Category Archives: God

Surpassing Worth (Theology for Living from Philippians)

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 10-11)

For what would you give up everything?  For love?  Many have chosen to give up careers, family, current marriages, and even God, for the love of another human being.  For money?  Many have chosen to give up friends, health, honesty, leisure, and even God for money.  For fame?  Many have given up privacy, comfort, peace, and even God for fame.

Paul gave up everything for the benefit of knowing Jesus Christ.  With knowing Jesus Christ came a right standing with God on the basis of faith.  What Paul had to give up to have this was the pursuit of a right relationship with God based on his own righteousness.  He had to quit being good to get to heaven.  He had to forget all he had been taught about keeping the Law as a means of getting God’s love and favor.  He had to give up his religion.  And he had to give up all other pursuits for happiness.

But he did not have to give up God.  By receiving what Jesus had done for him (and what He will do for all who come to Him) Paul received a right standing with God, a place of loving acceptance and cherished family relationship with the divine Father.  He gave up everything to get God.

And for Paul it was worth it.  Everything else paled in comparison to knowing Jesus.  With Jesus as his lord there was no other master and all other masters fell short of really satisfying Paul’s longing heart.  All else was garbage.  Love, money, and fame were actually hindrances if they were sought as that which could fill the human heart.  Only one thing sufficed to fill that empty place inside him.  Jesus.

It is hard to describe how true this is to someone else unless they have found love, money and fame, or their own way of pursuing God to be bankrupt.  Then maybe they become open to the reality of how Jesus can truly fill that place.  I hope you have filed bankruptcy on life’s trivial pursuits and found solvency in Jesus Christ.

Lessons From the Old Testament: God Tells Us His Name

Tetragrammaton in Phoenician (1100 BC to 300 C...

Image via Wikipedia

Is God above having a personal name? Isn’t He too great to have a moniker other than the generic title God or Lord? He certainly didn’t have a parent to give Him a name. But God is all about naming things and people. He names Adam and has Adam name all the animals in the garden (Genesis 2). He changes Abram’s name to Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28). But does He have a name, a personal name?

When Moses meets God at Mt. Horeb (or Sinai) and is called to go back to Egypt and command Pharaoh to release his people, he asks God what His name is so that he can make a credible case to the Israelites that God has sent him:

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation. (Exodus 3:13-15)

God explains to Moses that His personal name has a relationship to the Hebrew verb hayah, which is the verb to be. There is some controversy as to what God is saying here. Is He saying “I am” the eternally existent one, or is He saying “I will be” whatever I choose to be because I am the sovereign One? The tense of the verb admits of both possibilities. But what follows is His actual name, represented by our translators as the word LORD in all capital letters. In the Hebrew this is four consonants, yohd, heh, waw, and heh (often represented as YHWH). In Hebrew these would be written from right to left and Hebrew has no letter symbols for their vowels. It looks like this:  יהוה.

Hebrews knew what the vowel sounds were for each word even if the sounds weren’t represented by letter symbols for the vowels. However, a later generation of scribes known as the Massoretes began to use a series of dots and dashes in their copies of the Old Testament to represent the vowels. When they came to the divine personal name they sought to keep anyone from misusing it (see Exodus 20:7) and so used the vowel pointings for the word “Lord” or master, the word adonai. When a reader came to the divine name they would see the vowels for adonai and say that instead of the divine name.

If you actually say the divine name with the vowels for adonai, you get a pronunciation Jehovah or Yehovah. But that is incorrect. It is more likely that the correct pronunciation is Yahweh (two syllables instead of three). Very few translations actually use this vocalization (see the Jerusalem Bible, The Sacred Scriptures Bethel Edition, New Jerusalem Bible, and occasionally the Holman Christian Standard Bible), preferring instead to use LORD or GOD or Jehovah. But you may find it helpful to read Yahweh whenever you see these other options. By doing so you remind yourself that it is God’s personal name that is being used.

Should we pronounce the divine name? Are we in danger of misusing God’s name if we pronounce it? If we could, why did God reveal it to Moses? Why did He allow it to be communicated so many times in the Old Testament (6,823 times)? Not only that, but His name became part of many other names of His followers (the yah part at the end of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many others). If God is concerned to dwell among us (as the Tabernacle so aptly illustrates), then certainly He is not upset if we use His name, Yahweh. Why else would you have a personal name except to say it to your personal friends? God wants a relationship with us and part of that is telling us His name and using ours.

See the article on this subject:

Lessons From the Old Testament: God’s Judgment

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. (Genesis 6:11-13)

God does not kill Cain for murdering his brother.  We see no punishment for Lamech‘s boastful claim to kill a man for wounding him.  But here, when it becomes apparent that all the earth is sold out to disobedience and corruption, God tells Noah that he is going to kill everyone on earth.  We see this again when Israel is heading toward Canaan to completely destroy man, woman and child in obedience to God’s command (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).  Is God a God of love or a God of judgment?  And the answer must be yes.  He is both.

Even against His own people God leveled a stunning series of judgments while they were traveling from Egypt to Canaan.  When His people or any other human beings who owe their existence to God choose to rebel and to reject the God who provides for them, God will eventually bring some form of judgment to bear on them.  At the same time, God Himself says,

“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)

God punishes to the third and fourth generation those who hate Him, but he shows love to a thousand generations of those who obey Him (Exodus 20:5,6).  His judgment is His “strange” work (Isaiah 28:21).  It is not the norm of His heart or His behavior.  But He will not hesitate if justice calls for judgment.

What kind of God would He be if He did not measure out justice?  What kind of world would we have if justice were not carried out?  Couldn’t God just forgive and forget?  Couldn’t He merely ignore those who rebel and bless those who obey?  Wouldn’t that be enough to show people the benefits of obedience and be a more appropriate demonstration of God’s love?

Apparently not.  God’s own character won’t stand for rebellion.  And we won’t either.  When we see the results of someone’s evil perpetrated in the life of another, are we content to simply reward those who did not perpetrate evil, or do we feel within us the demand for justice?  We are just like God (yes, we are made in His image) and our concept of justice comes from Him.  He understands the evil of those He punishes or asks others to punish.

Though we may not be able to see the justice of God’s judgment, we may trust that He is judging fairly.  And if we are prone to see the evil in others and assume that they deserve judgment, we must exercise the discretion of the Old Testament saints and leave vengeance in the hands of God.   David may have prayed for the destruction of his enemies, but he did not act on that himself.  Paul’s quote, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” in Romans 12 is from Deuteronomy 32:35.

Lessons From the Old Testament: What God Wants For Us

So God created man in his own image,
       in the image of God he created him;
       male and female he created them.

 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:27,28

Pagan creation accounts represent the gods creating humans as their servants to do things the gods themselves don’t want to do, and getting upset with humans for being too noisy.  The Genesis account stands as a stark contrast and lets us know that God, the true God, really has quite a different perspective on us humans.

Humans are created in God’s image.  What an amazing statement!  In some sense God goes out of His way to make humans with a special quality, the quality of being like God.  Theologians and philosophers, exegetes and Bible students, have wrestled long over the meaning of this concept.  Is the image of God in humans the ability to think, feel and decide?  Is it righteous character?  Is it the ability to have personal relationship?  Or is it the right to rule over the earth with God?  It seems best to include all these ideas in the concept of being made in God’s image. 

We see the ability to think, feel and decide as an aspect of the divine image in Isaiah 1:3 where God compares the people of Israel to a donkey because, despite their superior intellect, they do not have as much sense as the donkey when it comes to recognizing who “butters their bread.”  We see the aspect of righteous character referred to by Paul in Ephesians 4:24 of “the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”  We see the relational aspect of God’s image throughout the Scriptural emphasis on God’s desire to have a loving relationship with humans.  And we see in this very Genesis context the aspect of rulership with God when the Lord tells humans to “subdue the earth.”

God wants us to rule with Him.  He does not give up rulership of the earth, as plenty of Scriptures tell us (for example, Psalm 50:10).  But He wants to share dominion over the earth with us.  He is not content to relegate us to a minor role in the earth, but desires to elevate us to the highest position.  David marvels at this in Psalm 8 where he says,

What is man that You are mindful of him,
         And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
         And You have crowned him with glory and honor. (verses 4,5)

So right here, at the very beginning of the Bible, God wants to make sure that we know how much He thinks of us and wants for us.  Though sin in our lives has caused us to fail on many counts at co-ruling with God, He still desires it for us.  He wants us to look to Him for guidance on ruling the earth as good stewards with Him of it’s precious resources.  But the fact is He wants to partner with us because He values us above all of His creation.  Don’t ever doubt that God has nothing but good will for humans.  We are His princes and princesses if we want to be.  All this is possible, of course, through a redemptive relationship with Jesus Christ, whose rulership is our example and promise.  In Him we become the rulers God always meant us to be.