Witness Without Words – 1 Peter 3:1-2

1 Peter 3:1-2 (ESV)
1  Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2  when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

In an intimate relationship like marriage, actions often speak louder than words. Words get preachy, but actions demonstrate reality.

Words can create division, but loving action builds trust. Words lay out propositional truth—the information about salvation—but actions show the living Christ in the believer’s heart and life.

Did Peter forbid a spouse to witness? Obviously not. Words built on trust and love can transform a life.

Does Peter downplay street preaching, testimonies, sermons, and personal witnessing? Truly not. He was advising married partners how to treat unbelieving spouses.

If your husband is a nonbeliever, you can strengthen your marriage not by preaching, but by living, loving, and letting God provide the opportunity for you to witness.

Under the circumstances, the wives’ best approach would be witnessing by their behavior. Their attitude should reflect loving service: They should show their husbands the kind of self-giving love that Christ showed the church.

Their lives should reflect both purity and reverence. “Purity” refers to behavior that is free from moral defilement. The wives should be pure for their husbands’ sakes, yet they would have to disobey should their husbands ask them to do something morally wrong or to participate in pagan practices.

“Reverence” is the same word translated as “respect” in 2:18 (phobos), referring to healthy fear. The wives had no protection from violence (other than murder) under the law. So these wives should not do anything to incur the displeasure of their husbands. By being exemplary wives, they would please their husbands.

At the very least, the men would then allow these wives to continue practicing their “strange” religion. At best, their husbands would join them and become Christians too.

A changed life speaks loudly and clearly and is often the most effective way to influence a family member. Peter instructs Christian wives to develop inner beauty rather than being overly concerned about their outward appearance. Their husbands will be won over by their love rather than by their looks.

This does not mean that Christian women should be dowdy and frumpy; it is good to be cheerful and attractive. But their priorities should be virtue and moderation. Live your Christian faith quietly and consistently in your home, and your family will see Christ in you.


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Posted by on June 27, 2019 in 1 Peter, Marriage


Understanding and Honoring Your Wife – 1 Peter 3:7

I read a fictional story called “Johnny Lingo’s Eight‑Cow Wife” (by Patricia McGerr, Reader’s Digest [2/88], pp. 138‑141) that is a parable on our text. It took place on a primitive Pacific island, where a man paid the dowry for his wife in cows. Two or three cows could buy a decent wife, four or five a very nice one. But Johnny Lingo had offered an unheard of eight cows for Sarita, a girl whom everyone in her home village thought rather plain looking. The local folks all made fun of Johnny, who they thought was crazy to pay so much for a wife.

But when the teller of the story finally sees Johnny Lingo’s wife, she is stunned by her beauty. She asks him how this could be the same woman—how can she be so different? Johnny’s reply shows that he’s nobody’s fool:

“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita.”

“Then you did this just to make your wife happy?”

“I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands.”

“Then you wanted—”

“I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman.”

“But‑‑” I was close to understanding.

“But,” he finished softly, “I wanted an eight-cow wife.”

People tend to live up—or down—to how we treat them. If we offer repeated praise and affirmation, the person responds by living up to it. If we run the person down, they oblige us by meeting our negative expectations. Peter tells husbands that, like Johnny Lingo, they should treat their mates as eight-cow wives. Husbands should understand and honor their wives.

The reason Peter gives this command may startle you, if you aren’t overly familiar with the verse. We are not to treat our wives well so that we will have happy marriages, although that will be one result. Rather, we are to treat our wives properly so that our prayers will not be hindered! Isn’t that startling—that there is an undeniable connection between how you treat your wife and your prayer life! Since effective prayer is at the heart of a walk with God, this means that if a man mistreats his wife, I don’t care what he claims, he cannot be enjoying close communion with God.

Husbands are to understand and honor their wives so that they will have an effective prayer life.

Although it is only a single verse, it is brimming with profound truth that will transform every marriage if we husbands will work at applying its principles. I would translate it freely like this: “Also, husbands should dwell together with their wives according to knowledge, assigning to them a place of honor as to a delicate instrument, namely, a feminine one, as a fellow‑heir of the gracious gift of eternal life, so that a roadblock will not cut off your prayers.” There are two commands and one result: (1) Live with your wife according to knowledge; (2) Grant her honor as a fellow‑heir of the grace of life (= salvation); (3) The result: So that your prayers will not be hindered.

1. Husbands are to understand their wives.

We all have a deep-seated longing to be understood by at least one other person who cares for us and accepts us for who we are. We all enter marriage with high hopes for a deepening understanding to be built between us and our mate. And yet, all too often, a couple grows increasingly callused toward one another.

In American culture, for some reason, men are often inept at understanding their wives on a deep level. So there are disappointments and hurt feelings that never get resolved. The husband shrugs his shoulders, ignores his wife whom he doesn’t understand, and pours himself into his job, which seems to be something he can handle. She shares her feelings with women friends and gets caught up in the frenzy of raising children and running a household. And then the nest starts emptying and the wife starts thinking about going back to school and getting a fulfilling job at about the same time the husband realizes that he isn’t fulfilled through his job and what he really wants is intimacy with his distant wife (or with a younger version who excites him more). It’s no surprise that the divorce curve shoots up at this point in life.

A. Understanding your wife involves developing and maintaining togetherness in your marriage.

Peter says that you should “live with” your wife. You say, “I’ve got that down! We both live at the same address and share the same bed and eat many meals together.” But the Greek word means more than just sharing living quarters. It is used only here in the New Testament, but in the Greek Old Testament it is used several times to refer to the sexual relationship in marriage. Peter uses it to refer to the aspect of togetherness. A husband is to promote a spirit of emotional, spiritual, and physical closeness that is only possible in the commitment of marriage.

It’s significant that Peter puts the responsibility for togetherness on the husband, not on the wife. In our culture, women are often the relational ones. Men aren’t real communicative; they just sort of grunt. But the Bible puts the burden for intimacy in marriage primarily on the husband, not on the wife. If there is a drift in your marriage, men, you are to take the initiative to bring things back together. This doesn’t mean that a wife can’t act first if she notices a distance in the relationship. But it does mean that as men we are to be active, not passive, in developing and maintaining a close relationship with our wives.

It may sound perfectly obvious, but one way to develop and maintain togetherness in your marriage is to do things together. So many couples live in their own separate worlds. Men, help your wife with the dishes sometimes, not just because she needs the help, but to be together. Take walks together, go shopping together when you can. If you can’t tolerate shopping, at least drive her there sometimes and sit in the mall and watch the people or read a book. The idea is, to be together so that you intertwine your lives. As Simone Signoret observed, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.”

B. Understanding your wife involves knowing her well.

“Dwell together with your wives according to knowledge.” This comes partly through spending time together. The Greek word means to grasp the full reality and nature of the object, based upon experience and evaluation. It is the apprehension of truth, especially (in the N. T.) of spiritual truth (see point C). But here it refers not just to spiritual knowledge, but also to a knowledge of your wife based on careful observation.

Every husband needs to become an avid student of his wife. You need to know her personality, her likes and dislikes, her needs, her strengths, her weaknesses, her fears, her hopes, her joys. Such knowledge is a personal trust to be guarded with great care. You should never bring up a vulnerable point as artillery in a disagreement.

C. Understanding your wife involves knowing God and His truth well.

To dwell with your wife “according to knowledge” means knowing her well. But also it has the nuance of knowing spiritual truth well. This is implicit in the phrase, “as fellow‑heirs of the grace of life.” This points to the vast spiritual riches that are ours equally as men and women through faith in Christ (1 Pet. 1:4, 13). As a husband leads his wife spiritually into a fuller knowledge of all that God has prepared for those who love Him, they will grow together in a depth of intimacy the world can’t know. In knowing God and His Word, we will come to know ourselves and our wives and thus be able to relate to them more adequately.

This means, men, that if you’re spiritually passive, you’re not being obedient to what God wants you to be doing as a husband. A lot of men feel inadequate spiritually. Their wives spend time going to Bible studies so that they know more about spiritual things than their husbands do. Many men leave early for work and come home late, too exhausted to spend time alone with God. I know it’s tough. But you can do what you want to do, and if growing and leading your family spiritually is a priority, you can do it.

Thus our first responsibility is to understand our wives, which means developing togetherness, knowing her well, and knowing God and His truth well.

2. Husbands are to honor their wives.

The word “grant” means to assign or apportion that which is due. A wife deserves honor (the Greek word has the nuance of value or worth). Grammatically, the phrase “as a delicate instrument, namely, a feminine one” can go either with “dwell together according to knowledge” or with “assigning her a place of honor.” I take it with the latter, the sense being, rather than take advantage of your wife because she is physically weaker, you should treat her carefully as you would a valuable instrument. A doctor would never think of taking an expensive, delicate instrument and using it to pound a nail. He would “honor” that instrument by treating it well.

In my opinion, if Christian husbands had practiced this well, we wouldn’t have the backlash of the so-called “evangelical feminist” movement. Notice the fine balance that Peter lays out: On the one hand, the wife is the “weaker vessel,” who should submit to her husband (3:1) for the protection and care she needs. On the other hand, she is a fellow-heir of the grace of life, which means that she is not inferior personally or spiritually. Her husband is not to dominate her, but rather to assign to her a place of honor. Thus the Bible maintains a distinctive role for the sexes, but it does not put down women as second-class citizens.

A major part of honoring your wife involves how you speak to her and about her. There is no room for jokes or sarcasm that put down your wife. Also, if you have children, it is your job as head of the household to make sure that they honor their mother. You model it by treating her with honor, but you enforce it by disciplining them for disrespect toward her. You should join the husband of the virtuous woman (Prov. 31:10‑31) in singing her praises. One of the things I often say to Marla and about her behind her back is that she makes our home a refuge for me. She serves you as a church by doing that, so that I get recharged for the ministry by being at home with her.

So the two commands are, Understand your wife; and, honor your wife. The result is:

3. The result of understanding and honoring your wife will be an effective prayer life.

As I said, this is a somewhat startling conclusion. I would think that Peter would have said, “so that you will have a happy marriage,” or “so that God will be glorified.” Both will be true, of course. But Peter is calling attention to something we often forget or deny: That there is always a correlation between your relationship with your wife and your relationship with God (Matt. 5:23-24; 6:14-15). If you don’t want a roadblock thrown up in your prayer life, then you must understand and honor your wife. It’s also interesting that if the Greek word translated “dwell together” has a sexual connotation, then both here and in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, Scripture brings together that which we invariably separate, namely, sex and prayer. (I’ll let you explore the theological implications of that!)

But please note: If your prayers are not effective, your life is not effective in the ultimate sense. Prayer is at the very center of life, since it is our link with the living God. Everything else in life hinges on having an effective prayer life. Yet, sadly, many Christian couples never pray together. If you don’t pray with your wife, men, why not swallow your pride or fear and begin?


Husbands, your work is cut out for you: To make your wife an “eight-cow” wife! You are to understand her and honor her so that your prayers will not be hindered.

The late Bible teacher Harry Ironside once had a super-spiritual young man come to him and say, “Dr. Ironside, I have a spiritual problem. I love my wife too much!” He probably thought that Ironside would commend him for his great dedication to God. But instead, Ironside wisely asked him, “Do you love her as much as Christ loved the church?” When the young man stammered, “Well, no, I don’t love her that much,” Ironside said, “Then go get on with it, because that’s the command.”

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Posted by on June 24, 2019 in 1 Peter


God is a peacemaker. Jesus Christ is a peacemaker. We must strive to be peacemakers, too

God is a peacemaker. Jesus Christ is a peacemaker. So, if we want to be God’s children and Christ’s disciples, we must be peacemakers too. We should also diligently wish to work for peace in this world where peace is difficult to find. We might ask daily these questions:
1. Do I strive to live in harmony with others?
2. Do I strive to be sympathetic to the feelings of others?
3. Do I give the benefit to others I would give to myself?
4. Do I tend to insult or bless?
5 Do I spread goodwill with my conversation?
6. Do I pray for people to be in harmony with God and others?

You should pray when you’re in a praying mood, for it would be sinful to neglect such an opportunity. You should pray when you’re not in a praying mood, because it would be sinful to remain in such a condition.

Mark 4:39 (45 kb)Never let a day begin without it. “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Psalm 5:3

Never let a day end without it. “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice.” Psalm 55:17

Never face a situation/problem without it. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding..” Proverbs 3:5

Never neglect it when it seems unnecessary. A little boy when asked by minister if he prayed everyday, said, “Not everyday. Sometimes I don’t need anything.” That’s the response of an immature individual.

Keep submitting your heart to God. “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” Colossians 3:15.

Peace is the deliberate adjustment of my life to the will of God.

Everything starts with your thought life. “If you sow a thought, you reap an attitude. If you sow an attitude, you reap an action. If you sow an action, you reap a habit.”

“… every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.” James 1:14-16

You can fill your mind with many different things. If you want peace, though, you must fill your mind with God. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

Men and women of the 21st century are worn out, fatigued, and overcommitted. The man with a full resume always pays a price to get it. Something has to suffer when we are an elder, a businessman, a civic leader, and a sportsman. When we run in the fast lane, precious little time remains for God and our family. Wouldn’t you like to get out of the fast lane?

Prayerfully ask God to help you make the right choices. If you were speeding down the inside lane of a busy interstate highway at 80 miles an hour and decided to get off the road, you wouldn’t swerve sharply without warning. You would turn on your blinker and start to work your way over. Even then you would have to wait for an exit ramp.

God is not so much interested in your position as He is in your attitude, in where you are as in where you are going. When we make the decision to get out of the fast lane, God will help us, will bless the direction in which we are moving. He will empower us to make the adjustment, to find an exit.

Winston Churchill said “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile — hoping it will eat him last.” I’m reminded of what happened just prior to World War II. Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, had a policy of appeasement in regards to Nazi Germany. Whatever Hitler wanted he gave in return for a guarantee of peace. As he got off the airplane he waved in the air the peace treaty signed by Hitler. He spoke bravely of “peace with honour” and “peace in our time.” Just two weeks later Hitler’s armies invaded Czechoslovakia.

We have our peace movements, and all we want is peace abroad and at home. But if by peace we mean appeasing tyranny, compromising with gangsters and being silent because we haven’t the moral fortitude to speak out against injustice, then this is not real peace. It is a false peace. It is a farce and it is a hoax.

Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. Herbert Hoover said, “Peace is not made at the council tables, or by treaties, but in the hearts of men.”

Peace does not mean the end of all our striving, Joy does not mean the drying of our tears;
Peace is the power that comes to souls arriving Up to the light where God himself appears.
Joy is the wine that God is ever pouring Into the hearts of those who strive with him,
Light’ning their eyes to vision and adoring, Strength’ning their arms to warfare glad and grim.

A young soldier was going off to fight in World War II against the Japanese. As his father put him on the train and waved good- bye, he turned with bitter tears and said, “If my son is killed, I hope every Jap in the world is killed!”

A year later the son was killed. Soon $10,000 in life insurance money arrived. The father did a most surprising thing with the money: he sent it to the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board and designated it for missions to the Japanese.

How could the father do this? Obviously, he got the peace, the shalom, that Jesus speaks of in our text.

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Posted by on June 20, 2019 in God, Jesus Christ


Living With A Difficult Husband – 1 Peter 3:1-6

1 Peter 3:1-6 (ESV)
1  Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,
2  when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
3  Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—
4  but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
5  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,
6  as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

These verses are tough to explain and apply in light of our modern culture. It’s tough enough to teach about the submission of wives to godly husbands. But to teach that wives should submit even to husbands who are ungodly seems cruel and insensitive.

Wife abuse is widespread…even among Christians. Furthermore, we live in a society that values individual rights, especially of those who are pushed down by the system (such as women). We’re constantly encouraged to stand up for our rights and to fight back when we’re wronged.

Self-fulfillment is a supreme virtue in America, and those who are unfulfilled because of a difficult marriage are encouraged to do what they have to do to seek personal happiness. Submission to one’s difficult husband is not usually one of the action points!

To understand our text, we must see that Peter’s theme (which began at 2:11) is still Christian witness in an alien world. Peter didn’t want to compound the problem with a wife’s defiant behavior. So he gives instruction on how Christian women could live with their unbelieving mates in a way that would bear witness for Christ.

We need to understand several things in approaching this text. First, the qualities Peter encourages these women to adopt apply to all Christians, both men and women. We all are to develop a submissive spirit, to be chaste, reverent, gentle and quiet, with an emphasis on the inner person rather than on outward appearance.

Second, Peter’s comments do not encourage a Christian to enter a marriage with an unbelieving mate. Scripture is clear that believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14; Exod. 34:12‑16; Ezra 9:1‑4). Also, the Apostle Paul clearly states that if an unbelieving mate consents to live with a believer, the believer must not initiate a divorce (1 Cor. 7:12‑13).

What do these verses NOT say?

  • Do not leave.
  • Do not lead.
  • Do not nag him to death.

Rather, the believing wife should follow the principles Peter sets forth here, namely, that …

A Christian wife should live with a difficult husband so that he is attracted to Christ by her behavior.

Peter’s point is that godly conduct is a powerful witness, much more powerful than words without conduct. He does not mean that verbal witness is not important. In the proper context, words are essential to communicate the content of the gospel. Peter’s point is that disobedient husbands are more likely to be won by godly practice than by preaching from their wives. They will notice attractive behavior and through it be drawn to the source of that behavior—a relationship with Jesus Christ. I want to look at seven aspects of such attractive behavior and then answer three practical questions that arise.

1. Attractive behavior involves submission.

Paul recognizes a sense in Christian marriage in which each partner submits to the other under Christ, but he also goes on to state that the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church. There is a sense in which Christ submits Himself to the church in self‑ sacrificing service, but at the same time, clearly He is in authority over the church.

Two things about authority and submission. First, the purpose of authority is to protect and bless those under authority, not to benefit the one in authority. Because of sin, those in authority commonly abuse it and God will hold them accountable.

Second, God never tells husbands to get their wives to submit to them. All the commands to submit are directed to wives. A husband who focuses on his authority is out of line. His responsibilities are to love his wife sacrificially (Eph. 5:25) and to live with her in an understanding way, granting her honor (1 Pet. 3:7).

What, then, does submission mean? The Greek word is a military term meaning to place in rank under someone. But the biblical spirit of submission involves far more than just grudgingly going along with orders (as often happens in the military). Rather, submission is the attitude and action of willingly yielding to and obeying the authority of another to please the Lord.

Attitude is crucial. A disobedient little boy was told to sit in the corner. He said, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.” That’s defiance, not submission.

Submission involves an attitude of respect and a recognition of the responsibility of the one in authority. Rather than trying to thwart his will through manipulation or scheming, a submissive wife will seek to discover what her husband wants and do it to please him, as long as it doesn’t involve disobedience to God.

The source of many marital problems is that the wife is seeking to control the husband to meet what she perceives as her needs and the husband is seeking to dominate the wife to meet what he perceives as his needs. So you have a constant tug of war going on. That’s not the biblical pattern for husbands or wives.

2. Attractive behavior involves purity.

This means that a wife who wants to win her husband to Christ must live in obedience to God. She will be morally pure. Her husband won’t distrust her because she’s a flirt with other men. She won’t use deception or dishonesty to try to get her own way. She will learn to handle anger in a biblical way. Her hope will be in God (3:5) so that she will have a sweet spirit, even toward a difficult husband. He will see Christlikeness in her.

3. Attractive behavior involves reverence.

The idea is that a godly wife will live in the fear of God, aware that He sees all that is going on (“in the sight of God,” 3:4). To live in the fear of God means that we recognize His holiness and wrath against all sin and therefore live obediently, even when it’s hard.

4. Attractive behavior involves not nagging.

Nothing will drive a man further from the Lord than a nagging wife. Solomon said it 3,000 years ago, and it’s still true, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof, than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (Prov. 21:9). And, “the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping” (Prov. 19:13b). Nagging will drive your husband crazy, but it won’t drive him to Christ.

Nagging will do one of two things to men: Either it will make him resist and become obstinate, or he will give in to keep the peace.

Either response is not good for the wife. If the husband becomes more obstinate, he can become abusive. This creates distance in the relationship. If he gives in to keep the peace, he becomes passive and the wife is put in the role of the decision maker, out from under the covering of blessing and protection that God designed proper authority to be.

Thus attractive behavior involves submission, purity, reverence toward God, and not nagging.

5. Attractive behavior involves a gentle and quiet spirit.

 “Quiet” does not mean mute, but rather tranquil or calm, not combative. A quiet woman exudes a confidence in her role and giftedness. She is not out to prove anything, because she is secure in who she is in the Lord. She may be “quiet” and yet be articulate and persuasive in presenting her point of view.

6. Attractive behavior involves doing what is right.

You have become Sarah’s children “if you do what is right.” Peter emphasizes this concept (2:12, 14, 15, 20; 3:6, 11, 13, 16, 17; 4:19). It always occurs in the context of others doing wrong toward us and points to the fact that our behavior shouldn’t be determined by how others treat us. We’re so prone to react to wrong treatment with more wrong treatment and then to blame our sin on the other person’s sin. But God wants us to be prepared to respond to wrongs against us by doing what is right.

7. Attractive behavior involves an emphasis on the inner person over outward appearance.

The point of 3:3‑4 is not that a woman should neglect her outward appearance, but rather that her emphasis should be on the inner person. He is not forbidding all braiding of hair or wearing of jewelry, or else he’s also forbidding wearing dresses!

A young officer who was blinded during a war met and later married one of the nurses who took care of him in the hospital. One day he overheard someone say, “It was lucky for her that he was blind, since no one who could see would marry such a homely woman.” He walked toward the voice and said, “I overheard what you said, and I thank God from the depths of my heart for blindness of eyes that might have kept me from seeing the marvelous worth of the soul of this woman who is my wife. She is the most noble character I have ever known; if the conformation of her features is such that it might have masked her inward beauty to my soul then I am the great gainer by having lost my sight.” (Donald Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate [Revell], p. 156.)

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Posted by on June 17, 2019 in 1 Peter


Experiencing Joy… Happiness is a feeling. Joy is an attitude. A posture. A position. A place.

It says in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those words are the preamble to the American dream. But more than 225 years later, the innocent, hopeful intentions of our founding fathers have become blind and dangerous compulsions.
We all know we can’t buy happiness, and we are often surprised by what brings us happiness and frustrated by what we believe should make us happy.

It has been suggested that we are becoming a nation of men and women who, in the quest for happiness, all too often fall short of achieving any kind of inner peace. Instead of life’s journey being an exhilarating adventure into the unknown, for many of us it is a compulsive and tiring trek, an exhausting journey where the next stop for replenishment never seems to arrive.

flowerGeorge Santayana: “A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous pleasures is not happiness; happiness rsides in an imaginative reflection and judgment, when the picture of one’s life, or of human life, as it truly has been or is, satisfies the will, and is gladly accepted.”

“Many apparently successful people feel that their success is underserved and that one day people will unmark them for the frauds they are. For all the outward trappings of success, they feel hollow inside. They can never rest and enjoy their accomplishments. They need one new success after another. They need constant reassurance from the people around them to still the voice inside them that keeps saying, “If other people knew you the way I know you, they would know what a phony you are.”.

Happiness is not about having what we want…but wanting what we have! In many ways, happiness is within us waiting to be discovered.

Fewer than 10 percent of Americans are deeply committed Christians, says pollster George Gallup, who adds that these people “are far, far happier than the rest of the population.” Committed Christians, Gallup found, are more tolerant than the average American, more involved in charitable activities, and are “absolutely committed to prayer.” While many more Americans than this 10 percent profess to be Christians, adds Gallup, most actually know little or nothing of Christian beliefs, and act no differently than non-Christians. “Overall,” says Gallup, “The Sunday School and religious education system in this country is not working.”

They (we) need to discover the difference between happiness and joy! If our goal in life is to match our will to God’s in serving Him, then we will always have work to do. In that work we will be content. And in that contentment we will find joy.

The Bible talks plentifully about joy, but it nowhere talks about a “happy Christian.” Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Remember, Jesus Christ had joy, and He prays “that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”

I was told recently of a Russian view of happiness: An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian were discussing happiness. “Happiness,” said the Englishman, “Is when you return home tired after work and find your slippers warming by the fire.” “You English have no romance,” said the Frenchman.

“Happiness is having dinner with a beautiful woman at a fine restaurant.” “You are both wrong,” said the Russian. “True happiness is when you are at home in bed and at 4 a.m. hear a hammering at the door and there stand the secret police, who say to you, ‘Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest,’ and you say, ‘Sorry, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door.'”

Statistics show that despite conflicts, married people are generally happier, live longer, and contribute more to society than those who remain single or leave a spouse.

People seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy–“I want what I want and I want it now.” No one wants to wait for anything and, for the most part, no one has to anymore. Waiting is interpreted as pain. … People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so.

The problem is that, in this country, you can have what you want when you want it most of the time. … People like the fact that they can buy a 50-foot tree and instantly plant it in their yard. Why on earth would anyone want to wait on relationships or wait on God?

In the grand and deeply moving prophesy of the ancient prophet Isaiah, it was foretold that when Christ comes He would impart to His people “the oil of joy” for mourning (Isaiah 61:3). Joy has always been one of the most significant hallmarks of God’s people. Joy springs from the presence of God in a person’s life!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s personal experiences certainly proved correct the statement that “the cross of Christ destroyed the equation religion equals happiness.”

Millions of men and women across the centuries attest to a transformation in their lives. It is what is meant by Paul in Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” God is here! He is alive! He is in charge!

Can this statement be said of you? Now that I know Christ, I’m happier when I’m sad than I was before when I was glad.”

I ask you, “Do you have that joy?” It’s obvious that many people don’t. And you’ve been around them, haven’t you? They’re grumps, they’re gripers, they’re very negative about virtually everything that happens in life, complaining almost all the time. As a result, they just aren’t much fun to be around.
One of my favorite stories about a person with a grumpy personality begins with a man going into the doctor’s office. As he walked in, he was met by the receptionist. He told her that he had a sore on his chin that he want-ed the doctor to examine.

She said to him, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said, “it’s just a sore on my chin. I don’t think all that is necessary.” She repeated, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said. “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.”

So he went down the hall, took the first door to the right, walked in & saw another man already sitting there in his boxer shorts, shivering. He said to him, “Boy, that receptionist is really something, isn’t she? I just have a little sore on my chin & she told me to come down here, go through this door & take off my clothes.” The man in the boxer shorts said, “You think that’s bad? I’m the UPS delivery man.

There are some difficult people, aren’t there? “Some cause happiness whenever they go; some, whenever they go.” And what they need is a personality transplant.

There are only three kinds of persons; those who serve God, having found Him; others who are occupied in seeking Him, not having found Him; while the remainder live without seeking Him, and without having found Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy; those between are unhappy and reasonable.

Let me give you a definition of “joy.” “Joy is an evidence of the presence of God in your life.” If God is in your life, if you are filled with the Spirit of God, then this fruit of the Spirit will be obvious in your life. (Jesus Others You)

Now don’t mistake happiness for joy. It’s easy to do that. The Bible mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” 330 times. But it only mentions “happiness” 26 times. Happiness depends upon what happens to you. So if all the circumstances are right, then you can be happy. But joy comes from inside.

Kaufmann Kohler states in the Jewish Encyclopedia that no language has as many words for joy and rejoicing as does Hebrew. In the Old Testament thirteen Hebrew roots, found in twenty-seven different words, are used primarily for some aspect of joy or joyful participation in religious worship. Hebrew religious ritual demonstrates God as the source of joy.

In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the East, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration. The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of his life. Pure joy is joy in God as both its source and object.

If you want to live longer and have a more effective witness for Christ, let his joy in your heart spill over into happy laughter. When you laugh, your diaphragm goes down, your lungs expand, and you take in two or three times more oxygen than usual. As a result, a surge of energy runs through your body.
Dr. James J. Walsh said, “Few people realize that their health actually varies due to this factor. Happy individuals recover from disease much more quickly than sad, complaining patients; and statistics show that those who laugh live longer.”

C. S. Lewis in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, writes, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchanged it for all the pleasure in the world.”

Joy is really the underlying theme of Philippians – joy that isn’t fickle, needing a lot of “things” to keep it smiling . . . joy that is deep and consistent – the oil that reduces the friction of life.

If we can convince people that we are on to something that’s full of joy, they’ll stampede one another to follow us.

Clyde Reid says in his book, Celebrate the Temporary: “One of the most common obstacles to celebrating life fully is our avoidance of pain. We do everything to escape pain. Our culture reinforces our avoidance of pain by assuring us that we can live a painless life. Advertisements constantly encourage us to believe that life can be pain-free. But to live without pain is a myth. To live without pain is to live half a life, without fullness of life. This is an unmistakable, clear, unalterable fact. Many of us do not realize that pain and joy run together. When we cut ourselves off from pain, we have unwittingly cut ourselves off from joy as well.”


Some needed comment
flowerThe picture of Brinson holding the dandelion flower at the beginning of this post has a special story, which is told in two emails sent to the family by their father, Eric: 

“One of Brinson and Aiden’s favorite things to do on a walk is pick dandelions (and drag large sticks around…I wonder where they got that). By the end of today’s walk Aiden has accumulated quite a collection of sticks, branches, rocks, and dandelions. He continuously would drop one at a time and have to reshuffle all his treasure in order to bend over and pick the dropped one back up without dropping the rest. Brinson was satisfied with just one large branch and a small stick.

“Aiden collected every dandelion that we passed but Brinson would not pick any because they weren’t big enough…he was holding out for a ‘really big one.’ We got back to our house and he still had not found a dandelion that met his specs. We decided that we would pray for God to make a really big dandelion for Brinson to find on our next walk.

“At dinner and at bed time Brinson prayed for it. God says that if we ask in faith he will answer and Brinson fully expects to find his flower from God on our next walk. I invite you to pray along with us. Somewhere in our neighborhood tonight God is bringing up a little seed just for Brinson. It will go unnoticed by everyone except for one little boy…the little boy that it was made for. God is good and faithful…and I know that he will thoroughly enjoy watching Brinson search for his gift.”

The next morning the following email and picture came from Eric: “This morning Brinson prayed for his flower for breakfast and as he, Aiden, and Wendy were walking into their school he looked down and saw a big, yellow dandelion by the door. Obviously, he was very excited and kept it with him all day long. If only we all had faith like a child.” (In Him, Eric).



Posted by on June 13, 2019 in Encouragement


I’m Not From Around Here #3 – What To Do When Your Boss Isn’t Fair – 1 Peter 2:18-23

18  Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
19  For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.
20  But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
21  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

If you are a parent of children old enough to talk, you have heard them complain, “But that isn’t fair!” And you responded, “Life isn’t fair!” We are born with a strong inner sense of fairness and a strong desire to fight for our rights when we have been treated unfairly. Although we know that life isn’t fair, we’re prone to fight back when we’re the victims of unfair treatment.

Let’s assume that you are a conscientious worker on your job. You get to work early, you’re careful not to extend your lunch breaks, and sometimes you stay late on your own time to finish a job. You’re careful not to waste company time with excessive chit-chat. You work hard and produce for the company. Because you’re a Christian, you don’t go out drinking after hours with the boss and you don’t swap the latest dirty jokes with him.

Another worker is, in your opinion, a goof off. He often comes in late, he spends a lot of time chatting with the secretaries, he takes long lunches, and he does sloppy work which you often have to correct. But he also goes out drinking with the boss and he always has a new dirty joke that sends the boss into hysterics. When a promotion opens up, he gets the better job and you are overlooked.

Life isn’t fair! The important question is, “How do you respond when you’re treated unfairly?” How should you respond? Is it wrong to defend yourself or to stand up for your rights? How should a Christian respond when treated unfairly, especially on the job? That is the question Peter addresses in 1 Peter 2:18-23. My guess is that you’re not going to like his answer. (I can guess that because I don’t like his answer either!) His answer is,

When treated unfairly by a superior, we should submissively endure by entrusting ourselves to God, the righteous Judge.

That principle is easily stated, but not so easily applied. Not one of the fifteen or so commentators I read dealt with the tough practical implications raised here. How broadly can we apply to modern life principles given to slaves? Do these things apply beyond the realm of employment to any situation? Is it always wrong to defend ourselves or to speak out when we are treated unfairly? Are Christians supposed to be doormats? If so, how do we harmonize this text with the numerous occasions where Jesus and Paul defended themselves and verbally attacked their accusers? These are some of the issues we must think through if we want to apply this text properly. I’m going to offer five statements to seek to explain and apply what Peter is saying. You’ll have to struggle to apply it personally to your specific situation.

The situation for submission is one in which we are under authority.

Peter addresses this to “servants.” The word refers to household servants, but these were not just domestic employees; they were slaves. They belonged as property to their owners. Immediately we cry out, “That’s not fair! Slavery is evil! Slave owners are wrong! Slaves shouldn’t have to submit to unjust authority! They should revolt!”

But that isn’t the biblical approach to righting the social evil of slavery. The biblical approach was to exhort slave owners to treat their slaves with dignity and fairness. They were even to view them as brothers and sisters in the faith (e.g., Philemon). And slaves were exhorted to be good, submissive workers. If they had an opportunity to gain their freedom, fine (1 Cor. 7:21). Otherwise, they were to be good slaves, in submission to their owners. It wasn’t a quick fix to the evil of slavery. It didn’t result in a slave revolt, although eventually it did topple slavery. But in the meanwhile, it demonstrated Christ-likeness within the existing social structure in a way that led to the spread of the gospel.

How do we apply this to our cultural situation? We aren’t slaves to our employers, although we may feel like it at times. Is it wrong to defend ourselves and to stand up for our rights when they are violated by an employer? That’s the American way, isn’t it?

It may be the American way, but it’s not necessarily the biblical way. God’s way is for us to identify the nature of the relationship: Am I under the authority of the person who is treating me unfairly? That is the first question I must ask to determine how I should act in a given situation.

God has ordained various spheres of authority. He is the supreme authority over all, of course. But under God there is the sphere of human government (1 Pet. 2:13-17; Rom. 13:1-7). Also, there is the sphere of the family, in which husbands have authority over wives (1 Pet. 3:1-6; Eph. 5:22-24) and parents over children (Eph. 6:1-4). There is the sphere of the church, in which elders have authority over the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-5; Heb. 13:17). And there is the sphere of employment (either forced, as in slavery, or voluntary), in which employees must be subject to employers (1 Pet. 2:18; Eph. 6:5-9).

Once we’ve identified whether or not we are under the authority of the person who is mistreating us, we then must examine our own attitude and motives and ask: Do I have a proper attitude of submission, or am I selfishly fighting for my rights? If I’m truly in submission and I’m not acting for selfish reasons, I would argue that there is a proper place for respectful communication that seeks to clarify falsehood and promote the truth. In other words, if our attitude and motives are in submission to God, we need not always silently endure unjust treatment as Christian doormats. There is a proper place for self-defense and for confronting the errors of those who have mistreated us, as long as we work through proper channels.

I make this point because many take the overly simplistic (and erroneous) view that Christians must always endure mistreatment in silence and that self-defense is always wrong. But Jesus Himself did not do this, nor did the Apostle Paul who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For example, in John 8 the Jews attacked Jesus’ character and authority by saying that He was bearing false witness about Himself and that He was illegitimately born. Jesus did not silently endure this attack. Rather, He defended Himself as being sent from the Father and He attacked these critics by saying that they were of their father, the devil! That’s hardly a passive, silent response! Nor was Jesus passive when He attacked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Matthew 23). The Apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and parts of other epistles to defend his character and ministry which were under attack. He put down his critics in a strong and, at times, sarcastic manner.

How can we harmonize such vigorous self-defense with Peter’s exhortation to silent submission? It seems to me that there are several factors to consider in deciding whether to defend myself or silently to bear reproach. First, Am I under the authority of the one attacking me? If so, I need to examine my life to see if I’m doing something to provoke the attack. If so, I deserve punishment (2:20). I may need to ask the person to help me with a blind spot. I may need to explain my motivation. If I conclude that the superior is simply out to get me because of my faith, I probably need to bear the unfair treatment patiently for Christ’s sake.

A second question: Is God’s truth being called into question or ridiculed? If so, I should clearly defend the truth. During Jesus’ mockery of a trial before the Sanhedrin, He was silent until the high priest said, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus couldn’t remain silent to that question, so He answered, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:63-64).

A third factor concerns our witness to outsiders. If I am being falsely attacked on the job, I need to ask myself how I can bear the most effective witness for Jesus Christ. It may be that a quiet but confident answer would be most effective. But if they’ve heard where I stand, it may be that quiet submission, where I let go of my rights, would be most effective. More on this in a moment.

The main principle is, am I under the authority of the person who is acting unfairly toward me? If I am, then I can appeal with the proper attitude of submission. But if the appeal fails, I must submit. Does that mean that I must remain under unjust authority for the rest of my life? Isn’t there a place for getting out from under corrupt authority? The answer is, “Yes, but be careful!” There is a place for Christians to flee from a corrupt government.

There is a time to get out from under corrupt spiritual authority (as in the Reformation). There is a time for moving from a bad employer. But if you move too quickly, you may miss what God is seeking to do in the difficult situation. He may want to teach you some hard lessons of being like Christ. He may want to bear witness through you. So weigh things carefully before you make a move. If you are defiant or impulsive, you probably should stay put and learn to submit.

The motives for submission are to please God and bear witness to the lost.


When Peter says, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect,” it should be translated, “with all fear.” In the previous verse Peter distinguished between fearing God and honoring the king. So here, when he says that we should be submissive with all fear, he means, “fear toward God,” not “fear toward the earthly master.”

Also, twice (2:19a, 20b) Peter says that submitting to unjust treatment “finds favor with God.” Peter’s language here reflects the teaching of Jesus in Luke 6:32-35, which was no doubt in Peter’s mind (“what credit” there is the same Greek word as “favor” here). The idea is that God gives grace (same Greek word as “credit” and “favor”) to the humble, not to the defiant, assertive, and self-reliant. If we defy an authority which God has placed over us, we are, in effect, defying God Himself. Thus, conscious of God (probably the best translation of “conscience toward God” [2:19, NASB]), we should seek to submit to please Him, trusting Him to deal with the unjust authority.

One way to apply this is consciously to recognize that you don’t work primarily for your employer; you work for God. Howard Hendricks tells the story of being on an airliner that was delayed on the ground. Passengers grew increasingly impatient. One obnoxious man kept venting his frustrations on the stewardess. But she responded graciously and courteously in spite of his abuse.

After they finally got airborne and things calmed down, Dr. Hendricks called the woman aside and said, “I want to get your name so that I can write a letter of commendation to your employer.” He was surprised when she responded, “Thank you, sir, but I don’t work for American Airlines.” He sputtered, “You don’t?” “No,” she explained, “I work for my Lord Jesus Christ.” She went on to explain that before each flight, she and her husband would pray together that she would be a good representative of Christ on her job. She sought to please God first.


The issue of a slave’s response to his master had far-reaching cultural implications in that day when there were millions of slaves. If Christian slaves were defiant, critics could have accused Christianity of stirring up rebellion and undermining the whole fabric of the society. Thus the theme of our witness to a pagan world underlies this section (as it does the previous and following paragraphs also).

Christ suffered on our behalf (2:21). His unjust suffering (Peter uses this word instead of “death” to relate to his readers’ suffering) secured our salvation in a substitutionary sense (as Peter goes on to make clear in 2:24). In a similar, but not totally analogous way, our unjust suffering can lead to the salvation of lost people if they see the character of Christ in us as we suffer. The attitude of fighting for our rights communicates to the world that we’re living for the things of this world. Submitting to unfair treatment and giving up our rights communicates the truth, that we’re living as pilgrims on our way to heaven.

If you’re being treated unfairly at work, you may be looking at a tremendous opportunity to bear witness for Christ by your behavior. If you yield your rights in a Christlike manner, people will notice and may wonder, “Why doesn’t he fight for his rights?” Maybe you’ll get an opportunity to tell them. If so, your words are backed up by the powerful testimony of your good works. You have demonstrated what it means to live under God’s authority, with a view to pleasing Him.

This raises the question of whether or not it is proper for Christians to belong to trade unions. That’s a sensitive issue, and I don’t have time to deal with it. I will say in passing that you need to think through whether you can bear witness of a Christlike spirit, in submission to God and to your employer, while belonging to an organization that seeks to fight for your rights.

Thus, the situation for submission is one in which we are under authority. The motives for submission are to please God and to bear witness.

The pattern for submission is Jesus Christ.

Christ left an example for us to follow in His steps (2:21). The word example is literally, “underwriting.” It was a school word. Teachers would lightly trace the letters of the alphabet so that students could write over them to learn how to write. Or, as in our day, teachers would put examples of the alphabet up in the room for students to look at to copy as they formed their letters. Christ is that kind of example for us. If we follow how He lived, we will form our lives correctly.

Following “in His steps” pictures a child who steps in his father’s footprints in the snow. Where the father goes, the child goes, because he puts his feet in those same footprints. In like manner, we are to follow our Savior. Peter says that we are called to the same purpose as Christ was (2:21). If our Master’s footprints led to the cross where He suffered unjustly, so we can expect to die to self and suffer unjustly. If we respond as He did, people will see our Savior in us. Many people will never read the Bible, but they do read our lives. They should see Christlikeness there, not a defiant spirit of self-will that characterizes those who are living for themselves and the things of this world.

The principle of submission involves not retaliating when we are wronged.

When Jesus was wronged, He did not retaliate in kind. He could have called legions of angels to strike down His enemies. He could have selfishly stood up for His rights (after all, He is Lord of the universe!). But He didn’t. He always acted selflessly, even when He did confront His accusers. While we’ll never be as unselfish as Jesus, it is a goal we should strive for.

Peter quotes (2:22-23) from Isaiah 53 to show how Jesus did not retaliate when He was wronged. There are four things mentioned which we need to keep in mind when we are treated unfairly. First, Jesus did not commit sin. He always acted in obedience to the Father, never in self-will. Second, there was never any deceit in His mouth. He didn’t bend the facts to win the argument or get His own way. When He defended Himself, He was always truthful. Third, when He was reviled, He didn’t revile in return. He didn’t trade insults. Fourth, He uttered no threats. He didn’t say, “Just you wait! I’ll get even with you!” In other words, Jesus didn’t respond to verbal abuse with more verbal abuse. Neither should we. Vengeance is always wrong for the Christian (Rom. 12:19).

How can we possibly live this way? Peter gives the answer in the final clause of 2:23:

The means of submission is to entrust ourselves to the Righteous Judge.

Jesus made it through the cross by continually entrusting Himself to the Father who judges righteously. He knew that He would be vindicated by being raised from the dead and enthroned at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He knew that His persecutors would be judged and dealt with according to their sins. So He “delivered Himself up” (the literal translation of “entrusted”) to God. It is the same word used for Jesus being delivered up to Pilate by the Jews and to the soldiers by Pilate (John 19:11, 16). They delivered Him up to death, but He delivered Himself up for our sins, trusting in the Father.

Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father, knowing that even though the way led to the cross, it also led through the cross to the glory beyond. Even so, we can entrust ourselves to God. The way will lead to the cross; but also, it will lead through the cross to the glory that awaits us in heaven. God is the righteous Judge who will someday right every wrong and bring vengeance on those who resist His authority. Our task is to trust Him by submitting to human authority, even when we are treated unfairly.


The great goal of the Christian life is to be like Jesus. That sounds wonderful until we realize that being like Jesus means submitting to proper authority, even if it’s unjust. It means submitting to please God and to bear witness to the lost. It means following Christ’s example, even as He went to the cross. It means not retaliating when we’re wronged. It means entrusting ourselves to the Righteous Judge, knowing that someday He will right all the wrongs.

These are not easy things for any of us to apply. But consider the rebellious spirit of our age and of our country and ask yourself if you are behaving properly toward those in authority over you, especially at work. Our response to unfair treatment should be submission, not fighting for our rights. If we put our trust in God, He will look out for us and right all the wrongs. It’s true: life isn’t fair! But thank God that Jesus endured unfair treatment on our behalf by bearing our sins so that we could receive eternal life!

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Posted by on June 10, 2019 in Sermon


“The Better of Two Bad Sons” Matthew 21:28-32

The parable comes in response to the question the chief priests and elders asked Jesus as He taught in the temple, Matthew 21:23 (NIV)  Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

Jesus refused to answer their question directly since they declined to answer His own question concerning the source of John the Baptist’s baptism.

Yet this parable provides an indirect answer, as is shown by the connective “but” which begins it. This parable is presented as a vivid pictorial challenge to the Jewish leaders.

In Matthew 3:4-6 we find a first group responding to the message of repentance by John. But they came to John after their change of mind and regret for their sinful way of life. They feared that the Messiah would have nothing to do with them.

Matthew 21:28-32: “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ {29} “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. {30} “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. {31} “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said^, “The first.” Jesus said^ to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. {32} “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”

A father had two children growing up. In this parable we have two children who had not yet carved their caregivers nor made any final choices.

THE FATHER’S INVITATION: “Son, Go work today in the vineyard,” is a marvel of tenderness and reasonableness:

  • It is IMPARTIAL, being addressed to both alike; it is loving and tender, being prefaced by a term of endearment, “Son.”
  • It is REASONABLE, since nothing could be more proper than for a son to work in the vineyard he himself may inherit;
  • It is SPECIFIC, not any vineyard, but THE vineyard being indicated;
  • It is URGENT, work being required not tomorrow, but today;
  • It is NECESSARY, because without work which was commanded, the vineyard would perish.

All of these characteristics of the father’s command have an application today in God’s command, or invitation, for men to work in his vineyard, the church.

The children must recognize the field is still their father’s although they are called to work in it. “Son, go work today in my vineyard” (Matt. 21:28).

These two children were of the same father and yet they were so different.

The family laws made the father the absolute head over his children. The man in this parable represents God, while the two sons represent, respectively, the “sinners” (or outcasts among the Jews) and conservative Jews.

THE FIRST SON’S RESPONSE: “I will not.” This is typical of the response of publicans and harlots whom Jesus made the heroes of this parable. Theirs was an open, frank, rude rejection of the Father’s command.

This should not be glamorized. Some are tempted to do so, boasting that they do not attend church, having no time for such things, are not the religious type, etc.; and, although frankness has merit under some conditions, there can be no merit on the part of that son who wounded a loving father, rejected an altogether reasonable commandment to work in the vineyard, and who flouted the father’s authority.

He refused to accept any responsibility to honor and obey the one who had given him life, nourished him in infancy, supported him in weakness, and who was entitled to his respect and obedience. All who refuse to serve God in his church are guilty of the same thing.

He voiced the instant inclination of his flesh. Tell a child to do something or go somewhere and the likely answer will be “I don’t want to.”  “Afterward he repented and went.”

How much afterward? In Greek the adverb implies not immediately afterwards, but toward the end of the thought process. It has more the meaning of “finally.”

THE SECOND SON’S RESPONSE: The second son said, “I go, sir,” but went not! Such a response was proper and correct as far as it went.

The fact that he was a smooth hypocrite who did not follow his profession with valid obedience cannot negate the correct nature of his verbal response. He said exactly what he should have said. His later failure cannot change the righteous character of his words.

Those who profess to serve God are right in such a profession, and it ought to serve as a stimulus to perform deeds consistent with it. In the parable, the second son’s response represents that of the Pharisees and their crowd who professed a holiness they would not exhibit

These religious leaders saw only too well that Jesus was referring to them: Matthew 21:45-46: 45When the high priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was talking about them.  46Although they wanted to arrest him, they were afraid of the crowds, for they considered him a prophet.

The meaning of this parable is crystal clear. The Jewish leaders are the people who said they would obey God and then did not.

The key to the correct understanding of this parable is that it is not really praising anyone. It is setting before us a picture of two very imperfect sets of people, of whom one set were none the less better than the other.

Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. Both were unsatisfactory; but the one who in the end obeyed was incalculably better than the other.

The ideal son would be the son who accepted the father’s orders with obedience and with respect and who unquestioningly and fully carried them out.

But there are truths in this parable which go far beyond the situation in which it was first spoken.

It tells us that there are two very common classes of people in this world.

First, there are the people whose profession is much better than their practice. They will promise anything; they make great protestations of piety and fidelity; but their practice lags far behind.

Second, there are those whose practice is far better than their profession. They claim to be tough, hardheaded materialists, but somehow they are found out doing kindly and generous things, almost in secret, as if they were ashamed of it.

They profess to have no interest in the Church and in religion, and yet, when it comes to the bit, they live more Christian lives than many professing Christians.

We have all of us met these people, those whose practice is far away from the almost sanctimonious piety of their profession, and those whose practice is far ahead of the sometimes cynical, and sometimes almost irreligious, profession which they make.

The real point of the parable is that, while the second class are infinitely to be preferred to the first, neither is anything like perfect. The really good man is the man in whom profession and practice meet and match.

Further, this parable teaches us that promises can never take the place of performance, and fine words are never a substitute for fine deeds.

The son who said he would go, and did not, had all the outward marks of courtesy. In his answer he called his father “Sir” with all respect. But a courtesy which never gets beyond words is a totally illusory thing.

True courtesy is obedience, willingly and graciously given. On the other hand the parable teaches us that a man can easily spoil a good thing by the way he does it.

He can do a fine thing with a lack of graciousness and a lack of winsomeness which spoil the whole deed.

Here we learn that the Christian way is in performance and not promise, and that the mark of a Christian is obedience graciously and courteously given.

The Change of Mind Which Means Repentance

The word most commonly translated “repentance” in the New Testament is derived from “after,” and “to think, perceive.”

It means to change one’s mind, which involves an instantaneous change of heart, a regret for unbelief and sin, and a determination to change direction.

This is what both John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2) and the Lord Jesus preached: “Repent: for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).

Real repentance results in the forgiveness or removal of sin.

This is not the word used in Matthew 21:29: “ … but afterward he repented and went.”

The Greek verb here is the passive participle, derived from “after,” and “to care or show concern for oneself.”

It means to regret, not because one feels he has done anything wrong but because something did not turn out to his own advantage.

A thief when caught regrets stealing not because he has concluded that stealing is a sin, but because he was caught. Such a person, however, has not become moral if he does not steal anymore.

One represents moral change in an individual while the other is a convenient, selfish change of behavior and regret.

This verb is the verb used of Judas in Matthew 27:3, “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he [Jesus] was condemned, repented himself and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.”

A prophetic application

The first son or child represents the Gentiles who were expected to say “no” at the beginning but in the end said “yes,” and are now ahead of the unbelieving Jews:

Romans 10:18-21 (ESV)
18  But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”
19  But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
20  Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21  But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

The second son is representative of the Jewish nation. Jesus was of their own nationality. “Yes” was the immediate response expected, but then they changed their mind about Jesus and this
change became disastrous (Rom. 9:1-10, 18).

God is not yet through with the second son who will change his mind again and say “yes” (Rom. 11).

Why did the publicans and the harlots enter into the kingdom of God before the Pharisees, or, as was generally the case, WITHOUT them? The reasons are plainly given in the word of God: (1) The class composed of publicans and harlots were conscious of sins, whereas the Pharisees were not, as shown by Luke’s account of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9ff), indicating that no sin is greater than being conscious of none.

(2) The publicans and sinners heard him (Luke 15:1), but the Pharisaical class refused to hear.

(3) They believed him (Matt. 21:32). (4) They repented. (5) They were baptized (Luke 3:12; 7:29,30). If the Pharisees had been willing to do this, they too might have entered into the kingdom. In the very next words, Christ shows how they failed.

Why would the tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of heaven instead of the religious leaders? Jesus explained why in this verse. The total rejection of John the Baptist (and his acceptance by the less-esteemed members of society) spelled out their rejection (or acceptance) of the one John proclaimed—Jesus, the Messiah. Even when the religious leaders saw how lives were changed at John’s preaching of the way of righteousness, even as they saw what happened when these sinful people repented and believed, these leaders still did not believe John. Neither, then, would they believe Jesus.

A personal application

Your initial response to Christ may be a “no.” Change your mind and be blessed.

Was your initial response a hurried “yes” without sufficient thought?

Have you found that no fruit has come from your flippant “yes”?

Change your mind by allowing the gospel to take root and bring forth fruit.

True beliefs are responses tested by time. Each of the sons in Jesus’ story responded immediately to their father’s request. As it turned out, their first answers were meaningless. Each changed his mind. What they finally did and said mattered most. Jesus faced his detractors with a blunt application. Those considered farthest from God (prostitutes and tax collectors) were boldly embracing his grace. Meanwhile, those most familiar with God were rejecting the promised Messiah. Jesus didn’t close the door of the kingdom to the religious leaders, but he challenged their assumed citizenship. Four lessons flow immediately from this story:
1. Those who accept or reject the gospel too easily will be tested.
2. Regardless of how we came to Christ, our present state of obedience indicates our spiritual health.
3. People who resist the gospel may be closer to conversion than those who are familiar with it.
4. Where God is at work, we dare not jump to conclusions.



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