A.W.Tozer “Whatever God is He is infinitely. In Him lies all the power there is; any power at work anywhere is His. Even the power to do evil must first have come from Him since there is no other source from which it could come. Lucifer, son of the morning, when he lifted up himself against the Most High, had only the abilities he had received from God. These he misused to become the devil he is.
I am well aware that this kind of teaching raises certain very difficult questions, but we should never retreat before truth simply because we cannot explain it. To shrink from this truth is to raise still more and harder questions and, worst of all; it is to think feebly of God, the supreme indignity.”
Now as we continue our study on the Providence of God, you will recall that in our last lesson we looked at the popular passage in Roman 8:28, where the apostle, with tremendous optimism tells us “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” Hopefully, you remember in that discussion that I raised the point that everything that happens to us being ultimately good.
Now there is a danger lurking here because it could be that we end up making a fundamental mistake, in fact something that the Bible strictly prohibits. That is we do what Satan does when we call good evil and evil good. That’s the monstrous lie that the serpent uses to beguile, tempt, accuse and to seduce God’s people away from the truth. This tendency we have is our fallen nature. When we do something that is clearly in violation of the law of God, what is our human tendency but to try to find some way to justify what we have done. Some form of rationalization, so that by the time we explain our conduct it comes out being a virtue rather than a vice; which is calling evil good. Yet at the same time we are accustomed to twisting good and evil to such a degree that we will call the goodness of God evil.
There is an account in the New Testament, when John the Baptist, the great Prophet whom God used to announce the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who stood beside the Jordan River and said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” this John the Baptist who was one of the most heroic people in the New Testament was the very same man whom when he was thrown into prison went through a period of doubt and struggle. John sent his disciples to Jesus with a question, that I find somewhat troubling. The disciples of John went to Jesus with John’s question. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John was walking through the valley of the shadow of death and he feared evil, he was beginning to vacillate in his faith. He was wavering on the identity of the One whom he had been ordained from birth to declare to be the incarnate presence of God. He’s having a crisis, are you really the one that I believed you to be, or should we look for someone else? Dear friends, how many times have you felt like that? How many times have you actually done it, not just thought it, but actually did it? I’m talking about searching for another redeemer and savior. How did Jesus deal with John’s doubt? He told John’s disciples to tell John what he has not been able to see from his prison cell- tell John about my ministry. Go back and tell him that the blind are receiving their sight, the deaf are hearing, the lame are walking, the dead are being raised and the poor are having the gospel preached to them. You go tell John that! Now, why do you suppose Jesus answered John’s inquiry in that manner? I’ll take a sanctified guess at it.
I think what Jesus is saying in response to John’s question is this; John while you are alone and being assaulted with doubts, why don’t you pick up your Bible and read it again. Remember, what I had to deal with in the wilderness when I had a confrontation with Satan and he wanted me to do all kinds of things that would move me out of my calling. I told him that I could not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeded out of the mouth of God. Now the word that came from the mouth of God that you need to read again is Isaiah 61. That’s where the work and ministry of the Messiah is spelled out in detail. You remember that text. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” In other words, John go back and read the job description of the one who is to come. Because, I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do and exactly what the Word of God says I’m to do. What’s the problem with John? John’s expectations of Jesus were not being met and when his expectations were not being met, doubt about the Lord Jesus Christ came into his mind.
A curious thing happens after the disciples of John leave Jesus. Jesus turns to those who are there and begins to give testimony, not about Himself, but about John the Baptist. He says “What did you people go out in the wilderness to see? a reed shaken by the wind?” Why did Jesus say that? It’s because if people overheard this conversation, perhaps now there confidence in John the Baptist was lost. They could be wondering, what’s wrong with this guy, he was bold, he was courageous, he was our leader and now he’s asking if you’re the one who is to come, or should we look for another? Jesus asks did you go out to see, someone dressed in soft clothes. Those who are dressed in soft clothes live in royal palaces. John is languishing in prison because of the testimony of Me.
Of all the men born of women, there is none greater than John as he is not a reed shaken in the wind. Then Jesus goes on to give beatitude. We tend to think that all of the beatitudes that Jesus gave were found in the Sermon on the Mount, where He says… “Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who are poor in spirit, and so on. You would’ve thought that He exhausted His list of beatitudes in that one sermon, but no, because He gives a special beatitude for John, when he said, “Blessed are those who are not offended by me.”
“Blessed are those who are not offended by me.” I believe what Jesus is getting at here; based on the language He uses, has to do with what we find in Scripture concerning the Rock of offence, the Stone of stumbling. Jesus is saying that there are people who stumble over Me, and find Me offensive. Later on the Bible says that One who was regarded by many as a rock of offence and as a stumbling stone, God declared to be Jesus. Jesus is the Chief Corner Stone of the Kingdom of God. He is the chief corner stone of the house of God, the chief corner stone of the family of God. Yet others saw Him as a stumbling block and were offended by Him.
Sometimes when we deal with questions of ethics and moral theology we deal with human relationships. Human relationships that end in dispute and conflict and people get offended. You offend somebody and you’re offended by somebody. This is part of the fabric of our daily lives isn’t?
The Bible warns us not to be offensive in our behavior, particularly towards the weak and towards the little ones. Woe unto him through whom the offense comes. We are called to be inoffensive in our behavior. But the distinction we make in ethics is this – an offense given and an offense taken- it’s in the fabric of our language. I’ll say, something like, now don’t be offended in what I’m about to say. I don’t want you to be offended, my intent is not to offend you, I don’t want to do anything wrong to you. If I do something wrong to you, then you have every right to be offended, because I’ve committed an offense. This is an offense given. However, sometimes when you don’t do anything wrong to people they’re offended. What can you do about it? This is the case of the offense taken. There was no offense given, yet someone took offense. They got offended by something you said or by something that you did. Now, the perfect example of this problem focuses on the life of Jesus. If Jesus ever gave an offense unjustly, that would have been a sin. Jesus never gave an offense unjustly. He would no longer have been sinless and if He’s not sinless, He can’t save anybody, let alone Himself. His sinlessness is an absolute requirement and prerequisite for His qualifying to be our Redeemer. Can we say that anyone who ever met Jesus or encountered Him was offended by Him? All kinds of people took offense at Jesus. The Pharisees were offended by Jesus, the Scribes were offended by Jesus, even and the disciples of John the Baptist were offended. Jesus says “you people can’t be pleased; you are like the children in the market place who play their little game. We played the flute and you didn’t dance, we played the dirge and you didn’t mourn.” He asked how have you related to John, and how have you related to Me? John came out of the wilderness dressed in this bazaar costume, a costume reminiscent of old testament Elijah, a guy living on wild locust and honey, he looked like a cave man coming out of the desert and he gave you this message, “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” He insisted that you go down in the water, because you are unclean, and get ready to meet the Messiah. He said your King is about to show up and you’re not ready. What did you say about him? You said, he had a demon and so you said to the scribes and Pharisees you would not submit to God’s command through John the Baptist to baptism.
But the common people saw the righteousness of God in John the Baptist and they went to the river Jordon and asked to be baptized for cleansing, that they might not be filthy when the bride groom came. You see, John when he came out of the wilderness was doing what was right and most of the people saw John’s action as being good, but others like the Pharisees and the Scribes saw John’s behavior as evil, calling him a demon.
They were calling good evil. They were taking offense at righteousness. Jesus said that John came as an ascetic, a person of great self-denial, living in the wilderness, living on locust and wild honey. Then what happen? Jesus came, He didn’t fast, and they said that He was a wine bibber and a glutton eating with tax collectors and with evil people, and He’s wicked.
When John came it was time for the dirge, the land was in mourning. The people were in anguish waiting for their redemption. The wedding hadn’t taken place yet and the groom hadn’t shown up. Jesus had to teach His disciples. He said when the bridegroom comes and the wedding is taking place that is not the time for fasting. That’s the time for joy and celebration. The flute is being played and when the flute is being played its time to dance. You don’t mourn when the flute is played and you don’t dance at the funeral when the dirge is being played.
Now the bottom line in this episode, the very thing that John struggled with and what we struggle with is disappointment in our expectations. If I expect something from you and I don’t get it, I am disappointed and even offended. But if you’re offended, and hurt, you’re offense may be utterly without merit. You have no right to be offended because your expectation was not correct in the first place. However, if I promise you that I’m going to do something by such and such a time and I don’t do it, then you’re disappointed because I didn’t meet your expectation has merit and you have every right to take offense. This is what John the Baptist was struggling with. When he was in his cell, he was saying, when is Jesus going to make His move?
I expected long before now that this one who I announced as King would manifest His kingship and would drive the Romans out. Jesus wasn’t meeting John’s expectations. John’s taking offense, should I look for another? That’s what we do with the Providence of God. We have expectations of God and when He doesn’t meet our expectations we are offended. We start to look for someone who will meet our expectations because we don’t pay attention to what God has promised us. He said I will do every single thing that I have ever promised that I would do when in my judgment it is the appropriate time to do it. If you expect me to do it when you want me to do it, you are going to be disappointed.
And you’re going to be taking offense and you are going to be calling good, evil. Dear friends, we must believe that God doesn’t know how to do evil, and we must be very careful at this point. Faith in the Providence of God really is faith that He is working “all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”
As we have been studying the Providence of God we have been looking at the most famous passage in Scripture that gives comfort to us about Divine Providence and of course that’s our text Roman 8:28. We just looked at the danger of confusing good and evil, of calling good – evil and evil – good. Now I would like us to change gears a bit and look at the important qualifiers in this verse. Remember it says all things work together for good … for whom? We see two things here. For those who love God and for those who are called according to His purpose. So, I believe we can all agree that this is not a blanket universal promise from God, where God says, I’m going to make everything that will ever happen to be positive and good for everyone. There is definitely a restriction in this promise. The promise is for those who God has called and those who love God. Dear friends, that tells me that if you don’t love God, there is no guarantee that everything that happens will ultimately work together for your good. And if you are not among those who are called according to God’s purpose and if you are actively working against the purposes of God, don’t dare take refuge in this verse.
The reason is that the Providence of God is a two edge sword. God’s Providence includes His government and God’s execution of His government includes His execution of His justice. Let me take a moment to explain what God’s government means in terms of His Providence. Let me again explain it briefly. This may be defined as “that continued activity of God whereby He rules all things by design or purpose so as to secure the accomplishment of the divine purpose.” God’s government is thus His providence considered from the point of view of the purpose or “end to which God is guiding all things in creation, namely, to the glory of His name.” God governs as King of the universe. As King of the universe, God is the source of all authority in heaven and on earth, the King of kings and Lord of lords. God established the laws of nature and by means of these laws He administers the government of the physical universe. But God is a moral being and has created man in His image; therefore God’s government of man has a moral character.
Through His sovereign, wise and beneficent will, God governs and controls His creatures by making use of moral influences, such as circumstances, motives, instruction, persuasion and example. God’s government is universal as it is the execution of His eternal purpose. However, like His providence, His government is both general and particular: Everything is under God’s control for the purpose of revealing His own glory. Thus God’s providence and divine government cannot be separated. God’s providence and divine government of the natural order, of the nations, and of man, may be considered separately if we bear in mind they all work together to achieve His ends.
God controls everything in nature, from rain and hail, good crops and plagues, to health and sickness, life and death. Since God’s will is directly responsible for the regularity of the natural order, day/night, summer/winter; nothing is impossible with God. He reveals Himself through His providential government of the natural order: The man who does not acknowledge God is without excuse, the fulfillment of His promises are guaranteed.
The whole of Scripture as biblical history is one long record of divine government. The two most important events in God’s plan of redemption as revealed in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, are Christ’s first coming to herald God’s kingdom and His return to reign as King of kings. Throughout the Old Testament the rise and fall of nations were dependent upon God’s will, and decreed by Him according to His eternal purposes. Israel, as God’s instrument for bringing about His plan of redemption, was governed according to strict moral laws. Depending upon their obedience or disobedience, they were either rewarded or punished.
One problem often raised about God’s providence is that it seems difficult to reconcile it with man’s freedom. The Bible does teach God’s absolute control, but at the same time man is a truly free agent and therefore morally responsible for his actions. God prompts us to will and to do what He commands, but the praise for the good is due to God’s grace. We are, in fact, “not able to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility” because we cannot comprehend “the nature of divine knowledge” nor “the laws that govern human conduct.” This is therefore one of those teachings of the Bible that we must accept by faith as one of God’s mysteries, which will be revealed to us “when perfection comes” and we “shall know fully.”
Another problem arises because of God’s dealings with Israel as a nation concerning reward or punishment for obedience or disobedience. Two questions have been asked:
The Bible makes it clear that the purpose of God’s tolerance and patience with the wicked is to give them an opportunity for repentance, but that His judgment and vengeance is sure.
a) There is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked and it will be seen in the Day of the Lord;
b) Meanwhile suffering is the Lord’s discipline;
c) The bearing of suffering patiently glorifies God and leads to blessing;
d) The righteous need to walk in faith and not allow adverse circumstances to affect communion with God.
In the New Testament the fact that believers suffer is no longer a problem because Jesus, the only Just and Innocent, suffered the ultimate penalty. We believers are called upon to share in Christ’s sufferings in order to share in the glory to be revealed. The belief in God’s providence and divine government teaches His people “to wait on Him in humility and patience for vindication and deliverance;” To have courage and hope rather than despair; and to pray to Him for help, and to praise Him for everything. To get back to what we said before we defined God’s Providential Government … I said that God’s Providence includes His government and God’s execution of His government includes His execution of His justice.
In His Justice He will punish impenitent sinners. Well, that’s kind of a scary thought, in fact when you think about it; it’s probably the scariest thought of all. It’s the one thought that no unbeliever ever wants to think about. The person who refuses to submit to God, even if he acknowledges the existence of God; this person will place his trust and hope that God will somehow capriciously forgive everything he has ever done and never call him into account. That must be their hope. They all say they’re going to heaven.
Our culture is a culture that has come to the place where they view punishment as being more and more repulsive. When a person willfully and purposefully commits an act of vandalism and destroys someone’s property, it becomes an international incident when the local authorities seek to punish him. Because there is an outcry against punishment rendered by human government, how much more is there a protest against the idea that God might punish us? Can you remember a while back there was a canning incident that took place in Singapore? Do you remember the controversy that took place here in the U.S? People were saying the punishment was cruel and unusual and questioned whether justice was really served. At the same time the news media were polling people here in the US, whether it was appropriate to spank children in the schools. Whether corporal punishment is ever legitimate? My purpose today is not to focus on these issues, but only to remind you that we have a growing opposition and repugnance for the very concept of punishment. I’ll tell you one thing that I’m very sure about and that is that God is not interested in being politically correct. God doesn’t rule by referendum or take His cue from the government system of Singapore or the government system of the US. God has decreed the punishment of evil. We’ve got Scripture that attest to a day when He will judge the whole world and He will call every human being that has ever lived to make account. Now if those people do not love God, the supposed good things that they received from Gods hand during their life time will actually work against them.
We are told in Scripture that one of the most fundamental, basic, foundational sins of the human heart is the sin of ingratitude. When Paul tells us in the first chapter of Romans that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven, He tells us that that wrath is not revealed against innocence or righteousness or against goodness, because God is not a tyrant or capricious. Rather His wrath is revealed against ungodliness, unrighteousness and the most basic ungodly things that we do as His creatures. What is that basic thing that we do as His creatures? Paul says, they would not honor Him as God, neither were they grateful. Think about it, perhaps the most two frequent offenses that we commit against God are a stubborn abject refusal to honor Him as God. Let me speak personally to all of us and those who will read this paper. In the privacy of your mind, where the only person who can intrude on that privacy is God Himself, I want you to ask yourself in that interior compartment call the mind of your own consciousness, DO YOU HONOR GOD! Do you have a sense of reverence, and devotion and affection for the God who made you? According to Paul, Paul is saying that God has made His presence known, clearly and manifestly.
God has already revealed His existence to you. He says that all of us in our fallen corrupt human nature repress that knowledge, we fight against that knowledge, and we seek to flee from that knowledge. We end up refusing to honor God in our minds. The second thing is “neither were they grateful.” You know how it is in your own life where you can be offended. How about when you bend over backwards, walk the second mile, make a sacrifice of some sort , try to do something good, even giving something that is costly to you and then you realize that they have no appreciation what so ever. They show no gratitude and show no sense of being grateful for your gift. Of course you realize how offensive that is to you. Well, it’s also offensive to God; the Scripture tells us that every good and perfect gift that we ever received in this world comes from God. Everything comes from God. You may think that you have pulled yourself up from your bootstraps and that you’ve earned every single benefit that you’ve received and you take the credit for it. You haven’t taken into account that every skill that you have, all the gifts that you have were bestowed upon you by your Creator. You insult Him, by calling your success a matter of your own skill or whatever beside God. You have despised the benefits of God. Now what is the price tag for that? You see, everytime God gives us a gift, everytime God is gracious to us can become an occasion for the increase of our sin. If for no other reason, everytime we receive a gift from God and we refuse to acknowledge that it comes from God and refuse to express gratitude to God for it, we become guilty of the sin of ingratitude. In light of the passage in Romans 8:28 where “…all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” In light of this passage any bad thing that takes place in your life, ultimately will become a good thing. But there is another side to that story, there is another face on that coin.
If you do not love God, then every good thing that has happen to you is ultimately a bad thing, because it is now ultimately working for your destruction. Because through God’s goodness you have hardened your heart and increased your hostility to Him and with every gift He gives you your guilt is multiplied as long as you refuse to be grateful. So in simple terms, what this text is teaching us is that for those who love God, there is no such thing ultimately as a tragedy and for those who despise God there is no such thing ultimately as a blessing. You see if you don’t love God your blessing will be your curse and if you do love Him your curse will be your blessing. There are no other alternatives. I mentioned before about that international incident where a canning took place in Singapore, where the president of the US tried to intercede and have the government of Singapore not go through with this penalty.
Out of deference to the President of the US, the president of Singapore said they would reduce the amount of lashes from six to four. The President of Singapore saw that as an act of mercy and grace. The sinner in hell would do anything he could do to reduce his number of lashes by one.
Dear friends we have this very foolish propensity to believe that God will not only punish us, but we hedge our bets by saying if He does punish us that all of our sins are equally serious and there will be no difference in the punishment. They would believe that the lusting after a woman would be the same as actually committing the act, so they might just as well commit the act. They believe they won’t be any guiltier then they are already. So there is no sense in putting any restraints on their behavior because it’s all the same. Paul said No, every single time you refuse to be grateful to the gift of God that ingratitude goes into a bank account. It goes into a treasury and it’s not a treasury of merit. It is not the treasury of the riches of Christ and it’s not the treasury of blessing. It’s the treasury of wrath. Paul said, we are heaping up wrath against the day of wrath.
There’ll be some who hope and pray that there will be no day of wrath. The Old Testament prophets taught there is a day of wrath. If Jesus of Nazareth ever taught anything, He taught on the chilling Day of Judgment. He taught that every idle word that we speak will be brought into account. So there will be a day of wrath and if God is capable of wrath, the worst thing that we could possibly do is pile it up. Keep piling up, keep storing up, keep paying into that account, treasuring up, and storing up wrath against the day of wrath. The Bible says it will be a day of darkness with no light in it. So you see Romans 8:28 is good news and its bad news.
For those who love God and are called according to His purpose and rejoice in His Providential government it’s the best of all possible good news. However, for those who remain ungrateful and unloving towards God, it’s the worst of all possible news. What kind of news is this for you? This is something you need to understand. Let me close with a quick summary of the Providence of God.
God’s Providence is always executed in the “wisest manner” possible. We are often unable to see and understand the reasons and causes for specific events in our lives, in the lives of others, or in the history of the world. But our lack of understanding does not prevent us from believing God. We bow to His will, which is evident in His works of Providence.
And we say, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and His ways past finding out!”
The God of Providence rules all things well. How we ought to trust him! Ever remember, our heavenly Father is God all wise, good, and omnipotent. He is too wise to err, too good to do wrong, and too strong to fail. Hopefully you see God more clearly and maybe in a different way they you saw Him before. I pray that it will increase your faith. I also hope you’ve learned from this series that if you are truly saved you can never lose your salvation and you can totally trust God. Amen!