Friday, March 31, 2017

Being Great in the Kingdom

1Pe 2:18  Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 1Pe 2:19  For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
1Ti 6:1  Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 1Ti 6:2  Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things.

Without question these are some of the most difficult passages in the Bible to understand and especially to apply; and I could have quoted several more that say the same thing.  The entire theme of 1 Peter is submitting to authority and unfair treatment in order to serve and glorify the Lord.  The above passages are difficult because we are taught that this applies even if you find yourself as a slave.  In the 1 Timothy passage it says to serve well even if your master is a Christian! 

In our day such statements would be dismissed out of hand without any fair consideration at all.  But to a saint these words are from God and must be taken seriously regardless of how the lost or we feel initially.  Let me try to make a little sense of these statements.  This is a subject that cannot possibly be addressed fully in a brief article but I hope to point out a few things that show why this shouldn’t offend us but in fact these are some of the most practical passages in all of the Bible.

First we must remember that the slavery found in NT times was not racial slavery nor what we refer to as the sex trade of our day.  That is not to say that some of that didn’t go on then but this type of slavery was primarily slaves of war and it was part and parcel of the Roman Empire.  It was a fact of life that one had to be able to deal with to live within the Roman Empire.  The “slavery” of the OT Law was really just a welfare system.  When people try to discredit the Bible by saying that God commanded slavery they are trying to associate God with the racial slavery of more recent times and that is a clear attempt to deceive and we should make that very clear. 

Such “slavery” is offensive today because people think that they should be able to do whatever they want with no consequences; even run up bills they can’t pay and their creditors should just forgive them.  The idea that they should be held accountable and become a servant of sorts until their debt is paid off would never cross their mind.  But that is more of an indictment of the moral character of our day than a problem with the Law God gave Israel.  I think a case could be made that it would be better to be an indentured servant and have clothes, food and lodging than a bag, lady sleeping in a cardboard box on the street.

But as to our main point; we might ask ourselves why does the Bible not make any direct statements against slavery?  And not only that but why does it tell slaves to serve their masters well and masters to treat their slaves well?  Isn’t slavery wrong and if so why don’t we see a clear denunciation of it?  Let me suggest what I believe to be the main answer to these questions. 

The answer is because there is a very practical reason why the Bible doesn’t get involved in politics and really doesn’t get involved in social issues.  While it might make statements about being generous to those in need and that those who don’t work shouldn’t eat, etc., it also assumes that this fallen world will always have social and political upheaval.  We see this when Jesus said, “For the poor you always have with you”.

God’s word to us is not a manual for how to change the world through politics or social programs; you just won’t find instructions for such things.  It is his word to us to explain why this world is full of injustice and why we are sinners and how to be saved from sin.  It also instructs those who have come to embrace Christ as to how to live godly and bear fruit unto the Lord in every situation you find yourself in.  The church was sent into the world to proclaim the gospel, not to take up social and political issues.

I am not saying that we can never get involved in those things.  We owe the end of slavery in England and America to heavy Christian influences.  But we help no one if we fix temporal problems without freeing souls from the coming Judgment.

Let me point to the days the NT was written in.  There couldn’t be a more unjust and cruel government than Rome in many ways.  But Jesus and the Apostles never once tell anyone to protest the government, let alone try to overthrow it or any of its institutions like slavery.   It doesn’t mean it supported them but there are many more important issues than whether we are treated fairly or not.  We are put on this earth to glorify God not be treated as we would necessarily like to be treated.  Jesus tells us to be subject to the authorities we find ourselves under, give Caesar his due no matter how evil he was, and in so doing we gain great reward in Heaven.

What the Christian slave in Roman times (and any of us anywhere at any time) needed to hear was not that he shouldn’t be treated that way and it was unfair and he shouldn’t put up with it.  No, what he needed to hear was how to please the Lord and gain reward in glory while he was in a situation he had no hope of changing.

And that is the beauty of why the Bible doesn’t concern itself with telling us to change the world.  There is no hope for this world until Christ comes back; read Rev. 18.  There is hope for sinners who hear and believe the gospel.  If we can make a difference while we are here then so much the better.  But since Christians are generally the weakest of society our main duty is going to accept the place the Lord has put us and serve him well while we are here.  We do ourselves no good if all we do is try to fight against the providence of God.

I will end by pointing out the verses that follow the 1 Timothy passage above where Paul is telling slaves with believing masters to serve them well.  These are convicting words but demonstrate what I have been saying.  Rather than constantly trying to change their situation and being upset and fighting him, be content with God’s providence and in so doing there is great gain.  This will take great grace from the Lord to give us such submissive hearts but after all didn’t Jesus say that to be great in the kingdom you have to serve, not overthrow those who mistreat you?  Read these words and see if this is so: 

1Ti 6:2  Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things. 1Ti 6:3  If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 1Ti 6:4  he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 1Ti 6:5  and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 1Ti 6:6  But godliness with contentment is great gain, 1Ti 6:7  for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 1Ti 6:8  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 1Ti 6:9  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 1Ti 6:10  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Joseph Enslaves the Egyptians

Gen 47:13  Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. Gen 47:14  And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house. Gen 47:15  And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, "Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone." Gen 47:16  And Joseph answered, "Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone."… Gen 47:23  Then Joseph said to the people, "Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. Gen 47:24  And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones." Gen 47:25  And they said, "You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh."

This text has been a source of puzzlement for a lot of commentators.  This might be especially difficult for westerners who are used to some measure of democratic rule.  For some it would seem Joseph becomes more of a tyrant than the benevolent ruler that he has seemed to be up to this point in Genesis.  Some have wrongly concluded that absolute power corrupts absolutely and such is the case with Joseph. 

One problem with this view is that the text is written in a way that seems to praise Joseph’s actions, not condemn them.  How then are we to understand Joseph forcing the people into slavery to Pharaoh?  In this chapter we read that after he had all the people’s money, he tells them to sell their animals and possessions for food as the famine raged on and when these ran out he forces them to sell their land and eventually themselves for food.

Some, more liberal commentators, have compared Joseph to dictators like Stalin and Hitler.  But their problem is that they are reading this as if it is merely history and not about the One for whom history is all about, the Lord Jesus Christ.  This isn’t a commentary on human forms of government but about Jesus of whom Joseph is a type.  We have already seen in Genesis how Joseph came unto his own and his own did not receive him.  He was betrayed by his brothers and suffered at the hands of the Egyptians and by being faithful in sufferings he is exalted to the right hand of the ruler of the Land.  It isn’t hard to see where all this is going.

Joseph, through his wisdom, has provided food in a world that is destitute of it.  We might say that he has provided life where there is only death.  And only by coming to him can any find the food they need.  This is what Jesus did when he came to earth and lived and died for us.  This is why he called himself the bread of life and the living water and the way, the truth and the life, etc.

So the text is all about Jesus establishing his rule by securing a people for God’s own possession, 1Pe 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1Pe 2:10  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  Notice how Peter goes on to describe us as a people who were not God’s or not under his rule but now are in vs. 10.  Joseph illustrates how the Lord is calling a people out of this world by revealing that they are living under the death penalty of sin and their only hope is to come to the Bread of Life.

But we are also seeing that to be part of this kingdom you must die to self and become a slave to the Lord.  The rich, young ruler balked at this when Jesus said to sell all he had and follow Christ.  You see, the reason some are offended at what Joseph did is two-fold.

First, they don’t see themselves as starving; they don’t realize how destitute they are as sinners and that Christ is their only hope.  They think they are alive but are really living apart from God and thus they are dead men walking even though they might have much in this life.  It is interesting to me that some would be more offended at what Joseph did than the ones who sold themselves to Joseph.  The difference is that these people knew they were dead unless they did what Joseph said to do.  They didn’t complain about the price because who can put a price on life?  Notice their attitude when Joseph relates his demands,  Gen 47:24  And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones." Gen 47:25  And they said, "You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.

We read a very similar demand of Christ in Mar 8:34  And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mar 8:35  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. Mar 8:36  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  Also in Mat 10:38  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Mat 10:39  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Jesus said that those who are forgiven much, love much.  The problem many who live in modern days have is the concept of being ruled by someone else.  We think that it is our God-given right to live for ourselves and that we are owed everything we need in our pursuit of happiness.  But most people throughout human history have been under the rule of others and dependent on them.  And personal freedom might be nice but life is all about being under the rule of Christ and left to ourselves we are doomed.  These Egyptians knew that and were perfectly happy to sell themselves in order to have life because they knew they were needy and Joseph was the only one who could meet that need.

This brings us to the second reason some today stumble at this text.  We think God owes us salvation without submitting to his lordship.  But we are the sheep of his pasture, he owns us by creative right.  The problem this world has is that it lives on God’s earth and breathes his air but live as if their lives are their own and not the One who made them.  When God saves us we come back into a right relationship with him recognizing that he is God and we are not and we give ourselves willingly and joyfully back to him in exchange for eternal life.  He now owns us not only by creative right but also by redemption. 

This text is a wonderful look at the Kingdom of God that Jesus is securing for the Father and one day he will give the kingdom back to the Father; after he has saved all those to whom the Father has given him.  1Co 15:28  When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.