Monday, September 25, 2017

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 We are Responsible for Our Sins

KEY TEXT: Ezekiel 18:1-4 The word of the Lord came to me: "What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'?  As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

KEY THOT: In Ezekiel's time, there was a proverb that went around that says, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge". We are familiar with the effect of eating anything sour as it makes us bite our teeth together in reaction to the sour taste. This proverb implies that God is unfair: the children suffer the consequences of their fathers' sins. While there is some truth in this proverb, it was not the whole truth. The children suffered the consequences of their fathers' sins (conquest by Babylonians and exile) because they themselves had also participated in the sins of their fathers. It's just that God's patience has run out in Ezekiel's generation. But had they listened to the prophets God sent to them (especially Jeremiah) and repented, the national disasters would have been averted:

  • Ezekiel 18:29-32 "Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live." 
It's a fact that the fathers' sins are often passed on to their next generations: "So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children's children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day" (2 Kings 17:41). Nevertheless, each generation is responsible for the consequences of their own sins, even though their fathers may have passed on the transgressions to them. As the saying goes, "Like father, like son"; it is a common observation that children tend to imitate the habits and behaviour of their parents and so participate in their sins and also suffer the same consequences of their fathers' sins.

In the case of Israel, the reason why their fathers did not suffer the consequences of their own sins is because of God's patience and mercy towards them. But Ezekiel's generation suffered the consequences of God's wrath, not because of their fathers' sins but their own participation in the same sins as their fathers. If they have repented, they would not have suffered the effects, for they bear responsibility too for the national disasters that came upon them: "Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die" (v.4).

We can break the curses of our fathers' sins through repentance, especially for believers. Christ has broken the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). But if we do not repent but continue to participate in the sins of our fathers, the same curse would come upon us too, despite being believers. Repentance breaks the curse of the sins of our forefathers. We are not free from the consequences if we continue to walk in the fathers' sins (e.g. spiritualism, lying, gambling, adulterous affairs, etc). We can break the power of the curse through the Cross by living a life of righteousness, not sin.

Abba-Father, You are not unfair in Your judgment, for the soul who sins shall die. We do not die for our fathers' sins, but our own. Thank You for the Cross which has broken the curse of the father's sins so that they may live in freedom and righteousness. Amen.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16 Divine Grace is Unfair

KEY TEXT: Matthew 20:10-16 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house,  saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'  But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'  So the last will be first, and the first last."

KEY THOT: God's grace is unfair, but his judgment is fair. God's judgment for all is fair because he condemns all equally because all have sinned: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18). Grace is not fair because it allows the condemned to escape the punishment. And more than just escape from due process of justice but it actually rewards us with God's blessings. It's like the President pardoning those on the death-row and then making them his sons and daughters. Such thing is not fair because grace is never fair. So the workers who came earlier protested: "These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat" (v.12).

Grace is never fair because it is entirely an act of God's generosity: "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'  So the last will be first, and the first last." (vv.15-16). If God chooses to bless us unequally, the blessing is entirely His. But nevertheless, He has promised to bless us with "every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Eph. 1:3), even though we don't deserve any of this. So, in that sense, God's grace extended to us former sinners exceeds our works--even after we have become believers. No matter how much we have worked, we cannot earn enough to "pay back everything" (Mt 18:26). Grace is unfair to us sinners because it gives us far beyond what we are entitled to. It is never dependent on how much we have contributed to the Kingdom. It's entirely dependent on God's generosity.

For recipients of grace, there is only one proper response: gratitude and thanksgiving, not grumbling and complaining. Everything we receive by grace is not a right or entitlement but a privilege. For all these blessings, we give thanks.

Abba-Father, Your grace is utterly unfair for You have given to those who deserve nothing but condemnation because of our sins. And You do not require us to "pay back" the sin-debts we owe You because Christ has paid it all. Amen.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Philippians 1:21-30 Christ-centred Life is Gospel-centred

KEY TEXT: Philippians 1:27-30 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. 

KEY THOT: In this first chapter of Philippians, Paul uses the word "Christ" at least 16 times and the "gospel" 6 times. And he links Christ and the gospel in verse 27 when he calls the Philippian believers to live a life "worthy of the gospel of Christ". For Paul, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (v.21). What does it mean to live is Christ? He elaborates it in verse 22, "If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me." The "fruitful labor" he refers to is the proclamation of the gospel of which the Philippians were his partners: "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership (Gk: koinoniain the gospel from the first day until now" (Philippians 1:3-5). Only when Christians are joined together to proclaim the gospel that they experience genuine koinonia (fellowship) in Christ.

Paul says in verse 21, "for to me, to live is Christ". We can also read it as, "for to me, to live is the Gospel of Christ". To live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ is the same as to live a life worthy of Christ. We cannot separate the gospel from Christ. If we claim we are living for Christ, then we must also be committed to become partners with those who are proclaiming Christ. If we are not, we are out of fellowship with other believers.

May we be united under the banner of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else. Only the Gospel of Christ can unite churches in true fellowship.

Abba-Father, open our hearts to obey Your Great Commission so we may be Christ-centred community because we are Gospel-centred in our ministry to those who are unbelievers. Amen.