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- God Has Plans and Purposes for His People
- God Works through His People (I): General
- God Works through His People (II): Empowerment
- God Guides His People
God has wonderful plans and purposes for his people. Many of these concern the work he does through his people, with his incomparably great power. God promises to fulfill these plans and purposes, equipping and guiding his people accordingly.
- God has plans and purposes for his people
- God’s plans and purposes include work for his people to do
- God’s plans and purposes are not dependent upon a person’s background
- Further examples of God appointing people to a specific role
- In spite of his people’s troubles, God will fulfill his plans and purposes for them
- God may actually use his people’s troubles in fulfilling his purposes for them . . .
- . . . God may even initiate seemingly bad things to fulfill his purposes for his people
- Note: The plans of God’s people are subject to his will
Bear in mind that references to God’s plans and purposes for his people include: general plans/purposes which apply to all Christians; and specific plans/purposes for each Christian. The various general ones – such as salvation and sanctification – are dealt with in a number of other chapters in this book. This section looks at topics which show that God has specific plans and purposes for each of his people.
Thus the verses have largely been interpreted as such, i.e. as speaking of God having plans or purposes for specific people, or specific groups of his people. However, note that a number of the verses are also applicable to God’s general plans and purposes, and arguably may even have these foremost in view.
This quite possibly refers primarily to the content of the days (cf. CEV) – not just the number of them. As such it would imply that each person’s days are planned by God.
a Or peace
Here God speaks of his plans for the people of Israel. The aims of the plans – to bless them and give them a future and hope – are largely applicable to God’s individual plans for each of his people. For God blesses each believer spiritually and gives them “a future and a hope”.
Acts 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. ▤
The final clause may well be referring to the Lord assigning to each believer – here Apollos and Paul in particular – the work he has for them (cf. AMP, GNT, NCV, NIV, NLT); hence the verse’s inclusion here. Alternatively, it could be speaking of the Lord assigning belief to each of those who had believed (cf. CEV).
The expression “the area of influence God assigned to us” refers to the work that God had assigned to them (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV) – more specifically, the “sphere” (NASB, NKJV) of their work, which for Paul and his colleagues included Corinth.
Est 4:13-14 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” ▤
In the rhetorical question (v. 14b) Mordecai is implying that the making of Esther as queen of Persia may well have been part of God’s plan to save his people – which indeed proved to be the case (cf. ch. 5-7).
Amos 7:14-15 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I wasb no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ ▤
b Or am; twice in this verse
Matt 4:18-19 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” ▤
Tax collectors were despised as traitors and thieves, often taxing more than the ruling Romans required, for their own gain. Thus Jesus’ choice of Levi to follow him as a disciple would have seemed strange, as would have been his choice of fishermen (cf. Matt 4:18-19 ↑) – who generally “were uneducated, common men” (Acts 4:13 ↓). However the apparent inappropriateness of these choices is dwarfed by the choice of Saul (cf. Acts 9:13-15 ↓), who had been the chief persecutor of God’s church.
Acts 9:13-15 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. ▤
- Ultimately it is God who chooses leaders . . .
- . . . Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit play a role in the making of leaders
Ex 31:2-6a “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, 4to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. 6And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. ▤
Num 3:6-8 Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. 7They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. 8They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. ▤
Num 18:6-8 And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the Lord, to do the service of the tent of meeting. 7And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift,c and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” 8Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. ▤
c Hebrew service of gift
Jer 1:4-5, 9-10 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” ▤ … 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” ▤
Verse 10 refers to the content of God’s messages that Jeremiah would pronounce, in his appointed role as “a prophet to the nations” (v. 5).
Ps 57:1-2 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. 2I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. ▤
Ps 138:7-8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. 8The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. ▤
Jer 15:10-11 Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me. 11The Lord said, “Have I notd set you free for their good? Have I not pleaded for you before the enemy in the time of trouble and in the time of distress? ▤
d The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain
In v. 11 God appears to be speaking of intervening in Jeremiah’s predicament and setting him free “for purposes of good” (NASB), quite likely purposes that God would fulfill through Jeremiah.
Jer 29:10-11 For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfaree and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ▤
e Or peace
Despite his people’s exile in Babylon and the apparent decimation of the nation, God would fulfill his promise and plans for them.
Acts 7:35-36 This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. ▤
Rev 3:7-8 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. 8“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. ▤
The “open door, which no one is able to shut” (v. 8a) may well be the door to God’s kingdom, but it could be speaking of an opportunity for service. If the latter is the case, this passage well reflects the fact that no one or no thing can foil God and Jesus Christ’s purposes for their people, despite their people’s troubles (v. 8b).
- If God’s plans for his people take some time to eventuate, there is a reason:
f Or quickly
This verse gives an example of a reason for God’s plans for his people taking time to eventuate.
- God works everything for his purposes and plans
- God can use evil
- God can use evil to fulfill his purposes
Although a number of the following passages do not actually say that God or Christ used the troubles spoken of in fulfilling their purposes for their people, in each it would appear to be the case.
The phrase “through all the towns of Israel” has advancing God’s kingdom in view (cf. vv. 6-8). The inference is that God at times allows persecution, using it to spread the Gospel. That God and Christ do this is clearly shown by Jesus’ words below in Luke 21:12-13 and is subsequently illustrated in Acts 8:3-4, Acts 11:19-21 and Philippians 1:12-14.
Luke 21:12-13 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13This will be your opportunity to bear witness. ▤
Acts 11:19-21 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenistsg also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. ▤
g Or Greeks (that is, Greek-speaking non-Jews)
Phil 1:12-14, 17-19 I want you to know, brothers,h that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guardi and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the wordj without fear. ▤ … 17The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, … ▤
h Or brothers and sisters. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, the plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters; also verse 14
i Greek in the whole praetorium
j Some manuscripts add of God
God used both Paul’s imprisonment and animosity towards Paul from insincere preachers, to advance the gospel. In addition to using these things in fulfilling his purposes for Paul, they would be used by God – through prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit – for Paul’s “deliverance” (v. 19), referring to either deliverance from prison (cf. v. 25) or the culmination of Paul’s salvation on his death (cf. v. 20-21).
k Some manuscripts God works all things together for good, or God works in all things for the good
This is an example of “purpose” referring more to God’s general purposes for his people, rather than specific tasks for certain people. Here God’s purpose for his people – which they “are called according to” – appears to refer foremost to their being “conformed to the image of his Son” (v. 29). The phrase “all things” probably primarily refers to adverse experiences (cf. v. 18). Despite whatever adversity “those who love God” might encounter, God will work all such things for their good, that they might be made like Jesus Christ.
Note that although not stated, possibly some of the troubles mentioned in the previous subsection were also initiated by God or Christ.
Gen 45:4-5, 8 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. ▤ … 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. ▤
Gen 50:19-20 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many peoplel should be kept alive, as they are today. ▤
l Or a numerous people
Ex 13:17-18a When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” 18But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. ▤
God took the people by the longer and more arduous desert road, which may well have seemed to be a “bad thing” that God had initiated. But God in fact had the people’s welfare and his plans or purposes for them in view (v. 17b).
Job 42:11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evilm that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of moneyn and a ring of gold. ▤
m Or disaster
n Hebrew a qesitah; a unit of money of unknown value
God is said to have brought Job’s trouble upon him, presumably because he allowed Satan to afflict Job. God’s purpose in this was, in part at least, to prove Job’s righteousness (cf. ch. 1-2).
John 9:1-3, 6-7 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. ▤ … 6Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. ▤
This implies that the man’s blindness originated from God – for God’s purposes.
Philem 1:15-16 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16no longer as a slaveo but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. ▤
o Greek bondservant; twice in this verse
Paul suggests that Philemon’s prior loss of his slave, Onesimus, was perhaps divinely initiated so that Philemon would have Onesimus back for good –as a brother.
Suffering for doing good can be part of God’s will for believers. This points to God using and even initiating suffering, in fulfilling his purposes for believers.
- Samson’s apparently improper intent was initiated by God for his own purpose:
Judg 14:1-4 Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. 2Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” 3But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” 4His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel. ▤
- God has control over people’s actions . . .
- . . . Despite people’s plans, their steps are directed by God
Rom 1:9-10 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. ▤
Paul appears to pray that his request be in accordance with God’s will or, similarly, be achieved through God’s will. As such he acknowledges that his plans are subject to God’s will. The case appears to be the same with the similar use of the phrase “by God’s will” in 15:31-32 immediately below.
Rom 15:31-32 … that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. ▤
Acts 16:6-7 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. ▤
Contrary to Paul’s plans, it was not God’s will that Paul should preach the word in the province of Asia at this time, but rather Macedonia (cf. vv. 8-9). Later Paul did go to the province of Asia (cf. 19:9-10, 22, 26, 20:18-21). The gospel was likewise also made known in Bithynia (cf. 1Pet 1:1).
1Chr 13:2-3 And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and from the Lord our God, let us send abroad to our brothers who remain in all the lands of Israel, as well as to the priests and Levites in the cities that have pasturelands, that they may be gathered to us. 3Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek itp in the days of Saul.” ▤
p Or him
- What God’s people do is in his hands:
God has control over (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV) that which is said to be “in the hand of God”. Here this would appear to encompass what the righteous actually do, along with the success and effect of their deeds.
- God works through his people
- God works through his people in the spreading of the gospel
- God purifies his people, making them holy, to do his work . . .
- . . . God effectively makes them priests, to serve him
- God sends his people to do his work . . .
- . . . and God moves his people to do his work
- God works with his people, helping them
- God makes it possible for his people to do the work
- God has plans and purposes for his people
- God’s plans and purposes include work for his people to do
As mentioned earlier, God’s plans and purposes for his people include tasks or work for his people to do for him. In fulfilling these plans and purposes, God works through his people.
- God works through his people by the Holy Spirit . . .
- . . . God speaks through his people by the Holy Spirit
Hos 12:10, 13 I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. ▤ … 13By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded. ▤
2Ki 17:13 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” ▤
1Sam 12:8 When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them,q then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. ▤
q Septuagint; Hebrew lacks and the Egyptians oppressed them
Acts 9:33-34 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. ▤
This indicates that Jesus Christ healed Aeneas through Peter.
The context indicates that the “varieties of activities” probably refers to the diversity of work performed as a result of “varieties of gifts” (v. 4). The final phrase appears to be speaking of God doing these works through his people (cf. NLT, NCV).
r Greek fleshly hearts
Paul did not need letters of recommendation about himself to take to the Corinthians. For their own lives acted as such, having been written by Christ through Paul’s ministry.
2Cor 13:2-3 I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— 3since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. ▤
Note that the “proof” (v. 3a) that Christ was speaking in or through Paul would be the authority Paul would exert, if necessary, on his return (v. 2).
1Cor 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. ▤
Paul implies that in essence his hard work was not of himself, but God working in and/or through him.
Heb 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in uss that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. ▤
s Some manuscripts you
Particularly in light of the context, the phrase “working in us” is probably referring to God working through his people (cf. CEV), but alternatively it could possibly be speaking of him working in them themselves, molding them.
The “commandment of the Lord and Savior” probably refers to Jesus’ teachings as a whole, although some commentators think that the command to love one another may be primarily in view. It was given or made known through the apostles.
Eph 3:8-10 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages int God who created all things, 10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. ▤
t Or by
Verse 10 speaks of God working through his people in primarily a passive sense, rather than in them actively doing his work. Paul is referring to God making known his wisdom to the heavenly powers through the church, by the union of the Gentiles with Israel in the one church body (cf. v. 6).
The miracles were done in the context of spreading the gospel (cf. Rom 15:18-19 ↓), validating Barnabas and Paul’s message.
Rom 15:18-19 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; … ▤
In the first clause Paul may be meaning that God establishes people in the faith in part through believers proclaiming the gospel – “by means of my good news” (CEV; cf. NCV, NIV). Hence the inclusion of this verse here. However, alternatively he could be meaning that God establishes them in the faith “just as the Good News says” (NLT).
2Cor 5:18-20 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconcilingu the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ▤
u Or God was in Christ, reconciling
Titus 1:1-3 Paul, a servantv of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages beganw 3and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; … ▤
v Or slave; Greek bondservant
w Greek before times eternal
- Ex 19:5-6 ⇓; Ex 29:1a ⇓; 1Pet 2:4-5, 9 ⇓
- Consecrate yourself to serve God . . .
- . . . Be holy and set apart
Heb 9:13-14 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifyx for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify oury conscience from dead works to serve the living God. ▤
x Or For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies
y Some manuscripts your
In v. 14, the phrase “purify our conscience” may have at least partly in view purification from sin, through Christ’s death. With one’s conscience no longer having past sin to deal with, it has been purified from sin and the need to perform “dead works” – quite possibly the ultimately useless rituals of the law – to attempt to address the defilement of sin. As such Christians are made ready to serve God.
Jesus Christ purified us so that we would be his own – and as such be eager to do what is good, serving him.
The reference is to all nations in the messianic era, but this is still illustrative of the fact that in all eras God purifies and makes his people holy for them to serve him.
John 15:1-2 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ▤
The term “prunes” alludes to cleansing (cf. AMP, CEV, GNT, NCV). With the reference to pruning suggesting discipline or trials, v. 2 points to God continuing to cleanse his people and make them holy throughout their life of service.
Luke 1:68-69, 74-75 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, ▤ … 74that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. ▤
This appears to speak of how through Jesus Christ – the “horn of salvation” (v. 69) – God would make his people holy and righteous (v. 75), enabling them to serve him (v. 74). Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is the prime reason for God’s people being made holy and ready to serve God (cf. Heb 9:13-14 ↑; Titus 2:14 ↑; John 17:17-19 ↓; Rev 1:5b-6 ⇓; Rev 5:9-10 ⇓).
John 17:17-19 Sanctify themz in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself,a that they also may be sanctifiedb in truth. ▤
z Greek Set them apart (for holy service to God)
a Or I sanctify myself; or I set myself apart (for holy service to God)
b Greek may be set apart (for holy service to God)
As reflected in the text note, “sanctify” involves setting apart something or someone (from that which is not holy) for God’s holy service. By sanctifying his people, God in effect dedicates them to himself (cf. GNT) for his use. Note that in v. 19 Jesus appears to be speaking of totally dedicating or giving himself to God’s service (cf. CEV, GNT, NLT), alluding to his approaching sacrifice of his life, by which in turn his followers would be sanctified.
Ex 19:5-6 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. ▤
The description of the Israelites as a kingdom of “priests” points to their dedication to God’s service – involving them being a “holy nation”. In addition it may well allude to God mediating salvation and other blessings through Israel to the other nations. Verse 6a appears to be in view in the NT passages below, which point to the church taking on Israel’s priestly role.
Consecrate means to set apart for God or dedicate as sacred to him. In the OT God consecrated those of the family of Aaron in particular – through the directions he gave to Moses (cf. vv. 1-37) – to serve him as priests. This has a wider application to God’s consecration of believers generally, with the NT speaking of believers as priests.
1Pet 2:4-5, 9 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ▤ … 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ▤
Christians form a priesthood, with each of them in a sense being a priest, serving God. As such they are to be holy and are to offer spiritual sacrifices (v. 5). Note that a further aspect of their priesthood is their ministry to and on behalf of others, with believers as priests having direct access to God.
Rev 5:9-10 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” ▤
The renewed future Israel is in view here.
- Believers as priests reigning with Jesus Christ in the “thousand years”:
Rev 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. ▤
God and Jesus Christ send their people to do God’s work. God’s work of course includes work within our church, but often entails going out into the world (as reflected in most of the verses in this subsection). This involves furthering God’s purposes – such as spreading the gospel – in situations where we have contact with non-believers, like our workplace. It may even involve actually changing our circumstances, such as leaving our locality or even our country, so as to further God’s purposes amongst non-believers.
Ezek 2:3-4 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ ▤
Matt 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inc the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. ▤
c Or into
Luke 10:1-3, 9 After this the Lord appointed seventy-twod others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. ▤ … 9Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ ▤
d Some manuscripts seventy; also verse 17
Note that in addition to sending them out, Jesus Christ also tells his followers to ask God to send out more workers (v. 3b).
This speaks of “reaping” people who are “ripe” or ready for belief and entry into God’s kingdom. For further comment on this verse, see Insights regarding spreading the gospel.
John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. ▤
Acts 26:17-18 … delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. ▤
Paul appears to have in mind God sending believers to preach the gospel. Parallels with this verse can be made with churches, on behalf of God, sending out missionaries. Note that Paul appears to assert that it is only because God has sent his people to spread the gospel – a commission given to all of them – that they can do so.
Phil 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. ▤
Judg 13:24-25 And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. 25And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. ▤
This suggests that the Holy Spirit was stirring or moving Samson towards doing God’s work.
1Sam 11:6-7 And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. ▤
Here Saul musters an army to defeat the Ammonites (cf. vv. 8-11).
Ezra 1:5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. ▤
Hag 1:14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, … ▤
2Cor 8:16-17 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is goinge to you of his own accord. ▤
e Or he went
Paul indicates that Titus’s pro-active concern for the Corinthians was instigated by God.
- God may compel unwilling ones to do his work:
Jonah 1:1-4, 12; 3:1-3a Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil
f has come up before me.” 3But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. 4But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. ▤ … 12He [Jonah] said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” ▤ … 3:1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. ▤
f The same Hebrew word can mean evil or disaster, depending on the context; so throughout Jonah
The Lord thwarted Jonah’s efforts to flee (vv. 4, 12), as he tried to avoid carrying out the purpose to which God had called him (vv. 1-3). As a result of this and his experience in the great fish (cf. 1:17-2:10), when God called Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh, he obeyed (cf. 3:1-3a).
God was with Samuel not only as he grew up but also in his ministry. Moreover, God let none of Samuel’s words fail, ensuring that everything Samuel prophesied would be fulfilled.
Neh 6:16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. ▤
Acts 11:20-21 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenistsg also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. ▤
g Or Greeks (that is, Greek-speaking non-Jews)
This and 16:13-14 below are examples of Jesus Christ working with his people, making their work fruitful.
Acts 16:13-14 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. ▤
Believers work together with God (cf. 1Thes 3:2 ↓), reflecting the fact that God works with them.
h Some manuscripts servant
Ezra 5:3-5 At the same time Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and their associates came to them and spoke to them thus: “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?” 4Theyi also asked them this: “What are the names of the men who are building this building?” 5But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it. ▤
i Septuagint, Syriac; Aramaic We
Note that Darius’s reply not only sanctioned the continuation of the rebuilding of the temple (cf. 6:6-7), but even stipulated that the Jews’ enemies were to aid them (cf. 6:8-10).
Ezra 7:6, 9 … this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. ▤ … 9For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. ▤
That for which Ezra asked the king (v. 6) would have been for his journey to Jerusalem and his work there for the Lord. Quite probably the things requested would have been seen as necessary by Ezra for God’s work. God made it possible for this work to be done partly through his “hand” in the king’s granting of the request (v. 6), and seeing Ezra and those with him safely through their journey to Jerusalem (v. 9).
Isa 45:1-2 Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: 2“I will go before you and level the exalted places,j I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, … ▤
j Masoretic Text; Dead Sea Scroll, Septuagint level the mountains
This speaks of God going before the Persian king Cyrus, breaking down any obstacles as he used Cyrus to do his work. This can be applied to God removing obstacles to make it possible for his people to do his work.
2Cor 2:12-13 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia. ▤
2Cor 9:8-11 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiencyk in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. ▤
k Or all contentment
Further to making it possible for his people to do good works, note that the last clause of v. 10 speaks of God making their good works productive, with their good works being the manifestation of their “righteousness” (cf. AMP).
- God was with Solomon to enable him to complete the work of building God’s temple:
1Chr 28:20 Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. ▤
- God empowers his people to do his work
- God equips his people for the work . . .
- . . . Jesus Christ gave authority to his disciples and other followers for God’s work
- God strengthens his people for the work
- God helps and empowers them to do his work even if they feel inadequate . . .
- . . . God’s power works through his people in their weaknesses
- God’s power for his people is great
- Note: The empowerment to perform miracles
- . . . By grace God’s people are enabled to do his work
- The Holy Spirit empowers God’s people to do God’s work
- Apart from God and Jesus Christ we can accomplish nothing
Luke 24:46-49 … and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” ▤
2Cor 6:4, 7 … but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, ▤ … 7by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; … ▤
The term “weapons of righteousness” (v. 7) is usually understood as a reference to the spiritual power and protection given by a life of righteousness and integrity – “right living” (NCV™, cf. CEV, GNT, NLT). However some see it as possibly referring to spiritual “weapons” – of no small power – associated with the righteousness believers have in God’s sight. These include God’s word, prayer and faith.
It is more apparent in the Greek that the role of God’s power in Paul’s ministry was an ongoing one (cf. BKC).
Rev 11:3-6 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. ▤
The “two witnesses” of the last days are possibly representative of the faithful community of believers as a whole or perhaps two actual individuals. The “two olive trees and the two lampstands” allude to Joshua (the high priest) and Zerubbabel (the governor or prince) in the vision of Zechariah 4. As such a number of commentators understand this verse to be pointing to the priestly and royal functions of the church – along with its empowerment by God for such functions/work.
Ex 36:1 “Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the Lord has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.” ▤
Luke 19:12-13 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13Calling ten of his servants,l he gave them ten minas,m and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ ▤
l Greek bondservants; also verse 15
m A mina was about three months’ wages for a laborer
This is from a parable that is often applied to the need to put to work the abilities and resources Christ has given us, making good use of them – primarily for God’s kingdom. The parallel account in Matthew’s gospel (cf. Matt 25:14-30) uses the term “talents” instead of “minas”. It is due to this parable that “talent” is now used to denote an ability or gift.
John 20:21-22 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. ▤
Verse 22 possibly anticipates the coming of the Holy Spirit later at Pentecost; some commentators see it as a partial or limited bestowal of the Spirit. As spoken of in the previous subsection, the giving of the Spirit is to empower believers for doing God’s work. It likewise reflects that God and Jesus Christ equip their people for the work. Note that v. 21b indicates that the giving of the Spirit (v. 22) is in the context of doing God’s work.
2Cor 3:5-6 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6who has made us competentn to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. ▤
n Or sufficient
o Or pastors
p Or the shepherd-teachers
God’s people are given spiritual gifts for various ministries, preparing them for the work of building up the body of Christ.
1Cor 1:4-7 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, … ▤
As with Ephesians 4:11-12 above, this speaks of God equipping church members with spiritual gifts, to build up God’s church.
q Or for Christ’s service
With the expression “every good thing that is in us” Paul may speaking at least partially of things we have been equipped with for serving Christ (cf. text note).
Heb 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in usr that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. ▤
r Some manuscripts you
As noted earlier, the clause “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (v. 21) could be speaking of God working in believers, possibly in molding them for his work, continuing the theme of the preceding clause.
s Or by
t Or virtue
The phrase “life and godliness” is not referring specifically to doing God’s work, but presumably is inclusive of it.
Jesus is recorded as giving some of his followers spiritual authority. This authority included: authority over evil spiritual forces; and authority over others in the kingdom, so as to lead them. To what extent the authority spoken of in some of the following passages is given to believers today is open to debate. It is likely that the authority spoken of in some cases is more applicable to believers with certain gifts or to leaders – rather than to believers generally.
Matt 16:18-19 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rocku I will build my church, and the gates of hellv shall not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosedw in heaven. ▤
u The Greek words for Peter and rock sound similar
v Greek the gates of Hades
w Or shall have been bound . . . shall have been loosed
The “keys of the kingdom of heaven” may primarily refer to Peter’s authority amongst God’s people – as the “rock” on which the church would be built (v. 18). As such it indicates that Peter would have the authority to decide what would be “bound” or “loosed” – prohibited or permitted (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV) – in the kingdom. However, the alternative rendering in the text note indicates that the phrase may be speaking of acting according to what has already been determined in heaven (cf. comment on John 20:23 ↓). Note that “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” may more specifically refer to authority in regard to people entering into the kingdom. This could have partly in view authoritatively proclaiming the gospel, pronouncing God’s acceptance or his condemnation.
Matt 18:18-20 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosedx in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. ▤
x Or shall have been bound . . . shall have been loosed
In v. 18, authority similar to that given to Peter (cf. Matt 16:19 ↑) is extended to the other disciples (cf. John 20:23 ↓) with the context suggesting that it is applicable to all leaders or groups of believers. Note that church discipline may primarily be in view (cf. vv. 15-17), which may also be the case in 16:18-19 above. In v. 19, Jesus speaks of authority for even small groups of believers in prayer, based on them being his followers and acting on his authority, as alluded to in v. 20.
Luke 10:10-12, 19 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. ▤ … 19Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. ▤
Here Jesus is addressing seventy-two of his followers he was sending out to places where he was about to go (cf. v. 1). Verses 10-12 indicate that Jesus gave them the authority to pronounce God’s condemnation. In v. 19, “serpents and scorpions” probably is figurative for demons or evil spirits (cf. vv. 17, 20; Matt 10:1 ↑). The “enemy” (v. 19) is Satan.
Jesus said this in the context of sending his disciples into the world to spread the gospel and empowering them with the Holy Spirit (cf. vv. 21-22 ⇑). It most likely means that in doing so they would pronounce the forgiveness of sins of: those who would respond and thus be forgiven by God (cf. NASB and text note).
2Cor 13:10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. ▤
This – and quite possibly 1 Thessalonians 4:2 below – speaks of Jesus Christ granting authority after his mission. As such it suggests that Jesus Christ continues to grant authority to church leaders.
- The authority to rule that Jesus Christ will give his people at the end of the age:
Rev 2:26-27 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. ▤
The quote in v. 27 is from Psalm 2 and is messianic. Its use here implies that Jesus Christ’s followers will play a part in his crushing of evil forces and enforcement of his authority and rule (cf. Rev 19:11-21).
Jer 1:17-18 But you, dress yourself for work;y arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. ▤
y Hebrew gird up your loins
Here and below in Ezekiel 3:4, 7-9 God speaks of toughening or strengthening his prophets for their arduous work.
Ezek 3:4, 7-9 And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. ▤ … 7But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. 9Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” ▤
Jesus Christ strengthens believers to do everything in God’s will for them.
2Thes 2:16-17 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. ▤
Paul prays that Jesus Christ and God would encourage and “strengthen” (AMP, GNT, NASB, NCV, NIV, NRSV) the Thessalonians in every good thing that they do and say, inclusive of all that they do in their work for God.
Presumably Paul has in mind Jesus Christ giving him strength primarily for “his service”.
Ex 4:10-16 But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” 13But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 14Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. 15You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. 16He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. ▤
God provided help for apprehensive Moses in his forthcoming work, in the form of his brother Aaron. God would in fact help both of them speak (vv. 12, 15-16) and would teach Moses what to say and do (vv. 12, 15). Note that the fact that Aaron was already on the way to meet Moses (v. 14b) suggests that God already had planned to use Aaron to help Moses.
Judg 6:14-16 And the Lordz turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” ▤
z Septuagint the angel of the Lord; also verse 16
The expression “this might of yours” (v. 14) appears to refer to the strength Gideon had, or would have, due to God being with him – as reflected by v. 16 (cf. v. 12) – in spite his own perceived inadequacy (v. 15).
Isa 41:14-16 Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 15Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff; 16you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them. And you shall rejoice in the Lord; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory. ▤
This is probably referring to God using Israel as his instrument for bringing judgment on the nations – despite Israel seeing itself as weak and insignificant, as v. 14 appears to suggest.
Jer 1:4-10 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” ▤
To signify that he had given (or would give) Jeremiah his words to speak – and as part of his appointing and empowering of Jeremiah – God touched Jeremiah’s mouth (v. 9). This may have occurred in a vision; some think it actually took place.
Jer 15:18-20 Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail? 19Therefore thus says the Lord: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. 20And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord. ▤
Here Jeremiah is feeling more discouraged rather than simply inadequate. Jeremiah’s discouragement (v. 18) stemmed not so much from a lack of self-confidence but pain and disillusionment with both his work and God. Even so God promised Jeremiah that if he repented of his attitude towards him (v. 18b), he would strengthen Jeremiah to serve him. Note that “you shall stand before me” (v. 19a) appears to be a reference to serving God (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NIV, NLT).
2Tim 1:6-8 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 8Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, … ▤
Timothy apparently was timid. Paul assured him that in contrast God gives his people “a spirit of power” (v. 7), empowering them to testify to the gospel of Jesus Christ “by the power of God” (v. 8).
- The gospel is not dependent on us and our presentation of it – but on the Holy Spirit and God’s power
God’s and Jesus Christ’s power works through their people in their weaknesses, often even because of the weaknesses, showing that what is accomplished has been by divine power.
2Cor 4:7-11 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. ▤
In v. 7, Paul likens the message of the gospel being entrusted to him in his human frailty or weakness, to treasure being placed in jars of clay. In the first part of both v. 10 and v. 11, Paul alludes to the sufferings he undergoes for Jesus’ sake (vv. 8-9) – in which he is vulnerable and presumably weakened. But in the second part of both verses he then speaks of how such suffering for Jesus’ sake means that Jesus’ resurrection life, which entails God’s power, is revealed in Paul’s weak mortal body – one of the “jars of clay” (v. 7) – as he does God’s work.
2Cor 12:7-10 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,a a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ▤
a Or hears from me, even because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations. So to keep me from becoming conceited
Having weaknesses and acknowledging them, makes us more open to Jesus Christ’s power resting on us, so as to work through us (cf. NLT).
2Cor 13:3-4 … since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. ▤
The phrase “crucified in weakness” (v. 4a) is probably a reference either to: Jesus’ humanity; or his submissiveness and/or meekness. In Christ, Paul may similarly be “weak”, but by God’s power he lives with Christ – the implication being that he shares in God’s power that Christ lives by, with God’s power working through him to serve others.
Heb 11:32-34 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. ▤
Judg 7:2, 7, 22 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ ▤ … 7And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” ▤ … 22When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s [Midianite’s] sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah,b as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. ▤
b Some Hebrew manuscripts Zeredah
God used an army of a mere three hundred men to defeat the mighty Midianite army of many thousands (vv. 7, 22). God did this rather than use the much larger original Israelite army, so as to show that it was not the Israelites themselves but God who had saved them (v. 1).
1Ki 20:27-29 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. 28And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” 29And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. ▤
This may be speaking of praise from even the young amongst God’s people telling of or evidencing his strength, silencing his enemies. Alternatively it may mean that through the adoration of children God “founded a bulwark” (NRSV) against his enemies, silencing them. Although the precise train of thought may not be clear, this nevertheless clearly is illustrating that God uses the weak to do powerful things.
- God has chosen those who appear as foolish and lowly in manifesting his salvation:
1Cor 1:26-29 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,
c not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being d might boast in the presence of God. ▤
c Greek according to the flesh
d Greek no flesh
God has chosen those who appear as foolish, weak and lowly to receive his salvation (v. 26), demonstrating through them that his salvation does not depend on human wisdom, strength or importance. In so doing God negates the significance of those who are wise, strong and important in the eyes of the world (vv. 27-29).
In speaking of God’s power for believers, not all the references in this subsection are referring exclusively to doing God’s work (i.e. Eph 1:18-20; 3:20; Phil 3:10a; 4:13). However, they are applicable to it.
As commented earlier, the “serpents and scorpions” are probably allusions to evil forces, such as evil spirits.
2Cor 10:4-5 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, … ▤
Paul used such weapons as prayer, faith and the proclamation of the gospel – weapons which have God’s divine power. This divine power available to believers enables them to demolish whatever resists or opposes the knowledge of God (v. 5a), including: “strongholds” (v. 4) – such as opposing arguments; and “every proud obstacle” (GNT, NRSV, cf. CEV, NCV) – such as ungodly attitudes. In doing so they bring people’s thoughts into conformity with Christ’s will (v. 5b).
Eph 1:18-23 … having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. ▤
Verse 2 indicates that Jesus Christ has authority over all things “for the benefit of the church” (NLT, cf. CEV). This implies that his supreme power and authority (vv. 20b-21) – like God’s immeasurably great power for us who believe (v. 19a) – is a very significant force aiding members of the church, his body (v. 23), as they seek to carry out God’s will.
One can infer from this that God’s immeasurable power is with believers in their service of him.
The power of Christ’s resurrection is available to God’s people. This most likely refers to God’s power that raised Christ from the dead (cf. CEV, NCV, NLT; Eph 1:19-21 ↑), although some think that it refers to the power of the resurrected Christ.
Col 1:28-29 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. ▤
2Sam 23:9-12 And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, son of Ahohi. He was with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel withdrew. 10He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And the Lord brought about a great victory that day, and the men returned after him only to strip the slain. 11And next to him was Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines. 12But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the Lord worked a great victory. ▤
One could draw a parallel between the great physical power that these men displayed from God and the great spiritual power that believers have from God to use.
- God’s people experience the powers of the coming age:
In light of the Greek from which it is translated, “powers” may largely have miracles in view; certainly the power is supernatural. (Note that this is actually referring to people who have fallen away from God – who like other believers have “tasted” such things.)
Opinions differ as to what extent miracles are performed by believers today. One school of thought is that they did not continue after the apostolic period, being “signs of a true apostle” (2Cor 12:12 ↓). Supporters of this view point out that miracles do not occur consistently throughout the Bible, being prominent only at certain times and with only a few men recorded as having performed multiple miracles – notably Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus. Opponents of this view point out that Paul lists healing and working of miracles as spiritual gifts (cf. 1Cor 12:9-10, 28-30) and claim that miracles are performed by some Christians today, citing examples.
Deut 34:10-12 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. ▤
Similarly Psalms 105:27 says of Moses and Aaron: “They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham.”
2Ki 5:10, 14 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” ▤ … 14So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. ▤
There were a number of other miraculous signs that God performed through Elisha and his predecessor Elijah, not least of which were the restoration to life of two boys (cf. 1Ki 17:21-22; 2Ki 4:32-35; God has power over death, to raise the dead; and God can perform miracles of nature . . .). Likewise there are a number of other verses in addition to the following ones that tell of miracles performed by the apostles.
Matt 10:1, 8 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. ▤ … 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers,e cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. ▤
e Leprosy was a term for several skin diseases; see Leviticus 13
Acts 5:12a, 15-16 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. ▤ … 15so that they [people] even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. ▤
Acts 19:11-12 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. ▤
Acts 20:9-10, 12 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” ▤ … 12And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted. ▤
1Cor 12:28-29 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? ▤
- John the Baptist did not perform any miraculous signs:
Not all great people of faith – not even all great prophets – perform miracles.
The Bible speaks of God guiding his people in fulfilling his plans and purposes for them. More specifically, it tells of God guiding them in: living righteous lives; doing his work; and making choices in other matters. Many of the following verses do not clearly indicate which of these cases is in view; such general verses are often applicable to all these cases. (See also the introductory comments on God commands and directs his people in doing his work, and Being Guided by God.)
Note that the term “your holy abode” could refer to the promised land (cf. GNT). But more likely the place where God’s “abode” would be – ultimately the temple on Mount Zion (cf. v. 17) – is in view in particular.
Deut 1:32-33 Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, 33who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go. ▤
God’s guidance of Israel in the desert by a fire at night and a cloud during the day, is referred to in a number of verses in the following subsections (cf. Neh 9:12 ⇓).
This is quite possibly a reference to God’s guidance in making one’s way secure. Note, however, that it could instead less specifically be referring to God’s care (which itself involves guidance).
f Hebrew they
The phrase “make straight your paths” seems to be speaking either of: directing our ways so that we will walk on a straight path (cf. CEV, GNT, NLT, NKJV); or straightening the path before us to allow or enable us to take the right way (cf. CEV). Possibly aspects of both interpretations are involved.
g Or faithfully
h Hebrew beside waters of rest
i Or in right paths
The messianic servant is the one who is spoken of here as leading and guiding the people, satisfying their needs.
j Or humaneness; Hebrew man
John 10:3-5 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. ▤
Jesus was applying this analogy to himself – the good shepherd of his people, the “sheep”. For further comment see Epilogue: Follow Jesus Christ.
- The Lord directs believers to God’s love and Christ’s steadfastness:
This appears to be speaking of Jesus Christ directing believers into: an “ever deeper understanding” (NLT; cf. GNT) of God’s love, so as to love with his love (cf. CEV); and either the same perseverance as Christ showed (cf. CEV) or the perseverance that comes from him (cf. GNT, NLT).
Isa 58:11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. ▤
k Septuagint; another reading is (compare Jerome, Syriac) He will guide us beyond death
Ex 13:21-22 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. ▤
This and Nehemiah 9:19 below show that God continually guided the Israelites in their desert journey. For they say that: God guided them day and night; and the source/s of guidance “did not depart from before the people” (v. 20).
Neh 9:19 … you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. ▤
- God guides his people no matter where they are:
In conjunction with guiding his people at all times, God guides them in all places.
Deut 8:15 … [God] who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, … ▤
Ps 78:52-54 Then he led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54And he brought them to his holy land, to the mountain which his right hand had won. ▤
The phrase “know my way” appears to most likely be referring to God knowing and guiding David in the way he should go (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NLT), although it could instead be speaking of God knowing what David was going through (cf. NIrV).
Isa 42:16 And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. ▤
- God promised to guide his wayward people after punishing them:
Isa 30:20-21 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. ▤
God’s command and direction of Moses and other OT people in doing his work, appears to have been more readily discernible than is usually the case for believers today. Nevertheless such examples of God’s guidance in the OT serve to demonstrate that God does guide his people in doing his work. The NT indicates that God generally guides believers in the present age through the Holy Spirit.
Ex 7:2, 6 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. ▤ … 6Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. ▤
Ex 18:21-23 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace. ▤
Ex 31:6, 11b And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: ▤ … 11… According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do. ▤
Ex 36:1 “Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the Lord has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.” ▤
David wrote down and passed on to Solomon the plans for the temple that God had given him.
Jer 26:8 And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! ▤
- An angel of the Lord directed Philip in doing God’s work:
Acts 8:26-28 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south
l to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. ▤
l Or go at about noon
Philip subsequently explained to the Ethiopian what he was reading and told him the gospel, leading to his conversion (vv. 29-39).
Gen 46:2-3 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here am I.” 3Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. ▤
Matt 2:12-13, 19-20 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they [wise men] departed to their own country by another way. 13Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” ▤ … 19But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” ▤
Acts 9:10-11 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, … ▤
Acts 16:9-10 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10And when Paulm had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. ▤
m Greek he
Acts 18:9-11 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. ▤
Acts 22:17-18 When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18and saw him [Christ] saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ ▤
Acts 26:15-19 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ 19“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, … ▤