Why is it so difficult to obey God? Do we think we know more than Him in our haughty pride, or could it be possibly our lack of trust in Him? Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 9:3, “That the hearts of men are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts…” And this is so true…wickedness resides within, leading us astray… and refusal to obey God is then easy to do. But not trusting God in obedience is just as serious. Our faith is very fickle, depending on the situation or circumstance and whether we’re going to trust ourselves or God. But remember, obeying God grows and strengthens our faith, not hinders it.
This verse comes from the Old Testament, but could very easily apply to the world we live in today. That’s because there seems to be no end to mankind’s violence and upheaval…both here and abroad. So what can we glean from this verse to help us? First off, God is the ultimate Law-giver, Who examines the essential character of each person…searching our inner most being and nature for goodness or evil. And not just that but, “He searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.” (I Chronicles 28:9) In other words, nothing gets past God and as the ultimate Law-giver it’s His responsibility to avenge the wicked, not ours. He reiterates this in Revelations 2:23 when He tells us, “I am He Who searches hearts and minds and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” We must remember that God is a just God…full of mercy and grace, desiring none to be lost…but at the same time promising a day of judgment for all.
The Book of Philemon was a private and personal letter Paul wrote to his close friend to give him a proper understanding of the Hebrew fugitive law found in Deuteronomy. Philemon was a wealthy member of the Christian community and leader of the Colossian Church. His slave, Onesimus, ran away and sought refuge with Paul, who took him in. Rather than betraying Onesimus’s trust, Paul shared the Gospel Message with him…eventually leading him to a saving faith in Christ. It was then that Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon…stating that he was now a brother in the Lord and should be welcomed back as such. In verse 17 Paul wrote, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.” In other words, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) Paul was telling Philemon, who he had personally led to the Lord years before, and who was now leading the Church in Colossae, to practice what he was preaching.
Elsewhere in Ecclesiastes we read, “Wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.” Good sense and sound judgment will always win out over foolish undertakings and stupid behaviors. But when you couple folly and a crowd, you get what they call Mob Mentality, or Herd, Pack, or Gang Mentality. It’s when otherwise responsible people are influenced by the crowd they’re part of…adopting behaviors on a largely emotional rather than rational basis…with increasing excitement, anger, or hostility, heightened by the group itself. Decisions are made by a few, while the rest just follow…which then has the propensity for the crowd to shed their inhibitions of societal and moral standards as they take less and less responsibility for their own actions. Soon everyone is caught up in the fray of unsafe, senseless behavior. Need an example? We only have to look at the trial of Jesus before Pilate. A few people – the chief priest and elders – persuaded the crowd – a crowd that had followed Jesus for three years and had witnessed miracles, healings, and heard Him teach – to condemn Him to death. It was out of that Mob Mentality and just a few evil men that the words, “Crucify Him!” grew louder and louder.
This Scripture is quoting Psalm 116:10 which can also be translated, “I believed even when I was greatly afflicted.” As long as life is good and we’re sailing along our journey without incident I can dare say that our faith level is pretty high…but it’s when life gets hard and troubles come our way that our trust in God is put into question. To believe in the midst of personal adversity takes courage, perseverance, and others standing in the gap for us. That’s when the Body of Believers, of whom share the same Christian faith and Holy Spirit, need to come together to pray, undergird, and encourage our brother or sister. For there’s no more powerful of a prayer that states, “I believe…”
“Fix your thoughts on Jesus.” Over the past year and a half I’ve had friends and family suffer great adversity and loss due to the Pandemic…and it’s been during those times of anguish and distress that fixing our thoughts on Jesus has became real. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “God, Who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” Probably one of the best examples of this is Job, who the devil was convinced would curse God when afflicted…but he didn’t…instead, Job focused on God, and not the chaos around him. Yes, it will be difficult, you may falter a thousand times, and the pain may be overwhelming…but God is there to encourage you every minute of the journey. Or as Paul exhorted the young Timothy who had found himself under duress, “Fight the good fight of faith. And take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” (I Timothy 6:12) Just remember, the difference between whether you can withstand hardship or not is based on the foundational truths within you…for they are the bedrock of your faith.
Inner conflict…it happens every time we face the decision to either follow God or follow self. On one side is immediate gratification and the unleashing of selfish pleasure seeking…while on the other is righteous behavior befitting a Follower of Christ. This clash between opposing forces is real within us every time we have to make a decision to either give in to our sinful nature or not. In Romans 7:15 Paul deplored his failures about this when he wrote, “I don’t understand what I do. For what I want to do I don’t do, but what I hate I do.” Daily there’s a contest…a tug-of-war so to speak within as our corrupt nature battles against the Holy Spirit for dominance. But just remember this, Greater is He that is in me then he who is in the world!
If you would listen to the world today, they’d tell you that you were the master of your own destiny, in control of everything about yourself, and when adversity hit, you could with resolve, pull yourself up by your own boot straps. But our life is not determined by our own selfish desires, or how hard we think we must strife for happiness. It is solely dependent on God’s mercy. Or as Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” God looks on mankind’s wretchedness and the plight of our misery consequent to sin and has compassion on us…that’s called grace. Ephesians 2:8 sums it up well, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” We can and will never be able to save ourselves…just as we can and will never be able to buy ourselves a ticket to heaven…it is a gift given by a merciful God who loves us. It’s very simple… By grace alone. Through faith alone. In Christ alone.
You’ve heard it, thought it, and probably even said it, “They make me so angry!” But sorry, no one can MAKE you angry. You choose to do that yourself every time you don’t get your way. A verbal dispute or argument happens when selfish desires aren’t met…and we always try to justify our anger towards the other person by placing the blame on them…thus, “They make me so angry!” We then become as Romans 7:23 calls, a prisoner of the law of sin at work within us. So what do we do? The first step is to acknowledge and take ownership of our anger…it belongs to us and no one else. We then need to confess, repent, and ask forgiveness of our sinful anger. Finally, we need to replace sinful anger with humility and a more Christ-like attitude.
This Proverb shows that we always have a choice. We can react to a hostile situation by defusing the negativity with kindness, quietness, and a servant-like attitude. Or we can react with cruel, bitter words in retaliation…spewing the same poison from our own mouths. The choice is ours. But remember, when we return evil for evil…when angry emotions run high…we are not in control, but rather the selfish desires of our sinful heart is ruling us…and we are then left open and vulnerable to the enemy. And the enemy would love to have you angry all the time…alienating family, friends, and those you care for…until no one is left.