Two men sat down to review their business trip and its results. One said he thought the trip had been worthwhile because some meaningful new relationships had begun through their business contacts. The other said, “Relationships are fine, but selling is what matters most.” Obviously they had very different agendas.
It is all too easy—whether in business, family, or church—to view others from the perspective of how they can benefit us. We value them for what we can get from them, rather than focusing on how we can serve them in Jesus’ name. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
People are not to be used for our own benefit. Because they are loved by God and we are loved by Him, we love one another. His love is the greatest love of all.
Ruth was a foreigner. She was a widow. She was poor. In many parts of the world today she would be considered a nobody—someone whose future doesn’t hold any hope.
However, Ruth found favor in the eyes of a relative of her deceased husband, a rich man and the owner of the fields where she chose to ask for permission to glean grain. In response to his kindness, Ruth asked, “What have I done to deserve such kindness? . . . I am only a foreigner” (Ruth 2:10 nlt).
Boaz, the good man who showed Ruth such compassion, answered her truthfully. He had heard about her good deeds toward her mother-in-law, Naomi, and how she chose to leave her country and follow Naomi’s God. Boaz prayed that God, "under whose wings" she had come for refuge, would bless her (1:16; 2:11-12; see Ps. 91:4). As her kinsman redeemer (3:9), when Boaz married Ruth he became her protector and part of the answer to his prayer.
Like Ruth, we were foreigners and far from God. We may wonder why God would choose to love us when we are so undeserving. The answer is not in us, but in Him. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8 nlt). Christ has become our Redeemer. When we come to Him in salvation, we are under His protective wings.
In my work as a chaplain, some people occasionally ask if I am willing to give them some additional spiritual help. While I’m happy to spend time with anyone who asks for help, I often find myself doing more learning than teaching. This was especially true when one painfully honest new Christian said to me with resignation, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to read the Bible. The more I read what God expects from me, the more I judge others who aren’t doing what it says.”
As he said this, I realized that I was at least partly responsible for instilling this judgmental spirit in him. At that time, one of the first things I did with those new to faith in Jesus was to introduce them to things they should no longer be doing. In other words, instead of showing them God’s love and letting the Holy Spirit reshape them, I urged them to “behave like a believer.”
Now I was gaining a new appreciation for John 3:16-17. Jesus’ invitation to believe in Him in verse 16 is followed by these words. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Jesus didn’t come to condemn us. But by giving these new Christians a checklist of behaviors, I was teaching them to condemn themselves, which then led them to judge others. Instead of being agents of condemnation, we are to be ambassadors of God’s love and mercy.
At her mother’s 50th birthday celebration with hundreds of people present, firstborn daughter Kukua recounted what her mother had done for her. The times were hard, Kukua remembered, and funds were scarce in the home. But her single mother deprived herself of personal comfort, selling her precious jewelry and other possessions in order to put Kukua through high school. With tears in her eyes, Kukua said that no matter how difficult things were, her mother never abandoned her or her siblings.
God compared His love for His people with a mother’s love for her child. When the people of Israel felt abandoned by God during their exile, they complained: “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me” (Isa. 49:14). But God said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (v. 15).
When we are distressed or disillusioned, we may feel abandoned by society, family, and friends, but God does not abandon us. It is a great encouragement that the Lord says, "I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (v. 16) to indicate how much He knows and protects us. Even if people forsake us, God will never forsake His own.
The final major historic acts of the Old Testament are described in Ezra and Nehemiah as God allowed the people of Israel to return from exile and resettle in Jerusalem. The City of David was repopulated with Hebrew families, a new temple was built, and the wall was repaired.
And that brings us to Malachi. This prophet, who was most likely a contemporary of Nehemiah, brings the written portion of the Old Testament to a close. Notice the first thing he said to the people of Israel: “ ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.” And look at their response: “How have you loved us?” (1:2).
Amazing, isn’t it? Their history had proven God’s faithfulness, yet after hundreds of years in which God continually provided for His chosen people in both miraculous and mundane ways, they wondered how He had shown His love. As the book continues, Malachi reminds the people of their unfaithfulness (see vv. 6-8). They had a long historical pattern of God’s provision for them, followed by their disobedience, followed by God’s discipline.
It was time, soon, for a new way. The prophet hints at it in Malachi 4:5-6. The Messiah would be coming. There was hope ahead for a Savior who would show us His love and pay the penalty once and for all for our sin.
That Messiah indeed has come! Malachi’s hope is now a reality in Jesus.
Our son, Josh, is a commercial salmon fisherman in Kodiak, Alaska. Some time ago he sent me a photograph he took of a tiny vessel a few hundred yards ahead of his boat moving through a narrow pass. Ominous storm clouds loom on the horizon. But a rainbow, the sign of God’s providence and loving care, stretches from one side of the pass to the other, encircling the little boat.
The photograph reflects our earthly voyage: We sail into an uncertain future, but we are surrounded by the faithfulness of God!
Jesus’ disciples were surrounded by a storm, and He used the experience to teach them about the power and faithfulness of God (Matt. 8:23-27). We seek answers for the uncertainties of life. We watch the future growing closer and wonder what will happen to us there. Puritan poet John Keble captured this in one of his poems in which he watched the future as it drew near. But as he watched he was “waiting to see what God will do.”
Whether young or old we all face uncertain futures. Heaven answers: God's love and goodness encircle us no matter what awaits us. We wait and see what God will do!
A major theme of the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel could easily be “Life is a mess!” It has all the elements of a blockbuster TV miniseries. As David sought to establish his rule as king of Israel, he faced military challenges, political intrigue, and betrayal by friends and family members. And David himself was certainly not without guilt as his relationship with Bathsheba clearly showed (chs. 11–12).
Yet near the end of 2 Samuel we find David’s song of praise to God for His mercy, love, and deliverance. “You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light” (22:29).
In many of his difficulties, David turned to the Lord. “With your help I can advance against a troop [run through a barricade]; with my God I can scale a wall” (v. 30).
Perhaps we identify with David’s struggles because he, like us, was far from perfect. Yet he knew that God was greater than the most chaotic parts of his life.
With David we can say, “As for God, his way is perfect: the Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him” (v. 31). And that includes us!
Life is messy, but God is greater than the mess.
A friend’s baby was suffering seizures, so they sped to the hospital in an ambulance, her heart racing as she prayed for her daughter. Her fierce love for this child hit her afresh as she held her tiny fingers, recalling too how much more the Lord loves us and how we are “the apple of His eye.”
The prophet Zechariah employs this phrase in his word to God’s people who had returned to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon. He calls them to repent, to rebuild the temple, and to renew their hearts of love for the true God. For the Lord loves His people greatly; they are the apple of His eye.
Hebrew scholars suggest this phrase from Zechariah 2 denotes one’s reflection in the pupil of another’s eye, with the word “apple” emerging because it’s a common spherical object. So with eyes being precious and fragile, they need protecting, and that’s how the Lord wants to love and protect His people—by holding them close to His heart.
The Lord who dwells in our midst pours out His love on us—even, amazingly, far more than a loving mother who does all she can for her ailing child. We are the apple of His eye, His beloved.
W. T. Stead, an innovative English journalist at the turn of the 20th century, was known for writing about controversial social issues. Two of the articles he published addressed the danger of ships operating with an insufficient ratio of lifeboats to passengers. Ironically, Stead was aboard the Titanic when it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. According to one report, after helping women and children into lifeboats, Stead sacrificed his own life by giving up his life vest and a place in the lifeboats so others could be rescued.
There is something very stirring about self-sacrifice. No greater example of that can be found than in Christ Himself. The writer of Hebrews says, “This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12,14 nkjv). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul opened with words describing this great sacrifice: “The Lord Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:3-4).
Jesus’ offering of Himself on our behalf is the measure of His love for us. That willing sacrifice continues to rescue men and women and offer assurance of eternity with Him.