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Passage: Ezekiel 34-36

On Friday, September 19, 2014, Yujin wrote,

The language of the judgment against Edom and the nations suggests that God is judging them because of their antagonistic attitude toward Israel and Judah:

Because you have had everlasting enmity and have delivered the sons of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, at the time of the punishment of the end, therefore as I live,” declares the Lord God, “I will give you over tobloodshed, and bloodshed will pursue you; since you have not hated bloodshed, therefore bloodshed will pursue you (Ezekiel 35:5-6).

Because you have said, ‘These two nations and these two lands will be mine, and we will possess them,’ although the Lord was there, therefore as I live,” declares the Lord God, “I will deal with you according to your anger and according to your envy which you showed because of your hatred against them; so I will make Myself known among them when I judge you (Ezekiel 35:10-11).

Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel and say to the mountains and to the hills, to the ravines and to the valleys, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I have spoken in My jealousy and in My wrath because you have endured the insults of the nations’ (Ezekiel 36:6).

The nations that gloated while God was bringing punishing judgment against Israel and Judah have now become God's target. Surely, God was defending the honor of His people, right? Not so much. We discover that while the proud insults by the nations against Israel prompted God's judgment, it was not the root reason for it. The root reason, while hinted in the above passages, is given more explicitly here:

 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight (Ezekiel 36:22-23).

I am not doing this for your sake,” declares the Lord God, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!” (Ezekiel 36:32).

God would both judge the nations and restore Israel, but it was not for the sake of Israel's honor so much as it was for the sake of God's great Name. Israel was judged in the first place because they profaned God's Name among the nations. Likewise, the nations would be judged for doing the same against Israel, who was associated with God's great Name because they were God's chosen people. 

Remember David and Saul? David did not kill Saul though he had opportunities to do so. Was it because he liked Saul or that Saul was such a great man to David? No! It was because Saul was the "LORD's anointed." David was no stranger to killing, but He feared God and honored the LORD in not taking Saul's life before God's time. In time God Himself would take Saul's life and establish David as king, and his kingdom would be established forever. 

Friends, let us learn this lesson from Ezekiel and from David. Let us not put any confidence in our righteousness, in our church, or in our spiritual leaders, but let us simply and wholly trust in the LORD. Let us do all things in obedience to His Word and for His glory and in keeping with His calling on our lives. Let us do everything for the Lord's great Name!

Passage: Ezekiel 34-36

On Thursday, September 19, 2013 (Last Updated on 9/18/2022), Yujin wrote,

Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed,the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them (Ezekiel 34:2-4). 

The shepherds of Israel were only concerned with themselves and not with their sheep. They were concerned only with their own food and cothing, but they did not strengthen the sickly, heal the diseased, bind up the broken, or seek the wayward to bring them back. They were not good shepherds. Therefore God says, "Behold, I am against the shepherds" (Ezekiel 34:10).

This oracle against the shepherds of Israel reminds me of Paul's counsel to the elders of the church in Ephesus. He told them to be good shepherds over their members. This shepherding involved two things: (1) teaching them correct doctrine and (2) supplying the material needs of needy members.

I. Hold Fast to Biblical Truth

Regarding teaching, Paul testified that he taught them the whole will of God. In other words, he did not pick and choose the things that were popular and interesting or the things that put himself in a good light. He did not simply give them words of encouragement, he also corrected and rebuked error and unrighteouness:

Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God (Acts 20:26-27).

Paul went on to command them to do the same, and particularly to guard against the distortion of the truth of Scripture. He warned them that such error and perversion of truth would arise even from within the church:

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:28-30). 

Paul had such great concern for the distortion of the truth that he warned them with unceasing and restless tears:

So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears (Acts 20:31).

Thus, it amazes me today how certain pastors are so cavalier with respect to teaching right doctrine. Though they seem to emphasize caring for one another, they are careless with God's Word. They seem to suggest that "love" and "unity" and "peace" are more important than the truth of God's Word. They build up the numbers of people in their churches but tear down the foundations of biblical truth. They are, thus, building a house of cards. As David cried out,

When the foundations are being destroyed,
    what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3)

Pastors that do not build their church on the foundation of biblical truth are building their churches on shifting sand. They may grow for a season, though only as a facade, but they will not endure (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

II. Supply the Material Needs of Your Members

Now, Paul's counsel to the Ephesian elders did not stop with the absolutely critical instruction to teach and hold fast to correct doctrine. He also told them that good shepherding meant that they should take care of the material needs of the poor in their congregation.

As he often does, Paul used himself as the example for them to follow. He told them that he neither desired nor demanded any material help from them. Instead, he worked a separate job to supply his financial needs. What is more, he even supplied the financial needs of his co-laborers in ministry. 

I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions (Acts 20:33-34).

The reason Paul said that he did this was to give them an example, that they should in this way take care of those who are needy. Perhaps Paul was suggesting here that these Ephesian elders pursue a bi-vocational ministry, as he did.

Perhaps the oldest and most enduring church in Dallas is the First Baptist Church of Dallas (established in 1868). The greater part of its history was pastored by two men. At least one of these men, W.A. Criswell (pastor from 1944-1990), I have heard, took no salary from the church but supplied his own means through secular work. Wikipedia suggests that the church grew the most during his ministry. Some have suggested that if pastors worked a second job, they could not be as effective. W.A. Criswell might be at least one significant example to prove otherwise. 

Paul wanted to set an example for the Ephesian elders/pastors:

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive' (Acts 20:35).

Paul conveyed a teaching that he likely received directly from the Lord: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Notice here, this instruction was not for members to give to the needy elders but for the elders to give to the needy members. Granted, these words have a general application, but we cannot neglect the context of these words, which was Paul's instructions to the Ephesian elders. Isn't this remarkable and opposite of what we would have expected? Paul spoke of pastors taking care of the material needs of their members! If we saw this today, it would be the top story on every news station.

Yet, consider this. The average American pastor's salary is nearly 60% greater than the average American individual's salary. This would be fine if these pastors were living simply and modestly and giving the rest to meet the needs in their congregation and community, setting an example for other well-to-do members in their congregation. But that is rarely the case. I would not go so far as to say that these pastors are all selfish and greedy, but it may suggest that they have in part lost sight of their calling and mission. 

Friends, while these passages in Ezekiel and Acts have shepherds in view, there are certainly no shortage of passages that command every believer to both hold fast to biblical truth and to minister to the needs of their fellow believers. Therefore, we must not be smug in pointing out the shortcomings of our shepherds. They must be held to account, but we are also responsible for ourselves. 

Passage: Ezekiel 34-36

On Monday, September 19, 2011 (Last Updated on 9/18/2022), Yujin wrote,

Friends, once again in Ezekiel we read about the coming glorious New Covenant, which Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) also talked about:

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36:25-28).

The heartbeat of this New Covenant, which was ratified by the blood of Christ, is that God does for us what we could not do for ourselves. He gives us the faith and righteousness we need so that we, who in ourselves fall short of His glory, can fellowship in His glory through Christ. When this New Covenant was first announced, the people of God were clearly told that they were not given this blessing because of any merit that God found in them, but God would simply do it for the sake of His Name (Ezekiel 36:22-23,32). God reiterates this three times, so that there would be no confusion.

Even the language of the New Covenant makes it clear that God would act unilaterally, and not in concert with His people. He does not say that he will encourage the people to be righteous nor that He would persuade them to follow Him wholeheartedly. No. That's what He had been doing up to this point, only to demonstrate that people are by nature too weak in the flesh to follow Him wholeheartedly. So He says that He will give them a new heart and a new spirit. If the heart is the seat of decision and the spirit the means by which people apprehend spirtual things, then God is saying that He would give them the understanding and faith that they would need to follow Him. Again, in the language of the New Covenant, God says that He will "cause you to walk in my statutes." And if there is any doubt as to what is meant, He reiterates to redundancy, "and you will keep my judgements and do them."

If people would only understand the nature of this New Covensnt, they would stop trying to make a case for cooperative salvation, where God supplies the work and we supply the faith. Everyone who argues for the necessity of free will in salvation is preaching a cooperative salvation. But someone may argue that faith is not a work. Who says? It is certainly not a work if God provides it, but when we produce it, it certainly is. How is this different from the sacraments, which the Roman Catholic Church teaches are necessary for salvation? Aren't the sacraments merely external expressions of faith? And how is this different from the Judaizers, who preached the necessity of abiding by the Law of Moses for salvation. Isn't the works of the Law simply the flesh to the bones of faith. Doesn't James argue that faith without works is dead (James 2:26)? Genuine faith produces works, and perfect faith will produce perfect works. If faith is our own, its quality will be insufficient to save, for we would still fall short of God's glory. But if the faith is from God, it will be perfect and also produce perfect fruit. The reason we don't see this perfect fruit now is because we still live in our flesh, this "body of death," which wars against the Spirit, who produces within us the perfect fruit. When our bodies are redeemeed, that is glorified, then we will do the perfect works that the faith from God was given to produce.

Friends, people who argue for cooperative salvation is preaching a different Gospel from one that the Scripture teaches. Paul preached against a kind of cooperative salvation in the Book of Galatians, where a group known in theological circles as "Judaizers" tried to insist that keeping the Law of Moses was a necessary part of their salvation. Paul wrote,

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6-9)

This NIV translation of the Galatian passage fails to convey the strength of the language. Paul is not merely calling a curse upon those that pervert the Gospel of God's grace, he is invoking the worst curse, namely, eternal damnation. For those who trust in the perverted Gospel are not saved. Therefore, those who preach it are not preaching the true Gospel, and so they are a stumbling block to all would would exercise genuine faith, which is a gift of God, in Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus said of those who cause these little ones, who believe in Me, to stumble, may they have a millstone hung around their necks and be thrown into the sea, so those who pervert the Gospel of God's grace are in this same group. Those that teach a cooperative salvation based on a free-will-based faith stands dangerously close to perverting the Gospel of God's grace. 

Friends, please understand that salvation is all of grace, whether we are speaking of the cross, your faith, or the pefect works that will usher us into God's presence. For many evangelicals the sticking point is the matter of faith. Faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 12:3). Your free will had nothing to do with your salvation. It was all of God's will. A verse that clearly explains the origin of our faith is John 1:12-13,

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

The faith by which we believe and receive Jesus did not come from our parents ("not of blood"), nor by any community or personal decision ("nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man"). The faith came from God and by God's will. Anything less than this or more than this is not the Gospel of God's grace. 

The stumbling block is to think that just because there is a genuine response called for it must of necessity be free and not granted. This was the very same kind of stumbling block Jesus and Paul said the Jews stumbled over, because they thought they could be righteous (i.e. justificed) by keeping the Law. Even though in the Old Testament, there was a genuine obedience called for with respect to the Law, this did not mean that the people had the ability to do it, and certainly not to the extent that they would have a right standing with God. As in the New Testament, so in the Old Testament, obedience or a right standing was granted by God's grace.

This is why we also say that those who are saved can never lose their salvation. Since God did it all to begin with, God will also complete it (Philippians 1:6). However, those who argue for a faith that is based on "free will" have no such security, because their faith is human and imperfect and susceptible to the vissitudes of life. So friends, what kind of faith do you have? Is it yours, or will you give God the glory and acknowledge that if your faith is true, it is from God?

And if you preach or teach the Gospel or in any way share it, will you preach it in truth and remove the language of "free will" from your vocabulary as it touches on salvation? And when you make your appeal for people to believe, will you do it in truth also, not trusting the persuasiveness of your words but on the power of God to transform the heart of stone into a heart of flesh?

Remember, as you do this, you are not denying "free will," but rather affirming a right perspective of it. People already think too highly of themselves, and many hang on tenaciously to the idol of a free, and so "sovereign" will. Understand that the Bible clearly teaches that by our free will we will pave the way to our own destruction, for by our free will we sinned with our father Adam (Romans 5:12), and by our free will we remain "condemned" (John 3:18-21), and by our free we always turn from God (Romans 3:9-18), being by nature "dead in our trespasses" and "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:1-3). But God in His grace overcame our depraved free wills and saved us (Ephesians 2:4-5). Praise God! And to God alone be all the glory!