Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
"God Is" Great - Unchanging; "God Is" Good
June 4, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
“Indescribable, uncontainable, you placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name (what?), You are amazing God. All powerful, untameable, awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim, You are amazing God.”
As I sat down to begin write this message that would wrap up our look at of the greatness of God, the words of this song came flooding into my mind. God is great, He is so great, He is so great we cannot even fathom His greatness, and our language falls far short of expressing this truth. He is, as the song says, “Indescribable.”
How often have we sung this song with our mind somewhere else – maybe on the football game, what we doing for lunch after the service, or what task we need to complete? How we diminish in our own heart the awesomeness of God when we do things like that? Is He not worthy of our concentration/our attention? I hope that this series will bring new inspiration and adoration to your hearts when we sing this song or any of the others that speak so clearly of the greatness of our God. So this morning we have one final attribute to consider under the category of the “greatness of God,” and then we will begin to look at his goodness.
“God Is” Unchanging (immutable, constant). God does not change, and that should be a comforting message for us – his character will not change and he will always keep his word. In Psalm 102: 25-27 it says: “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Here the psalmist contrasts the temporal created order with the unchanging nature of God. The universe is in a constant process of change, and that change will eventually wear it out – a property of matter is that it is in a continual state of decline. However, God “remains the same!” This is also stated very clearly in Malachi 3: 6 where it says: “I the Lord do not change.” And that was a good thing for Israel, because the fact that he does not change is the only reason God had not already destroyed them – he keeps his word of promise.
The NT affirms the unchanging nature of God. In James 1:17 we read: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Since God never changes we can have confidence that only good gifts will come from him in the future. And in Hebrews 13:8 it says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Again, Jesus shares the attributes of divinity, and that truth is clearly stated in this verse – Jesus, too, is unchanging.
A definition: God is unchanging in his being (nature, attributes), purposes and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions and can respond differently in different situations. It is not possible that God should possess one attribute at one time that he does not possess at another. He remains ever the same. “Therefore, God does not change his mind, plans, or actions, for these rest upon his nature, which remains unchanged no matter what occurs.”
However, you may be wondering, doesn’t scripture refer to God changing his mind? This is where the second part of the definition comes in – “can respond differently in different situations.” For instance, in the story of Jonah we read these words, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” (ESV) God had sent Jonah to Nineveh to proclaim destruction to the city. And while it is not explicitly stated in the text, the purpose for proclaiming a warning is to bring about repentance. So when the city repented, the situation changed, and God responded differently to that situation – God had not changed, the people had changed and so God relented. God’s purpose in sending Jonah was for the city to change its ways, and they did. If they had not repented they would’ve been destroyed.
The beauty of an unchanging God is absolute assurance and confidence in his word and in his promises. When God says something, when he promises something, we can be completely confident that he will bring it about. We can be confident that his character will never change, or nor will he ever lose his power or his knowledge. If God were not unchanging, what confidence could we have that he might not change and become a God that is “not so good” – even vindictive or mean-spirited. Scripture provides us with all the confidence we need that he does not, even cannot change, because it would go against his very nature.
So God is Great! The attributes of his greatness are: He is Spirit (immaterial, invisible), He is life; He is personal; he is infinite (unlimited - omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal); and He is unchanging. Glory to his name!
III. “God Is” Good! Not only is God great, God is good! The greatness of God pointed to his natural attributes; the goodness of God speaks of his moral attributes. If God were only great, and not good, he could conceivably be immoral. But what we are dealing with is a good God, one who can be trusted and loved. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and his love endures forever.” Another aspect is that the attributes of God’s greatness generally belong to him alone. The goodness of God, his moral attributes, we can share with God at least on a limited level – that is a part of our image bearing.
We will classify the God’s basic moral attributes as integrity, purity and love. The first one we are considering this morning is integrity:
A. “God Is” Integrity. At first, I thought this should be “God has integrity,” but God not only possesses integrity, he defines integrity. In other words who God is - in nature and in character – corresponds exactly to how he acts and manifests himself. He is the perfect model (example) of words that are matched by action and deeds. Two dimensions define his integrity:
1. He is truthful (veracity: truthfulness, accuracy). God is truth, he is a lover of truth, and he is the standard of truth. (Quote) “God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all His knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.” Jeremiah 10:10 reads: “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” In John 14:6 Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
God’s truthfulness relates to the fact that he is genuine. God is real; He’s the real deal. He is not fabricated or constructed or imitated – like all the others who claim to be gods. God is precisely what he appears to be. He also represents things as they truly are – there is not one iota of deception in him. God always speaks truth when he speaks; in fact his words are truth. John 17:17 states: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” God is true, he tells the truth, and he proves himself to be true.
The fact that truthfulness is a part of God’s very nature means that he desires his people to deal honestly in every situation. Christians should have the reputation for being impeccably honest. When we aren’t, we dishonour the name and character of our God. Multiple times in the book of Proverbs, the call goes out for honesty when using weights and measures in the marketplace. Since we serve a God who doesn’t lie or deceive (Titus 1:2), we too should be honest in all of our relationships. In Colossians 3:9 it says: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.” We also must remember that truthfulness goes beyond making a bold-faced lie, it includes all kinds of deception – anytime we allow someone to believe something that is not really true, even by our silence, we are not acting truthfully.
Another implication of this attribute of God is that our ideas must conform to God’s ideas of truth - His words are the final standard of truth. This is an area where we as individual Christians and as the church have gotten into trouble in these tumultuous times. Instead of the ideas of the culture being made to conform to the ideas of God through his Word, the ideas of God have been subjected to conform to the ideas of the culture. This is why there is so much confusion in the church today on so many social and moral issues. Truth in our world has become a revolving door! But God’s truth does not change, nor does it not conform to the ideas of the culture. We should imitate God’s truthfulness; like him, we should love truth and hate falsehood.
2. He is faithful. God can be trusted wholeheartedly. (Quote) “God’s faithfulness means that God will always do what he has said and fulfill what he has promised.” In Numbers 23:19 we read: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill it?” This verse encapsulates much about what we have just been talking about: Truthfulness, unchanging, integrity and faithfulness. This reveals that these attributes are interconnected and help to define each other.
In 1 Thess. 5:24, Paul reminds the Thessalonian church that God would sanctify them and keep them blameless until Jesus returns. He then says: “The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” God can be relied on and he will never prove himself unfaithful to those who trust what he has said. He keeps all of his promises. He never has to revise his word or renege on a promise. Just think of the story of Abraham and Isaac. He waited years of a son and finally received the promise when he was 100 years old.
A tribe of Native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the midst of thick woods. He had to stay there all night by himself. Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight lightened the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he saw the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father, who had been there all night long.
In the same way, God is always present with us in our trials. His presence is unseen, but it is more real than life itself. God has promised to never leave us or forsake us – and that is true whether we sense his presence or not. He is faithful and he will keep his promises. Though he is unseen he is there.
We are to also emulate faithfulness – it is a fruit of the Spirit. We are to keep our promises to God and to others. We are to be faithful in our relationship with God, in worship, in our marriage, to our children, to our calling and even to our vocation.
God is great – indescribable, uncontainable and unchanging. God is good – he has personal integrity – faithful and true. Are you really in awe of him? When something rocks your world, is he still great and good? Or are these attributes only believable when life is good? Let these truths capture your heart once again – be in awe and worship the King of Kings.
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
"God Is": Good - Morally Pure
June 11, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
I remember sitting around the dinner table with some friends and fellow seminarians while we lived in Caronport. One of the guys made a comment that has stuck with me – it went something like this. The truth that “God is good” needs to be foundational to our life and faith – it must be held as a non-negotiable. No matter what we may experience in life, that basic truth must remain unquestioned. The scriptures teach us that goodness is a fundamental attribute of God’s character. Do you believe that today? We all tend to be like Job, when the wheels come off in our lives, we all too quickly begin to question God’s goodness. I think that, like my friend said, we need to get implanted deep into our hearts and minds that God is good – period. His goodness is based on his essential nature and character, not on your and my experience.
This morning we are continuing our look into the attributes that point to the goodness of God. And what we will deal with today may come as a surprise as falling under the category of his “goodness.” Last week, we talked about God’s goodness in terms of his integrity – which is revealed in his truthfulness and his faithfulness. Today, we are going to consider this aspect: B. “God is” morally pure. “By moral purity we are referring to God’s absolute freedom from anything wicked or evil.” God is sinless in his nature and his essence. Being free from sin and evil is crucial to his goodness – if he were vulnerable to sin, how could we ever trust him to always relate to us out of goodness. There are three dimensions of his moral purity;
1. His holiness. It is crucial to understand the holiness of God if you are going to have a biblical understanding of him. You may remember from the first message of this series that God’s holiness is greatly connected with his transcendence. The fact that he is “wholly other” means that he is set apart from his creation and that he is morally perfect. These are very similar ideas to God’s holiness. The Hebrew word translated as “holy” means “consecrated,” “separate or set apart as dedicated to God; free from impurity.” The idea in the OT was something “marked off” – “something that was set apart or withdrawn from ordinary use.” The Word “holy” appears 694 times in the Bible (ESV), so it is a very important concept.
In Exodus 15: 11 we read: “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? This was a part of the song of triumph that Moses and Miriam sang when God delivered them through the Red Sea. Psalm 99:9 proclaims: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.” This is the third time in this short psalm that the proclamation goes out that “He is holy.” In fact, the holiness of God is the message of the whole OT.
There are two basic aspects to God’s holiness. First, he is totally separate/set apart from his creation – referring to his majestic holiness, awesome in power and glory. Second, he is free from any moral wickedness or evil, and therefore, he cannot tolerate the presence of sin. In his very nature, God is absolutely intolerant of sin. We need to understand the importance of this concept. There seems to be this idea floating around the contemporary church that God has somehow become more tolerant of sin. Because of the grace of God revealed in Christ, because Jesus took our sins upon himself on the cross, there seems to be this idea that absolute forgiveness reigns supreme (cheap grace). Does God change? What has changed is our view of sin, not Gods. We have created for ourselves very watered-down views of sin - a tolerant god.
Because God is holy, he calls on his people to imitate his holiness. “Leviticus 19:2 reads: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” In the NT the message is repeated: 1 Peter 1: 15-16, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’.” We are called to be a “holy nation” who separate ourselves from evil and sin and live lives of service in devotion to God. 2 Corinthians 7:1 says: “Sine we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” One final word of warning from Hebrews 12: 14, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
If you were to ask people inside the church and even outside the church, “what is the most important (dominant) attribute of God” – what do you suppose the answer would be? I would wager the answer would be the love of God. Is that true? (Quote) “If there is any difference in importance in the attributes of God, that of His Holiness seems to occupy the first place. It is, to say the least, the one attribute which God would have His people remember Him by more than any other. In the visions of Himself which God granted men in the Scriptures the thing that stood out most prominent was the divine holiness. This is clearly seen by referring to the visions of Moses, Job, and Isaiah.” In the vision given Isaiah in chapter 6, the heavenly creatures were calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” In the throne room of Revelation 4, the scene is the same – the creatures surround the throne saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty.” Notice that it is holy, holy, holy, not love, love, love. In any of God’s encounters with humans, the response is one of fear and falling down in his overpowering presence, which radiates his holiness. It would seem that God’s holiness is the preeminent attribute. Is that our first thought, is that our first response to God?
Because of the implications of his holiness, how then should we live?
* We should approach God with reverence and godly fear. Hebrews 12:28 says: “let us be thankful, and so worship God with reverence and awe (fear), for ‘our God is a consuming fire’.” One commentator suggests there is too much hilarity in our approach to God.” (frivolousness)
* When we have the right views of God’s holiness, we will have the right views of sin. Since the holiness of God is not emphasized as much today, we have lowered our views of sin. We confess sin in such easy and familiar terms that it has lost its terror for us. That is an expected outcome.
* The only way we can approach a holy God is through the merits of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness we have received by faith in his name, a righteousness we do not naturally possess.
2. His wrath. When was the last time you heard a sermon on the wrath of God? In the contemporary church it is typical to play this subject down. It’s not a popular topic, but it is a biblical one. In the ESV, there are 218 occurrences of the word “wrath,” and I would suggest that 80% refer to God’s wrath – and this does not even include the references to God’s anger and His fury. In his classic book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer writes: “One of the most striking things about the Bible is the vigour with which both Testaments emphasize the reality and terror of God’s wrath. ‘A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness’.”
Nahum 1:6 says: “Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.” (7: “The Lord is good) God’s wrath is referred to many times in the exodus. Multiple times God’s anger was hot against the rebellious ways of the Israelites, and multiple times he threatened to literally destroy them.
Definition: “God’s wrath means that he intensely hates all sin.” A perfect, sinless God will not and cannot tolerate sin. He cannot tolerate it or overlook it because that would put in jeopardy the integrity of his very nature. How can a sinless God allow for sinfulness without compromising himself? But we need to understand this – God is not only intolerant of sin, he hates it because it opposes his character and everything he loves. We then, as lovers of God, need to hate sin as well - and not just in the culture or someone else’s life, but firstly in our own life. The fact that God hates sin presumes the necessity of judgment – 2 Thess. 1:8 reminds us that when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
The wrath of God is talked about in the book of Romans – it gives a NT perspective. In this new covenant of grace, it seems that he does manifest His wrath differently. In the OT, when the wrath of God was stirred up, people died - death was the consequence of his wrath against human rebellion. In the NT, the consequences of God’s wrath are that he gives people over to their own devices – to reap the consequences of their own sinful actions (death can happen). It seems he removes the common restraints/sense of decency and morality. In Romans 1 we see this clearly in verses 18, 24, 26, 28 (Read). God’s wrath in our time is revealed in a descent into rampant sinfulness and evil. Does that not define the days we are living in?
I cannot speak on God’s wrath without reminding you of God’s patience. Boy is he patient with us! This is how he describes himself: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.” He is slow to anger with us because he knows we are weak and because he wants many to come to repentance.
A guy by the name of Kevin Miller relates this story; I hope it helps to clarify:
A few summers ago we took a family vacation to Toronto. We’d never been there, but all the guidebooks said, “You have to go up the CN Tower, (at that time) the world’s tallest building and freestanding structure.” Just the thought of being 1,815 feet above the ground made me queasy. But the kids said, “Aw, Dad, we gotta go,” so against my better judgment, we went.
I was the last one into the elevator. We started up, which was when I realized that the door of this elevator was actually made of glass, and that this elevator was affixed to the outside of the tower. As we rushed up the side of the CN Tower, I could see the city of Toronto falling away at my feet. My palms started sweating, my throat got tight, and I started breathing really fast. I told myself, “Just hang on. Soon you’ll be on the observation floor.”
I stumbled out of the elevator onto the observation floor, where I thought it would be safe. But I found that some sadist had installed a glass floor there so that people could walk on it and look straight down to the ground. The kids were laughing as they walked onto the glass floor, jumped up and down, and even laid down. “C’mon, Dad!” they yelled.
That same year, we went to the Grand Canyon, where you can stand at the South Rim and peer 6,000 feet straight down. At the Grand Canyon, you are not separated from your doom by blocks of glass 2.5 inches thick. So every year, an average of four or five people die while visiting because of (in one website’s words) “overly zealous photographic endeavors.” Still, the Grand Canyon is so beautiful that I was drawn to it. I had to see it, to get near it. I wouldn’t do anything too foolish near the edge, but the same awesome beauty that caused me fear also drew me toward it.
When the Bible talks about “fearing God,” what is it talking about? Is it talking about the kind of fear I felt at the CN Tower? Or is it more like the fear I felt at the Grand Canyon? For years, preachers and writers have told me that it’s like the fear I felt at the CN Tower. “When the Bible says to fear God,” they explained, “it doesn’t really mean fear. It means awe or reverence. You should respect God, of course, but you don’t need to actually fear him. It’s like you’re standing on the glass floor 1,100 feet up in the CN Tower. Being there may give you a thrill or a quick feeling of awe, but you’re completely safe. So if you do feel any terror with God, that’s unnecessary or even irrational.”
But the Bible disagrees. Isaiah prophesies, “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread” (Isaiah 8:13). And Jesus says, “Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5). So when the Bible talks about fearing God, it means not just awe and not just reverence. It also means fear. It’s the kind of fear I felt at the Grand Canyon, where I was drawn to amazing beauty, but I also felt a realistic fear at the danger, because people who acted foolishly near it have died. (End Illustration)
A biblical response to God’s holiness and his wrath is a healthy fear. When I get near the edge of a canyon, my knees begin to shake – but I want to see the view and the beauty over the edge. There is terror; there is awe. What a great parallel of how we should respond to God.
You might be wondering what God’s holiness and wrath have to do with his goodness. His holiness concerns his moral perfection; his sinlessness – to be inherently good he must be free from all evil. His wrath means that he hates evil because it undermines all that is good. Would you want to serve a God who was unconcerned about sin? Could you trust his goodness?
We must regain the biblical truth about the holiness and wrath of God. We must wake up from our complacency – in our own lives and in our culture. Do you have this kind of healthy fear of God? It will help you maintain a sense of reverence and will help to keep you from sin.
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
“God Is” Good – Righteous/Just; “God Is” Love – Benevolent, Grace/Mercy
Pastor Dennis Elhard
June 18, 2017
Psalm 145:17 says: “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.” Those words pretty much sum up the themes of this message today. We have been looking at the attributes of God that point to his goodness, and in light of these attributes we must hold to the truth that“God is good; all the time.” We need to make that foundational to our understanding of God, that no matter what our circumstances may look like, we stand on the goodness of God – period!
So last week, we talked about the goodness of God as revealed in his moral purity – meaning his freedom from anything wicked or evil. His moral purity includes the dimensions of his holiness, his wrath, and his righteousness/justice. We considered the dimensions of his holiness and wrath last Sunday, so we will begin today with is righteousness/justice. All three of these dimensions are most certainly interconnected.
B. “God Is” Morally Pure. 3. His righteousness/justice.
While in English these are two separate terms, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, they come from the same word group, so I’m treating them as one. In many ways they are two sides of the same coin. The English definition of “righteousness” is “doing right” or “upright conduct” – “the state or condition of being right and just.” A theological definition then goes like this: “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.” So we can see from this definition that God has the final say on what is right, he defines what is right and he reveals to us what is right through his law. We also see from this definition that God’s own actions are always in accord with the law he himself established. As a true expression of his nature, the law is as perfect as he is. Psalm 19: 7-8 says: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statues of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” God, then, only commands what is right, and what will have a positive effect on each one who obeys. In its simplest terms, we can understand God’s righteousness in this way – “God always does what is right.”
In his righteousness we saw that God himself always acts in accordance with his own law, but His justice requires that others also conform to his law. Since his law is right and perfect, it applies also to us, and we are to adhere to its standards. Sin is rebellion against his law, and the scripture makes it very clear that sin has definite consequences. The fact that God is morally pure, holy and right means that sin cannot go unpunished, and that it deserves to be punished. As a result of God’s righteousness and justice, (Quote) “it is necessary to treat people according to what they deserve. Thus, it is necessary that God punish sin, for it does not deserve reward; it is wrong and deserves punishment” – “For the wages of sin is death.” True justice says you will receive what you justly deserve.
The justice of God means that he is always fair in the administration of his law – he does not show partiality or favoritism. James 2: 9 reads: “But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” God revealed his fair justice in the OT when he repeatedly condemned the crooked judges of the day, and the injustice done to the widows, the orphans and the foreigners. The scriptures consistently condemn the exploitation of the poor and outcasts. As a just God, he hates injustice and there will be a day when all injustice will be reckoned with – the scales of justice will be reconciled. Justice will prevail, and those who practiced injustice will be punished. On the other hand, for those who acted righteously and justly, there will be reward. In the same way that sin and injustice deserve punishment, in the justice of God those who acted justly deserve reward.
As his followers we are to imitate God’s righteousness and justice; we are to adopt our lives to his laws and precepts, because when we do we are acting in accordance with God’s very nature – we are doing what he himself does. Amos 5: 15, 24 says: “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts...But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never ending stream!” Righteousness and justice are key concepts in the very nature of God. In Psalm 97:1-2 we read: “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” The throne represents the seat of power over God’s kingdom – and the foundation of that throne is righteousness and justice, and we should be praising God that they are – He is indeed, good!
C. “God Is” Love. The last of the main categories of God’s goodness is his love. Again many would suggest that this attribute would be his preeminent one or most basic to his nature. It’s made very clear that love is a part of his essential nature in 4th chapter of 1 John. Twice it is stated explicitly that,”God is Love.” In verse 16, it says: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” Notice, it doesn’t say, God loves, but that “God is love.” It is the nature of God to love.
(Definition) “In general, God’s love may be thought of as his eternal giving or sharing of himself” – with others. This kind of love has always existed among the eternal persons of the Trinity and has made heaven a world of love and joy. The love of God is a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of love. It is a love of action and of choice, not merely a love of emotion. And as image-bearers of God, we all have the potential to love, and to return the love of God back to him. In fact, the whole Christian faith can be reduced down to two basic commands of love – to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves. It sounds so simple, but it’s much easier said than done!
We are going to consider two basic dimensions of God’s love for us:
1. His benevolence. The dictionary defines benevolence as “good will, kindly feeling, or an act of kindness.” In terms of God’s benevolence “we mean the concern of God for the welfare of those whom he loves. He unselfishly seeks our ultimate welfare.” His benevolent love is expressed clearly in the most loved verse of the Bible – John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only own Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God is concerned with our salvation, our good for our own sake, not for anything that he can get out of it. While he does save us for his own glory, he doesn’t need us – he could easily be glorified some other way. God also reveals his benevolent love in that he didn’t wait for us to “clean up our act.” Romans 5:8 says: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
When we think of the word benevolence we usually think of expressing good will to someone, or some act of kindness – often some kind of support, often financial. It’s comforting to know that God’s actions toward us are out of his good will, his kindness towards us. Now that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t discipline or judge us when necessary, but that his heart is motivated for your and my good. God has a good heart; he cares and provides for those he loves.
God’s benevolent love is also revealed in that his care and provision extend to all his creation. Jesus taught in the Matt. 6 (SM) that the Father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field in splendour. In the same chapter Jesus teaches that God extends his love to the whole human race – that he makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. He’s a benevolent God who seeks the welfare of all his creation, especially to his people.
2. His mercy and grace. How beautiful is the sound of those words. The primary reason we are here this morning, gathered as a company of believers, can be attributed to the grace and mercy of God. The terms are closely related – again the two sides of the same coin. I have heard them defined in this manner – “mercy is not receiving what you deserve, and grace is receiving what you don’t deserve.” Both are unmerited, and given at God’s will and pleasure.
(Definition) “God’s mercy means God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress.” It is his “tender-hearted, loving compassion for his people. It is his tenderness of heart toward the needy.” It is the mercy of God that has captured my heart; it is why I stand here before you this morning. I truly believe that it’s his heart’s desire to be merciful. A few years ago I had a revelation of this – an epiphany of sorts – when I read these words from Exodus 34: 6-7. Moses had asked to see God, but God told him he could not, but that he would pass by in front of him. As the Lord passed by Moses, he said these words – words that define the character/attributes of God – “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished). While God loves to show mercy, it “is a holy mercy; it will by no means protect sin, but anxiously waits to pardon it.”
The parable of the prodigal son provides a beautiful illustration of God’s mercy and grace. The Father faithfully watches the horizon for his son’s return – a heart of mercy. When the son comes home, he deserves nothing. He has taken his father’s inheritance and has blown it on riotous living. He is aware that he deserves nothing and pleads for mercy. Notice he has had a heart change, and comes humbly. He doesn’t return and say, Hey, pops! I’m in kinda in a hard place and I was wondering if you could spot me a little more cash. I was having a blast in the far country and would like to go back. What would’ve been the Father’s response then? When we seek his mercy, we must come with an attitude of humility and repentance, and if we do he will lavish his mercy on us. The Father’s grace also kicked in, and instead of receiving chastisement, the son received a party in his honour. Wow! Don’t you just love God’s mercy?
“God’s grace means God’s goodness towards those who deserve only punishment.” It means that God supplies us with undeserved favour. Ephesians 2: 8-9 states: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Rather than trying to explain grace, let me illustrate it.
Lou Johnson, a 1965 World Series hero for the Los Angeles Dodgers, tried for thirty years to recover the championship ring he had lost to drug dealers in 1971. Drug and alcohol abuse cost him everything from that magical season, including his uniform, glove, and the bat he used to hit the winning home run in the deciding game.
When Dodger president Bob Graziano learned that Johnson’s World Series ring was about to be auctioned on the Internet, he immediately bought the ring for $3,457 and gave it to Johnson, sixty-six, who has been drug-free for years and a Dodger community relations employee. He did for Johnson what Johnson could not do for himself. The ball player wept when given the gold ring. “It felt like a piece of me had been reborn,” he said.
“Likewise, Christians can testify to a spiritual rebirth as a result of the price that Jesus paid on the cross in their place. He did for them what they could not do for themselves.” He also did for us what we didn’t deserve! Because of his foolish lifestyle, Johnson really didn’t deserve the ring anymore, but the team president purchased back the ring for him. At his own expense, he graciously redeemed the ring for Johnson – that idea should sound very familiar to you!
“God Is” great! “God Is” good! I hope that this series has reminded you of these two truths, and you have been captivated again with the majestic nature of God and of his many attributes. I have only scratched the surface; there are many others: glory, beauty, jealousy. You might want to do your own study – I would encourage you to do it!