Growing In Godliness Blog
Author: Paul Earnhart
Serving One Another
By Paul Earnhart
Marriage has fallen on hard times in America and its agonies have filled many with a desperate longing for the healing of the home. The appetite for books on this subject seems insatiable. Unfortunately, much of this concern is for a quick and easy method— “15 Minutes a Day to a Happy Marriage.” There is no such magic formula. But there are answers, real answers, to marital anguish. They have been there all along.
The Bible is the grandest marriage manual ever written; not because it was written for that purpose, but because it is a book about relationships. It deals primarily with a man’s relationship to God and, out of that, his relationship to himself and others.
Marriage, as a union between a man and a woman, has about it some unique qualities of companionship and intimacy, but it is, at its heart, a relationship and the fundamental principle which rules it and moves it to a profound closeness is the same one which nurtures human relationships of every kind. A powerful statement and practical application of that principle is found in Ephesians.
Ephesians 5:1 is a bridge. It is the concluding thought of one exhortation which leads to another. Paul is in the midst of a practical application of the great principles of God’s redemptive work in Christ. He has been speaking of walking worthily of our calling (Ephesians 4:1), walking in love as God’s beloved children (Ephesians 5:2), walking as children of light, carefully, wisely (Ephesians 5:8, 15). He urges the Ephesians to be filled with the sobering influence of the Spirit rather than the wild indiscipline of wine. Such a Spirit-filled life, he says, will reveal itself in concrete ways— in the heartfelt worship together of God, and in mutual subjection to each other (Ephesians 5:18-21).
It is on the last phrase fo the paragraph, “subjecting yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ,” that Paul fixes his attention on the succeeding verses (Ephesians 5:22-6:9). Here he finds the principle upon which all relationships in Christ must be grounded. It is an idea which occurs frequently in Paul, and he always derives it from what God has done in Christ and the cross. This calling, with which we must live harmoniously, is out of the rich mercy and goodness of God who, by His grace, has elevated us, sinful and undeserving, to sit in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10). This calling demands that those who receive it live with all others in a humble, long-suffering, forgiving love (Ephesians 4:2, 32) and find the greatest delight in serving the needs of others rather than their own. Such was the self emptying mind of Christ (Philippians 2:1-5). So He taught, lived, and died (Matthew 20:26-28; 23:11-12).
It is for this reason that in the succeeding discussion of the responsibilities of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, that the one whose role it is to submit is dealt with ahead of one whose task it is to lead and guide (Ephesians 5:22-6:9). There is no role in life which so suits the mind of Christ as the role of submission. No disciple of Jesus should find it demeaning to submit— whether a wife to a husband, a child to a parent, or a servant to a master— when he follows the One who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:7); who came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The reason for the submission of the wife, child, or servant, is to bless the husband, parent, or master— and to honor Christ.
More difficult perhaps is the role of the leader. He, too, must subject himself. The husband must subject himself to his wife, the parent to his child, the master to his servant. This does not remove him from his responsibility of headship and leadership, but it means that his guidance must always be ruled by the best interest of those who must follow and not his own. The husband is not to rule his wife for his own selfish ends, but in order to bring blessing and fulfillment to her. The parent is not to rule his children arbitrarily, as if he owned them to do with as he pleased, but, as a steward of God’s gift, to nurture them after God’s purposes and for their own eternal good. The master (employer, manager) too, must in his guidance of the affairs of his servants (employees) seek their good and not merely his own.
This spirit of sacrificial love will revolutionize any relationship, especially marriage. The root problem of our modern marital trauma is not technique, but sin. Selfishness and pride have destroyed our ability to live humbly for the sake of another. We come to marriage, as to other relationships, not to give, but to get, not to forbear, but to demand, not to bless, but to use. How is this problem to be solved? In the same way every sin problem must be solved— by a heartfelt repentance which seeks God’s forgiveness and turns to serve Him humbly again. It is only as we come to know and emulate the servant-mind of God’s Son that we will find peace and blessing in our relationships with others. And in that most intimate of all human relationships, especially.
By Paul Earnhart
C.S. Lewis, in the preface to his little book, The Screwtape Letters, observed that there were two opposite errors about “devils” into which men could fall. One was to disbelieve in their existence and the other was to have an excessive interest in them. We believe that the wholesome desire to understand what the Bible says about Satan is not to stumble into either of these pitfalls. The following questions will helpfully guide our investigation: Who is Satan? Where did he originate? Why and when did he fall? We begin with the first.
Who or what is Satan? Is he a personal being or merely an idea? The Bible clearly indicates that Satan is a person with an identity, mind, and will of his own. Jesus and the devil confronted and spoke with each other in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 4:1-11). To question the personal nature of the devil is no more possible than to doubt the personal nature of God’s Son.
Yet, if the devil is personal, he is a spiritual rather than a physical being. In Ephesians 6:11-12, Paul urges Christians to “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but… against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Mythical “Satans” abound, but there is no biblical evidence that the devil ever manifested himself as a bat-winged, cloven hoofed creature dressed in a red suit and armed with a pitchfork. Like Jesus, his personal appearance is never described, but his spirit and ideas are discussed at length. It is only in the symbolic visions of Revelation that Satan is seen as “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns” (Revelations 12:3, 9). In the same visions, Jesus is portrayed as a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes (Revelation 5:6).
We turn now to the origin of the devil, when and how he came to be. That God created Satan seems clear since He created all things, whether visible or invisible, i.e., whether physical or spiritual (Colossians 1:16). But did He create him as he now is— the rebellious purveyor of all evil? The same question might be asked about men. Solomon says that there is not a righteous man upon the earth that does good and sins not (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Is this how God has made us— to live in hatred, selfishness, and rebellion? The testimony of Genesis is that when God had created the universe and man, He “saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). That it is not so now is evident and it is Solomon again who tells us why: “God made man upright but they have sought out many inventions…” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27), a moral creature with a will free to choose, and urged us to choose the good, the high, the holy. But all since Adam have opted instead for the evil and the impure. God could have created us as biological robots and there would have been no sin in the world, but there would have been no true people either, no love, no goodness, no compassion, no faithfulness— for all things are as surely the product of free will as sin is.
There are beings other than men in the universe who are creatures of free will. They are of a higher order (Hebrews 2:7), entirely spiritual (Ephesians 6:12) and entirely free. Of them Peter writes: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…” (2nd Peter 2:4; see also Jude 6). Some angels, then, like the whole of the human race, have become rebels against God. Could Satan be a fallen angel? Yes, it is possible, even probable, though it is nowhere explicitly stated in the Scripture. His original fall is never described for us. The reference to the fall of “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12 is speaking fo the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4), not the devil. Jesus’ statement in Luke 10:18 has reference to the defeat of Satan’s agents by the power of the Holy Spirit, and Revelation 12:9-11 is speaking of the downfall of Satan brought about by the redemptive blood of God’s Son.
Still, it is evident that at some point (before creation or after) Satan fell by rebellious pride into sin. In Job he not only accuses man of faithlessness, but charges God with stupidity (Job 1:7-11). He has nothing but contempt for both God and man and is our adversary (satan) and accuser (devil) at the very point where we may be reconciled to each other— in Christ and the cross. To prove man unworthy and and God foolish he tempts us to corrupt ourselves (1st Corinthians 7:5; 1st Thessalonians 3:5). In the pursuit of his purposes he has no scruples. Lies and deceit are his long suit (Genesis 3:4; John 8:44). He is consummately selfish. Unlike God, who wishes to bless and enlarge us, Satan desires only to devour us (1st Peter 5:8).
What is the lesson here? Do not take Satan lightly (Jude 9) for he is stronger than we are, but do not be intimidated by him either. He can be decisively routed by any heart which trusts absolutely in God’s power, wisdom, and grace (James 4:6-7; Romans 8:33-34; Revelation 12:10-11; Ephesians 6:10-17).
Learning Life’s Obvious Lessons
By Paul Earnhart
Some years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a best-seller entitled Everything I Ever Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten. It has become increasingly evident to me that some of life's most important lessons are exceedingly clear on the face of things. They don't have to be wrung from the depth of mystery and enigma. Yet many seem to wrestle endlessly with them. As someone has observed, the difficult people seem to work out very quickly, the obvious takes them a long time.
It ought to be obvious to the most casual observer that people are far more important than things. Why should we imagine that thinking, feeling, yearning individuals could find as great satisfaction in dead, unfeeling, unthinking, unspeaking objects as in those with whom we share the greatest and fullest association? Whoever imagined that a house makes a home: that all the material comforts in the world, even possessed forever, could fill the emptiness when those we love and who love us are gone? There is no profound philosophy in the fact that things possess no more than momentary utility while people can fill us with delight and joy. Why then do we continue to neglect people in favor of jobs, money, houses, furniture, clothes and cars?
It ought also to be apparent that the spirit of a person is more vital than their body and that what comes from within the heart is more important than the physical. We know that "the body without the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). We have had many painful demonstrations of that. And we know that outward beauty quickly loses its charm in the face of inward ugliness. As Solomon observed, "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a lovely woman who lacks discretion" (Proverbs 11:22). Why then are we so slow to recognize that a person's life comes out of what he feels and thinks and values, and not from physical superficialities (Proverbs 4:23)?
Finally, perhaps the most evident truth that we are slow to recognize is the fact that God is more important than everything else. If there is a God who created us for His own purposes and ends, it does not require a flash from heaven to tell us that we have no more important duty and necessity in our lives than to know Him and to serve Him (John 17:3; Acts 17:26-28). If there is such a God, we only live, breathe and move by His power, and He alone can tell us why we are here and how we ought to live the life He has given us. So that when Jesus says that the first and greatest commandment is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" (Mark 12:29), it ought not to come as a shock to our senses. Common sense should have told us long ago that if Jesus is God's Son, we owe Him everything. So, before we can know the mysteries of heaven we must first learn the obvious lessons of earth.
What Does God Want From Me?
By Paul Earnhart
In his little book, Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge confided that his earliest memory was of walking down the road wearing someone else's hat and wondering who he was. In a real sense, the whole of humanity is walking down that same road, tormented by the same question. The question is built in; the answer is not.
In order to be whole we need to know who we are and what is expected of us, but only God knows that. Human beings, being creatures, cannot answer such questions. American poet Theodore Roethke expresses in haunting words this profound human yearning:
"I close my eyes to see,
I bleed my bones their marrow to bestow
Upon that God who knows what I would know.”
Denying the existence of God not only solves nothing but reduces us to utter meaninglessness. Accepting by faith that God exists and wants us to seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), and that God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2) opens up all kinds of blessed possibilities. It is wisdom to listen reverently and learn our duty well.
It is evident from the Bible's beginning that man, created in the image of God, was expected to honor his Creator with due reverence and worship Him in a divinely prescribed way. Cain could tell you about that (Genesis 4:3-5). Not everything goes. The foundation of worship had to be faith and the proper expression of faith was obedience (Hebrews 11:4). King Saul learned that lesson when he presumed to worship God in a way that violated His will. Samuel's rebuke tells the story: "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice..." (1 Samuel 15:22).
The Old Testament prophets speak to our question often. When Israel sought to placate God with the multitude of their sacrifices, Micah told them straight out that God wanted more - "And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8). To the hypocritical shallowness of their worship Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah say the same (Isa. 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; Jer. 7:21-23). Jesus echoes the prophets by His frequent quoting of Hosea: "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7). What Jesus and the prophets were saying was not that the sacrificial offerings of the law (Leviticus) were unnecessary but that God's desire was for far more than that.
What is the lesson here? Do not try to turn God away from getting what He wants from us by offering the part for the whole -- even actions that God has clearly required -- frequent attendance at church assemblies (Heb. 10:24,25), regular eating of the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26-29; Acts 2:42), communal prayers and spiritual singing (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:19,20) et. al. All these are to lead to a higher purpose -- our transformation into the image of God's Son (Rom. 8:29). What God wants is you and me, that which is expressed in the first and greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:28-29). In short, God wants all there is of us, given gladly and freely in the same measure that He has poured Himself out on us.
By Paul Earnhart
Job, out of his wretchedness and deep anguish, once declared, ”Man that is born of women is of few days and full of trouble" (14:1). It may not be the whole story, but it is a significant part of it. Early and late, all of us will face some heartbreaking adversities. The presence of so much pain in life has caused some to question even the existence of God. The trap in that is that we are arguing against God by a standard which cannot exist without Him.
The adversity in human life is real, not imagined. The Bible deals forthrightly with it. Solomon speaks plainly in Ecclesiastes not only of the presence of pain but the absence of justice in life "under the sun." Most all of us have felt that knowing the why of all this suffering and who or what is behind it might help. It is altogether human to probe into such things, but we need to recognize the limitations of our own knowledge (Deuteronomy 29:29).
In the fall of the year before He died, Jesus and His disciples came upon a beggar in Jerusalem which moved the disciples to ask, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" (John 9:1). They presumed that physical tragedy was always a result of divine judgment on sin. Jesus' answer, "Neither . . . but that the works of God should be revealed in him" opened up a much broader perspective on suffering. This man's suffering had a purpose. The disciples had seen it only as a consequence.
Where does suffering come from? From several sources. It can come from God, in the general suffering and death unleashed in the world after man sinned (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 8:20), or in specific cases to humble or strengthen (Job, Miriam, Numbers 12:1-10, Manasseh, 2 Chronicles 33:10-20, and even Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:7).
It can come from Satan, through God's allowance, as illustrated in the case of the horrific suffering of the righteous Job. Even Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was "a messenger of Satan" which God used for very different purposes than the Tempter intended.
It can come as the inevitable fruit of our own sins. "The way of the transgressor is hard" (Proverbs 13:15). Sin has its temporal consequences--physical, emotional and social.
Yet, at last, unless there is some direct link to our sin, it is very difficult to know the exact origins of our adversity. And that is just as well, for far more important than knowing why we are suffering is our response to it. Adversity, regardless of its source, is one of God's most effective tools to deepen our faith in Him and transform our lives. So said the Psalmist: "Before I was afflicted I went astray. But now I keep Your word . . . It is good that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes" (Psalm 119:67,72). As C. S. Lewis once observed, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, and shouts at us in our pain". And as Scripture observes, "Whom the Lord loves He chastens" (Hebrews 12:6).
The anguish of Christ on the cross reflects the influence of God (Isaiah 53:6), and Satan (Luke 22:3,4) and our own sins (1 Peter 2:24). Yet it was our Savior's trusting response to this awful suffering that enabled God to work by it something transcendently wonderful. So it will be with us, if we choose our response to suffering wisely--especially when we don't understand why. "For our light affliction, which is for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). At last, like that ancient blind man, what we suffer here is in order that "the works of God may be revealed in us."