Whether you are digging a trench, felling a tree, cleaning the windows, or pulling the weeds, the saying is very true: “Many hands make light work!” It is much simpler and sometimes more enjoyable when many contribute their efforts for a task. In our lives, we can experience the many hands of God’s work. Before their captivity in Babylon, Israel had heard the prophets preach for years that God’s hand was against them. “His power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him” (Ezra 8:22). Isaiah told the people, “I will turn my hand upon thee, And purely purge away thy dross” (Isaiah 1:25). Such a process would certainly purify God’s people, but there would be the pain of chastening. As Ezra leads some of the captives out of Babylon, he is very aware of the other hands of God. Six times in chapters seven and eight, Ezra mentions the hand of God aiding them in their mission. The hand of provision (7:6, 9) turned Artexerxes into a philanthropist. He gave generously silver, wheat, wine, oil, and “salt without prescribing how much” (7:22). The hand of provision released the captives with extraordinary treasure. God’s work would not lack God’s supply. The hand of partnership (7:22; 8:18) provided Ezra with the people he needed to do God’s work. It was by God’s mercy, Ezra realizes, he was blessed to be commissioned to such a purpose. Chief men and men of understanding were co-laborers due to the hand of partnership. God’s work would not lack God’s servants. The hand of protection (8:22, 31) secured their vulnerable entourage. This caravan of “holy men” and their families, loaded with treasures of Babylon, would have been a prime target for the enemy. Ezra knew God would protect them and exercised his faith in God’s hand of protection. He would safely guide them to Jerusalem. God’s work would not lack God’s security. Maybe you are faithfully serving the Lord, but it seems you are stuck in the “have-nots” instead of the “haves.” Remember, the Lord’s Prayer which tells us to pray for our daily needs. We do not pray for excess, but Jesus instructed us to pray for the daily provision necessary to do the work God has for us today. Maybe you are faithfully serving the Lord, but it seems you are “going it alone.” Remember, the Lord’s Presence, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). You are never alone, even when it seems no one stands with you but “all forsook” you (2 Timothy 4:16). When God is with you, you have a majority. Maybe you are faithfully serving the Lord, but it seems the Enemy “has your number.” Remember, the Lord’s Promise, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). The fear of man is a snare. Rest in God’s hand.When we are devoted to God’s work, He will lend a hand. With His many hands, His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
Pride is one of the most original and common of sins. Pride is the sin that motivated Satan to rebel against God. When any man is brought to a position of prominence, there is always a temptation to become prideful. When pride enters the heart of man, it always distances him away from the heart of God. JC Ryle warned “let us watch against pride in every shape- pride of intellect, pride of wealth, pride of our own goodness.” When a man’s heart is lifted up with pride, he shuts himself out from the presence and blessing of God.
In Deuteronomy 17, God foresaw that the Israelites would beg for a king once in the land and gave them certain requirements to look for in a king. A king of Israel had to be chosen from among the Israelites. He was forbidden to multiply horses, wives, or silver and gold unto himself. One of the most interesting requirements was the last one given. It said that when he became king “he shall write him a copy of the law in a book…and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life” (v. 18-19). The reason for this command is even more insightful- “…that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of the law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment” (vv. 19-20). One of the reasons why the king had to write a copy of God’s Word and meditate upon it was to remain humble.
Meditation on God’s Word is one of the best antidotes to pride. Exalted views of self are quickly deflated when one comes face to face with the mirror of God’s Word. The Word of God acts as a mirror that shows man his true self. When men compare themselves among themselves, they are usually able to find reasons to boast. However, when men compare themselves with the greatness and holiness of God as revealed in the Bible, self-boasting quickly turns to self-abasement. When one allows the Word of God to dwell in their heart, self-confidence turns to confidence in Christ, an exalted view of self turns to an exalted view of God, and independence turns to a dependence on God’s ever-present grace. So many men ruin their souls by neglecting the plain truth of the Word of God. Neglect of the Bible leads to pride, error, sin, and confusion. The surest remedy for pride is an honest evaluation of self, sin, and God from the mirror of God’s Word. May we heed God’s command to “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6). When we meditate on God’s Word, we are led into the most blessed path of obedience as we walk humbly before God.
About 8 and a half years ago, we had the privilege of having our own house built. We had bought the land in October but opted to wait until spring to break ground rather than have our house built in the dead of winter. So finally in April of 2011, I remember driving by our land and seeing that the excavation process had finally started. We then had the joy (at least for the most part!) of watching our house slowly but surely be built over the next 4 months. After the excavation we got to see the foundation and basement built and then, day by day, week by week, our house came together. The carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other parts of the construction crew all did their jobs, all the way down to the little details of electrical switches and door jams. And finally, in August of that year, we finally were able to move in!
In a similar way, our reading today talks about a “building project”; however, this one does not include cinderblocks or nails, but instead godly character traits. 2 Peter 1:5-7 reads, “Beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”
Here we see Peter listing some godly character traits that should be added to your faith. Some commentators believe these to be listed in the specific order they should be worked on while others say the order is irrelevant. Either way, let’s take a quick peek at each of these traits that all of us should be actively trying to build in our lives.
- Virtue- the idea of a general goodness
- Knowledge- an increasing knowledge of God and His Word
- Temperance- self-control
- Patience- a steadiness or steadfastness through the trials of life
- Godliness- an overall sense of exhibiting godly traits
- Brotherly kindness- or brotherly affection
- Charity- selfless love
If that list looks a bit overwhelming, don’t feel alone! God’s plan of sanctification is certainly a life-long process that we obviously will not fully attain until we get to heaven. But may we be diligent to yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit so that we might see these traits grow in each of our lives.
Psalm 133 reminds Israel (and the Church yet non-existent) to be a band of brothers. Aside from a personal relationship with God, it is the most important part of being a child of God. Love for the brethren will prove to the world that we indeed are His children. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Unfortunately, many Christians do not exhibit Christ-like behavior.
Witnessing would be easier, for those that go, if we all did our part as Christ’s disciples. Many a pastor/worker has knocked on doors only to get the ‘hypocrite’ or ‘phony’ Christian spiel. Some of it is true! James warns us, “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (3:10). To most it is an excuse to appease their conscience. I’ve known quite a few and so have you. One of the most notable personages to have used this excuse was Mahatma Gandhi who said, “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.” We all have been hurt by brother or sister ‘so and so’, but we need to move on. The Master said, “…Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you” (Luke 6:27).
Some of us are hard to love, believe me, and we must pray we are not among those. We must pray to God to reveal any of these traits in us and be rid of them. Sadly, this is not always limited to the outside world. Some of it happens in church-God forbid! May we do our utmost to prevent this in our church. The avoidance of cliques and favoritism goes well in prevention. “Believers are one in Christ…let’s avoid being in a little exclusive clique. Unfortunately, we have a lot of cliques in our churches today. Many people would rather be big fish in little ponds than little fish in big ponds. How much better it is for all believers to “dwell together in unity!” (J. V. McGee).
Just how precious is it for us to mirror Christ? “It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments” (vs. 2). Barnes comments, “…The idea is that the anointing oil was abundant enough to flow down so as to fall on his entire robe, diffusing a sweet fragrance all around… It was not merely the head, but the beard, the raiment, the entire person…thus love in a Christian community is so abundant – so overflowing – that it spreads over all the spiritual body, the church….” Are we, “An odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God (Ph. 4:18)? Time for a smell-check!
Have you heard the retort, “Getting blood from a stone”? Typically it describes a tight-wad or derelict, someone who may owe you something but will not or cannot repay. Try as you might. Put the squeeze on them, but you will not get anything out of them.
Throughout Jeremiah’s prophecy, he foretold of the people’s return from captivity. There were two major predictions Jeremiah made. First, he predicted the timing of seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10). Ezra 1:1 tells us, “The word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah” was fulfilled following the proclamation of Cyrus the Great. Secondly, the type of return was to be like the release from Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:7-8). In what way? When the people were set free from slavery in Egypt, God promised they would receive the riches of the land. The slaves of Egypt left with the treasures of Egypt! The Egyptians gave their treasures to Israel in hopes of appeasing God’s wrath. As the Jews leave Babylon, the treasury of the empire is opened and they leave with the riches of Babylon.
God richly blessed the people when they left Egypt and hundreds of years later as they were leaving Babylon. Notice, believer, when God sends you on a mission, He will send you with His blessing. This is a needed reminder! Whether slaves or the low caste in Babylon, God’s people left according to God’s Word to do God’s Work. Hudson Taylor, a faithful missionary in China, left Great Britain for his mission field often “under-supported” by today’s standards. His motto explains his intensity: “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” He spent 51 years on the mission field depending on God’s supply by faith.
The second application every believer must notice is God’s purpose in blessing. Whether in Exodus or in Ezra, the people were blessed so they could contribute to the work of God. They give back to the Lord so they can have a part in God’s work. Whether it is your treasures, time, or talent, God has blessed you with the resources to accomplish His mission through you. How often we are tempted to staunch the flow of God’s blessing in our life because of our insecurity or indulgence. This ought not to be! God’s blessings have been given to accomplish His purpose. The wealth of the western world may very likely be brought against them at the Judgment Seat of Christ and many will lose much of their reward because they were cul-de-sacs instead of avenues of God’s blessing.
Maybe you fret, “I don’t have much to give.” Ezra 2:69 is a beautiful testimony of God’s expectation, “They gave after their ability.” God expects only what He has given you to steward. He will not squeeze blood out of a stone.