Theology of Suffering – Part 2

Continuing from Theology of Suffering – Part 1

I’m currently teaching Genesis at our midweek study. Last week we were in Genesis 45. We finally got to hear Joseph’s own interpretation of all that he went through up to this point. We got to hear how he saw all the wrongdoings he received (e.g., wrongly imprisoned, false accusations, mistreatment, injustice) from others, including his own brothers!

If there’s someone who had legitimate reason to complain, it would have been Joseph. If there’s someone who had legitimate reason to retaliate or revenge, it would have been Joseph. Yet he did none of that. Rather, he viewed the whole thing in utterly theocentric ways!

Joseph exemplifies a man who trusts in the sovereignty of God. The narrative doesn’t depict a man who is consumed with himself, how he feels, or how he’s hurt though he’s painfully aware of what he went through. At the end of the day, he realized that God had a bigger plan and purpose. According to Joseph, he suffered in order that others would greatly benefit (vv. 5, 7, 8, 9). And that is theology of suffering!

I’m not sure how many of us think of suffering that way, namely, we suffer so that others would become the beneficiaries!

Yet, this isn’t a foreign concept in the redemptive history. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). This is certainly true of the voluntary, sacrificial, and substitutionary death of Jesus. He died so that we would become the beneficiaries.

All that to say, theology of suffering is real and relevant. And this doctrine must have a strong grip on God’s people because he promised that his people will suffer.

Jonathan Edwards on the Fruit of True Conversion

I’ve been gripped by the following words of Jonathan Edwards on the fruit of true conversion (a.k.a., Christian life):

It is essential to Christianity that we repent of our sins, that we be convinced of our own sinfulness, and that we are sensible we have justly exposed ourselves to God’s wrath, and that our hearts do renounce all sin, and that we do with our whole hearts embrace Christ as our only Savior; and that we love Him above all, and are willing for His sake to forsake all, and that we do give up ourselves to be entirely and forever His.

From The Religious Affections (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 335.

Meditate as you parse those words.

Deuteronomy 21-24

Deuteronomy 21

“Forgive Your people Israel whom You have redeemed, O LORD, and do not place the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of Your people Israel” (v. 8) is very telling.

Deuteronomy 22

In so called “sundry laws,” these commands seem common sense. They are not merely prohibitive and kill joy, but actually to help fellow “countryman.” For example, to help find what was lost (v. 1), help restore (v. 2), help raise (v. 4), and etc. Moreover, cross-dressing is sinful because God says it is abomination.

The second half of the chapter on morality or moral laws are meant to promote and protect God’s holiness and the holiness of his redeemed. Hence, it includes purging of evil and disobedient people from the community.

Deuteronomy 23

There are some who believe that physical deformity (v. 1) may be a ground for disqualification from ministry (John MacArthur). This is not to say that God is not merciful or unloving. Speaking of love, love doesn’t mean granting everything what one wishes. Glad that God doesn’t listen to all prayers (v. 5). According to Yahweh, it is love for his redeemed that turned the curse into a blessing (v. 5). And he hasn’t changed. The basis for such exclusion is because he is holy (v. 14).

Deuteronomy 24

The first five verses deal with marital relationship, especially, the law concerning divorce. This gets reiterated in Malachi, in the Gospels, and rest of the NT.

The rest of the chapter deals with ethical behavior toward fellow men (vv. 6-22). Yahweh demonstrates protection and offers provisional laws from the weak, orphans, widows, and foreigners (v. 17). The basis for the people of Israel’s treatment toward others is because Yahweh is holy (v. 7) and that they should remember where they came from (vv. 18 and 22). In the NT, the basis in which Christians treat others is also precisely because God is holy and how he dealt with his elect in redemption. Hence, the continuity of ethics in the OT to the NT is because of the gospel. All biblical ethics have to be gospel-driven ethics. If not, they are merely morality devoid of the gospel.

Deuteronomy 17-20

Deuteronomy 17

God deserves the absolute best. Worship involves sacrifice. The sacrifice that God demands requires purity and holiness. This is a picture of Christ!

However, Christ is not what man offered unto God. Rather it is who God offered unto man. At the same time, on the day of crucifixion the people chose to sacrifice or offer up the perfect lamb of God without having any idea of who he was. That’s the irony!

This is also primitive pattern of purifying the community of God’s redeemed. An early or anticipatory picture of church discipline (v. 2ff). Note the language such as “in your midst” (v. 2), “if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly” (v. 4a). Behold, “if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then…” (v. 4b-5a). “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (v. 7). “You shall purge the evil from Israel” (v. 12). “Then all the people will hear and be afraid” (v. 13). “Learn to fear the LORD, by carefully observing all the words and statues” (v. 19).

Deuteronomy 18

Yahweh’s provisional law for the Levites or the priesthood family. The community of God’s redeemed are to care and provide for the priests and their family (v. 3) because they are God’s chosen to serve him forever (v. 5). The quality of their care for the Levites is similar to that of the highest position or even to Yahweh, namely giving the best (v. 4).

Spiritism is forbidden because 1) Yahweh prohibits it and 2) it detests Yahweh (vv. 9-14).

The promise of the coming prophet is Christ (vv. 15-19), whereas the false prophets are many (vv. 20-22).

Deuteronomy 19

God’s provision for those who need second chances – the cities of refuge. God increased lands, not for the people’s enjoyment per se, but providing the space/land so that people who need second chances to find refuge. Verse 1 to 10 implies Yahweh’s provision for those who may have committed or broke the law, yet motive was different that of the actual action. However, no mercy shown to evil or unrepentant man who flees from his responsibility (v. 13). A good illustration of someone who may need to face his situation than running from the community who may be disciplining him.

Deuteronomy 20

There are various laws in regards to warfare. But one thing is clear in how to deal or kill sin and temptation. You must not allow any survivor or its remains because it can come back and destroy you (vv. 17-18).

Ten Questions for a Six-Month Spiritual Checkup

To be good stewards, we need to be better managers in life. That means manage our physical health better. But also things in life, such as, our home, cars, or even finance. Just like we need to have regular maintenance for our home, physical health, or even for cars or recreations bikes, how much more for spiritual health?

That’s why you should read the recent article “10 Questions for a Six-Month Spiritual Checkup” by Chuck Lawless, one of the former profs at Southern. If you are part of a church where formal membership is taught, valued, and practiced regularly, then those questions should not be surprising to you since your church probably remind them regularly from the pulpit, Bible study, discipleship groups, and even when fellowship over a meal. Those questions are helpful diagnostic questions. In fact, if you want to read further on the subject, I would recommend Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Don Whitney. Also, here’s the video intro by the author. I found the book to be very helpful.

The list from the article isn’t perfect or exhaustive. But at least it helps you start the assessment. I would add a few more penetrating diagnostic questions of my own to the list. Such as:
  • Who keeps you accountable in your local church? Don’t just say everyone at church. Are you able to give specific names?
  • Who do you keep accountable in your local church? Again, don’t just say everyone at church. Give specific names.
  • What percentage of giving have you practiced? The question is not “Have you practiced giving or how have you practiced giving?” Rather, what percentage? The question forces you to answer objectively.
  • What sort of reputation do you think you have in your local church vs. what do others in your local church actually say about you?

If those questions make you uncomfortable, that’s because you probably believe that Christianity and/or being a Christian is no one’s business. Yet the Bible teaches that Christianity (the gospel) and life are antithesis to individualistic, self-focused, and selfish life.

Take time to pray over those questions. And allow others in to help you in your sanctification. After all, your sanctification is community project.

Deuteronomy 13-16

Deuteronomy 13

The community of Yahweh’s redeemed must practice disciplinary action against a member (one who lives “among you“) who has violated Yahweh’s command or continues to live in sin, specifically, idolatry (vv. 1-3, 6-8) to serve other gods. The key phrase is “among you” (vv. 1, 11, 13).

Deuteronomy 14

Various dietary laws concerning meat-eating are given in the first half of the chapter (vv. 1-21). The latter half emphasizes on tithing (vv. 22-29). God allows the tithing to provide for the Levites (priests and their family), aliens, orphans and widows. There is connection between tithing and blessings of Yahweh (v. 29).

Deuteronomy 15

Various ordinances given for the observance of the Sabbatical year, such as, grant remission of debts and releasing the salves. The reason is because Yahweh has been gracious to them (the people of Israel), they need to be gracious, which marks Yahweh’s covenant people from other nations.

Deuteronomy 16

Yahweh repeatedly exhorts his redeemed to remember what he has done for them (vv. 3 and 12). This exhortation is not anything new since he gave the same exhortations in the past. This does point out Yahweh’s reason. That is, because people often forget. Like the people of Israel, we get so caught up with ourselves and forget that apart from his redeeming grace, we all would not be where we are. In essence, all throughout our Christian life we are to remember and reflect on who he is, what he did, what he does, and what he will do. In fact, that is what the church must do and be committed to do. The church must prioritize and practice her commitment in re-presenting the gospel, God’s redeeming drama. Everything the church does and must do is precisely because of the gospel. The gospel shapes and must shape the entire church. So when the church gathers to worship, her songs must re-present the gospel, her prayers must re-present the gospel, her preaching must re-represent the gospel, and so on. And when she comes to the Lord’s Table she breaks bread and drink in remembrance of him, which by the way is the most visible and touchable re-presentation of the gospel.

Deuteronomy 9-12

Deuteronomy 9

Moses’ sermon continues with exhorting the people to remember and to learn from the past sins of their people. Fear of men comes from not trusting in the almighty God, forgetting who he is, or being ignorant to who he is (vv. 1-3). Moreover, the basis for God’s redeeming grace is not because of the people. This is repeated three times (vv. 4-6). God warns not to boast in themselves, for he hates and opposes the proud. It is always healthy thing to reminiscent on God’s redemptive history because it helps to have proper perspective on self and the people (the community).

Deuteronomy 10

It is amazing to observe how consistent the pattern of indicative-imperative is in Deuteronomy. God’s commands are always based on who he is and what he did. Hence, as his recipients of his grace, the people need to fear, to walk, love him, and to serve him with everything (v. 12). At the end of the day, we show our gratitude by obedience to him and his word (v. 13). Again, the doctrine of sovereign election is taught in the OT, for instance, in vv. 14-15. As a result, the imperative is given in verse 16. And verse 17 to 18 reinforce the basis and the reason for verse 19 and 20. Indeed, worship is the end (v. 21).

Deuteronomy 11

The talk of Moses is not given to just anyone but those who have witnessed Yahweh’s great power and work of redemption in Egypt and out of Egypt (vv. 2-7). That is, God’s commands of sanctification is given to his redeemed (v. 8). Moreover, there are benefits to being obedient to Yahweh (v. 9). They are not merely some immaterial things but the actual and physical land (vv. 10-12), along with other blessings (vv. 13-15). However, if disobey, there are severe consequences (v. 28), namely Yahweh’s curse.

Deuteronomy 12

God’s redeemed must obey and live according to Yahweh’s commands in the land/place he has appointed. Unlike other sections in the Pentateuch, this chapter emphasizes primarily on “the place” or “the land” that Yahweh has chosen for his people to live and how to live in the place.