“Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body—different from one another and each contributing what no other could.” C.S. Lewis.
Two weeks ago I went through the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and Romans 12:4-8. Looking at these gifts is a great way to think about our own strengths and weaknesses and work compatibly with those around us. However, it is sometimes easy to forget Paul’s main points in these passages. The gifts are mentioned in a list as a side note for greater statements: we are all one in Christ and Christians differ from one another. These may seem like opposite ideas, but really they are the same truth explained in different ways.
In 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, we are told there are many gifts, but one Holy Spirit; many services, but one Lord; many activities, but one God. In other words, don’t let the gifts cause divisions. The spiritual gifts are not about causing comparisons, groups, or cliques among Churches. It’s not like, “Merciful, please sit on the left; generous to the front; wise on the right; and servants in the back.” No! We have different gifts so that we can better glorify Christ as one. It is not as if the people who lead are more Christian or those who prophecy are better. God gave people different abilities because they are all necessary for a healthy church family.
Romans 12:4-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (the second half of the chapter) talk about the other part of this. The people didn’t want divisions caused by the spiritual gifts, so they said, “Everyone serve Christ as one and do the same thing.” But Paul said no, that’s not the right way either. A body has many parts and the church has many members. As illustrated in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, should the hand want to be a foot or should the ear want to be an eye? If we didn’t have ears how would we hear? If we only had eyes how would we smell? In the same way, if everyone was a teacher, who would show mercy? If everyone was a servant, who would discern God’s word? We cannot all do everything and we cannot all do the same thing. God made us different so we would have the privilege of relying on one another.
Think of a game of chess. We have several different pieces moving different ways, but they are all moving toward the same goals: protecting the king and capturing the enemy. Is the rook better because he can move in a straight line or is the bishop better because he can move diagonally? And as for the pawns, they seem almost useless, but the greatest chess players argue they are the most important pieces in the game. In the same way, all Christians have the same Holy Spirit working in us that empowers us to one goal: glorifying Christ.
We are all given spiritual gifts and these gifts differ from one another. But they differ so that we can function as one body. We do not glorify Christ best by doing the same thing, nor by being jealous of one another’s gifts. We glorify Christ when we serve Him in unique ways, fulfilling our role, while everyone else in our Church family does the same.
Last week I was privileged to guest post on E.G. Bella’s blog on the ‘Quality Time’ love language. (You can find my post here). Today, I am excited to share her post on the Fruit of the Spirit and abiding in Christ. When you’re finished reading here, make sure to check out her website!
That word is used ten times in the ESV (English Standard Version) of John 15, where Jesus is found talking to his disciples, explaining how they must live their lives. The fifteenth chapter of John has always been one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I love the imagery Jesus uses to illustrate what happens when one chooses to abide in Him.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit without abiding in the vine, we cannot bear fruit without abiding in Christ. Jesus encourages us to remain close to Him, trusting Him, and resting in His love and in the purpose He has for us. When we do this, we’ll bear fruit that others will recognize as His.
While I’ve loved those verses and often returned to study them, it wasn’t until recently that I connected them with Galatians 5:22: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’
At the end of John 15, Jesus mentions ‘the Helper’ that would come to dwell in believers. We now know this Helper to be the Holy Spirit. And with the help of the Holy Spirit inside of us, as we abide in – or remain close to – Jesus, we start to bear fruit. Specifically the fruit of the Spirit.
Though both these passages have been encouragements to me over the years, I’ve always assumed them to be two different analogies. Both involve fruit, sure, but trying to combine them seemed a little disjointed. After all, that’s a lot of different kinds of fruit the Spirit cultivates in us and no vine has ever been known to grow multiple types.
But recently, while listening to a speaker approach this topic on the radio, I realized that the Bible never says fruits of the Spirit. It’s fruit. Singular, or referring to multiple fruit of the same kind. The correct usage of the word ‘fruits’ is only to address different kinds of fruit, and that’s not the word we find in Galatians 5:22. Instead, we’re told that the fruit of the Spirit is all of those things – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s all one package. One type. Many flavors in one wonderful kind of fruit.
Through our Vine, we bear fruit – and that fruit is the most spectacular kind there is, because it consists of everything Christians ought to radiate. As we abide in Christ, we begin to bear that fruit, and grow in all those ‘flavors’ at once. Maybe this seems obvious to you, but it was revolutionary to me at the time, and like a weight lifting off my shoulders.
I’ve often been overwhelmed by the thought of growing stronger in what seemed like all those different fruits. Usually, when I try to focus on increasing in one, another falls by the wayside and gets weaker. When I try to focus on growing in self-control, my gentleness suffers. When I try to focus on goodness, my peace gets shaky. More than once I’ve found myself desperately praying; searching for answers, feeling lost and overwhelmed and very tempted to give up trying because it seemed I’d never get there myself.
And I won’t. Not by myself.
And that’s okay.
When Jesus encouraged His disciples to abide in Him, He wanted their focus to remain solely on Him. Not on bearing fruit, but on simply remaining connected to the vine. It’s the vine’s job to flow through the branches and produce fruit through them. It’s Jesus’ task, not ours. All we need to do is our part – which is trusting that Jesus will do His.
Instead of the many, many methods I’ve tried to produce more fruit of the Spirit on my own, all I need to do is turn my attention to Jesus. And as I focus solely on Him – on growing closer to Him, trusting Him, loving Him, and living my life for Him – I’ll begin to bear fruit. I’ll grow in all of the aspects found in that fruit and won’t need to worry about whether I’m imbalanced or not strong enough or not producing fast enough.
It takes the pressure off of me and my own capabilities, and places all the focus where it belongs – in Jesus’ hands. He knows the rate at which I need to grow, the balance of ‘flavors’ I need in my life at each moment, and what needs to happen in my life for me to develop more fruit. I don’t need to concern myself with that part of it. Only with abiding in Him.
And while that can be a struggle amidst the broken world we’re in now, it also doesn’t sound nearly so overwhelming. It sounds peaceful. And even more so once I remember that Jesus will even help us with the abiding part. When we struggle to remain close to Him, He’ll tenderly coax us back again and remind us of what we truly need to be doing – as He did for me that day through the radio station.
At a time when I was very overwhelmed by the thought of becoming who He wanted me to be, God connected the dots between two passages I thought were unrelated, and showed me that He will grow me into the person He wants me to be. All I need to do is trust Him with the process.
And I’m more than happy to do so.
I don’t know where you are in your fruit-bearing journey right now, but if you’re like me – if you’re feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, discouraged, or like you’ll never get there – I pray you’ll be encouraged by what Christ’s been teaching me. He’s here to help you. He’s never asked that you bear fruit on your own. On the contrary, He asks only that you trust Him, love Him, and abide in Him, and He’ll handle the rest.
What a blessing to be connected to such a loving Vine. How amazing that we aren’t left by ourselves or abandoned to figure it out on our own. In order to bear more fruit, we need only to abide in Him, and before we know it, our lives will overflow.
I want to be fruitful, so I’m going to strive from now on to simply abide in the Vine.
Will you join me?
E. G. Bella is a bookworm turned author with a passion for cheesy puns, colorful characters, and contagious faith. Unlike most of her characters, she comes from a warm and loving home, and actually enjoys getting up with the sun. She writes in a wide variety of genres, crafting memorable and page-turning tales the whole family can enjoy.
You can find her blogging about life, writing, and what she’s learning about both – and receive one of her short stories – at https://egbella.com/.
Have you ever received a gift that was so wonderful you wanted to share it? Maybe it was your favorite candy or dessert, so you shared it with whoever gave it to you. Maybe it was a gift card that you used to treat a friend. Maybe it was money that you were able to donate. As humans, we are naturally selfish and don’t always want to share. But when the Holy Spirit is working in us, we know we should give back the good gifts we were given, and once we experience the joy of giving, we want to.
James 1:17 tells us “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Every good gift is from God, and today I want to talk about a specific kind of gift: spiritual gifts.
The spiritual gifts are talked about by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and Romans 12:4-8. There are fifteen of them mentioned in these passages, so I will briefly touch on each of them. Please realize there is much I have left unsaid and other passages that could have been referenced. There are also a few more spiritual gifts generally recognized by the church such as hospitality, celibacy, and missionary. I am only going to highlight the fifteen mentioned in these two passages. If you are interested in learning more and taking a spiritual gifts quiz, this one is great!
God gives people different talents and passions. We should be so grateful for these gifts that we want to give them back to God and pour them out for others. As Christians, all of us should exemplify all of these characteristics in some capacity, but God has gifted certain people to be especially good at certain ones. Work where God has put you and with what God has given you, but also continue to grow in your weaker areas so you can best serve God in multiple ways. Just because you are a teacher doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show mercy, and just because you have a servant’s heart doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek to understand the scriptures. However, pay attention to the specific way God made you and the gifts He gave you. What are the best ways you can give back to Him?
Wisdom: God gives some people wisdom. There are some who can easily understand the scriptures and other theological writings from the past, and apply these truths to their lives or current situations. We are all supposed to study God’s word, but if God has gifted you with Wisdom, help others to grow in their understanding and application.
Knowledge: To others, He has given knowledge. Some Christians can eat up so much information and store so much in their heads! If this is you, immerse yourself in God’s word as much as you can and help others to grow from what you are learning. Knowledge itself is nothing unless it is applied to spiritually fill yourself and others.
Faith: Through the Holy Spirit we all have faith, but some people have a special trust in God that is greater than that of their fellow believers. This does not mean they are better or somehow more Christian. Paul tells us that some people really do have more faith! If you are someone who has stronger faith, encourage your brothers and sisters who are weaker in faith and show them all the ways God has shown Himself worthy of our trust and praise.
Healing: Have you ever had a problem that you talked to someone about and then almost immediately felt better? There are some people who have a healing affect on the soul. If you are a person who can bring spiritual healing to other Christians by talking to them, encourage others to talk to you, and respond to them with a caring and Christlike attitude.
Miracles: God worked through supernatural means in the Bible, and He continues to do so today! The spiritual gift of miracles is a lot more limited than some others like leadership and service. God does give this gift to some people, but usually only on select occasions. It is more often seen in Christians who are severely persecuted and missionaries evangelizing in non-Christian cultures.
Prophecy: There are many false prophets in the world, but there are some who God will supernaturally reveal Himself to. Prophecy is more than telling the future, it is speaking God’s words about the past, present, or future. Prophecy always deals with real reality, and it can be easily tested by comparing it to scripture and the world. People with this gift must be careful that they are only revealing what God has shown them in faith, and not adding their own words to God’s.
Discernment: Discernment between good and evil is always difficult, but some people can easily differentiate gray areas. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” Some people have been gifted to see God’s paths more clearly. If God gives you discernment, help others who are more confused by Satan’s schemes.
Tongues: We see the gift of tongues a few select times in the Bible and it is often misunderstood in America today. Speaking in tongues must always be a true language to share the gospel with others. It seems possible that this gift could also be used to refer to those who have a special aptitude for language learning. There are so many people of so many languages in the world who have never heard the gospel. How will it get to them? Often it takes much language work, but sometimes God will supernaturally speak his words before Christians can master (or know!) the needed language.
Interpretation of Tongues: This is very similar to the gift of tongues and again often misunderstood. Its primary purpose is to edify believers when in the presence of someone who has spoken in another language, so they can glorify God too!
Service: People with the gift of service are called to primarily serve those inside the church but also those outside. These people are eager supporters of the church’s mission, and are often behind the scenes making sure things function well. They are completely happy staying out of the spotlight and they enjoy doing things for others.
Teaching: What would we do without teachers of God’s word? “Teachers” includes pastors, elders, and evangelists, as well as leaders of women’s groups, children’s programs, and Bible studies. Teachers are able to clearly communicate God’s words to His people and help them grow in their faith and knowledge of God.
Exhortation: This is calling on people to follow God. This includes both affirmation and challenge. It could be lifting others up through thoughtful encouraging words, and also challenging Christians to grow in their faith. Every Christian needs to hear exhortations, but people with this gift should make sure to especially notice Christian leaders and Christians struggling in their faith.
Generosity: Are you a saver, spender, or giver? If you think you fit into the “giver” category, then generosity is probably one of your spiritual gifts. We are all called to give generously, but some Christians take special joy in this! If you take pleasure in generosity, trust God with your money and let Him use it, He will not let you be put to shame.
Leadership: Leadership is the ability to guide or direct a group. It can be in service, teaching, giving, or wisdom. Good leaders lead by both word and example. They don’t mind the responsibility of leadership because they get to experience its joys and fruit! If God has gifted you to be a leader be careful of “taking over,” but if nothing is being initiated, lead on!
Mercy: Mercy is similar to service, but it specifically addresses the vulnerable and more often includes those outside the church: whether it’s in soup kitchens, with the homeless, or helping addicts. The Bible says acts of mercy must be done “with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:8) There are so many hurting people in the world, if God has gifted you to help them, do so with all your heart.
What gifts has God given you? How can you give them back to God?
Special noteand for further reading: This week I was honored to guest post on E.G. Bella’s blog about the Quality Time love language. Click here to read my post, and check out her posts Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch. Next week, I am going to share her post on the Fruit of the Spirit and abiding in Christ. Stay Tuned!
Inspired by my friend and fellow blogger E.G. Bella, I decided to blog a different kind of post today. She tagged me in her Liebster Award blog tag to answer 11 questions about myself and my writing, so here are my answers to her questions!
1. When did you first get the idea to start a blog and why did you decide to?
I’ve been writing pretty seriously for a couple years now, and I have always wanted to write books. I realized that starting a blog would be a great way to share my writing and keep a consistent writing schedule. I started looking into it last summer, and started my blog at the end of August. I’ve really enjoyed it!
2. What is your dream job?
Mom, wife, writer, missionary. I feel that motherhood and domestic duties are often looked down upon in our culture, yet it is such a beautiful calling, and it is my heart’s desire. Writing is something I love to do and hope I can impact people with. I have also felt called to be a missionary for many years, but especially in the past year that calling has grown stronger. As a missionary, motherhood and writing would look a little different than it would here in the states, but it would be so important to raise up a new godly generation and communicate well with others while on the mission field. I pray that my greatest desire would to glorify God in all I do and wherever I work.
3. If you could domesticate any wild animal to keep for a pet, which would you choose and why?
I’d have to say a lion. Which is interesting, because I would not say lions are my favorite animal and I am more of a dog person than a cat person. I think growing up on the Narnia books and movies has convinced me that lions are really cool. However, I think taking care of a lion would get pretty tiresome after a couple weeks!
4. Chocolate or Vanilla (or other)?
Definitely chocolate. Yes, I openly admit I am “one of those people” who likes to have chocolate everything.
5. What’s the next book you hope to read and/or movie you hope to watch?
I am an avid reader and my book list is always growing faster than I can read. The next few books I’m planning to read are My Antonia by Willa Cather, Never Give Up by K.P. Yohannan, and Jesus Freaks (2020 edition) by Voice of the Martyrs and D.C. talk. I am currently enjoying The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton. As for movies, I don’t think about my movie list as much as my book list, but I would like to watch The Matrix, Mulan, catch up on WandaVision, rewatch Slumdog Millionaire, and I am really hoping Black Widow will be released this May!
6. What fictional world do you wish was real?
Middle Earth and Narnia. Both are worlds that I lived in growing up through books, movies, games with my brothers, and my first stories. But I think if I had to pick I would live in the Shire or with the Elves. But Narnia would be so fun as well!
7. In Three words how would you best describe yourself?
This one was really hard to come up with an answer and I had to ask for some help, but I decided to go with: Creative, Adventurous, Faithful.
8. If you had to pick one season to live in for the rest of your life, which one would you pick?
I would have to say Fall. Fall is so beautiful and it would be a good one to live in for the rest of my life since it is sometimes pretty warm and sometimes chilly. In my opinion, September is generally the perfect weather. However, I really enjoy different aspects of all four seasons, and wouldn’t want to trade it, even for my favorite season.
9.What’s one of your favorite quotes (about anything)?
That’s a tough one, but here are two of my favorites that I’ve thought about a lot recently:
“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’… ‘So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'” Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring J.R.R. Tolkien.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot.
10. Who is a fiction character you think you’d get along well with? Who is one you don’t think you’d get along with?
I think I’d have a lot of fun with Lucy Pevensie and probably Hermione Granger too. It seems like Lucy would get along with everyone and she is so cheerful and full of excitement and adventure. She loves her family and Aslan and would probably be a great friend. Hermione and I would probably just hang out at the library or talk about books all day, which I’d be okay with. As for not getting along well, while I do love Marvel, and I did really enjoy the ending of Endgame, I think being around Tony Stark too long would get aggravating.
11. What’s one of your favorite childhood memories?
One of my favorite memories is from when I was probably two. My mom worked full time and my dad stayed home with me (this changed when my brother was born). I remember walking to the park with my dad, holding his hand and crossing the train tracks. This memory is very vivid and connected to strong happy emotions.
I hope you enjoyed my answers to these questions! I think technically I’m now supposed to tag 11 other bloggers to answer 11 other questions. However, right now I’m not connected with as many bloggers as I would like, and many of them have already been tagged in this post. But if you are a blogger reading this, I’d love to hear from you! Post your answers to these 11 questions on your blog to share with your readers!
I’m just going to break it to you right now: Valentine’s day is not about candy, kisses, Cupid, or your crush.
But don’t stop reading yet. It’s about something way better.
There is very little known for sure about Saint Valentine, but a few general ideas are widely agreed upon. Valentine was the name of one, two, or three early Christian martyrs. There are a few stories that may have all been the same man, but also could have been different people. For the sake of this post, I will share his/their stories as if they were one man.
Emperor Claudius’s of Rome forbid both marriages and Christianity, and especially Christian marriages. He banned marriages so that men would feel less attached to home and soldiers would be more daring in battle. Valentine defied these laws. He preached the gospel faithfully, helped his persecuted brothers and sisters, and married Christian couples in secret. For these reasons, he was arrested. While in prison, Valentine healed the Jailer Asterius’ blind daughter, and the whole family became Christians because of this miracle. Valentine was sentenced to death for his work proclaiming Christ and marrying Christians. Before his death, he wrote a letter to Asterius’ daughter signed, “from your Valentine.” Valentine was beaten then beheaded on February 14, around 270 AD.
So what is Valentine’s day really about? First, it is about the sanctity of marriage. In our culture today, “love” can mean anything. You can be “in love” with anyone, and you can “fall out of love” with anyone. You can marry a man or a woman and you can divorce them when you’re tired of them. Or you can skip the marriage and divorce paperwork and just live with them and move out when you’re done. You can tell anyone or anything you love them, but it doesn’t mean anything at all.
Valentine would have disagreed with our culture’s views on love. He was killed for marrying couples when it was forbidden. Is marriage between one man and one woman so important that it’s worth dying for? Apparently so. Marriage is important to God and it should be important to us. So whatever the culture says—whether that you can marry anyone or no one— respect true marriage like Valentine did, even if it means sacrifice.
But Valentine stood for something else too, something even greater than marriage. He stood for Christ. Valentine was a Christian and he was killed for being a Christian. There are Christians all over the world today who are martyred for their faith. Are you willing to stand up for Jesus if it means feeling a little awkward of maybe being made fun of? Most people in the US will not lose their lives or even their jobs for being a Christian. Yet all over the world are those who are not willing to compromise. Not willing to deny their faith. Remember them. Think about them. Be like them.
Those are the messages that Valentine lived and died for: marriage is holy, and Christ is worth dying for. Are those messages that you live by? Are they messages that you would die for?
So on Sunday, Valentines day, if you want to buy flowers, give a special card, or eat those candy hearts, that’s fine. But think about what Valentine’s day is really about, or at least what Valentine was really about. Love. Yes, he was about love. Love between one man and one woman in a commitment joined by God. And love for Christ even to the death.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-7
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.” 1 John 5:4
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Faith is loyalty, trust, belief, victory, a gift from God, and the assurance of our hope. Faith is believing God will do what He says He will, and trusting Him for all outcomes.
Faith does not come from this world and it is not of this world. Without God, we cannot have true faith. He is the only one who can give us faith and He is the only one worthy of having faith in.
Hebrews 11 is the “faith chapter” of the Bible. It mentions many people in the old testament who lived by faith with their confident assurance and hope in God. Included are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. These people all lived during Old Testament times and were very different types of people. Abel was murdered, while Enoch ascended to heaven without death. Sarah was barren, Rahab was a prostitute. Joseph ascended to authority for God, while Moses left his place as a prince for God’s people. Yet what bonded them all together, what gave them a place in the Bible and more importantly in the Lamb’s book of life and heaven, is their faith. When these people lived, Christ had not yet come into the world. We believe that Jesus is Lord and that He died to pay the penalty for our sins and that He will return someday. We live in faith of both the past and the future. These people lived in faith of God’s promises for the future, trusting that He would do what He promised even when they didn’t see the fruit. Everyone mentioned (except Abel) was in the line of Christ. They knew that ahead of them, somehow through them, the Savior would come. They didn’t understood everything, just as we don’t. They were wrong about some things, just as we are. Yet through God they could trust in God.
Faith is beyond time, because God is beyond time. We live in faith of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen!
Last week, I talked about hope. I said that “hope is trust and confidence that something we desire to happen will happen.” Faith is the extension of hope. It is “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.”1 Faith is also closely related to trust. As I said in my post about trust: “trust is confident reliance on someone other than yourself.”
Have you ever heard the phrase “a leap of faith”? I think this is a helpful example of the differences and similarities between faith, hope, and trust. Trust is closing your eyes and falling backward, knowing your friend wouldn’t let you get hurt. Hope is not being afraid to fall because you were told there was a soft landing. And faith is the little kid jumping off the counter with absolute certainty that her parent will catch her.
Have you ever seen those scenes in movies where they have to cross some sort of huge precipice and they find out there is an invisible bridge? Life for the Christian is a lot like that invisible bridge. We cannot walk by sight, because we cannot see God’s plans that lie ahead. We must do more than hope or we would not step out. We could not overcome alone because we would not know the bridge was there unless we had been told.
Just like Peter when he stepped out into the waves to walk with Jesus on the water, or just like stepping out onto the invisible bridge, we must have faith and trust in our Lord and Savior. God has built the bridge, told us where it is, and stood right before us. Will you take the step?
What do you hope? Do you hope you’ll get that job? That your relationships will change? That you’ll be able to afford that new house or car?
What do we even mean when we use the word hope?
According to Merriam-Webster, hope is: “to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment; to expect with confidence; Trust.”
To reiterate that, hope is trust and confidence that something we desire to happen will happen.
So if we say, “I hope mom made brownies for dessert,” we are saying that we want brownies, we know we have the supplies needed, and mom might have made them. Sometimes, when we use the word hope, we just mean desire, but usually it’s accompanied by reasonable possibility. We wouldn’t say, “I hope grandma comes for dinner,” if grandma lives across the country and isn’t visiting until next month.
The Biblical meaning of hope is similar, but deeper. Here are a few verses about hope:
“But the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Psalm 147:11
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:24-25
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5
Hoping in God means our desires, our confidence, and our trust are in Him. We can place our hope in God because He is always faithful. Hope in God’s steadfast love, grace, glory, and in Jesus Christ is never put to shame.
Last week, I talked about the problem of evil, and how though God is not the cause of evil, but He uses it for His purposes. That post can be found here. In the Bible, hope is often directly related to suffering. When we are suffering, we desire better; when we are weak, we need someone strong; when we are helpless, we need someone trustworthy. God is that Someone. We need Him, both when times are good and when they are bad, but often when things are going well we do not hope for better. But God is so much better than anything this world has to offer! He should be our greatest desire, but not because of what we can get out of Him. He’s not a vending machine or a magic wishing well. But rather, because of who God is. He is faithful. He is just. He is merciful and abounding in steadfast love. He sent Jesus to die for our sins so that both His justice and His grace could be fully displayed by paying the penalty for our sins and bringing us into heaven, even though we don’t deserve it.
And that is what we can hope for with full confidence. That one day, Jesus Christ, King of kings, will return and make all things new.
“God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist.” Saint Augustine.
The problem of evil, also known as the problem of suffering, has baffled humans for centuries. How can a good God allow evil to happen? As Epicurus asked, “Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then He is not omnipotent [all-powerful]. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent [evil]. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?”
We will never fully understand how and why God allows evil to happen, but the Bible is clear that God uses evil and suffering for His purposes. This does not mean He is the source of evil. However, it does mean He allows the darkness so that His light will shine brighter.
One way God uses evil and suffering is to show his power. In Exodus 7-8, for the first four plagues in Egypt, Pharaoh hardened his heart against the word of the LORD. However, in chapters 9-11, for the remaining 6 plagues, the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Even before Moses and Aaron went before Pharaoh, God told them, “Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgement.”1 Right before the seventh plague, God says, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”2 Because Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, God sent his ten plagues on Egypt. These plagues caused Egyptians and Israelites alike to fear God and know His might. Imagine the Exodus story without the suffering. “Moses said to Pharaoh, ‘The LORD God of Israel says “Let my people go!”’ Pharaoh said, ‘Okay.’ And so they went.” This scenario would not have shown the power of God in the same way.
God also uses evil and suffering to punish sin. In Psalm 81:12, God says, “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.” Often God punishes sin by giving people exactly what they want. In Genesis, God saw all that he had made and it was very good. God’s world was perfect without sin or suffering. He warned Adam and Eve that “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”3 But what did Adam and Eve do? They ate it. And suffering followed. This doesn’t mean that God couldn’t have prevented it. But rather, the best way for Him to show that His rules are good was by allowing humans to see their own ways are not good.
A third way God uses evil and suffering is to draw us closer to Him. In the Psalms, there are many laments about life circumstances. These hard times cause the psalmists to call on God. Because of the evil and suffering around them, they were reminded of who God is and what He has done. Psalm 42 is one such psalm. Verse one says, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” The last verse says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Suffering can do the same for us today. It can be a wake up call to remember to draw near to God through prayer and His word. In our suffering, we can remember God’s faithfulness in the past and His promises for the future. Suffering reminds us of the broken state of the world and God’s love and salvation that prevails over it.
Finally, God uses evil and suffering to fulfill his greater purpose. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” In Genesis 37-40, Joseph, the favored son of his father, was sold to be a slave by his own brothers; as a slave, he was falsely accused of rape by his mistress and thrown in prison; and as a prisoner, he was forgotten by everyone. All of this happened over the course of thirteen years. But God had not forgotten Joseph. In fact, quite the contrary. He placed Joseph exactly where he needed him and used him to save Egypt and the surrounding area. Joseph told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”4 Sometimes it may be hard to see or understand God’s purposes. They may not be as clear to us as they were in the life of Joseph. Some people suffer more like Job did. Job may have never heard about the spiritual battles going on over him. He may have not known that God was using Job to show Satan—but also all His angels— His great works in the human heart. God sees and knows so much more than we do. Just because something isn’t obvious to us doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
There is no doubt that suffering and evil are painful. But do you know who understands them better than anyone else? Jesus. You may have gone through a lot. But have you been beaten, tortured, and nailed to a tree, while bearing the sins of all mankind from past, present, and future? Jesus suffered more than anyone else in all of history. He chose to. For us. To be the punishment for our sin. He understands our sufferings, our needs, and our temptations because He endured them too.
We will never be able to fully grasp the relationship between God and evil. It is a difficult topic, and not one that I can give an easy answer to in a short blog post. There have been whole books written on this topic. However, I hope you can walk away realizing a couple things. Firstly, that though God is not the cause of evil and suffering, He does use it. He uses it to show His power, to punish sin, to draw us closer to Him, and to fulfill His greater purpose. And here’s one more thing to remember: God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all good. He wanted to share His goodness with the people He created. He could have done this through an infinite number of alternate realities and situations, and He chose this way.
Most of this post comes from an essay I wrote for a Theology class in December 2019, during my senior year of High School.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:10-11
In my blog post about peace (which can be found here), I talked about how God has already won the war over sin and death, but we must continue to fight the small battles against the devil, even when they don’t feel small. How do we stand firm against such an evil and dark force? Thankfully, in His grace, God gave us all the weapons we need. The armor of God can be found in Ephesians 6:10-20. Here are its components:
The Belt of Truth: What does a belt do? It holds up your pants. Sometimes belts are just for decoration, but not here. For a Roman soldier (which is what the Ephesians would have been familiar with) a belt held up all his armor and clothes. If his belt fell off, so would everything else. Everything was useless without a simple belt. In the same way, we are nothing and our weapons are futile without truth. What are righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and God’s word if there is no truth? How are we supposed to fight against evil if we don’t know what is evil? Some may scoff like Pilate did and ask, “What is truth?” 1 Many people today believe there is no objective truth, that it’s too offensive because it means someone is wrong. But when people believe there is no truth, how can they confidently say that? Saying there is no truth is believing the “truth” that truth does not exist. That argument cannot stand. If there is no truth, it doesn’t mean everyone is right, it means everyone is wrong. However, we have ultimate truth from Someone greater than us. Truth that is found in God’s word, the Bible.
The Breastplate of Righteousness: A breastplate protects your core, your vital organs, your heart. As Christians we are not saved because of righteous deeds, but if we are not pursuing righteousness, then Satan gets an open stab at our hearts. By doing the right thing, we protect ourselves against the devil and his works of darkness. Nowhere in the Bible does it say “follow your heart.” Rather it says “The heart is deceitful above all things.”2 It needs protection, guidance, and care.
Shoes of Readiness given by the Gospel of Peace: Shoes help us in two main ways: standing firm and going places. The Gospel of Peace gives us a firm grip against the ground when the devil is pushing us. If we are grounded in the gospel, we will not be moved by the turmoil around us, because we know where we stand. Secondly, our shoes should be ready to carry the gospel to faraway places. Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.'” Do you have shoes strong enough to stand firm and to go to faraway places as God leads?
The Shield of Faith: There is an explanation for the shield of faith “with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”3 I’m going to talk about faith in a future post, but for now let’s focus on how faith extinguishes the enemies flaming darts and what faith means as a shield. A shield is protection. Roman shields were huge, protecting the full body. If you have your armor on, that’s great, but without a shield you’re going to have to watch yourself. Thankfully, God gives us a shield: faith. If our faith is strong, we will be able to deal with whatever the devil throws at us. Through God’s strength, no matter the darts, the shield of faith will protect us.
The Helmet of Salvation: A helmet protects your head. And what’s in your head? Your brain, your mind. The helmet of salvation is our reminder that once we are saved we are protected. Whenever doubts or arguments pop up, when we are tempted and struggling, it reminds us “you are saved.”
The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God: A sword is not a defensive weapon. Yes, it can be used for defense, but all the other pieces of armor are defensive in some way: belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet. But not the sword. The sword, the Word of God is for attacking the enemy. Other people are not your enemy. The Word of God is not to be used as an offensive weapon against others. You might as well cut your belt off and let the devil right in. You’ll look stupid, make Christ look stupid, and make the rest of your armor practically meaningless. This sword is for fighting Satan himself. By studying, memorizing, meditating on, sharing, and teaching the Word of God, we force him back. In Matthew 4, Satan tried to twist Scripture to suit his own needs and tempt Jesus, but because Jesus knew the word of God (because He is the Word of God) Satan had to back off. He is left weaponless and defenseless when Scripture is brought into the situation. So next time you feel attacked, try it. See how he reacts.
God gave us His armor to fight alongside Him. Battles are never easy. But we can have confidence, not because we are so great. Not because God is “on our side.” But rather, because we are on God’s side.
Have you asked yourself this? It’s a little cliché, but still a good question to ask. Sometimes we get so focused on living life that we forget why we are doing anything. Recently, I asked this question about my writing. Why do I write? Why do I spend so much time on blog posts, stories, articles, classes, and books? I came up with five reasons and realized these reasons apply to any area of life. We only have so many hours in a day and days in a week. We can’t do everything.
Ask these five questions about your life. If you can answer “yes” to everything, then be encouraged! You are in the right place. If you answer “no” to anything, then consider modifying or eliminating that distraction. We can only do so many things. Make sure the things you spend time on are worthwhile!
Am I bringing glory to God? Consider whether what you are doing is bringing God glory. Is that is your main goal? You can read my post on this here. However, “Bring God glory” and “Do something in Jesus’ name” shouldn’t be tacked onto our to do lists and busy schedules. These should be a core part of our being and our lives as Christians. Is there anything distracting you from God? Are there things in your life that are not glorifying Him?
Am I encouraging other Christians? 1 Thessalonians 5:11 commands, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” As believers in Christ, we are not meant to be isolated and alone, trying to glorify God and live holy lives by ourselves. We are meant to be a team and a family! How are you encouraging your fellow Christians and strengthening their faith today?
Am I pointing unbelievers to Christ? As Christians, we aren’t supposed to be a lamp under a basket. Jesus tells us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 1 And also, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 2 Are you sharing the gospel with others? Are you telling your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers about the salvation that only comes from Jesus?
Am I drawing closer to God? We need to serve others, but we also need to spend time alone with Jesus. While Jesus was on earth, He went to visit His friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Martha had a servant’s heart. She loved Jesus and she wanted to show Him how much she loved Him by making sure the meal, the house, and everything else was perfect. But Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His teaching. Jesus told Martha that she had become distracted, anxious, and troubled about so many things, but Mary had chosen the only thing that really mattered, to be still and listen to Jesus.3 Have you chosen what matters? Are you strengthening your faith in Christ?
Am I bringing joy? Joy can be found in everything, but sometimes we need a little extra joy and happiness. It’s okay to do things just for fun sometimes. It is good to be productive. It is good to not waste time. It is good to be intentional. But sometimes doing something fun and joyful is necessary, especially when it’s with those we love. Sometimes being intentional means playing a board game, reading a book, watching a movie, or baking cookies. Maybe for you it’s hunting, running, bowling, or sledding. God is not some cranky old guy who hates happiness. If He was, then why did He make so many beautiful, funny, exciting, and interesting things? Show God your appreciation for His amazing world by enjoying in it!
So there you go, five things to think about. Examine yourself. What are you doing with your life? Is it worth doing?