There is a false teaching today that claims that “health, wealth, and prosperity” are a sign of God’s blessing upon a person. Those who twist the Scripture to promote this teaching reveal what their true motive is- “monetary gain.” Motivations, however, are not always displayed out in the open. Although our motivations may be hidden to others, they are always seen clearly by God.
In Numbers 22, we are introduced to a mysterious character named Balaam. In this chapter, the children of Israel are nearing the end of their 40 years of wandering and had come to a land called Moab. The king of Moab, Balak, had heard of the Israelites and was afraid. He knew he couldn’t defeat them by physical force, so he offered Balaam money to curse the people. At first, Balaam appeared to be a true and obedient prophet of God who obeyed His command and refused to see Balak. Balaam, however, was commanded to go upon the second request to God. On the surface, Balaam obeyed the voice of the Lord. In chapters 23 and 24, Balaam’s declarations are given. Every time he opened his mouth, he blessed the people of God, rather than cursing them. Balaam’s motivation seemed sincere, but other places in Scripture reveal otherwise. God would not permit Balaam to curse the people openly. Therefore, Balaam cursed them secretly. Revelation 2:14 says, “…Balaam…taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.” Balaam undermined the people of Israel by introducing immorality and idolatry among the people. 2 Peter 2:5 reveals his motivation- “Balaam…loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Balaam’s motivation was greed. Although God would not allow him to go beyond His word, Balaam lusted after the money offered to him by Balak. His real god was money.
Many false teachers are just like Balaam. They may appear to obey God and even speak some truth, but they are motivated by something other than obeying and bringing glory to God. Someone once said that “even a broken clock is correct twice a day.” False teachers are dangerous because they usually speak some truth while hiding their true motivations. Not only does the Bible warn us of false teachers who “through covetousness…with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Pet. 2:3), but it also warns Christians to not become enslaved by greed. The Bible warns us that those who “will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). We are called to put off greediness which will only result in destruction and sorrow and to put on contentment. God is not only concerned with our actions and words. He who “search[es] the heart” (Jeremiah 17:10) looks beyond the external actions and see the true motivations behind all that a person does. It is important to check our motivations, because our motivations matter to God.
There are certain passages and even books in the Bible that, though they might tell an interesting story, might leave some wondering why they are in the canon of inspired Scripture. The book of Philemon very well might fall into that category. Here we have the story of the apostle Paul writing to a slave-owner named Philemon. At this point and time, Paul is under house-arrest in Rome and apparently had come into contact with a run-away slave named Onesimus. Onesimus had fled from his master Philemon in Colossae and had traveled around 1,000 miles to Rome, no doubt hoping to get lost in the bigger city. Little did he know that the sovereignty of God would lead him into contact with Paul, who led him to Christ. Interestingly enough, at some point in the past Paul had also led Philemon to the Lord (Philemon 19).
This puts Paul in a very unique position. Onesimus had wronged Philemon by running away and by possibly stealing money in the process. However, like Philemon, now Onesimus was also a believer and Paul wanted to do what he could to see that this situation was handled properly. Though it is uncertain if Onesimus had a legal obligation to return to Philemon, Paul (and no doubt Onesimus) knew this was the right thing to do. So Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter asking him to forgive Onesimus for running away and to receive him as a brother in Christ. We don’t know the end of the story but we can certainly hope that Philemon received both Onesimus and this letter in the proper spirit.
So what can we learn from this story? Besides some truths about how to handle interpersonal problems, we also see some very neat parallels to our salvation in Christ. Onesimusrepresents us. We have “run away” in rebellion from God. (Isaiah 53:6) At some point in our lives, we have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ (represented by Paul) and because of this relationship with him we have direct access back to God (represented by Philemon). This story of redemption could not be better stated than by what Paul said in verse 18. “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.” Isn’t that essentially what Christ says to the Father about us? “Father, put any sin that that individual commits on my account!” What a perfect picture of atonement and redemption!
“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed…”(Ps. 57:7). These words are repeated in today’s text, “O God, my heart is fixed…”(Ps. 108:1); indicating there “might” have been a period(s) of doubt between writings. Did David rewrite this to reassure himself? David’s life was full of drama and we have to remember he was human. We all like to think we are “Super Christian,” but if we are honest we all have periods of weakness. It is what we do, or who we turn to, in troubling times that is important (“Vain is the help of man” Ps.108:12).
We can point fingers at David all we want, but we are exactly like him and from the same mold. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one,” (Rm. 3:10) and “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Ecc.7:20). That should take care of those who think they are good. We all have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Rm. 3:23). How many times have we gotten in front of God, or wondered if He would work in our lives? We have seen Him perform mighty works for others, but we doubt if He would do it for us. We should be convinced of our salvation, but I must admit there are days that I do not “feel” saved. Thank God it is not about feelings, but based on the promises of God.
Recently, I had been praying for three months regarding a specific matter. I was sure this prayer would be answered within 2-3 weeks, but after a month the hope of an answer was fading. I kept praying and my faith continued to weaken as time marched on. Into the third month, I started to question whether I was doing something wrong or where was the lesson in this. I never doubted God; just whether He would work in my case! How dare me allowing my humanity to second-guess Holy God. In spite of my worry, I continued to pray and ask the Lord. I did not give up on God and He never did me. I remembered the line from the popular hymn, “Where could I go but to the Lord.”
Three mornings ago, as I was waking, that very prayer request came to mind. I got that feeling of doubt, but this time it was different. God gave me comfort and calmed my spirit. I felt assured it would be taken care of soon. When I woke up, little did I realize sooner than I thought. Checking my mail delivery on the internet, I found the answered prayer. Oh Lord, I thought, oh “me” of little faith (Mt. 6:30). I felt guilty for my lack of faith, but relieved knowing I brought my problems to the Problem Solver.
Consider the following circumstance: Bill has been working at his job faithfully for over 20 years which is much longer than most of his fellow employees. Bill has shown up to work every day on time, has a strong work ethic, and has had a strong Christian testimony. Yet, Bill has had to put up with many pressures placed on him by his boss and fellow coworkers. Bill’s boss has promoted others ahead of him, has praised the work of others while turning a blind eye to Bill’s work, and treats Bill unfairly because he is a Christian. Bill’s coworkers go out of their way to make crude jokes and ridicule Bill’s Christian faith. Bill has had enough and feels as if something doesn’t change that he is going to explode. He feels as though his hard work is unappreciated. Bill has a choice to make. Either react in anger or respond in a Spirit-controlled, Christlike way.
In Numbers 20, Moses is faced with a similar situation. The children of Israel had been wandering in the wilderness for about 40 years up to this point. The generation that chose to disbelieve God’s promises 38 years earlier at Kadesh-barnea had died off and a new generation had arisen. Sadly, we see that this new generation had been infected with the same unbelief and complaining spirit that their fathers had. We see the children of Israel back in Kadesh complaining about a lack of water and saying that they would have been better back in Egypt. The Lord spoke to Moses and told him to take his rod, gather the people together, speak to the rock, which would result in water flowing out. Moses’ patience had been exhausted. Forty years of murmuring and unbelieving Israelites had taken its toll on Moses. Moses became extremely frustrated with the people and reacted in anger. Instead of responding to the people in the way that God prescribed, Moses called the people “rebels” and “smote the rock twice.” God did still give the people water from the rock, which was a testament to His grace, but Moses had disobeyed God. In an angry fit of rage, Moses reacted to the disobedience of the people and God judged him by excluding him from entering the Promised Land.
Every day we are faced with varying circumstances and pressures of life. Many of these circumstances are out of our control. However, what is in our control, is our ability to either respond or react to these situations. When the pressure is turned up in our lives, we can either allow our emotions to control us and react in fleshly sin or we can respond in a Christlike way. Moses lost his temper, disobeyed God, and forfeited his privilege of entering the Land. As Christians, we have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who can help us to reign in hasty, sinful reactions and respond in a way that is patient, kind, loving, peaceful, and Christlike.