Bookmark Label (optional)
Max. 20 characters
All of God’s people are necessarily his servants – and so need to be prepared to serve him. This requires devotion to God and to his work.
As well as instructing us to serve God, the Bible provides plenty of encouragement to persevere in doing so. The Bible also gives insights into being guided by God, something which is very much applicable to serving God as well as to other areas of our lives.
- We are called to serve God and Jesus Christ
- Be willing to do God’s work
- Ensure that you are ready to do God’s work
- Live a godly life in readiness for doing God’s work
- Consecrate yourself to serve God . . .
- . . . Be holy and set apart
- Note: The purification of the priests and Levites for consecration and preparedness for God’s service
a Septuagint, Vulgate I
b Or fervent in the Spirit
c 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
d Some manuscripts your
e Greek bondservants
Josh 24:14-24 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” 16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” 19But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” ▤
Joshua’s response in v. 19 may have been alluding to the people’s past failures. Probably he was testing their sincerity and pushing them to face up to the difficulty of the task.
- Be ambassadors for Christ:
As Christ’s ambassadors we serve him by urging others on his behalf to be reconciled to God.
1Pet 5:1-2 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,f not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;g not for shameful gain, but eagerly; … ▤
f Some manuscripts omit exercising oversight
g Some manuscripts omit as God would have you
Judg 5:2, 9 That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord! ▤ … 9My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the Lord. ▤
Neh 2:18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. ▤
The people’s willingness to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem is shown by their apparently prompt, determined reply – followed by action.
h Greek bondservant; also verse 48
Note that Mary’s willingness, as a “servant of the Lord”, is not so much in regard to actively doing God’s work as in passively accepting God’s will for her.
i That is, non-Greeks
j Or he went
- Not being willing can have adverse consequences:
Jonah 1:1-4 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
k 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. ▤
k The same Hebrew word can mean evil or disaster, depending on the context; so throughout Jonah
Not dissimilarly Exodus 4:12-14 provides an example of unwillingness to serve God resulting in one being open to God’s wrath. In regard to Moses’ reluctance to do what God asked him it says, “… the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses …” (v. 14).
2Tim 4:1-2 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. ▤
Note that this seems to be speaking of works or deeds related to civil matters, rather than work that is specifically for God – but it is certainly applicable to and indeed an aspect of the latter.
2Cor 9:1-5 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3But I am sendingl the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the giftm you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.n ▤
l Or I have sent
m Greek blessing; twice in this verse
n Or a gift expecting something in return; Greek greed
Giving towards the needs of others – here in particular needy believers – is very much part of Christian “ministry” (v. 1) or service (cf. vv. 12-13). We ought to be ready and prepared to serve God in this way.
Eph 6:14-15 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. ▤
This “readiness given by the gospel of peace” (v. 15) appears to refer to a readiness to proclaim this gospel (cf. CEV, GNT, NRSV) produced in believers by the gospel. This involves a good grasp of its truths and a willingness and boldness to speak it.
o Greek girding up the loins of your mind
1Pet 3:15 … but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, … ▤
p Hebrew gird up your loins
- The offering of the Levites for God’s service:
The presentation of the Levites as a wave offering to God appears to have been to signify the Levites being offered to God as living sacrifices (cf. Rom 12:1), ready to assist the priests in doing God’s work.
Zec 3:7 Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. ▤
This promise is made to the high priest Joshua, representative of either priests and/or the nation of Israel. It underlines the critical need for godliness in order to serve God.
2Tim 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of Godq may be competent, equipped for every good work. ▤
q That is, a messenger of God (the phrase echoes a common Old Testament expression)
This may be saying that Scripture is useful for such things as providing “training in righteousness” to prepare the “man of God” for “every good work”. As such it correlates being trained in righteousness with being “equipped for every good work” – and so is relevant to this subsection. Alternatively it may simply be speaking of the “man of God” using Scripture in doing such good work as training others in righteousness.
Titus 1:7-8 For an overseer,r as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. ▤
r Or bishop; Greek episkopos
2Pet 1:5-8 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,s and virtue with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8For if these qualitiest are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. ▤
s Or excellence; twice in this verse
t Greek these things; also verses 9, 10, 12
Doing God’s work appears to be in view – or at least encompassed – by the reference to not “being ineffective or unfruitful” (v. 8). To do God’s work effectively one must possess and grow in such godly and righteous characteristics.
Ezek 44:12-16 Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn concerning them, declares the Lord God, and they shall bear their punishment. 13They shall not come near to me, to serve me as priest, nor come near any of my holy things and the things that are most holy, but they shall bear their shame and the abominations that they have committed. 14Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the temple, to do all its service and all that is to be done in it. 15“But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me. And they shall stand before me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord God. 16They shall enter my sanctuary, and they shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge. ▤
The sinfulness of the first group of Levites did not disqualify them from serving God altogether (v. 14), but it did exclude them from the most important and most holy work (vv. 13, 16), which was assigned to the Levites who had been faithful to God (vv. 15-16).
- To take part in God’s work, one’s heart must be right before him:
Acts 8:17-21 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. ▤
- God purifies his people, making them holy, to do his work . . .
- . . . God effectively makes them priests, to serve him
- Prepare yourself to come before God, as shown in the OT practice of consecration
- Note: The purification of the priests and Levites for consecration and preparedness for God’s service
In the OT the act of consecration involved rituals signifying that the person involved was setting themselves apart from all that was not holy in order to be holy or sacred, so as to be fit and ready to serve God. As God himself is holy, it is essential that those who serve him are likewise holy (cf. Lev 21:8 ⇓). Although the rituals involved in the OT practice of consecration are not pertinent to Christians, the concept of setting oneself apart from all that is not holy in order to serve God is very much applicable.
1Sam 7:1 And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord and brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill. And they consecrated his son Eleazar to have charge of the ark of the Lord. ▤
1Chr 15:11-12 Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, 12and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. ▤
2Chr 29:5, 34 … and said to them, “Hear me, Levites! Now consecrate yourselves, and consecrate the house of the Lord, the God of your fathers, and carry out the filth from the Holy Place. ▤ … 34But the priests were too few and could not flay all the burnt offerings, so until other priests had consecrated themselves, their brothers the Levites helped them, until the work was finished—for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in consecrating themselves. ▤
Note that v. 5 speaks not only of the need for the Levites to consecrate themselves to serve God, but also of the need to consecrate the temple so that it would be fit to be a place of the presence of the holy God. Regarding v. 34, not enough priests had prepared themselves, by consecration, to do the work; however the Levites had.
Lev 21:6-8 They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God. For they offer the Lord’s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy. 7They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God. 8You shall sanctify him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I, the Lord, who sanctify you, am holy. ▤
Verse 8b indicates that those who serve God need to be holy because he himself is holy. The latter part alludes to the fact that their holiness ultimately comes from him.
2Chr 35:3 And he said to the Levites who taught all Israel and who were holy to the Lord, “Put the holy ark in the house that Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built. You need not carry it on your shoulders. Now serve the Lord your God and his people Israel. ▤
Being “holy to the Lord”, the Levites were fit to serve God and his people (as per the final statement). One way they served as such is mentioned in the first statement – they taught the people.
u Or brothers and sisters
v Or your rational service
2Tim 2:20-21 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable,w he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. ▤
w Greek from these things
The meaning of the illustration in v. 20 is somewhat debatable. The articles for “honorable” or menial (cf. AMP) purposes are often understood to refer to less than faithful people in the church or false teachers in particular. In the first clause of v. 21 Paul probably has at least partly in mind ridding oneself from the influence of false teachers, which are mentioned earlier (cf. vv. 16-18). The thrust of v. 21 is clear: One must cleanse oneself from corruptive influences in order to be holy and ready to do God’s work.
Num 8:14-15 Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. 15And after that the Levites shall go in to serve at the tent of meeting, when you have cleansed them and offered them as a wave offering. ▤
Parallels can be made with how the Levites were to be set apart from the other Israelites to be devoted to God’s service (cf. Num 16:9 ↓; 1Chr 23:13 ↓) and how believers need to set themselves apart to devotedly serve God. For believers this involves setting themselves apart from any worldly influences that might hinder them in devotedly serving God (cf. Be Holy (II): Being Set Apart).
Num 16:9 … is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, … ▤
Note that this speaks of God’s role in setting apart the priests.
1Chr 23:13 The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses. Aaron was set apart to dedicate the most holy things, that he and his sons forever should make offerings before the Lord and minister to him and pronounce blessings in his name forever. ▤
Note: The purification of the priests and Levites for consecration and preparedness for God’s service
In the following references, those being consecrated for God’s service or preparing themselves to approach God were not necessarily unclean according to the laws concerning uncleanness. Rather these practices appear to be in recognition of the relative uncleanness of persons – and others whom they live among – in relation to the ultimate holiness and purity of God. To serve or to approach God, one must be holy or pure like God, or at least to the extent that one can be.
Ex 30:18-21 “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, 19with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. 20When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offeringx to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. 21They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.” ▤
x Or an offering by fire
As reflected also in the following passages, ceremonial washing was a prominent aspect of the purification and consecration of the priests and Levites. Note that not purifying themselves before entering the Tent of Meeting or approaching the altar to present an offering, meant death (vv. 20-21)
Ex 29:1-4 Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. Take one bull of the herd and two rams without blemish, 2and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil. You shall make them of fine wheat flour. 3You shall put them in one basket and bring them in the basket, and bring the bull and the two rams. 4You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and wash them with water. ▤
Note that there are further instructions regarding the priests’ ordination in the subsequent verses (vv. 5-9).
Num 8:5-7, 21-22 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 6“Take the Levites from among the people of Israel and cleanse them. 7Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them go with a razor over all their body, and wash their clothes and cleanse themselves. ▤ … 21And the Levites purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes, and Aaron offered them as a wave offering before the Lord, and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them. 22And after that the Levites went in to do their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and his sons; as the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them. ▤
Lev 16:24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. ▤
Note both here and in the following reference (Ezra 6:20), the latter part of the verse speaks of the godly work for which the priests or Levites had purified themselves (as per the first part of the verse).
Ezra 6:20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were clean. So they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. ▤
- The people were required to consecrate themselves, purifying themselves, for the day God would appear to them:
Ex 19:10-11, 14-15 … the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. ▤ … 14So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. 15And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” ▤
- Devote yourself to God’s work
- Serve God only – do not serve anything or anyone else . . .
- . . . Seek to please God rather than people
- Put God and Jesus Christ before everyone else
- Put God’s and Jesus Christ’s interests before your own interests and other matters
- Give up your life to live for God and Jesus Christ . . .
- . . . Be willing even to endanger your life
- Be willing to give up everything – even life’s most basic and dearest things
- [Church leaders:] Work hard at helping church members
Note that some of the verses in this subsection speak of believers being devoted to particular aspects of God’s work, even in a full-time capacity.
y Or brothers and sisters; also verse 20
z Greek house
1Tim 5:10 … and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. ▤
Any good work done by his people is honoring to God and aids the cause of his kingdom. As such, doing any good work is doing God’s work.
Titus 3:8, 14 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. ▤ … 14And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. ▤
- Worship God alone – do not worship anything or anyone else
- Note: Do not work for things that do not satisfy or do not last – and so are in effect meaningless
In being devoted to God’s work, serving God is to take priority over serving anyone else. Bear in mind that in serving others, especially God’s people, we are serving God – and we should serve others with this in mind. As shown in the following verses, we are not to serve anything or anyone that is counter to God.
Josh 24:16, 20-21 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, ▤ … 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” ▤
1Sam 7:3-4 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. ▤
Dan 3:17-18, 28 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.a 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” ▤ … 28Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set asideb the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. ▤
a Or If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us, he will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and out of your hand, O king.
b Aramaic and changed
Matt 4:8-10 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” ▤
Rom 1:25-26a … because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. ▤
Ex 20:4-6 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousandsc of those who love me and keep my commandments. ▤
c Or to the thousandth generation
Deut 4:19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. ▤
2Ki 17:35-36 The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36but you shall fear the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. ▤
d Or slave; Greek bondservant
Acts 4:18-20 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” ▤
1Cor 7:32-35 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. ▤
The phrase “body and spirit” (v. 34a) is indicative of the whole person. This may be all that Paul has in mind in using the phrase. Alternatively, “body” may allude to sexual or physical commitments of a married person to their spouse, with “spirit” then signifying non-physical aspects of one’s commitments in the relationship. Either way, the use of the phrase emphasizes complete devotion to the Lord.
Num 22:15-18 Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. 16And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, 17for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’” 18But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. ▤
Note that Balaam was actually a pagan diviner, for a time used by God. His great example here in pleasing and serving God rather than the king of Moab, is in stark contrast to what we know of his later activities (cf. Rev 2:14).
- “No one can serve two masters”:
e Greek mammon, a Semitic word for money or possessions
Luke 9:59-62 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60And Jesusf said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” ▤
f Greek he
The man in v. 59 may well have been meaning that he wanted to wait until after his father had died. In saying, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead”, (v. 60) Jesus was probably indicating that such tasks as burying the physically dead could be left to the spiritually dead; God’s kingdom should take priority over all things. Verses 61-62 appear to point to the need to be fully focused in doing the work of the kingdom; nothing should be allowed to obstruct the work.
Ex 32:24-29 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” 25And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), 26then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” 28And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.” ▤
Many of the people had been utterly unfaithful to God. They had made an idol and worshiped it (v. 24) and then engaged in unbridled debauchery (v. 25) – both of which were punishable by death under the terms of the old covenant (which the people had agreed to). In stark contrast, the Levites were prepared to put God and his command ahead of even the lives of their own kinsmen (vv. 26-29).
Deut 33:8-9 And of Levi he said, “Give to Levig your Thummim, and your Urim to your godly one, whom you tested at Massah, with whom you quarreled at the waters of Meribah; 9who said of his father and mother, ‘I regard them not’; he disowned his brothers and ignored his children. For they observed your word and kept your covenant. ▤
g Dead Sea Scroll, Septuagint; Masoretic Text lacks Give to Levi
- Do not worry about the cares of this life for God will provide; focus instead on things of God
- . . . Forsaking marriage for God and Jesus Christ
Ps 132:3-5 “I will not enter my house or get into my bed, 4I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, 5until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.” ▤
These verses probably speak of David’s intent to build a temple for God.
Matt 6:31-33 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ▤
We should seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (v. 33a), rather than be preoccupied with pursuing any needs we have (vv. 31-32).
In contrast to others, Timothy (cf. v. 22) put Jesus Christ’s interests ahead of his own, in focusing on the welfare of fellow believers.
Heb 11:24-26 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. ▤
Rather than getting involved in things of this world, Christians should be focused on trying to please Jesus Christ, their leader.
1Cor 7:29-31 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. ▤
Paul is admonishing the Corinthians not to be immersed in the relationships and material things of this world – as opposed to living for the Lord ahead of everyone and everything else (cf. vv. 32-35).
Hag 1:5-6, 9 Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 6You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. ▤ … 9You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. ▤
Hag 2:15-19 Now then, consider from this day onward.h Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16how did you fare? Wheni one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider: 19Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you. ▤
h Or backward; also verse 18
i Probable reading (compare Septuagint); Hebrew Lord, since they were. When
As shown in 1:5-6, 9 above, when the people had been preoccupied with their own houses and concerns, rather than rebuilding God’s temple, God frustrated their efforts (vv. 16-17). In contrast, in focusing on building God’s temple, God would bless them (vv. 18-19). They were to give careful thought, therefore, to their priorities and the associated ramifications.
- Jesus’ warning against worldly matters becoming a higher priority than God’s word:
This speaks of those who initially respond to God’s word, but have more pressing concerns and priorities. Such things choke or crowd out God’s word. Thus these people fail to bear fruit, and presumably fall away from God’s kingdom.
Luke 9:23-25 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? ▤
If we want to follow Jesus Christ, we must deny ourselves – give up living for ourselves and what we want. In conjunction with this, we must daily take up our “cross” (v. 23; cf. Luke 14:26 ↓) – daily shouldering the accompanying difficulties – and live for him. The result of doing this is paradoxical (v. 24). Those who give up their lives for Christ will find true life (cf. NCV, NLT). This “life” quite possibly refers solely or at least primarily to eternal life in the afterlife, but is also at least applicable to spiritual life in the present. The absurdity of living for the present physical life and the things of this world – in contrast to devoting one’s life to Christ – is spoken of in v. 24 and highlighted in v. 25.
Luke 14:26-27 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. ▤
John 12:24-25 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. ▤
When stating the principle given in v. 24, Jesus may well have been primarily speaking of his own death – having alluded to it in the preceding verse (cf. v. 23). Even so it is certainly applicable to believers; it is only in dying to ourselves that we can produce fruit for God (v. 24b). In conjunction with this, Jesus explains in v. 25, it is only by forsaking our lives that we can keep them for eternal life.
j Or brothers and sisters
k Or your rational service
Here Paul is teaching that we are to yield our whole self, our entire lives, in service to God.
2Cor 5:13-15 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. ▤
Verse 13a is apparently in reference to claims by some of the Corinthians that Paul was crazy. Most likely such claims were made regarding matters inclusive of the level of Paul’s devotion to God and Jesus Christ, with all the trials he was prepared to undergo, forsaking his life for their sake.
To Paul, Christ was what living was all about. He lived his life for Christ, pleasing him and furthering his cause.
The following passages all provide examples of believers who were willing to endanger their lives for God and Jesus Christ.
Acts 15:25-26 … it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. ▤
Acts 20:22-24 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained byl the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24But 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. ▤
l Or bound in
1Cor 15:30-32 Why are we in danger every hour? 31I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” ▤
Paul uses the expression “I die every day” (v. 31a) to emphasize the fact that he faced death daily. In saying he “fought with wild beasts” (v. 32a), Paul is referring to the dangerous struggles he had experienced with menacing opponents.
2Cor 4:10-12 … [We are] always 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. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you. ▤
The clause “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (v. 10) alludes to the bodily/physical sufferings Paul undergoes for Jesus’ sake, even being exposed to death – as reflected in v. 11a and 12a (cf. NLT). (It may well also be a reference to sharing in the death and sufferings of Jesus; see . . . and share Jesus Christ’s sufferings.) In v. 10b and v. 11b Paul indicates that he does this so that the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection life may be revealed in him as he labors for Christ’s kingdom.
Rev 2:13 ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faithm even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. ▤
m Or your faith in me
- The great cost of participating in the kingdom of God
- Be willing to give up everything to follow Jesus Christ
Matt 13:44-46 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. ▤
Although some commentators have a somewhat different understanding, arguably both these parables are essentially illustrating the absolute cost of the kingdom of God; one must be prepared to forgo everything for it. Note the joy in doing so that is apparent in v. 44.
Phil 3:7-9 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— ▤
In v. 7 Paul refers to things (cf. vv. 5-6) that he had valued and done for his own benefit – in the context, particularly in regard to achieving righteousness (v. 9). He now considers them “worthless” (CEV, NLT; cf. NCV, NIrV), even detrimental, for the sake of Christ – and all that one has in him (v. 9; cf. vv. 10-11). In v. 8 Paul says that in fact he now views all things of this world as such.
Gen 12:1, 4 Now the Lord saidn to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. ▤ … 4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. ▤
n Or had said
Both Abraham’s wife and Hannah (cf. 1Sam 1:27-28 ↓) were unable to have children, until God intervened. Despite having had wanted a child for years, Abraham and Hannah both showed that they were willing to give up even their dearest, longed-for sons. Abraham showed that he would have been willing even to sacrifice Isaac in response to God testing him. Hannah actually gave up Samuel while he was still quite young, for him to serve God – which she had vowed to do when praying for a son (cf. 1Sam 1:11).
1Sam 1:27-28 For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there. ▤
- He is our God, who has done great things for us
- We are God’s and Jesus Christ’s servants
- God cares for his servants . . .
- . . . God rescues his servants
- Your work for God will be productive
- You will be rewarded for your work . . .
- . . . You will be rewarded particularly in the afterlife
- Whoever does not produce good “fruit” will be cut off from God and Jesus Christ
- Further warnings and consequences regarding not doing God’s work
- Note: Do not work for things that do not satisfy or do not last – and so are in effect meaningless
- We should obey God because he is our God . . .
- We should obey God and Jesus Christ because of the great things they have done for us
- We should be holy and pleasing to God because of the things he has done for us
Deut 10:20-22 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven. ▤
Josh 24:16-18 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” ▤
- Jesus Christ’s love in dying for us compels us to live for him:
2Cor 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. ▤
Jesus Christ’s love shown in him dying for us compels us to live for him rather than for ourselves.
- . . . Israel was God’s chosen servant
- . . . They have been freed from sin and are now slaves to God – and Jesus Christ
o Or slaves
Ezra 5:11 And this was their reply to us: ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. ▤
Neh 1:10-11 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. ▤
Eph 6:5-6, 9 Slaves,p obey your earthly mastersq with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servantsr of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, ▤ … 9Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Masters and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. ▤
p Or servants; Greek bondservants; similarly verse 8
q Or your masters according to the flesh
r Or slaves; Greek bondservants
s Greek Lord
t Or slave; Greek bondservant
u Greek bondservants
v Greek bondservant
God’s care of his servants gives good reason to serve God.
Isa 41:8-10 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; 9you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 10fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ▤
1Ki 8:23 … and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart, … ▤
In a prayer for deliverance, David states his belief or hope that God delights in the well-being of his servants. This being the case, the verse points to God’s care of his servants.
Isa 65:13-15 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; 14behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart and shall wail for breaking of spirit. 15You shall leave your name to my chosen for a curse, and the Lord God will put you to death, but his servants he will call by another name. ▤
This compares God’s care and blessing of his servants with the lot of those who forsake him. The giving of a new name (v. 15) “suggests the beginning of a new life” (CEV text note). The end of the age is in view.
Rev 7:2-3 Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servantsw of our God on their foreheads.” ▤
w Greek bondservants
The seal signifies protection amidst coming judgments on the world (cf. 9:4).
1Sam 7:3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” ▤
Dan 3:28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set asidex the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. ▤
x Aramaic and changed
Dan 6:20-22 As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” ▤
Daniel speaks of his innocence as the reason for his deliverance by God (v. 22). But the wording of the king’s question (v. 20) correctly implies that Daniel’s persistence in serving God was a related factor.
Isa 54:17 … no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindicationy from me, declares the Lord. ▤
y Or righteousness
These promises are made to Jerusalem in its time of future renewal. In a spiritual sense at least, they are ultimately applicable to God’s servants of all ages.
Ps 89:20-23 I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, 21so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. 22The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him. 23I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. ▤
David was especially empowered by God, notably against his enemies. As commented on Isaiah 54:17 above, such passages are applicable to believers at least in a spiritual sense (cf. Rom 8:37-39).
The term “reap” is possibly referring to one’s good work being productive for God’s kingdom – hence the verse’s inclusion here. Alternatively it could be speaking of the blessings one will receive for doing good (cf. CEV, NCV, NLT), which would make it more applicable to the following subsection.
Matt 13:23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. ▤
The “fruit” produced (cf. Luke 8:15 ↓) may well be referring to the productivity of one’s work for the kingdom (the theme of this subsection); it at least may be applied to it. Alternatively the spiritual growth of the individual believer may be in view.
Here “righteousness” is akin to “good works” (NIrV®), righteousness “which manifests itself in active goodness, kindness, and charity” (AMP). Paul has the “service” (cf. vv. 12-13) of providing for the needy amongst God’s people primarily in view, assuring the Corinthians that God would “produce a rich harvest” (GNT) from such generosity.
Psalm 126 was written for the exiles who had returned from Babylon. These verses are apparently encouraging them with a promise of their land’s restoration, despite the initial pains in tending it. The verses are sometimes applied to the often-exacting work of sowing the gospel message, a service which leads to the joyful result of people coming to faith.
- One’s work for the Lord is not futile:
The fruitfulness of the work is one reason Paul may well have had in view as to why it is “not in vain”. Reward for such work – as per the following two subsections – is another possibility. The teaching is applicable to both possibilities.
Mark 10:29-30 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. ▤
In v. 29 Jesus mentions some things that his followers may be required to forego in following and serving him. In v. 30 Jesus speaks of corresponding blessings of this present age. These blessings are primarily fulfilled through the new relationships in the family of God’s people, to which Jesus’ followers belong.
Even in the face of apparent failure (v. 4a), one can be confident that God will reward faithful work (v. 4b).
Hag 2:18-19 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider: 19Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you. ▤
The interpretation of aspects of these verses are debatable, but clearly the last sentence speaks of God’s blessing on the people for their resumption of the work on the temple.
Paul is implying that just as a hardworking farmer receives a share of the crops, those who work hard serving God should or will receive their reward. What reward is in view is open to interpretation. If it means that hardworking believers “ought to” be rewarded, then it may simply be referring to church leaders receiving material support from their congregation, the field in which they labor. Alternatively spiritual rewards may be in view – possibly primarily seeing people coming to or growing in faith – or spiritual blessings for the workers themselves, either in the present or in the afterlife.
The “land” signifies believers. The “rain” appears to primarily symbolize God’s spiritual enrichment – possibly in particular that enunciated in the preceding verses (cf. vv. 4-5). Paul compares a productive believer to land that produces a useful spiritual crop, for which such a believer receives God’s blessing.
Note that this appears to refer to the work of the women in rearing their children, rather than work done specifically for God. Here God promises them that although their children now faced exile (cf. v. 15), their work would be rewarded for their children would return.
Mal 3:17-18 They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. ▤
Matt 25:19-21 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.z You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ ▤
z Greek bondservant; also verses 23, 26, 30
This depicts Jesus Christ’s rewarding of his faithful servants on his return. Note that a talent was a monetary unit (cf. v. 15 + text note).
This probably refers primarily to honor given in the afterlife.
1Cor 3:8, 14-15 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. ▤ … 14If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. ▤
The work of each of believer will be judged. If a believer’s work survives the testing of God’s judgment, he or she will receive their reward. If not, as a believer they will still be saved but will suffer loss of reward.
Eph 6:5-8 Slaves,a obey your earthly mastersb with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servantsc of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. ▤
a Or servants; Greek bondservants; similarly verse 8
b Or your masters according to the flesh
c Or slaves; Greek bondservants
All the good we do should be done as a service to the Lord, as part of his work – and as such he will reward us for it. The final judgment is most likely primarily in view here.
Heb 6:9-12 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. ▤
This indicates that doing work for God is associated with salvation (v. 9), making one’s hope sure (v. 11). Correspondingly, along with “faith and patience”, it will bring the blessings of the afterlife that he has promised (v. 12; cf. Heb 10:36 ↓).
If we persevere to the end, both in faith (cf. vv. 35, 37-39; Heb 6:12 ↑) and in doing God’s will, we will receive what God has promised.
- God accepts those who serve Jesus Christ:
As referred to in earlier comments, when used metaphorically in the NT, “fruit” can refer to spiritual characteristics (cf. Gal 5:22-23) or spiritual outcomes of quality work for the kingdom (with some instances possibly including both concepts). In the following verses “fruit” has been interpreted to be referring to the latter, or at least to be inclusive of it.
This is spoken by John the Baptist. The latter part is repeated virtually verbatim by Jesus in 7:19 – “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Here Jesus speaks of God cutting off from him those who do not bear “fruit”.
Luke 13:6-9 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” ▤
The fig tree represents the Jewish nation. It as a whole had failed to produce fruit, including a positive response to Jesus. So it faced being cut out of its relationship with God, no longer using up the “soil” (possibly a reference to God’s love or grace). The scenario is applicable to anyone who professes to be one of God’s people.
Matt 25:24-30 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ▤
Servants of Jesus Christ – particularly in view of his return – must not be lazy and irresponsible, but use their abilities and what they have been entrusted with (cf. vv. 14-15) to faithfully serve Jesus Christ, producing “fruit” for him. Any “servants” who are unfaithful in this will lose what they have and be banished from the kingdom. Note that in v. 26b the master is not necessarily agreeing with the servant; rather he may simply be using the servant’s words to condemn him. Whichever is the case, the terminology used still appears to allude to Jesus Christ requiring his servants to produce “fruit” for him.
Here the Laodicean church is condemned for its deeds that were apparently halfhearted and no doubt ineffective – revealing somewhat of an indifference towards Christ. The reference to neither being hot nor cold, is seen by some commentators as referring to neither being devoted to or opposed to Christ. But some commentators insist this is not the case, as it would indicate that antagonism towards Christ is preferable to being a lukewarm Christian. They view the references to “hot” and “cold” as each being positive, in contrast to “lukewarm”. As such they understand “hot” to allude to hot waters with medicinal uses, and “cold” to allude to refreshing drinking water. Sources of both kinds of water were near to Laodicea.
- God promised to destroy his “vineyard” Israel for producing bad “grapes” instead of good “grapes”:
Isa 5:1-7 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
d I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; e for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! f ▤
d Or grazed over; compare Exodus 22:5
e The Hebrew words for justice and bloodshed sound alike
f The Hebrew words for righteous and outcry sound alike
Deut 28:47-48 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. ▤
The phrase “the abundance of all things” refers to their time of abundance/prosperity. Passages such as this one regarding Israel, have an application to believers in respect to the afterlife, if not the present.
The city of Meroz apparently had failed to assist the other Israelites – the people of the Lord – in fighting off their enemies.
This has in view God’s work in executing judgment on Moab.
Hag 1:2-9 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” 3Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 6You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. 7“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 8Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. 9You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. ▤
In working on their own interests rather than doing God’s work, rebuilding his temple, the results of the people’s efforts were very disappointing.
Mal 3:14, 18 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? ▤ … 18Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. ▤
Verse 18 has an ominous tone for those who had turned from serving God (v. 14).
Rev 3:1-3 And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. ▤
The accusation against the church in Sardis that the people’s deeds were not “complete in the sight of my God” (v. 2b) indicates that their deeds fell considerably short of what God required of them. It is either referring to not doing God’s work adequately (akin to the theme of this subsection) or to actually doing things that were sinful – or both. Note that the exhortation to strengthen what remained (v. 2a) is speaking of strengthening and consolidating aspects of the faith that remained in them and their church.
- Those who do not work with Jesus Christ are detrimental to his cause:
Just as spending one’s labor on what does not satisfy is pointless, so is spending one’s resources on “that which is not bread”, i.e. things that do not satisfy one’s soul. In contrast, we ought to seek the “rich food” that God provides.
g Or worm; also verse 20
Eccl 1:2-3, 14 Vanityh of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? ▤ … 14I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.i ▤
h Hebrew vapor (so throughout Ecclesiastes)
i Or a feeding on wind; compare Hosea 12:1 (so throughout Ecclesiastes)
The main theme of Ecclesiastes, often underlying some of its more despairing conclusions, is that apart from God everything is pointless, useless or futile (as the following references from Ecclesiastes illustrate). As such, working to gain or achieve things of this world is in effect “a striving after wind” (v. 14; cf. Eccl 2:11 ↓; Eccl 2:17 ↓) – a pointless, futile endeavor.
Eccl 2:3-11 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines,j the delight of the children of man. 9So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. ▤
j The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain
Verse 10b may mean that he found pleasure in his work because he thought it would be rewarded with the pleasures he sought (cf. GNT, NCV). Instead, however, it proved to be pointless (v. 11). In making this conclusion Solomon may have had in mind the reasoning in vv. 17-23 below.
Eccl 2:17-23 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. 18I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. ▤
Eccl 4:7-8 Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business. ▤
k Hebrew filled
The meaning of this quite probably goes beyond simply one’s appetite for food. Here “mouth” most likely alludes to such things as “self-preservation and enjoyment” (AMP). All labor to achieve satisfaction in these things is ultimately futile as humans’ basic desires and needs are never satisfied once and for all. This inability to completely satisfy oneself is also spoken of elsewhere. Proverbs 27:20 says, “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man.” Not dissimilarly Ecclesiastes 1:8b says, “… the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” See also Isaiah 55:2 above.
- It is no good even gaining the whole world if it costs your soul:
The “whole world” denotes everything that can be gained in this world or this physical life. The term “soul” can be translated “life” (GNT, NLT text note), eternal life appears to be primarily in view.
- To be guided by God, live a godly life
- Ask God to guide you (as in troubled times)
- God and Jesus Christ’s will can even be understood through godliness and prayer
- Other sources of godly and wise guidance
- Note: In the OT, inquiring of God was at times done through an intercessor . . .
- . . . and it sometimes involved the use of lots
The topic of being guided by God is very pertinent to serving God, such as in ascertaining his will in regard to how we should serve him. It is also of course important in other aspects of our lives. For it is vital in living righteously generally and in navigating through troubled times, as reflected in some of the following verses. God’s guidance also becomes an issue when we need to make a significant choice or decision.
God’s guidance may come through such sources as: the Holy Spirit’s promptings; inner conviction or assurance (itself largely of the Holy Spirit); Scripture; circumstances; or advice from others. But God does not always guide his people by making them aware of his will. They may not even be aware of being guided by God, only recognizing his guidance in retrospect. The Bible actually says little about how one should find out God’s guidance (apart from his directions evident in his laws). But the Bible does speak of how living a godly life and prayer are critical for being open to it – as is indicated in the following subsections.
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. ▤
This implies that as we obey (v. 12a), acting in “fear and trembling” (v. 12b), we are open to God moving us to act in accordance with his purpose (v. 13).
Ps 23:1-3 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.l 3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousnessm for his name’s sake. ▤
l Hebrew beside waters of rest
m Or in right paths
Like David we must acknowledge and submit to God as our shepherd (v. 1a); as such, God guides us (vv. 2-3). Note that the phrase “paths of righteousness” (v. 3b) may be speaking more generally of the right or best paths rather than specifically of paths that are morally right, although the former necessarily involves the latter.
Isa 58:9b-11 If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11And 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. ▤
These verses may be speaking of God guiding the humble and those who fear him to live according to his ways or laws, rather than in guiding them in making choices regarding matters that his laws do not concern. However they are at least applicable to the latter, particularly v. 12.
The reference to paths that are “straight” (v. 6) suggests ways that are righteous and/or secure. The expression “make straight your paths” seems to be speaking either of: directing our ways so that we will take a straight path (cf. GNT, NLT, NKJV); or straightening the path before us (cf. CEV). Possibly aspects of both interpretations are involved.
n Or in the ancient way (compare Jeremiah 6:16)
This points to the fact that living in ways that are offensive to God is incompatible with being led by him – as is illustrated in Ezekiel 20:31 immediately below.
- The ungodly cannot inquire of God:
Ezek 20:31 When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire,
o you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you. ▤
o Hebrew and make your children pass through the fire
Note that to “inquire” of God would appear to involve seeking his guidance (cf. GNT).
The “rock that is higher than I” denotes a place of safety that is beyond the psalmist’s reach. Quite possibly it alludes to God himself (cf. vv. 3-4).
Ps 143:8, 10 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. ▤ … 10Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! ▤
Note that v. 10 may speak of knowing God’s guidance (cf. CEV), hence the verse’s inclusion here. However David is arguably more likely simply speaking of God enabling him to obey God’s will.
- [God’s plans for his people:] General
p Greek age
q Or what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God
Believers need to renew their minds through such things as: making their thoughts conform to God’s word and commands; communing with God through prayer; and being open to the Holy Spirit. In so doing they are better able to recognize what God wants of them in situations they encounter. The reference to God’s will is probably also inclusive of what tasks God wants believers to undertake for him, as is arguably the case also in the subsequent passages from Ephesians and Colossians.
Eph 5:8b-10, 15-17 Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. ▤ … 15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. ▤
In saying “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (v. 10) Paul is probably not simply talking of learning his commands; more likely he is referring to discerning the Lord’s will (cf. v. 17) in the various circumstances and decisions one faces. With the two exhortations to discern the Lord’s will (vv. 10, 17), Paul does not say how to do so, but significantly each exhortation is preceded by a call to godly or wise living.
Col 1:9-10 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. ▤
This is of course a prayer that God’s will for others be made known to them. But it is still indicative of the need to pray ourselves, in understanding God’s will in our own lives (cf. Ps 143:10 ⇑). Note that v. 10 indicates that in asking God to enable the Colossians to know his will (v. 9), Paul had their service to God in view, along with related aspects of the Christian life.
1Ki 22:4-5 And he said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?” And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” 5And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the Lord.” ▤
Jehoshaphat’s advice to first seek God’s counsel before embarking on a momentous course of action is reflective of the need to pray in such a situation – and reflects that God’s will may be understood through prayer.
Prov 1:1-6 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: 2To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, 3to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; 4to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— 5Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, 6to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. ▤
These verses show that God’s word – here Proverbs in particular – provides guidance.
Prov 6:20-22 My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. 21Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. 22When you walk, theyr will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. ▤
r Hebrew it; three times in this verse
This illustrates the importance of advice from others in obtaining guidance, with wise advisors presumably being in view.
One’s “peace of mind” (NIV®; cf. Col 3:15 ↓) should be considered when determining a course of action. It is very helpful for guidance if one’s mind is under the influence of the Holy Spirit and a clear conscience.
In its context the reference is to relationships with other believers, in which Christ’s “peace” in the church body – and so also in the “hearts” of its members – should be sought and maintained amidst working through differences. The first part of the verse is often applied to obtaining personal guidance, being used to point to the principle of being at peace with a particular choice (cf. 2Cor 2:13 ↑).
- On being given God’s guidance, follow it:
Ps 32:8-9 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. ▤
In the following examples people inquire of God – or at least appear to – through Moses, the high priest and also a prophet.
Ex 33:7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. ▤
This temporary “tent of meeting” outside the Israelite camp was not the later tabernacle which was within the camp. It appears to have only been used before the tabernacle was constructed. Presumably anyone seeking God’s counsel at this tent did so through Moses (cf. vv. 8-11) – as appears to be the case immediately below in Leviticus 24:12-14.
Lev 24:12-14 And they put him in custody, till the will of the Lord should be clear to them. 13Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 14“Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. ▤
Judg 20:27-28 And the people of Israel inquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days), saying, “Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?” And the Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.” ▤
1Sam 23:1-6 Now they told David, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are robbing the threshing floors.” 2Therefore David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the Lord said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” 3But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” 4Then David inquired of the Lord again. And the Lord answered him, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” 5And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines and brought away their livestock and struck them with a great blow. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah. 6When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand. ▤
As implied here and indicated in 1 Samuel 30:7 in the following subsection, David made his inquiries of God through Abiathar the priest who would use the ephod (v. 6), with the Urim and Thummim (cf. comment on Ex 28:29-30 ⇓). Note that 2 Samuel 2:1 and 5:19, 23 record further such instances of David inquiring of God.
2Ki 3:9-12 So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom. And when they had made a circuitous march of seven days, there was no water for the army or for the animals that followed them. 10Then the king of Israel said, “Alas! The Lord has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 11And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 12And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the Lord is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. ▤
Ex 28:29-30 So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. 30And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly. ▤
The Urim and the Thummim were sacred lots – contained in the breastpiece of judgment or “decision” (NIV®), attached to the ephod of the high priest (cf. 1Sam 23:6 ⇑; 1Sam 30:7 ↓). The high priest used these to ascertain God’s will (cf. Num 27:21a ↓).
Num 27:21 And he [Joshua] shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation. ▤
1Sam 14:41-43 Therefore Saul said, “O Lord God of Israel, whys have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. 42Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken. 43Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.” ▤
s Vulgate (compare Septuagint); Hebrew Saul said to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Why . . .
1Sam 30:7-8 And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” ▤
In casting lots these sailors were probably looking to their own gods for guidance, but nevertheless obviously God used this.
Lots may have been used here as a fair and equitable method of dividing up the land, rather than necessarily to procure God’s will as to where which tribe was to live. However, the fact that Joshua did it “before the Lord” suggests that the latter may have been the case.
- The apostles also used lots to ascertain the Lord’s will:
Acts 1:24-26 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. ▤
This is the last record in the Bible of lots being used to seek God’s (or Christ’s) guidance. One should bear in mind the following: this occurred before the Holy Spirit was given; it was done prayerfully; and the decision was between two people of apparently equivalent standing – with quite possibly the lots being used only after the disciples had done what they could to determine the most appropriate person.