Revelation 21 Sermon Outline

Today I came across my sermon outline (or one draft of it) and thought I would share the notes for anyone interested in studying the passage more or seeing what I preached on 12/29/13. It was the final sermon in our church’s advent series.

Revelation 21:9-27 Outline:
Dear Desire of Every Nation, Joy of Every Longing Heart.

Big Idea: Future hope sustains through present struggles.

Main thoughts:
• Future hope sustains us through present struggles.
• Our hope just around the corner is God’s presence dwelling with his purified people in his perfect place forever.
• Saying yes to this future promise helps us say no to the power and pleasure offered here.

Point 1: The Bride’s Beauty (The Bride’s Purity)
Rev. 21:9 (Rev 17-18, 19, 21)
The beauty of the bride has more appeal than the seductions of the harlot.

OT & NT imagery of a bride (Is 54:5; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27)
Revelation imagery of bride (Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2, 9; 22:17)
The Bride is the people (and a city) 21:2, 9

The Bride is contrasted with the Prostitute. Rev 17:1-6 (Rev 17-18)

John (& the angel) is using these images to show us two ways to live and the two fates of all people.
Jim Hamilton: “We need to be convinced that it is better to live for the Lamb than for the beast, with the pure bride than with the nasty whore, for eternal things rather than the temporary, to please God and not enrage him, to enter his city rather than being thrown in the lake of fire.”

• Dave Ramsey’s line: “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else” can be similarly applied in the area of holiness for exiles. Saying no to the illegitimate pleasures of this world is saying yes to the greater and legitimate pleasures of the world to come.


  1. Do not give up under pressures or give in to the pleasures from the world.
  2. Saying no now is always saying yes to something greater to come.
  3. The bride wasn’t always pure and beautiful but is made so in Christ. The bride’s present imperfections shouldn’t distract from her future perfection.
  4. Our longing are fulfilled not in the arms of the prostitute (world) but in the arms of Christ

Point 2: The City’s Splendor (The City’s Perfection)
Rev 21:10-27
The splendor of the city to come surpasses the allurements of this earth.

It’s a physical city (21:2, 10)
It’s beautiful (21:11, 18-21)
It’s complete (21:12-14, 15-17)
It’s perfect (21:22-25)
It’s home (22:5)
It’s God’s place (21:22-22:5)

• My failure as a husband to prepare a place for my bride in my bachelor’s pad.
• When I think of the earth I think of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Everything will pop with the glory of God. It will be a jam-packed with pleasures and gifts not as competition to God but as avenues to God.

• We might not be able to enjoy all the things we’d hoped for here (vacations, nice stuff, fulfillment) but all those thing are awaiting the bride in the city to come. We can give up some things here if we get everything there.
• One of our greatest temptations today (world, America, Indy) is becoming so comfortable and happy here that we think this is our home. We build lives as if our safety, security, comfort, leisure, and luxury is supposed to be maximized here instead of living as if we can give up things and risk everything now because we get all those things forever.
• The goodness of creation points us to the glory we will experience in the new earth. The brokenness of creation points us to a renewed earth, resurrected bodies, and reconciled relationships where fulfillment is experienced.

Point 3: The Lamb’s Glory (The Lamb’s Presence)
Rev 21:22-27 (21:22-22:5)
The glory of the Lamb outshines the heaviest darkness.

The Lamb’s presence with his people (22)
First advent: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)
Second advent: The Lamb is the temple and he dwells among his people (Rev. 21:22)

The Lamb’s glory among his people (23-26)
First advent: The magi from the east bring their treasures to the King of the Jews (Matt 2:1-12)
Second advent: The nations & kings bring their wealth & glory to the King of the world (Rev. 21:24-26)

• The relationship between first and second advent, minor but not complete fulfillment. It is the appetizer preparing us for the meal, the trailer drawing us into the full-length film.

• The longing to be known is fulfilled in God’s presence. His presence satisfies us and his glory stirs us now, and one day His presence and glory will fully complete us.
• God sees, and he knows. One of the hard things about the trials and the pain in this life is that we feel alone and we sometimes feel like God doesn’t see, doesn’t know, or doesn’t care. Isaiah 25:6-9 is the prophecy of a people in exile waiting on their God and one day seeing his face and receiving their salvation.

You can listen to the full audio here.

What Work Clothes Look Like Under Grace

Part 2: What Work Clothes Look Like Under Grace
I want to now briefly transition into how the Trinitarian grace we receive fleshes itself out in our lives. In part 1 I hinted at some of the ways right knowing (theology) of the grace we’ve received leads to right living (ethics) through grace. And we’ve hopefully established the foundation, that sanctification through grace starts with an understanding of who God already is for us—Adopter, Sanctifier, Justifier—and who we are right now in Jesus (identity). Therefore, sanctification through grace instead of law looks like living with freedom, by faith, in love.[1] It isn’t a matter of living according to a different set of rules, but it’s being changed so we both like to play by the rules of the game and are able to do so. The law is still important and has purpose but it’s also impotent, meaning it tells us what is right but it’s incapable of accomplishing in us what is right.[2]

The three passages I’ve referred to most—I Peter 1, Romans 8, and Galatians 5—not only harmonize on God’s grace but they also speak in accord when it comes to how that grace expresses itself in our lives: freedom, faith, and love.[3] Growing through grace means I’m thankful that law helps me to see what is right, but it’s only through a free work of God in us that we can desire to enjoy what’s right and then receive strength to do what’s right. Here are some of the differences between what it looks, smells, and feels like to actually live under grace versus living under law. These should act more as diagnostics to know which way we’re leaning than a prescriptive list we try to follow.

The Characteristics of Living under Grace
Gratitude and freedom
When we live under law our motivation is guilt-driven. We look for a laundry list of things that will win God’s approval. The frustration sets in because under law we’re slaves who work for a master that will never loosen the chains. Under grace, we’re motivated by gratitude and follow Jesus as a response to receiving favor rather than an effort to gain favor. The freedom we have in Jesus is the fountain from which all of our efforts are watered and nourished (Gal. 4:1-5:15).

The Spirit’s internal compulsion
When we live under law we live according to the flesh (old man) and our desires remain what we’ve always wanted. In this case the laws of God are an external constraint of rules needing kept. Under grace, we live in the Spirit (new man) so that our desires are reoriented and we start to want the things God wants. Here, God’s laws move from an external code to an internal compulsion. They become the things written on our own hearts so that we’re able to do them willingly (2 Cor. 3).

Gift and promise
When we live under law we think our works have merit and we rest on what we can accomplish through our performance. This never ends well because we’re aware of how weak our best efforts are and we’re frustrated by how much is left undone. Under grace we live by faith because we know everything we have and everything we’re equipped to do is a gift from God. We live not by our performance but according to God’s promise to justify us by faith alone in Christ. We live out of the fullness of who God is for us not who we think we need to be for him (Gal. 2:15-3:29).

When we live under law we do so by our own power. We strap up and hope that if we do enough, try hard enough, and check all the Christian-to-do boxes then we’re sure to become a better person. Under grace, we remember our insufficiency and neediness and so we live through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working through us. We do work and we make obedience to God a priority, but we walk by faith in the Spirit who does the transforming work in us and causes the spiritual growth in us (Phil. 2:12-13).

Selflessness and love
When we live under law we’re self-focused and devoid of love. We don’t love God because he’s the task-master always keeping us on the clock. We don’t love others because they haven’t gotten their act together like we have. Living under law leads to pride because any apparent success is a result of all my effort. Under grace, we become selfless and are enabled to live out of love. Through communion with the God who’s given us grace our hearts are reshaped so we can love God and others. Since Christ has justified us and we have nothing to do with it, we are humbled by our helplessness and released from the bondage of having to worry about what else I need to do, fix, or change (Gal. 5:13-25).

These are just a few recognizable differences between living under grace and under law. Can you see how the Trinitarian grace we receive changes the way sanctification works itself out? We need to know about our adoption as God’s own children and then live knowing our Father is for us, he loves us, and he actually likes us. We need to know that the Spirit has released us from sin’s ownership over us. Therefore, we can now live and mature as new people under new management, strengthened through the Spirit’s indwelling presence and power. We need to know that the Son purchased the forgiveness of our sins and we’re now declared righteous in him. And, because of that, we can finally rest in our knowledge that in Christ we have a firm identity, a full acceptance, and a fixed destiny.

We live with freedom because of the grace of the father’s love to us, the grace of the Spirit’s power in us, and the grace of Jesus’ accomplished work for us. We live by faith because we receive these things from God to us as gifts and not as something we earned. We live in love because the driving force in our life is the undeserved and unprovoked grace we’ve received. Having considered in Part 1 the atmosphere of Trinitarian grace we live in, and then having just looked at some ways we might be able to tell if you’re trying to grow through grace or through law, in the next post we will actually put some handles on ways to grow through grace.

Image courtesy of Greg Pilcher.
For an article with a similar focus but thinking through sanctification as gospel-centered as opposed to self-centered, see here.
[1] Sanctification through law operates under the assumption that our work gets God on our side and leads to us becoming what he wants us to be. In our mind’s eye under law, we see God as either Uncle Sam with his finger pointed saying “Be all you can be,” or we see Him as the always disappointed Dad who’s there to point out our faults.
[2] This means we’re freed from the law as our judge (convicting us of guilt) but it doesn’t mean the law isn’t still a guide (showing God’s will). The law that was an enemy because of our powerlessness to walk in it becomes our friend as Christ justifies us through it and the Spirit enables us to walk in it (Rom. 8:1-4).
[3] In I Peter 1, because the Father loves us, the Spirit has sanctified us, and the Son has cleansed us we can live a life of faith (1:5-9, 21), we can walk in freedom (1:18-19), and we can love others (1:22). In Galatians 5 we’re told by walking in the Spirit and not the flesh we will bear the fruit of the Spirit. Paul bases this on our freedom in Christ (5:1), which allows us to live by faith and not works (5:5-6), which then issues itself in a life of love (5:6, 13-14, 22). In Romans 8 the language of freedom is clear (8:1, 15) but the terms of faith and love aren’t mentioned. However, the parallel passage of Romans 5:1-5 mentions all three. Also note, the overarching argument of Romans is our righteousness by faith (3-8), and later Paul gives specific applications of how this leads to love (12-14).

Links to articles

A few people have asked where they could find the articles I wrote a couple of weeks ago so I thought I’d link them here.

Here is a link to my article “What Does It Mean to “Remember” in the Lord’s Supper?” from The Gospel Coalition.

And, here is a link to my article “8 Characteristics of Gospel-Centered Sanctification” from Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

I recently did a radio interview with Pilgrim Radio about my article on sanctification. Their radio stations are out West so anyone local interested in listening would have to stream it as it’s being played. It’s airing tomorrow (Thursday) at 5:30AM and 3:30 PM and then 12:30 AM Friday morning (Thursday night).

Who Are the Little Ones in Matthew 18?

“12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:12-14)

Who are the little ones in verse 14? Since in verses 1-7 Jesus puts a child in their midst as an example of the greatest in the kingdom, “little ones” could simply refer to kiddos. However, I (and most commentators) take little ones to mean the “least of these,” or anyone of little significance. This view doesn’t exclude a child from fitting into this group, but it sees the child in verses 1-7 embodying the principle Jesus expands in 10-14.

The Greek word means small or little but it is applied in various ways: little in size, time, value, quantity, rank, etc. It’s used 30 times in the NT and I believe more often than not it primarily refers to those of little value or significance. That doesn’t mean it can’t have multiple meanings at once, such as small in size and perceived smallness in value because of that size (ex: the mustard seed). Here are a few examples.
• “They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great’” (Acts 8:10).
• “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11).
• “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead” (Rev. 13:16).

In Matthew 18 the child represents those not thought of as the “big players” in the kingdom. The opinion of the child doesn’t matter, no one goes after their respect, and they seemingly add no value or prestige to the kingdom. Frederick Dale Bruner writes, “It is not so much the child’s subjective innocence or purity that is in view as it is the child’s objective smallness and low status. The child, in the opinion of Jesus’ culture, had to limit itself to listening and obeying.” [Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 208.] In his commentary, Craig Blomberg sees the wording in verse 4, “whoever humbles himself like a child,” as a transition to show that “little ones” refers to disciples of little standing and not just children. “According to Jesus it is not the significant one, the important one, the esteemed one who ‘in the world’ is considered great, but it is the little one, the unimpressive one, the one standing in the background and in the shadow of the mighty ones who is the person [Jesus] considers great” (Bruner, 209).

In the parable of the lost sheep (18:10-14), Jesus reveals the heart of God as one who seeks the humble—or humbled. God lays down the example of what He requires of His followers in verses 1-9: welcoming the unwelcomed and seeking after the stray, seemingly inconsequential sheep most would let go. The parable pictures a Shepherd who isn’t willing that a single one of his sheep would be lost. He loves the individual, even when it’s a “little one” most would cast aside. The Father seeks out his strays, not abandoning them to their own waywardness. The parable seems to have two primary themes: (1) God seeks out any of his lost sheep, and (2) God seeks out the little ones.

I’ll close by highlighting a few applications, complementing them with some insightful and illustrative quotes by Frederick Bruner.

How does a church make seeking out the straying a priority? Do we care more about those who come in and out then those who just come in and pad our numbers? One of the reasons why we make a big deal about getting people into relationships and into community is so they are known. Churches aren’t just into their programs but they desire their people to be in relationship with others they can care about and who can care about them. Every church must have a means of tracking, seeking, and caring for those who are wandering. “What Jesus does mean here by ‘your Father’s will’ is that it matters deeply to the Father how lost, straying, and weak persons are regarded in his church. God seeks out the lost; so should we“ (Bruner, 221). We have to make a personal effort to seek out people we don’t recognize and seek out those we aren’t seeing (both in our smaller group settings and in the larger corporate gathering). Churches need to have strategic plans for how we will know who’s starting to slip away and then how we will seek them out.

“The problem sheep is described as planomenon, a word from which we get our English word planet, meaning ‘a wandering one’ (cf. Gundry, 366). The word can also be translated ‘lost,’ for the wanderer is temporarily lost to the flock. Our churches are accustomed to thinking of the ‘lost,’ however, as those who have never been in the flock at all. But in Matthew’s version of the story we are dealing with weak Christians, not with lost non-Christians. Jesus asks disciples to run a tight ship, to have churches that show unusual solicitude for those slipping away, and to mount an active seeking ministry. This means an active visitation program in the Christian congregation (cf. Prov 27:23).” (Bruner, 221)

“The whole Christian community should hear itself called to a ministry of visitation. Officers of the church should be the first to take this chapter to heart, but in all church teaching and programs the motive to seek the lost should be

central.” (Bruner, 219)

The importance of seeking out the one.
It’s tempting to have the “we can’t win them all and we can’t keep them all so let’s not worry attitude.” If someone has a small group of 15 people needing shepherding, can they really worry about the one person who doesn’t come back? If a person leads a ministry of 50 or 100 people, can’t they ignore the one person who slips out and focus on the others? It’s true that we can’t drag unwilling sheep back to the fold and it’s also true that our time and relational capacity is limited so we can only invest in so many people. But there’s also this example given for us to seek after the one person who strays. We are patient, committed, and endure in steadfast love. We don’t simply say since we have the 99 the other 1 isn’t important. We see people, especially the wanderers who most people don’t think about, as individuals and we care about them and love as individuals.

“We should note again the recurring ‘one.’ Jesus is not asking for a cosmic love; he is asking for an almost banal love of unattractive individuals. ‘Don’t look down on even one insignificant person!’ In every believing community there is at least one person for whom we feel something like deserved contempt. Such people Jesus now upgrades.” (Bruner, 217)

The Little Ones

The little ones: the children, the insignificant ones, the ignored, the embarrassing and awkward, the immature. We cannot despise, mistreat, or neglect them even when everyone else does. We see them not merely as the class they’re a part of but as an individual whom God has compassion on. It’s not just some socially liberal interpretation of the Bible to see Jesus pursuing the neglected, the outcasts, and the marginalized. That doesn’t capture everything about his ministry but it’s clearly an essential part of it. God loves the unlovely. God’s extravagant grace is seen in reaching out to those who know they bring nothing to the table, the ones who can’t pay him back and well aware of how ill-deserving they are. Throughout the OT and in the life of Jesus we see God’s heart for all people, but especially for the little ones. God loves the unlovely—including us.  Our experience of His love changes us so that we become lovers of the unlovely and those who seek out the ones others have left out.

“Those who are least significant in the Christian community are those who are on the fence, who are half in and half out, who are half-hearted in their devotion to Jesus and to the Christian enterprise. Their insignificance is due in part to their spiritual indifference…The temptation for the spiritually serious is to look down on half-hearted or ‘nominal’ Christians to whom Jesus Christ seems to mean too little.” (Bruner, 217)

“Those whom we find socially unattractive or spiritually unstrategic are the opposite in the eyes of Jesus…Jesus’ treatment of children in the Gospel is a manifesto for Christian education and for the dignity of all who work with children and other socially ‘unstrategic’ persons: the mentally weak, the sick and again, the dying, the handicapped, prisoners, battered persons, HIV/AIDS patients, the lonely.” (Bruner, 218)


In 1-4 Jesus calls the disciples to turn away (repent) from their pride and zeal for prominence and he exhorts them to embrace humility. Craig Blomberg does a great job on connecting 1-4 to verses 5. “The disciples must not merely humble themselves; they must welcome all others who humble themselves as believers.” [Craig Blomberg, Matthew (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 277.] He then continues by quoting Bruner, “Matthew 18:1-4 calls us to humility, then v. 5 gives us a major way to practice humility” (Blomberg, 277). There are moments where all of us feel our complete inadequacy. We sense we truly are the one straying sheep or we are the child in the midst of adults. We feel our incompetence and we recognize our littleness in multiple ways. It might at first feel shameful or embarrassing or humiliating, because we’ve followed the script that it’s the great ones who matter and being great brings fulfillment and purpose to our existence. But, a fleshly humiliation can give way to a spiritual humility where we let the wave of weakness remind us who we really are before God. And in that moment, we see God’s bigness more clearly and we feel our smallness more deeply. Remembering we receive grace because God sought us out—undeserved and unprovoked—creates people who are willing to go against the grain by seeking out and loving on those who everyone else as rejected as inconsequential.

“…Jesus’ command to humble oneself does not mean to make oneself smaller than one is—to belittle oneself; for ‘the child does not make itself smaller than it is, but it knows how small it really is. Thus humility is nothing else than knowing how small we really are before God’ But, let us admit it, in the modern world we have largely lost our sense of God and so, with that loss, comes a very dim knowledge of any littleness before God.” (Bruner, 210)

“…humility was not seen as a virtue by ancient moralists, who equated humility with servility; but Christians were the counterculturalists par excellence, inviting the pagan world into the completely classless ‘club’ of the congregation.” (Bruner, 210)

Assurance of salvation

There’s a theological application to comfort us in assurance of salvation. God will pursue those who are his and preserve his sheep through their perseverance. He doesn’t just keep the good sheep who stick with things but he pursues the wayward and brings them back in. The doctrine of eternal security, assurance of salvation, or perseverance of the saints (or whatever you call it) reminds us that our salvation isn’t in our hands now because it didn’t begin in our hands. It wasn’t our idea, it didn’t start with our initiative, and we didn’t receive grace because of what we did. Our assurance is on God’s shoulders because he sought us out, he called us in, and he opened our eyes. He cares about every one of his sheep and will go after them so they’re not lost. Those who think salvation can be lost don’t get the fact that salvation was never left us to up to get in or stay in. Our salvation is God’s work and we can trust in his steadfast, eternal, persevering love that never lets off the gas and never lets us get out of reach. The parable of the lost sheep should comfort us that God will not lose a single one of His sheep…ever.

“The emphasis again is upon ‘the one,’ heightening once more the infinitive importance of the individual (the Christian faith’s special gift to social thought)…The one statistically insignificant wanderer means everything to this Shepherd. Human thinking says, ‘Let it go; we have ninety-nine.’ The Father’s thinking is, ‘There were one hundred; where is my one?’” (Bruner, 219)

Don’t Confuse or Divide Indicative & Imperative

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:14

More often than not when somebody throws out the “we’re not under law but under grace” phrase it’s either used to say, “Hey, come on! I’m a Christian so my sin’s not all that big of a deal,” or “Don’t give me any commands. That’s old-school, like Moses and the Old Testament era old-school.” In light of this we might forget that the phrase is actually tied to an exhortation for holiness, “sin will have no dominion over you.” That statement is both a fact based upon our dying and being raised in Jesus (Romans 6:1-13) as well as a reminder of what reality should look like in light of that fact: we shouldn’t let ourselves live under sin’s dominion (Rom. 6:15-23). As someone who wants to daily find refreshment in free grace while also wanting to mature in Christ in a manner propelled by that grace, I find Romans 6:14 to be a huge help. It gives me an encouragement to pursue holiness without making either my energy in that pursuit or how far I make it in that pursuit the source of my confidence before God. Douglas Moo provides a helpful explanation as to why the indicative and imperative should neither be confused nor separated.

“‘Indicative’ and ‘imperative’ must be neither divided nor confused. If divided, with ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’ put into separate compartments, we can forget that true holiness of life comes only as the outworking and realization of the life of Christ in us. This leads to a ‘moralism’ or ‘legalism’ in which the believer ‘goes it on his own,’ thinking that holiness will be attained through sheer effort, or ever more elaborate programs, or ever-increasing numbers of rules. But if indicative and imperative are confused, with ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’ collapsed together into one, we can neglect the fact that the outworking of the life of Christ is made our responsibility. This neglect leads to an unconcern with holiness of life, or to a ‘God-does-it-all’ attitude in which the believer thinks to become holy through a kind of spiritual osmosis. Paul makes it clear, by the sequence in his paragraph, that we can live a holy life as we appropriate the benefits of our union with Christ. But he also makes it clear, because there is a sequence, that living the holy life is distinct from (but not separate from) what we have attained by our union with Christ and that holiness of life can be stifled if we fail continually to appropriate and put to work the new life God has given us. Jeremiah Bourroughs, a seventeenth-century Puritan, put it like this: ‘…from him [Christ] as from a fountain, sanctification flows into the souls of the Saints: their sanctification comes not so much from their struggling, and endeavors, and vows, and resolutions, as it comes to them from their union with him.'”[1]

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 391.

Casting Your Cares on God

casting pic
A Not-so-brief Description of Casting Our Cares on God
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7

There are some things it can be hard to convince people of—spiritually speaking. It can be difficult to persuade people sin really is a big deal or that their own hearts are often a bigger problem than the people we blame. One thing needing little convincing of is that life is hard and the struggles prove wearying. The phrase “cast your cares on God” has been both a hope believers cling too and an encouragement for how to respond in life’s hardships. For some, it might be evident what the words require of us as the one letting something go and what it promises from God as the one taking something from us. Or, like what is often true for believers, while the meaning might be apparent what seems ambiguous is how we actually go about doing it. My hope is to clarify the phrase’s meaning—primarily from I Peter 5—[1]but also explore both how we might cast our cares on God as well as why we don’t do it in the first place.

Foundations for Casting
In I Peter 5:6-7 the first and primary action is “humble yourselves.” Both the larger context in I Peter of the suffering church and the language of the verse itself—“suffering under the mighty hand of God”—remind us that our attitude in struggles, suffering, and trials should be humility. In verse 6 and again in verse 11 Peter tells us that God is the Sovereign One who allows into our lives whatever comes to pass. These things neither catch Him off guard nor are they evils outside of His control. His Providence means that while He neither does evil to us nor tempts us with evil, he allows and orchestrates all of the events and circumstances in our life. This doesn’t imply that every single thing in our life is by itself good—the world is still broken and sin is still seen as evil—but that every single thing does have a good purpose for those who are God’s children (Rom. 8:28-30). Peter therefore admonishes us to respond with submission to God’s Providence and humility as finite creatures who don’t always know why things are happening or what the intended results might be.

Peter—and the Bible as a whole—ground God’s trustworthiness not only in His Sovereignty and Power but also in his Goodness and Care. In verse seven there are four simple but significant words for why we should cast our anxieties on God: because “he cares for you.”[2] God pairs the magnificence of his Sovereignty with the goodness of his Love. In a parallel passage from Matthew 6:25-24, Jesus roots his command to not be anxious in the connected realities that God knows what we need and he cares or values us (v. 26). Thus, our fears are assuaged by knowing God is strong enough to handle any storm and good enough to care for us in the midst of it.[3]

Returning to the exhortation to humility from verse 6, this is important because in verse 7 the phrase “casting all your anxieties on him” (ESV) is a clause following on the heels of humble yourselves. Unlike how it might read in the NIV translation (“cast all…”), this is not a new verb but a participle explaining how we humble ourselves. This might initially catch us off guard since we don’t think of carrying burdens in the forms of worry or fear qualifies as pride. But, the Bible always gets the diagnosis right and reveals the heart issue at work, and here it is our pride. We carry burdens because we either think we have too or because we’re capable, neither of which are true. Rather than resisting God’s hand or striving to take care of things independently of him, we’re given the freedom to be honest about how small and weak we feel and trust in the bigness of God as God. The reason we don’t let go of worry, fear, shame, and stress is because we’re trying to carry responsibilities we’re not meant to carry. God brings struggles into our lives not so we can prove how strong and competent we are but so we’ll see how strong and competent He is. As our vision adjusts and we realize how small and weak we are we’re at the same time awakened to just how large and strong God is, and that He is those things for us.

The Meaning of Casting
Hopefully having seen a little bit more clearly the relationship between casting our cares and taking on humility, we can briefly define what “casting” means before describing how we might do it. Most of us don’t use the word “cast” in day to day conversations but it’s familiar enough we understand it. Some of the definitions and synonyms include throwing something off or away from you, to redirect, to let go of, or to put something away. When someone casts a fishing line they let it fly. The word in I Peter 5:7 appears one other place in the NT, Luke 19:35. When a colt (donkey) is brought to Jesus for his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, it says “throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.” They take their cloaks and cast—throw or toss—them from their own backs and onto the back of the donkey.

Definitions are helpful in providing parameters to a word but illustrations put a picture in our mind. If fishing or riding donkeys isn’t your thing then here’s one that helps me. In every sport there is the possibility of injury. For example, in football, it seems like every few minutes there’s a TV timeout because of an injury. How many times have you seen someone severely injures their ankle, foot, or leg? What happens is they’re not strong enough to walk off on their own so teammates pick them up and do the walking for them. As the injured player leans—casts himself—onto his teammate and takes the weight off his own legs, the stronger teammate carries the weight for him. All of these definitions and illustrations convey a simple idea. Casting suggests taking something off of yourself and placing or throwing it onto something or someone else. Therefore, when we cast our cares on God we throw the burdens we’re carrying on our weak and worn-down backs onto God’s sturdy and unbending shoulders.

The “how-to” of Casting
While the explanation of casting isn’t all that difficult, the doing of it can be. If burdens were physical things it would be easy to transfer them to someone else. But, since burdens aren’t physical and since God isn’t standing next to me what how do I cast my cares on Him? Casting our burdens on God is an act of faith. When something is an act of faith it is no less real despite it being something that isn’t necessarily done physically.

Hopefully the explanation above has already provided more clarity as to what it means to cast our cares on God and how it might happen. We do it by humbling ourselves before God and giving up trusting in ourselves and controlling our own lives, and instead, we let God be in control and we place our trust in him.[4] We give him our worries, fears, shame, guilt, stress, despair, and control. We don’t deny how hard a situation is, we don’t hide behind feigned smiles and crossed fingers, and we don’t resort to a fatalistic mantra of “whatever will be, will be.” Instead, we’re honest about how hard things are and how much we’re struggling under the weight of it while simultaneously asking God for his help. We learn to trust Him to take care of us, to keep us trusting, to help us endure, to and learn of Him and from Him in the midst of these unwanted circumstances. We keep working and praying but the weight of responsibility is transferred from us to God. It’s no longer up to us to figure it out, fix it, clean things up, or make things right.

Attitudes, affections, and actions all overlap here. Humbling ourselves before God and under his mighty hand requires a change of attitude: God is God and I am not. It also provokes a change in our affections: I should and will trust in my Almighty and Loving God. The turn-around in our actions might just be new attitudes and affections, but it also might be demonstrated externally in our behavior: I will pray instead of worrying or fretting.[5]

To say it differently, burdens in the Bible are different and yet comparable to how we might think about and respond to gifts. God gives us gifts in part as avenues of creating gratitude in our heart that leads to giving thanks to God. The gift from God is given back as gratitude to God. Similarly, God gives us burdens in part as avenues of creating dependence in our heart that leads to trusting God. The burden from God is given back as trust to God.

Take the example of worry, which has family ties with fear and control. We worry, fret, and stress out because we don’t know what’s going to happen or if things will turn out okay. We can’t control the situation and we don’t know what’s next around the bend. But, only God can know the future and only God can control the lives and circumstances of people. If God is not real in my life or cannot be trusted either because a lack of might or lack of goodness then I will try to take his place. That’s all worrying is, acting as if God doesn’t know or can’t control the future so I better figure it out and handle my business. We cast our burden of worry on God by trusting He has a good plan for our lives and will carry us through whatever struggle he brings to us.

Worry isn’t the only burden we carry. Don’t we needlessly carry alone fear, guilt, shame, and sorrows? We’re paralyzed by fear of what might happen instead of trusting God as Helper in whatever comes our way. We hold onto guilt and shame when Jesus—the only judge of who’s guilty and what’s unclean—says your sins and stains have been washed by my perfect blood. We break under despairing sorrow instead of grieving as those who still have hope. Like most Christians, at times I’m tempted to hold onto all these different burdens but for me fear is usually the one I most struggle to let go of. I fear the future. I fear something happening to the people I love. I fear rational and irrational dangers. I have to continually massage the Scriptures back into my heart so that I trust in God more than I fear the “mights and coulds” in my head. It’s not that I say hard things won’t happen or there’s nothing to fear, since neither is promised to me. But rather, it’s knowing that I can’t figure out or change the things coming down the pipeline and then believing that my perfectly loving and perfectly strong God has a good plan for me. I trust He knows what He’s doing and He cares for me in doing it. As I trust, I let my tight grip on figuring out and controlling fear go and grip onto God himself as my security.

Trusting is living as the Father’s child. Most of us as adults now nostalgically remember our largely carefree lives as children. As a child you’re not supposed to have worries because your parents bear all of your worries. A child is—or at least should be—carefree because their parents love them, provide for them, and know what’s best. The child doesn’t fret about mortgages and new clothes because their parents will take care of them. Oh that we would be the children of God marked by trust in a perfect Father who loves us, provides for us, protects us, and cares for us.

Objections to Casting
If you think like me then there’s always a “but what about” or “but I feel like.” Despite all that is true above and even despite our experiences—which we forget—of those truths why don’t we cast our cares on God? What are the reasons we’re hesitant to entrust them to God? The first answer has already been noted: we take God’s place and try to run our own lives. Saying we get into trouble when we try to take God’s place isn’t meant to be harsh but to be honest. The lie that we can be like God has been the snare in our lives since the garden. I daily need to check myself with the reminder that God is God and I am not…so act like it.

In addition to idolatry and pride, I think there are some unstated whispers in the back of our mind that make us slow to cast our cares on God. It’s always a matter of belief, not so much the truths we mentally assent too but letting those truths permeate our hearts until they become our gut reaction. Instead of giving God our burdens because we trust “his mighty hand” (I Peter 5:6) and “he cares for us” (I Peter 5:7) we often listen to lies from self or Satan. The problem is we listen to the wrong voices instead of telling or preaching to ourselves what God has already said. Satan’s common lies designed to keep us carrying our own burdens usually make us thing wrongly of ourselves—as if we’re like God—and wrongly of God—as if he’s like us.[6] Satan will whisper, “The Father doesn’t love you or doesn’t care about you.” He will do everything to make you think, “Your sins can’t be forgiven and you’re guilty” or “you will never change and you’re still the same old you.” This is why go back to the Bible and anchor ourselves in the truths that God is both Sovereign and Caring, that Jesus has paid for all of our sins and taken our guilt, and that the Spirit has been given to gradually change us into new people by his power.

When it comes to listening to our own selves (which might also be influenced by whispers by Satan) I find that the following are our most common reasons we don’t give our burdens over.
God doesn’t care, He isn’t good, or He’s disappointed
God isn’t big enough, the situation is too large or too daunting or too far gone
God doesn’t listen to me or doesn’t know what’s going on.
I got myself into it so it’s up to me now, or I’ve used up all my second chances.
All of these thoughts are based on our subjective failings and not God’s objective truth. Our feelings are like waves that toss us back and forth but God’s Word is rock-solid and unshakeable ground. We will trust and cast our cares on God as we believe the truths about Him shown to us in the Bible. He does care for us. He invites us to come to him with our burdens, our struggles, our sorrow, and our sins. He is powerful enough and strong enough to handle anything. He has a good plan and good purposes for us. He doesn’t want us to figure things out or handle it on our own. In fact, he wants us to give up on self-sufficiency and lean on him alone.

Dig deep enough in the Word that you have truth to push back against the whispering lies of Satan and the deceptive thoughts from self. The cycle is that we speak these truths to ourselves and silence the lies, which allows us to trust God as we cast our cares on him, which in turn convinces us through experience what we believed as truth. The cycle gets stronger and deeper then as we’re led back into the Scriptures to see him more clearly and to trust him to a greater extent. What we usually then find is that the issue wasn’t primarily about the struggle or the trial itself. The issue behind our issues was whether or not we would run our lives or if we would be children who trust in their Father.

Obviously not everything could be said that I would like to say. The explanations could be clearer and deeper. If time permitted we might look at the number of OT heroes who trusted in God as they endured through many hardships. Or, we might look at the life of Jesus and how time and time again he in all his compassion released people from the burdens they carried. We might even go to Galatians 6:2 and see how Christians play a role in carrying one another’s burdens. While not exhaustive, my hope is that this short study puts us on solid footing as we think in more detail about what it means to cast all our cares on Him and then how we might go about doing it. I wanted to close with some wise and encouraging words by Charles Spurgeon.

“Why do you continue to stagger beneath a weight your Father would not even feel? What may seem to be a crushing burden to you would not amount to the weight of a speck of dust to him.
O child of suffering, be patient. Your sovereign God has not passed over or forgotten you. He who feeds the sparrows will also provide everything you need. Don’t give up in despair—hope on! Hope forever! Use the weapons of faith against the seas of trouble and ultimately your foes will be defeated and your distress will come to an end.
There is One who cares for you. His eye is fixed upon you, His heart beats with pity for your suffering, and His omnipotent hand will not fail to provide you help. Even the darkest storm cloud will be scattered into showers of mercy and the darkest night will give way to the morning sun.
If you are a member of His family, He will bind your wounds and heal your broken heart. Never doubt His grace because of the troubles in your life, but believe He loves you just as much during the seasons of trouble as in times of happiness.”

I’d also recommend this video by Tim Timmons where he sings “Cast Your Cares.”

Top image found at:
[1] Other primary texts in mind would be Ps. 55:22; Matt. 6:25-34, 11:28-30; Gal. 6:2; Also, compare James 4:6-7, 10 with I Peter 5:5-9.
[2] “But this fear arises from our ignorance of divine providence. Now, on the other hand, as soon as we are convinced that God cares for us, our minds are easily led to patience and humility….having cast our care on God, we may calmly rest. For all those who recumb [rest] not on God’s providence must necessarily be in constant turmoil and violently assail others. We ought the more to dwell on this thought, that God cares for us.” John Calvin, The First Epistle of Peter, trans. Henry Beveridge, vol. 22 of Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 149.
[3] “Giving our anxiety to God makes eminent sense ‘because he cares for you.’ God is not indifferent, nor is he cruel. He has compassion on his children and will sustain them in every distress.” Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville: Broadman & Holdman, 2003), 241.
[4] “It is rather a trusting commitment to God in the assurance that God indeed cares and that his caring does not lack the power or the will to do the very best for his own.” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 188.
[5] In the NT, encouragement to prayer is often tied to trusting in God instead of stewing in anxiety. See Philippians 4:4-7.
[6] Look at I Peter 5:6-11 and James 4:4-6, 10—which parallel one another in multiple ways—where resisting the devil is tied to humbly submitting ourselves and trusting God.
[7] Charles Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, ed. by Jim Reimann (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) 6.

A Framework For Understanding Puritanism

pilgrimThis famous picture by William Blake of John Bunyan’s character in The Pilgrim’s Progress highlights some key ideas in the mind of a Puritan. He’s on a pilgrimage away from the city of destruction under God’s wrath and headed towards his true home, sin and guilt are heavy on his back, and his eyes are fixed on the Word of God which is leading his path. That’s one quick snapshot of how a Puritan might have understood his spiritual journey. As almost every book and article on Puritanism explains in its first few pages, defining a Puritan or the movement of Puritanism is challenging. It wasn’t a monolithic movement, it spanned more than one hundred years and multiple countries, and the focus varied over time and in different locations. For that reason, most authors are hesitant to actually define Puritanism and instead they’ll offer characteristics.

The English Reformation essentially lasted from 1520-1558 and Puritanism essentially lasted from 1558-1689, although there is much more overlap between the two. An extended timeline on English Puritanism can be found at Christian History. Here are a few lists of characteristics and descriptions of Puritanism. They might not capture everything but they go a long way in conceptually building a framework of Puritanism.

“Puritanism must be understood in two ways: first, as the endeavor to effect thoroughgoing reforms of ecclesiastical practice, and second, as the attempt at a godly life.” [1]
“Puritansim was essentially a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal and evangelism, and spiritual revival.” [2]
“A ‘Puritan’ was one who, politically, reacted against the via media of the Elizabethan Settlement in favor of a more thorough reformation in England; who, socially, promoted evangelism, catechism, and spiritual nourishment through the preaching and teaching of the Bible; who, theologically, held the views of Luther’s doctrine of faith (sola fide), Calvin’s doctrine of grace (sola gratia), and the Reformers’ doctrine of Scripture (sola scriptura); and who, devotionally, strove for personal holiness, a practical faith, communion with God, and the glory of God in all things.” [3]

Characteristics from Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken
1) A religious movement (characterized by a strong moral consciousness)
2) A reform movement (reformation of self, church, and state)
3) A visionary movement (a vision of a reformed society)
4) A protest movement (against Roman Catholicism and at times Anglicanism)
5) A minority movement (minority of population; persecuted minority)
6) A lay movement (the lay Puritan participated in all these characteristics)
7) A biblical movement (the Bible was central to everything)
8) A political and economic movement (politics and religion were intertwined)

7 Characteristics from The Devoted life by Kapic & Gleason
1) A movement of spirituality.
2) Stressed experiencing communion with God.
3) The Bible was the sole authority and supreme source for truth and guidance in life.
4) Augustinian in their emphasis upon human sinfulness and divine grace.
5) Emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.
6) Troubled by sacramentalism of Catholicism and its remnants in Anglicanism.
7) At least partially a revival (reform) movement.

[1] Ernest Kevan, The Grace of Law, 305.
[2] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 28.
[3] Brian Cosby, “Towards A Definition of ‘Puritan’ and ‘Puritanism,'” 307.

The Father’s Love in Disciplining (Part 7)

In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) The Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace.

5) The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts.

6) The Father’s love is seen in the making and fulfilling of promises to his people.

7) The Father loves us not despite disciplining his children but through disciplining his children. I know this point is a hard sell. Even as Christians who believe God’s Word, we often struggle to comprehend how discipline can actually be a demonstration of God’s goodness. We might even go so far as to acknowledge it’s for our good but can it really be categorized as a proof of God’s love? I think the Bible and our experience both tell us yes.

Maybe you had a parent say something like, “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you,” and as a child you would have been more than happy to trade places. You might have experienced discipline that wasn’t fair or was done more out of punishment and rage than discipline and control. God’s discipline is never done in a fit of rage. His discipline is a calm but firm correction done out of love. He has our best interest in mind. God never rejects or punishes us, but rather, he teaches as he disciplines.

There are a number of verses in the Psalms pointing to the instructive and corrective value in discipline (Ps. 94:12; 119:67, 75). Paul says that through discipline we’re protected from pursuing our destruction (I Cor. 11:32). Several Proverbs pick up on this theme and exhort parents to discipline their children if they love them. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24; cf. 23:13; 29:17).

The NT actually connects discipline to love at least twice to help cement in our mind that God’s discipline when we sin proves he loves us (Heb. 12:3-11; Rev. 3:19). He will do the hard things good parents do who care for their children, exchanging a few hard moments of discipline for a life of walking in righteousness. Let’s consider these verses from Hebrews that connect discipline and love.
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as son? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11).

The fact that God disciplines us should encourage us just how much he cares for and loves us. Knowing his discipline comes from his goodness and wisdom, we can trust that he chooses the discipline that we most need. Just like children respond to rebuke in different ways and a parent treats each child based upon their unique personality and needs, so our Father knows what discipline we most need and can handle. The depth and breadth of God’s love encompasses loving discipline as well as gifts of grace. God disciplines us because he loves us and we should regard such discipline as the evidence he will never give up on us or leave us to ourselves. He disciplines the one he loves and his discipline proves he loves.

Earthly parents who love their kids discipline them because they know their role as a parent is to teach and instruct them. The children must learn right from wrong and they must learn what will harm versus what will help them. A parent will discipline the child who tries to put a fork in the light socket, walks into the road when they shouldn’t, skips school, or makes destructive choices. No good parent delights in the discipline itself, but they do it knowing it has a good effect.

There’s a beautiful scene in the television show Parenthood that illustrated this for me. There’s a mother and father who adopt a young boy. Early on he doesn’t feel accepted and continues to misbehave. The mother thinks they should keep looking the other way but the father reminds her they’re his parents now. He’s their child so they need to treat him like family, not like a guest or stranger. Since he’s now their boy and they want what’s best for him they make the choice to explain what he’s done wrong and let him know it’s not okay. God treats us not as strangers or guests who he has no relationship with but as a father who loves his children deeply.

Anne Bradstreet: Two Poems on the Death of Her Grandchildren

AnneBradstreet-15_Today I received in the mail one of my favorite things, new books! One was a biography of Anne Bradstreet and the other was her collected works, largely poems. Anne Bradstreet came to New England aboard the famous ship Arbella in 1630. It’s the same boat John Wintrhop was on and delivered his famous sermon A Model of Christian Charity. In it he laid out the vision of them being “a city on a hill” that would model to England what a godly society would look like. Anne Bradstreet was the daughter of wife to Massachusetts governors and Puritans. Her poems reflect many Puritan themes, some expected and some contrary to common–though incorrect–assumptions of Puritans. One example would be the depth of passion and affection she writes to her husband in her poetry. I’ll have to save it for a later post, but despite the made up Puritans from 19th century novels, they were actually strong proponents of passion, intimacy, partnership, and deep affection in a marriage.

Anne was the first published American poet. She wrote with the values and beliefs of England in mind while living in and experiencing the unique challenges and blessings of New England’s wilderness. I look forward to reading her Works and several of her poems will probably land here. One of the first poems I found in my new book was about the death of a grandchild at all too early of an age (1 month and 1 day). Being an uncle to three babies that did not make it out of the womb, and working in a church where many of our families have lost children before they ever imagined, this and another poem she wrote immediately caught my attention. Anne had many difficulties getting pregnant and for years struggled with being childless. Eventually she and her husband would have a number of children, none of which died as children. She did however have more than one of her grandchildren die as a small child. Here are two short poems she wrote after the death of her young grandchildren.

In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Anne Bradstreet, Being Three Years and Seven Months Old
With troubled heart and trembling hand I write,
The heavens have changed to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met,
When I on fading things my hopes have set.
Experience might ‘fore this have made me wise,
To value things according to their price.
Was ever stable joy yet found below?
Or perfect bliss without mixture of woe?
I knew she was but as a withering flower,
That’s here today, perhaps gone in an hour;
Like as a bubble, or the brittle glass,
Or like a shadow turning as it was.
More fool then I to look on that was lent
As if mine own, when thus impermanent.
Farewell dear child, thou ne’er shall come to me,
But yet a while, and I shall go to thee;
Mean time my throbbing heart’s cheered up with this:
Thou with thy Savior art in endless bliss.

On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet, Being but a Month and One day old
No sooner came, but gone, and fall’n asleep,
Acquaintance short, yet parting caused us weep;
Three flowers, two scarcely blown, the last i’ th’bud,
Cropt by th’ Almighty’s hand; yet is He good.
With dreadful awe before Him let’s be mute,
Such was His will, but why, let’s not dispute,
With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust,
Let’s say He’s merciful as well as just.
He will return and make up all our losses,
And smile again after our bitter crosses
Go pretty babe, go rest with sisters twain;
Among the blest in endless joys remain.

The Father’s Love in Promising (Part 6)

In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) The Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace.

5) The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts.

6) The Father’s love is seen in the making and fulfilling of promises to his people. God the Father makes many great and gracious promises to us as his people and then he signs, seals, and delivers them to us through the work of the Son and the Spirit. God cannot and will not lie to us (Titus 1:2) and so his word to us is always to be trusted. All of us will be disappointed by people in this world who fail us. They might not be true to their word. They might do what they said. They might not deliver on the things they pledge to us. These unfortunate experiences leave a bad taste on our mouth and it can sour our trust in relationships. However, God is not like us in that he is always faithful and true. You cannot remember a time when he has failed you because it hasn’t happened. You cannot think of a promise he made that was later broken because he never does that. Children desire and they need dads who prove their trustworthiness and love by doing what it takes to keep their promises. God the father has always done that and he tells us the proof is evidenced in the cross.

In his exposition of 2 Corinthians, the Puritan Richard Sibbes gives an extended discussion on God’s promises. He begins by asking and answering “what is a promise?” “A promise is nothing but a manifestation of love, an [intention] of bestowing some good, and removing some ill. A manifestation of our mind in that kind is a promise of conferring of a future good, or removing of a future ill; therefore it comes from love in the party promising.” He continues by arguing that promise comes from the inward love and is the word before the acts demonstrating such love.
“Now God, who is love…will not only show his love in time, but because he will have us rest sweetly in his bosom, and settle ourselves on his gracious promises…he gives us rich and precious promises….This is the nature of a promise. It is not only love, and the expression of love in deed, but the expression of it in word, when he intends to solace, comfort, establish, and stay the mind of man until the good promised be performed.” [1]

Jesus is the one who confirms all God’s promises to us and secures them for us. In 2 Corinthians 1:20 Paul says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus Christ].” He has at the front of his mind all of God’s salvific promises in the OT are accomplished and confirmed in Jesus. It extends beyond the OT and we know that all of God’s clearly stated promises are accomplished and kept through Jesus.

The author of Hebrews makes the faithfulness of God the foundation of our perseverance. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). Even in the midst of circumstances that seem bleak and might raise doubts about God’s word holding true, we can know that he is always faithful. The next chapter, Hebrews 11, then lists a number of God’s people who bet their lives on God’s faithfulness. The whole Bible testifies to God’s faithfulness. He does what he promises and he promises great things to those who are his.

God’s love in these precious promises is two-fold. First, he loves us by being true and faithful rather than being unreliable or deceptive. Nothing gives a greater sense of safety and security than a father who can be fully and completely trusted. We are like children who find ourselves clinging in trust to our Father. Second, his love is also seen in the promises themselves. It’s not only that he keeps his promises but it’s also that he holds out to us some amazing things. He promises to be love us as his sons and daughters, to give us his Holy Spirit to live with us, to keep us secure in Christ, to wipe away our sins, and to one day come back and restore all things.

The Bible is stocked full of promises that are strong enough and sweet enough to carry us through each day. One of the best things to do when studying God’s Word is to intentionally pick out the promises of God and to anchor your life on them. They are true and they are good. If we ever doubt God’s promises he calls us to look back to the pledge of his Son (2 Cor. 1:20; Rom. 8:31-39) and the down-payment of His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14). God loves us by promising us with countless blessings and assurances, and he loves us by always keeping those promises.

[1] Richard Sibbes, “Exposition of 2nd Corinthians Chapter 1” in Works of Richard Sibbes, 7 volumes (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, reprinted 2001), 3:384. I have updated some of the language using modern spelling.