhaps God could be encouraged to turn against his people when their sin was exposed.  If they could not be conquered perhaps they could be condemned.

    The plan seemed foolproof but it did not reckon with Israel’s God.  God forbids Balaam to curse his people.

    Num 22:10-12 (ESV)
    And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”

    Balaam tells Balak that the Lord has forbidden him to curse Israel whereupon Balak tries to entice Balaam with a promise of more money if he will pronounce a curse.  Balaam’s greed prompts him to try to do what Balak asks (2 Pet 2:15,16).  Yet the Lord will not allow him.  Balaam’s words do not curse but praise.

    Num 23:7-10 (ESV)
    And Balaam took up his discourse and said, “From Aram Balak has brought me, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains: ‘Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!’  ​​​​​​​​How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?  ​​​​​​​​For from the top of the crags I see him, from the hills I behold him; behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!  ​​​​​​​​Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!”

    Israel is God’s people, blessed and not cursed (Gen 12:2,3). She belongs uniquely to the Lord, distinct from the nations of the world.  She is many and not few (a sign itself of covenant blessing).  She is righteous and not faithless.  The language all echoes God’s covenant promise to Abraham (Gen 12,15,17).

    Frustrated and desperate Balak and Balaam climb a high mountain where Balaam can see the whole of Israel.  It is a further mistake for Balaam is seeing Israel as God sees her (from above).

    Num 23:18-21 (ESV)
    And Balaam took up his discourse and said, “Rise, Balak, and hear; give ear to me, O son of Zippor:  ​​​​​​​​God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?  ​​​​​​​​Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.  ​​​​​​​​He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them.

    Balak hopes to turn God from his promise and purpose.  But God’s purpose will not be thwarted.  He has promised to bring Israel to the Promised land and he will do so (Roms 11:28,29).  There is no point in trying to turn God against his people.  The Lord sees no perversity (misfortune) or sin (trouble) in Israel.  He is among them as a triumphing Warrior-King.

    Whatever may be Israel’s moral ugliness that is not how God sees her.  He sees no wrong in his people.  Balaam exclaims,

    Num 24:5 (ESV)
    How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel!

    God is on his people’s side and the only hope of the nations is to side with them too.

    Num 24:9 (ESV)
    Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.”

    All who oppose will be crushed, crushed by the King the Lord will raise to champion his people and destroy all her enemies.

    Num 24:17-19 (ESV)
    I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.  ​​​​​​​​Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly.  ​​​​​​​​And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!”

    It is of course a prophecy concerning Messiah who would come in the future (I see him but not now…) and overthrow all his people’s enemies.  It is a dangerous thing to oppose God’s people for to do so is to oppose God himself, Balaam’s donkey knew this even if Balaam was blind to it; the donkey was a living rebuke to Balaam (Numbs 22:21-41).

    Balaam and Balak had plotted to overthrow God’s people but instead they would be overthrown.  They tried to accuse her but who can bring any charge against God ‘s elect.

    Rom 8:31-39 (ESV)
    What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 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.

    Balak and Balaam did not know that God was able justly to forbear with his people’s sin because one day he would redeem them in Messiah.  Messiah would bear their guilt and the people themselves would be righteous in him (Roms 3:25,26).  No-one and nothing can come between God and his people, God and his purpose – not their sin and not their situation.  And so we read in Numbers 24,

    Num 24:25 (ESV)
    Then Balaam rose and went back to his place. And Balak also went his way.

    We need to see God’s people, ourselves, as God sees us. It is not a natural perspective, it is the perspective of faith.    To focus on our failings is to side with the accuser and the enemy.  It is the perspective of unbelief that has not grasped what God has done in Christ.  The next time you look around the church, or look inside yourself, or question her or your own future, see as God sees.  Say as the Psalmist does in Psalm 16.

    Ps 16:3 (ESV)
    As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.




    the cavekeeper

    The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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