Examples of God’s mercy
It is in order to save us from death that is our natural end, that the memorials of our Lord testify before us what God and Christ have done out of love for us. We see a body that was mortal like ours, put to death, and raised to immortality. We see the extent of God’s power to save and of our Lord Jesus’ desire to save. This has stood as an example through the ages: the compassion of God for His creation and especially for His people does not come and go. We are all dependent on God’s love and faithfulness. Peter observed “The Lord… is not willing that any should perish” (2Pet 3:9): this must first be applied to ourselves. Except for the long-suffering of God on our account there would be no hope. And in Rom 5:8 we learn that His patience with us began well before we were aware of our need: “… while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
God loves His creation, especially His Holy people. God does not give up on His people. The Bible is full of examples of God working to save men, whom we might have thought beyond hope. Consider Saul of Tarsus, a man greater in accomplishment, and greater in sin, than any one of us. He surpassed all in his nation in regards to the Law of Moses, and he persecuted the disciples of Christ Jesus even to death. Such a man, vehement in his opposition to the true ways of God, zealous for the false ways of the Pharisees, was seen in the early church as the most fearsome of their enemies. In the face of the direct commandment of the Lord, the faithful disciple Ananias balked, protesting that this was a man to be feared and avoided, not a man to be helped. But Christ insisted, and Saul went on to become Paul, the apostle of Christ. King Manasseh was one of the most wicked kings of Judah. 2Chron 33 tells us how he stopped the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem, and promoted the most debased idolatry, yet God turned him around and redeemed him from his wickedness through exile and prison time in Babylon. We wouldn’t ordinarily think of this as God’s way to redeem such a man, but that was the effect for Manasseh. Even with such a man, God did not give up.
Israel, the holy people
, are presented to us in Scripture as wayward throughout their history. There were occasional reformations, but these were always followed by apostasy and idolatry. In the end, God likens His relationship to Israel to a marriage that has reached its end (Jer 3:1-5). He sent Israel away from His holy land, into the home of idolatry, into Babylon. But this is not a record of God giving up on His people — to the contrary — “Return, faithless Israel…” (Jer 3:12). Even in the extremity of divorce and expulsion, God did not give up on His people Israel, but was willing to restore them to favor and to His land.
These are all examples of the divine precept in 1Cor 13:8, “Love never fails.” There is a day of judgment; a day in which the righteous will be given God’s gift of life, and the wicked will be condemned. There is a day of death, beyond which no man can respond to God and be saved. But until that day, God, our Father, is tireless in His efforts to redeem any and all who will respond to His mercy. Until that day, there is hope even for men such as Saul of Tarsus and Manasseh king of Judah.
Here then is the faithfulness of God and of His son Christ Jesus our Lord: they will never give up on their people. With this reassurance, and with the Lord’s memorial before us, we should consider our response to the unfailing, steadfast love of God. In this wonderful love, we all have found hope. Think about how it will affect our lives. There are two responses we should consider: First our response to Christ and his Father, and second towards each other. Here is the call, then: Never give up! … this may describe the essence of faith in God… a consistent reliance on the Almighty, our Father. It is God who has called us to obedience; therefore before the world and the temptations of this life, never give up! There is no condition in life; there is no opponent more powerful than our Father. Never give up on God.
God does reprove and discipline his people — a fact that has led some of them to wonder whether it’s a good thing to be God’s people. There may be times when we wish He’d give up on us! But the essential thing about this special position is that it’s eternal. If you have hope of eternal life, that life will be in the presence of God. So it’s important to get used to His presence now.
Do not mistake the Father’s correction for abandonment. No one should expect this life to be trouble-free: Jesus tells us plainly that the Father chastens or disciplines every son whom He loves. God is patient; we need also to be patient with Him.
Continue to rely on God in prayer — sometimes we need a “No!” and sometimes we need to wait for God’s time. We need to understand that there are proper things to pray for. But God always works with us in prayer to increase our appreciation of His ways. In Deut 8 God gives us a clear statement of His dealings with Israel. They had challenged God many times, thinking He did not see their need or did not care for them. His explanation is given us “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3 ESV). It took them a very long time to learn this lesson! How many times did they lose faith, giving up on God who loved them and was trying to teach them His ways? Some patience — extreme patience is what is required of us. This is the path of Abraham.
Jesus’ statement is a guide to our dealings with him: “and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37 NIV). The thief on the cross was a condemned, dying man — and justly so, as even he admits. In his dying he reached out to Christ, justifying our Lord rather than himself, and pursuing a desperate hope of mercy. One who was condemned and being executed for his crimes, as good as dead, won eternal life in that moment. God had not given up on him, and he did not give up: he came to the Lord Jesus, and the Lord did not turn him away.
And know this: even when you have given up on Christ, he does not give up on you: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself” (2Tim 2:13 ESV).
In the presence of others
If we are all going to enjoy eternal life in the presence of God, we shall most assuredly enjoy it in the presence of one another. So get used to it! Years ago I realized this and have been using this little prayer, which I recommend to all: “May God so bless me that I may spend eternity with this person.” Now, with many of the Lord’s people this is a heartfelt and earnest prayer: I really enjoy your company and anticipate that eternity in your presence will never be tiresome. With others, I’m afraid it’s a bit of an attitude adjuster. The thing I hope for most is that all of saints may be saved — and I recognize a responsibility to work for that end. It does not mean that I accept every one, no matter how they behave. It means that I accept that every one of us has the potential to manifest God, and I will not give up on any of my brothers and sisters.
If we are to be the sons and daughters of God, it is fitting that now we should behave as God’s children toward one another. I do not mean by this, “Yeah, you need to behave toward me like God’s child.” I mean rather, how would God deal with the problems we see in one another? Does God give up? Does God consign His people to oblivion before the Day of Judgment?
It is all too easy to give up, to say things like “He’ll never change!” or, “You’re wasting your time!” or, “These people are a bunch of hypocrites.” It is easy and therefore an easy option on both sides of every disagreement, to say, “I’m absolutely right; you’re hopeless.” — and in so doing, to judge God’s people, to condemn those for whom Christ died. This is true whether it’s a disagreement with one brother, or several, with a whole ecclesia, or indeed with the brotherhood as a whole.
In the Bible, the idea of judgment is always associated with finality. These are blessed forever; these are rejected and outcast forever. The command, “judge not, lest ye be judged” means that kind of judgment. It cannot mean, “Don’t tell anyone he’s done wrong” because that is exactly what the Bible does every time we read it. It cannot mean, “Don’t require any one to repent of his sins” because that is the way of salvation. And, as the Proverb says, “reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Prov 9:8). No, the command not to judge others means, don’t consign any one to damnation before the time, because that is the way God works with all of His creation. To judge someone then, is to give up on him. Brothers and sisters, none of us has any right to do this.
The Day of Judgment will come. And here is how the Lord Jesus describes it. “Inasmuch as ye have done it/not done it/to one of these my brethren…” (Matt 25:31-46). In prison? This does not mean only, one who was in prison unjustly; the Lord did not place any such limit on his mercy. Hungry, poor or afflicted? Often the pitiless will find reason for turning away, saying “he brought it on himself.” This is not the spirit we see in Christ. Christ may instruct, he may warn, he may even rebuke those who behave foolishly or wickedly. But he does not abandon them in their folly or in their wickedness. If this memorial means anything to us at all, it must remind us, as the apostle Paul noted — he who was formerly Saul of Tarsus — “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Jim Seagoe (San Francisco Peninsula, CA)