Love Renewed: Song of Songs 3-4

Last we left our bride and King, she seemed dismissive of His pleas to follow Him and tend their vineyard, while still longing to receive all the benefits of their relationship.

Thus, Ch. 2 ends with her saying:

Until the day breaks
and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved

2:17

See the 2 previous episodes to catch up to speed:

Now, let’s consider the broad story of Chs. 3 & 4:

  • The King is distant from her throughout the night (3:1)
  • She decides to search for him (3:2)
  • She inquires of those watching over the city; similar, perhaps, to us seeking out leaders when the Lord seems absent (“they are keeping watch over your souls,” Heb. 13:17) (3:3)
  • Though she finds her love shortly after encountering the watchmen, she also moves past the watchmen, to embrace Him directly (3:4a). If the watchmen represent our leaders, this is a warning to utilize their wisdom, yet we also need to encounter the Lord for ourselves (not in proxy of our leaders).
  • From here, she goes to 2 beginnings:
    • The beginning of her life, with a focus on her mother (“I had brought him to my mother’s house, the room of the one who conceived me,” 3:4) – here she is recalling the source and beginning of her life.
    • Their wedding day, with a focus on her husband (3:6-10) – here there is focus on the source and beginning of her marriage
    • In Revelation 2:4-5, those who, “abandoned the love [for Christ] you had at first,” were told to, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” And in Galatians they were warned of beginning in the Spirit, but now going astray by the flesh. Again, Paul calls them back to their beginning in the Lord (Gal. 3:1-5). A similar warning and call comes in Ezekiel 16. There, God shows how far astray they had gone, and calls them back to their humble beginnings of grace. All to say, God’s answer for re-invigorating and course-correcting is often to go back to the beginning of your life and romance with Him, focused especially on Him and His work in bringing you into new life. “For whoever lacks these qualities [of growth in Christ] is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” (2 Pet. 1:9)
  • After a focus on Him as the beginning of her new life (3:6-10), the King washes, cleanses, and calls her to action by His words toward her (4:1-15), even saying, “there is no flaw in you,” (4:7)!
    • Note the parallel of Ephesians 5:25-27: (1) The relationship begins with Christ and His sacrifice: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (2) It then moves to Him cleansing her by His words: “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Of course, this perfection is only possible through Christ’s sacrifice. It is, “in Him,” alone that we are forgiven and seen as flawless before God: “You, who once were alienated…doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you HOLY AND BLAMELESS…” (Col. 1:21-22). Much of the New Testament is spent explaining this truth. In fact, it is found at the beginning of virtually every letter of Paul’s: You are totally perfected in Christ. And, FROM THAT UNDERSTANDING, you are now called to walk out in the new life He has given you. In like manner, Song of Songs 4:1-15 seems a fresh calling of her new beauty (that comes after a consideration of the Husband’s glory on their wedding day, 3:6-10). We must be told and re-told this glorious gospel. THEN, we will walk in power with the Lord. Though 1 more thing is also needed…
  • There must be a movement of the Holy Spirit within us: “Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden…” (4:16a). At the birth of the church, the Holy Spirit had to descend, “like a mighty rushing wind,” (Acts 2:1-4). Thus, just as Paul’s letters begin with the declaration of our perfection IN CHRIST’s finished work (like Song of Songs 4:1-15), so they proceed to talk about, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” (Col. 1:27). In other words, Christ indwelling us by his Holy Spirit, to grow in fruit to Him (Gal. 5:22-24; compared with Song of Songs 4:16). Only as we grasp those 2 realities: (1) our perfection in Christ and his sacrifice, (2) Christ’s Spirit living in us, will we be equipped to be a well-pleasing garden for the Lord: “Do you not know that all of us…were baptized into his death.” “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (Rom. 6:4; 1 Cor. 6:19). Much loss has come due to lack of a revelation of these 2 things.
  • The results? She is now prepared to give freely of herself to her Lover (in contrast to the more self-centered love we saw in 2:16-17): “Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.” (4:16b)

Love’s Benefits: Song of Songs 2

In our previous episode, we saw the beginning of love and romance between the King and his beloved (see Awakening Love: Song of Songs 1).

Now, in Song of Songs 2:

  1. She feels un-special in herself (“I am…a lily of the valleys.” 2:1)
  2. He teaches her that there is new life in her that sets her apart from the cursed world (“As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.” 2:2, compare Gen. 3:18 – curse = thorns and thistles)
  3. He, unlike all others, has legitimate food and good things for her to receive (“As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men…his fruit was sweet…He brought me to the banqueting house…raisins…apples…” 2:3-5)
  4. He is drawing her attention toward him (“His left hand is under my head,” 2:6a)
  5. He is drawing her being toward him (“his right hand embraces me!” 2:6b)
  6. This love cannot be imitated or manufactured (2:7)
  7. She sees the overcoming life in Him (2:8)
  8. He calls on her to draw near to Him, explaining that death and darkness has been overcome for them both (“My beloved speaks…’Arise, my love,’…the winter is past…flowers appear…the fig tree ripens…” 2:10-14)
  9. He calls on her to confront what threatens fruitfulness (“Catch the foxes…that spoil the vineyards…” 2:15)
  10. At this time, her main focus is on the benefits of his love (“My beloved is mine…” 2:16)
  11. And thus she is not yet willing to join Him where He has called her; she is waiting for a more “opportune” time (“Turn, my beloved…” 2:17)

Note that in 2:16 she says: “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” Whereas later, when she matures some, she reverses the order: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” (6:3). At this point in ch. 2, she is looking primarily to the benefits of His love, but seems unwilling to fully invest herself toward Him.

Stick around for how He changes all that.

Awakening Love: Song of Songs 1

Meditating afresh on Song of Songs 1, I was struck by the awesome parallels between the bride’s burgeoning relationship with the King, and the beginning of our relationship (and romance!) with the Lord.

Namely:

  1. She starts by talking with others about her longing for Him (“Let him kiss me;” 1:2a)
  2. Then she talks directly to Him about this longing (“your love is better…” 1:2b)
  3. Though she wants to follow Him, she needs Him to carry her; she lacks power in herself (“Draw me after you;” 1:4a)
  4. The King immediately draws her into intimacy and nearness with Him (“The king has brought me into his chambers.” 1:4b)
  5. As she draws toward His presence, she perceives how unworthy she is compared to Him. His light reveals her darkness (“I am very dark…Do not gaze at me…my own vineyard I have not kept!” 1:5-6)
  6. Yet she also knows she is loved in Him (“I am…lovely,” 1:5)
  7. She wants to be beautiful for Him, and asks how (“Tell me…where you pasture your flock…why should I be like one who veils herself…” 1:7).
  8. Though He knows she is dark in herself, He also finds her desire to follow Him beautiful (“most beautiful among women” 1:8)
  9. He tells her to (A) follow those who have gone before her in His ways (i.e. be discipled by true followers of Jesus), and (B) pass this on to those she shepherds (i.e. disciple others) (“follow in the tracks of the flock and pasture your young goats…” 1:8)

If such a love for the Lord seems foreign or long ago to you, I implore:

  • “The report was true that I heard in my own land…I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me.” (1 Kings 10:6-7 – the Queen of Sheba says of Solomon; but it finds its ultimate fulfillment in us adoring Christ, see Matt. 12:42)
  • “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8)
  • “I [Jesus] have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” (Rev. 2:4-5)

Strive To Rest

The book of Hebrews is an urgent appeal for Christians to NOT GO BACKWARDS in their pursuit of God. Namely, don’t go back to trying to be righteous through works of the Old Covenant. Instead, know that Christ has fulfilled the Law / Old Covenant.

Following Him supersedes following the Old Covenant rules and regulations. Christ is greater than angels (ch. 1-2), greater than Moses (ch. 3), greater than any high priest (ch. 5), and is Himself the beginning of a new covenant built on Him as the Only High Priest (ch. 7), etc. In all this, Christ/Christianity is shown superior to the Old Covenant of following God.

And in Heb. 3-4, we see that Christ is greater than a regular sabbath rest (another staple of the Old Covenant). Instead, faith in Him brings God’s people into a permanent rest from all other efforts of righteousness. And that is the TRUE SABBATH:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, strive to enter that rest, so that no one will perish…

(Heb. 4:10-12)

After saying this, God continues to plead with these Christians NOT to mix faith in Jesus WITH Old Covenant works in order to fulfill righteousness and follow God. Instead, to those tempted to go backwards to attain righteousness through works of the law:

  • “let us hold fast our confession [that faith in Jesus is sufficient to approach God]” (Heb. 4:14)
  • “go on to maturity,” (Heb. 6:1)
  • “It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened…and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance,” (Heb. 6:4-6)

Then he continues his argument with Abraham (see Heb. 6:11-20).

Here he explains that Abraham inherited the promise, “through faith and patience,” (Heb. 6:12). Not faith PLUS works. Rather: faith PLUS patience.

This formula of faith PLUS patience (over faith PLUS works) becomes even more startling when contrasting the mistake Abraham made before he received his promised child (Isaac) through faith and patience. Namely, he first trusted in his own works to attain God’s declared promise. He set out to fulfill God’s righteousness through his own works, and produced Ishmael (Gen. 15-16).

This Ishmael would later antagonize the promised Isaac (Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29). And in Gal. 4:24-31, Paul sets these 2 sons as pictures of something much greater:

  • Ishmael = Israel after the flesh, trying to work out their own righteousness
  • Isaac = God’s people after the spirit/promise, who trust and rest in God’s word and righteousness alone

So, today, when God tells us to rest in His finished work, we must STRIVE to stop working for our righteousness. It will go against the first instinct in you. This prideful striving to prove our righteousness is the basis of every religion except true, biblical Christianity. But we must press on by resisting to trust in our flesh and works. We must be as one who, “rests from their works,” and, thereby, “strive to enter the rest,” (Heb. 4:11).

And the kicker is, when we trust in God’s righteousness in Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection ALONE for our righteousness, we will end up doing FAR MORE true and right works for the living God than if we start with a trust in faith PLUS works.

Consider the outcome of Abraham’s promise (Isaac) who was attained through faith AND patience (alone):

Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.

James 2:21-23

And those works/actions will happen without us even realizing it many times (Matt. 25:37-40). They are the testimony of God’s life in all of us who trust in Jesus ALONE for our righteousness. So we can join Abraham in inheriting our promise through faith AND patience.

Brian

Elder Qualifications & Functions

Scriptures

Acts 6:1-6; 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:3-25; Titus 1:5-9; Heb. 13:7-17; James 3:13-18; 1 Pet. 5:1-4

Elder Qualifications

  • Integrity in character: above reproach, blameless; not volatile, self-controlled, sober-minded; good reputation with church and world; hospitable; not given to drunkenness; gentle, not violent or quick-tempered; not quarrelsome; not a lover of money; not headstrong, but considering of other opinions; a lover of what is good; righteous; good conduct; meek; pure; peaceable; gentle; open to reason; full of mercy and good fruit; impartial; sincere
  • Integrity in family: husband of only 1 wife; manages family well; children obey you and show you respect; children believe the gospel; children not considered wild or disobedient
  • Doctrine: able to teach, faithfully teaches the word of God to people
  • Integrity in faith: not a recent convert, has a faith/obedience that is worthy of imitation

Elder Functions

  • Elder = Overseer/Supervisor/Shepherd
  • Ensure you and the flock are walking faithfully (includes church discipline and helping resolve major conflicts)
  • Instruct in the word and pure doctrine (direct teaching as well as general doctrinal oversight over others teaching, contributing, etc)
  • Set an example in faith and faithfulness
  • Ensure physical needs of church are met (eventually, delegated to deacons – Acts 6:1-6)
  • (Pray – Acts 6:4; 1 Tim. 2)

Please let me know if anything is missing here.

Brian

Scripture or Christian Leaders: What is our Authority?

Here is a non-exhaustive survey of God consistently exalting Scripture as the HIGHEST authority.

King God

1 Samuel 8 – Israel rejected God by wanting a human king to rule over them. They said, “Now make us a king to judge us LIKE ALL THE NATIONS,” and, “the LORD said to Samuel, ‘…they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them,'” (verses 5-7).

In contrast, God desired Israel to “keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses…that you may not mix with these nations…” (Josh. 23:6-7).

God’s way = follow His word, go to Him directly, and be distinct from the nations.

Israel’s way = follow the nations by having a man over them.

Scripture Over Kings, Prophets, Judges, Priests

The anointed leaders of the Old Testament were: kings, prophets, judges, priests.

However, when those leaders taught things contrary to God and His words (which did happen), the people were NOT TO FOLLOW them.

Examples:

  • Kings: Exodus 1:17; 1 Kings 18:3-4
  • Prophets: Deuteronomy 13:1-5
  • Judges: Judges 8:22-27
  • Priests: Numbers 16

Jesus’ Teaching and Example

Here are examples from reading over only 1 gospel (Matthew’s):

  • Matt. 4:4-11 – Jesus appeals to Scripture alone as final authority when confronted and tested by Satan (“It is written” – vv.4,7,11). Note: the authority most recognized by Jesus and Satan was the written Word of God
  • Matt. 7:29 – Jesus’ words were considered authoritative, whereas those in “positions of religious authority” were not
  • The official and authoritative Jewish leaders of that time: taught that Jesus was from Satan (Mt. 12:24), were “blind” (Mt. 15:14), tested Jesus (Mt. 22:34-35), mocked Jesus (Mt. 27:41-43), plotted Jesus’ death (Mt. 12:14; 26:3-4,15,47; 27:1), etc.
  • Mt. 12:1-8 – these Jewish leaders condemned Jesus and disciples for not following their tradition and interpretation of the Bible
    • 12:3-7 – Jesus rebuked them by quoting 3 passages of Scriptures as His authority (“have you not read” – vv. 3, 5)
  • Mt. 15:1-9 – Jesus plainly taught that Scriptures have authority over religious leaders and traditions
    • 15:1-2 – religious leaders and traditions condemned Jesus and disciples (note: the Jews of Jesus’ day believed that Moses delivered 2 laws to Moses, and both were perfectly preserved: (1) written law, (2) oral traditions later recorded by religious leaders. They were condemning him on the basis of one of these “oral traditions,” but Jesus showed that the Scriptures have authority over that. See the respected Albert Barnes on this note.
    • 15:3-6 – Jesus says that the Scriptures hold authority over religious leaders and their traditions
    • 15:9 – Jesus calls the traditions of the religious leaders “commandments of men”
  • Mt. 16:6,11-12 – Jesus specifically warned His disciples to NOT FOLLOW the teachings of those in current positions of religious authority
  • Mt. 21:33-45 –
    • 21:33 – the “vinedressers” were appointed by God, and represented the Jewish leaders throughout history, including Jewish leaders of that day (cf. 21:45)
    • 21:34 – the “servants” were sent by God and actually had His words (think Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.)
    • 21:34-41 – “authoritative” Jewish leaders have rejected God’s word through His prophets and His Son, and will be destroyed if they do not repent
  • Mt. 22:29 – Jesus says the reason the religious authorities err is firstly because they did not know, follow, and teach the Scriptures
  • Mt. 22:34-46 – Jewish leaders continually test Jesus, but He consistently appeals to the authority of the Scriptures and rebukes them for not appealing to this same authority
  • Mt. 23 – Jesus rebukes the official and current religious leaders, saying: They love being called “teacher” and”father” (vv.6-10), they are hypocrites who do not enter God’s kingdom (v.13), they make pretense in long prayers (v.14), they do missionary work, but are “sons of hell” (v.15), they are “blind guides” (v.16), they are”fools and blind” (v.17), they outwardly appear righteous (v.28), they are “serpents, brood of vipers!” who are condemned to hell (v.33)
  • Mt. 26:57-68 – the high priest (who was anointed as “the” leader and even received true words from God, see John 11:49-52) condemned Jesus to death and accused Him of blasphemy

Scripture Has Higher Authority Than The 12 Apostles

All 12 apostles were wrong in their beliefs about Jesus and obedience to Him (Mt. 26:8). All 12 apostles left Him at His greatest time of need (Mt. 26:56). All 12 opposed Jesus’ purposes at times (see Mt. 26:8-9, for instance).

Judas Iscariot — had an “apostolic ministry,” (Acts 1:25), was appointed by Jesus as 1 of the 12 apostles (Mark 3:13-19), was commissioned by Jesus to “preach” (Mk. 3:14), and empowered to heal and deliver from demons (Mk. 3:15). YET…Judas had Satan enter into him (Jn. 13:27), and led a crowd in betraying Jesus (Luke 22:47-48; Acts 1:16), committing horrible wickedness (Acts 1:18).

Peter — “appointed” as an apostle (Mk. 3:14-16), given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 16:18), an “elder” of the church (1 Pet. 5:1). YET…spoke false things about Christ (Mt. 16:22), Jesus called him,”Satan…an offense to Me…not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men,” (Mt. 16:23), denied Jesus (Mt. 26:34), disbelieved and disagreed with Jesus’ words (Mt. 26:35), disobeyed the Lord (Mt. 26:40), taught others wrongly and compelled them to play the hypocrite (Gal. 2:11-14 – note that Barnabas and others were rebuked for following Peter here).

John — an apostle (Mk. 3:14-17)…writes to all believers “you do not need that anyone teach you,” (1 Jn. 2:27), quotes Jesus commending Ephesian believers because, “you have tested those who say they are apostles” (Rev. 2:2), and says, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits…many false prophets have gone out into the world,” (1 Jn. 4:1)

Paul — appointed by Jesus as an apostle (1 Cor. 15:8)…writes: “If we [apostles] or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed,” (Gal. 1:8), and, “Test all things,” (1 Thes. 5:21). (See more of Paul’s words below).

Peter, Paul, and Barnabas — all appointed as apostles (Mark 3:14-16; Acts 14:14)…BUT, when they presented doctrine inspired by the Holy Spirit, the church leaders did not initially accept it as certain. Only after James pointed out the Scriptures did they receive it as truth (Acts 15).

Antichrist

Antichrist in the Scriptures is depicted as someone who comes from within the church (1 Jn. 2:18-19), appearing as a leader in the church (2 Thes. 2:4), looking like Jesus (Rev. 13:11), but is a “false prophet,” (Rev. 19:20), whose words are from Satan (Rev. 13:11). In fact, Judas (a true apostle chosen by Jesus) is linked as a type for Antichrist (compare John 17:12 with 2 Thes. 2:3). With this in mind, we should never trust someone on the basis of their “apostolic” status alone, but must use Scripture as the standard to see if they are speaking truth.

Don’t “Think Beyond What is Written”

In 1 Corinthians, Paul rebuffs the Corinthian Christians for making too much of the apostles and their wisdom. He writes, “I planted, Apollos watered…neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase…Let no one boast in men,” (1 Cor. 3:6-7,21). And then he explains: “These things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written,” (1 Cor. 4:6). In other words, the Scriptures they wrote hold authority, but any “wisdom” and words they share beyond “what is written,” does not hold the same authority, and the Corinthians were rebuked for making too much of these.

Ephesian Elders

In Acts 20, Paul addresses the Ephesian church leaders and says: “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church…after my departure savage wolves will come in AMONG YOU…from AMONG YOURSELVES MEN WILL RISE UP, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch…” (Acts 20:28-31). Deception would come from among the Holy Spirit ordained church leaders. Not outside of them.

Noble Bereans

Acts 17:11 says, “These Jews [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word [of Paul and Silas] with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” They are called “noble” for examining and testing the words of the apostles by comparing them with the Scriptures daily.

Paul’s Last Words

Consider some of the last words Paul writes in the New Testament: “the Holy Scriptures…are able to make you wise for salvation…All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be COMPLETE, THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED for EVERY GOOD WORK….Preach THE WORD!…For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…” (2 Timothy 3:15-4:3). According to this, the Scripture makes a man (or woman, by extension), “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Thus, if there is any truly “good work” God is calling you to do, and it is not supported somewhere in the Bible, Paul and God are liars according to this passage.

Discerning Truth

Subtitle: How To Evaluate Competing Truth Claims

Edited: 2/9/21

God reveals himself through:

  1. Scripture / His Word
  2. His Spirit (especially fruit of His Spirit)
  3. Signs and wonders of His Holy Spirit
  4. Nature/Creation
  5. Elders (especially God-fearing ones)

We receive His revelation through:

  1. Having hearts longing to follow Him regardless the cost
  2. Trusting in God (not us) to reveal

Tragically, God repeatedly tells us that MANY will be deceived from following His true way.

Even if your way “seems right,” (Prov. 14:12), or you think you are, “offering service to God,” (John 16:2), or you study something carefully (Josh. 9:14), you can be woefully in error. In fact, Jesus repeatedly warns about people who will meet God thinking they followed Him, and He will turn and say, “I never knew you,” (e.g. Matt. 7:23).

Even more, Jesus compares those who find God’s true way to a, “small…gate,” and, “narrow…road,” (Matt. 7:13). And we read of 400 false prophets compared to 1 true prophet (1 Kings 22), or even 850 false prophets compared to 1 true prophet (1 Kings 18:19).

All of this should put the fear of God in us who think we are on the right path.

But thankfully, God does not make it hard to find His way. He literally is screaming his wisdom to any willing to follow Him (see Prov. 1:20ff). So let’s consider:

  • 2 completely trustworthy ways to discern God’s will,
  • 3 supplementary ways to find God’s will, and
  • 2 things God desires of us

2 Completely Trustworthy Ways to Discern God’s Will

Way #1: The Scriptures

Jesus, Satan, and The Scriptures

Jesus begins his ministry with an encounter with Satan in the desert (see Matt. 3-4). This happens after Jesus was baptized in water, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove (Matt. 3:16), God the Father spoke clearly that Jesus was His Son (Matt. 3:17), and the Holy Spirit led Him to the desert (Matt. 4:1).

After all that, Jesus is asked by Satan if He is God’s true Son (Matt. 4:6). Now consider how many ways Jesus could answer this. He could point to the Spirit-as-dove experience, or God’s audible voice. He could talk about his experiences being led by the Holy Spirit. But, to Jesus, these were not the ultimate authority. Instead, He answers by saying, “It is written…” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). To Jesus, the written word of God is the ultimate authority.

In fact, even when Satan responds by twisting Scripture (Matt. 4:6), Jesus just points Him back to the full context of what God wrote in Scripture: “It is also written…” (Matt. 4:7). Thus, not only is Scripture the ultimate authority to Jesus, but it also is the ANTIDOTE to false/twisting of Scripture. Jesus does not say throw your hands up in the air when people twist Scripture. He shows us to look closer, to follow the context, and that the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible.

Jesus, The Sword, The End

God’s Word (i.e. Scripture) was not just Jesus’ ultimate authority at the beginning of His ministry. Instead, He repeatedly points people back to Scripture throughout His ministry. When Pharisees have bad Bible interpretations, He counters by saying, “Have you not read what God said to you…?” (Matt. 22:31). Again, He counters false Bible teachings by people looking closer at Scripture. He also says that the word of God will be the final judge for all people (John 12:47-50). Note: we will not be judged on the basis of what we think God’s word says, but on what it actually says.

So then, in the final book of the Bible, we have a vision of Jesus returning to earth to judge all. And, “Coming out of his [Jesus’] mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations,” (Rev. 19:15). At first glance, the mouth seems a strange place to hold your sword, doesn’t it? But then we can consider that God’s word is compared to a sword (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), and thus it is VERY FITTING that Jesus judges the nations based on the sword that comes out of His mouth: the word of God.

Thus, in the beginning, end, and throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see that what God says in Scripture is ultimate, final, and binding. Though it can be twisted, the answer to that is knowing the Bible MORE, not less. In all this, God’s word (Scripture) is a completely trustworthy way to know God’s will.

Way #2: The Holy Spirit’s Fruit

In addition to Scripture, we read also that the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit is another completely trustworthy way to discern God’s will.

Namely, Galatians 5 compares “acts of the flesh” with “fruit of the Spirit”. Acts of the flesh include things like: “sexual immorality…witchcraft…discord…dissensions…drunkenness…” (Gal. 5:19-20).

Whereas, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Note that this is not our definition of love, joy, peace, etc. Instead, we compare Scripture with Scripture to get a fuller view of God’s love (for instance, see 1 Cor. 13 and 1 John). In fact, the fullest picture of God’s fruit of the Spirit can be found in Jesus himself. He is love fully formed, joy fully formed, etc. This is why in the same letter (Galatians), Paul can talk about praying that, “Christ is fully formed within you,” (Gal. 4:19).

Similarly, James 3 compares true teachers with false teachers. In fact, this is a big theme in the book of James. Again, God uses the fruit of each teacher as a mark of authenticity (even over the words they are saying). Specifically, God’s wisdom looks like: “purity, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy…peacemakers…” etc. (James 3:17-18). While “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom looks like: “bitter envy…selfish ambition…boasting…” (James 3:13-16).

God’s fruit (which comes from his Holy Spirit) can’t be counterfeited. Again, we should seek the whole counsel of God’s word to understand what fruit of the Spirit really looks like.

Thus, the fruit of the Spirit AND God’s Scriptures are the 2 means of discerning truth that are completely trustworthy in themselves.


3 supplementary ways to find God’s will

In addition to the Scriptures and fruit of God’s Spirit, God also gives other means by which to discern truth.

Supplementary Way #1: Spiritual Gifts

In Deut. 18, when discerning between true and false prophets, God’s people were told, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.” (Deut. 18:22). In other words, if they don’t accurately exhibit the spiritual gift of prophecy, they are false.

Similarly, Acts 14:3 speaks of God confirming the message of the apostles with “signs and wonders.” Similar things are said in Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4; etc.

However, we are also warned that there can be counterfeit versions of these gifts (Acts 16:16-18; 2 Thes. 2:9; etc.). Thus, Deut. 13 speaks of God testing his people by sending false prophets who do accurately predict the future, but speak contrary to God’s word by telling Israel to serve other gods (Deut. 13:1-2). Again, we see that God’s written word (Scripture) has the ultimate authority and is the measure by which we can test true works of God from false ones.

Thus, in all this, spiritual gifts aren’t a sure-fire way to know God’s will (since they can be false). However, those following God’s true will should expect signs and wonders of some sort to authenticate that path as needed.

Supplementary Way #2: God’s Created Order

In Romans 1 we are told that creation itself sufficiently reveals that there is a Creator who will judge us. Elsewhere, Jesus tells his audience to, “Look at the birds,” (Matt. 6:26), and “See…the flowers…” (Matt. 6:28). Further, Jesus and Paul both use logical principles from time-to-time to correct those going astray (e.g. Luke 14:1-5; 1 Cor. 15:12-19; etc.). And in Psalm 19 we read of God giving witness to Himself through the Bible AND creation.

Thus, we see that God’s created world can serve to help authenticate and confirm what He is doing. However, it is clear that creation only gives us “general” revelation of God and His ways, whereas the Scriptures and Holy Spirit give unique, special revelation of who God is that cannot be found in nature (compare Romans 1 with Romans 3, for instance). Further, we also know that this world is under a curse (Gen. 3; Rom. 8) so does not perfectly display all of who God is. Like with spiritual gifts, the best we can see with the created world is through a mirror “dimly” (1 Cor. 13). It does help authenticate and confirm, however, when we have seen rightly things in Scripture and via God’s Holy Spirit.

Supplementary Way #3: The Wisdom of our Elders

Proverbs 1 begins by talking about God’s wisdom. We first read: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7). But immediately after this we read, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” (Prov. 1:8). Thus, the wisdom of our elders (especially, in this case, our parents) can be a powerful confirmation of God’s wisdom. So long as we know that it is incorrect where it swerves from God’s word/wisdom.

I think also of King Rehoboam when he first became king (see 1 K 12). There he chose the “wisdom” of his peers over the wisdom of his father’s generation. Sadly, this was a foolish move that brought the dissolution of his kingdom. He should have given more weight to his elders and their insights.

But in the next chapter (1 Kings 13), we read of a true prophet who hears from God, but then second-guesses what God says based on an older prophet telling him otherwise. Thus, we see, that it is not always a sure-fire way to know truth by listening to our elders. It is, however, a good general principle, as seen throughout Proverbs.


2 things God desires of us to find God’s will

Thus far we see that God speaks the loudest and clearest through the full testimony of His Scriptures and the fruit of His Spirit. But He also amplifies this many times over through signs and wonders of His Spirit, the created/natural world around us, and godly elders.

In all these ways (and more) God shows that He is speaking to us and wants to speak to us even more than we want to listen: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.'” (Is. 65:1).

However, sadly, even with all of these clear witnesses to His will, MANY people still completely miss his voice.

Why?

Job #1: Trust in God alone to reveal

Even with all of these methods, we still are hopelessly blind if we think the the burden of revelation falls on our shoulders.

Matt. 11:25-30 shows that God hides things from “the wise and understanding,” yet has “revealed them to little children;” (v. 25). The problem was not with them being “wise” or “understanding”. The problem was that they placed their trust in their own wisdom and ability to understand God. Later in the passage, Jesus talks about giving “rest” from your labor [presumably in trying to understand God’s ways]. How? By humbling yourself like a child to receive revelation from Jesus. From that place, Jesus says you will “learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls,” (v. 29). Thus, the burden of revelation is on Jesus, and we are to come as dependent children, humble before Him.

Similarly, in Jeremiah 17:5-10, God talks of 2 types of people: (1) those who trust in man/flesh, (2) those who trust in God. Those who trust in man, “shall not see any good come,” (v. 6). While those, “whose trust is the LORD,” will not be, “anxious in the year of drought.” They will, “not cease to bear fruit.” (Jer. 17:7-8). Everything turns on where you place your trust. Later in that same passage, he says that, “the heart is deceitful above all things,” (v. 9). Your own heart and understanding is woefully deceptive.

God will blind those who place all trust in their own eyes to see. Instead, He wants people to trust in Him who reveals things to blind eyes. When we place our trust/burden in Him to reveal (over our ability to see), then we have set ourselves in a position to truly see. This is why, for instance, Psalm 119 tells us to pray for understanding from the Bible, and 1 Cor. 2 emphasizes that the Holy Spirit has to help us understand the things of God. Even though the Bible is completely trustworthy in everything it says, we still need to seek and rest in God to interpret and study it properly. Such humility will be true liberation!

Job #2: Seek God to have a will to follow Him

Romans 1:18 says, that people, “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” And 2 Thes 2 tells us that God sends “strong delusion” so that people will believe lies, “in order that all may be condemned who…had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (vv. 11-12).

In other words, the wickedness of our hearts can blind us. Think of Jesus’ story of the parable of the sower. In that story, God’s word went into 4 different hearts, but only 1 yielded a good result. It was the EXACT SAME word in each scenario. But all changed based on the disposition of the heart.

On the positive side of this, Jesus tells us that, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God…” (John 7:17). And Romans 12:1-2 show that when we offer ourselves as “living sacrifices,” we will THEN “discern what is the will of God…”

In all this, if we have a heart open to God’s ways, THEN we will see Him clearly. Look at Prov. 1 again. While God’s wisdom is YELLING out, He is waiting for those who want to turn and follow His ways (no matter the cost). Such a love of the truth and God’s ways (and God himself) is what He is looking for. And even if you recognize lack in this area, start like the bride in Song of Songs 1:4 who calls to her beloved to “draw me away with you.”

In other words, she knew she needed God’s help to have a heart surrendered to Him. God is seeking the same today. When we give this soft heart to Him, He will speak LOUDLY, through all the means mentioned above. When we come with obstinate hearts, though, it is like a blind man who has the sunlight, a flashlight, and a candle light all in front of him (3 different sources of light), and yet all is darkness to him.

God help us long for his truth, no matter the cost.