Combating Doubt with Faith, Hope, and Love

I’ve been thinking about the topic of “double-minded” again. The phrase only appears two or three times in the Bible (depending on the translation), but I wrote a whole post on it a few months ago and this month it’s the topic for my church’s scripture writing group (click here to download a copy for yourself). As I write out these scriptures each day, other scriptures keep coming to mind related to how we can avoid being double-minded and instead be whole-hearted for God.

Being able to maintain a whole-hearted level of commitment is very important for us. We don’t want to be “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind … a double-minded individual unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6, 8, NET). Doubt like that has no place in a faithful life. But saying we need to have faith without doubting and really living that way are two different things. What is it that can keep us from being tossed around like this by turmoil, questions, and fear?

Fixed on Jesus

The double-minded person is described as “tossed around” and “unstable.” You could say they are wavering between two ways of being and thinking: faith and doubt. So that means we need to find something unwavering to hold on to if we’re going to avoid being trapped in this sort of mindset.

we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2, NET

Jesus endured the cross without wavering, and He’s now sitting at God’s right hand advocating for us (Heb. 12:2; Rom. 8:34). He isn’t going to leave us on our own, and that gives us confidence. We can come to God the Father through Jesus at any time from anywhere with anything we need to talk about.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings

Hebrews 10:19-22, NET

Holding on to Jesus is the first step in combatting doubts and fears that would make us double-minded, unstable people. Faith is where our journeys as Christians start, and if we feel ourselves wavering then we need to go back to that foundation and focus on Jesus. He’s where our confidence to keep enduring comes from.

Anchored in Hope

Continuing to read in Hebrews 10, the author adds another layer to how we can hold fast to Jesus: “And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy” (Heb. 10:23, NET). Being double-minded makes us wavering; hope in Jesus is something we can hold on to unwaveringly. For Christians, hope isn’t a nebulous possibility. It is a sure and certain thing.

so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast

Hebrews 6:18-19, NET

We have faith in God, He proves Himself faithful, and that gives use a solid foundation for hope. If we can hold on to faith and hope, then we have an anchor to keep us from being tossed around like a wave on the sea. We have a way to combat double-mindedness as we keep moving forward in faith and hope.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways.

Philippians 3:13-15, NET

And the Greatest is Love

Faith and hope are commonly paired in scripture (Rom. 5:2; Gal. 5:5; Col. 1:23; 1 Thes. 1:3; Heb. 11:1; 1 Pet. 1:21). They’re also spoken of alongside love as something we ought to put on (1 Thes. 5:8). Indeed, Paul tells us “faith, hope, and love” are what endure and remain, and of the three “the greatest is love” (1 Cor. 13:13, NET). It would make sense, then, that love would also play a vital role in keeping us whole-heartedly focused on God.

One of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together, and knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?”

Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31, WEB

Loving God wholly–with all the focus of our hearts, souls, and minds–leaves no room for being double-minded. Being whole-hearted for our God, who “is love” helps us become love as well (1 John 3:10; 4:7-12; 5:2). That transformation toward being like God changes our minds as well as our actions.

The Spirit God gives us (a gift we commemorate tomorrow on Pentecost) is a spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Tim. 1:7, NKJV). Modern Bibles often translate sophonismos (G4995) as “self-control” or “self-discipline,” but it also means “soundness of mind.” The root words refer to someone who is “sane” or restored to their senses (Thayer’s dictionary, G4994 and G4998). If we want to avoid being double minded, we need to have faith in God, trust Him and hope in His word, and be filled with His spirit of love. That’s what will make our minds “single” as we follow Paul’s example of continuing to press on toward the wonderful future God promises us.

Featured image by Shaun Menary from Lightstock

What Should We Do When the World’s Evil Makes Us Feel Sad, Angry, or Hopeless?

I don’t read most of the e-newsletters that show up in my email, but sometimes I do. Open Doors shares prayer requests and updates about persecuted Christians around the world, and Hope Outfitters partners with charities to donate all the money they make off clothing sales to a good cause. I’ll read their newsletters, and often when I do, I become angry and sad. When I read about Christians in India being denied food and medicine unless they renounce their faith or a little girl here in the U.S. whose parents started selling her for sex when she was 6 months old, I want someone do do something about it. People are trying to help–that’s part of what the newsletters talk about–but I want a more permanent solution. I want God to do something about it. The more I hear stories like this, better I understand why David wrote Psalms asking God to “break the teeth of the wicked” (Ps. 3:7, NET) and “pay them back for their evil deeds. Pay them back for what they do. Punish them” (Ps. 28:4, NET).

And yet, even though we have the Psalms as models for the range of emotions that godly people can feel and it is okay to take our anger to God in this way, we are also told not to give into that anger or be consumed by a desire for vengeance. Indeed, Jesus says, “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, NET). This command seems terribly counter-intuitive, especially when the things some people do are so clearly evil.

To be clear, loving our enemies does not mean we ought to “call evil good” or make darkness out to be light (Is. 5:20). God defines what is righteous and what is not, and it is not our place to excuse what He calls wicked. We must beware that our mercy doesn’t turn into a permissive tolerance of sin (1 Cor. 5:1-6). Yet we’re also not to become raging, unforgiving avengers or legalistic judges who take it upon themselves to condemn others. There’s a challenging balance to strike in this, and I think there are several things we can keep in mind to help with that.

God’s Fairness to All

We have certain ideas about fairness and justice that come from a mix of our cultures, our gut reactions, and our thoughts and experiences. Typically, those ideas don’t match up exactly with what God thinks of as right and just. We can see this in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, whom the landowner gave the same payment whether they’d worked an hour or the whole day (Matt. 20:1-16). The men complained because those who’d worked less were treated as equal to them, but the landowner did give them what he’d agreed and he had the right to pay people what he chose. Whether someone has been a Christian all their life or just a few months, God can give them the same reward while still being impartial and just.

Something similar happens in God’s dealings with the wicked. He is always just, but it doesn’t always look the way we want or expect. And because we are to become like God, Jesus tells us God’s perfect justice should inspire us to treat people the way that God does.

But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:44-45, 48, NET

The Greek word here for “love” is agapao. We don’t have to see our enemies as close friends with whom we have a lot in common and a closed bond (which would have been expressed by the word phileo) but we do need to love everyone, including our enemies, with the same active goodwill and benevolence that God has as a key part of His being. When we struggle to understand why God doesn’t punish certain people right now or stop them before they could do bad things, we need to keep in mind that He is loving and patient as well as good and just (2 Pet. 3:9).

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His Justice With Us

Whenever we’re tempted to grumble about the fact that God shows mercy and patience to certain people, it’s good to remember how He deals with us. Don’t you appreciate God’s patience with your sin? Aren’t you grateful that His idea of justice means showing you mercy and grace? Doesn’t it make you rejoice and praise Him to know that instead of giving us what we fairly deserved (i.e. death for our sins) Jesus died in your place? To quote Chris Tiegreen, “we who have received a clean slate from our Savior can have no complaints against our God of justice. Justice once directed at us was poured out on Another, so we can hardly insist that others receive it” (365 Pocket Devotions, Day 128).

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.

Colossians 3:12-13, NET

When we receive mercy, God expects us to show mercy. It’s such a big issue that Jesus even says God will withhold forgiveness from us if we don’t forgive others (Matt. 18:23-35). As God’s people, we’re to put on things like mercy, kindness, gentleness, and patience, remembering all the times we benefit because God treats us with mercy, kindness, gentleness, and patience. The more we remember how much undeserved mercy we have received, the better we can wrap our minds around God’s choice to treat others with mercy as He patiently provides opportunities for them to repent (Rom. 2:4; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9).

True Justice is a Promise

Another thing we can keep in mind when we wonder what God’s going to do about evil (and why doesn’t He do it now!?) is His promise that there will be justice. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29, WEB) who claims vengeance as His own and promises “I will repay” (Rom. 12:19). It’s not our place to try to pay people back for what they’ve done (Prov. 24:29). We ought to care about justice, since it is a godly thing, but only God–who is the Lawgiver and has perfect perspective on human beings’ motives and actions–can administer justice in the way we’re talking about here.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Romans 12:16-19, NET

There is a day coming “when God will judge the secrets of human hearts,” including our own (Rom. 2:16, NET). We ought to “sigh and cry” and “groan and lament” over the abominable and detestable things done in our world (Ezk 9:4, WEB & LEB). We’re also to pray “thy kingdom come,” and trust in God’s timing. His patience and mercy and love means that He wants to give as many people as possible time to repent. These character traits do not mean He has forgotten the injustices done on this earth or that He will not avenge those who’ve been wronged.

Take Your Thoughts Captive

As we ponder the things we ought to focus on instead of anger and vengeance or apathetic helplessness, we probably also realize this is a hard thing to do. Changing the way we think and taking responsibility for the way we feel isn’t easy, but it is possible. It’s particularly doable with the help of the holy spirit. With God’s power working in us to wage war on a spiritual and mental level, we can even “take every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5, NET). Our thoughts often feel outside our control, but with God’s help we can choose what to think and how we react to what’s going on around us.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8, NET

This is where we want to keep our focus. It’s not that we ignore all the bad things or pretend the world is full of nothing but sunshine and goodness. Rather, we ought not to dwell on the evil as if that were all there is. Then, instead of feeling helplessness or rage when we read or hear about an evil deed we can think on the truth of God’s promised, perfect justice. We can look for respectable, commendable ways to help people in need. We can pray for those excellent, praiseworthy people who are doing things like standing faithfully in the face of persecution or fighting to end sex trafficking. We can keep bringing our thoughts into alignment with Christ’s mind over and over again, asking God to help us hold fast to Him and live with faith, hope, and love until His kingdom comes.

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Psalm 133: Unity Like Oil and Dew

Psalm 133 is a beautiful passage of scripture. It’s always been one that puzzles me, though. I like metaphor and poetic imagery, but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to learn from the analogy used in this psalm. It’s short, so I’ll quote the whole thing here:

Look! How good and how pleasant it is
when brothers truly live in unity.
It is like fine oil poured on the head,
which flows down the beard—
Aaron’s beard,
and then flows down his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which flows down upon the hills of Zion.
Indeed, that is where the Lord has decreed
a blessing will be available—eternal life.

Psalm 133:1-3, NET

The dew and oil analogies are linked by the word “flow.” There is something about unity among brothers that is like the way anointing oil flowed over a priest or dew flows down a mountain. I spent the past week studying this, and here’s what I’ve found so far. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about this psalm in the comments!

Oil

The anointing that this psalm speaks of is recorded in Leviticus 8 and Exodus 29, though only the Leviticus passage records the oil being poured rather than just sprinkled (Ex. 29:1, 4, 21; Lev. 8:1-2, 20).

Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. … He then poured some of the anointing oil on the head of Aaron and anointed him to consecrate him.

Leviticus 9:10, 12 NET

In this context, oil is used for consecration; to put something or someone “into the realm of God’s holy things” (NET footnote on Lev. 8:10). That’s what’s happening in the scene that David described when he was explaining true unity among brothers. The “brothers” in this psalm could refer siblings, of course, but in scripture “brothers” tends to be a phrase used to describe a group of people connected by belief in God (see, for example, Acts 2:29, 37; Rom 12:1; James 5:7-12). The familial unity we’re looking for here operates on a physical and a spiritual level.

Unity among physical and spiritual family members is connected to holiness and to priesthood. Indeed, Peter tells the New Testament church that God is building all of us up together “to be a holy priesthood” and that we are chosen as a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). God wants us to be holy, to be united, and to be part of His “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6; Rev. 1:6; 5:10).

Dew

When David talks about the “dew of Hermon,” geographically he’s referring to Mount Hermon located in “the distant north” relative to “the hills of Zion” (NET footnote on Ps 133:3). Typically, Mount Hermon is used in the Bible as a landmark (Deut. 3:8-9; Josh. 11:3, 17; 1 Chr. 5:23) and we don’t have much information about why David chose it as the mountain to mention in this Psalm. Given Mount Hermon’s location, it’s unlikely that dew which formed there would make it to Zion. This leaves us with a bit of a puzzle.

Thankfully for us, David gives us a clue how we’re supposed to interpret dew in this passage by saying the locations he mentions are “where the Lord has decreed a blessing will be available.” Connecting dew (an important source of water for plants and animals, and by extension people) with blessing is fairly common in scripture (Gen. 27:28; Deut. 33:13; Zech. 8:12). Conversely, holding back dew was a punishment (2 Sam. 1:21; 1 Kings 17:1; Hag. 1:9-10).

Your dead will come back to life;
your corpses will rise up.
Wake up and shout joyfully, you who live in the ground!
For you will grow like plants drenched with the morning dew,
and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits.

Isaiah 26:19, NET

As we can see in this and the other scriptures I linked to, dew is connected with blessings and growth. God even promises to “be like the dew to Israel;” healing and helping them grow and thrive (Hos. 14:4-6, NET). Unity fits into all this as well, helping the blessings that God gives like dew to flow out to more and more people.

Blessings that Flow

The blessings that come from brothers living together in unity don’t just stay in one relationship, or one family, or even one church group. They flow and spread like consecrating oil and growth-enabling dew. Unity is a good, excellent, valuable (H2896, tob), pleasant, delightful, and sweet (H5273, na’iym). It’s something precious; something which we grow into.

to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

Ephesians 4:12-13, NET

We ought to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thes. 3:12, NET. Also Phil. 1:9). Like the holiness of a priest ought to result in service to the congregation and the dew which waters the ground ought to result in growth, so ought the relationships between believers result in unity, peace, and love that grows and spreads.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Jesus: The Mercy Seat and Atonement Sacrifice

I love how dynamic the Bible is. Read a verse you’ve studied dozens of times, and suddenly a slightly different translation or an idea you had last month snaps into clarity and you see a deeper, fuller layer of God’s truth. I like to think that’s the holy spirit working, aligning our thoughts and ideas more closely with God so we can understand the things given to us by God.

The verse to most recently strike me in this way was the NET translation of Romans 3:25. I quoted it in last week’s post. Here, Paul says of Jesus that “God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith.” In the KJV, this was translated as “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” Both translations are profound, but seeing that connection to the mercy seat (which is an accurate translation of G2435, hilasterion, and is also used in Heb. 9:5) made me think about the idea in this verse more deeply.

“Mercy seat” is one of those things in the New Testament that wouldn’t make any sense at all without context from the Old Testament. Reading either testament in isolation would mean you only get a partial picture of God’s story and plan. It’s all one book, and nowhere is that more visible than when looking at how key aspects of the Old Testament law and worship point straight to Jesus Christ.

Context for the Mercy Seat

The mercy seat was the top part of the ark of the covenant. It is the location where the incense and the blood of the yearly Yom Kippor (Day of Atonement) sacrifice were placed (Lev. 16:11-17) and the place that God’s presence appeared when He met with His people (Ex. 30:6; Num. 7:89). In the Old Testament, the NET uses the translation “atonement lid” for the Hebrew word kapporet to represent that this ornate “lid” for the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:10-22) is the location where atonement is made and accepted (NET footnote). When there was a tabernacle or temple, the atonement lid/mercy seat was located inside the most holy place (also called the inner sanctuary or holy of holies). A heavy curtain or veil separated this inner sanctuary from view; only the high priest could enter and only once a year.

That background helps us understand what the New Testament writers tell us about Jesus’s death. When Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45 say “the temple curtain was torn in two” when Jesus died, they most likely mean the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple. Jesus’s death ripped open the separation between God and man. We’re not removed from the place where God appears or the location where atonement is made anymore. On their own, human beings had never been holy or pure enough to be in God’s presence, but now through the blood of Jesus which washes our sins away we can access the holiest places in the heavens.

One Sacrifice in the Heavenly Sanctuary

As we’ve seen, even though the Greek word translated “mercy seat” only shows up twice in the New Testament, the concept plays a much bigger role than it might seem at first. When Paul calls Jesus “the mercy seat accessible through faith,” it’s in the context of God’s righteousness (which “is attested by the law and the prophets”) being even more fully demonstrated in Jesus and the New Covenant than it was in the Old Covenant law (Rom. 3:19-26). There’s a “passing over” of sins that is connected with sacrifice, and the “mercy seat” is the “place or object” where that propitiation/atonement happens (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1023, kapportet).

The author of Hebrews expands on this sacrifice even more. As part of a lengthy discussion of Jesus’s priesthood (which takes up most of the book), this writer says one of the reasons that Jesus “shared in” our “humanity” was “so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:14-17, NET). Remember, for Jewish readers (and probably non-Jewish converts in that society as well) the idea of atonement was linked to Yom Kippur and the sacrifice for that day where the high priest offered blood and incense at the mercy seat. Unlike the Old Covenant Levitical priests, Jesus “has no need” to offer daily or even yearly sacrifices (Heb. 7:23-28; 10:10-14). His New Covenant priesthood operates on a heavenly level.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands—the representation of the true sanctuary—but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice.

Hebrews 9:24-26, NET

The holy places, priesthood, worship, and sacrifices of the Old Covenant all pointed to this: Jesus the High Priest entering the heavenly sanctuary with His own blood to put away sin from all who will accept what He does on their behalf. The importance of Jesus’s sacrifice is something that all Christians, whatever their background or denomination, are intimately familiar with. The more we learn about the rich history of worship and covenants that frame His sacrifice, though, the more fully we can understand and appreciate what Jesus did. And it also deepens our understanding of what He is currently doing–His priesthood has no expiration date. He is still, right this very moment, acting as the “mercy seat” and High Priest in the heavenly temple whose atonement sacrifice removes all our sins by substituting Himself in our place.

Featured image by Pearl via Lightstock

The Lord’s Wonderful Faithfulness Toward Us

We often talk about our faith–faith toward God, faith in His promises, faith that He really does exist and that He really is God. In addition to that, the Bible frequently talks about God’s faith toward us. He is described as “faithful” in all His dealings with humanity, and it’s often in the context of praise.

I’ve noticed myself thanking God for His faithfulness in many of my prayers lately. I love the reassurance of knowing God is faithful. We can anchor our hope in that truth, knowing He won’t fail us. He’s constant, reliable, and committed. His faithfulness is a fact that doesn’t change, but sometimes we can lose sight of or forget about it, which lets doubts and worries get a foothold in our lives. The crazier life gets, the more we need to remember the faithfulness of God in order to stay confidently grounded in our faith through the storms of life.

Faithfulness in His Work

God’s faithfulness has been part of all His dealings from the beginning. One psalmist wrote, “All his work is done in faithfulness” (Ps. 33:4, WEB). Those works include creation, His dealings with people, the covenants He made, and the promises He gives us for a good future.

Yahweh, you are my God. I will exalt you! I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago, in complete faithfulness and truth.

Isaiah 25:1, WEB

From our more limited perspective, it might sometimes seem as if the world and its history are random, chaotic, and miserable. But since the very beginning, God has been working on (and doing) wonderful things. He shares details about that work with us in the Bible, and invites us to be part of the continuing work today.

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6, NET

Paul doesn’t use the word “faithfulness” in this verse, but that’s the concept He’s talking about. God will always be who He says He is, and He will do what He says He will do. That’s what makes Paul’s confidence possible. And because God’s faithfulness is unchanging, we can also have the same confidence today that Paul had nearly 2,000 years ago. God started a good work in us when He called us into His family, and He’s not going to give up on us.

Faithfulness in His Life and Death

Paul speaks more directly about God’s faithfulness in Romans, where he connects it with righteousness and Jesus’s sacrifice. In this letter, Paul is talking about the role of the Law for New Covenant believers and the transition from keeping the letter of the Law under the Old Covenant to keeping the spirit of the Law under the New Covenant.

Today, under the New Covenant, Paul writes that the “righteousness of God” has been revealed “apart from the law” to those who had been under the law (the Jewish people and ancient Israel) as well as to “the whole world” (Rom. 3:19-21). This happens “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.

Romans 3:25-26, NET

God’s faithfulness finds its ultimate expression in Jesus Christ, who faithfully held up His part of the covenants He made with people and died to make a new, better covenant possible. We live because of Jesus’s faithfulness, and we can trust that the Father (who was willing to give up His Son for us) and the Son (who was willing to give up His life for us) will remain faithful into the future as well.

Faithfulness in Relation to Us

After reaching this point in our study of faithfulness, it’s no wonder that the psalms are filled with praise for God’s wonderful faith toward us. What can be more amazing than the Creator Lord of the Universe committing Himself to you, and me, and every believer? We ought to be in awe of His faithfulness and of the incredible love at its core.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give him thanks.
Praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His loyal love endures,
and he is faithful through all generations.

Psalm 100:4-5, NET

I will give you thanks before the nations, O Lord.
I will sing praises to you before foreigners.
For your loyal love extends beyond the sky,
and your faithfulness reaches the clouds.

Psalm 108:3-4, NET

These Psalmists could praise the Lord’s faithfulness like this even before Jesus came as the Messiah. How much more cause do we have now to sing praise, knowing what we know today and being recipients of His grace? We have such incredible proof of God’s faithfulness recorded in scripture, both in the stories of faithful believers and in the reality of Jesus’s sacrifice.

Many of us (perhaps all of us reading this) have also all been on the receiving end of His faithfulness. Accepting Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf lets us participate in one of the most significant proofs of God’s faithfulness, and if you’re like me you also have an abundance of other examples of God’s faithfulness showing up in your life. Today, I invite you to join me in meditating on the Lord’s faithfulness toward you and the proofs of His ongoing faithfulness in scripture. Though other parts of our lives might seem unstable, unreliable, or unpredictable God is faithful. We can trust Him to be exactly who He says He is, do exactly what He says He’ll do, and never give up on the work He has begun inside us.

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Our Daily Bread

We recently observed Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzot). I suppose studying what the Bible has to say about bread is an obvious topic after that, but it’s been a more interesting study than I’d expected for something that seems so basic. Even the Lord’s model prayer that so many of us memorize talks about bread, and it has more to say on that topic than I’d assumed. Bread also acts as a spiritual symbol in scripture–Jesus calls Himself the “Bread of Life” and Paul talks about what kind of bread we’re supposed to be.

Bread for Each Day

So pray this way:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13, NET

The phrase “our daily bread” involves a curious word. In Greek, “daily” is epiousios (G1967) and it’s only used here and in Luke’s account of this same prayer. It’s not even used outside of the Bible anywhere but other “early Christian literature,” which makes the meaning hard to figure out (NET footnote). “Daily” is just a best-guess for the translation. Other suggestions include “the coming day,” “for existence” (NET footnote), “the bread of our necessity,” and “the bread that suffices for each day” (Thayer’s dictionary).

I wonder if, in using a word that indicated sufficient, needed bread for each day, Jesus might have been thinking about Proverbs 30. Here, Agur asks for two things from God: “Remove falsehood and lies far from me; do not give me poverty or riches” (Prov. 30:7-8, NET). This last one might seem an odd request–who wouldn’t want to be rich?–and Agur provides further details.

feed me with my allotted portion of bread,
lest I become satisfied and act deceptively
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I become poor and steal
and demean the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8-9, NET

It seems there’s as much of a danger in feeling as if you are “rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing” (to quote the Laodiceans from Revelation 3) as there is in being so poverty stricken that you’re in danger of starving. Neither extreme is healthy, and so balance in prosperity is a prayer worth praying. We need balance–both in the physical things like Agur is talking about and in the spiritual things that Jesus is talking about in the letter to Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22).

I usually think of the request in the model prayer as asking for provision of needs, with bread standing in for all the things like food and clothing that Jesus tells us we don’t need to worry about just a little later in this same sermon (Matt. 6:25-34). I recently heard someone point out, though, that the focus of this prayer isn’t on physical things. It’s about honoring God’s name, praying for His will and His kingdom, and asking for forgiveness and deliverance. There’s no reason not to assume physical provision is included, but it’s likely that Jesus also intended for us to think about spiritual bread. He is, after all, the bread of life.

Living Bread from Heaven

After one of the loaves and fishes miracles (recorded in John 6), Jesus crossed over to the other side of a lake and the whole multitude followed Him. There, He told them they’d followed Him not because they believed He was the Messiah or because they saw miracles, but because they’d eaten a free meal. He advised them, “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life” (John 6:27, NET). To work for this eternal food, they must do “the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent” (6:29). Then, these same people who’d just seen Jesus turn five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food for more than 5,000 people with 12 baskets full of leftovers, actually asked Him, “what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you?” They even brought up the manna in the wilderness miracle, showing full well that they knew they’d seen one bread miracle and were asking for another (John 6:30-31).

Jesus and His Father weren’t focused on delivering physical bread this time, though. There wasn’t going to be a repeat of free food on the ground every morning when the Israelites woke up (Ex. 16:4-36). Rather, they’d planned a far more enduring way to satisfy a deeper, spiritual hunger. Yes, Jesus fed the people when they were hungry but the plan was to go far beyond providing for physical needs. Just as Jesus was here on earth to take the Law and the Covenants to a deeper, higher, fuller level, He did the same thing with the miracle of bread from heaven.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

John 6:48-51, 54-55, NET

This brings us right back to where we started this post: Passover and Unleavened Bread. Jesus’s flesh is symbolized by the bread and His blood by the wine that form the core symbols of the New Covenant Passover (Matt. 26:26-30; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). The invitation for us to eat this bread from heaven is also an invitation to be part of His covenant community and be sustained by God.

Our Unleavened Lives

Grace and salvation through Jesus Christ are gifts that we can do nothing to earn. Once we accept those gifts, though, we enter a reciprocal covenant relationship with God. We are supposed to respond a certain way after we’ve received grace. In other words, it is because of the Bread of Life that we ourselves can take on the characteristics of a very particular kind of bread.

Purge out the old yeast, that you may be a new lump, even as you are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed in our place. Therefore let’s keep the feast, not with old yeast, neither with the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Cor. 5:7-8, WEB

Because we “eat” the Bread of Life, we become “unleavened” bread. Symbolically during the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, leaven represents sin. Eating unleavened bread for that seven-day festival pictures us putting sin out of our lives and replacing it with His character. During the remaining days of the year, though we are free to eat yeasted and otherwise leavened breads, the importance of turning to God to fill all our needs (including our need to daily take-in Jesus Christ) remains the same.

God is concerned about our physical needs. He appreciates it when we choose not to fret about where we’ll get our physical daily bread and instead ask Him to provide (as Jesus did in His model prayer), trusting that He can and will take care of us. Even more than that, though, He is concerned about supplying our spiritual needs because that has eternal ramifications. We also ought to pray for God to “give us today our daily Bread of Life,” trusting that He will satisfy our spiritual hunger.

Featured image by FotoshopTofs from Pixabay