THE CASE FOR GODíS INVOLVEMENT

 

Week of September 26, 2010

 

Bible Verses:Deuteronomy 8:2-5; Psalm 139:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson helps adults understand that God not only exists, but that He desires to be intimately involved in their lives.

 

God is Personal and Present: Psalm 139:7-10.

 

[7]Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? [8]If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! [9]If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, [10]even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.[ESV]

 

The contemplation of Godís omniscience leads to a consideration of the possibility of escaping from Godís presence. Why should the Psalmist wish to flee from God? The desire to flee from God is due to a realization of our own unworthiness and sinfulness. It is sin which leads us to do the foolish thing of trying to escape from God. From Him, however, there is no escape. Indeed, the only way to escape from Him is to flee to Him, for it is in Him alone that we find refuge from the punishment which our sins deserve. The Psalmist knows that there is no place to which he can go where the Spirit of God will not also be present. To lend force to his question the Psalmist asks another, expressing essentially the same thought in parallel words. The word translated presence actually refers to the face or countenance; it is as though David had said that he could not flee from before Godís face. There is nowhere that a person can go where he can be free of God. Wherever one is, there is Godís Spirit also; wherever he flees, the Face of God beholds him. Who cannot but bow in praise and adoration before so great a God? Next David considers some of the possibilities for escape from Godís presence. Neither hell nor heaven will provide an escape from God. What happens should David succeed in ascending to the heavens? The answer is abrupt: you are there! Can there not, however, be escape from God in the opposite direction? Cannot David descend even to the place where the departed spirits have gone, namely, Sheol, and so escape from God? No, behold, God is even there. How clearly this language brings out the infinite distinction between man the creature and God the Creator. The contrast between God and David is striking. Wherever we are, be it in heaven or in hell, whether active or at rest, we cannot escape from God. His all-seeing eye is ever with us. Ascent to heaven and descent to Sheol provide no escape from God. What about travel in a horizontal direction? Even if the Psalmist should dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, there is no escape from God. What are the wings of the morning? David employs an unusual word which refers to the dawn, and so it is actually the wings of the dawn that he has in mind. What, however, are these wings, and what is the purpose of his expression? It is probably a reference to speed. The wings of the morning spread out rapidly and David is expressing the wish to fly with the speed of the early dawn as it covers the entire sky. But even so he would not journey with sufficient speed to flee from God. In the second part of verse 9, David speaks of the farthermost part of the sea, by which he means as far as one can travel. But even here one does not go beyond the presence of God. We can note a change of emphasis in verse 10. The tone of fear before God seems to be dropped, and a note of comfort is introduced. True, there is no escape from God, but David in the farthermost part of the sea does not meet God as One who is ready to punish him, but as One who guides him. The hand of God signifies His power, and so David is saying that, although he be far removed from his earthly home, yet Godís power leads him. The thought is implied that wherever David is, Godís hand leads him.

 

God Guides and Provides:Deuteronomy 8:2-5.

 

[2]And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. [3]And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. [4]Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. [5]Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.[ESV]

 

Life is about learning. As they look into the uncertain future, the Israelites are told to remember the past. If they think about the way God has helped them through difficult experiences in years gone by, they are not likely to be terrified about the way ahead. Moses tells the Israelites that those forty years in the desert had been difficult years, but not wasted ones. Disobedience had kept a whole generation out of a land they might have enjoyed, but God had been with them just the same. When His people grieve Him, He does not utterly forsake them. Godís people looked forward to a prosperous land ahead, but they must not forget that God had also been good to them in the barren desert. They had learnt lessons there which prosperity could never have taught them. Through those bleak wilderness years, He had been like a compassionate father who occasionally has to discipline His children for their own good [5]. Some lessons can only be learnt in trouble. One of the most important things we all have to learn is what life is all about. Throughout the book of Deuteronomy the phrase that you may live recurs and it appears in verse 1 of this chapter. But these desert pilgrims had to learn that life consists of more than eating and drinking. When they were hungry in the wilderness, they cried out for food and God gave them manna [3] as His choice gift to meet their daily needs. Without it they would have perished physically, but if they had also been denied even more satisfying food, they would have died spiritually. The manna would feed their earthly bodies, but nothing more. They were spiritual people, with a capacity for receiving the most necessary food of all, Godís word. Only as they made an obedient response to that word could they truly live. God spoke to them in the desert and it was that which kept them truly alive. By His word He presented them with great, unchanging spiritual realities, essential both for this life and for eternity. To eat and drink is merely to exist; only as men and women receive and obey Godís truth can they really live as God intended Ė lives which bring them lasting satisfaction and eternal security. In order to make us aware of the priority of spiritual over material values, God sometimes temporarily holds back physical necessities to remind us of the supremacy of spiritual ones. God continues to discipline His children. He sometimes leads us through difficult, bewildering, even bitter experiences to prove our dependence upon Him. Such times can be used to strengthen our faith, determine our priorities, enrich our witness and increase our usefulness to others. When we encounter new situations or come up against adverse circumstances, we must remember that these times may not be as threatening or destructive as, at first sight, they often seem. The Lord may be using such events to discipline us, to show us how much we have been relying on our own resources, or how prayerless we have become, or how we have allowed our lives to be determined by materialistic values, and a host of other things. Moses here tells the people that during periods of chastisement or corrective discipline we must remember to do three things: keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him [6]. During lifeís dark and puzzling experiences we are to obey the word, live in a manner which pleases God, and hold Him in reverence. We will not complain or grumble during such periods but fear Him, acknowledge His sovereignty and recognize that He alone is God, fully entitled to control every aspect of our lives.

 

God Stepped into History:Philippians 2:5-11.

 

[5]Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6]who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7]but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8]And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [9]Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, [10]so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11]and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[ESV]

 

[5-8]Verse 5 introduces the hymn by looking both backward and forward. Looking back, Paul picked up the theme of the proper attitude which he commended in 2:1-4. Looking ahead, Paul anticipated the epitome of the proper mind, Jesus. We are to think the way that Jesus thought. The main verbs are the key to the structure, and Jesusí attitude is presented in verse 6. Two parallel statements show the exemplary nature of Jesusí thoughts. The first is in the form of God, which is compared to the second, equality with God. Form means ďform, outward appearance, shapeĒ; but since it occurs only in 2:6 and 2:7 in the New Testament, the context must determine its precise meaning. Clearly, the form of God and the form of a servant [7] must mean the same thing. The hymn called the readers to consider the preexistent state of Jesus, when He was in the form of God. Physical eyes cannot see spiritual realities, only spiritual eyes can [1 Cor. 2:14]. Given the context, it would not be uncommon to use the term to state that He actually appeared as God to those who could see Him. Similarly, the form of a servant does not require that human eyes be able to see that form, although with spiritually enlightened eyes one sees it. Thus the word form means an outward appearance consistent with what is true. The form perfectly expresses the inner reality of who Jesus really is. The description form of God parallels equality with God, which is, therefore, another explanation of Jesusí nature. The form of the expression stresses the manner of His existence since the word equality is actually an adverb showing how He existed. Two other matters relate to Jesusí preexistent state. The first is the meaning and force of the participle being. The word basically mean ďto exist originally,Ē but later was used as an intensive form which meant ďreally exist.Ē The result is that Jesus ďreally existedĒ in that form. The second matter is the meaning of a thing to be grasped. Since Jesus already possessed equality with God, He had nothing to grasp; He did not have to attempt to take hold of divinity like Adam did in the Garden. The hymn moves from attitude to actions in verse 7. Two verbs describe successive actions as Jesus gave Himself for humanity: He made himself nothing and he humbled himself. Each has a phrase modifying it. The first of Jesusí actions was to empty Himself. The contrasts between Lord [11] and servant [7] and equality with God [6] and likeness of men [7] express the emptying. Thus the emptying or making Himself nothing is that God became human, Lord became servant, and obedience took Him to death. This passage affirms simply that Christ left His position, rank, and privilege. They were of no effect. Two ideas modify the verb made himself nothing. They are taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of men. These statements explain both how this took place and what it means. Paradoxically, being made nothing means adding humanity to deity rather than subtracting deity from His person. The relationship between these ideas reveals further the movement to death. Taking the form of a servant speaks to an attitude which produced the action of assuming humanity. It logically precedes. Because of the close relationship between these modifying ideas, their content should be seen as parallel. The form of a servant means that Jesusí outer actions conformed to the inner reality. Jesusí servanthood issued in humanity and, later, obedience to death. The description human likeness really stresses Jesusí humanity. Likeness does not suggest any degree of unreality in Christís humanity; the word is almost a synonym for form and image. But it leaves room for the thought that the human likeness is not the whole story. It must be seen in light of the next statement, that He was found in human form [8]. Finally, the verb being born [7] contrasts with being [6]. He existed originally in the form of God; but at a specific point, He became human. With these words, the text praises the attitude of Jesus. The hymn was to be used in worship, and as such, it was doxological. The total impact was to move the church to appreciate and imitate Jesusí actions. The hymn teaches that Jesus added servanthood to lordship as He added humanity to deity. The words convey significant theological meaning that adds reality to the impact of the worship experience. Recalling this servanthood also exhorted the believers to unity. Having entered the world of humanity, Jesus humbled himself. This describes a second stage in Jesus humility. Like the first statement, two ideas modify this one, explaining the extent of Jesusí actions. First, when he was found in fashion like a man, He chose humility. At this point, people can identify with Him. Second, he became obedient to death. As a true servant, Jesus chose to obey even when it cost His life, and that further in a most ignoble way. The cross, so dear to Paul and other devout Christians, was an embarrassment to many. That, in itself, demonstrates the extent to which Jesus went.

 

[9-11]Here the passage changes both tone and structure. God becomes the subject, rather than Christ, and the purpose of Godís actions becomes evident. God exalted Jesus. Two statements reveal the nature of Godís actions. First, He highly exalted him; second, He bestowed on him the name that is above every name. The two relate to each other so that together they express Godís action. Jesus was highly exalted, a contrast which compares the lowliness of the death of the cross with the exaltation of restored glory. Most agree the name that is above every name is the title Lord. Further, most agree that the title refers to Jesusí character, as well as to His function. This corresponds to Peterís preaching at Pentecost [Acts 2:36] and to the view of the early church generally. The new factor is that, by virtue of Jesusí humility, He became the object of adoration in the Godhead, as well as the administrator of Godís affairs. The worship accorded Him in 2:10-11 supports this fact. Other passages speak to His function of Lord as well [1 Cor. 15:24-28; Eph. 1:20-23]. Now, since the ascension, all that God is comes to us through Jesus, and all who come to God do so through Jesus. Verses 10-11 explain the goal or purpose of Godís exalting Jesus. Two parallel ideas express Jesus as the object of worship. They are: every knee should bow and every tongue confess. The knee and the tongue stand for worship and confession that Jesus is Lord. Ultimately, every creature in the universe will acknowledge who Jesus is. Wherever Jesusí name has authority, He will be worshiped. Since He is authoritative everywhere, He will be worshiped everywhere. The emphasis of this text, however, is not directly on the worship of Jesus. The language is that of triumph. The bending of the knee was a posture of submission, as was confessing Jesus Christ is Lord. The hymn, therefore, speaks to Jesus as the conqueror of all and should be seen as parallel to such texts as 1 Cor. 15:24-28. Thus the hymn points out that everyone will acknowledge the position of Jesus in the universe. The second concern of this first purpose clause is the persons who submit to Jesusí lordship. The text states, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. The meaning of the text is that it is the knees of beings located in these places. Jesusí lordship encompasses spiritual beings (those of heaven: good or evil), living human beings (those of earth), and dead persons as well (under the earth). Thus the hymn includes every conceivable habitation of personal beings. The second purpose statement is that every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Thus both the universal nature of Jesusí lordship and the acknowledgment of it are reemphasized. Every tongue includes the same beings as every knee which bows. The confession Jesus Christ is Lord encapsulates this aspect of the Christian faith and may well have been the earliest Christian confession. Honoring Jesus in this way fulfills Godís plan. He elevated Jesus to the position of lordship and the confession is to the glory of God the Father. There is perfect unity in the Godhead. The actions of Jesus in His exaltation bring glory to the Father. Thus the Father honors the Son, and the Son honors the Father. In this dynamic, both display selflessness, and both receive honor. This is an eschatological picture. The hymn brings the future into view by describing the culmination of history, when all persons will acknowledge Jesusí lordship. No evidence states that such acknowledgment will bring salvation, however. That must be cared for in the present, before Jesus conquers His enemies. The church bears witness to Jesusí lordship by confessing to the world Jesus Christ is Lord and offering salvation to those who accept that confession and make it the central part of their lives. Paul recognized, therefore, that some people will voluntarily accept the reality that Jesus is Lord and participate in His reign of glory. Others will deny that lordship and, in the end, be conquered by the Lord Himself. For them, it will be too late to participate in the glory, and they will be destined to the punishment appropriate for those who resist the Lord. In these verses, Paul reminded the Philippians of the greatest example of servanthood. The first section, on selflessness, applied directly to them. They were to be like Christ, the chief servant. Christís attitude was to become theirs. They were to focus on giving rather than receiving. Christ acted selflessly to accomplish the will of God. He even died to provide salvation as a part of the divine plan. God chose to honor Him, determining that Christ would be the focus of the Godhead in its interactions with creation. Because of Jesusí actions, the way to honor God is to honor Christ. Even so, the glory Christ receives is a glory given to the Father. Again, a shared servanthood works to the mutual benefit of all involved. The church had to learn this lesson. It would learn this lesson only by focusing on Christ Himself.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What is the only way we can escape from God? How does this bring comfort to you especially when the Spirit is convicting you of some particular sin in your life?

 

2.†††††††† What very important lesson did God want His people to learn in the desert [see verse 3]? This is the same lesson He wants us to learn today. Seek to make this a priority in your life.

 

3.†††††††† How is it possible to have our minds changed to be like Jesus [see Psalms 86:11; 119:11,33-40; Romans 8:3-13,26-30; 12:2]? Why is humility and selflessness essential for harmony in the church? What does Paul teach us about true humility in these verses?

 

4.†††††††† What are the two stages of Christís humiliation in verse 7-8? What does Paul mean when he writes that Jesus made himself nothing (or emptied himself)?

 

5.†††††††† What do verses 10-11 teach us about Godís purpose in exalting His Son? What does it mean to you personally to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? What important truths are wrapped up in this confession?

 

References:

The Message of Deuteronomy, Raymond Brown, Inter-Varsity.

Psalm 139, Edward J. Young, Banner of Truth.

Philippians, Richard R. Melick, Jr., NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Philippians, J.A. Motyer, Inter-Varsity.