Why is Diligence Such a Neglected Discipline Today?
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation,
I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith
which was once for all delivered to the saints.
There seems to be a difference between those whom God uses in a mighty way, and the rest of Christianity. It’s not their skill or education that makes them most likely to succeed in the kingdom of God. It’s certainly not their pedigree or upbringing that matters. For 1 Corinthians teaches that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27). God can take anyone, of any background and experience, and turn them into a D.L. Moody or a Billy Graham.
It seems the single attribute that separates those who serve Him with reckless abandon and those who just go through the motions, is commitment. Or, to use the words of Jude, being very diligent.
It appears Jude had a different intention for this letter. He begins by saying he wanted to “write to you concerning our common salvation (Jude 1:3). But in the span of the same sentence, Jude pivots by saying something has changed. “I find it necessary (as the Holy Spirit changes his focus) to write to you exhorting (helping, encouraging) you to contend (strive, struggle) earnestly (not casually or haphazardly) for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). In other words, what began as a letter exploring the nature of our “common salvation” has now changed. The Holy Spirit is moving in a different direction.
It’s this new direction, the warning and rebuking of the apostates within the walls of the church, that gives Jude a special place in the New Testament. But we’ll talk more about that later.
The phrase Jude uses, very diligent, means “speed, haste, earnest in accomplishing something, zeal.”1 It implies someone who is totally committed or single-focused with tunnel vision aimed at completing the task set before them.
It’s a trait we honor in every area of life except the spiritual. Michael Phelps, for example, won more Olympic Gold Medals than anyone in history. Do you think he was able to accomplish that feat with a haphazard attitude towards his sport? Of course not. We applaud his commitment, his diligence, and the obvious sacrifices he made to achieve success in his field. But do we applaud the same in other Christians?
For some reason, we see diligence and commitment as a necessary element of success in every form of life except in our relationship with Christ. We admire those who make sacrifices to attain certain levels of success, like Michael Phelps, yet we assume the same is not required of us. When we study the lives of great men of God, we see that’s not true. Those who accomplished great things for God also sacrificed great things for God. They were very diligent about serving Him. As Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”2
Plus, there are promises made, not to the casual believers, but to the one who seeks the Lord with his whole heart. Or, as Jude would say, is very diligent about the things of God. And each of these promises is conditional. They only belong to the diligent and committed, and not the casual or carnal. Consider the following:
Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the LORD with (condition) all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In (condition) all your ways acknowledge Him, and (promise) He shall direct your paths.
Note the conditions and the promise. If you want the promise, you must first meet the condition. You must be very diligent about the things of God. It’s Contract Law, 101.
Jeremiah 29:13 – And (promise) you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me (condition) with all your heart.
Again, note the condition and the promise. If you want to find God, you must meet the condition He sets for that revelation. And, as always, it’s “with all your heart.” Jude would call that being very diligent about the things of God.
No Pain, No Gain
We’re all familiar with the No Pain, No Gain mantra when it comes to working out or getting a graduate degree. It shows how much we’re willing to sacrifice to achieve our goals. The same is true with the things of God. For some reason, God seems to honor the fervent, the committed, and the diligent— and not the casual. And we do the same. What employee gets the raise and promotion? The one who works hard and is trustworthy? Or the one who shows up when it’s only convenient for him?
One final thought. Paul understood this principle in his life. Look at what he said about sacrifice and commitment:
1 Corinthians 9:24 – Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
That’s run with sacrifice, commitment, diligence. It’s getting up early and training harder than the rest. It’s doing your best and giving your all to the race that’s set before you. In fact, Paul goes one step further:
1 Corinthians 9:27 – But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
By disciplining his body, Paul is saying “no” to the distractions, to the things that don’t bring him closer to his goal. In the spiritual life, we call this living with fervency, with total commitment. Or, as Jude says, being very diligent.
Examine your life today and ask the Lord what you’re wasting it on? And then burn those bridges and center your life on Him and Him alone. Run the race the Lord has set before you— and don’t get distracted and don’t look back.
Be very diligent in all you do for Him.
1. Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (p. 1307). Chattanooga, TN: AMG.
2. Jim Elliot (1927-1956) was a missionary who gave his life, along with four others, while trying to evangelize the Huaorani people, also known as the Auca, in Ecuador. He was 29 when he was martyred. This quote is from one of his journals, written on October 28, 1949.
Many of us make resolutions this time of year. It just seems natural. Maybe we want to lose weight, get out of debt, or finish a long neglected project around the house. But as a Christian, we want to somehow make our resolutions more spiritual. That also seems natural. So we often resolve something like this:
“I want to read my Bible more.”
“I want to pray more.”
“I want to share my faith more.”
“I want to love more, forgive more, worship more.”
“I want to live more like a Christian.”
“I want to know more of God and have myself conformed to the image of His Son.”
But the key to discovering the “abundant life” (John 10:10) Jesus spoke about is not in keeping resolutions, no matter how good they may be. It’s living a life of holiness. It’s practicing sanctification. It’s being set apart or consecrated unto God. After all, we belong to Him.
But sanctification never takes place unless we first understand the way God’s if / then promises work. The promise comes after the condition. The then follows the if. Consider the following:
Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
(condition one) Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
(condition two) and lean not on your own understanding;
(condition three) in all your ways acknowledge Him,
(promise) and He shall direct your paths.
Want to know more. Then keep listening.
The following is a study on Proverbs 3:5-6.
To download the slides for this message, click – HERE
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We have previously talked about the importance of understanding our responsibility regarding the if / then passages in Scripture. In these, the promise of God (then) is contingent upon some completed action on our part (if). One always precedes the other. One is always contingent upon the other. When the if is satisfied, the promised then is realized. But the opposite is also true. If there is no if, there will be no then. If no condition is met, there will be no fulfillment of the promise. It’s Contract Law, 101.
For example, when Peter preached his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost that ushered in the birth of the church, he closed his message with an if / then promise. Let’s look at this in context. First, Peter concludes his message with a statement about Jesus and their guilt in rejecting and crucifying Him.
Acts 2:36 – “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified (now it’s personal), both Lord and Christ.”
Then, under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the people cry out for an answer. They long and seek for salvation, some deliverance from the guilt of their sin.
Acts 2:37 – Now when they heard this (the words Peter just spoke), they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Peter answers their question with an if / then promise regarding repentance and salvation. They must do something (if) to receive salvation and the forgiveness of their sins (then). If they fail to do what is required of them (if – repentance), then salvation does not follow (then). Watch how this plays out.
Acts 2:38 – Then Peter said to them, “Repent (if – the condition they must meet), and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (as an outward sign of their repentance and submission to Christ); and (then – the promise of salvation, the result of meeting the condition of repentance) you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Remember, the Holy Spirit is our proof of salvation. Ephesians 1 says we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” in Him (Eph. 1:13-14). Again, no Holy Spirit, no regeneration, no changed nature— no salvation. But you already know this.
Turn at My Rebuke
Yet even after salvation, we find the same if / then conditions and promises still apply in our lives today. This is especially true regarding the sins we commit as a believer and our refusal to repent of them and give them up in exchange for a deeper relationship with the Lord. Look at your own life. You and I have areas right now that we struggle with and refuse to submit to Him. But you also already know this. The end result of this inaction on our part is a grieving of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and a noticeable break in our fellowship with the Lord. Can you relate? Ever been there?
We even see this scenario played out for us in the first chapter of Proverbs. In this chapter, the young man (representing you and me) is warned by his father and mother not to forsake what he has been taught and to not consent when sinners entice him to sin (Prov. 1:10). The Lord then spends the next nine verses detailing the types of pressure each of us will face when we are tempted to sin. There’s peer pressure, greed, anger, violence, acceptance, excitement— it’s all there. Read it for yourself.
By the time we get to Proverbs 1:20, things change a bit in the text. Now we have wisdom, the personified wisdom of God, calling out to this young man with the message of repentance. In fact, we see wisdom calling out to anyone who will listen. Wisdom calls out in the “open squares,” in the “chief concourses” and “at the opening of the gates in the city” (Prov. 1:20-21). Wisdom is calling to everyone. To those who are lost, it’s a message of repentance unto salvation. To those, like the young man and you and me, it’s a message of repentance unto fellowship and a restoration of our intimate relationship with our Lord.
Wisdom’s message begins with a rebuke. It’s like incredulously asking, “Just how stupid are you?”
Proverbs 1:22 – “How long, you simple ones (foolish ones, naive ones, stupid ones, moronic ones), will you love simplicity (what is foolish, stupid, moronic)? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge.”
Wisdom asks each of us the same question: “How long, you foolish, moronic, stupid ones, will you love your stupidity? How long, you fools, will you be enamored in your folly?”
Just like those who heard Peter’s charge in Acts 2:36, we also ask the same question: “What must we do?” The answer is simple. But it’s an if / then answer. It requires something of us in order to receive something from the Lord.
Proverbs 1:23 – “Turn (if – the condition that must be met) at my rebuke; Surely (then – the results of meeting the condition) I will pour out my spirit (Holy Spirit) on you; (then) I will make my words known (yada) to you.”
The promise is that God would pour (to gush forth, to flow) out the Holy Spirit on those who turned (turn back, returned) and repented at the rebuke (correction, reproof, chastisement) of wisdom. And, as if it couldn’t get any better, He also promised to make His words known (yada) to those who repented and turned back to Him. The word “known” is yada in the Hebrew and means to know, or be known, in a loving, intimate, experiential way. The promise offered by the Lord is for Him to pour Himself out on us in the Person of the Holy Spirit and make His words become something we love because we have experienced them ourselves, first-hand, and have an intimate, loving relationship with Him. Does it get any better than this? Not for me.
But don’t get too excited. This wonderful promise is conditional. It’s the then side of the if / then equation. There is something that is required in order to receive the promise from God. Something each of us must do.
We must repent. We must turn at the rebuke or correction and chastisement of the Lord.
It means to go back to where we were with Him before we jumped ship to blindly go after the trinkets and toys this world offers. It means to embrace the eternal and reject the temporal, no matter how good the temporal may make us feel in the short run. It means placing ourselves back under the Lordship of Christ as the Sovereign One. We must repent of the selfishness of demanding our Christian life being about us, and not about Him. And we must vow to never view Christ as a genie in a bottle, always at our beck and call, whose sole purpose, according to us, is to make all our dreams come true.
Turn. Return. Go back. Repent.
But What If I Don’t?
I mean, what if I refuse to return to Him? What if I’m ok where I’m at and don’t want to go through the pain and hard times that come with repentance? What if I say, no?
I’ll close by letting you read what the Lord says about people who stubbornly refuse His rebuke. These are sobering words. Take them to heart. Because they are a warning from Him. Another if / then promise.
Proverbs 1:24-27 – “Because (if – the condition we have met) I have called and you refused, (if – the condition) I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because (if) you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, (then – the result of our actions) I also will laugh at your calamity; (then) I will mock when your terror comes, (to what extent) when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.”
But it gets worse. What happens when we reject the wisdom of the Lord and inevitably begin to experience all the “terror” and “destruction” that “comes like a whirlwind” (Prov. 1:26-27)? What happens when the Lord gives us what we want and allows us to experience the consequences of our own sin (Rom.1:24-28)? What happens when we’ve had enough of God’s chastisement, throw up our hands in defeat, and begrudgingly come to Him on His terms? What happens then? How will He receive us?
Read this carefully. These are sobering words.
Proverbs 1:28-30 – “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. (why) Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke.”
These are some of the most frightening words in all of Scripture. They indicate there may come a time when our constant rejection of the Lord will dry up His grace. A time when heaven is quiet and, no matter how hard we try, we can’t find the grace from Him we took for granted for so long. The time may come, according to this if / then promise, when God allows us to experience the consequence of our sins and may give us exactly what we have asked for, what we have demanded— deliverance from Him.
Pray that day never comes.
And while you still can, turn at His rebuke and allow Him to “pour out my spirit on you” and “make my words known to you” (Prov. 1:23). Because when He does what He has promised in the verse, you will begin to experience heaven on earth.
Return to Him today.
If your resolution this year is to “understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:5), then you must begin this vision quest by understanding how the if / then passages in Scripture work. Simply put, you do the ifs, and God provides the thens. One is contingent upon another. One comes first, and the other follows after. One is a condition that must be met, the other is the result of meeting that condition. One is your responsibility, and the other is His.
Consider this passage from Proverbs 2:
Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (condition) you receive my words, and (if you) treasure my commands within you, (to what extent) so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if (condition) you cry out for discernment, and (if you) lift up your voice for understanding, if (condition) you seek her as silver, and (if you) search for her as for hidden treasures; then (result of meeting the condition) you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
As you can see, the promise of understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God only comes after the if conditions are met. One is contingent upon another. Meeting the if condition is the key that unlocks the then promise, If I want to understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God, then I must meet the condition set forth to receive that promise. It is foolishness, according to this passage, to assume we will receive the promise without meeting the condition.
Some promises in Scripture are granted without a condition being met.1 Others, most in fact, have a condition attached to them. For example, our salvation is based on meeting a condition:
Romans 10:9 – That if (condition) you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and (if you) believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, (then – result or promise) you will be saved.
Note that salvation comes after the condition is met. Repentance and the acknowledgement of Christ as Lord is mandatory, not optional. You cannot come to faith in Him any other way. This is an if / then passage about salvation.
If / Then Passages
But there’s so much more. Take a look at a few of these if / then passages. See if you can begin to understand how important your part is in receiving the promises of the Father.
Matthew 6:14-15 – “For if (condition – your action and responsibility) you forgive men their trespasses, (then – the result or promise from God) your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if (condition – your action and responsibility) you do not forgive men their trespasses, (then – the result or promise from God) neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
If we desire forgiveness from God, we must first forgive others. First the condition, then the promise. How important is it for me to forgive others who have wronged me? It’s vital. For without meeting the horizontal condition of forgiveness between me and another, God is not obligated to fulfill the vertical condition of forgiving me for my sins and transgressions. This is not something to play around with. This if / then condition has lasting, eternal consequences.
John 15:10 – “If (condition) you keep My commandments, (then – result) you will abide (rest, dwell, make your home) in My love, (example) just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
How do I rest and abide in the love (agape) of Christ? And how can I experience the abiding presence of that love like Jesus had with His Father? By meeting the if condition of the if / then promise. By keeping His commandments. By doing what He tells me to do. By loving Him through my obedience and not living a life of rebellion, apathy or arrogance. After all, Jesus also said in another if / then passage, “If you love Me, (then) keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Which means, if I love Him, then I will show my love for Him by keeping His commandments. And if I don’t love Him, then I won’t keep His commandments. Or, more frightening still, if I’m not keeping His commandments, then I must not love Him at all. Which means our love for Christ can be clearly seen by our obedience to Him. Not in our words, but in our actions (Luke 6:46).
We’ll close today with just one more. This if / then promise was spoken to Martha at the tomb of Lazarus right before Jesus raised him from the dead in the sight of all.
John 11:40 – Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if (condition) you would believe (then – result) you would see the glory of God?”
Jesus was about to raise a man back to life who had been dead and buried four full days. It was to be a powerful testimony that Christ is God and can do all things. For me, it’s one of the greatest miracles in the New Testament. But Martha would fail to see God in any of this unless she believed. She was in danger of becoming hard hearted and spiritually blind, much like the Pharisees and others who made up the religious establishment of that day, to what was about to take place. Instead of experiencing the glory of God, she would go back to her home unchanged, unmoved, and further away from the One who raised her brother from the dead. Why? Because of her lack of belief. Jesus’ words to her were simple, “If you believe (the condition that unlocks the revelation of the glory of God), then (the result of her faith and belief) you will see the glory of God.” And the opposite is also true. “If you do not believe (condition), then (result of lack of faith) you will not see the glory of God.”
The spiritual magnitude of this momentous event for Martha was contingent on her belief— on the if part of the if / then promise from Jesus.
Are you beginning to see the importance of these overlooked if / then promises in Scripture? Good. Because there are hundreds of them.
For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the if / then passages found in Scripture to discover what part we must play in receiving the promises from God. Why? Because fulfilling the if part is something we can do. It’s something we can get better at. Something the Lord has left in our hands. Obedience to His Word is our responsibility. And the promises for obedience, the results of the if / then promises in Scripture are, honestly, overwhelmingly wonderful.
Tomorrow we’ll begin looking at the if / then promises found in the Proverbs.
1 – For example, God’s promise to Abraham is not conditional on anything Abraham would, or would not do (Gen.12:7). See also Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15-16; 15:18-21; 17:6-8; and 35:11-12.
Not Every Christian Will Suffer Persecution. Will You?
If you’re alarmed and concerned about how bad the persecution of Christians and the church will get in America in the very near future, you’re showing yourself to be far more astute in understanding the “signs of the time” than most of the professing church today (Matt. 6:33). Why? Because it seems, at least in America, that we have adopted a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” mindset regarding current events and how they may interrupt what we hold most dear: our vacations, our retirement, our free-time, our video games, and our false sense of security in our immature relationship with Christ.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did that last phrase sting a bit? Did it seem somewhat unloving, maybe a little unkind? Good. It shows you’re not completely anesthetized to what is happening all around us. And that’s a good thing. A real good thing.
But to your question: How bad will the persecution really get? Well, that all depends on what kind of Christian you are and what kind of church you attend.
Let me explain.
We Will Not All Be Treated Equally
Not everyone will suffer the same under the coming persecution, just like they didn’t all suffer the same under Nero’s reign of terror during the first century of the church. Nor did all Christians suffer the same under the persecution of the Third Reich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, was martyred for his faith on Monday, April 9, 1945. But just six days later churches all throughout Germany met in their own church buildings unmolested by the Nazis who murdered Bonhoeffer earlier that week.
How could that be? How could one group of professing Believers suffer persecution at the hands of the Nazis yet another group freely worship with the permission and approval of the persecuting State? How is that possible?
More recently, in September 2015, twelve Christian missionaries, including the 12 year old son of a ministry team leader, were crucified and beheaded near Aleppo, Syria for not renouncing their faith and converting to Islam. If they caved into their fears, as some did, and renounced the Jesus they loved, they would be alive today. But since they “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41), they died a horrific death. For those twelve, it was more important to obey God and not man (Acts 5:29) and, in doing so, proved the “world was not worthy” of them (Heb. 11:38).
Again, two groups of Believers. One group renounced Jesus and lived and the other remained faithful to Him and died. Both groups were not treated equally. The severity of their persecution, and ours, is always contingent on one’s commitment to Christ. Throughout the history of the church it has always been that way, and it always will.
Soon, in our own country, we will find pastors and true Believers punished for preaching the whole Word of God, especially the Politically Incorrect passages from Romans 1:26-27 that deal with the sin of homosexuality. You heard right, the sin of homosexuality. Those who refuse to compromise on God’s Word regarding sin, even politically protected and government sanctioned sin, will suffer persecution. They will be fined for their faith in Him Who does not change (Mal. 3:6). Many will lose their positions, their life savings, and even their homes for their unwavering faith. They will be marginalized, vilified, mocked and ridiculed, they will be threatened and sued, they will be charged with a hate crime, arrested, and imprisoned for their faith.
And just like in Bonhoeffer’s day, while some are languishing in prison for preaching truth the culture rejects, others will be leading or attending churches deemed “acceptable” and “tolerant” by the very State that persecutes and imprisoned others in the Body of Christ.
What’s the difference? What separates these two groups of Believers?
Simply this: Desire. A desire to live Godly in Christ – no matter the costs.
Those Who Desire and Those Who Don’t
In 2 Timothy 3:12 the Scriptures state, “All who desire to live Godly in Christ will suffer persecution.” Note the condition and the promise. It’s one of the if/then conditions and promises found in Scripture. If you do this or meet this condition, then this will happen.
An if/then condition and promise means if we do our part, if we meet some sort of condition or requirement the Lord has established, then we have the confidence to know God will fulfill what He has promised to do. We see these all throughout the Scriptures. Remember the one from Romans we so often use when we share our faith with others?
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and (if) you believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, (then) you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).
Now, when it comes to persecution, the Lord gives us another if/then promise. He says, “All who (what) desire to live Godly in Christ will (what) suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). That’s a promise from the Lord. And that same promise is echoed by Jesus when He tells us not to be surprised, “If the world hates you, you know it hated Me before it hated you” and “If they persecute Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20).
Let’s look at the if/then condition and promise again:
“All who (if you) desire to live Godly in Christ (then you) will suffer persecution.”
The Condition: “All who (or, make it personal, if you) desire (or, will, wish, want, strive, make it your aim) to live (or, have your existence, your mode or manner of life) Godly (or, devoutly, reverently, obediently) in Christ…”
The Promise: “(again, make it personal, then you) will (or, shall, most certainly) suffer persecution (or, distress, trouble, peril).”
As you can see, not all will suffer the same. The defining characteristic of those who will be persecuted and of those who won’t, will be their innate “desire to live Godly in Christ.” This desire, this longing, this passion to live Godly in Christ no matter the costs, come what may, is the hallmark of a committed Christian’s life. They desire to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). To live as a committed Christian, as a real Christian, is to boldly acknowledge Him before “kings and governors” (Matt. 10:18) and to not count our life as worth anything other than following Him and being faithful to what He has called us to do (Acts 20:24). After all, isn’t that why He saved us in the first place?
When the darkness begins to fall and the persecution of the church becomes impossible to ignore, some Believers and churches will have that great desire to “walk as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:6) and renounce the deeds of darkness in obedience to Him (1 Cor. 4:2). And sadly some, in fact most, won’t. Some will suffer for the sake of their Lord knowing “this world is not their home” (Heb. 13:14) and they are simply blessed to be called ambassadors for Him, the One True King (2 Cor. 5:20). Others will love their life in this world: their status, financial security, their ease and comfort, and will renounce their love for Jesus, in either word or deed, and continue to hold on to the lie of “Your Best Life Now.” They will forsake their inheritance as a child of God (Rom. 8:16) for something far less and faithfully continue with the pageantry and charade of the life of a good Christian while the true Christians are rejoicing in the privilege of suffering for the truth, just like their Lord (Acts 5:41).
The stark difference between these two groups will be apparent to all. Actually, it’s apparent now. Can you tell the difference?
So you see, not all so-called Christians will suffer persecution at the hands of the State or by the hatred of our culture. Some will live in ease and comfort, proudly bringing their Bibles to the approved churches, the ones that proclaim the virtue of tolerance for sin and promote a god created in the image of man. But some will not compromise. They will bend their knee to no one but the Lord Jesus (Rom. 14:10). They will render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but they will not, under any circumstances, render unto Caesar what is God’s (Matt. 22:21).
In which group of persecuted do you find yourself? Are you one of those who will be persecuted for the sake of Christ by desiring, above all else, to live for Him? Or are you one of those who will persecute Jesus and His Church by feigning your loyalty to Him with false spirituality and loving your life in this fallen, perverted world more than you love the Lord? Are you the righteous or the hypocrite? Are you one who cries out, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 21:19). Or will you, surrounded by an angry, Christ-hating mob, shout through your own apathy and indifference, “Give us Barabbas! We have no king but Caesar!”? (John 18:40, 19:15).
Which will it be? You can’t have it both ways, you know. Persecution has a tendency of forcing those it confronts on either one side or the other. Which side will you be on?
Remember, not everyone will be treated the same because of the name of Christ. Only those who truly are His will be willing to endure suffering and persecution. In fact, true Believers will embrace the honor to show the unbelieving world Who they belong to.
Do you belong to Him? And, if so, how do you know?
That’s the very question we’ll look at tomorrow.
For Part 2: Why is the Church in the Situation it is Today?
When we instinctively think about a time for new beginnings (lose weight, get healthy, read the Bible more, get out of debt, etc.), one of the verses that is often quoted by well-meaning Christians is Proverbs 3:5-6. In this verse we find the elusive promise that we all crave: How to know what is the will of God for our lives or, more precisely, how to get God to show us what we need to do in a particular situation that we are clueless about, such as, should I marry this person? Or, where should I work? Or, what college should I attend? Or, should I do this or that or go here or there? I think you probably get the point.
The promise we want to claim is found in the latter part of Proverbs 3:6 and says: “And He (God) shall direct your (me and you) paths.” Yes, this is what we want. This promise is what we so desperately need. We want and need God to direct our paths, to show us what to do, to let us know what’s the right decision He wants us to make— to literally bring us out of the darkness of doubt, indecision and fear and into His light of perfect peace (Isa. 26:3).
And, if you are completely honest with yourself, you’d probably have to admit this promise usually, almost always, goes unanswered. Did you ever wonder why?
Is God somehow not in the promise keeping business these days? Or, were these words meant for someone other than you? You know, someone God loves more than you, or someone who is a better person than you, or someone more likeable than you? In other words, is God selfish in keeping His Word and does He only hand out His blessings to His children like the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge in the Dicken’s classic? Is that how you view your God?
Or could there be some conditions to the promise that we’ve failed to meet? Maybe we didn’t even know those conditions existed.
Let’s take a closer look at these two verses and see exactly what they say.
Building on What Came Before
In Proverbs 3 we see the Lord, through the pen of Solomon, building upon a base already established in the two previous chapters. For example, Proverbs 1:7 tells us “the fear (awe, profound respect, terror) of the Lord is the beginning (starting point, genesis, first, best) of knowledge (discernment, insight, understanding, notion).” Then, moving to the next chapter, Proverbs 2:5 reveals how we can “understand (to perceive, discern, become aware of) the fear of the Lord and find (attain) the knowledge of God.” How? How can we find the knowledge of God? By reading the conditions in the previous verses.
Proverbs 2:1-5 – My son, if (conditional clause) you receive my words, and (if) treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then (promise) you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
This is a classic if / then conditional promise. it states that If you do this, then I will do this. It’s basic, first year, Contract Law 101.
But there’s also a condition, actually three conditions, that must be met to receive the desired promise found in Proverbs 3:6. And those conditions are also found by reading the previous verses. Let’s take a look together and discover the if / then conditional promise in Proverbs 3:5-6.
What It Says
Proverbs 3:5-6 reads:
Condition One (the Do): Trust in the Lord with all your heart
Trust (to be confident, secure, bold, safe) in (who or what) the Lord (how much) with all (with each, every, the entire, the whole, complete, inclusive, holding nothing back) your (personal responsibility, something you can and are expected to do) heart (or, your inner self, your mind, will, emotions, personality, the “you”).
Condition One states we are to trust and have confidence and security in the Lord, in the Sovereign One, the Creator God, the Personal God; and we are to trust Him with all our heart, with all that we are, with our entire being, our complete person; with our mind, our will, our emotions, our personality and our volition. We are to trust Him completely and personally and this is something we have the responsibility to do. It’s one of the ifs in the if / then conditional promise.
Question: But how do we do this? How do we trust in the Lord with all our heart?
Answer: See Condition Two.
Condition Two (the Don’t): And lean not on your own understanding
And lean (rely, trust in, support) not (no, not, never) on (what) your own understanding (comprehension, discernment, perception).
Why are we not to trust or rely on our own understanding, on our own personal take on things? After all, didn’t God give us a mind and expect us to use it? And am I not to “follow my heart” and do the things that seem right to me, things that give me peace and make me happy? Isn’t that what the Disney movies have taught me from Bambi on? Can’t I trust my own heart and my own feelings? Who knows me better than me? And who knows what is best for me better than me?
This is why Condition Two is so hard to meet and why we seldom are blessed with the then part of the if / then promise. Consider the following:
Jeremiah 17:5 – Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.”
Jeremiah 17:7 – “Blessed in the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.”
And the grand finale regarding the heart and our own feelings and understanding of things:
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart (your inner self, your mind, will, emotions, personality, the “you”) is deceitful (sly, insidious, slippery) above (what) all things, and desperately wicked (sick, ill, diseased, incurable, in a weakened condition that leads to death); who can know (to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) it?”
In other words, the heart, our heart, our self, our mind, our will, our emotions, and our personality is deceitful and insidious, sly above all things, above anything, with no limit. It is desperately wicked, sick, incurable, wracked with disease, weakened to the point of death, to the point of who can know it, or who can be intimate with it, approve of it, or have a relationship with it? Answer: No one. Zip.
Our heart cannot be trusted, ever. It must be redeemed.
Question: How can we learn not to lean and rely on our own understanding when that’s all we’ve ever been taught since kindergarten? What can we do to meet the requirement of Condition Two?
Answer: See Condition Three.
Condition Three (the Do): In all your ways acknowledge Him
In all (with each, every, the entire, the whole, complete, inclusive, holding nothing back) your (personal responsibility, something you can and are expected to do) ways (your paths, journeys, walk, the road traveled) acknowledge (to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) Him (God).
Think for a moment. In all your, or our, ways, in everything that we do, secular or sacred, in church or out of church, seen and public or hidden and private, in everything we do, in every place we walk, wherever the Lord sends us, whomever we encounter, whatever the circumstances or conditions, either good or bad, in all situations, success or failures, pain or joy, life or death, in each and every thing and without exception— we are to acknowledge Him.
Let’s stop for a moment and look closer at what it means to acknowledge someone or something. In our language the term acknowledge means to “accept or admit the existence of something.” For example, “I acknowledge my mistake.” Or, “I acknowledge your authority.” Or again, “I acknowledge that you believe what you are saying is true, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.” It also means to “show or express recognition or the realization of something or someone.” An example would be when one man slightly nods his head in acknowledgment or recognition of another man. “I see you big guy. I acknowledge your presence.” We see this all the time in life.
But that’s not what the Hebrew word means in this Proverb. Condition Three doesn’t say “in all our ways we are to nod our head or tip our hat in simple recognition that God exists.” No, the word is much deeper.
The Hebrew word for acknowledge in this verse is yada and is the same word defined above as know in Jeremiah 17:9. The word, yada, means “to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship.”
Or, simply this: Condition Three means we are, in all our ways and in everything we do or say throughout our lives, we are to know and live intimately with God in such a way that He would approve of, and show His pleasure and favor on, the way we live our lives. It means we would trust Him for everything (Isa. 41:10), strive to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), to “walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16), and to “find out what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph. 5:10) and live our lives accordingly.
This is the meaning of Condition Three. We are to “walk just as He (Jesus) walked” (1 John 2:6).
Question: And what about the promise?
The promise in Proverbs 3:5-6 is: And He shall direct your paths
And He (God) shall direct (make right, straight, smooth, level, to lead, to be pleasing, to approve, esteem) your paths (way, journey, course of life and lifestyle).
In other words, God will take our fallen lives and our fractured past and smooth out the way before us. He will lead us as He did His children in the times past (Isa. 52:12) and His glory will be our rear guard (Isa. 58:8). He will “instruct us and teach us in the way we should go and will guide us with His eye” (Ps. 32:8). As the Good Shepherd, He will freely “give His life for His sheep”— for you and me, for those He loves (John 10:11). He will “strengthen and protect us from the evil one” (2 Thes. 3:3), and “present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).
This, beloved, is the promise of the Father given to you. It’s a gift, it’s the abundant life Jesus promised just waiting to be opened by you (John 10:10).
Are you living in the reality of that promise? Has God taken your broken paths and made them smooth before you? Has he redeemed the years you’ve lost to sin and selfishness and turned them into a testimony of His grace freely given to you? Has He “numbered your wanderings and collected your tears in His bottle and written them in His book”? (Ps. 56:8). Are you currently in the center of His will and is He directing “your steps by His Word”? (Ps. 119:133).
He can, you know. And He will. He wants to. All you have to do is claim His promise by meeting the conditions of one of the most glorious if / then promises in all of Scripture.
If – Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
If – And lean not on your own understanding;
If – In all your ways acknowledge Him,
Then – And He shall direct your paths (Prov. 3:5-6).
Begin this wondrous walk of faith today. Don’t wait. Why?
Because we’re all running out of time.