“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
James 1:2-3, ESV
“There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose.”
“All joy,” (verse 2) is a fantastic thought. It stresses a joy that becomes militant, something powerful and significant. “All joy,” surpasses “some joy” or even “occasional joy.” Instead it’s a joy that remains joy even when tired and weak. It will only shine brighter in the darkness.
Jewels, diamonds, and pearls are typically displayed on a black background.
This reveals their brilliance and value. In the same way darkness should only encourage us to be deliberately brighter than our surroundings. We must understand that we shine only because He makes us shine. There is a divine incandescence that awaits every believer who feels the need or desire for more of God.
God’s special nearness is available to each believer, especially those in the heat of the furnace. He is close to those who want Him, and there is nothing will stand in His way. The Lord cherishes and treasures the seeking heart. There is nothing that can detour the believer’s yearning after their Father. Your faith must be purified, and this is never optional.
Name your trial, then turn it to God in prayer.
Leave it alone and refuse to carry it no further. It’s now the Lord’s concern. Simply watch for the deliverance to come. When God sees your heart, He will lavish Himself out on you. He delights to see your faith becoming solid and real.
We never choose to suffer, rather we choose His will. We must do so whether we suffer or not.
“God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.”
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.
“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger [envy] is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past … to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back — in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Some churches designate seven deadly sins that people practice. They are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth. These are also known as the “cardinal” sins. Now this type of classification or grouping seems important and useful to some. I want to examine “envy.”
Envy is a sin that each of us understands.
Envy can be defined as “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing by someone else’s possessions, or qualities.”
It made its entrance with Cain and Abel and the first murder. We see that Cain’s offering was rejected by God, (apparently He doesn’t like veggies). Also, keep in mind that part of Adam’s sin was that the ground was cursed. And Cain had tilled and planted from a field that had been cursed already. (Genesis 4)
But Abel offered up a “blood sacrifice” which God saw as acceptable. That drove Cain nuts. He was so envious that he murdered Abel. He couldn’t handle rejection, and seeing that his brother was extolled and honored was more that he could handle.
Envy became anger which led to murder.
It might come as a surprise to you but envy is why the Pharisees murdered Jesus, “For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up.” Matthew 27:18
We’re warned repeatedly by New Testament writers to renounce the sin of envy.
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
James 3:14, 16
I realize I can easily become an envier. (That’s a word, I looked it up.)
Selfish ambition is directly linked in the book of James to envy.
The Greek phrase for selfish ambition is often used to describe one who is full of envy. Incidentally, the word is also used as one “who is deceitfully promoting himself for public office.” (Too often I see myself as “President Bryan.”)
A Prayer for Freedom
Holy Father, I want to bind that spirit of envy that’s attempting to eat up my life. I curse it out completely in the name of Jesus, for it is more than cruelty and overwhelming fury.
I renounce it completely.You are all I want and need. I only want to be your child. I renounce envy.
Please remove it now, mighty God, along with the hatred, anger, fear, and insecurities that fuel it. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.
“Whenever you attempt a good work you will find other men doing the same kind of work, and probably doing it better. Envy them not.”
On a dirt road in the middle of a wide field stood a beautiful carriage, something on the order of a stagecoach but all edged in gold and with beautiful carvings. It was pulled by six large chestnut horses: two in the lead, two in the middle and two in the rear. But they were not moving, they were not pulling the carriage, and I wondered why. Then I saw the driver underneath the carriage on the ground on his back just behind the last two horses’ heels working on something between the front wheels on the carriage. I thought, “My, he is in a dangerous place; for if one of those horses kicked or stepped back, they could kill him, or if they decided to go forward, or got frightened somehow, they would pull the carriage right over him.”
But he didn’t seem afraid for he knew that those horses were disciplined and would not move till he told them to move. The horses were not stamping their feet nor acting restless, and though there were bells on their feet, the bells were not tinkling. There were pom-poms on their harness over their heads but the pom-poms were not moving. They were simply standing still and quiet waiting for the voice of the Master.
THERE WERE TWO YOUNG COLTS IN THE FIELD
As I watched the harnessed horses I noticed two young colts coming out of the open field and they approached the carriage and seemed to say to the horses: “Come and play with us, we have many fine games, we will race with you, come catch us.” And with that the colts kicked up their heels flicked their tails and raced across the open field. But when they looked back and saw the horses were not following they were puzzled. They knew nothing of the harnesses and could not understand why the horses did not want to play. So they called to them: “Why do you not race with us? Are you tired? Are you too weak? Do you not have strength to run? You are much too solemn, you need more joy in life.” But the horses answered not a word nor did they stamp their feet or toss their heads.
But they stood, quiet and still, waiting for the voice of the Master.
Again the colts called to them: “Why do you stand so in the hot sun? Come over here in the shade of this nice tree. See how green the grass is? You must be hungry, come and feed with us, it is so green and so good. You look thirsty, come drink of one of our many streams of cool clear water.” But the horses answered them not so much as a glance but stood still waiting for the command to go forward with the King.
COLTS IN THE MASTER’S CORRAL
And then the scene changed and I saw lariat nooses fall around the necks of the two colts and they were led off to the Master’s corral for training and discipline. How sad they were as the lovely green fields disappeared and they were put into the confinement of the corral with its brown dirt and high fence. The colts ran from fence to fence seeking freedom but found that they were confined to this place of training. And then the Trainer began to work on them with His whip and His bridle. What a death for those who had been all their lives accustomed to such a freedom!
They could not understand the reason for this torture, this terrible discipline. What crime had they done to deserve this? Little did they know of the responsibility that was to be theirs when they had submitted to the discipline, learned to perfectly obey the Master and finished their training. All they knew was that this processing was the most horrible thing they had ever known.
SUBMISSION AND REBELLION
One of the colts rebelled under the training and said, “This is not for me. I like my freedom, my green hills, my flowing streams of fresh water. I will not take any more of this confinement, this terrible training.” So he found a way out jumped the fence and ran happily back to the meadows of grass. I was astonished that the Master let him go and went not after him. But He devoted His attention to the remaining colt. This colt though he had the same opportunity to escape decided to submit his own will and learn the ways of the Master. The training got harder than ever but he was rapidly learning more and more how to obey the slightest wish of the Master and to respond to even the quietness of His voice. And I saw that had there been no training, no testing, there would have been neither submission nor rebellion from either of the colts. For in the field they did not have the choice to rebel or submit, they were sinless in their innocence. But when brought to the place of testing and training and discipline, then was made manifest the obedience of one and the rebellion of the other. And though it seemed safer not to come to the place of discipline because of the risk of being found rebellious, yet I saw that without this there could be no sharing of His glory, no Sonship.
INTO THE HARNESS
Finally this period of training was over. Was he now rewarded with his freedom and sent back to the fields? Oh no. But a greater confinement than ever now took place as a harness dropped about his shoulders. Now he found there was not even the freedom to run about the small corral for in the harness he could only move where and when his Master spoke. And unless the Master spoke he stood still.
The scene changed and I saw the other colt standing on the side of a hill nibbling at some grass. Then across the fields, down the road came the King’s carriage drawn by six horses. With amazement he saw that in the lead, on the right side, was his brother colt now made strong and mature on the good corn in the Master’s stable. He saw the lovely pom-poms shaking in the wind, noticed the glittering gold bordered harness about his brother, heard the beautiful tinkling of the bells on his feet — and envy came into his heart. Thus he complained to himself: “Why has my brother been so honored, and I am neglected? They have not put bells on MY feet nor pom-poms on MY head. The Master has not given ME the wonderful responsibility of pulling His carriage, has not put about ME the gold harness. Why have they chosen my brother instead of me?” And by the Spirit the answer came back to me as I watched: “Because one submitted to the will and discipline of the Master and one rebelled, thus has one been chosen and the other set aside.”
A FAMINE IN THE LAND
Then I saw a great drought sweep across the countryside and the green grass became dead, dry, brown and brittle. The little streams of water dried up, stopped flowing, and there was only a small muddy puddle here and there. I saw the little colt (I was amazed that it never seemed to grow or mature) as he ran here and there across the fields looking for fresh streams and green pastures finding none. Still he ran, seemingly in circles, always looking for something to feed his famished spirit. But there was a famine in the land and the rich green pastures and flowing streams of yesterday were not to be had. And one day the colt stood on the hillside on weak and wobbly legs wondering where to go next to find food and how to get strength to go. It seemed like there was no use, for good food and flowing streams were a thing of the past and all the efforts to find more only taxed his waning strength.
Suddenly he saw the King’s carriage coming down the road pulled by six great horses. And he saw his brother, fat and strong, muscles rippling, sleek and beautiful with much grooming. His heart was amazed and perplexed, and he cried out: “My brother where do you find the food to keep you strong and fat in these days of famine? I have run everywhere in my freedom, searching for food, and I find none. Where do you in your awful confinement find food in this time of drought? Tell me, please, for I must know!” And then the answer came back from a voice filled with victory and praise: “In my Master’s House there is a secret place in the confining limitations of His stables where He feeds me by His own hand and His granaries never run empty and His well never runs dry.” And with this the Lord made me to know that in the day when people are weak and famished in their spirits in the time of spiritual famine that those who have lost their own wills and have come into the secret place of the most High into the utter confinement of His perfect will shall have plenty of the corn of Heaven and a never ending flow of fresh streams of revelation by His Spirit. Thus the vision ended.
INTERPRETATION OF THE VISION
“Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it,” (Habakkuk 2:2). “Harness the horses; and get up, ye horseman,” (Jeremiah 46:4). I am sure that many of you who can hear what the Spirit saith to the Church have already seen what God was showing in the vision. But let me make it plain. Being born into the Family of God feeding in the green pastures and drinking of the many streams of the unfolding revelation of His purposes is fine and wonderful. But it is not enough. While we were children, young and undisciplined, limited only by the outer fence of the Law that ran around the limits of the pastures (that kept us from getting into the dark pastures of poison weeds) He was content to watch us develop and grow into young manhood, spiritually speaking.
But the time came to those who fed in His pastures and drank at His streams, when they were to be brought into discipline or “child-training” for the purpose of making them mature Sons. Many of the children today cannot understand why some of those who have put on the harness of God cannot get excited by the many religious games and the playful antics of the immature. They wonder why the disciplined ones run not after every new revelation or feed on every opportunity to engage in seemingly “good and profitable” religious activities. They wonder why some will not race with them in their frantic efforts to build great works and great and notable ministries. They cannot understand the simple fact that this Company of saints is waiting for the voice of the Master and they do not hear God in all this outward activity.
They will move in their time when the Master speaks. But not before, though many temptations come from the playful colts. And the colts cannot understand why those who seemingly appear to have great abilities and strength are not putting it to good use. “Get the carriage on the road,” they say, but the disciplined ones, those in God’s harness, know better than to move before they hear the voice of the Master. They will move in their time with purpose and great responsibility.
And the Lord made me to know that there were many whom He had brought into training who had rebelled against the discipline, the chastising of the Father. They could not be trusted with the great responsibility of mature Sonship so He let them go back to their freedom, back to their religious activities and revelations and gifts. They are still His people, still feeding in His pastures, but He has set them aside from the great purposes for this end of the age. So they revel in their freedom feeling that they were the Chosen Ones with the many streams of living water not knowing that they have been set aside as unfit for His great work in this end of the age.
He showed me that though the chastising seemeth grievous for the time and the discipline hard to endure yet the result with all the glory of Sonship is worth it all and the glory to follow far exceeds the suffering we endure. And though some lose even their lives in this training yet they will share alike in the glory of His eternal purposes. So faint not saints of God for it is the Lord that doth bring thee into confinement and not thine enemy. It is for thy good and for His glory so endure all things with praises and thanksgiving that He hath counted thee worthy to share His glory!
Fear thou not the whip in His hand for it is not to punish thee but to correct and train thee that thou mightest come into submission to His will and be found in His likeness in that hour. Rejoice thou in thy trials in all thy tribulations and glory thou in His cross and in the confining limitations of His harness for He hath chosen thee and He hath taken upon Himself the responsibility of keeping thee strong and well fed. So lean thou upon Him and trust not in thine own ability and thine own understanding. So shalt thou be fed and His hand shall be upon thee and His glory shall overshadow thee and shall flow through thee as it goes forth to cover the earth. Glory to God! Bless the Lord! He’s wonderful! Let Him be Lord of your life, friends, and complain not at that which He bringeth to pass in your life.
Bill Britton served as Vice President of Pinecrest Bible Training Center for the first three years of its existence and was a great blessing in helping to establish the work at Pinecrest.
I first connected with this message in 1984, by a man named, Bob Mumford. As a young Christian, the allegory “nailed” me. What did I want for my life? I had to make some decisions. I sincerely wanted to follow the Father through this process. And this hasn’t changed in almost 40 years.
For more of these and other messages: Bill Britton P.O. Box 707 Springfield, Missouri 65801-0707. This is a faith ministry, made possible by members of the Body of Christ. Not copyrighted, may be translated or reprinted without further permission. All messages are free as the Lord provides.
“Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.”
Jim Elliot was a Christian missionary martyred by the Auca Indians of Ecuador in 1956. He was just 29 years old. This quote was found in a journal he kept.
“He makes His ministers a flame of fire.” Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. But flame is transient, often short lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul – short life? … Make me thy fuel, Flame of God.”
Jim Elliot, “Shadow of the Almighty”
A wonderful and intense quote. Passionate. Maybe we should dismantle it and consider what he was trying to say. There are some great insights to be found here.
First, he writes of asking God to be saturated with the oil of the Spirit. Jim Elliot wants to be set on fire with his life, heart, and spirit becoming the fuel.
Second, he writes of “dread asbestos.” Almost 2000 degrees F is needed to melt it. Now regarded as a carcinogen but because it’s basically fireproof it was used often. For the person walking by faith it illustrates sin.
Third, he writes about the brevity and shortness of his life and his need to live in the bright light of eternity.
The ponderosa pine needs fire to propagate. Their seeds are fire-activated.
Fire activates the cone that holds the seeds. Looking we see a tight little bundle which is covered in resin. To germinate they must be burned. Fire melts the exterior and the pine cone and releases the seed; and actually they can lay dormant for several years waiting for the heat.
The believer needs heat to grow.
I don’t think there is any other way. The Word and the Spirit, combined with the heat of the circumstances we face, creates a blaze that is often seen by others. The furnace is God’s way to bring lasting change to His people.
“They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”’
Walking with Jesus to Emmaus, Luke 24:32
“Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”
“He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them.”
It’s good to know that Jesus sees our labor and effort. He truly understands all that concerns us, and He perceives every issue that matters most to us. Attentive and keenly aware He comes to our boat. It’s quite common for us to think that he isn’t aware, and we may feel that He’ll pass us by without a word. But that is not the case at all.
The Greek word for “against them” is ἐναντίος, and it means “opposed as an adversary, hostile, antagonistic.” I suppose that explains much to a believer who sees the wind doing awful things; that which is savage and difficult and contrary.
But Jesus watches over us, all the time. He is completely aware of you.
He knows all about our battle, the fight we have with our flesh, the difficulty we have with the challenging people in our lives. I often struggle to steer my boat. Jesus knows when and why I labor like I do. And He doesn’t condemn me.
The disciples were straining very hard to keep the boat afloat.
Every oar was being used and every man had his seat. They must work together. Some were frantically bailing, and a couple gripped the tiller. Considerable effort was being expended but to no avail. The wind pushed harder against them. This is perplexing. If you remember, they’re simply trying to obey the command of Jesus to cross the sea.
Why do things have to be so difficult?
I’m intrigued by believers who expect sunshine, blue sky, and red roses because they are doing God’s will. They don’t seem to think through the issues of conflict and challenge, weakness and weariness.
“It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
To do God’s will often means that there will be a headwind directly at us.
The seas will become impossible, and we may even be driven back. But special comfort comes when we realize we’re being watched. Jesus is doing constant surveillance on us, and He sees our toil on the oars. He comes to us, walking on the water.
Even in our storm, our hearts can rejoice.
“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”
But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”
But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”
Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”
Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”
Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
The others had told me that they had seen Jesus. But this couldn’t be. Either they imagined it or they saw His ghost. I saw him brutalized, crucified, and buried, and I knew He was really dead. I was never into pretending, or wish fulfillment. No, not me. When you’re dead, you’re dead. (At least that’s what I thought.)
I remember telling the others that I would only believe them if I could see and feel the scars–the nail holes and the hole in his side. I needed proof, something tangible or solid before I could believe their stories. Part of me hoped it was so, but I honestly couldn’t join the others in their excitement.
Some would call me a doubter–a skeptic.
And maybe I was, but a realist is how I would describe myself. To go along with the others wasn’t going to cut it. They said that they had seen Him and He was very much alive, that somehow, someway He was now resurrected. But for me, I couldn’t believe it. I myself must know it for myself.
Was Jesus alive after all they had done to Him?
We had all gathered in a large room. The door had been locked–we were afraid that the authorities would come for us next. In spite of the confinement, we had some good fellowship that Sunday morning, catching up and sharing stories of the last three years, thinking about all the things Jesus had taught and done.
And suddenly Jesus showed up. Trust me on this if you can–the door was locked, and there was no other way to get in. When Jesus “dropped in” we were completely amazed. He was very much alive–and how can this be? We were all in shock as He stood right in front of us!
Immediately Jesus looked at me, and I looked back–and it was really Him!!
Jesus immediately focused on me, He asked me to come close; He wanted me to touch Him, to inspect and see for myself that He was as real as you or I. He asked me to come and see the nail prints in His hands, and stick my hand in the hole where the Roman soldiers had thrust a spear into His side.
And I was completely undone.
It was really Him, and I couldn’t explain it away. Jesus was real flesh and blood! In a second I went from doubt to faith. How He knew that I had voiced my hesitation out loud I didn’t know. But I now knew for certain Jesus was very much alive. Death was now dead.
“My Master! My God!” was all I could say.
At that moment I became a believing believer. It wasn’t second-hand anymore; I wept and laughed at the same time! I couldn’t explain it, I must believe it. Jesus had overcome death and He was now commanding me to believe.
Immediately I knew, I saw Him for myself.
Looking back I admit my foolishness and doubt; Jesus had sought me out, and somehow He knew that of all His disciples, I needed that special touch. He understood and had come just for me. To this day I realized how much He really loved me–the doubting Thomas.
According to common Christian tradition, Thomas, was killed by jealous Hindu priests of Kali India. He was burned to death in 72 AD. A church is now established there and still recognizes him as an apostle.
Bryan’s note: I can relate to Thomas. I was also one who needed to know for myself that Jesus was really God and that He really did rise from the dead. It was reading “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell that propelled me into belief. If you need to know for yourself, I suggest you buy this book. (If you want, I’ll buy it for you.)
Art: Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, c. 1601-1502, oil on canvas–Verses are from The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson.
As he was starting out on a trip, a man came running to him and knelt down and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get to heaven?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good! 19 But as for your question—you know the commandments: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, respect your father and mother.”
20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve never once broken a single one of those laws.”
21 Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him. “You lack only one thing,” he told him; “go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor—and you shall have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.”
22 Then the man’s face fell, and he went sadly away, for he was very rich.
My name is inconsequential. I suppose all you must know of me is I tried to keep God’s Law and that I was very wealthy. Many believed that being rich was evidence that God approved of me. Of that, I wasn’t too sure. I kept the Law out of fear I suppose, and at times I just knew it wasn’t quite enough.
As I studied I began to realize that riches weren’t going to make me righteous. There was enough Scripture in me to let me know that it wasn’t enough. The prophets, especially Isaiah spoke about the deadliness of wealth, but there was one verse in Proverbs that really disturbed me:
“Your riches won’t help you on Judgment Day; only righteousness counts then.”
This verse and all of the others were the cause of many a sleepless night.
I was tormented by the reality of standing before God with nothing but my money to cover me. Coming under God’s righteous judgment haunted me. I thought of it day and night. I was terrified of being damned. My own righteousness wasn’t enough, and I knew it.
I heard about Jesus (and who hasn’t)–some were claiming that he was the Messiah. He was at least a wonderful teacher and many said he worked miracles. Just perhaps he had answers for me. I hoped so, but I needed to know. It was my questions that drove me to find him.
And finding him was easy–I just followed the crowd.
I went ahead of his retinue of followers. I knelt in his path and waited. I must know what he thought. When he stood before me I asked the question that had haunted me my whole life–“Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”
Being a good Jew he answered my question with a question. It now seems that he wanted me to see what really mattered. I answered him with my “righteous” commitment to the Law of Moses. I did what was important–at least that’s what I thought. But still, in spite of all that, I felt no security and no real peace.
Jesus looked straight at me, and I knew deep down that he loved me.
But oh those words, His words really disturbed me. He told me that I only lacked one thing, that I must sell everything and distribute the money to the poor. Only by doing that would discover riches in heaven. And only then could I truly follow him.
And that was the thing I could never do.
I went away grieved. If he had asked for anything else I would have done it. You see, my wealth was my real obstacle. Deep down I suddenly knew that everything I possessed was now my stumbling block. It was my idol, my golden calf, and it was a sacrifice that I could never make.
I’ve come to realize now, over my many years, that when I do finally stand before God, I will have nothing to save me. Jesus invited me to follow, and I didn’t.
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’”
13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
He despised others. As a Pharisee he prided himself as a holy person; he stood before God and congratulated himself. I believe that self-righteousness has many levels. You can be blatant and obvious about it, or it can be subtle and hidden. But we must understand that the father sees and knows. Notice the “all” here in Isaiah 64:6:
“We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind.”
Hmm. A menstrual rag? You got to be kidding!
We often advance ourselves by demeaning those who struggle hard with their sin–there are those who see and somehow know that they’re superior. We don’t come out and say so; but we’ve arrived— but guess what— God (and scripture) know better than this.
But we’re not dealing here with a hidden self-righteousness. The Pharisee truly believes that he is different from the tax-collector. He stands and doesn’t kneel. He feels comfortable and confident in the holy presence of God Almighty. He’s not like the others. He is sure that he’s holy.
The tax-collector was brutally honest about himself.
He didn’t need anyone to tell him how sinful he was—he understood his own wickedness. Jesus’ story reveals God’s love for those who know that they’re twisted inside. Notice the heart of the tax-collector:
“He stood afar off” which showed his awareness of his separation from God.
“He wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven,” which declared his humility in the presence of God.
He kept “striking his chest,” which tells us of a deep pain over his sin against God.
He prayed, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ This describes his desperate heart.
These both came to pray, but that is all they had in common.
The Pharisee came to the temple to show off his righteousness, the tax-collector out of a terrible despair. It strikes me that the text in verse 11 says the Pharisee “began praying to himself.” It seems that his prayer never really met God—he was proud and showy, doing the things God hates (Prov. 29:23).
Things really came to ahead in verse 14. That’s the critical point of the entire story—“one went down to his house justified rather than the other.” Wow! What a statement. One professionally religious man, sure of his holiness, the other a sinful sinner, who came humble and broken. One showed off his faith—boasting with a legalistic swagger. The other desperate and desolate, completely undone.
But it was the tax-man who became righteous in the eyes of God.
Humility is the foundation of the kingdom of Jesus. In Matthew 5:3-4 makes a lot of sense—to be “poor in spirit” and to “mourn” are the bedrock of a Christian’s discipleship. To be justified (made right) was a gift. He didn’t try to earn it, and there wasn’t a probationary period. The tax-collector now became righteous; the Pharisee carried his sin.
How much do you love Jesus? This parable looks at the heart of the believer, the person who has been incredibly forgiven of everything–past, present and future. And it’s here we see a woman whose heart is broken by her sin, and she discovers Jesus’ grace, and tremendous mercy.
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
44 “Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
47 “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Jesus has been invited to Simon’s home. He’s a Pharisee, and at this point they haven’t quite banded together to attack Jesus, it seems that there were still some Pharisees who were true seekers.
The text jumps right in and we see Jesus reclining at a table (the Jewish people didn’t use chairs–pillows were used instead.) At a feast like this people who weren’t officially invited could come in to stand in the back and listen in on the conversation. (That seems awkward.)
Suddenly a woman enters the room.
She’s described as “a woman of the city,” which is a code word for “a sinner, or a harlot.” (Let your imagination roll that one around.) She comes with a definite purpose, for she brings a jar of quite expensive perfume with her.
The passage reveals that she’s on her knees, weeping on Jesus’ feet, and rubbing her tears with her hair, and pouring out the perfume. She’s kissing his feet. She’s obviously a broken person—someone who knows who Jesus is, and who understands who she is, and how deep sin has destroyed her.
At this point Simon is deeply offended, and probably embarrassed by what’s happening. But he also assumes that Jesus isn’t who he’s saying he is. “How dare does this man let an unclean person even touch Him!” But Jesus understands everything. His parable is short (just two verses) and it’s directed at Simon; and it’s a no-brainer.
The interpretation is obvious: the man who owes the most will love the most.
Jesus accentuates Simon’s breach of protocol. The Lord deftly explains the entire situation and Simon is busted. He’s put on the spot and Jesus has made his point. It’s all so obvious. The essence of the story is clear. How much do you love the Master?
Do you fully fathom how much sin Jesus has forgiven you?
(Or maybe you’re a Simonite?)
Perhaps you’re someone who doesn’t quite accept what’s real? The Bible tells us repeatedly that no one is righteous. No one. Scripture has a very low opinion of the righteousness of men. (That should shatter your thinking.)
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
Isaiah 64:6, KJV
The Hebrew word for “filthy rags” is extremely graphic–literally it means “a menstruating cloth.” It was something that a woman used before Tampax came along. How very descriptive. Do we even have the slightest idea what that means? Are our good deeds that bad?
Yes they are. Isaiah announces that’s exactly how God sees our best attempts to find acceptance apart from grace. It often seems we try to please Him by doing the best we can, but that isn’t sufficient. We always fall short and mess up.
How does understanding this change our discipleship? I’ll let you be the judge on this on this one.
“He loved us not because we are lovable, but because He is love.”
Buried in the Old Testament we discover the idea of the Cities of Refuge.
They speak profoundly to our situation and bring real hope to those who struggle. Six places of safety were given to protect those who accidentally killed another person— maybe an ax head flew and hit someone, and they died as a result.
God told Joshua to establish cities of protection where one could be safe from an avenger. There were six of them, three on the east side of the Jordan river, and three on the west. The cities covered Israel; each was spread out intentionally so they were always close.
That city became a place of asylum for those guilty of manslaughter.
As believers, we know that we’ve committed crimes against God and other people. The burden we carry threatens to undo us. Satan (and his minions) want to destroy us—and honestly, we deserve it. We are essentially spiritual ‘criminals’ who have hurt others and damaged ourselves in the process.
Outside the city, we’re vulnerable—but inside those walls we find safety.
Those who have killed others are protected. If we venture outside, we find our adversary who is waiting. Scripture tells us that we must stay cloistered there until the current high priest dies. Upon his death, we’re released and may leave the city walls.
For broken believers, the whole concept rings true.
The text speaks for itself, and there is spiritual logic in all of this. We see parallels here that speak to our condition. We’ve messed up big time. We also carry issues that the enemy can attack. Depression, bipolar, trauma, and even thoughts of committing suicide— can be a fundamental part of our lives.
I must tell you that safety is found only in the Savior.
Finding God and abiding in him is our place of safety. His walls protect us, Jesus is our high priest, who never dies; that means we need to stay with him, permanently. I like Hebrews 6:18, LB:
“Now all those who flee to him to save them can take new courage when they hear such assurances from God; now they can know without a doubt that he will give them the salvation he has promised them.”
For us especially, we often have problems with the doctrine of assurance of salvation. Our enemy works overtime to accuse us (Rev.12:10). We’re his targets and the lies of many demons assault us. We can, at times, wonder if we’re really saved. We wonder if we are really forgiven, and we doubt our salvation. Satan’s efforts can be constant and crippling.
I encourage you to think this over and pray about this.