The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.
Proverbs 13:4 (ESV)
When I was in school and just beginning to learn my math facts, I often got mixed up. When I had a sheet that was all addition or all subtraction, I was fine. But when the assignment called for a mixture of the two, I frequently got problems incorrect. That’s because I would sometimes add when I was supposed to subtract. Or subtract when I was supposed to add. In the midst of my work I would forget what the problem called for. And as a result, when the paper was graded I would have a lot of red marks on it.
I mention this because today’s proverb is a lot like one of those math problems. It presents us with two equations. The theme of the Proverb has to do with our desires. And it says that we have to be careful to add, and not subtract, diligence because the consequences are radically different.
It is a lot like following a recipe. In college I had a bread maker. I would put the ingredients in before I went to dinner in the evening. Then, about 8:00 that night—when I was getting hungry again, it would be ready. But there were times that I would be goofing around with my friends while making the bread. And I would forget to put in one or two of the ingredients. Now if you don’t add salt to the bread, it comes out tasting funny. But if you do, then the bread becomes quite a delicious treat (and you become the admiration of the rest of the dorm!)
But it was all dependent upon that one ingredient. The determiner was whether I added it or subtracted it.
The same is true for diligence. When it comes to the recipe for life God says that we must add diligence to our desires. Otherwise the consequences can be pretty sour.
As a matter of fact, that’s how our proverb starts out. It tells us that the one who does not add diligence to desire is miserable tormented. In other words, he ends up creating his own little hell.
I. One who does not combine diligence with desire is miserably tormented
The first part of our proverb says, “The soul of the sluggard craves, but gets nothing.” We are presented with the sluggard, or the lazy man. This the man who does not add diligence to his desires. So it is as Charles Bridges says, “He desires the gain of diligence without the diligence.” He’s a man with many longings, but no labor.
So what happens? Well, obviously he ends up getting nothing. The old saying is true, “You reap what you so.” But I want you to understand that there is more here than that. What happens is that he creates his own little hell. His desire becomes God’s curse because he isn’t following God’s call to work.
Think about it this way: What does the lazy man have? Well you say he does not have anything! But that’s not true. He does not have the object of his desire, but he does still have the desire, doesn’t he?
His desire is not satisfied. As a result it continues to burn in his soul. As a result of his inaction the yearning continues to grow, and it begins to pulsate within him. The passion of the desire continues to increase so that it the lazy man gets more and more agitated every passing idle moment. So his craving starts to throb like a migraine headache because the thirst and yearning is not quenched.
You could say that he becomes so consumed with this desire that he ends up becoming consumed by his desire. All this, of course, could have been avoided had he just did whatever it was that was needed to fill his desire.
I like what Matthew Henry says on this passage. He says, “The desire of the sluggard ought to be his excitement, but is instead his torment. That which ought to make him busy, makes him always uneasy, and it is a greater toil to him than labor would be.”
Why don’t I give a little example? Perhaps that will help to clarify things. Let’s say that you want an apple. You wake up one morning and you think, “Boy, I really have a hankering for a nice juicy apple.” Well, what should you do? The first thing you should do is go to work. That way you can make enough money to afford the apple. Then, after you get paid, you take your hard earned money and go get yourself your apple.
But that’s not what a lazy person does, does he? He doesn’t want to work. He doesn’t want to get out of bed and do what it takes to get that apple. So when he wakes up he says, “Mmmm. I want an apple.” All morning long as he lays on his bed and he just dreams about an apple. He’s thinking about how crisp it is. As he imagines taking that first bite the juices start flowing in his mouth and he can almost taste it.
But after a while he starts getting annoyed. He really wants this apple. And everything he does starts to irritate him because he so much wants this apple. He turns on the TV to PBS and they are doing a special on apple orchards. He goes outside to go for a walk and (what do you know!) there are some people walking down his street eating apples. He tries to put it out of his mind and he starts off around the block. He doesn’t get but around the corner and there in the window at the grocery story is a huge sign that says, “Fall Sale: 50% off all apples.” Now he is really irked because he could have an apple at half the price, but he doesn’t have the money to get it. So he storms off towards home, and when he gets home he sits and sulks because he wants an apple but can’t get it.
You see how absurd this is? It is a silly example, but it is a biblical one. What does Paul say in the book of 1st Thessalonians? He says, “If you don’t work, you won’t eat.”
You can have the desire to eat, and that is fine and good. But if you don’t do what it takes to get your food—if you don’t follow the means that God has laid out for satisfying your hunger—then all you will be left with the hunger and craving. And that hunger will get worse and worse. You will become more and more miserable the longer you poke around. So you end up creating your own little, self inflicted hell.
That’s the way God has ordained it. He has called us to diligence. The way we obtain what we want is through work. If we don’t follow his path, then we become the victims of our own desires.
You can understand how this same principle can translate into other areas, can’t you? How many people do you know who want to be wealthy, but don’t want to do what it takes to make money? They don’t want to get the education. They don’t want to go out and get a job. They don’t want to be frugal. They don’t want to waste all that precious time and energy on all that work.
But boy to they want to be rich. They want the clothes. They want the car. They want the house, flat screen TV and I-pod. All the while their craving burns. There is no contentment in their lives. They become bitter toward others. They become envious of those who are rich. They hate others for having, simply for the fact that they have it. Meanwhile the bills keep mounting up (which of course makes them want more money).
It is just a vicious cycle. Their laziness becomes the noose of misery that keeps tightening.
What about the desire to be wise? That’s a good desire, isn’t it? What do you have to do to be wise? You have to study the Word of God, don’t you? But a lazy man won’t do that. He won’t do what it takes. That would mean he may have to wake up a little earlier. It means memorizing and meditating. It means trying to figure out what those Westminster divines meant with that funny language and big words. But that’s way too much effort!
But O, how he wants to be wise! He dreams of being a Daniel or a Joseph. But he’s not willing to do the work.
What about the man who has the desire to go to heaven? That’s a great desire! But woe to the man who will not submit himself to the preaching of God’s word. His desire will haunt him for all eternity! Because he was too lazy to repent of his sins and turn to Christ he’ll find himself sitting right there in hell. And he’ll cry out in anguish, “Why was I so lazy? Why didn’t I seek the Lord while he could have been found? Why didn’t I apply myself to prayer and receive the blessing of eternal life when it was offered to me?” His desire to be in heaven will be floating around in his mind all the time. And that will be just as hellish to him as the fires themselves.
We have to say that this kind of person, this sluggard, is a complete fool. He had the desire. And, at least initially, that desire was a good thing. But woe to the man who does not add diligence to his desire! His desire will become a disease. It will be like a leprosy that causes his soul to rot. It could have easily blossomed into a world of happiness. But instead those desires become a curse to him—a thorn that makes him more and more miserable.
So if you don’t add diligence to your desire, you see how bad it can be. It is not a good thing. But what if you add diligence to your desire? How will things turn out then? Well our proverb says that instead of miserably tormented, you will be richly rewarded.
II. One who combines diligence with desire is richly rewarded
It says, “The soul of the diligent man is richly supplied.” I like the old King James Version on this one. It says, ‘The soul of the diligent shall be made fat.”
We don’t think of fatness as a good thing. But in the Bible fatness is a great thing. It is richness. It is wealth or fullness. When you are made fat are blessed and richly rewarded. And the way gain that fatness is by diligence.
We have the saying, “No pain, no gain.” That’s exactly what is being communicated here. If you are going to gain in life, there has to be a little pain. You have to exert a little effort. You have to do what it takes to gain what you desire.
We typically think that if you work hard then you will loose weight, right? Well what do you gain when you work out? You gain health. You become skinny in body, but you are fat with health. You have this abundance of health that you wouldn’t have if you didn’t have the diligence to take care of yourself.
This is the way God has ordered it. The pathway to the good kind of fatness is by way of diligence in our work.
You young people, do you want a fat wallet? Well you have to do what it takes to get it then. You can’t just pray, “God make me rich.” God is not like a slot machine where you put in your prayer and all this cash comes falling down out of the sky. No. You have to work.
Making a lot of money is a fine desire. God doesn’t want you to be impoverished. He wants you to be economically successful. The Bible even says that the righteous man will prosper, and part of that prosperity is economic prosperity.
But you shouldn’t pray, “God make me rich.” You should pray, “God, give me a job.” Or “God, help me to use the gifts you have given me in the way that pleases you God.” That’s the road to fat cash. And when you get that job, you don’t laze around. You don’t spend your time goofing around playing facebook. You work at it with diligence.
Let me ask you older folks: Do you want a fat church? Of course we do. We want our church to gain some weight—we want these chairs to fill up. But how do we get that? What does it take to fill a church?
It takes diligence. Obviously I as a minister need to be diligent in my job. Paul told Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist. Preach the Word.” In other words, the guy who stands here has to prepare his message, practice it and hone his presentation. But don’t think that lets you off the hook. You need to be diligently doing your part! How do I get those opportunities to be an evangelist? How do I get those opportunities to preach the word? How does the word become effectual in people’s lives? It comes by God opening those doors. So if we are going to be a fat church we need to be diligent in prayer. We need to be crying out to God for him to send us those poor souls who need to be converted. We need to be praying that God would open doors for ministry beyond these walls.
As you can see, people aren’t flocking to come here. It is the one place nobody wants to be. It is about as counter cultural as you can get. You have to sit still for long periods of time. We sing songs from clear back in the 5th century. We believe that women have to be submissive to their husbands and men must lead his family. I mean, what sort of crazy goon is going come here and worship with us? I know who will! People like us! Only people who have their hearts changed, and have come to fear the Lord.
Someone once asked Charles Spurgeon why his church was so successful—why was it that so many people flocked to his church each week. You might say, “Well duh! Spurgeon was a great preacher!” But Spurgeon didn’t attribute his success to himself. He responded to the man by waving his hand and saying, “Follow me.” He led him down to the room right below the sanctuary. There in the belly of the church there were hundreds of his congregation members with their heads bowed. They were praying for the service. They were praying for the ministry of the word. They were asking the Lord to bless the means that he had ordained for the conversion of sinners and the building up of the saints.
That’s how a church grows. That’s how a church is made fat. It usually doesn’t happen overnight. But when God’s people are diligent in prayer, churches start putting on some pounds!
You remember how the widow got her justice? She came to the judge again and again. She was diligent. She might have been annoying! But she was diligent in being annoying! So she got what she wanted from the cruel judge.
How much more will our Heavenly Father, who loves us, give us what we ask?
How about relationships? Everyone wants good relationships, don’t they? Especially in the church. But relationships take diligence. That’s because relationships can be broken and you want to give up on them. But God doesn’t want that. He wants us to persevere in our relationships. He wants broken relationships to be mended. And that can only be done through diligently abiding by the means he has set out.
Think about Matthew 18. It can seem like an arduous thing, can’t it? First, you see your brother in sin. So what do you have to do? You have to confront him. If that doesn’t work, you have to do it again. If that doesn’t work, you have to do it again. This time you grab a friend who can come along with you. If that doesn’t work, the job isn’t done. Now it is time to hand it over to the church and let them work on it.
But what usually happens? People are lazy. They switch churches to avoid those people. Or they cut off any real interaction. They don’t want to follow the commands of God. They don’t have that kind of diligence. So their friendships end up being few and far between. Many of them end u; being shallow. Most of all their church is as gaunt as an Ethiopian orphan.
That’s not what God calls us to do though. God wants fat relationships. And to have that you’ll have to be diligent in reconciling with your brothers. It’s going to take a lot of work. Reconciliation takes up a lot of time and energy. But No pain, no gain. That’s the way the Lord works. That’s the way relationships are restored. If you desire to have fat friendships and a healthy church, that’s the way you do it. You all have the desire for these things, but the desire needs to be met with diligence. And when the two become one, the desire shall be satisfied.
And, my friends, don’t think that this is something far from God himself. Our being reconciled to God wasn’t something that came easily for the Lord. He desired it from all eternity. But it wouldn’t come easy for him. His desire was satisfied only through the diligence of his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus got off his throne and came into this world. He spent himself in prayer in long nights. His desire for our salvation would not be satisfied until every commandment was fulfilled. He would not stop until every nail had been hammered into his flesh. He determined to do all his redemptive work and would not stop until he could say, “It is finished.” His hunger for our souls could not be satisfied without his diligence. And because he was diligent, we know that his kingdom shall be fat! You and I may have opportunity to participate in that kingdom because of what Christ has done.
God’s recipe for success is a simple equation: Desire + diligence. When you put those to things together, you will see that your longings will be satisfied. If you are careful to add, rather than subtract, then God will grant you the object of your desire. Because God has ordained work as the pathway to fatness.
 An old way of saying stimulation. He should have been stimulated to work.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
The verse before us this morning is perhaps one of the most difficult verses in the entire Bible. And I am not alone in saying that. In going through the commentaries in preparation for this message, I found them saying the exact same thing.
Why is it that this passage is so hard? It is not because it is an inconvenience. It is a tough one because it commands something that is 100% contrary to our natural instincts. This verse commands us to do something that goes against every inclination of our human nature.
And that is why I want to begin by reminding us how much we need Christ. It behooves us right now to throw ourselves at his feet and beg for his Spirit because this verse is so foreign to everything we know. If we are even going to begin to think about living out this verse, we need Christ to subdue our hearts and bridle the bitter inclinations that abide there.
Now the theme of the verse is easy to pick up because the word bless is used twice. And when you think of blessing others, you might initially thing, “Yeah, sure. No problem.” But when you consider who we must bless and how we must bless them, then your attitude quickly changes. And you understand how much you need the divine hand of God.
The passage says, “Bless those who persecute you.” Right away you see there how extreme this is. The difficultly of this verse becomes immediately obvious because of who it tells us we must bless.
I. It is difficult verse because of who it tells us we must bless.
The objects of our blessing are to be the people who have made us objects of their hate.
The language here is so vivid too. The word for persecute means “to pursue passionately.” It is the idea of being hunted. It is like a lion going after his prey. And those are the people who we are to bless. The people who are pursuing us—those people who are hounding us, these are the people we are to bless.
And you need to remember that the persecution being talked about here is persecution for our faith. It is persecution because our Christ-likeness is impinging on someone else’s life. It is persecution because we have been standing up against someone and speaking out against the life they have been leading or the things that they have been doing that have been wrong.
A lot of people think they are being persecuted because they have all kinds of people speaking harshly to them or harshly about them. But the fact is that they are not really undergoing persecution at all. What they are experiencing is the reaction of somebody to their sin. They have acted, not in a righteous way, but in a foolhardy way. So they are feeling the heat for it.
You can easily see someone who makes this mistake, can’t you? The man who goes to work and whose boss is always nagging him because he isn’t doing his work quick enough or well enough. You can hear the guy saying to one of his Christian friends, “Well, I really need your prayers. I’m really taking a lot of heat from my boss. He’s really coming down on me and he just won’t get off my back. He is always dogging me and just won’t stop.”
That isn’t persecution. That is discipline. What that person is experiencing is correction. The thing is that he isn’t responding properly to the correction. His unrighteousness has brought the wrath of his boss upon him.
But that is often the case with people. They think that they are being persecuted, but in all reality they are really being hounded because they are not living the way God wants them to. They are offending other people because they are not showing the honor or the deference that they should be. As a result they have all sorts of people coming down on them.
But what this verse is talking about is true persecution. It is talking about being hounded because you believe in God. This is someone who is being hunted because he is actively living out the law of God and promoting God’s ways. It is this kind of situation that is being talked about. And those people who are hounding and hunting us are to be the people we bless.
And that’s what makes this verse such a difficult verse. It is easy to bless those who are our bosom buddies. It is easy to bless those who bless us. I would even say it is not all that difficult to bless those people who come down on us because of the wrong we do. We might not want to. But it is a lot easier than blessing those who despise you when you’ve never done anything wrong. To bless someone who is attacking you simply because you are doing what is right, now that is hard.
But the law of God calls us to it. We are to be giving the highest respect everyone. And our love and respect is to extend even to those who would be qualified as the worst enemies of God! Even to those who mistreat us unjustly.
I know that this is hard, and the next part of the verse doesn’t make it any easier. Because it not only tells us who we should bless, it tells us how we must bless them.
II. How we must bless them.
And it tells us that the blessing that we bless them with must be both pure and positive.
A. This blessing must be a pure blessing.
Paul specifically says, “bless and do not curse.” In other words, you may not permit one drip of cursing to be pronounced. If you do, your blessing has just been defiled, and you’ve just broken this command.
Now remember what a curse is in this instance. This is not just cursing in that you say a bad word; what we typically think of as cussing. That’s not what this means. This cursing is the biblical kind of cursing where you call down evil upon someone. And he’s saying, no matter how harshly someone treats you, you must not do that.
How hard is that? This is so extreme! Part of the reason it is so hard is because it is so radically opposed to our natural instincts. When we are mistreated, our natural reaction is to get back at that person. That’s most especially true when we are filled with righteous indignation. We just become so inflamed and want to ring that person’s neck.
Here you can think of the disciples when they were rejected by the Samaritans. I’m sure you can sympathize with them. Jesus and his crew were on their way to Jerusalem and they had to go through Samaria. And Jesus sent some of his band ahead to a certain village to make preparations for them so that they could be provided for along the way. But the people of the village wouldn’t allow for it. The disciples were aghast! Who do these people think they are treating the Son of God like this. This is preposterous! They knew who Jesus was. They had heard of his miracles and his teaching. Now they are giving him the cold shoulder. They are slamming the doors in his face. The disciples are filled with righteous rage. So they turn to Jesus and say, “Lord, do you want us to curse these people? Do you want us to call down fire from heaven?”
But Jesus said, “No!” Actually the Scripture says that he rebuked them. In other words, he really came down on his disciples and let them know that that is not the way they are to act.
Now you have to wonder about this because the disciples had some biblical precedent for their actions. We read in the OT about how Elijah called down fire from heaven, which came down and licked up 100-150 soldiers. And you might ask, “What gives?”
Well, in Elijah’s case we have to remember that he was a prophet. He knew what God’s will was, and really it was God who was calling down the curse upon those soldiers. Elijah was just God’s mouthpiece at that moment. Moreover, Elijah’s curses were not done out of a vengeful spirit. The cursing at that moment was intended for the wider body of Israel. The curses that Elijah called down were so that the rest of the people of Israel would turn to God and fear Him.
When you read the passage with the disciples, you get the sense that they were not concerned at all for the Samaritan people. They merely wanted revenge! They just wanted to teach those spiteful Samaritans a lesson.
And that is typically what we want, isn’t it? We most likely do not care about that person’s soul or anyone else’s soul. We just want justice. We just want that person hurt because they have hurt us. But God doesn’t want us to lash out at our enemies. He doesn’t want us to curse them. He wants us to give them nothing but pure blessing.
And if it is going to be a pure blessing, it needs to be a positive blessing.
B. Our blessing must be positive
In other words, we must really and truly “bless them.” The word bless is from the Greek word “eulogeo,” which literally means to “speak well of.” You know when you go to a funeral you may have to give a eulogy. And in the eulogy, you speak a good word about the person who is laying in the coffin beside you.
That is what God wants us to do with those who persecute us. Though they be dead to the things of God, God wants us to speak well of them and treat them with kindness. That means we have no right to speak in a disrespectful manner to them or to slander them. We never have that right. Rather we must continue to treat them with the highest esteem and in accord with the law of love.
Perhaps an illustration from Paul’s own life might be good here. Remember that toward the end of the book of Acts Paul is imprisoned for his faith by the Roman officials. And once he was brought out to speak in behalf of his defense. As he talked he spoke with the utmost respect, even addressing the scoundrel that held him captive without cause as the “‘most excellent’ Felix.” Paul continued to honor his civil superior, even though Felix wasn’t worthy of much respect.
This is how God calls us to act. To be positive in our blessing. We are to commend the good things about them. Or, if we cannot find anything of good report we are to remain silent and only let prayers be offered up on their behalf, that God would bless them.
And this really begs the question of how do we pray for our enemies? I mean the greatest blessing we can offer them is our prayers, isn’t it? The greatest thing we can do for our enemies is speak favorably of them to our God. So how do we pray for them?
When we pray for our enemies we should pay that God would pour out upon them the greatest blessing he could ever give someone: a spirit of repentance. We pray he would bless them by putting a stop to their wicked ways.
You will notice that I didn’t say that he would bless them and prosper them in their wicked ways. That would be no blessing at all to them, would it? That would be a curse to them. That would only mean letting them heap misery upon themselves and the others around them. What we want is a positive prayer, a prayer that seeks their welfare. So when we pray for our enemies, we should pray that God bless them by correcting them and causing their wicked ways to cease.
This week I was doing some research and I came across a good quote from Martin Luther on how to pray for our enemies. Luther said, “We should pray that our enemies be converted and become our friends, and if not, that their doing and designing be bound to fail and have no success and that their persons perish rather than [infringing upon] the Gospel and the kingdom of Christ.”
That is a great prayer for our persecutors. We should pray that they be converted and be our friends, or that their plans would fail rather than letting the gospel be perverted or hindered. Luther went on to give the illustration of a Christian woman named Anastasia. Anastasia was married to an idolatrous man who was a notorious persecutor of Christians. He had hated them so much that he even threw his own wife into a horrible prison, in which she had to stay until she died. But despite being treated in such a way she sought to bless her husband. She wrote to a Christian friend and asked him to pray for her husband that, ‘if possible, he be converted and believe; but if not, that he be unable to carry out his plans and that God soon make an end of his ravaging.” And Luther says, “Thus she prayed him to death, for he went to war and did not return home.”
“So we, too, pray for our angry enemies, not that God protect and strengthen them in their ways, as we pray for Christians, or that He help them, but that they be converted, if they can be; or, if they refuse, that God oppose them, stop them and end the game to their harm and misfortune.”
But Matt, it’s like you are praying imprecatory Psalms. How is that positive? How is that pure? It seems like you are cursing them more than blessing them. I admit that if you are doing that with a spirit of revenge and no care for the gospel ministry, then that is wrong. But if you are seeking their welfare and the welfare of the gospel, then such a prayer is warranted. If any harm comes to them, the blood is not on your hands. It is God who is breaking out against them.
Our problem is though that most likely we would use such a prayer in the wrong way (with the wrong motive). Most likely our desire for revenge would cloud our minds and we’d simply want the person injured, rather than converted.
That’s why we must deal with our own hearts before we deal with our enemies. That’s why we must go to Jesus and seek the power of God. Because God always calls us higher; and this is perhaps the highest of our callings: to bless, and not curse our persecutors.
When in Egypt some years ago a minister held a service for some soldiers who were in the area. The minister asked a big sergeant who was a bright and shining Christian to tell the rest of the men how he came to know the Lord. As he recounted his testimony he said this, “There was a private in the company who had been converted before his regiment came to Egypt. We gave that fellow a terrible time. The devil got possession of me, and I made that man’s life a positive burden to him. Well, one night, a terribly wet night, he came in sopping wet and tired. But before getting into bed he got down on his knees to pray. My boots were heavy with wet and mud, and I let him have one on one side of the head and then on the other side. But he did not retaliate. He simply continued on with his prayers. The next morning I found my boots at his bedside. The night before I had just kicked them off and let them sit, caked in mud. But I found them cleaned and beautifully polished. That was his reply to me, and it just broke my heart.”
The sergeant was so amazed that his foe would respond in such a way, that he ended up giving his life to Christ. I’m sure loving that sergeant wasn’t easy. But the love that he showed was certainly the power of God.
May the same spirit fill our hearts and may God give us the power to bless and not curse our enemies.
"For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed."
Malachi 3:6 (ESV)
CS Lewis is known for of children’s books series, the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In those books, every so often you get in allegorical form, a presentation of Christian truths. The second book of the series is entitled, Prince Caspian. In that book the children return to the land of Narnia to help Prince Caspian retain his kingdom. At one point in the book the little girl Lucy, meets up with Aslan the lion. At their encounter she falls upon the mighty lion in an embrace. Her first impression of the beast though was one of his greatness. She seemed impressed at his size and she remarked, “Aslan, you’re bigger.” In his soothing, but dominant way, the mighty lion replied by saying he had not grown at all, but that he only seemed bigger to her. He said because the more she got to know him, the bigger she would find him to be.
The truth in that depiction is one of great significance. As Christians, we apprehend God to be great. But as we study God’s word more and grow in our relationship with him, we come to find that God becomes bigger to us. It is not that he grows, but it is that we grow in our apprehension of how great he really is. And it is as our minds are stretched and as our understanding of God’s infinite being expands, that we learn to trust him more.
This is what I want to focus on for the next few weeks. I want us over the next few weeks to consider how great our God really is. The title of this series is “Gazing at the Greatness of God.” We will be focusing our attention on what are called God’s incommunicable attributes. That is to say, we will be focusing on those attributes of God that are unique to him alone. As created beings, we have some of the same attributes that God has. We call these the communicable attributes. They are things like wisdom, power, mercy. So you can think: We have intelligence, just as God has intelligence. His intelligence is infinitely greater than ours, but, nevertheless, there is some commonality.
But when we talk about his incommunicable attributes we are talking about those attributes (or those characteristics) that are unique to God alone. These are those attributes that distinguish him as God and sets him apart as the one who is Supreme and above all other created things.
And this morning we are going to focus our attention on God’s attribute of immutability. Now what does that mean? When we talk about God’s being immutable we are talking about his being unchangeable. The immutability of God is the unchangeableness of God. And that is what our passage for this morning talks about. If you look at it again, you find that to be very clear. “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
This passage tells us 2 things about the unchangeableness of God. It tells us that God is unchangeable in his essence (or his being) and it tells us that God is unchangeable in his works. More simply you could say that God is unchangeable in who he is and what he does.
The first half of the verse tells us that …
I. God is unchangeable in his essence.
If I might read it again, “I the Lord do not change.”
Now this attribute has no analogy in us as humans. By nature we are changing beings. You know they say that 90% of the dust in your house is human flesh. That is, the cells that make up our skin are continually dying. And if they are not washed down the drain during your shower they end up on your couch, TV screen, and window sill if they. Well these cells that die have to be replaced. So new cells are always being produced.
Those of you who are studying biology can perhaps correct me on this, but from what I understand all of your body is like this. All the liquids, organs, and bones are always replenishing themselves—the same way your skin does. So, if someone comes up to you and says, “You’ve really changed.” You can say, “You’re right, I’m completely different!” You can literally say that you are not the same person you were last year at this time.
And not only do we change in this way, but we change as we get older. The first half of our lives is characterized by development, both physically and mentally. We sprout up and our minds sharpen through education. And the second half of our lives is characterized by change too. Instead of development we begin to see signs of decay and decomposition: Last week I mentioned arthritis. And we start getting these things we call wisdom lines and our hair turns color (or falls out!).
But this is not so with God. God, in his essence, never changes. Or to use the words of the book of Hebrews, he is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” He does not need to develop because he is wholly perfect in his being. His intelligence is immutable because he has perfect and infinite intelligence. There is no need for him to try to become good because he is perfectly good. And God cannot decay because his nature cannot permit it to be so.
Now, if you are a student of the Bible, you might make an objection at this point. You might want to stop me and say, “Hey, I know places in the Bible where it says that God changes.” And you may point out the time recorded in Exodus 32. The time when Moses was on Mt. Sinai and God became made at the Israelites because they had made the golden calf. God said to Moses that he was going to kill them all and make a nation out of Moses instead. But Moses pleaded with God and interceded on behalf of the people. And it says that “God relented fro the disaster he had spoken of bringing on his people.”
But you must understand that the Bible often speaks of God in human ways. It does this, not because God has these human attributes. No. It speaks this way in order to teach us more about God. It is inevitable that there will be times when He who is infinitely incomprehensible condescends to accommodate our finite minds.
The fact is you do this same thing all the time. When you speak to little children you sometimes have to accommodate your language to help them understand. You have to use crass pictures and words to describe what cannot be otherwise comprehended.
So too with God. In all reality God didn’t change his mind. God’s intention, from the very beginning, was to make a great nation out of Israel.
Really, if you would deny God his immutability—if you would make him to be a changeable God, he would not be God. Herman Bavink, a Dutch theologian, said it this way, “He who predicates any change whatsoever to God…belittles God…[And] robs Him of his divine nature.”
Why do we say this? Because change implies a cause. If you change the way you walk, usually there is something that caused you to do it: a broken leg or a surgery. God cannot change, because nothing can act to influence him. If something had that power over him, then that something would be greater than God. And that something then would be worthy of our worship. But as it is, God cannot change. As the book of James says, “there is no shadow of turning” in God. He alone is absolute. And as a result, he alone is worthy of our worship.
Now, this may be hard for some of you to accept. It might not be hard to understand, but it might be hard to accept. I hope you know what I mean by that. Someone might say, “Yes, I see what you are saying. I understand what you mean when you say that God is unchangeable. But I do not wish to believe it.” I wouldn’t doubt that someone would want to say that because we live in a time when change is thought of as a virtue.
Think about it: We are surrounded by people who have an evolutionary mindset. The world developed out of the slimy mire. That change is thought of as a immense feat. And we often say, “He made a change for the better.”
As a matter of fact, some have taken this “change for the better” mentality and applied it to God. Mormons for example have a saying. It goes like this, “As God was, so we are. As God is, so we shall be.” That implies that God used to be just like us, but by a process of change, he became what he is. And, in their belief system, all of us will one day become like him.
And this isn’t limited to cults. There are even some Christians today who say that God is constantly changing. They see this as a virtue, that God is always becoming better. But what is virtuous about it? What is good about a God who is in some way deficient? How can you trust someone who is not wholly reliable?
The fact is, God’s being immutable is what makes us able to trust him. God’s immutability shows us that he is dependable. Because he will not change, our trust in him is something that is secure.
Really that is what we see in the second half of the verse. If the first half shows us that God is unchangeable in his being. Then the second half shows us that God is unchangeable in his work.
II. God is unchangeable in his work.
Read it with me again, “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The verse is one of complete logic. It uses the word “therefore.” On the basis of A, you are therefore guaranteed B. Since God is unchangeable in his being, you can be assured that his dealings with you will not change.
Now, by this passage, I want you to see that God is unchangeable both in his work of mercy and his work of justice.
The first one is the most obvious one. God is unchangeable in his mercy. The children of Jacob were God’s chosen people. They were the descendants of Jacob, the one who God chose. But do you remember Jacob? Do you remember anything about him? He was a deceiver, wasn’t he? He tricked his brother, Esau, and stole his birthright. Then he deceived his father and stole his brother’s blessing—he dressed up like his brother and fooled his blind father.
So Jacob wasn’t the most godly of men. And neither were his descendants. Remember his children? He had 12 sons, and they don’t come off looking any brighter. Two of his sons slaughtered a whole tribe of people. One of his sons convinced the rest to sell their youngest brother into slavery. One of Jacob’s sons had an incestuous relationship. And, you know how the rest of the descendants of Jacob acted. They were always described as a stiff-necked or rebellious people.
And in this verse we see God’s unchangeable mercy. “Because I do not change, you wicked and ungrateful people are not consumed.” God had every right to destroy them, didn’t he? You could say that the Israelites were the worst sinners on the face of the planet. God had showed them more kindness than any other nation in the world, but they refused to pay homage to him.
God should have sent fire from heaven and scorched every one of them. But he didn’t. Why? Because he made a promise to them.
We just talked about how Moses prayed on Mt. Sinai and God relented from bringing disaster on his people. Do you know why God “changed his mind?” It was something Moses said. Moses said, “Remember Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, “I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven.” Moses pointed God to his own promise. Moses knew that God could not go back on His word.
The only reason we too are not consumed is because God is unchangeable in his mercy. It could very well be said, “I the Lord do not change, therefore, O people of CRF, you are not consumed.”
It is not our faith that keeps us from being thrown into the lake of fire. It is not our admirable features that keeps the ground beneath us from opening and swallowing us alive. We are not that lovely and our faith is not that strong. The only thing that keeps us from being consumed is the unchangeable mercy God.
I cannot remember the exact words he used, but Charles Spurgeon said something along these lines: “Our righteousness did not make us to acquire our salvation. It was only God’s infinite mercy. But just as our righteousness did not earn us our salvation, neither does our wickedness thrust it aside.”
I know that many people struggle with the assurance of salvation. Perhaps you are just one such person. You worry about your status before God. You fret that God will turn his back on you because you have done thus-&-such.
Well, the unchangeableness of God should strengthen us in our assurance of salvation. While we should strive for perfection, we should not despair when we find ourselves to be the chief of sinners. With those whom God has covenanted, the Lord is unchangeable in his mercy.
But let us remember that this verse not only tells us that God is unchangeable in his mercy. We should remember that this verse tells us that God is unchangeable in his justice.
In this verse you can kind of see that the children of Jacob are hidden behind a fireproof wall. The Lord keeps them from being consumed. But everyone outside that covenanted people is in harms way. Those who are the children of God may escape, but the flames of God’s anger consume everything else.
You may think of it like Noah and his ark. Noah and his family were safe and sound inside the ark. Everyone outside that ark was consumed in God’s anger.
Now if there was one point where people would like God to be changeable it is here. And many people do make him to be changeable at this point. Many people would like to make God out to be a indulgent grandfather. They would like to think of him as someone who forgives and accepts everyone without conditions and even despite their rebellious behavior.
I know that some sects of Jews today believe that God has changed with regard to his justice. They will readily admit that in the OT times God demanded the shedding of blood for atonement. But they will say that that has all changed. They would say something like this, “That was how he acted with those people long ago. But now there is no such requirement. What God requires now is that we bring him offerings to offset our offenses.”
But why worship a god who would be so ruthless in times past, but would change his mind. What would prevent him from changing his mind again? In the end God becomes capricious.
Perhaps I should also say something here on the Muslim god. The Islam faith believes that God is capricious. They would say something like this: If God is going to be completely supreme, then he should be allowed to change his mind whenever he wants. So, according to Islam, Allah is capricious.
And the Muslim man, if he were consistent in his views, would find himself in a state of utter despair. Because there would be no justice or mercy in this view. If a man was a faithful Muslim all his life, even if he gave the most extreme sacrifice for Allah and died for him, he could have no assurance of his salvation. Allah could very well deny him access to Paradise and he could welcome a complete renegade instead.
When all is said and done, there is only one God who is worthy of our worship and faith. There is only one God you can truly rely on. There is only one God who can and will save you from your sins. It is the God of the Bible. It is the One who reveals himself to be the unchangeable God.
When Lloyd C. Douglas, author of The Robe and other novels, was a university student, he lived an a boarding house. Downstairs on the first floor was an elderly, retired music teacher, not infirm and unable to leave the apartment. Douglas said that every morning they had a ritual they would go through together. He would come down the steps, open the old man’s door, and ask, “Well, what’s the good news?” The old man would pick up his tuning fork, tap it on the side of his wheelchair and say, That’s middle C! It was middle C yesterday; it will be middle C tomorrow; it will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat, the piano across the hall is out of tune, but, my friend, THAT is middle C!”
The old man had discovered that there was one constant reality in his life. He found that there was one thing upon which he could depend.
For those of us here this morning, let us remember that we have one who is absolutely dependable. As we gaze at the greatness of God, let us remember that we have one who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.