May 6, 2015

God’s incredible love and patience

Judges 9:22–10:18, Philippians 2:19–30, Psalm 68:1–14

Looking back over my Christian experiences, I can identify with the folly of God’s people during the time of the judges. They would worship idols and do their own thing until it got them into trouble, then they cried out to the Lord and He delivered them, usually by sending a new judge to lead them. But not always...

And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” (Judges 10:9–14)

How horrible to be left without the saving power of God. He has rescued me, bailed me out, sent help in so many ways; I cannot imagine life without Him. Yet sensing that He has turned His back is a huge lesson. God knows my need to rely on Him alone and all the time. He is not a genie in a bottle, nor a last resort. His goal for me has always been that I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the best way to live and learning that has often involved finding out the hard way that all other ways are folly, futile, and fruitless. Lord, I am filled with regret for wasting so much time and effort standing in a corner when I could have been serving You.

Today’s NT reading is a favorite passage and challenging. It offers the example of a Christian man who truly cared for his Christian brothers and sisters. Paul writes about him with these words, “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.... So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” (Philippians 2:25-26, 29–30)

Epaphroditus cared about the well-being of the Christians at Philippi so much that he didn’t want them to worry about him when he was sick. He also didn’t care about his own life compared to his care for them. They could not serve Paul, so he risked his life to do what they were unable to do, filling in for them without complaint.

This demonstrates Christian love for one another as it should be. How much easier to complain and gossip, or become annoyed and even bitter when others do not perform as expected. And if I am sick, do I want people to worry about me? Sometimes I do. This is why Epaphroditus always produces an emotional response in my heart. I want to be more like him, and certainly he was like Jesus who considered dying for us more important than anything else.

Going back to the OT passage from Judges, the Lord eventually did send help. His promises to His people held, even as they treated Him like their puppet. They put away their idols and He became “impatient over their misery.” He is so good.

The psalmist may have remembered this story, but if not, he knew that God is committed to His people from experiences in his own life. This shows in what he wrote....

God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! (Psalm 68:1–3)

If it were not for this relentless love of God and His determination to save His people from our sin, I’d have fallen by the wayside a long time ago.

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