New page: Satan’s Power of Suggestion

When it comes to spiritual warfare, I think it’s very important to know your enemy and the weapons he uses. Some years ago I wrote of three ways that Satan tries to get at us: Deception, Distraction, and Discouragement. Satan lies to us, he tries to get our eyes on worldly things, and he gets us to lose hope.

Since then I’ve become aware of other weapons he uses, one of the most subtle and powerful of which is his power of suggestion. Satan doesn’t force us to disobey God, and he doesn’t always directly suggest we sin, but he does plant ideas in our heads to indirectly lead us to sin. We fall for his suggestions all the time. I see it everywhere: in the media and wherever I go. You see it as well, but you might not recognize it for what it is. So to help increase your awareness of this subtle attack strategy, I wrote Satan’s Power of Suggestion. This is based on a message I gave at my church back in May. Give it a read, and protect yourself. Be aware of your enemy’s attack vectors!

Heavenly Regrets

…And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

– Revelation 7:17 (VW)

By the end of the movie Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler had saved many Jews from the Nazis. He had risked his life and spent most of what he had to save the lives of 1100 Jews. But when he received a gold ring from those he saved in appreciation of his efforts, he realized to his sorrow he had it in his power to save a few more. He could have spent his money more wisely, he could have sold his car, he could have sold his Nazi lapel to save more Jews. In a time of great joy, he was sorrowful.

I see this as a picture of what may happen when we Christians get to heaven. It is only then that we will realize we could have done more to fulfill our mission: to spend ourselves and risk our lives to tell the world about the Lord Jesus Christ. But this may not be the only reason for tearful regrets. Maybe we’ll realize we didn’t love Jesus as much as we should have. Maybe we didn’t trust Him enough, didn’t obey Him enough, or weren’t as submitted to the Holy Spirit as we should have been. Maybe we’ll think about how we lived for ourselves, or how we mistreated our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I think these heavenly regrets could be one of the reason for the tears God will wipe away from our eyes. But whatever regrets we may have, we can be sure God will wipe them all away. We will not spend eternity obsessing over our failings. Instead, we will be praising God for His everlasting grace.

In the meantime, we haven’t yet arrived at our eternal home. Let’s live the rest of our lives so that we won’t have any regrets.

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.

– 1 Corinthians 9:24

Fifty-Five Questions

book coverYears ago, when I was building my apologetics library, I bought a short book by Bill Cetnar called “Questions for Jehovah Witnesses.” It contains photocopies of pages from various Watchtower publications, with questions for the Jehovah Witness to answer. If you’ve ever had visits from these people, you know you can’t teach them anything from the Bible. They just won’t listen. They’ll only accept what their organization teaches. But they do like to answer questions. For this reason, the approach used in this book works very well.

Atheists are also like Jehovah Witnesses: you can’t teach them anything from the Bible. But many atheists are willing to research evidence, so I put together a short book that uses a similar approach to reach the atheist, agnostic, and skeptic. It’s called “Fifty-Five Questions for Skeptics,” and it contains simple, straight-forward questions for the reader to research and answer. I want the reader to investigate the evidence for the existence of God and the inspiration of the Bible so he can come to faith on his own.

The questions in this book center around the modern-day restoration of Israel, and how it fulfills the prophecies written thousands of years earlier, with a special focus on determining the mathematical probabilities of the various parts of the prophecies. There are a lot of questions, some of which require research to answer, but they’re all necessary to show how strong the evidence is for the supernatural restoration of national Israel.

When speaking of fulfilled prophecy in the Bible, the skeptic digs in his heals and refuses to believe. He has a small cache of responses at his disposal to deflect any effort to change his mind such as “The prophecies were written after the events happened,” and “The prophecies can mean whatever you want them to mean.” None of these objects will work in this book. The questions deal with things that are common knowledge or the reader can prove outright. After working through to the end of the book, I let the reader come to his own conclusions, whatever that may be. I feel no need to pressure the reader to come to a decision because I believe the facts will speak for themselves. People learn much better when they see the truth for themselves rather than hear it from someone else. I believe anyone who goes through this book and earnestly tries to answer the questions will come to the conclusion that God exists and the Bible is His inspired word. From there, I encourage the reader to continue studying the Bible, and especially the claims of Jesus Christ.

Barring some possible minor tweaks here or there, the book is complete. Click here to download a copy and let me know what you think.

“If God is everywhere…”

“If God is everywhere, how can anything else exist outside of Him? For example, how can God and Satan occupy the same space?”

God is everywhere, but that is not the same thing as saying He is everything. God is not a physical being. He is not part of this universe. God is spirit. Physical laws only apply to what is physical. If God chooses to reveal Himself in a physical body (as He did with Jesus – John 1:1,14, Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:20-23, 1 Timothy 3:16), that body can only be in one place at a time. When Jesus was physically present in Jerusalem, He couldn’t physically be in Galilee at the same time. But His physical manifestion does not replace His spiritual nature. His Spirit is still present everywhere.

However, even in the physical world, some things can occupy the same place at the same time. Right now you have many different, independent radio signals occupying the same space as your body. They are not a part of you and you can’t detect them with your five senses. But if you have a radio inside you, you can tune them in one at a time and listen. They exist inside you whether you have a radio or not. God and Satan can co-exist like one radio signal can occupy the same space as another radio signal. This is only an analogy. God isn’t electromagnetic wave, for that is still part of the physical universe. But there is a better analogy…

The universe is God’s creation. He is not naturally part of it. I look at it like a book author existing outside the contents of his book. In one sense, a human author is all-powerful and all-present to the world of his story. He is in complete control of it. He wrote the whole thing and knows it from start to finish. Nothing can happen in his story outside of his own knowledge and will. The story has a timeline, but the author is not part of that timeline. From the beginning to the end, the author sees the story as a timeless present. In a sense, he is present in the story because he can change anything he desires anywhere in the story… and none of his story characters can stop him. If he places a character in what appears to be a hopeless crisis, the author can write a way out of the crisis, even a miraculous way. (This is a key feature in most good books and movies. The writer develops one or more difficult or hopeless situations, and also writes a solution to each crisis. This brings praise to the writer.)

God is in a sense the author of the story of the universe, but He has gone above and beyond what human authors have done. He has inserted Himself into His own story, and has given His human characters the ability to interact with Him and free-will in choosing to accept or reject Him. He has even let us know many things in advance before they happen, such as the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, or how we’re destroying ourselves in the last days. He has also told us the final outcome of the story. Detailed knowledge of all these things would be impossible if God did not exist.

Seeking Blessings

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ…

– Ephesians 1:3 (VW)

Everyone who is truly born-again is blessed. It matters not what your earthly situation is, you already are blessed with every possible spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. These heavenly blessings far exceed anything we could imagine now, and once we get to heaven, it will take all of eternity to comprehend them.

But what about now? Are there earthly blessings awaiting us that we have not yet received? Well, yes, there are. But they’re probably not the kind that first comes to mind. Here’s what Jesus said about those who are blessed. How do you fit in?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are they who have been persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are you when they shall revile and persecute you, and shall say every evil word against you falsely because of Me. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven, for in this manner they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

– Matthew 5:2-11

Too many Christians want to be blessed with earthly benefits like good health, a decent income, and general happiness. Even though it may not seem like it, these are limited and shallow things compared to the blessings of being poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, or being persecuted as a follower of Jesus Christ. The blessing comes from the fact that God is closer to these kinds of people, which is better by far than any temporal benefits.

Do you fall into any of these categories? If you do, have you seen yourself as blessed and sincerely thanked God for it? If you don’t, do you think you could ask God to be blessed in these ways, knowing that even though Jesus would call you blessed, you wouldn’t see the full benefit until eternity?

Jesus also spoke about other blessed kinds of people:

  • Blessed are those who help the needy, strangers, and prisoners (Matthew 25:34-40).
  • Blessed are those who show hospitality to the poor and those with physical problems (Luke 14:13-14).
  • Blessed are those who hear the word of God and do it (Luke 11:28).
  • Blessed are those to whom Christ is supernaturally revealed by the Father (Matthew 16:17).
  • Blessed are those who see Christ at work, and by it, prophecy fulfilled (Luke 10:23).
  • Blessed are those who do what Jesus said (John 13:17).
  • Blessed are those who do not stumble because of Christ (Matthew 11:6).
  • Blessed are those who look for Christ’s return (Luke 12:37-38).
  • Blessed are those who are found feeding the church of Christ when He comes (Matthew 24:45-46).
  • And blessed are those who believe in Jesus without having seen Him (John 20:29).

How do you stack up? Would Jesus call you blessed?

Evil, Suffering, And God

The Messina earthquake and tsunami took as many as 200,000 lives on December 28, 1908 in Sicily and Calabria.We Christians believe that God is all powerful, all knowing, all present, all good, and worthy of our trust. At the same time, we also believe there’s an abundance of evil in the world.

Now God could eliminate evil and suffering immediately, …but He doesn’t. The fact that He doesn’t seems to create problems in many people’s minds. Some see it as a logical inconsistancy: that it is impossible for an all powerful, all knowing, good God to allow evil to exist. Rather than earnestly searching the Bible for the answer, they take the easy way out by concluding God isn’t all powerful, all knowing, all good, or He doesn’t exist.

But God does exist, and there is much evidence for this fact 1. Evil also exists, for which we also have much evidence. So how do we reconcile the fact that both God and evil exist at the same time? Why would a good God allow evil and suffering?

Before I answer the question, it is important to recognize that there are two different kinds of evil: moral evil that has to do with doing things that are wrong, like theft, rape, murder, etc., and amoral evil that is the bad things that happen as a consequence of sin or living in a fallen world. You can loosely equate amoral evil with suffering. God doesn’t do moral evil, but sometimes He does do amoral evil…

Who is he who says, and it comes to pass, when the Lord doesn’t command it? Doesn’t evil and good come out of the mouth of the Most High? Why does a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?

– Lamentations 3:38 (WEB)

I form the light, and create darkness. I make peace, and create calamity. I am Yahweh, who does all these things.

– Isaiah 45:7

Does evil happen to a city, and Yahweh hasn’t done it?

– Amos 3:6

We see here that God does do evil, but it is not the moral kind of evil. Humans are the ones who do moral evil. God just responds to our moral evil with amoral evil, which leads to suffering. But He never does amoral evil capriciously – there is always a good reason, whether we can see that reason or not. The most important question we must try to answer when we see God do or allow evil is “Why?” What are some of the reasons God does or allows evil?

First, the evil that happens to us is ultimately a consequence of our sin. The evil and suffering we see on the news and experience in life is the accumulating consequences of the sin of every individual who lives or has ever lived. Think of the world like a big swimming pool, and God’s Laws like the rules posted at the pool. God posted those rules so that swimming in the pool would be safe, enjoyable, and beneficial for everyone. If one of the rules is “Don’t pee in the pool”, but everyone pees in the pool and continues to do so, it’s not God’s fault when the pool becomes unpleasant, and then foul and unhealthy. Every individual experiences the accumulating result, not just of his own peeing in the pool (which seems so insignificant), but of everyone else peeing in it. Likewise, everyone in the world suffers the result not only of their own sins, but that of others. Multiply the wrong that man does by billions of humans over time, each disobeying God many times in life, and the consequences are also multiplied. This is why the world is the way it is today, and why it’s getting worse. God doesn’t want people to suffer – that’s why He posted the rules. But we bring suffering on ourselves when we don’t do things His way: we don’t love others above ourselves, we don’t care for the needy, we don’t respect authority, etc.

Now God could miraculously keep the pool clean no matter how many people pee in the pool, but God is not an enabler. He does not shield us from the consequences of our actions. Since we choose our own way, we must take the consequences of our choices and learn from them. By suffering the results of our sins and those of others, hopefully we get some clarity to see that God’s way is better than our way – that not peeing in the pool is better than peeing in it.

Second, God does or allows amoral evil to limit the consequences of our sin. At the Fall, God cursed His creation. He did this, not because He was angry and wanted to vent, but to slow down the spread of sin. It’s like we were piloting a ship and, due to some fault of our own, we rammed into an iceberg. At that point, the ship was doomed to sink. But God closed the bulkheads so that it would sink slower, to give people more time to be rescued. Those bulkheads limited the passenger’s movement through the ship, but they also gave the passengers more time to be rescued. In the same way, God slows down the spread of sin by limiting man in various ways. He shortened man’s lifespan. He confused man’s languages at the tower of Babel. He sometimes destroyed those who rebelled against Him. 2 These are necessary evils to slow down the spread of sin and its consequences – things which would not have had to happen if we didn’t go our own way.

Third, sometimes God causes suffering as earthly punishment for our sin – not as the ultimate form of eternal justice, but in hope that we will repent. In the book of Judges, Israel wandered away from God many times, and each time, God allowed them to suffer when their enemies overcame them, and each time they turned back to God. Later, when Israel rebelled against God, He strengthened other nations such as Assyria and Babylon to bring them into captivity. While they were in their captivity, they repented (as seen in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel). In the last days (which I believe we’re in), man will have become so hardened to God that He will bring harsh judgments that have never been seen before (described in Revelation 6 and following). Yet man will not repent but continue to curse God:

The fourth poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was given to him to scorch men with fire. People were scorched with great heat, and people blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues. They didn’t repent and give him glory. The fifth poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was darkened. They gnawed their tongues because of the pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores. They didn’t repent of their works.

– Revelation 16:8-11

The goal of this kind of suffering on earth is not to destroy man but to give him more reasons to repent so he won’t be destroyed in hell (the ultimate form of justice). God does not want man to go to hell (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 1:15). Hell was created for the devil and his angels. But if man stubbornly refuses to repent, destruction is the only other option, for God will not allow man to do to heaven what he’s been doing to earth.

Fourth, God allows evil to discipline us and prove or test us in this life that we are fit for the next. It’s kinda like going through basic training, only a lot more difficult. When I joined the Air Force, I first went to basic training to prepare me for my life in military service. Basic was hard for a reason. It not only prepared me for service, it proved I was fit for service. Some recruits washed out because they were not fit physically or mentally. But for those of us who made it past boot camp, we found life in the service afterward was nothing like boot camp. It was much better. I didn’t have to crawl through mud, survive on k-rations, or be shouted at for my remaining years of service. While I was in basic training, I took the hardness like it was supposed to be: a temporary inconvenience. I treat the unfair difficulties of life today the same way. They are temporary, and one day in eternity I will see the good that will come as a result of patient endurance (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

I think people get into trouble when they think life here on earth is supposed to be comfortable and happy. That’s like thinking basic training is supposed to be comfortable and happy. Life is a preparation and test for eternity. Yes, we experience happiness at times, but that’s not what life here is about. It’s about continuing to trust God under difficult and even unfair conditions. This is faith: fully trusting in God, even when it sometimes appears He is not worthy of trust.

Take for example Job who was God’s pride-and-joy as it were. God allowed Satan to do a lot of extremely painful and unfair things to Job and his household. Even though Satan caused Job’s suffering, God was also implicated by letting down the ‘hedge’ so Satan could attack Job. Job recognized God had a part in his suffering and he complained bitterly about it. He even despaired of life. And yet he still trusted in God. In a moment of lucidity, he recognized that this was a test and that he would come out like gold (Job 23:10). Job continued to trust in God (Job 13:15), even though he couldn’t see God as good at the time. By the end of the book, Job passed the test (Job 42:7), and God restored double to him. This is what tests of faith are all about. They always focus on our belief in God’s character: In spite of appearances, do I believe God is really good? is He really all powerful? does He really care? etc.

I’ve read and studied the book of Job and wondered, after all was over, how Job felt about God who allowed him to suffer and his children and servants to die. How can anything make up for that? But I’ve read quite a few autobiographies of men and women who have suffered in Job-like epic ways. Those who passed the test came out grateful, not just for surviving, but for going through the suffering itself, for in their suffering they came to know the goodness of God. Here are a few examples:

Christiana Tsai (1890-1984) contracted a form of malaria that left her in pain with an extreme sensitivity to light for the rest of her life (over 50 years). She spent much of that bedridden in darkened rooms. She wrote, “For a time, each step of progress was followed by a relapse. I’d get better, then the symptoms would return, and down I’d go again. But all through the darkness, the light of God’s love never failed me. I could never tell of His great goodness to me, even if I had a thousand tongues, nor could I ever write of all His care and provision, even if, as the Chinese say, ‘the pen I hold could bloom,’…”

Helen Roseveare (1925-2016), a missionary to the Congo, was taken prisoner by rebels, beaten and raped. She said, “In the weeks of imprisonment that followed and in the subsequent years of continued service, I have looked back and tried ‘to count the cost,’ but I find it all swallowed up in privilege. The cost suddenly seems very small and transient in the greatness and permanence of the privilege.”

Darlene Deibler Rose (1917-2004) was a POW in a Japanese prison camp. She lost her husband, all of her possessions, and suffered hunger, disease, beatings, and more. At one point, she thought God had left her. But afterwards, she said, “I understand something of the cost, beloved. I don’t even think about that anymore. I’d go anywhere for Him. I’ll tell you why, tonight. Because the compensations are so tremendous! I wouldn’t trade places with any of you tonight! Those were not terrible years, they were the sweetest years that God ever gave me. Because then He taught me that He would never leave me nor forsake me.”

Perhaps another illustration will help. I like watching the show “How It’s Made”. In some factories, after a product is made it goes through a bunch of harsh tests before it goes to the consumer. The purpose of the tests are not to destroy the product but to prove the product is ready for the real world outside of the factory. From the product’s point of view, it may appear that the factory is trying to destroy the product when it gets subjected to various stress tests, but that is not the case. In a similar way, life on earth is like being in a factory where we are being made and stress-tested to see if we are ready for eternity. These tests are not focused so much on doctrinal understanding, obedience to the Law, or on how well we hold up physically or mentally under suffering, but on our faith in God: Will we continue to trust in God in the most difficult of circumstances or not? These tests have to be very difficult at times to prove whether our faith is real or not. But when we continue to trust God, we sense His presence and see His goodness, as many have discovered by experience. By itself, suffering will not bring about our good. It is persevering faith in God in the midst of suffering that results in the good.

You see this testing theme throughout scripture. God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden to test Adam and Eve’s belief in what God told them (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:1). God allowed Satan to test Job (Job 1:12, 2:6). God fed the Israelites manna and gave them rules about how to collect it to test their obedience (Exodus 16:4). God led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years to test them (Deuteronomy 8:2). God left some of the surrounding nations in the Promised Land to test Israel’s obedience (Judges 3:4). God allows injustice to continue for a time to test the hearts of man (Ecclesiastes 3:16-18). God allowed Jesus to be tested by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1). Jesus allowed Satan to test Peter (Luke 22:31-32). God allows believers to be tested through suffering to prove our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). Hebrews 11 is about the faith of many biblical characters, some of which suffered agonizing deaths, yet they trusted God to the end because they were looking forward to the eternal benefits:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and embraced them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

– Hebrews 11:13

In the next chapter, all believers are invited to join with them in enduring suffering through faith (also Acts 14:22, Philippians 1:28-30). Difficult tests are the only way to prove faith.

Fifth, God sometimes allows evil because He will bring great good out of it in the end. One example was how Joseph’s brothers mistreated him, wanting to kill him, yet selling him into slavery. Joseph suffered unjustly for a time as a result. Yet he recognized in the end that God meant it all for good (Genesis 50:20) – even in the details of their earlier animosity towards him. This is a picture of what happened later when God allowed the Jews to kill Jesus so that both Jew and Gentile could be saved (Acts 2:22-23). God took the evil that Satan had instigated and turned it into the best thing that could happen to Jews and Gentiles. God works in this way not only to bring good to us but glory to Himself. He takes the most impossible situations and turns them around into good for those who love and trust Him.

A more modern example of this is in the autobiography of Captain James Riley. He suffered shipwreck with his crew on the coast of Africa in 1815. They nearly starved to death and became naked, abused slaves in the hot Sahara desert. His suffering was in many ways worse than that of Job. Yet after he was rescued, he recalled the many ways God showed His goodness to them during their sufferings, including some literal miracles. His biography became one of Abraham Lincoln’s three most influential books (the others being the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress), and was probably the primary work that led to the freeing of the slaves in the United States. God took one man’s suffering and brought good to millions out of it.

Sometimes God allows suffering for a combination of these reasons, but He never causes or allows suffering on earth on a whim or because He’s having a particularly bad day. God allows suffering in my life for my ultimate good, whether I can see that good at the time or not. That doesn’t mean I have to like it or that I look forward to it, but I do look forward to the benefits that will come.

So, if God causes or allows suffering, what is the difference between God and Satan? There is a big difference. Nature-wise, God is the creator of all, and infinite in all His attributes. The devil and everything else that God created are finite and totally dependant on God for continued existence. Character-wise, God and the devil are also not the same. God desires His creation to work together as designed for the good of His creation and for His glory. Satan desires to destroy whatever God does, or blame God for things, so that God does not get the glory. It is not God’s intent to cause man to suffer (Ezekiel 18:31-32, Lamentations 3:33), but sometimes God uses suffering as a means to an end, and other times man leaves God with no other option than to cause suffering.

Suffering is the norm for life here on earth. Jesus told us ahead of time that there is going to be suffering, especially for those who follow Him:

Jesus said, “Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for my sake, and for the sake of the Good News, but he will receive one hundred times more now in this time, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land, with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life.”

– Mark 10:29-30

“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his lord.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will keep yours also.”

– John 15:20

In the parable of the sower, it is assumed that difficult times will come that will cause many to fall away from God (Matthew 13:21). Paul even said that those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). But this suffering does not mean God has forsaken us. Instead, it means we are God’s sons and He is training us (Hebrews 12:3-11). So we are to trust God anyway by enduring through trials and persecution (1 Corinthians 4:12). We’re even supposed to rejoice in it, not for the suffering itself, but for the benefits that come later (Matthew 5:12, 1 Peter 4:13).

A strong faith that can survive no matter what circumstances may throw at it can only come about by a close, personal, living relationship with God. Nobody is going to trust God in difficulties merely by having a good understanding of Bible doctrine or following church dogma or practice. That is dead knowledge. It takes exercising weak faith through trust and obedience, taking God at His word, to grow in faith. It takes knowing God and seeing Him at work in your life for faith to grow strong enough to stand up to whatever life throws at it. (This is why Job continued to trust God after God appeared to act like the devil.) As that happens, God rewards faith by doing amazing things for us – even public things that those around us can see. As we see Him work when we trust and obey, our faith grows more. True faith is not blind. It trusts God because it sees God work for good.

Notes:

  1. See my Personal Apologetic.
  2. Biblically, the Canaanites were probably the biggest example of this. God did not command Israel to destroy all of the people of the land, but only the Canaanites because of their wickedness. The Canaanites had always been wicked in general, but for a time there were a few good people among them, most notably Melchizedek, the king of Salem. But by the time Israel entered the Promised Land, they had become completely wicked, with no hope of repentance. Their wickedness was then ‘complete’ (as in Genesis 15:16), and it was time to end the line of Canaan.

Profitable Servants

And the apostles said to the Lord, Give us more faith. So the Lord said, If you have faith as a mustard seed, you might say to this sycamine tree, Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea, and it would obey you. But which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, Come, sit down to eat? But will he not rather say to him, Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.

– Luke 17:5-10 (VW)

Does this passage appear confusing to you? What do unprofitable servants have to do with the apostle’s request for more faith? The one seems totally unrelated to the other. But there is a connection, and the answer begins with finding the common theme in what Jesus said.

After the disciples asked for more faith, Jesus spoke about faith. But He didn’t tell them how to obtain what they wanted. He only described what true faith would allow them to do. If they had the tiniest amount of that kind of faith, they would be able to command a tree to pluck itself up by the roots and plant itself in the sea. I would think my faith very strong if I had a faith like that. But Jesus said that is the smallest kind of faith.

Then Jesus appeared to change the subject without answering their question. He spoke about the working relationship between a slave and his master, which relationship the disciples were familiar with. A slave puts his master’s interests before his own. Only after the master’s needs are satisfied are the slave’s needs satisfied. This is a slave’s duty, and he is never commended for doing his duty. Such a slave only does what is expected of him.

What is the common theme? It doesn’t take much thought to see that the theme is obedience. The tree obeys the apostle, and the slave obeys his master. Obedience is what ties the two illustrations together. But it is not just any kind of obedience: it is heartless obedience. If you have enough faith to command a tree to plant itself in the sea and it obeyed you, you wouldn’t thank the tree for doing so. It merely did what you commanded it. Likewise, the unprofitable slave who does only what he is commanded to do has no reason to expect thanks from his master because his heart is not in it. If he were given an employee evaluation, it would be mediocre at best. But what do these illustrations have to do with acquiring faith? Much.

For one thing, although it’s easy to read it that way, Jesus is not telling us to give up hope of ever being anything more than unprofitable slaves 1. He is not trying to discourage us. On the contrary, He wants us to be profitable slaves, but that doesn’t come about the way most of us think

We Christians tend to serve Jesus Christ out of a sense of duty. To be sure, there are some things He requires of us, such as continuing to forgive those who sin against us (Luke 17:3-4). But in serving our Lord, we shouldn’t seek to do the minimum required of us. If we love Him and trust Him, our love and trust will lead us to go beyond this.

After he was saved, Paul’s life revolved around sharing the gospel with everyone. Jesus had saved him for this very purpose; it was his duty. But Paul didn’t just do his duty…

…Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so with me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my exulting void. For if I preach the gospel, there is no glory to me, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might gain the more;

– 1 Corinthians 9:13-19

Paul’s mission was sharing the gospel with the gentiles. But his reward would not come merely from doing this, for that was his calling, his duty. He had no expectation of thanks for doing his duty (compare verse 16 with Luke 17:9). Instead, Paul expected a reward because he went beyond his duty by not taking advantage of his right to live off the gospel. Paul had this right, but he didn’t use it so that his mission would be more effective. To support himself, he also made tents 2. This is where faith came in, because even though Jesus commanded evangelists to live off the gospel, he expected Jesus to reward him for presenting the gospel freely.

Other believers have also gone above and beyond the call of duty. Some Christians in the early church sold themselves into slavery to reach lost slaves for Jesus. It happened again among the 18th century Moravians. On August 21, 1732, Johann Leonhard Dober and David Nitschmann sailed from Copenhagen to the Dutch West Indies to sell themselves into a lifetime of slavery to reach the lost African slaves for Jesus. Others followed, many of which died of tropical illnesses. These people served Christ in faith, and many came to salvation because they went beyond the call of duty.

If you want more faith, even as small as a grain of mustard seed, don’t just do your duty: give all of yourself.

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. …

– 1 Corinthians 9:24

Notes:

  1. We are slaves of Christ. The leaders of the early church called themselves slaves of Christ (Philippians 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1:1, Revelation 1:1). Most of our Bibles translate the word as ‘servant’, but the word means a slave or bondservant, someone who is fully devoted to serving his master. But their obedience was not a slave’s heartless obedience. They didn’t just do their duty. They gave their all, even their lives.
  2. Acts 18:3

The Key To Understanding Job

And so it was, after Jehovah had spoken these words to Job, that Jehovah said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath has been kindled against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.

Job 42:7

This is the key verse to understanding the book of Job. It is not a book about Job or about suffering but about the character and nature of God. God’s statement to Eliphaz, “…you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has,” should stir up serious and confusing questions in your mind, for on the surface it appears Job’s friends spoke right about God and Job didn’t. But God said the exact opposite was true. Why? What did Job’s friends say that was wrong and Job say that was right about God? I’ve studied this and have a plethora of notes that I hope someday to organize and post. (The first two parts have already been posted.)

Take time to study this for yourself and see how far down the rabbit hole you go.