“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17).
Understanding is a necessary step toward being accepted of God. The Lord clearly stated through Paul, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Paul also wrote to the Ephesian brethren, “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)” (Eph. 3:3-4). A proper approach to a study of the will of God in the Bible is critical to salvation. Man must do the will of the Father in heaven in order to be in heaven (cf. Matt. 7:21) and one cannot do what he does not know. Consider three basic principles of Bible study that bring understanding.
All Scripture is to be Studied. All scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).“Rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) is to be the practice of every Bible student while reading all. One should not pick and choose passages that do not give the full meaning of subjects. Such is done today on the topics of faith, sin, salvation, etc. to the perverting of truth and overthrowing the faith of some (cf. 2 Tim. 2:18). The Bible plainly states concerning revelation, “The sum of thy word is truth; And every one of thy righteous ordinances endureth for ever” (Ps. 119:160, ASV).
Attention to Context is to be Given. Reading into a passage an interpretation that is not warranted is a device of Satan (cf. Matt. 4:6). Jesus clearly shows that passages that reveal false interpretations show that the cited passage is true but the interpretation is false (cf. Matt. 4:7). Context always determines the meanings of words in a given statement. For example, Peter stated in the first gospel sermon, “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). Some interpret that requirement to mean that one expresses his trust in the saving power of the Lord by merely praying a prayer requesting that the Lord save. If one would continue to read the context further, he will read, “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:37-38). This is in harmony with what Ananias told Saul of Tarsus to do (cf. Acts 22:16). Misunderstanding comes when proper context is not followed.
Applying Oneself is Essential. Solomon wrote, “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom and apply thine heart to understanding; . . . Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:1-2, 5). Applied knowledge through obeying is essential (cf. 1 John 2:3-5).
One must be a doer to be blessed (cf. James 1:25). Obedience and continued practice bring an understanding that is no substitute for simply being able to repeat the facts and never commit them to life.
“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28).
Being born again (cf. John 3:7) at the point when one is baptized into Christ (cf. Gal. 3:27) has its visible results to be seen of men. Such was true with Saul of Tarsus (cf. Acts 9:20, 27), the jailor of Philippi (cf. Acts 16:34) and many other examples referenced in the Bible. When Paul wrote of “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24), he then begins to describe what that kind of life looks like in specific detail. Consider the details of one such example found in Ephesians chapter four.
Ceases to Practice the Old Lifestyle. The first emphasis of righteousness and true holiness of a person whose life was previously dedicated to stealing is seen in the words, “Let him that stole steal no more” (Eph. 4:28). The thief must completely stop practicing that way of life. There are things that must be put away (cf. Eph. 4:22) before one can be converted to Christ and stay converted to Christ. The very thought of living unto sin is an abomination to a convert. Paul used the strongest of language concerning living unto sin, when he wrote, “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2). While no one is saying that making a “180 degree” change in life is easy, such is the step that must be taken. One cannot mix sin with righteousness (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).
Commits to Pursuing an Honest Way of Living. The next concrete step of showing conversion is in the words “but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good” (Eph. 4:28). Labor by working with one’s hands is an expression denoting honest and righteous effort for the meeting of one’s needs. Paul used this expression to talk of his own work. “And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:” (1 Cor. 4:12). Paul wrote to the Thessalonian brethren, “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Honest work that seeks to be productive and not destructive is truly an honorable endeavor.
Contributes of His Earnings to the Needs of Others. Paul wrote of a converted thief “that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). Herein lies a key to a converted life. While the previous goal was to take from people in a dishonest way now has changed to making an honest living to the point that one is willing to give to those in need. How different is such a lifestyle from the looting and pillaging of stealing. Instead of cheating and devouring another he is now compassionate and distributing to others. There has been a change of heart that now is seen in a change of lifestyle. A publican once said to Jesus, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:8). Jesus responded by saying, “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). It is truly marvelous to see concrete evidence of converted hearts and minds.
“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18).
The problem of human suffering has perplexed many people who try to reconcile a powerful, benevolent God with the suffering of God’s creation. One need look no further than the Son of God himself to see many answers concerning human suffering. His sufferings truly aid all who struggle with temptations and trials of life. Consider three areas where Jesus shows how to view suffering.
Suffering in Service. Peter wrote to servants, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus is truly the epitome of the suffering servant. Peter makes it clear that suffering comes whether one lives unto sin or follows that which is righteous. He wrote, “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:13-16). Serving in this sinful world will bring its own form of suffering in various ways.
Suffering in Submission. It is stated of Jesus himself, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;” (Heb. 5:8-9). Those that obey the Lord will not learn obedience differently from what Jesus had to learn. Submission is to subject one’s will to the will of one of greater authority. Children will not learn obedience to their parents (cf. Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20) without suffering. All men who obey the Lord must suffer changes to life for obedience to take place. Self must first be denied before any other action of obedience will proceed (cf. Matt. 16:24). Jesus shows how important this suffering is to salvation.
Suffering for Sin. When all is said and done, it is sin that brought all suffering into the world. Too many blame God or someone or something else for various problems in life. Jesus came to deal with man’s greatest need, but suffering had to take place for redemption and reconciliation to come. Peter wrote, For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:” (1 Peter 3:18). The Old Testament prophecies had foretold of the sufferings of the Christ (cf. Luke 24:25-26, 46; Acts 3:18). Such suffering has its practical message. “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). Appreciating his sacrifice motivates to live unto the Lord.
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13).
Here one sees that this life is one of labor with ultimate rest on the other side. This term translated “labor” is from an original Greek word meaning “intense labor united with trouble, toil” (Thayer, p. 355). It carries with the idea of an effort that produces weariness or fatigue. Some might use the phrase “hard work” to convey the idea. Consider some examples of this kind of work that requires great energy.
Loving. Paul wrote, “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father” (1 Thess. 1:3). It is written in the book of Hebrews, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10). The agape love of the Bible is not an easy path to follow. It is written that even after one has developed the quality of brotherly kindness, then he is to add love as the end of his character (cf. 2 Peter 1:7). Truly, love is “the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:14). Anything done apart from love is of no true profit (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3).
Leading. Paul wrote of his work as an apostle, “Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Phil. 2:16). Again, “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (Col. 1:28-29). Paul was well known for his abundant labor (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 6:5; 11:23). Paul wrote of those men who are leaders in the church, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17). Again, “And we beseech you brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). Leading is a work that can easily wear on a person in every way.
Loyalty. Isaiah wrote concerning the faithful, “And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God” (Isa. 49:3-4). While it can be troubling to abide loyal to God in a world that turns its back on God in many places, one’s faithfulness to God will be recognized. Later, it was written, “They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them” (Isa. 65:23). Jesus exhorted, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27). If one seeks to build anything contrary to the will of the Lord, he is laboring in vain (cf. Ps. 127:1). However, when one is abounding in the work of the Lord, there is no effort on that part that is in vain (cf. 1 Cor. 15:58). To enter into that heavenly rest is truly worth making it one’s diligent labor (cf. Heb. 4:11).
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
People often talk about “bucket lists” and things that need to get done before the end of life comes. Recently, a person said they could check off seeing a total solar eclipse from their “bucket list.” There are three things Paul mentioned about his life that are much more important. All three verbs are in the perfect tense denoting actions that started in time past but continued to have lingering effects throughout life. Consider what he said that he had done to prepare for his departure from this life.
Fought the Good Fight. This thought is previous stated by Paul with the exhortation to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). The good fight of faith is to be on everyone’s “bucket list” if it is not already. Jesus stated, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matt. 12:30). There is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus Christ. There was a time when Paul fought against Jesus (cf. Acts 9:4). Paul committed himself to the Lord’s side (cf. 2 Tim. 1:12) and defended the truth through every kind of cost (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-28). All are servants to sin unto death or servants of obedience unto righteousness (cf. Rom. 6:16). Satan will oppose when people desire to obey the gospel to become Christians and will continue to oppose after a person starts standing with the Lord. Before this life is over, may it be said of all that one has personally stood like a Paul in fighting the good fight of faith.
Finished the Course. This is not the first time Paul used such wording (cf. Acts 20:24). Paul knew, like a runner, that the life of a child of God would be arduous and require discipline. He wrote previously to the Corinthians, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:24-27). One must finish what he started.
Faithfully Held on to the Faith. The concept of holding on to the faith was always important to Paul. Paul did not always see the faith as he did after he was converted. He wrote, “And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed” (Gal. 1:22-23). Paul sadly refers to some he knew who had departed from the faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19-20) and warned of some who would depart from the faith (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1). There is only “one faith” (Eph. 4:5), which is the New Testament (cf. Gal. 3:22-25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Acts 13:7-12; 1 Tim. 6:3). Timothy, as well as all, would need to do the same (cf. 2 Tim. 1:13).