“It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32).
These words are the last words of the father to the older son in the parable. The father in the parable could easily be viewed as the Father in heaven. While there are no other words from the older son, it is fitting that the father had the last word. Too often people want to tell God how things are or how they ought to be. God the Father knows perfectly how to rule and will do so in keeping with all of his attributes. Consider some other examples where God has the last word and the practical application that comes from it.
Human Suffering. Job stated after hearing the Lord, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:4-5). Again, “I have heard thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). It is interesting that the next verse states, “And it was so, that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath” (Job 42:7). The Lord tells them to offer sacrifices in keeping with His divine instructions, which was followed without comment on their part (cf. Job 42:8-9). Humanity does not have the full answer for human suffering. While sin brought suffering of all kinds, not all suffering is due to personal sin. Suffering draws man to God, the source of help and comfort. God has the final word on the tough questions.
Humbling the Mentality of Self-Interest. The Lord said to Jonah, “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11). This is how the book ends with God having the last word. Jonah wanted God to utterly destroy the people of Nineveh. He was especially angry when they repented at his preaching and God spared them. Attitudes that are not in keeping with the mind and will of God must have a word from the Lord. The Lord God can humble like no other. When attitude problems arise in any situation, the word of the Lord is the approach.
Heavenly Judgment. Jesus stated, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:22-23). The Lord will have the last word in the judgment. All the doctrines of men and the comments of human thinking will not change the word of God. Jesus stated, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). Jesus concludes the sermon of Matthew 5-7 with the emphasis of man continuing to hear his sayings and keep on doing them. Some may start and not finish. It is how one finishes that makes all the difference. God’s word will stand.
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove you own selves. Know ye not you own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
One does not have to read very far in the books of First and Second Corinthians to know that they had troubles. Paul is closing the book of Second Corinthians with the exhortation to evaluate oneself. The Christian’s life is a constant development of spirituality. Some progress more than others but all should be making progress. Consider three areas of spirituality that will help everyone see where they are in this developmental process.
How to See People. Jesus said to the Jews, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). The Corinthians had some within the congregation that were judging based on outward appearance (cf. 2 Cor. 10:7). Paul made it plain concerning God’s perspective. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). When one sees people, how are they viewed? Are they seen by the color of their skin? Are they seen by the generation in which they are labeled? Are they seen by the level of their formal education or lack thereof? The world has many ways to divide people into demographic components. God sees souls which takes away much of the divisive element. Consider these passages (cf. Acts 2:41; Acts 27:37; 1 Peter 3:20; Heb. 13:17). Growing in spirituality means growing away from the world’s standards of seeing people and seeing like God sees.
How to See Possessions. Jesus warned a materialistic man, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). It is sad that people get caught up in the standards of the world. Solomon wrote, “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied” (Prov. 27:20). While money is needed as a defense (cf. Eccl. 7:12) so is the wisdom to see it and use it. Possessions must be seen from the stewardship model. God alone owns all things (cf. Ps. 24:1). Everything that man has and is belongs to God (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20). The desire to become rich and loving riches have destroyed many a person (cf. 1 Tim. 6:9-11). All that man does is to be to the glory of God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31). Ecclesiastes concludes with man’s entire existence and substance is to fear God and keep his commandments (cf. Eccl. 12:13-14). Growing spiritually is to grow in good stewardship.
How to See Problems. Whether one is spiritual or not, trouble will come (cf. Job 14:1; Prov. 13:15; Matt. 7:14). How one sees difficulties has much to say about one’s development in spirituality or lack thereof. God’s servant, Job, experienced suffering and grew from it (cf. Job 42:1-6). The apostle Paul did as well (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9-10). Would that all would see difficulties like it is stated, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 4:17-5:1).
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20).
Here is the attempt of the religious to fill the spiritual void of life with a mere intellectual faith. Such only makes man empty. The Scriptures are filled with passages that address things that are vain (i.e. being empty and/or unproductive). There is an entire book in the Old Testament that addresses living life without fearing God and keeping his commandments; namely, Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote, “I have seen the travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith. He hath made everything beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end” (Eccl. 3:10-11, ASV). Mankind will always long for things eternal. It is that part of man made in the image of God that thinks in those terms. Such makes him unique among all of God’s creation. One must properly fill the spiritual void of life just as man fills the physical, emotional and mental sides. Consider three areas that fill the spiritual.
The Truth About God. Life is empty without God. Paul wrote in Romans, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in the imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,” (Rom. 1:21-22). Luke records of words to the Galatians, “Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:” (Acts 14:15). Man may manufacture his own version of God and still be empty. The real God is the God revealed in the Scriptures, not man’s imaginative creation visible or invisible. There is no substitute for the true God. Life becomes a life of false hope otherwise.
The Truth in the Gospel. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:” (1 Thess. 2:1). That entrance is tied to the gospel that they brought. “But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention” (1 Thess. 2:2). Again, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:5). Paul exhorted Timothy to rightly divide the word of truth and shun profane and vain babbling (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15-16). Vain talk is specifically warned throughout (cf. Eph. 5:6; 1 Tim. 1:6; Titus 1:10). The gospel is God’s power to save (cf. Rom. 1:16) and that fills the spiritual need for the saving of the soul.
The Truth About Good Works. One’s walk of life can be a “vain conversation” (1 Peter 1:18), a walk “in the vanity of their mind” (Eph. 4:17) and “vainglory” (Phil. 2:3). One’s life must be a walk with God being “careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men” (Titus 3:8). Warnings are given to avoid activities that do produce vanity (cf. Titus 3:9; 1 Tim. 6:20). While there will always be pursuits in life that may fill up time, there is only one pursuit in life that is not in vain (cf. 1 Cor. 15:58 – “your labor is not in vain in the Lord”). A working faith is truly a happy and fulfilled life.
“Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but their mind and conscience is defiled” (Titus 1:15).
Paul was warning Titus of the problem of being defiled in mind and unbelieving. Titus would meet such people and would have to deal with them while at the same time speaking those things “which become sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Satan knows what saves man (cf. Luke 8:12) and will do all that he can to keep the pure word of God out of the minds and lives of people. The pure heart is able to see a thing clearly while the opposite is filled with confusion. Consider three things that Paul tells Titus about the effects of believing error.
The Thought Processes Are Corrupted. Paul addressed the “mind” (Titus 1:15) being defiled. The Greek word here translated “mind” (Titus 1:15) is the word meaning “the intellective faculty, the understanding, reason, the faculty of perceiving divine things, of recognizing goodness and of hating evil” (Thayer, p. 429). The context has to do with people giving heed to fables and the commandments of men “that turn from the truth” (Titus 1:14). These struggle with loving truth (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10) and thus desire to have something besides the word of God that is pure (cf. Prov. 30:5). These become enamored with novelties. Some of the most bazaar beliefs have been fostered by pride and self-seeking ambition. Error becomes truth to this type of thinking. This explains how people reason correctly with earthly things and faulty with spiritual things.
The Trained Conscience is Compromised. The faculty of proper discernment in judgment between right and wrong, truth and error is now compromised with such defilement. Paul addresses the “conscience” (Titus 1:15) as well as the mind being defiled. Once a person believes that error is now truth to them, the conscience is newly trained to defend the new positions. Paul warned Timothy that such would happen. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). What might at the first have been a struggle to believe now becomes very easy to accept. Self-deception is the greatest danger of all deceptions.
The Tasks of Life Differ from the Claim to Know God. Paul wrote, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). Claims are not backed up with proper conduct. The topic of grace is turned to license (cf. Jude 4). Love is given to those who agree with these while strong protest is given to those who would seek to reprove. Adultery, homosexuality, social drinking, etc. are either avoided in discussions or, if not avoided, tolerated and even acceptable in certain circles. The doctrine of “once saved, always saved” becomes a comforting way of preaching difficult funerals. Worship as man wills instead of worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) becomes the model for “growing churches.” The “I’m ok, you're ok” mentality in preaching and teaching appeals to the itching ears. Isaiah himself dealt with the corrupting influence of believing error (cf. Isa. 5:20-21).
“Then they cried with a loud voice, in the Jews’ speech, unto the people of Jerusalem that were on the wall, to affright them, and to trouble them; that they might take the city” (2 Chron. 32:18).
Here is an example of those who would seek to destroy the peace of God’s people. Troublers were in existence in Thessalonica (cf. 2 Thess. 1:6) as well as among the congregations of Galatia (cf. Gal. 5:12). It is sad to think that there are some who would seek to disturb the peace of a people in order to advance their agendas. It is written of one who hindered the progress of the conquest of the promised land in the days of Joshua, “And the sons of Carmi: Achar, the troubler of Israel, who transgressed in the thing accursed” (1 Chron. 2:7). One of the things that the Lord hates is “he that soweth discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19). Both Old and New Testaments give insights concerning troublers. Consider three principles about such.
Militantly Work to Hinder Real Progress. When the early church was being hurt by certain troublers who would bind things that God did not bind, a letter was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch to bring needed peace. It was stated, “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment” (Acts 15:24). This Judaizing element was troubling the Gentiles and seeking to make the church something different from what God intended it to be. Luke recorded of certain Jews in Thessalonica who did not believe the gospel how that they militantly “set all the city on an uproar” (Acts 17:5). They accused Paul and the brethren of proclaiming decrees contrary to Caesar (cf. Acts 17:7), which was a false accusation. Luke states, “And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things” (Acts 17:8). The workers of Satan do not sit idly by while the gospel is spread.
Misrepresent the Facts. When Zerubbabel and the chief of the Jewish fathers would not let certain ones join with them in the rebuilding of the temple, it is stated, “Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building” (Ezra 4:4). A thorough reading of the report from these troublers to Artaxerxes the king (cf. Ezra 4:11-22) shows that they misrepresented the history of the rebellious Jews with the remnant that was faithful to God and the kings of the nations. It is a common ploy by troublers to group all of God’s people with certain hypocrites to seek to discredit the whole. Another way to misrepresent is seen where Paul addressed certain troublers who “would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7). Some error mixed with some truth creates great trouble as well.
Mistake Who are the Real Troublers. Certain unbelievers in Philippi accused Paul and his companions, saying, “These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city” (Acts 16:20). They themselves were the real troublers while Paul and his were the ones who were helping the city. Such confusion is like to that of the conversation between Ahab and Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 18:17-18). Troublers are both deceiving and being deceived.