Tag Archives: faithfulness

The Lord’s Servant

This morning, my devotional reading was in Isaiah 42. I was struck with the following (vv1-4 ESV):

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my Spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,

or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,

and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be discouraged

till he has established justice in the earth;

and the coastlands wait for his law.

 

It is important that we understand this passage is a description of Christ. However, keep in mind it also points to another. Hebrews 10:1 tells us that the law was a shadow of the good things to come. The law established Israel as a servant of God. Israel was a shadow of the true good servant to come. Israel, in this capacity, serves as a shadow of Christ. So this passage refers to Christ as the good servant who would peacefully and faithfully seek justice, but it also refers to his Old Testament image—Israel. Now, after the coming of Christ and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit the church fills this role as the image of Christ upon the earth. We must keep this in mind. The servant mentioned in Isaiah 42:1-4 was, in their role as the Old Testament shadow of Christ, Israel; was Christ who came in the flesh; and, is applicable to the Church who displays Christ today. If Christ is seeking Justice in the world—as Isaiah says he will do—then he does it through his church.

Notice something about this passage. It says the servant would not cry aloud or lift up his voice, would not break even a bruised reed, nor extinguish a faintly burning wick. This is an image of someone working, but doing so peacefully. It is not the image of an activist screaming in a bullhorn. It is not the image of a rebel taking up arms to throw off a tyrant. It is the image of one who quietly and peacefully sets his shoulder to the work of establishing justice around him.

This image is to be a description of our own work in the world. We are to be about the business of establishing justice and these efforts should be marked by two qualities: peacefulness and faithfulness. We are to seek justice in a way that encourages the peaceful transformation of society from unjust to just and we are to do so no matter how long it takes and regardless of how many oppose our efforts.

The faithfulness is easy to understand and difficult to misapply. This means doing it without stopping and without discouragement. Actually, the passage goes on to say that the servant will not grow faint or be discouraged until his work of establishing justice is complete. This helps us to understand exactly what is meant.

The problem comes when trying to understand the peacefulness quality. Does this mean we must always be quiet and malleable? Does this require having a milquetoast quality? Well, if we follow Christ’s example we have to conclude that this is not what is intended. Christ opposed strongly. He stood for the weak and he spoke for the voiceless. He insulted the spiritual leaders of his day (What else is meant by calling them “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones” or a “brood of vipers”?) He flipped over tables, and drove away the merchants with a hand fashioned whip. He stood before a king and contemptuously refused to answer any questions.

So, what does this mean? How do we fulfill this quality? Actually, the passage itself makes it clear.

First, how we speak:

It says he would not lift up his voice or make it heard in the street. This doesn’t mean we never shout or be loud in support of justice. But it does mean we do not draw attention to ourselves. When we shout it is not to put ourselves forward, but to put forward the cause and the need for justice and to draw attention to the victims. If we raise our voices, it is so the world is informed of the injustice. We speak to publicize the need, rather than our efforts.

Second, how we act:

Notice that the unbroken reed was already bruised. For those who do not understand this means that it is previously damaged and weakened. Notice that the unquenched wick is already burning faintly—nearly extinguished on its own. In other words, he will not do more harm to what has already been damaged. The servant of God does not destroy what is already broken, nor does he tear down what is already falling. The servant of God seeks to build up, to encourage, to mend.

Unfortunately, we often do exactly the opposite. When we see Christians screaming in people’s faces or practicing scorched-earth politics the world sees a twisted image of Christ. Believers responding to sin with judgment rather than forgiveness mistake Pharisaism for Christianity. When we are more interested in being loved by the powerful than lifting up the weak we are not acting as Christ.

Christ had an Old Testament image which was embodied in Israel. Christ was the physical manifestation foreshadowed by Israel.

Peacefully seek justice—justice for our fellow believers, justice for our neighbors and even justice for those who oppose us.

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The Wife of Your Youth

In my morning devotions, I’ve been reading from Malachi. This morning’s reading brought me to Malachi 2:16, which in the NIV reads:

“I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as with his garment,” says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”

This passage is actually a bit hard to understand. The first part is not so hard, but the second part is confusing (“a man’s covering himself with violence as with his garment”). One thing that often helps is to look at other translations and this passage is no exception. I believe the translation in the English Standard Version is easier to understand and is closest to the intended meaning. It reads:

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

This way of translating and interpreting the passage actually works better in the context of the whole passage. In verse 13 of this chapter the writer speaks of flooding the Lord’s altar with tears, and wailing while the Lord refuses their sacrifices. He tells them this is because they have broken faith with the wives of their youth (Malachi 2:14). God is bearing witness against them for their mistreatment of their wives in putting them away and not remaining faithful to them.

This helps to understand the portion about covering one’s garments with violence. God is saying, “I do not hear your prayers or receive your covenant sacrifices, because I am bearing witness to the violation of your marital covenant.” Interestingly, this same sentiment is found in 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV):

 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

Don’t get upset about the term “weaker vessel” and don’t misapply it. This is not saying she is weaker. It is not a statement of a fact, but a statement of how a husband should care for and protect his wife. If you have two vessels, one of stone and the other of fine thin ceramic, you will treat one with greater care. Interestingly, the one treated with greater care is also the one that is the most precious.

Another passage to consider in this is Jesus words about forgiveness found in Matthew 6:14-16, which reads:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Jesus even gives a parable about a man seeking forgiveness, but then refusing to extend it to another. Imagine wanting the Lord to forgive us, but not being willing to forgive another. In the same way here we see husbands wanting to enjoy the benefits of their covenant with God, but refusing to follow their covenant with their wives.

Malachi is telling us that a husband who violates his covenant with his wife is harming himself. Funny, because most husbands think they will be happier with someone else, or without the responsibility of marriage. God is saying they will benefit from faithfulness. Unfaithfulness is harmful not only to the victim but just as harmful to the perpetrator.

But what does this unfaithfulness entail? In the NIV and some translations the word is “divorce.” In the KJV and some others the word is “put away” or “separate.” The word used actually means to divide from. This means that a husband who divides from his wife in violation of their covenant brings harm upon himself. Now, this should make us ask what sort of unity is entailed in the covenant relationship between a husband and wife, so that we can know what exactly a violation is.

Since the covenant is one of unity and oneness, in flesh, life and being, this violation of the covenant would be a refusal to protect the wife, or the relationship. Besides, divorce or physical separation, this would include abuse, sexual unfaithfulness, emotional distance, inconsideration. There are many ways to harm the covenant, and all are an abomination to the Lord. Anything that divides a husband and wife is abominable.

We husbands are commanded to love our wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25) and to work hard to encourage, equip and strengthen her. Keep the covenant with your wife, whatever the cost.

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