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Lent Midweek Sermon Series: 1 Peter 4

A seed planted in Chapter 1 grows up and bears fruit in Chapter 4.  Early on in the Epistle, the Holy Spirit reveals to the saints in Asia Minor that although they have been grieved by various trials, these only serve to refine their faith, with the result that they rejoice and praise God (1 Peter 1:6-7).  Our Lord suffered in this world because he was not of this world.  Those who follow him will likewise face opposition from wordlings (John 15:18-20).  Rather than paranoia, defeatism, or defensiveness, this should rather rouse the Christian.  Indeed, we are to “arm” ourselves with Christ’s mindset (1 Peter 4:1).  

The world engages in “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry,” (1 Peter 4:3) and when Christians abstain, they are maligned.  However, the end of all things is near, and the Christian should leave these vile things in the past (1 Peter 4:3; 1 Peter 4:7).  Rather than indulgence, the Christian is called to sobriety, prayer, and Christian love (1 Peter 4:7-8).  We should live for the will of God, instead of for sinful pleasures (1 Peter 4:2).  This may translate into suffering, but our Lord does call us to take up the cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24).  We are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:9-14).  

The Christians in Asia Minor may have more persecution ahead of them (1 Peter 4:12).  Yet, those who suffer for Christ share in his glory (1 Peter 4:13).  Indeed, this is a sign that the Holy Spirit is with the believer (1 Peter 4:14).  If this seems difficult, or unpleasant, or unfair, then Peter asks his audience which seems better: to suffer for Christ, or to suffer the just judgement of our sin?  There is no choice.  Who are we to answer back to God? (Romans 9:20; Job 38:1-8).  

Rather than accusing God, rather than judging God, rather than condemning God, the proper Christian response is to fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Romans 11:33-36).  Though the faithful may suffer on account of Christ, this is far better than the alternative.  And God is faithful.  His will is best; he works all things for our good (Romans 8:28).  The Old Testament accounts of Joseph, as well as the Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace and Daniel and the Lion’s Den, illustrate this. 

Christ himself submitted to the father’s will, even when that meant shame, torture, and crucifixion.  But this, the greatest suffering anyone has ever undergone, has accomplished our salvation.   God is faithful, even in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 4:19). Thus, when Christ returns on the Last Day, all suffering will cease and we will be “glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Biblical Wisdom


Where shall wisdom be found? Despite outward similarities, Biblical wisdom stands as its own unique genre of literature. Join us as we talk about what makes the wisdom of God distinct from the world and within the Bible, why it seems neglected, and how it might be recovered in our own day.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 19

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First Sunday after Trinity: 1 John 4:16-21

Christian love, as John tells us, is not a nebulous concept, because it expresses itself in tangible ways.  The one who claims to believe in God and yet fails to express such love toward others, especially other believers, does not actually love God.  “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Christ Himself provides the supreme example of such love, because He has become our propitiation, the sacrifice that atones for our sin (1 John 4:10).  “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

When Christian love is properly defined, it guards against two temptations.  The first is to define love in terms of feeling.  Love is not a warm feeling toward fellow Christians; love is action.  “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that” (James 2:15-16)?  The Lord does not simply express love for His creation, but sends His Son to redeem it through His suffering on the cross.

The other temptation is to define love in terms of acceptance.  Seeking to confirm someone in error or sin is not love, even if the world defines it this way.  Jesus did not die on the cross to receive people as is into the kingdom, but rather to re-create them in the image of God.  Love transforms the other and lifts them up.  “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).  ““And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!'” (Ezekiel 16:6).

Being in Christ means being perfected in love, so that we become like God.  Nor is this a feigned love that derives from fear.  “Fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18), so that one shows love toward others begrudgingly.  Christians are not called to love one another because the Lord simply says so.  Christians love one another because of what the Lord has done for His Church.  We are not called to put up with other people for the time being, but to recognize Christ in His Christians.

While there is certainly strife now, we will have “confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).  Christian love is a present reality, not merely a future hope.  The one who lacks such love cannot be said to be a Christian.  John frankly calls him a liar.  Nor is this merely hyperbole.  There is a fundamental difference between struggling with sin and refusing to show love toward others.

Finally, the forms this love takes vary by necessity.  The Lord sets us into different callings, and the needs of that calling will also differ.  The rich man in the Gospel parable of Luke 16 failed to provide for Lazarus’ specific needs, such as his health, his poverty, or even his homelessness.  No amount of rationalizing could defend the rich man from the Lord’s verdict.  Nor could he make up for the fact afterward, even if he sought to warn his brothers from a similar fate.  Christian love is not about tomorrow or good intentions.  Christian love expresses itself in the present for present needs.

Our Avenging Shield (Psalm 3)

The martial character of many of the Psalms should not give us pause.  Paul, after all, encourages Timothy to “wage the good warfare” as a soldier of Christ (1 Timothy 1:18).  Wearing the whole armor of God, Christians stand firm and unbending against the devil seeking their destruction (Ephesians 6:10-20; 1 Peter 5:8-9).  The Lord, after all, is the Lord of hosts, that is to say, the Lord of armies who guides and protects His people.

Psalm 3 is the first psalm to bear an inscription.  These titles appear originally in the text and frequently provide some information about the circumstances surrounding the psalm.  In this case, the most likely reference is to 2 Samuel 15:13-17.  David, upon learning about the conspiracy of his own son Absalom, flees Jerusalem.  Certainly, some of Absalom’s faction reviled David as fleeing in terror.  David, however, trusts firmly in the Lord even in the face of imminent danger, which in this case is amplified coming from his own family.

David begins by alluding to this danger.  “O Lord, how many are my enemies!  Many stand up against me.  Many say to my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’”  David’s enemies taunt him, saying that God is unable to deliver him from their hands.  God will not be able to save you now!  David, on the other hand, does not minimize the danger, as if trusting in the Lord meant that it wasn’t real.  Rather, even in the midst of a very real danger to his own body, he continues to seek the Lord.  Even if we must suffer, God himself will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us with an eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10).

The term selah, which appears here for the first time in the Psalter, is a matter of debate.  It may be a musical direction, related to the idea of “lifting up,” which might mean to lift up the voice in pitch.  Nevertheless, I will pass over it for the time being.

“But you, Lord, are a shield surrounding me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”  The Lord surrounds His own like a shield wall, protecting against attack from every direction.  Elisha comforted his servant by reminding him that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them” for the Lord surrounded them with horses and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:16-17).  Further, God lifts up the head of David, bowed down with the troubles and dangers of life.  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

“I called [with] my voice to the Lord, and He answered me from His holy hill.”  God hears the cries of His people.  No prayer of the faithful goes unheard.  Further, the “holy hill” is Zion, the site of the temple.  God dwells in the midst of His people, and the temple served as the place of His dwelling for a time.  Now, as the Lord dwells within us, His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), we have an even greater assurance, because the Spirit Himself prays within us (Romans 8:26).

“I lay down and slept.  I woke up, for the Lord supported me.  I will not be afraid of a multitude of people encircling, who set themselves against me.”  So confident is David of the Lord as His salvation that anxiety does not consume him.  He is able to sleep even though men are seeking his life.  Anxiety accomplishes nothing (Matthew 6:34).  It is the sign of a doubting heart.  Even if ten thousand foes surrounded David, what could they do?  “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

“Get up, Lord!  Save me, my God, for you strike all my enemies on the check.  The teeth of the wicked you break.  Salvation [belongs] to the Lord!  Your blessing on your people.”  The imagery of striking hard enough to break teeth loose is not disjointed here.  When the Lord protects His people, it is not merely a passive act.  “Vengeance is mine, and recompense” (Deuteronomy 32:35; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:6).  Many of the promises of God include the destruction of His enemies, because then those who assaulted His Church will receive their just reward (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 10:13-14).  The point, therefore, is that deliverance or salvation comes from God alone.  Revenge is forbidden, because our own hand accomplishes nothing.  God alone will save us at the proper time.  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).

Let us pray this Psalm confidently, therefore, knowing that the Lord protects us in the midst of all dangers.  The Christian rests safely in His hands, and the Lord will set all things right.

Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity: Proverbs 8:11-22

“Wisdom is better than jewels” (Proverbs 8:11), because wisdom endures while riches perish.  “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  This reading from the opening section of Proverbs emphasizes this truth, because all else is vanity and only with wisdom will a man truly prosper.

Wisdom speaks and describes the way of wisdom, somewhat in contrast to folly, but primarily positively.  The language of prudence, knowledge, and discretion, recalling the very beginning of the book (Proverbs 1:4), emphasizes virtue.  To be virtuous is to fear God, and to fear God is to hate what is evil.  A delight in what is corrupt shows that a man cannot be virtuous.  The godly man hates evil, just as the Lord hates evil.

Rulers govern also with wisdom (Proverbs 8:15-16).  All authority comes from God, and therefore one can say that all rulers exist because of the will of God (Romans 13:1-7).  Wicked rulers also serve as instruments in the hand of the living God, just as Nebuchadnezzar, whose name bears the name of the god Nabu, is described as God’s servant (Jeremiah 27:6).  However, as wisdom is not a vague virtue in the Scriptures, just and wise rulers are those who fear the living God (Psalm 2:10-11).

Wisdom is not elusive either, as if it hid even from those who feared the Lord.  Jesus says very clearly to His disciples:  “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).  James also says:  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).  It must be emphasized that only those who fear the Lord will seek after wisdom, for the unbelieving fool has no such desire.

But for those who fear God and give Him glory, wisdom is a treasure far excelling all earthly things.  “More to be desired are [His commandments] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:10-11).  This promised inheritance comes for those who seek after wisdom and will “fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:21).  Those who trust in the Lord have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).  Therefore, with such hope in the resurrection, we labor “as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward” (Colossians 3:23-24).

The last verse of this pericope, Proverbs 8:22, points to a couple of things.  On the one hand, it emphasizes, as in Job 28:25-28, that the Lord’s work in creation highlights the call to wisdom.  Recognizing that God has weighed out and measured the world in the act of creation is to also recognize that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).  “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

On the other hand, wisdom is clearly described in Proverbs 8:22-31 as being involved in the creation of the world.  This is not a vague reference, but rather an identification with Christ, the Word through whom all things were made (John 1:3).  The Septuagint’s use of the word “created” instead of “possessed” here led some, notably Arius, to imagine that the Son was the first of God’s creations and thus different from the Father.  Passages such as John 1 clearly deny such a conclusion, since the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Here in Proverbs, therefore, we have a poetic description of an eternal reality:  the Father eternally begets the Son, so that even before the foundation of the world and the beginning of time, the Holy Trinity exists entirely self-sufficiently and unchangingly.

Therefore, in Jesus, who is Wisdom, we see the clearest picture of what it means to fear the Lord.  “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).

Earthly Authority in Romans 13

Paul speaks clearly about the subject of government in Romans 13. All should be subject to authorities, because “there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1). Pilate received the same answer from Christ: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

But what of the authorities themselves? What does Scripture have to say about them? And what implications does this have for a Christian understanding of government?

First, all authority stems from God, and no authority exists apart from God. The Lord may use various means to establish that authority, whether war or elections. The Church chooses Stephen, for example, and this choice is ratified by the disciples (Acts 6:1-6). However, the voice of the people can certainly be contrary to the will of God. Elections may in fact be sinful (Numbers 14:1-4; 1 Samuel 8:4-9). Therefore, it is not the will of the people which constitutes authority, but the will of God for His own purposes (Isaiah 45:1-7). This is especially important in our own day, since we have a tendency to regard authority illegitimate if consent is lacking. While the Lord willed it, Israel served the king of Babylon, and that authority was legitimate, even if limited (see, for example, Jeremiah 27).

A ruler is “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4). This may be to reward what is good, but it is frequently also to punish what is evil. The Law of God is written on the heart of all men, even if indistinctly (Romans 2:14). It is indistinct among those who do not have the written Law, because its fulness has not been revealed to them. The giving of the Law at Sinai means that some “have the Law” while others only do what the Law requires while “not having the Law.” In either case, the ruler serves to bring the wrath of God upon malefactors. He is an instrument in the hand of God. He carries out the Law, but does not give the Law. Even in monarchies, where the king is regarded as a law-giver rather than merely an executor, such laws may not abrogate the Law of God. The ruler, too, is a man under authority.

Paul uses a rather interesting word to describe this relationship between God and the ruler. In Romans 13:6, Paul says that authorities are “ministers” of God. Minister, in the English language, is somewhat vague. Paul uses the term leitourgos, from leitourgia, from which we get our word “liturgy.” A leitourgia in Greek refers to a public service of some kind. It may be the work of a citizen done at his own expense or a description of any kind of public duty. It came to be used in a religious sense, because the Greeks regarded their gods as recipients of public transactions. So long as the gods were happy, they would return the favor on behalf of the state. Christians borrowed the word in a generic sense to describe their worship, but casting off the pagan baggage that came with it. They were so effective in doing so, liturgy is used almost exclusively in a religious sense today.

That being said, Paul argues that an authority is a leitourgos, one who performs a liturgy. His public duty consists in being the servant of God, the avenger of His wrath upon evil, the rewarder of what is good. What this means, then, is that the ruler sits in a subordinate position to God. He has a public burden to carry out, and therefore sits under authority. A Christian who obeys the earthly king is not dividing his loyalties, but rather serving God through such obedience. Peter stating that “we must obey God rather than men” in Acts 5:29 is a recognition that earthly rulers frequently sin. They must not be obeyed in themselves, for that would mean participating in their sin, but rather God commands us to obey earthly rulers. Christians obey God when they obey men. They do not obey men in spite of God’s command (1 Peter 2:13-17).

This means, though, that it is not an idle question whether a ruler believes in God. The king who sins is sinning against God. The Scriptures are full of warnings for rulers, calling them to fear the Lord. One notable example is Psalm 2:10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Nebuchadnezzar served as the instrument of God’s wrath upon His people (Jeremiah 25:8-9, for example), but Nebuchadnezzar also suffered the wrath of God for his sin and his boasting against the Lord (Jeremiah 25:12-14; Jeremiah 51:24; Isaiah 14:12-20; Daniel 4:28-33; etc). Thus, while the Lord will do as He pleases, the unbelieving king will suffer for his sin, and the nation may well suffer with him, just as Egypt suffered for Pharoah’s hardened heart (Exodus 7 ff.).

Biblical Piety, Part 2: The Foundation

Part 1 of this series

Biblical piety begins and ends in knowledge.

There is a tendency to locate piety either in the emotions or in the will. It is attractive to make piety part of emotion, because of the power of human feeling. Piety is not the same as the feeling of being content in the Lord or being happy or even “being on fire for God.” If that is the case, piety becomes man-centered rather than God-centered. Human emotion is certainly part of this creation, and a feeling of contentment is a good gift of God, but we should not confuse the two. Piety can certainly exist even in trying times.

Likewise, piety is not part of the will. This too is a man-centered approach. While the will of the regenerate man is certainly engaged and desires to please God, placing piety there makes it the work of man. Man does not act so that God may react. Rather, God is the one who gives and sustains faith, so that the regenerate man responds to what God has already done.

Rather, piety is located in knowledge. For who can worship the Lord if they do not know Him to be their God? As Paul says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard” (Romans 10:14)? Likewise Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

This knowledge is divided into two parts: (1) the knowledge of God, and (2) the knowledge of one’s condition before God. Both of these must be held together, because if one is lacking, the other is invariably skewed. To know God but to not know oneself is to walk the way of self-righteousness. To know oneself but not to know God is to walk the way of despair. But to know God and to know oneself rightly is to fear God and give him glory and to worship Him who made heaven and earth.

The knowledge of God consists in confessing what He Himself has revealed to us. Though we are but creatures who cannot comprehend God as He is, yet God has lowered Himself in love to us to proclaim clearly who He is. He is the holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the creator and sustainer of all that is. He is almighty, all-knowing, perfect, present everywhere. The Lord is righteous, holy, faithful, just. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)? God depends on nothing, yet His creation depends wholly on Him. While this description hardly covers everything, it must be said that to deny anything which God has said about Himself is to worship something other than God. The Lord is who He says that He is, not what men presume to say about Him.

The knowledge of oneself consists in recognizing the depths of our own sin. Though Adam was created in perfection, yet he sinned. As he was our head, so the body of the human race suffers together with the head. “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7). “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Further, knowing our own condition rightly also points us back to the knowledge of God. To know that you are a sinner is to know that you need a Savior. And to know Jesus Christ as your Savior is to be brought out of darkness into light, out of death into life. This too is part of a right knowledge of God, because God has revealed Himself not only as our Creator and our Judge, but also as our Redeemer. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23).

Piety also ends in knowledge, because we are pressing forward to the goal of being before God in righteousness and purity forever. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9). “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4). “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name” (Psalm 86:9).

Beginning with the next article, we will discuss the Biblical forms of piety and their basis. Now that the foundation is laid, we need to look at the structure of the temple, so to speak. Once that is completed, we will look at practical questions, which may be likened to the outward appearance of the building.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 50:15-21

The reading for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity comes from near the very end of Genesis as well as the end of the “generations of Jacob” which began in Genesis 37:2.  Joseph’s brothers continue to feel guilty about how they treated him.  When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers earlier, he emphasized that “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5).  However, after they had settled in Egypt and Israel died, their guilt returns, imagining that Joseph had been biding his time out of respect for his father.  They even attempt to frame their plea as if Jacob had commanded it, which does not appear to be the case.

Their fear, however, is faithless.  Joseph had already forgiven them when he revealed himself to them, but they have forgotten.  It is not groundless, to be sure, considering their horrific conduct toward their own brother, but to return to such fear of punishment after hearing a word of forgiveness is to treat that word as false.  As John says, “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:10).  “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).  In a similar way, Joseph’s brothers are treating him like a liar, which moves him to tears.

Joseph, nevertheless, reaffirms the word of forgiveness, because the sinful soul is often tempted with memories of past sins.  “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).  “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3).  A Christian troubled by doubts should be pointed to Christ, rather than to himself, and he will see that Jesus is indeed faithful.  Joseph’s brothers have forgotten and have returned to their fear, but they are pointed again to that mercy.

Because Joseph reiterates the same word of comfort from before, he also re-emphasizes the Providence of the Lord.  Paul’s affirmation “that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28) demonstrates that God is not limited.  The temptation is to regard Providence as using primarily those things which we regard as “good” or perhaps focusing on God’s direct actions in history.  Evil, in that sense, tends to be treated as a problem to be dealt with or acted against.  The Lord, to be absolutely sure, is not the author of sin.  But God is not limited in His options.  God will accomplish what He chooses to do without fail, even if He wills to use an evil as the means to that end.  Adam fell because of his own sin and became a lawbreaker, but the Lord uses the Fall toward His purpose of sending Christ into the flesh.  “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

In Joseph’s case, the Lord uses the evil which his brothers intended against him as the means for providing for many people.  History does not just happen and the Lord somehow reacts to it.  God is the Lord of history, and all things fall under His Providence.  The reason why this can be so difficult for us is that we only have a small part of the picture and imperfect knowledge.  We are caught up in the moment and cannot see how everything is working together.  Very often, this becomes clearer in hindsight, though not always, because only God knows all things.

But this should not cause us to fear.  Joseph comforts his brothers by pointing to the Providence of God.  Yes, their action was very evil, but they recognize it as the sin that it is (1 John 1:8-9).  However, despite their wickedness, God uses it for a far greater good.  Not as an afterthought, not as a reaction, but as the means through which many lives were spared in the famine which it pleased the Lord to send.  If the Triune Lord could use even that evil as a means for good, will He not much more give you the good which He promises to give?  “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:21).

Second Sunday after Trinity: Proverbs 9:1-10

The book of Proverbs can be rather difficult to outline.  Most of the book is composed of fairly unrelated or loosely related proverbs.  Solomon is the author of most of these proverbs (Proverbs 1:1; 10:1; 25:1), though not all of his sayings were recorded (Compare 1 Kings 4:32).  However, there are other authors noted in the book, such as “the wise” (Proverbs 24:23), Agur, son of Jakeh (Proverbs 30:1), and King Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1).  The heading in Proverbs 25:1 notes that the “men of Hezekiah, king of Judah” compiled the book.  Therefore, Solomon is the primary author, to be sure, but the book itself appeared in the form we have it near the time of the exile.

However, the book does fall into a larger pattern.  Proverbs 1:1-9:18 is essentially a lengthy discourse on the value of Wisdom, especially in contrast to Folly, both of which are personified in several places as women.  Proverbs 10-29 contain the content of wisdom, and almost all of these sayings (with the exception of Proverbs 24:23-34) belong to Solomon.  Proverbs 30-31 are two additional groups of sayings attached to the end.

The reading for the Second Sunday after Trinity, which is Proverbs 9:1-10, therefore falls within this initial discourse of the value of Wisdom.  The contrast with the woman Folly is important here.  Wisdom builds her house and is diligent in her work.  Folly relies on her seductive powers while knowing nothing (Proverbs 9:13).  Wisdom sends her handmaidens to call from the highest places and bids the simple to leave his foolishness behind, going on the difficult but rewarding way of insight.  Folly herself either seduces a passerby or goes to the high places, but she bids the simple to go the easy path of stealing her so-called “wisdom,” the path of idleness, sin, and finally death (Proverbs 9:14-18).

Note also the comparison between the wise and the foolish in the middle of this chapter.  The fool, here called a scoffer, resists instruction and hates those who attempt to teach him (Proverbs 9:7-9).  The wise man, however, gladly receives instruction so that he may be wiser still (Proverbs 9:8-9).

But this is not a generic call to wisdom, as if it were enough to be “wise” in some vague sense.  Rather, the key verse of this passage, and arguably of all of Proverbs (and Ecclesiastes for that matter) is:  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:1).  The one who fears the Lord is wise, and the one who does not fear God is a fool.  This has nothing to do with education or book-learning, as one might say.  It is not even so much to do with practical wisdom, street-smarts.  Rather, everything on earth which is undertaken or attempted apart from the Lord is folly and will ultimately come to nothing.  Build a name for yourself:  the grave will take it away.  Build a house with your own hands:  time or disaster will turn it to dust.  Seek pleasure or work hard:  all will finally come to an end.  But the fear of the Lord is wisdom, because the things of the Lord will never pass away.  Though heaven and earth will pass away, the Word of the Lord will never pass away (Matthew 24:35; Revelation 14:7; Isaiah 40:6-8; Luke 10:41-42).

It should also be noted here that the fear of the Lord is not a term of intense respect, but a genuine fear.  God is almighty and all-holy.  He is our Creator, and we are His creatures and will always remain so.  That sort of power should cause us to tremble.  There is a difference from this fear which gives God glory and the fear which only cowers.  This is why passages like Exodus 20:18-21 are so instructive in this regard.  The people cower, which is why Moses instructs them to “not fear,” but he also notes that God has come down on Sinai to teach them so that “the fear of Him may be before you, so that you may not sin.”  Cowering before God only seeks to avoid the blow, but fearing the living God is turning away from that which He hates.  Fear God, then, and give Him glory, because to turn away from evil is to walk the path of life (see also passage likes Matthew 10:28; Revelation 19:5; Genesis 22:12; Exodus 1:17-21; Ecclesiastes 12:13).