"THE EPISTLE OF JAMES" When You're Being Oppressed (5:7-12) INTRODUCTION 1. Do you feel like someone is out to get you? That they are trying to take advantage of you? That you are being oppressed? 2. What should you do when you are oppressed? What should you NOT do? 3. In James 5, we find James giving instructions to those who appear to have been oppressed by the rich a. Notice Jm 2:6 b. The rich had been holding back their wages - cf. Jm 5:4 c. The rich had been oppressing the righteous - cf. Jm 5:6 -- What were the oppressed Christians to do? 4. In Jm 5:7-12 (and surrounding verses), we find principles and instructions which should govern Christians when they are oppressed [These principles are just as applicable today when we are oppressed by others. Let's notice what they are...] I. DON'T RESIST A. SUCH WAS THE BEHAVIOR OF THOSE BEING OPPRESSED IN JAMES' DAY... 1. Notice Jm 5:4,6 2. Though treated unjustly, they did not resist B. NOT RESISTING IS CONSISTENT WITH THE TEACHING OF CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES... 1. Consider Lk 6:27-30 2. Also Ro 12:19-21 3. And 1Pe 2:18-23 C. ADMITTEDLY, NOT RESISTING IS CONTRARY TO HUMAN NATURE AND WISDOM... 1. Human nature moves one to react in "justifiable anger" 2. Human wisdom calls for "standing up for one's rights" D. BUT NOT RESISTING IS BASED UPON TWO THINGS... 1. AN AWARENESS that the Lord is coming to judge - Jm 5:8-9 a. The coming of the Lord in this passage may have reference to His coming in judgment upon Jerusalem (as foretold by Jesus in Lk 21 and which occured when Rome destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70) b. But it may also refer to the Lord's final coming on the Day of Judgment which has yet to occur c. Likewise, we can look for the coming of the Lord in judgment in various ways (death, the second coming, etc.) 2. A WILLINGNESS to let Him be our avenger - cf. Lk 18:7-8 [It is not easy to keep one's self from resisting, and to wait for the Lord to take care of it. That's why there is a need for the next principle...] II. BE PATIENT A. THE WORD FOUND HERE IS SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT THAN THAT FOUND EARLIER IN THIS EPISTLE... 1. In Jm 1:3, the word is "hupomone" a. Which means to bear up under trials b. Which normally means to be patient in reference to THINGS or CIRCUMSTANCES 2. In Jm 5:7-8,10, the word is "makrothumia" a. Which means to suffer long b. Which normally means to be patient in reference to PEOPLE (like those who oppress you) c. As Vincent defines it: 1) A patient holding out under trial; a long-protracted restraint of the soul from yielding to passion, especially the passion of anger 2) The thought links itself naturally with that in the preceding verse: "the righteous does not resist" B. THREE EXAMPLES ARE GIVEN TO ENCOURAGE US TO BE PATIENT... 1. The FARMER: "Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain." - Jm 5:7 2. The PROPHETS: "Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience." - Jm 5:10 3. JOB: "Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." - Jm 5:11 C. EACH OF THESE EXAMPLES TEACH US... 1. To place our trust in the Lord, that He will eventually reward us for our trust in Him 2. To be stedfast, in the meantime, in our service to Him [But such patience or long-suffering is not easily acquired. Therefore, there is a need to apply the third principle in this passage...] III. ESTABLISH YOUR HEARTS A. THE WORD "ESTABLISH"... 1. Means "to fix, make fast, to set" (VINE) 2. Is translated "strengthen" in other places 3. To establish one's heart, then... a. Involves strengthening our heart in a certain way b. Here, it means to strengthen our heart so as to be patient and not resist the evil being done B. THE "KEY" TO ESTABLISHING OUR HEARTS... 1. Is the Word of God - cf. 2Pe 1:12 2. Through constant and careful study of God's Word... a. Our faith in God and His eventual justice is made stronger b. Patience and strength to not resist is developed - cf. Ro 15:4 [With hearts rooted and established in God's Word, we are more likely to act as we should when oppressed. But there are some things we are likely to do when under stress due to unjust oppression. James goes on to mention two that we are to avoid. The first of these is...] IV. DON'T GRUMBLE A. ESPECIALLY AGAINST ONE ANOTHER (9) 1. When others oppress us, we are likely to vent our frustrations as those closest and dearest to us 2. For example, a man after a bad day at work often takes it out on his wife and family 3. So brethren are likely to direct their frustration towards each other when being oppressed from outside B. WE HAVE GOOD REASON NOT TO GRUMBLE... 1. "lest you be condemned" 2. The sin of grumbling is a serious one - cf. 1Co 10:5-11 3. The same Lord who will judge those who oppress others will judge those who murmer and grumble! [So don't let the oppression of others cause us to be condemned by our mistreatment of our brethren. Another warning is given...] V. DON'T SWEAR A. THIS IS SOMETHING ELSE ONE IS LIKELY TO DO WHEN IN TROUBLE... 1. In other words, make rash promises 2. Promises which God will hold you to, even if not serious - cf. Eccl 5:1-7 B. THIS PROHIBITION APPLIES ESPECIALLY TO "FLIPPANT OATHS"... 1. In Jesus' day, many Jews were prone to swear in this fashion 2. Where they made a distinction between oaths using God's name and other oaths (those using His name were considered binding, while the others were not) 3. Both Jesus and James condemn this distinction between different kinds of oaths - cf. Mt 5:33-37; 23:16-22 [The solution is to refrain from oaths altogether, and stand by your word. Finally, in times of oppression, those who are God's children have a powerful weapon in their arsenal. To utilize it, they should...] VI. PRAY A. THIS IS THE KEY THING TO DO WHEN OPPRESSED... 1. As we learn from Jm 5:13 2. This is what the Christians of James' day were doing - cf. Jm 5:4 B. WHEN WE PRAY, GOD HEARS! 1. As seen in Jm 5:4 2. As promised by both Jesus and James, the Lord will avenge His righteous ones - Lk 18:7-8; Jm 5:7-8 3. It may not come when we want it, and the Lord may "bear long with us" - cf. Re 6:9-11 4. But when the time is ripe, the oppressed will be avenged! CONCLUSION 1. Therefore, when we are being oppressed... a. Don't resist b. Be patient c. Establish your hearts d. Don't grumble e. Don't swear f. PRAY! 2. When we react this way to oppression... a. We follow the example of Christ and the early disciples b. Who committed themselves to God who judges righteously 1) Christ - "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed [himself] to him that judgeth righteously:" (1Pe 2:23) 2) The disciples - "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls [to him] in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1Pe 4:19) 3. With such a righteous God on our side, it should be a lot easier to endure those who oppress us! Is the righteous God on your side? Or rather, are you on His side?
God's Mercy and Justice
|by||Caleb Colley, Ph.D.|
The inspired writers of the Bible recorded a remarkable amount of material about two characteristics of God: mercy and justice. These two qualities, at first glance, might seem contradictory. Can a gracious, merciful God punish people?
First, observe a portion of the biblical record of God’s mercy. Just after the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, Moses led them in a song of praise to God, which included this verse: “You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation” (Exodus 15:13, emp. added). It was not long after this that God gave the Israelites instructions to build the Ark of the Covenant, the lid of which was called the mercy seat. The mercy seat was made of pure gold, and was the place where God communicated with Moses (Exodus 25:22; 30:6). The Greek word used to name the mercy seat is hilasterion (Hebrews 9:5), a word that also is used to designate Jesus (Romans 3:25; McCord, 128:527). In a sense, Jesus is the “mercy seat” for Christians—His merciful sacrifice and eternal presence allow us to communicate with the Father (see 1 John 2:1; Hebrews 7:27), and through Christ we receive God’s mercy (Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:2; 1 Peter 1:3).
When revealing the Ten Commandments to Moses, God Himself proclaimed both His divine mercy and justice:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love me and keep My commandments (Exodus 20:4-7).
Just as God’s mercy continues to exist, the justice of God likewise is not limited to the long ago. God is still serious about people serving Him, and about the consequences for people who choose not to serve Him. It is fascinating and startling to study the numerous passages where God’s vengeance is under consideration. For example, Hebrews 10:30 records: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ ” In Romans 12:19, Paul wrote: “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Our perfect God cannot allow sin to go unpunished (see Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:9). God always has been just—He punished Adam, for example, because sin has consequences (Genesis 2:17). Norman L. Bales observed of God’s punishing Adam: “Had He not done so, our relationship with Him would be as unpredictable as the relationship the ancient pagan people imagined they had with their numerous deities” (1989, p. 33). We can depend on God’s system of ethics because God has never treated the righteous and the wicked in the same way (p. 34).
Many sincerely ask: “How could a merciful God allow souls to be eternally lost?” Some people conclude that mercy and justice must be mutually exclusive characteristics of God, and, consequently, God never could exercise justice or wrath on anyone, because His mercy prevails. Their picture of God is skewed, because they picture Him as akin to a benevolent, grandfather who constantly gives generous gifts, but is extremely hesitant to discipline. In God’s dealings with humans, both mercy and justice are present, with the two characteristics balancing each other.
If God is truly good (and He is), then He cannot tolerate or overlook evil. He did not overlook the sin of Adam (Genesis 3:17-19), Cain (Genesis 4:11-13), Saul (1 Samuel 15:26), or David (2 Samuel 12:8-10), and He certainly will not overlook sin in the modern world. However, God has mercifully provided a way for sinners to escape His wrath: He sacrificed His spotless, sinless Son. Christ was the only One Who was qualified to be a sacrifice for sin, and because He never sinned, His pure blood can wash away our sins (Revelation 1:5; Hebrews 13:20), allowing us to stand justified before God on the Day of Judgment (Titus 3:7; Hebrews 10:19). However, we must take the necessary steps to appropriate that blood to our souls (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12).
The justice and mercy of God have never contradicted each other. In fact, our perfect Creator balances the two qualities masterfully. If that were not true, the psalmist would not have been able to proclaim, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face” (Psalm 89:14, emp. added).
Bales, Norman L. (1989), How Do I Know I’m Saved?: A Study of God’s Grace (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate)
McCord, Hugo (1987), “The Mercy Seat,” Gospel Advocate, 128:527, September 3.
God's Just Destruction of the Canaanites
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
In the 1930s and 40s, the Nazi regime committed state-sponsored genocide of so-called “inferior races.” Of the approximately nine million Jews who lived in Europe at the beginning of the 1930s, some six million of them were exterminated. The Nazis murdered approximately one million Jewish children, two million Jewish women, and three million Jewish men. The Jews were starved, gassed, and experimented on like animals. In addition, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime slaughtered another three million Poles, Soviets, gypsies, and people with disabilities (see “Holocaust,” 2011 for more information). Most sane people, including Christians and many atheists (e.g., Antony Flew, Wallace Matson), have interpreted the Nazis’ actions for what they were—cruel, callous, and nefarious.
Some 3,400 years before the Holocaust, the God of the Bible commanded the Israelites to “destroy all the inhabitants of the land” of Canaan (Joshua 9:24). They were to conquer, kill, and cast out the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Exodus 23:23; Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Joshua 3:10). After crossing the Jordan River, we learn in the book of Joshua that the Israelites “utterly destroyed all that was in the city [of Jericho], both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword…. [T]hey burned the city and all that was in it with fire” (Joshua 6:21,24). They also “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (Joshua 8:26), killing 12,000 men and women, and hanging their king (8:25,29). In Makkedah and Libnah, the Israelites “let none remain” (Joshua 10:28,30). They struck Lachish “and all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword” (10:32). The Israelites then conquered Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, and Hazor (10:33-39; 11:1-1). “So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded” (Joshua 11:12).
God had the Israelites kill countless thousands, perhaps millions, of people throughout the land of Canaan. It was genocide in the sense that it was a planned, systematic, limited extermination of a number of nation states from a relatively small area in the Middle East (cf. “Genocide,” 2000; cf. also “Genocide,” 2012). But, it was not a war against a particular race (from the Greek genos) or ethnic group. Nor were the Israelites commanded to pursue and kill the Canaanite nations if they fled from Israel’s Promised Land. The Israelites were to drive out and dispossess the nations of their land (killing all who resisted the dispossession), but they were not instructed to annihilate a particular race or ethnic group from the face of the Earth.
Still, many find God’s commands to conquer and destroy the Canaanite nation states problematic. How could a loving God instruct one group of people to kill and conquer another group? America’s most well-known critic of Christianity in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Thomas Paine (one of only a handful of America’s Founding Fathers who did not claim to be a Christian), called the God of the Old Testament “the Mars of the Jews, the fighting God of Israel,” Who was “boisterous, contemptible, and vulgar” (Paine, 1807). Two centuries later, Richard Dawkins (arguably the most famous atheist in the world today), published his book The God Delusion, which soon became a New York Times bestseller. One of the most oft-quoted phrases from this work comes from page 31, where Dawkins called God, a “racist, infanticidal, genocidal…capriciously malevolent bully” (2006). According to one search engine, this quote (in part or in whole) is found on-line approximately one million times. The fact is, critics of the God of the Bible are fond of repeating the allegation that, because of His instruction to the Israelites to kill millions of people in their conquest of Canaan, the God of the Bible has (allegedly) shown Himself to be an unruly, shameful, offensive, genocidal, “evil monster” (Dawkins, p. 248; cf. Hitchens, 2007, p. 107).
WAS GOD’S CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANAAN IMMORAL?
How could a supremely good (Mark 10:18), all-loving (1 John 4:8), perfectly holy God (Leviticus 11:44-45) order the Israelites to slay with swords myriads of human beings, letting “none remain” in Canaan? Is not such a planned, systematic extermination of nations equivalent to the murderous actions of the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s, as atheists and other critics of Christianity would have us believe? In truth, God’s actions in Israel’s conquest of Canaan were in perfect harmony with His supremely loving, merciful, righteous, just, and holy nature.
Punishing Evildoers is Not Unloving
Similar to how merciful parents, principals, policemen, and judges can justly administer punishment to rule-breakers and evildoers, so too can the all-knowing, all-loving Creator of the Universe. Loving parents and principals have administered corporal punishment appropriately to children for years (cf. Proverbs 13:24). Merciful policemen, who are constantly saving the lives of the innocent, have the authority (both from God and the government—Romans 13:1-4) to kill a wicked person who is murdering others. Just judges have the authority to sentence a depraved child rapist to death. Loving-kindness and corporal or capital punishment are not antithetical. Prior to conquering Canaan, God commanded the Israelites, saying,
You shall not hate your brother in your heart…. You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…. And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself (Leviticus 19:17-18,33-34; cf. Romans 13:9).
The faithful Jew was expected, as are Christians, to “not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39) but rather “go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41) and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). “Love,” after all, “is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10; cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Interestingly, however, the Israelite was commanded to punish (even kill) lawbreakers. Just five chapters after commanding the individual Israelite to “not take vengeance,” but “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), God twice said that murderers would receive the death penalty (Leviticus 24:21,17).
The Wickedness of the Inhabitants of Canaan
The Canaanite nations were punished because of their extreme wickedness. God did not cast out the Canaanites for being a particular race or ethnic group. God did not send the Israelites into the land of Canaan to destroy a number of righteous nations. On the contrary, the Canaanite nations were horribly depraved. They practiced “abominable customs” (Leviticus 18:30) and did “detestable things” (Deuteronomy 18:9, NASB). They practiced idolatry, witchcraft, soothsaying, and sorcery. They attempted to cast spells upon people and call up the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).
Their “cultic practice was barbarous and thoroughly licentious” (Unger, 1954, p. 175). Their “deities…had no moral character whatever,” which “must have brought out the worst traits in their devotees and entailed many of the most demoralizing practices of the time,” including sensuous nudity, orgiastic nature-worship, snake worship, and even child sacrifice (Unger, 1954, p. 175; cf. Albright, 1940, p. 214). As Moses wrote, the inhabitants of Canaan would “burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:30). The Canaanite nations were anything but “innocent.” In truth, “[t]hese Canaanite cults were utterly immoral, decadent, and corrupt, dangerously contaminating and thoroughly justifying the divine command to destroy their devotees” (Unger, 1988). They were so nefarious that God said they defiled the land and the land could stomach them no longer—“the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25). [NOTE: Israel was an imperfect nation (as all nations are), but God still used them to punish the Canaanites. God warned Israel before ever entering Canaan, however, that if they forsook His law, they, too, would be severely punished (Deuteronomy 28:15ff). In fact, similar to how God used the Israelites to bring judgment upon the inhabitants of Canaan in the time of Joshua, He used the pagan nations of Babylon and Assyria to judge and conquer Israel hundreds of years later.]
The Longsuffering of God
Unlike the foolish, impulsive, quick-tempered reactions of many men (Proverbs 14:29), the Lord is “slow to anger and great in mercy” (Psalm 145:8). He is “longsuffering…, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Immediately following a reminder to the Christians in Rome that the Old Testament was “written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” the apostle Paul referred to God as “the God of patience” (Romans 15:4-5). Throughout the Old Testament, the Bible writers portrayed God as longsuffering.
Though in Noah’s day, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” and “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5), “the Divine longsuffering waited” (1 Peter 3:20). (It seems as though God delayed flooding the Earth for 120 years as His Spirit’s message of righteousness was preached to a wicked world—Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5.) In the days of Abraham, God ultimately decided to spare the iniquitous city of Sodom, not if 50 righteous people were found living therein, but only 10 righteous individuals.
And what about prior to God’s destruction of the Canaanite nations? Did God quickly decide to cast them out of the land? Did He respond to the peoples’ wickedness like an impulsive, reckless mad-man? Or was He, as the Bible repeatedly states and exemplifies, longsuffering? Indeed, God waited. He waited more than four centuries to bring judgment upon the inhabitants of Canaan. Although the Amorites were already a sinful people in Abraham’s day, God delayed in giving the descendants of the patriarch the Promised Land. He would wait until the Israelites had been in Egypt for hundreds of years, because at the time that God spoke with Abraham “the iniquity of the Amorites” was “not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). [NOTE: “The Amorites were so numerous and powerful a tribe in Canaan that they are sometimes named for the whole of the ancient inhabitants, as they are here” (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, 1997).] In Abraham’s day, the inhabitants of Canaan were not so degenerate that God would bring judgment upon them. However, by the time of Joshua (more than 400 years later), the Canaanites’ iniquity was full, and God used the army of Israel to destroy them.
Yes, God is longsuffering, but His longsuffering is not an “eternal” suffering. His patience with impenitent sinners eventually ends. It ended for a wicked world in the days of Noah. It ended for Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham. And it eventually ended for the inhabitants of Canaan, whom God justly destroyed.
What About the Innocent Children?
The children of Canaan were not guilty of their parents’ sins (cf. Ezekiel 18:20); they were sinless, innocent, precious human beings (cf. Matthew 18:3-5; see Butt, 2003). So how could God justly take the lives of children, any children, “who have no knowledge of good and evil” (Deuteronomy 1:39)? The fact is, as Dave Miller properly noted, “Including the children in the destruction of such populations actually spared them from a worse condition—that of being reared to be as wicked as their parents and thus face eternal punishment. All persons who die in childhood, according to the Bible, are ushered to Paradise and will ultimately reside in Heaven. Children who have parents who are evil must naturally suffer innocently while on Earth (e.g., Numbers 14:33)” (Miller, 2009). God, the Giver of life (Acts 17:25; Ecclesiastes 12:7), and only God has the right to take the life of His creation whenever He chooses (for the righteous purposes that He has). At times in history, God took the life of men out of righteous judgment. At other times (as in the case of children), it was taken for merciful reasons. [NOTE: For a superb, extensive discussion on the relationship between (1) the goodness of God, (2) the contradictory, hideousness of atheism, and (3) God bringing about the death of various infants throughout history, see Kyle Butt’s article “Is God Immoral for Killing Innocent Children?” (2009).]
Though the enemies of the God of the Bible are frequently heard criticizing Israel’s conquest of Canaan, the fact is, such a conquest was in complete harmony with God’s perfectly loving, holy, and righteous nature. After patiently waiting for hundreds of years, God eventually used the Israelites to bring judgment upon myriads of wicked Canaanites. Simultaneously, He spared their children a fate much worse than physical death—the horror of growing up in a reprehensible culture and becoming like their hedonistic parents—and immediately ushered them into a pain-free, marvelous place called Paradise (Luke 16:19-31; 23:43).
Albright, William F. (1940), From the Stone Age to Christianity (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins).
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Do Babies Go to Hell When They Die?” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=1201.
Butt, Kyle (2009), “Is God Immoral for Killing Innocent Children?” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/article/260.
Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin).
“Genocide” (2000), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.
“Genocide” (2012), Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/genocide.
Hitchens, Christopher (2007), God is Not Great (New York: Twelve).
“Holocaust” (2011), Encyclopedia.com, http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Holocaust.aspx#1.
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Miller, Dave (2009), “Did God Order the Killing of Babies?” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=2810.
Paine, Thomas (1807), “Essay on Dream,” http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/paine/dream.htm.
Unger, Merrill F. (1954), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Unger, Merrill F. (1988), “Canaan,” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
God's Fierce Anger
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
A great disservice has been committed against the present generation of Americans. An inaccurate picture of the character and nature of God has been created. But only God’s Word can provide us with a balanced, healthy comprehension of God’s personal attributes. Only the Bible can bestow upon us the appropriate interplay between the love and mercy of God, as well as the wrath and anger of God. Many people today have failed to assess properly the reality of God’s wrath. They have substituted emotion and human feelings for truth and the clear statements of God.
A general attitude of permissiveness, laxity, and undiscriminating tolerance has blanketed American society. Christians comfortably relax in the presence of impenitent sin and open defiance of the laws of God—using the refrain that, after all, “nobody’s perfect.” Christians demonstrate a willingness to toy with unscriptural innovation—after all, “God wants us to be happy and to express ourselves.” Church members entertain fellowship with denominationalism and false religion—after all, “it’s sincerity that counts,” not whether you conform to the objective, absolute will of God. Churches lose their sense of alarm and urgency in providing wayward church members and the unevangelized with the divine antidote to sin and their lost condition.
Out of this context, voices have arisen that focus almost exclusively upon the love of God. Emphasis is repeatedly placed upon God’s compassion, mercy, and grace—to the neglect of other attributes of God. While one never can emphasize God’s love enough, one can be guilty of misrepresenting the true nature of that love. One can so present the love of God that the equally biblical doctrine of God’s wrath makes no sense, and eventually fades into irrelevance.
THE LOVE OF GOD
Many Bible passages detail the amazing love of God. Consider the following from the New Testament:
“Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:30,32).“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11).“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16).“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” I John 3:16 says: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (Romans 8:32).“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).“[T]he kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared” (Titus 3:4).
Even in the Old Testament, God’s amazing love is expressed repeatedly:
“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin’ ” (Exodus 34:6-7).“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).“ ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’ ” (Isaiah 1:18).“I had great bitterness; but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back” (Isaiah 38:17).“I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me; for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22).“He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).
Of course, the Bible contains many more similar allusions. These few serve to summarize the basic nature of the incredible love of God. God loves every single human being. He wants every single person to obey Him so that He can usher every person into eternity in His presence. “God…is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
THE WRATH OF GOD
But, having noted the reality of the wonderful love of God for all people, the reader is urged to integrate and harmonize this attribute of God with what the Scriptures teach about God’s wrath. Numerous passages in both the Old and New Testaments depict God as a God Who executes His wrath against people. Notice the following from the Old Testament:
“For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Exodus 20:5).“[B]y no means clearing the guilty” (Exodus 34:7).“[Lest the anger of the Lord your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 6:15).“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17).“Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. And the Lord uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 29:27-28).“Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ ” (Deuteronomy 31:17).
Moving to the New Testament, notice the following verses:
“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5).“[S]ince it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
God struck dead two Christians, a husband and wife, in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 5:1-11). The writer of Hebrews provided this sober warning:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who rejected Moses’ law died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God under foot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).
He then added: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Given today’s religious climate, many people do not believe that such verses exist in the Bible. Or they ignore them or insist that they do not apply today. What a tragic mistake! The Bible is replete with such references to the wrath and justice of God, and it is imperative that we accept them and respond accordingly.
Consider the example of the great Judean king, Hezekiah. He endeavored to bring the nation back into harmony with God’s written revelation. Why? “...that His fierce wrath may turn away from us.” That expression is used three times in the context (2 Chronicles 29:10; 30:8; 32:26). King Josiah found himself in a similar circumstance. When he realized the extent to which the nation had departed from God’s will, he tore his robes and declared: “[G]reat is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:21).
People in our day go merrily on their way, out of harmony with God’s written Word, consoling themselves with a false view of God’s love. They are like Jeremiah’s contemporaries, who tried to heal the hurt of the people “slightly.” “Slightly” meant they did not consider their neglect of God’s will to be all that serious. They said, “Peace, Peace” when there was no peace as long as they were out of harmony with the Scriptures (Jeremiah 6:14).
The time has come to approach the situation the way the prophets of God did. Read the Old Testament books written by the prophets—like Amos, Joel, and Habakkuk. As they did, we need to warn people today about the reality of God’s wrath and its inevitable occurrence. One day, all people will know what God’s wrath is. Listen again to the words of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9: “[T]he Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God, and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.”
It is absolutely imperative that we live our lives everyday with a correct understanding of both the loveof God and the wrath of God. The same God Who speaks of the availability of an eternal home of bliss called heaven is the same God Who will provide an eternal place of conscious pain called hell. Consider closely Paul’s summary given to Christians in Rome, warning them of the danger of losing their salvation: “Therefore, consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off ” (Romans 11:22).
Did you know that God cannot save everybody? “But I thought God can do anything?” Not true! The Bible certainly represents God as omnipotent—all-powerful (Romans 1:20; Ephesians 1:19). But we misunderstand the power of God if we think He somehow is going to gloss over people’s rejection of His words and save everyone. God simply cannot do that and still be God! God is powerless to save people who do not want to be saved. He cannot save people who refuse to take advantage of the antidote to sin that He has provided. He is incapable of saving those who reject the one and only means by which they can be forgiven of sin.
God made provision for human sin by sending His Son to die in place of us. Only the sacrifice of Christ had the atoning power to pay for our sin. But the very nature of the Universe is such that God gave us free moral agency. He cannot interfere with our own wills and coerce us to be saved. Wemust make the choice. We are responsible for all of our choices. If we wish to take advantage of the free gift of salvation available in Christ, we must freely choose to believe, to repent of our sins, to confess Jesus to be divine, and to be immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins. Passage after passage in the New Testament indicates that this is the divine plan of salvation for human beings. Hear the Gospel message of salvation and choose to believe (Romans 10:17). Change your mind about your past sinful conduct (Acts 17:30). Confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 10:9-10). Then allow someone to baptize you, that is, immerse you in water with the understanding that in that action, the blood of Jesus will wash away your sins by the grace of God (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).
If you deliberately reject these simple instructions on how to become a Christian, then you will have no one else to blame in eternity when you experience the wrath and punishment of God. When one becomes a Christian, then a new life commences. Now that person will pour over the Scriptures in order to learn how to live the Christian life. He or she will find out how God wants to be worshipped. “You mean, I can’t just worship God spontaneously out of my own inclinations?” Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
A person also will determine which church Christ endorses, and refrain from associating with churches spawned by mere men. “You mean one church is not as good as another?” That’s correct. Jesus did not build a multiplicity of churches. He built only one (Ephesians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 12:20). He declared: “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).
A fitting summary regarding the nature of God and how all people must make preparation now for eternity is found in 2 Corinthians 5:10-11: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”