Stewards of Grace

“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. … that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 4:10,11

It has been said that each person should find out what they love doing and then find someone to pay them to do it. From a worldly perspective that seems like a good idea. For the Christian it is a little different. We are to discover what spiritual gifting God has given us and then develop it by use. In doing this we will discover that we love expressing the gift given and in the process bring glory to God. That doesn’t mean it will be without cost and hardship.

I have been asked by family members what I would like as a birthday gift and then they may choose from the items mentioned. The Bible reveals that we don’t get that choice. Each one’s spiritual gifting is at the sovereign will of God. Keep in mind that it is a gift not a reward.

Peter, the last New Testament writer to mention spiritual gifting writes that spiritual gifting is for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. Each one is to “minister it to one another.” Such gifting is not for the purpose of boasting in ourselves. That is pride and we know the origin of pride (Ezekiel 28). Spiritual gifting is not a reward for service but it is divine ability in stewardship to serve others. We will give account at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) as to how faithfully we performed this stewardship.

Spiritual gifting is an expression of the Divine attributes of Jesus Christ and leave no room for pride or boasting on our part. The exercise of spiritual gifting is all to the glory of God. As Paul wrote, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Paul and the other apostles all had spiritual gifting but exercised them for the benefit of the church and not for personal benefit. Often they paid a considerable price to enact this stewardship.

Peter writes, “… be clothed with humility” followed by, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:5, 6). If anyone boasts with regard to spiritual gifting it reveals that they are out of fellowship with Jesus Christ and speaking on behalf of Satan. Of all people, Peter knew what it was to be humbled by God and he became a good steward of the grace gift that God had given to the church through him.

The Day of Visitation

“… because you did not know the time of your visitation” Luke 19:44

These words came from the lips of Jesus mingled with His tears. He had presented Himself to Israel as their promised Messiah and been rejected. His presentation began in the town of Bethlehem. The scribes and Pharisees knew that Messiah would be born in there but they were too preoccupied to even have a small contingent in Bethlehem waiting for the arrival of Messiah.

Instead of the religious leaders being summoned for the great arrival shepherds were invited to the birth of the King of kings. Instead of Israel’s king being invited, Gentile men living in expectation of this King came.

The words of Jesus, “… because you did not know the time of your visitation” could be repeated throughout history to people collectively and individually. There have been many periods in the history of the church when the Holy Spirit has opened the minds and hearts of great numbers to turn from sin and receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It could be said of the multitudes that did not respond that they missed their opportunity. Each time the Gospel has been shared individually many have responded but for those who would not receive the ministry of the Holy Spirit they also missed their opportunity for eternal life. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Christmas and Easter are times when the world has its attention drawn in some measure to Jesus Christ. It is a special opportunity for those of us who know Jesus Christ to share the Gospel with others. For those who do not know Him it is an opportunity to come humbly to Him and find mercy and forgiveness. Since that is the reason He came, He will give it to the genuine seeker. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). The next verse reveals that the world is already condemned and in need of a Saviour.

When a person or group of people miss the time of Christ’s visitation to them it is a time of sorrow to Jesus and it ought to be so for us also. It is a time of grief when a soul does not take advantage of their opportunity to know Jesus Christ. Jesus finds no pleasure in a person dying without sins forgiven (Ezekiel 18:23, 32). In contrast, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). In the one, any hope of an intimate relationship is lost forever. In the latter, that intimate relationship will endure for eternity. We pray that many will know His visitation this Christmas.

You Shall Know

“’Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the Lord” Ezekiel 37:14

This statement and some like it, such as “Then you shall know that I am the Lord” (v 13), are repeated some seventy times in the book of Ezekiel. The Lord is making the point that the foretelling aspect of prophecy includes when the prophesied events come to pass people will know that it is God who has spoken it and done it. The test of a true prophet is that what he foretells comes to pass exactly as he said (Deuteronomy 18:22). The majority of times this statement is used in Ezekiel relate to Israel but there are quite a few that relate to Egypt and other Gentile nations so that they also may know.

Three times Jesus told His disciples that He would be crucified and rise again (Matthew 29:19). He also predicted the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the Tribulation and His return (Matthew 24 & 25). The purpose in telling His disciples these and other things in advance was that they would not be discouraged when they occurred but rather encouraged.

In Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica he wrote concerning the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Once more we see that the purpose in informing Jesus’ followers ahead of time was that they might “comfort one another with these words” (4:18; 5:11). If these words are not to be understood in the normal literary sense then no one would be comforted.

By neglecting the foretelling aspect of prophetic revelation we rob Christians of the comfort that comes from knowing that current and future events must come to pass and that they will not prevent, hinder or delay Jesus returning, establishing His earthly kingdom and creating a new heavens and a new earth. We are in fact encouraged and comforted as we see the day approaching.

This may be one of the compelling aspects of the ministry of the 144,000 witnesses spoken of in Revelation seven and fourteen and the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation 11. They would be able to point people to Scripture, and what will at that time be current events, to show that the God of the Bible is the One true God and that Jesus is the Christ. This will provoke many to believe and receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus did this Himself with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27). He confirmed it as a legitimate way to share the Gospel to all the disciples. He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).

We do a great disservice to God’s people if we fail to expound and teach the foretelling aspect of the prophetic Scriptures and we rob ourselves of joy, peace and comfort if we do not study and believe them.

Precious to God

“’Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die?’ ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord. ‘Therefore turn and live’” Ezekiel 18:31, 32

How often do we hear people who do not know the Lord criticize Him? Because His ways are not our ways He is criticized as unworthy, unjust, unrighteous and unloving by people who do not know Him. One of the frequently asked questions is why God allows people to suffer and die. He is considered to be unjust, vindictive or cruel, one who enjoys punishing people.

God did not turn away from people first. People first turned away from Him. These days He has been cast out of our schools, government and now there are those trying to remove him from conversation – especially in the media. That same media reports the consequences almost daily.

The above words of the Lord state a principle of His Divine Nature that is fully expressed in the cross of Jesus Christ. God invites every person to turn to Him and live with Him eternally. There is no reason for any person to go to hell since Jesus Christ has died for all sin. Why should you die? says the Lord and invites everyone to come to Him. People are only separated from God because they choose not to come to Him. They have been seduced by Satan’s lie to Adam, you will be like God.” His door is always open to anyone who will turn to Him. As Paul writes, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). No one is excluded. That door will only close upon bodily death but then it closes forever.

If God found pleasure in punishing people He would never have sent the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, to take away our sin. This one act is an act of love and compassion. To confirm His desire He says again, “’As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die?’” (33:11). There is much passion in these words that express the heart desire of God.

On the other hand, the Lord says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). These are those who accepted His invitation to turn from their ways. These are those who know the love, kindness and grace of God. They know that He is not cruel or vindictive but rather He is a loving Father who wants His children to have all that is good and best for them. The moment believers die bodily they are in the presence of Jesus and see Him face to face. What a glorious moment that will be and it is “precious in the sight of the Lord.”

A Sign in our Day

“’Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel,’ says the lord” Ezekiel 20:44

It is always wonderfully reassuring to read the Bible and find clusters of the “I will’s” of the lord. They appear frequently in the prophets in regard to the nation Israel. In this chapter there are also two other clusters. One is the phrase, “for My name’s sake.” The third cluster is “Then you shall know …” These three clusters work together to give us a marvellous living image of our God and His desire for His people. It is a most wonderful chapter with regard to the Divine Nature and the Lord’s faithfulness in keeping His word even to wayward children.

The concept that Israel has been put out of the future plan of God because of their disobedience and idolatry is well and truly debunked in the verse above and this chapter. It also debunks the notion God will remove one who has been born of God from His kingdom. Salvation is not based on our works but on Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and God’s faithfulness to His word. God never rejects anyone who comes to Him (John 6:37).

Several times in this passage the Lord says that He will bring Israel back into the land. This is in spite of the continuing disobedience and idolatry noted in this chapter and in many other places in the bible. In fact, it is the Lord bringing Israel back into the land from being spread among the nations, still in disobedience and rebellion, that is a sign to Israel that He is about to bring to ultimate fulfil His covenant promises to Abraham, David and Israel (vs. 37, 41-42)

When this happens Israel will know that it is the Lord who has done it for His name’s sake and not for their sake or because they are righteous.

When Israel is in the land, still in their unbelief, rebellion and corruption, the Lord will cause the nation to “pass under the rod” of correction (v 37). He will also “purge the rebels from among” them (v 38). “Then you will know that I am the Lord (v 38)”. Then will come the day that Paul spoke of in Romans 11:26, “And so all Israel will be saved.”

The time of the “passing under the rod” and the “purging” is still future but is on the ever nearer horizon. It is not difficult to equate these events with the seven year tribulation period that leads up to Jesus’ re-appearing. The description here matches the description of that time.

The Lord has no pleasure in the many who will die now or at that time (Ezekiel 18:23, 32). What He desires is Israel’s repentance and that is the purpose for the nation “passing under the rod” (18:30-31).

In our life time we are seeing the nation Israel being brought back into the land promised to Abraham even though, as a nation, they are in unbelief and still in rebellion against the Lord. That the Lord is doing this is a sign to Israel, and to the world, that we are approaching the day of Israel’s national reconciliation with the Lord and fulfilment of all that the “I will’s” of the lord promise.

“Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for which I raised My hand in an oath to give to your fathers” (v 42).

A Remnant of Israel

“Ah, Lord God! Will You make a complete end of the remnant of Israel?” (Ezekiel 11:13)

Ezekiel was not the first person and will not be the last to ask this question. It is still being asked today. In this respect nothing has changed through the centuries. As in the days of Ezekiel there are people who claim to speak for God who have not heard from Him.

As the Lord says, “They hope that the word may be confirmed” (13:6). That is, they prophecy according to their own wisdom and then wait to see if it comes to pass. A true prophet does not act in such a way. He speaks that which the Lord puts in His mouth to speak. The test of a true prophet that people have had for a long time is given in Deuteronomy 18:22. However we also have the Bible, God’s own word to us, as a measure.

Israel had a choice to listen to the prophets who spoke from their own wisdom or to a prophets who told them what God said. The choice is no different for us today. We can either use our own wisdom to answer life’s questions or we can rely on what God has said.

How many times does God have to say something for it to be so? The revelation of the Bible is that once is absolutely sufficient. There are many occasions and circumstances in which God affirms His patient and longsuffering purpose for Israel and affirms that He will accomplish it. This is the reason God gives for Israel’s repeated and continuing refining through tribulation. The very fact that Israel, while in unbelief, is suffering tribulation gives assurance that a glorious day lies ahead for the nation.

Among the many occasions that the Lord affirms that He will never bring an end to Israel is the one in answer to the above question:

“Thus says the Lord God: ‘Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’ Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel’ (11:16, 17).

The context of this passage (and all similar passages in the Bible) dictates that it is meant to be taken literally. Verses 19 and 20 affirm that this is tied to the fulfilment of the New Covenant as recorded in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

We watch in anticipation as the “bones” of Israel returns and the “flesh” is added (ch. 37). This was the expectation of Jesus (Matthew 24, 25) and Paul (Romans 11:26, 27).

Anyone who believes that God cannot or will not literally fulfil His Covenant with Abraham and David must of necessity live without assurance of salvation because that one sees God as either impotent or unfaithful. He is neither!

Promise Keeper

“Ah, Lord God! Will you make a complete end of the remnant of Israel?” (Ezekiel 11:13)

Periodically throughout Israel’s history the question of the nation’s survival has arisen. The first occasion is recorded in Exodus 32 when Israel tested the Lord by making a molded calf to represent the Lord. This was in violation of the second commandment.

In response the Lord threatened to consume the nation and begin again with Moses. Moses was a descendant of Abraham so the Covenant God made with Abraham could still have been fulfilled; but what about the covenants, promises and prophecies concerning Jacob’s twelve sons (Genesis 49)?

It would seem that the Lord had no intention of carrying this out but was testing Moses as to his fitness to lead God’s people. In Moses’ prayer he says that beginning again would give the Gentile nations opportunity to blaspheme the Lord by saying He could not do what He promised.

We live in what Jesus and Paul call “the last days” and again the question of the Lord fulfilling His promises and covenant with Israel is in question. Some are saying that God has dispensed with Israel and the church has replaced it, but what of the Lord’s very specific and detailed promises concerning Israel? Is He not able to deliver? Moses believed He could.

The Lord is emphatic in Ezekiel  saying, “I will gather you …” and “I will give you the land of Israel” (11:17); “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them” and “they shall be My people and I will be their God” (vv 19, 20).

If we believe that the Lord God of Israel will renege on His covenant with Abraham, David and Israel, what assurance do we have that He will not renege on His word regarding us? Can there be any assurance of salvation if the Lord is a covenant breaker?

The Bible tells us from cover to cover that our God is a covenant and promise keeper. If not, the seventh commandment would be nonsense.

In Romans 11 Paul makes it clear that Israel has a primary role in this world’s future in the plan of God. The apostle John, in recording the word of the Lord in Revelation 7, also makes it clear that Israel will preach the Gospel to all gentile nations at a future time.

The church has not replaced Israel with regard to the Covenant and promises of God to Israel. The Lord will do just as He has said with Israel and with the church, but they are quite separate entities.

This has implications to all of us who have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It is the fact that God keeps His word without fail that provides us with assurance of salvation.