sermon: God's Good Work in Us
Called to Become Perfect
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Given 04-Mar-00; 64 minutes
When I was employed, I worked for a large food service company in what is called the institutional restaurant trade. That's a trade that has to do with mass feeding. Anyone that mass feeds. Hospitals, rest homes, convalescent homes, big military schools, fast food, or coffee shops. Every year this organization or this industry would have a restaurant show. They would have one in the LA Convention Center on the West Coast for one year, and then they would have one in San Francisco, and in the third year they would have one in Seattle, Washington. And then on the fourth year they would go back to McCormick Place in Chicago, which is a gigantic facility. And they would have what we termed the "national restaurant show."
I think you all would like that because they serve samples of steak, and of desserts, and of ice cream, and of salads and cookies. You can eat whatever you want there. They even serve alcohol, beer, and soft drinks. The one booth that they never had, but what they probably needed, was a good Alka-Seltzer booth. But we learned early on that you don't eat at the restaurant show.
But as I would go to these shows, and I really enjoyed them, I would meet people each year from the different companies and, though we didn't know each other's names, we looked at the name tags and would say, "Hey, how is business?" And we'd chat. And each year we'd see the same people over and over again.
Well every year it seemed to be pretty much the same, except for this one year when a group of salesmen all of a sudden got religion. Somehow, even though I was a salesman, I have a hard time picturing a salesman getting religion, but anyway, these people did.
This one man I knew walked up to me and said, "Are you a Christian?" His eyes were sort of glazed over. He was sort of glassy eyed. And I said, "Well, yes I am." And he held up his right hand and his right forefinger and said, "One way, brother." And that was what he did for the seven days of the show. Every time he would see me, even across the hall with hundreds of people between us, if he saw me and he saw that I saw him, up would go the right arm and the "One way, brother."
I felt rather uneasy, a little bit scared, because I wasn't used to this kind of fervor and my religion was very private to me. But whatever religion they were in, this was their first love and they were excited beyond all reason. So when the year went by and I saw them again, I expected them to have a repeat of this. But, no, things were back to normal. In fact, one of the men (if I recall correctly), over bad sales figures and a bad marriage, hung himself in his garage. He took his life. But in their zest for a new way of life, they had found that it had just gone by the boards, that life was business as usual again. Their eyes were dull and they went about their routine very dully.
Now it seemed to me, as I thought about it, that their concept of how God works was false. To be sure, these men weren't truly called, as we know what true calling is. But the concept they held was basically a pretty common one. "Jesus loves me. He died for my sins and somehow He lived a perfect life in my stead. And so all I have to do is believe and to love others and somehow my life will be really fine and I won't have a lot of trials. Things will go well."
I know that we don't believe this way . . . and yet, the matter of being personally called by the living God and having His truth revealed to us, and having us placed in the most special group on the face of the earth in all the world, can leave us with a feeling that we are special. Perhaps a better pair of words would be privileged and favored. And indeed we are privileged and favored. I hope we appreciate that.
For the sense I mean it in, somehow, because we have this truth, and because we know God, and we have a relationship with God, that a little bit of slack is cut for us when it comes to overcoming. In fact, just the opposite is true. We're in the group that is being judged right now at this time.
Now we know this approach is incorrect, but with a Jeremiah 17:9 mind, which deceives us, and all that type of thing (I know I have one), we can begin to justify that thinking. If we aren't careful, we can have an unrealistic approach, just as these men did, to the calling that we've been given.
Is, in fact, our calling one where God would sort of wink at us if we don't obey completely? Now we know that we're the apple of God's eye, and so isn't He going to show us a little extra mercy? I have a hunch that if we had any idea of how much mercy God has shown us, we'd be awe struck. And I guess the real question is, do we really understand that God has called us to perfect us? And as a loving, responsible Father, that is exactly what He's going to do.
Now we may have set ideas as to how we want to live our lives and what we're going to do with our lives. But, we have to understand that God's purpose for us will be accomplished in us.
There's an old saying that my aunt used to say, "Man supposes but God disposes." In other words, God is the one that makes the final judgment on what He wants done.
Turn over to Philippians 1:3-6:
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine [for you] making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident [being certain] of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it [He will perform it] until the day of Jesus Christ.
Now here the apostle Paul is confident to the nth degree in what he's saying. He's ardently convinced of the truth and he has no doubt, whatsoever, concerning what he's just told the Philippians. That He, God, who has begun a good work, that caused a good work to be started in those He called, will permanently work toward that ones completion. He will completely perform what He has begun and He will unquestionably, if you'll pardon me going over it again, finish what He's initiated. And He will not fail. It's His work.
Now who is it that started the work? Well we know in John 6:44 that we're told that nobody can come to Christ unless they're called by God the Father. But let's turn over to John 1:6 and take a look at what John says here.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all through him might believe. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light. That was the true light which enlightens every man that comes into the world. He was in the world and the world was made by him and the world knew him not. He came unto his own and his own received him not. [Now here we get to the part.] But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of [the will of] God. (John 1:6-13)
In other words, God set His will to call and He did that and this is where we find ourselves now. And God is going to perfect, as Paul was saying in Philippians 1:6, that which He started. The apostle Paul in Philippians was emphatic about this.
Nothing in God's nature will call Him to abort what He started. He will continue until His effort is complete, until the day of Jesus Christ, when Jesus Christ will present us to His Father.
This language couldn't be more strong. It couldn't be more clear. God has called us and because of that calling, He will shape us, He will teach us, He will give us trials to perfect us, and He will fully develop us for the positions that He's called us to in His kingdom. It will be done in mercy and in love for us. But it's going to be done. Again, this is the Father's job and we can be completely sure that He will perform it for His purpose and for our ultimate good.
The problem is that we don't always see that God's hand is working in our lives. Events can envelop us, we can find ourselves in serious circumstances, and situations can arrive that convince us that we're forgotten and abandoned by God. But I assure you that this is just not the fact. In fact, just the opposite is true.
Let's look at an example of this over in Job 1. Now Job was apparently a wonderful man. He was a man that we could all wish to emulate.
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was perfect [he was blameless] before God [and there's not one of us that could say that] and upright, and one that feared God and hated evil. And there were born him seven sons and three daughters. His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household [of servants]; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east. And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one [on] his day [I presume that's their birthdays]; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.
He loved God with every fiber of his being.
Then of course, we have the story. "Have you noticed my servant Job and how perfect he is?" And of course Satan said, "Well why wouldn't he be perfect? Your protecting him. Look at the sheep, look at the oxen, look at the home he has. Look at everything."
Now here we can see that Job was about to be worked with, and he was the only one who didn't know it. The sons of God and Satan knew it. Here we see Job, a man of impeccable character, (character that we can only hope for) who took in the poor, he fed the weak and the hungry. He sat in the gate and gave sound advice. He answered every labor dispute in a favorable way. He took care of the elderly and he never looked on a woman, whether married or single, with a wrong eye or a wrong thought. As I said, he has the character that we could only hope for. And he was greatly loved by God, who was about to perfect him, and he didn't know it.
So Satan was allowed to destroy all that Job had. He took everything away and Job did not curse God. So Satan said, "Well of course he didn't. He still has his life. Hurt him and see what he does." And God said, "You may do that, you may bring illness on him, but you may not take his life."
So after all the physical was taken away and he was smitten by boils that he had to scrape from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, and then he had to submit to the accusatory message of Bildad the Shuhite, Eliphaz and Zophar who continually accused him of having sinned, because they couldn't conceive that a loving God would persecute him to develop him. They could only conceive that God was persecuting him because he had committed some horrendous sin. In all of this mental and physical suffering, Job hadn't a clue that he was being perfected by God, who loved him very much.
Job complains to God through about thirty-eight chapters, asking Him what he's done wrong. He longs to confront God and finally, after about forty chapters, God speaks to Job, and rather than answering his questions, He convicts Job of His greatness and sovereignty. With that conviction, Job sees the great love that God has for His creation and for him, and those He has created in mankind. And Job his humbled.
Let's take a look at that over in Job 42:1-6, because we'll see the change that came in Job here.
Then Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that you can do every thing, and that no purpose can be withheld from you. Who is he that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me . . . Hear, I beseech you, and I will speak; I request of you an answer, declare to me what I ask of you.
It just reads rather strongly: "I will demand of you and I will declare you unto me." But he's saying very humbly, "Please, I'm going to ask you questions about how to live and please respond to me."
I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sees you. [Now I get it!] Wherefore I detest myself and repent in dust and ashes.
So Job at last had the relationship with God that God wanted Job to have, and then God wonderfully, wonderfully blessed him in verses 11-17.
Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house; and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him; every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold. So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses.
He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first, Jemima [which means "handsome is the day"]; and the name of the second, Kezia [which means "cassia, a fragrance of cinnamon"]; and the name of the third Keren-happuch [which means "horn of color"—they were the most beautiful daughters in the land] . . . and their father gave them inheritance . . . After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons' sons, even four generations. So Job died being old and full of days. (Job 42:1-6, 11-17)
What was the example here for us in all of this? We can find this back in the book of James 5:10, because God notes this and the author, James, also brought this up as an example for us to follow.
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. [He said these are examples we should note.] Behold, we count them blessed who endure. You've heard of the perseverance [and that's the key word] of Job, and have seen the end intended by the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful [or very compassionate] and of tender mercy. (James 5:10-11)
So Job is an example for us. It pictures never quitting in his love and his perseverance in obeying God. That's the example God wants us to take from this. All the way through Job's trial, he never gave up on God even though he didn't know fully what was happening. But the end result was very positive.
I can remember when we first came into the church, my wife and I, with our three little children who slept on the mats in the first row. (Those are good memories.) Everything we heard from the ministry was absolutely true. We were all excited about Petra, the Spokesmen's Club and the special nights they had—we even did a skit one night on Petra and that type of thing. And we just laughed and had a good time, but we were thrilled with all we were hearing, as opposed to the falsehoods that we had prior to coming into the church.
When it came time for baptism, we counted the cost as best as we could, but really all we could do was to promise God that we'd be faithful to Him and that we'd stay with it, because we couldn't see down the road like anybody else can see down the road. We couldn't see the future. And I don't think that we really understood that it was going to be God's job to shape us and perfect us for the Kingdom of God. We thought everything was going to be going along swimmingly. We had Mr. Armstrong, we had the church, we had a family to be with, we had activities, we were right and the rest of the world didn't understand yet.
In the assuming years, we had some tests and pressures but then, Mr. Armstrong died. God convicted each of us how far we slipped (and indeed I can say for me, myself, I slipped a great deal) and He set out to perfect us in a different way by scattering the church. Everything seemed to be going along perfectly and all of a sudden we had the scattering, and we were shocked awake at the break up of the organization that seemed so much a part of us.
I couldn't help but think it was a little like Israel coming out of Egypt, because that's exactly what we did, Egypt being a type of sin. Israel being saved after being four hundred and thirty years a slave people and then being freed, six hundred thousand men on foot with women and children. They, too, at last thought everything was going to be going their way.
Let's turn back to Exodus 12, please, starting in verse 31.
And he [Pharaoh] called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said Rise up and get you forth from among my people, both you and the children of Israel, and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. [He couldn't wait to get rid of them.] Also take you flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also. [Bless me how? By getting out of town. He said that will really bless me.]
And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men [if you don't go, the firstborn had died]. And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneadingtroughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders. And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they requested of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment; and the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them such things as they requested. And they spoiled the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:31-36)
What a wonderful time this was. They were free of their taskmasters. They had gold and silver. They were being saved by their great God. But I'm sure, as well, that they had no idea of what He was going to require of them. You see, He was going to make them into a peculiar people, the people of God, that would be an example to the rest of the world of righteousness and right living. To do this, it was going to require drastic changes. Their first lesson was about to come and it wasn't at all what they expected.
And the LORD spoke unto Moses saying, Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over by Baal-zephon; before it shall you encamp by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness has shut them in. And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honored upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. [He was going to establish to them that He was God.] . . . And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled; and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this?
When I read this I couldn't help but think of Satan as he watched us go to, or come to, God. Why did we let them go? And he ——- his church and took people with him.
And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes and behold, the Egyptians marched after them [they could see the dust off in the distance]; and they were sore afraid; and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD. And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, you've taken us away to die in the wilderness. Why have you dealt with us to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell you in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, [quit pushing us for this thing] . . .For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. And Moses said . . . Fear you not, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD. (Exodus 14:1-5, 10-13)
Israel left with a high hand without any thought of trial and now, at what appeared to be their destruction at hand, God was about to test and build their faith. The sea parted, they saw their God had again come to their aid. The Egyptians were taken away and their destruction was no longer at hand. Again, their spirit soared in deep appreciation to God. And then we read in Exodus 15 where they sang and danced and praised God all the time for all He had done.
But then, came the bitter waters of Marah and they rebelled again and they lost faith. On and on and on, all through the wilderness, even until they came to the promised land that they had waited for, and they rebelled against God again.
The generation of physical Israel that left Egypt to go into the wilderness, never did make it to the promised land with the exception of two families—Caleb and Joshua. They never did learn to believe and have faith in God even though He continually delivered them time after time. They rebelled at what God was doing. They didn't want what He was doing and they just kept reverting back to their old ways. So it was the next generation that went into the promised land.
Now we know the story was recorded for us. In I Corinthians 10:11, (we aren't going to turn there), "and they are written for our examples upon whom the end of the age should come." I'd like to take that example—but the example that I want to take from this is not that they lusted or that they were idolaters, or that they committed sexual sins, or that they tempted Christ, or that they murmured, but that it was God who was working in their lives to make something special of them. That's what we have to realize.
Turn over to Deuteronomy 8 and we'll see just what God was doing. It reflects on exactly what God is doing with us today.
All the commandments which I command you this day you shall observe to do, that you may live, and multiply and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to your fathers.
They were just about to enter the promised land. Moses was just about to die and this was a message to God's people.
And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and suffered you to hunger [doesn't sound like a God who would just make everything wonderful] and he fed you with manna which you knew not, neither did your fathers know, that he might make you to know that a man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does a man live. Your raiment didn't wax old, neither did your foot swell . . . You shall also consider in your heart, that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastened you. [He did that to produce something.] (Deuteronomy 8:1-5)
Brethren, we are blessed to understand that God operates in patterns. John Ritenbaugh has reminded us of this every so often. So we can have confidence that God is continuing to work in His patterns. Malachi 3:6 states: I am the LORD and I change not, Therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Hebrews 13:8 says: I am the same yesterday, today and forever. And He is exactly that.
What was God's purpose for Israel? It was to make them a peculiar people, special to Him as an example of righteousness to the entire world. What's God's purpose for those called at this end time? He set His mind to call so that they might be perfected to be an example of obedience, and of right, sound thinking in how they conduct themselves. They're to be prepared in this calling for the role of a son of God, and a priest and a king at the return of Jesus Christ. This is why we are called.
Now the reward for the nation of Israel was wonderful, physical blessings. The reward for us who have been given the spirit of God is eternal life as a member of the God family, and the absolutely wonderful opportunity to serve mankind and to bring them to the same reward we have been given.
Now with our reward comes a harder responsibility. A greater responsibility on the part of God in His working with us, and a greater responsibility on us in responding to the working that God is doing in our life. To whom much is given, much is expected.
Now the perfecting that the men had at the restaurant show was the problem that they faced. They viewed their calling as one of being saved, NOT as one of being perfected. I think that's something we truly have to realize. It should be inconceivable to us that God, who is going to give us the awesome authority as members of the God family with unlimited power, would not work to complete us in making us in His image. That's His job. That's His responsibility. We have to understand that.
Turn over to John 15 if you would please. For some reason this reminds me of Fresno. You probably don't have any idea why that is, but it talks about vines and I used to sell to the raisin industry up there. I used to sell them eighty thousand pounds of oil or shortening every month to put on their raisins so they wouldn't stick together. So I got to see how they dressed their vines, how they did things. It was sort of interesting.
But here in John 15 verse 1 it says:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, he purges [or prunes] it, that it may bring forth more fruit. (John 15:1-2)
So the relationship we have, as is pictured here, with Jesus Christ, is that of a vine with its branches. The vine does the nourishing of all its branches and the relationship, as it pertains to us, as we're called as the weak and the foolish, and we're given to Jesus Christ to be raised and to be teamed up with. We are to learn to want what He wants. We are to learn to live as He lives. And it's the relationship of the weak with the strong, because when we're first called we are the weak and the base things, the relationship of the less than perfect (if you will) placed with the perfect. It's a relationship as a son with a father. It's very intimate. It's very wonderful. And it's a very close relationship. God is intimately involved in our lives.
God the Father here is pictured as a husbandman or as a vine dresser who will separate from the vine all those who give evidence, by how they conduct their lives, that they don't want to be part of His organization or of His church, that they aren't united with Him. He takes them away by a variety of methods. Matthew 13 list quite a few. The deceitfulness of riches, persecution, a reprobate mind, things of this nature.
But for those who are in close relationship, those that by evidence of serving others, by their study, by their prayer, by their care and concern for the world, just all of the good fruit possible, by their diligence and their faithfulness, He prunes. He purges.
Now, in San Joaquin Valley (I'm pretty sure that the vine being referred to here is a grape vine), but in the San Joaquin Valley, they cut off all of the dead wood, because the dead wood doesn't produce. They have big, long rows of grape vines in the vineyard and they're all suspended on wires. They have a three foot section coming up from the ground, and one runner to the left about two feet and one runner to the right about two feet. That's all there is at the beginning of the year. When they blossom, all the new fruit comes out on those two runners.
But the key here is that the dead wood doesn't produce, or that the non-producing wood takes so much energy to support, that the vine can't do a good job. So the dead wood is taken away.
Just for fun, I thought I would be very technical here and I looked in the Encyclopedia Britannica so that I would be fully equipped on pruning here (which is not the case). Pruning, initially, is used to train a tree for the most production. (This is pertaining to trees.) It is used to form its shape so that it will be as fruitful as possible and the analogy, I think, is a good one. All trees aren't shaped the same way. They aren't pruned the same way, because all trees are different. They don't receive the same type of pruning. Pruning gives strength and longevity to the young tree. But it's interesting that as the tree gets older, pruning becomes very, increasingly important.
Now the encyclopedia listed three reasons for pruning. The first, was one to permit a person spraying and harvesting. In other words, to make room to get into the tree to clean out infestations and things that are wrong with the tree. Two, to make satisfactory light exposure for most of the leaves that the tree might have health, that it might have the right light. I couldn't help but think of God's word in that aspect. It is light. And the third thing was to provide a satisfactory balance between flowering and leaf service. The reason for that was that the tree might produce the right quantity of fruit.
Now the sense that God is getting to here in all of this is that in those He is working with, He purifies them, He prunes them, He purges them. He takes away what hinders them and what slows them down in growth. He quickens them and He teaches them, and makes them more pure in their thinking and their motives and all that they do in their actions, and He encourages them to work more diligently and to be more effective.
To do this, He may have to remove some of the idols that get in their way. It may be for a time that sometimes wealth may have to go until lessons are learned. The big car, maybe the big job and the big home. I don't know. That's up to the individual and that's up to God to see to it. Sometimes we get health problems, marriage problems, neighbor problems, work problems, and the reason we have these is that God wants us to learn to use His word (if you will), the lessons that come from obedience to God in these very areas, that we might learn to correct them.
Now when we find ourselves in trials, the last thing we think of is that God is working with us to perfect us. We just want out. Take the trial away. But for us that are called by God, we can be sure that God the Father and Jesus Christ are on the job developing us, because they're involved in everything we do. Nothing misses their attention.
So let's take a look at this over in Hebrews 12:5.
Have you forgotten the exhortation which speaks unto you as unto children, My son, despise not the discipline of the Lord, neither faint [or be discouraged] when you're rebuked of him.
What had been forgotten was the exhortation in Proverbs 3:11-12 which reads:
My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary [or detest it, don't fight against it] of his correction. [Why?] For whom the LORD loves he corrects, even as a father the son in whom he delights.
Many in the world may not think that God is a very good God, but He delights in those He called. You're favored and you're privileged.
So what is being said here (just as in pruning), the correction has been given us to produce results that will eventually bring happiness to us. Correction, although we sometimes don't see it, is also the proof that God loves us very much. He says, Don't take the correction as a trivial thing, as something light, but respond to it. Because everything that God does to us or with us is important to us.
Now God isn't going to let His children wander away from Him. Some may have to go through the tribulation if they choose to push it, but I couldn't help but think of Psalm 119:67. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your commandments. God has a purpose in all the affliction.
What should our response be to God in this? It's to certainly bear up under the trials, but we're to realize that God is working with us and that we're to be determined to make the necessary changes in our lives, whatever the problem dictates. We aren't to become insensible to them and we aren't to become discouraged.
Verse 6. Why does God correct and work with us? It's because of His great purpose and love for us. Some of us might think sometimes that we have too much love being bestowed upon us. But that's still alright. That's God working on us.
For whom the Lord loves he disciplines and scourges every son [and every daughter in this case] whom he receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is he whom the father doesn't correct?
So if we're disciplined or changed by the correction of God, if we make the right changes, God considers us as family and deals with us as such. This doesn't mean that we just put up with God's correction. It means that we alter our lives because of it. And when we do, then we're considered part of God's family.
But if you are without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then you're bastards.
Bastards were usually ignored by their parents. They weren't taught by them. They weren't supported by them. And frankly, the father didn't even want to have it known that he sired them. We don't want to be in that condition.
Furthermore, you've had fathers in the flesh that correct you and you gave them respect. Shall we not much more be in subjection to the father of spirits and live?
The answer is, "you bet." What he is saying here is that we should yield much more and give respect to our heavenly Father who is absolutely perfect in His correction.
For they verily for a few years [our fathers] chastened us after their own pleasure. [But there is only one reason God does it for us.] It's for our profit. [Why?] That we might be partakers of his holiness.
That's His end for us. He corrects us accurately, in the right amount, and He does it so we'll have victory in this life and can stand before Him.
Now no disciplining for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are trained by it.
Now correction brings pain, which is exactly what it is intended to do, that we might consider our lives, and that we might make the changes we need to make. God is not away from pain. He will do that. But afterward, the lessons are learned, and we have peace and more perfect control over the weaknesses that plagued us.
Wherefore [because of this, because of God's love for you and His purpose for you] lift up [or strengthen] the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest the lame isn't dislocated out of the way, but let it rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-13)
Make your changes, be encouraged by what God is doing, and don't be despondent.
We won't turn to I Peter, but I Peter 4:12-13 states:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trials which is to try you as though some strange thing happened to you. But rejoice to the extent that you are partakers of Christ's sufferings [that you are going through the changes that He wants you to make]; that when his glory shall be revealed, you shall be glad with exceeding joy.
You see, at that time you'll look back and you'll think, "It was nothing that I went through. Look at what God has given me." It will absolutely (pardon the expression) knock your socks off. I don't know whether spirit beings have socks, but they'll be knocked off.
Turn over to James 1:12.
Blessed is the man that endures temptation, for when he is tried [or when he is proven], he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him.
This is the purpose of testing and trying. The word temptation here is just a very general word, but it can mean tempted by sin or tempted not to yield to correction. But what is being stated is that when we're tested in areas of weakness and we overcome it and prove faithful, we'll be given a crown.
Now how does God view us at this time? What is His attitude toward us? How does He feel about us? Many in the world around us view God as being harsh and unfeeling, unsympathetic to our needs, and unsympathetic to our suffering.
King David, who had made many mistakes—with Bathsheba, the numbering of the people of Israel and causing seventy thousand deaths, he lied, he was untrustworthy at some times—he looked back on the life he had and he wrote Psalm 103. He saw God from a perspective of having had God deal with him over a long period of time. And he saw God in a way that I don't think that we stop to consider very often.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
What he's saying here is: my heart, my mind, my powers, my affections, my deeds, everything about me bless God, or praise God is another way to put this. David is stating that his total being should be held to praising God. And then he repeats the statement again and reminds himself not to forget all the benefits that come from God. Or, putting it another way which would not be incorrect, don't forget the work that God is doing on the earth and with mankind. Everything that He does with man is for man's good. David knows that whatever works that God does with us—though at times they may be difficult to bear—it will prove to be the best in the long run. And because of this, all of mankind should be praising God, with their heart, with every fiber of their being.
And then he goes on to list the very nature and attributes of God who works with us. And I'll tell you, when you read this, you almost can't picture anyone that would be any better to work with us, to correct us, to develop us, to perfect us.
In verse 3, the first thing he mentions is that God forgives us. The very first attribute of God's nature is His desire to pardon us, and everyone of us can attest to that fact, because we all deserve far more than we've gotten. He heals us, even now at this time in our life, and He has tremendous concern for us.
The second thing he lists in verse 4:
Who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies.
The sense of it here is that He does keep you from dying from accidents and things like this. But the word destruction is indicative, in this case, of the grave. He's going to resurrect you and give you eternal life. And the phrase, "He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies," the sense here is there is a dignity and a beauty and a honor that God bestows on us when He does this. This is how God feels about us.
In verse 5, He satisfies our desires with right fulfillment so that we're even encouraged and strengthened in our old age. That's the kind of God we have.
The LORD executes righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
He's on our side in every situation and He's conscious of us. He's conscious of our best interest and though we may have to be in trials for a long period of time, He'll take our part and He'll relieve the injustice and vindicate the cause when the time is right.
He made known his ways unto Moses and to Israel, and for those of us called today we know His laws, His way of life and we know His plan, and nobody on the earth does. God has done this for us.
The LORD is merciful and gracious and slow to anger.
He's patient, He's merciful, and He has much mercy toward us.
He will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger.
He won't always strive with us and He isn't one that hangs onto anger as it is toward us. And everyone of us can be appreciative here:
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
Because if He had, I wouldn't be speaking and you wouldn't be listening today. Verse 11:
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
You know, when you're a little boy and you say, "Daddy, how much do you love me?" And Mom and Dad put their arms out to the side, "From this fingertip to that fingertip." And He says as high as it is above the earth, that's the kind of mercy He has toward us.
And then it says in verse 12:
As far as the east if from the west, so He has removed our transgressions from us.
I don't know whether you ever thought about standing before Jesus Christ and God the Father and, I've even thought about standing before my guardian angel. He's seen me do some really terrible things, really stupid things. I'm going to have to stand there, and I know that all my sins, all I've done has been made evident. They've all seen these things. But yet, He removes our transgressions from us, totally. As far as the east is from the west—they will never be remembered. When you stand before Jesus Christ and your guardian angel, they will have no memory of the stupidness that you exhibited as a human being when you were called and on the way. They will just be thankful that you're there and that you'll have made it.
And you'll never have to worry about them saying, "Well, you know, back here when you did this and that, you were really dumb." That won't be there. You'll be clean before God and before all that are up there.
For he knows our frame.
He understands, brethren, what we go through. Our Father knows what we're made of. He knows our limits, our frailties, that we struggle under trials. He's fully conscious of this and He pities us. He extends compassion to us, and yet, He's going to complete the job for perfecting us.
As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting [how ever long that is or how ever far that is, I can't even imagine that] upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children. To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
So when we're trying, God is appreciative and that mercy is extended to us.
Bless the LORD, you his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearken unto the voice of his word. Bless you the LORD, all you his hosts, you ministers of his that do his pleasure. Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion; bless the LORD, O my soul. (Psalm 103:1-22)
You see brethren, you couldn't have picked a better person to perfect you than God the Father and Jesus Christ. This is the nature of God the Father and Jesus Christ who, frankly, lovingly work with us to perfect us for the kingdom and a wonderful future for each us.
What position do we who are called now hold in the sight of God? Romans 8:14-17:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption [or it could read sonship], whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God [at this time]. And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
Now, we're considered the sons of God if we yield to Him and allow ourselves to be led by His spirit. Then Paul points out a special relationship that has been established. We've not received the spirit of bondage or of slavery, in which we would live in fear and trembling all the time. But we have received the spirit of adoption and that should give us freedom from fear, and build courage in us because we have been adopted by the great God Himself.
My wife and I have three adopted children. Perhaps because of this, we have a little better understanding as to what it means to adopt. Many people have said, "Oh, what a wonderful thing you did." Yes, we did. But the wonderful thing was for us, because we love our kids and they contributed so much to our home. It was wonderful.
But it has given us an insight we wouldn't have had into this area. Before a child is adopted, he doesn't have a home. He is just called baby something. Baby Joe, Baby Bill, Baby Alice, whatever it may be. He doesn't have a home. He doesn't have a family name or the loving care that could only come from being part of a family. He doesn't have training, a positive future, and he doesn't have an inheritance.
To a very great extent, each of us has been in this same boat. We only had a physical existence, but now God has reached down and adopted us, or called us, to take on His family name, to share His home, to receive His training, to have a wonderful future and a marvelous inheritance. You see, brethren, all that God has done and is doing in our lives is absolutely positive. Because of this we can now truly cry to Him, "Father," because that's exactly the relationship to us that He's placed Himself in. He is our Father.
Now God's holy spirit furnishes eminence to them that are His. As we grow to overcome, and work, and do the best we can to obey and show obedience to our Father and elder brother, then God's spirit testifies that we are indeed taking on the nature of the one who has adopted us. This is exactly what God wants.
Because of this we're considered full heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ in all that He has inherited. Frankly, the realization of this should fill us with gratitude, and it should cause us to long to have God work with us even more and more to perfect us. We have an inheritance coming and we'll discuss that in a few minutes.
God will never give us more than we can handle, because there's a difference in this adoption. In the adoption where you have a child physically here, you bring the child into your home and it's raised with the family in their environment. But with our adoption by God the Father, we aren't taken out of our environment physically. We are required to take on our Father's nature while living in a world that, for the most part, is the very antitheses of what God wants. And though we occasionally have serious trials, even here for the most part, God has not placed us with continual heaviness.
It is not His purpose to make us suffer. We're supposed to have a good and a full life. He really wants us to have rich and happy lives, and for the most part, we do have those. We have homes (many of us), we have jobs, friends, marriages, children, neighbors. But you see, it's within this environment that we're supposed to apply the laws of God because that's what's going to build the godly character in our lives.
There's a proper applying of God's laws in this world that will give us the character-building tests that we're going to need. We've all had to stand up for the Sabbath if we have a job. We've all had to handle our budget if we've had to tithe. We've all had to overcome the weaknesses and the compromises we tend to want to make.
I Corinthians 10:13 tells us there is no temptation that is given to us that is not common to man, and these every day trials that all of us face, in whatever situation we're in, that's the beauty of what God is doing. It doesn't matter what situation we're in applying God's laws in our lives, in any set of circumstances, it will help us to build the character God wants us to have.
With each of us, brethren, God may want more from us at times, and thus He'll direct us into situations that will put additional stress on us. It will require more effort to produce more growth. But again, it is always for our good.
Let's take a look back in Genesis 37 and we'll look at the example of Joseph. We'll look at verses 1-7, and we'll just sort of paraphrase this here.
Joseph was seventeen years old. Israel loved Joseph very much, more than all of his children, because he was the son of his old age. He made him the coat of many colors. Genesis 37:4 now . . . and when his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph, they became exceedingly jealous. And then, of course, Joseph had the dream of the sheaves that they were harvesting. His sheaves were going to stand up straight and their sheaves were all going to bow down to him. They were really incensed at this.
So here Joseph was loved more by his father and here, because of his dream and because of that love, in hatred they would have killed him. We won't read verses 18-28, but they finally sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. They took his coat. I can't imagine what was going through Joseph's mind at this time. Here he is a boy loved by his father. He's secure in his home and all of a sudden, he's been dumped into a pit and he's been put in with people that he doesn't know. He has no control over his body. He's probably in bondage, in chains, and now, in Genesis 39 (we won't read this), he's sold to Potiphar (verses 1-23).
Now the roller coaster continues. Potiphar is in charge of the prison system for Egypt. He's thrust into a strange life, but he's blessed by God in all that he does. He rises in Potiphar's family and pretty soon he's in charge of all that Potiphar has. He can go to town, he can make business deals, he can control servants. He's growing. He's constantly learning about Egypt, and he's being taught.
All of a sudden Potiphar's wife decides she want to take him to bed and Joseph does the right thing. He doesn't forsake God and he doesn't dishonor the master that's employed him. He flees, and now the wife says he tried to rape her.
So Potiphar, who probably knew his wife, but who probably didn't want to have to live with her arguments and probably didn't want to lose face, put Joseph in jail. So he goes again from the top, right back down to the bottom, in prison. Now he's in jail, but again, God is with him. Genesis 40 verses 1-23.
After a while, after being in prison for a period, two men are put in his charge—the butler and the baker. Both have dreams and Joseph explains their dreams. The baker is going to lose his head, but the butler will be restored being Pharaoh's cup bearer.
In verse 14 of Genesis 40, he tells the butler:
But think on me when it shall be well with you, and show kindness, I pray you, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house.
He says, I don't deserve to be here, so bring me out. So the butler leaves and you can almost picture Joseph—the butler's going to tell the Pharaoh. The first week goes by, the second week. Two years go by and he's still in prison. He knows that God is working with him. Two more years pass and then God, with His perfect timing, put a dream in Pharaoh's mind. Seven cows that are fat, seven cows that are lean, seven ears of corn that are fat, seven ears of corn that are lean. The lean cows and the lean ears eat up all of the crop.
So we read in Genesis 41 that Pharaoh told the dream and said who can tell me what this dream is? And, of course, the butler said, "I remiss in my promises to Joseph." He said, "There's a man in prison who revealed the dream that I had." So Pharaoh sends for him and Joseph explains to him what was taking place in the land and what would take place.
In verse 37 of chapter 41 of Genesis:
And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? [And what he was trying to find was somebody to administer in the land during the time of plenty and of famine.] And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God has showed you all this, there is none so discreet and wise as you are; you shall be over my house, and according unto your word shall all my people be ruled; only on the throne will I be greater than you. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; and he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:37-44)
You see brethren, this is exactly what's going to happen to us. One day, Joseph went from being a slave in prison to be the second ruler in all the land. That's simply the purpose that God has for us.
You know when it says in I Corinthians 15:52, "In the moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed." We, too, will go from trial and tribulation, and careful teachings by God, to rulership just as Joseph did, except at that time, we will be spirit beings. We, too, will be ruling over the land. This is what the trials, this is what the perfecting is all about.
Now, based on this as we draw to a conclusion here, what should our attitude be toward having God work with us? Proverbs 30:1-9:
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy; the man spoke unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal, Surely I am more brutish [or more stupid is the correct way to put this] than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.
I think you'll find, as we go through this, that he was not stupid by our standards. In fact, you'll find out that he was just about like Job when he came to his senses. He was not considered stupid, but he was measuring himself against God.
I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy [meaning God]. Who has ascended up into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name, if you can tell [or if you know it]?
He knows the awesome working of God and he says, "Who can understand all that God does?" He realizes that our thoughts aren't God's thoughts and God's thoughts aren't our thoughts and this is why he calls himself stupid, dull, or brutish.
Every word of God is pure [it's tried, it's perfectly pure]; he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add you not unto his words, lest he reprove you, and you be found a liar. Two things have I requested [and this is where we come in] of you, deny them not to me before I die. [Don't let me die without learning what I should do or what I should be. This is the sense of it.] Remove far from me vanity and lies, give me neither poverty or riches; feed me with food that you prescribe for me.
You see, Agur was wise enough to understand that he couldn't perfect himself. Maybe some today think we can perfect ourselves by keeping every law exactly, and this and that, but we can't do it. God's thoughts are far above our thoughts, and Agur realized this. He knew he couldn't perfect himself. And he knew he couldn't see himself as God did. So he said, "Father, God, please give me the food that you prescribe for me. Give me what I need to have to be in the kingdom of God." This is what our attitude should be.
Lest I be full, and deny you and say, Who is the LORD [forget who you are]? Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of God in vain.
You see, we've all been called. We are God's family. We are adopted by Him. We carry God's name. So he said, "Feed me with what is proper for me." In other words, he's saying, "Perfect me that I might be able to take advantage of the adoption that you have given me and that I might stand before you in the kingdom of God."
Now brethren, the men that I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon didn't have the understanding that we've been given. Their blush of love faded when the going got tough, because they didn't understand that it is God's duty to work with us and to perfect us. But WE can be confident of this very thing—that He which has begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.