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How Church Rescues: Christ’s Body as His Means 22.5.2024 03:00

When we think of spiritual disciplines, we might immediately think of our time alone with God, but the Christian faith is a community project. We all need the body of Christ.

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Overcoming Spiritual Dryness 22.5.2024 03:00

Overcoming Spiritual Dryness

What can awaken fresh longing within us to know and enjoy God? In this episode of Light + Truth, John Piper walks through key Scriptures to help us overcome our spiritual dryness.

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Severed from Christ: Galatians 5:1–6, Part 5 21.5.2024 03:00

Those who seek to be justified by the law sever themselves from Christ, fall away from grace, and commit eternal suicide.

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Bring Out Her Best: The Privilege of Christian Husbands 21.5.2024 03:00

Bring Out Her Best

When a man stands before his bride and says, “I do,” his relationship with God suddenly takes on a new shape.

His relationship with her takes on a new shape, no doubt — as new as two becoming one. But so too does his relationship with God. No more will he relate to God simply as a single man. He is now a head with a body, an Adam with an Eve, a husband with a wife.

The apostle Peter gives us men a sense of what’s at stake. “Live with your wives in an understanding way,” he tells husbands, “so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). The prayers of a single man can certainly be hindered — say, if he lives in unrepentant sin (1 Peter 3:12). But on his wedding day, a new element enters a man’s prayer life: how he treats his wife now has a direct bearing on how God hears him (or not). For God does not listen to the prayers of an unrighteous husband.

When a man becomes a husband, then, the path of his discipleship runs through the rooms and halls of his marriage. Just as Adam could not image God faithfully while neglecting or mistreating Eve, so a husband cannot follow Jesus well without loving his wife. A bad husband may still be a good employee, a good sports coach, or even a good neighbor, but he cannot be a good Christian.

We could describe God’s calling on a husband in many ways. But one particular description has helped to capture my focus (and give me a whole lifetime of work): a good husband brings out the best in his wife.

Bring Out Her Best

This calling to bring out a wife’s best confronts us every time we say the word husband. For, in one sense of the word, to husband is to cultivate, to bring forth flowers from buds and fruit from seeds. A good husband kneels in the garden of his wife’s soul, laboring by God’s grace to draw forth latent beauty, to become a spade in the Holy Spirit’s hands, used by him to bear his wonderful fruit (Galatians 5:22–23). Like the perfect heavenly Husband, a good earthly husband nurtures his wife toward resplendence (Ephesians 5:25–27). He brings out her God-given best.

To be sure, this husbandly calling does not mean a woman is helpless without a good man — Ruth, Abigail, Anna, Phoebe, and others testify to the contrary. Nor does the calling suggest that a husband’s godliness guarantees his wife’s — some quarrelsome women contend against good men (Proverbs 21:9). Nor does a husband’s responsibility diminish the profound effects a good woman may have on him.

Nevertheless, the point and the general pattern still stand. The beauty of a godly woman often blooms best in the soil of a godly man. As Jonathan Leeman writes, “Few things on this earth can strengthen, embolden, empower, encourage, enliven, or build up a woman like a head who is devoted to her good” (Authority, 174) — like a husband who gives himself to bringing out her best.

And how do normal, imperfect husbands like us become such men? I have been striving after two simple postures vital for godly husbands: love her and lead her.

Love Her

The first posture faces inward. Here Adam sings over Eve (Genesis 2:23), the wise son rejoices in “the wife of [his] youth” (Proverbs 5:18), the smitten lover gets lost in his beloved’s eyes (Song of Solomon 1:15), the marveling man praises his excellent bride (Proverbs 31:28–29). “Christ loved the church,” the apostle Paul tells us (Ephesians 5:25), and good husbands love to learn his ways. By the inward-facing posture, we admire all that’s lovely in a wife, and we adore her into deeper loveliness.

Love, of course, is a many-petaled rose. Consider just a few of the petals.

Enjoy Her

Such love often looks like a smile and sounds like laughter. It may joke and dance and make a man do silly things. It writes unlooked-for love notes and takes her by the arm into adventure. It does not allow children and jobs and homes and bills to silence the song once sung, but finds ways to fill ordinary days with the unashamed joy of Eden.

“Enjoy life with the wife whom you love,” the Preacher tells us (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Yes, “rejoice in the wife of your youth”; let her love make you woozy (Proverbs 5:18–19). For such joy says something wonderful and true about the great Groom: he is never bored with his bride.

Some flowers raise their heads at the sight of the sun; many a wife raises hers at the sight of a glad and admiring man. True, not every married moment can know the poetry of deep pleasure, the wine of overflowing delight. Some days, we live by the water and prose of covenant loyalty. But if our marriages never wear white robes, never anoint themselves with the oil of gladness and say, “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away” (Song of Solomon 2:13), then some of her best will lie hidden within.

Serve Her

In our Lord Jesus, affection joins hands with sacrifice. He loved the church, and so he “gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Now united with him, the church receives his daily nourishing and cherishing. He loves and serves her as his own body (Ephesians 5:29–30). And so, the pattern holds in other happy husbands. They are Jacobs who gladly serve seven years and more for their Rachel — and their love makes the labor feel light (Genesis 29:20).

A godly husband’s service will include all manner of practical duties, no doubt. Take care of the yard; plan for the family; clean up after dinner; spend regular, unhurried time with the kids while she gets away — he will lift what weights he can from her body, her task list, her time. But a Christian husband also looks deeper and asks how he can serve her spirit.

How can he nourish and cherish not just her outer self but her inner self (Ephesians 5:29)? How can he wash her heart with the cleansing water of God’s word (Ephesians 5:26)? In the end, although Jesus uses husbands, only he has the power to bring out the best in a wife. So, what rhythms of Bible reading and prayer and fellowship will a man weave into the family’s life such that she, like Mary, lingers often at the feet of her Lord (Luke 10:39)?

Honor Her

A husband who enjoys his wife and serves his wife certainly honors his wife. But a good husband’s honor also goes further. He not only embraces her and smiles upon her, helps her and speaks God’s word over her; he also lifts his voice to praise her. Like the husband in Proverbs 31, he speaks words that echo her excellence back to her (Proverbs 31:28–29).

The apostle Peter names honor as a particular husbandly privilege, and as he does, he fastens our attention to where the deepest honor is due. Honor your wives, he says, “since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). She is a queen, this wife of yours, a daughter of God and an heir of eternity. The world may miss the true beauty of this heavenly heir, “the imperishable beauty” in “the hidden person of the heart”: her “gentle and quiet spirit,” her refusal to “fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:4, 6). But such beauty need not, should not, be lost on you.

A godly husband’s praise, of course, cannot be false; he cannot flatter. But I imagine most husbands err in the opposite direction: not by praising inappropriately, but by remaining silent as our wives parade praiseworthiness before us. When the silence is broken, however, a husband’s praise often bears fruit. As he honors the grace in her — noting it, loving it, speaking it — he helps to bring forth more of it.

Lead Her

So far, we’ve considered a husband’s inward-facing posture. But a good husband, a husband who brings out his wife’s best, faces outward also. He loves her, yes, and looks often into her eyes. But he also leads her, inviting her to join him on a mission far larger than marriage.

God gave Eve to Adam not just so he would sing the poetry of love over her, but so they both would sing the poetry of God’s reign over all the world (Genesis 1:28). He intended the two of them to become not only one but many, as together they multiplied God’s image through the earth. He gave them marriage for mission — a mission that cannot succeed apart from inward love, but that cannot succeed either if inward love never turns outward. And as so many husbands have discovered, some of the best in a woman appears only as she turns her heart, her mind, her soul toward need.

Toward what kind of need? The answers to that question are many. The mission of any Christian marriage will take its bearings from Jesus’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20), but the possibilities beneath that banner are broad. For direction, a husband will need to look to the gifts that God has given him, and that includes his greatest earthly gift of all: his wife.

Perhaps God has made your marriage to flourish and bear fruit in the harvest field of an unreached people. Perhaps he has made your wife capable of mothering many children, of bearing and fostering and adopting till no minivan can hold you all. Perhaps she has the skills of an incredible host and neighborhood evangelist. Whatever her gifts, the way a husband leads will either draw them out or bury them, make the most of them or mute them.

In my own marriage, the needs of young children and a young church have brought out beauties in my wife that I never could have called forth on my own. And wonderfully, watching her devote her days to the needs of toddlers and saints, to the demands of a home and a fellowship, has only made me love her more.

So it often happens. A marvelous cycle begins: a man loves his wife and leads her into mission — and while on mission, he falls more in love. And over time, with much mercy along the way (for we husbands often stumble in our calling), her soul’s garden becomes more flowered and fragrant, and anyone with eyes to see gets a glimpse of that bride who will one day appear “in splendor” (Ephesians 5:27), the perfected beloved of her perfect Bridegroom.

Not My DIY Project: How a Wife Entrusts Her Husband to God 20.5.2024 03:00

Not My DIY Project

Philippians 1:6 might not be the first verse that comes to mind when we think about marriage, but perhaps we should remember it more often. From his prison cell, Paul wrote to his gospel partners in Philippi, reminding them of God’s ongoing work in their lives: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Perhaps you’ve seen this verse plastered on coffee mugs or heard it frequently quoted. It’s one of the Bible’s most beloved verses, and rightly so. We’re encouraged by the promise that God is not finished with us yet and won’t leave his work unfinished. But our familiarity with this verse might cause us to skim past it, feeling unaffected by the light it shines on our everyday lives, especially marriage.

Philippians 1:6 guarantees us that God saves, transforms, and completes genuine believers. While this verse is not explicitly about marriage, we can draw parallels between God’s work in us as individuals and his work in our believing spouses.

When conflict arises in marriage, or we’re dissatisfied with our husband’s spiritual growth, our default setting is not to trust that God will use even this to fulfill the good work he began in his life. Instead, we might offer not-so-subtle suggestions for ways our husband could improve his spiritual practices. For starters, he could wake up earlier to be in the word, lead the family in more regular devotions, or get involved in a men’s Bible study. Secretly, we might compare him to other, more godly husbands, wallow in discontent, and let it deepen.

But this is where Philippians 1:6 can give us renewed hope and confidence, assuring us that God is indeed at work in our spouse’s life.

Sure Confidence

Paul asserts in verse 6 that he is “sure of this.” Some translations say he is “confident of this very thing.” Paul rooted his confidence in God, resulting in a fixed expectation that God would finish what he had begun in the Philippians’ lives. Sure of this.

However, as Christian wives, “confidence” might not be the first word we’d choose to describe our longing for our husband’s spiritual growth and maturity. We might choose less solid-sounding words, like “dream” or “wish,” preferring not to set ourselves up for disappointment. When he zones out on his phone more than he engages with God’s word, “concern” more accurately reflects our heart than “confidence.” When negative patterns seem to be setting in, our response might be, What can I do to fix this?

Philippians 1:6 helps us zoom out and see the bigger picture. In this short verse, Paul gives us an overview of salvation. Even though the Philippians were faithful gospel partners, he based his confidence not on their ability to complete the good work of their salvation, but on God’s. Paul saw God in their conversion (beginning the good work in their lives), then in their sanctification, (where the ongoing work of growth was taking place), and finally in their glorification (where one day the work would be complete). This is the past, present, and future progression of the Christian faith. Paul’s confidence that no Christian would be left incomplete should be ours too.

When we find ourselves being quick to criticize our husbands, we can remember this bigger picture: if he’s a true believer, God is at work in his life. So often, we try to draw conclusions based on the evidence we see right now. Yet Paul found confidence in the God who knows the beginning from the end. The one who directs all human history sovereignly orchestrates both current circumstances and future events. He is the author and finisher of our faith, so you can trust that when God truly starts his work on a man, he will bring him through all the uncomfortable middle parts to completion.

Not My DIY Project

There aren’t many things in life we’re guaranteed will get done to perfection. You might hope that your husband will finish all his projects around the house, but you might not be confident he will. However, the project of his faith, which is yet unfinished, will one day be completed because God is doing it.

How does this practically take place? Paul writes in Philippians 2:12–13, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” There’s a mysterious cooperation between us and God as we grow in Christlikeness: by faith, we work out what God works in. But we can only work out our salvation, not our husband’s. We can encourage him and pray for him, but this truth frees us from seeing our husbands as our own DIY projects.

We know the Holy Spirit often uses wives to convict a husband of sin and lead him to salvation and greater holiness (1 Peter 3:1). But Peter encourages wives that it is their conduct, more than their comments, that wins over a man. A gentle and quiet spirit often speaks loudest to both believing and unbelieving husbands. A wife with this spirit knows she doesn’t have to voice all her concerns about her husband to her husband. Instead, she can turn to God in prayer, casting her cares on him, and patiently await the opportune time to speak an upbuilding word.

Philippians 1:6 reminds us that salvation is all a work of grace. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have honest conversations with our spouse about spiritual growth and how we can encourage one another to pursue Christlikeness. But the heart of our calling is not to fix him or point out all that’s lacking in him or carry the burden for his sanctification, but rather conduct ourselves with a quiet confidence that God will.

This Day and That Day

When can we expect this work to be done in his life? Paul says it will be complete “at the day of Jesus Christ.” The phrase “the day of Jesus Christ” refers to the final day of judgment and reward. Believers eagerly await this day when Christ will return and bring his reward with him (Revelation 22:12). Martin Luther reportedly said, “There are only two days in my calendar: this day and that Day.”

This might feel like the good news, bad news aspect of this verse. While we’re encouraged that God will complete what he started in our husbands on that day, we’d like those changes to take place as soon as possible, please. Meanwhile, however, a wonderful thing happens as we wait for that day: we’re becoming sanctified too.

As we meditate on this verse and the rest of God’s word, Paul’s settled confidence in God’s saving, sanctifying, and completing power becomes our own. Over time, we see evidence of growth in our lives as we become more dependent on God and less on ourselves. Where we were prone to criticize or worry, we learn there’s great freedom and peace in casting those cares on God. In all the uncomfortable middle parts of our lives, we see God has been at work all along, completing his good work in us.

We don’t know when that day will come, but it’s closer now than when you started reading this article. While we long for sanctification to have its full and perfect work in our husband’s life, we learn to trust God, pray faithfully, and wait confidently. We know God will bring about his perfect results in his perfect time.

Ten Questions for Readers of Erotica 20.5.2024 03:00

Ten Questions for Readers of Erotica

How should Christians think about sexually explicit material on the page rather than the screen? Pastor John offers ten questions for readers of erotica.

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God’s Global Mission 20.5.2024 03:00

God’s Global Mission

When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” what are we asking God to do? In this episode of Light + Truth, John Piper shows that the Lord’s Prayer is a call for God to rescue people from every nation.

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The Best Day of the Week: Five Reasons I Love Sunday 19.5.2024 03:00

The Best Day of the Week

Early one Sunday morning, I walked into my two-year-old daughter’s bedroom and scooped her up out of bed. She was barely awake. As I carried her over to the changing table, I whispered, “Baby girl, today we get to go to church.”

Her eyes lit up, she let out a big gasp, and she shouted, “Scottie, Elise, William, Rowan?” I responded, “Yes, you’re going to see your friends today.” “Dada, I love church!” she said. “Yeah, baby girl, me too.”

Obviously, my daughter doesn’t fully understand why we regularly meet as a local church, but she gets the excitement. She has tasted how sweet it is when Christians gather to worship.

Why I Love Sundays

For many years, I’ve been known for saying that Sundays are my favorite day of the week. As a pastor, I’ve said this to my congregation repeatedly. Why do I love Sundays? It’s quite simple: Sunday is the day that I get to worship with my church family — my dear friends who love the God I love.

We don’t need a specific time or space to worship, of course. We can pray alone. We can read the Bible by ourselves. We can engage in various helpful spiritual disciplines in solitude.

However, there are elements of the Christian life that you simply cannot experience alone. Don Whitney puts it this way: “Christianity is not an isolationist religion. . . . There’s an element of worship in Christianity that cannot be experienced in private worship or by watching worship” (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 43–44). This is why the author of Hebrews exhorts us to prioritize our gathering together (Hebrews 10:24–25).

Sunday worship gatherings have been a big deal to Christians for a very long time. They were normal for the earliest Christians (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10) and were important to the second and third generations as well (Didache 14.1; First Apology of Justin Martyr 67).

I’m thankful that many contemporary Christians gather each Sunday for worship and fellowship. However, I worry that many believers lack the appropriate enthusiasm, attending church services largely out of obligation. I long for God’s people to enthusiastically anticipate the unique sweetness of gathering with God’s people week after week. I love Sundays, and here are five reasons why I think you should love Sundays too.

1. We get a taste of glory.

I love Sundays because they give me the best glimpse of the new Jerusalem.

One day, Christ will return, and we will live together in that glorious city, the new Jerusalem. When we think about this city, we might think about geography or location, about streets of gold or structures made of jasper. But that misses the main point.

The new Jerusalem is primarily a community, a people perfected by the work of Christ, enjoying his greatness and beauty together. When that day comes, all of God’s people will be permanently gathered. We will live in perfect harmony, enjoying one another and treasuring Christ together forever and ever.

The local church offers a sneak peek. Every Sunday when we gather, we’re seeing some of what the future holds. We are not yet perfected by Christ, but we are being perfected (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Each Sunday, the church is a little bit more like Jesus than we were when we gathered last week. And if our Lord permits, we will be a little bit more like him next week. Each week, I get a better picture of the glory that is to come.

In the Old Testament, if a person wanted to be near the presence of God, he or she would go toward the tabernacle (or, later, the temple). The tabernacle was God’s dwelling place on earth. But today, God dwells with his church. Puritan writer Richard Sibbes says the church is “the tabernacle now” in this age. “Particular visible churches under particular pastors [are] where the means of salvation are set up. Particular visible churches now are God’s tabernacle” (A Breathing After God, 54).

2. We see spiritual gifts on display.

I love Sundays because they put God’s spiritual gifts on display.

God has gifted each Christian with spiritual abilities (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10), and he means for them to build up the body. Some spiritual gifts manifest in informal settings, but others are best and most often displayed within the context of corporate worship gatherings.

When I walk into our church building and I’m greeted by Joyce, I see her gift of hospitality. As Garrett leads our music ministry, I see his gift of exhortation. As our kids participate in Sunday school, I see Jim’s gift of teaching. When the elements of our service run smoothly, I see Phil’s gift of administration. After the service, when I have a brief conversation in the foyer with a few members of our church, and they tell me about the meal train that came to them that week, I see gifts of mercy and giving on display.

Sunday is not the only day spiritual abilities are at work, but Sunday is the day when I get to see the gifts on clearest display.

3. We hear much-needed teaching.

I love Sundays because I love hearing God’s word faithfully taught by a pastor who knows and loves his congregation.

God has gifted his church with teachers to serve and bless the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–12). As Whitney writes, “Bible reading and preaching are central in public worship because they are the clearest, most direct, most extensive presentation of God in the meeting” (Spiritual Disciplines, 42).

Certainly, we can find good teaching in other contexts, but nothing can equal a sermon preached by your local pastor, carefully tailored for your particular congregation.

I have spoken to many pastors about how their relationships with congregants shape their sermons. Often, as a pastor prepares, the faces of his people keep coming to mind. Why? Because the pastor knows his people. He knows their stories. He knows their struggles. He knows the unique temptations they face. That knowledge of his congregation shapes the sermon he crafts for them.

Faithful teaching from a pastor who knows and loves his people is the most nourishing diet a believer can consume.

4. We experience spiritual growth.

I love Sundays because on them I experience great spiritual growth.

Spiritual growth is wrought by the Spirit of God. We cannot control it or manufacture it. However, spiritual growth happens most often — and most intensely — in those moments when we come face-to-face with the goodness and beauty of Christ. So if we intentionally put ourselves in positions and places where we are more likely to see the majesty of Jesus, then we are more likely to experience spiritual growth.

Therefore, we sing, we hear testimonies, we confess our sins, we revel in the gospel, we sit under faithful teaching, and we participate in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table. And in no context are we more likely to encounter those types of activities than when Christians gather on Sundays.

5. We remember we’re not alone.

I love Sundays because they remind me that many others believe what I believe and follow the one I follow.

Life can be hard and lonely. The cares of this world have the potential to exhaust us. And in a society that often celebrates evil and believes in lies, during the week it can feel like you’re the crazy one. But come Sunday, when I gather with believers for worship, I’m reminded I’m not alone, and I’m energized.

In the Old Testament, Elijah experienced deep discouragement and distress. He felt alone, as if he were the only person left in Israel serving God. But God assured Elijah that there were still seven thousand people who worshiped the one true God, and he was greatly encouraged (1 Kings 19:18). The same happens within us when we gather. We are greatly encouraged, refreshed, and energized.

Sunday Is Coming

This list certainly is not exhaustive. There are more good and godly reasons to enthusiastically look forward to Sunday worship gatherings.

God pours out so many beautiful blessings on those who gather faithfully with their local church. Even now, as I think about those blessings, my anticipation and excitement for Sunday is building.

Praise God, Sunday is coming!

Justification by Law Requires Perfection: Galatians 5:1–6, Part 4 19.5.2024 03:00

The law cannot be divided — break but the smallest commandment, and you are guilty of all. We cannot be right with God through the law.

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Grace Has Taught Our Hearts to Fear 18.5.2024 03:00

Grace Has Taught Our Hearts to Fear

God kept Pharaoh upright and pummeled him until he and his army drowned as a stone, why? Why do we need to read of judgments against Korah or tour the tombstones of those who fell in the wilderness? Why include stories in Scripture such as two she-bears mauling forty-two boys for mocking a bald prophet? Or in new-covenant times, why were Ananias and Saphira carried away dead? Why does an angel of the Lord strike down Herod and feed his body to worms? Why are people in the early church falling ill, or even dying, for misusing the Lord’s Supper? Is it not to teach us the fear of God?

The fear of the Lord has fallen upon rather apologetic times, it seems. “God is certainly not to be feared,” some say. “What is meant by fear is really something more like respect. You shouldn’t fear him as a lion uncaged in your living room, but only go to him as confidant, best friend, non-judgmental ear bent to listen.” Attempting to hold tensions in balance, the fearsomeness of God seems to get the short end. The Lamb, too often, undoes the Lion.

With this, God is robbed of worship, and we of rejoicing. In the new covenant, it is a blessing to fear the living God. The difference between the old covenant and the new is not that God should no longer be feared, but that now every covenant member actually does fear him. Holy fear serves our perseverance, imparts wisdom to our souls, secures our eternal happiness; no one will make it to heaven without this fear.

So, let us behold four beautiful glimpses from Jeremiah 32:38–41, a wonderful introduction to the strange and spectacular fear of God for Christians today.

New Hearts to Fear

I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever. (Jeremiah 32:39)

What is wrong with the world today? People do not love God, and people do not fear God, because people do not have new hearts alive to his glory and sensible of his power. Neighbor after neighbor lives in open rebellion against his Majesty and does not know how to blush. They will not cease their suicidal sinning, seek his will, or cry to him for mercy.

This is the story of the Old Testament. We witness generation after generation experience the misery of a people with God’s law in their scrolls but without God’s fear in their souls. Story after story details the cursed inability to tremble at God’s word. Though instructed repeatedly, “The Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13), most would do no such thing. Over and over came the same heartache and distress because they did not fear God. They were too comfortable, too smug — too lighthearted to be good-hearted.

But notice the promise of the new covenant: “I will give them one heart and one way.” And why? “That they may fear me forever” (Jeremiah 32:39). They are given new hearts endowed with the fear of God. And this fear will not have an expiration date. God makes a people new that they may fear him forever.

Our Deepest, Longest Good

. . . that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. (Jeremiah 32:39)

Now, we may think this fear of God to be hard news. Perhaps our minds involuntarily recall relationships where fear was a tool for evil: the abusive father, playground bully, controlling boss. They used fear to manipulate, to coerce, to sting into submission. How can it be good news to fear God forever?

Notice the promise: “. . . that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.” Oh, this is different. This fear serves his people’s good, as when Gandalf grew tall and menacing to convince Bilbo to give up the ring that would destroy him otherwise. He deepens his voice to persuade us from peril. The heart of this King is for you, for your good, thus he gives you this fear of him. Doesn’t this purpose make all the difference?

The good father, his children know, is not to be trifled with. The heavenly Father lashes every son whom he loves (Hebrews 12:6), not because he loves to scourge, but because he loves to save. He disciplines us for our good, that we might share in his holiness and live (Hebrews 12:9–10). Feel enough of his heart to trust him: this God does not spare discipline from us, but neither did he spare his Son for us.

And notice that this new-covenant blessing of fear spills over the edges to one’s family: “for their own good and the good of their children after them.” The fear God gives a man blesses those closest to him.

Why You Wake Up Christian

I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. (Jeremiah 32:40)

Again, Israel received the law of God as written by the very finger of God and delivered by angels, and yet they could not keep it. They saw their God redeem with wonders the world had never witnessed, and yet these same people died in the wilderness because of distrust. God was undeservedly good to them, and yet without explanation or provocation, they kept turning from him. The Lord asks, “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?” (Jeremiah 2:5). Our Old Testament shows us where we would be without the fear of God.

Yet gaze at the blessing: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.” He swears not to turn away from doing good to us; he makes an everlasting covenant with us. But what about our turning from him, as Israel did so often? Here it is: I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

Why did you wake up a Christian this morning? Because God put the fear of himself in you. You fear turning away from him, going back to the city of destruction, being a child of his anger, displeasing your heavenly Father, departing from the church and proving to never have truly been of his people. You believe God when he talks about hell. You believe God when he talks about heaven. And you fear him, not by shivering under an expectation of wrath, as though you had no basis for confidence before him (his love perfected in us casts out this kind of faithless fear, 1 John 4:18). Yet while we do not now quiver about the judgment to come, we still believe that if we should turn from him or shrink back, such would be our portion. We are not yet home.

So what is the fear of God in this text? A fear of turning from him that keeps us near him. New-covenant fear is adhesive to keep us walking happily with Jesus, our life and our joy.

The Heart of Him We Fear

I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:41)

So, the fear of God is not a cringing fear, a hiding under the bed or cowering in the fetal position from a severe judge. Rather, the fear of God is a healthy understanding that if you turn away from God, it will be to the everlasting ruin of your soul, a ruin from his own hand.

But saint, the kind of God we fear makes all the difference in our fearing him. “That they may not turn from me,” God says — but who is the me? We read that he means good for us, but who could imagine what comes next? “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” Be undone; be staggered. Here is the God we fear forever: he who delights to do good to you with all his heart and all his soul.

He is the God whose rod and staff strike and destroy his enemies. This shepherd terrorizes lions and bears and wolves and thieves. Yet because of his love for you in laying down his life for you, this same power now comforts you and keeps you near.

He is still dangerous — he wouldn’t ease us through the valley of death if he weren’t — but he is not dangerous toward you as he once was. Christian, you are his sheep now, under the shepherd’s love. He says, “I will make them dwell in safety” (Jeremiah 32:37). But this does not domesticate him. As long as you stay true to him, as long as you continue to fear him, his rod and his staff will keep you along the path, calm you, and protect you from all that threatens you. His love turns his fearful qualities away from you — as long as you abide in his love.

Safe from the Storm

Years ago, on a bitter and perilous winter night, I watched snowflakes fall gently outside my window. They mesmerized me, yet I knew that for some outside that night, they would prove deadly. I wrote,

The window frames tools of torture,
As they caress the ground,
By love’s fire I’m found;
Is this salvation?

This captures something of the paradox. It’s not that danger does not exist any longer — God is perilous to those outside. Rather, it means that he has overcome us with his love, seated us inside at his fires of grace, and there, we no longer expect to perish. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). But we do fear facing him if we were to abandon the shelter of Christ.

So, we fear him, but this is the God we fear. The God who wants us in the house with him. The God whose very heart longs to do us good. The God who, to secure our blessing, gives us an indispensable gift: the fear of him.

 

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