There are many scripture verses which we turn to for peace of mind, comfort, solace, courage, strength, counsel, etc. I’m sure Psalm 23 is the all time favourite of most people in times of trouble or need. However, there are some verses which we try to avoid because they make us feel uncomfortable, guilty, afraid, challenged, contradicted, etc. So how should we deal with such scripture verses? Avoid them, ignore them, explain them away or open up our hearts and minds and let them change us?
Let us take a look at some scripture verses which I think fall into the latter category. They portray a God who challenges us to be radical, to be strong in the face of persecution, to dare to be different from the rest of the world, and to be faithful to Him at all cost.
Let’s start with Luke 12:4-5 or Matt 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Who do you think Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the “One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”? The devil? God the Father? Why would Jesus teach his disciples to fear the devil? Doesn’t this contradict James 4:12 “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.”? How can the devil be the only Lawgiver and Judge? Hence, I believe Jesus was telling his disciples that his Heavenly Father is the only Lawgiver and Judge with the power to destroy both soul and body in hell and they should develop a reverential fear of Him. Fearing God means having such a reverence for Him that it has a great impact on the way we live our lives. The fear of God is respecting Him, obeying Him, submitting to His discipline, and worshipping Him in awe.
Let’s move on to Matt 10:34-39 or Luke 12:49-53 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” How can the Prince of Peace say such things?
Christ did not here mean to say that the object of his coming was to produce discord and contention, for he was the Prince of Peace (Cf. Isa 9:6; 11:6; Luke 2:14); but he means to say that such would be one of the effects of his coming. One part of a family that was opposed to Him would set themselves against those who believed in him. The wickedness of men, and not the religion of the gospel, is the cause of this hostility. It is unnecessary to say that no prophecy has been more strikingly fulfilled; and it will continue to be fulfilled until all unite in obeying his commandments. Then his religion will produce universal peace.
Christ foretold troubles, not only that the troubles might not be a surprise, but that they might confirm our faith. He tells his disciples what they should suffer, and from whom. Thus Christ has dealt fairly and faithfully with us, in telling us the worst we can meet with in his service; and he would have us deal so with ourselves, in sitting down and counting the cost. Persecutors are worse than beasts, in that they prey upon those of their own kind. The strongest bonds of love and duty have often been broken through from enmity against Christ. Sufferings from friends and relations are very severe; nothing cuts more. It appears plainly, that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution; and we must expect to enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.
Let us take a look at how Jesus dealt with the devil in the desert and see what we can learn from it. Jesus’ temptations follow three patterns that are common to all men. The first temptation concerns the lusts of the flesh (Cf. Matt 4:3-4). Our Lord is hungry and the devil tempts Him to convert stones into bread, but He replies with Scripture, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. The second temptation concerns the pride of life (Cf. Matt 4:5-7), and here the devil uses a verse of Scripture (Cf. Psalm 91:11-12), but the Lord replies again with Scripture to the contrary (Cf. Deut 6:16), stating that it is wrong for Him to abuse His own powers. The third temptation concerns the lusts of the eyes (Cf. Matt 4:8-10), and if any quick route to the Messiahship could be attained, bypassing the passion and crucifixion for which He had originally come, this was the way. The devil already had control over the kingdoms of the world (Cf. Eph 2:2) but was now ready to give everything to Christ in return for His allegiance. But the mere thought almost causes the Lord’s divine nature to shudder at such a concept and He replies sharply, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Deut 6:13).
There are many temptations that we sadly fall into because our flesh is naturally weak, but we have a God who will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear; He will provide a way out (Cf. 1 Cor 10:13). We can therefore be victorious and then will thank the Lord for deliverance from temptation. Jesus’ experience in the desert helps us to see these common temptations that keep us from serving God effectively. Furthermore, we learn from Jesus’ response to the temptations exactly how we are to respond—with Scripture. The forces of evil come to us with a myriad of temptations, but all have the same three things at their core: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. We can only recognize and combat these temptations by saturating our hearts and minds with the Truth. The armour of a Christian solider in the spiritual battle of life includes only one offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Cf. Eph 6:17). Knowing the Bible intimately will put the Sword in our hands and enable us to be victorious over temptations.
Everything about our lives — our attitudes, motives, desires, actions, and even our words — is influenced by our view of God. God wants us to have a correct view of Him: “Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me” (Cf. Jeremiah 9:24). We might not have a correct (or complete) view of God if we practise selective reading and hearing of His word. This does not stand us in good stead in the spiritual battle of life (Cf. Eph 6:12) where the enemy might throw us into confusion by perverting the gospel of Christ (Cf. Gal 1:7). God wants us to know Him. As John says in his Gospel, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3). We all have a choice — to align our view of God with the Truth, or not. Our choice influences everything.
Let the hymn “All That Is Hidden” assure us that “All that is hidden will be made clear. All that is dark now will be revealed.” (Luke 12:2-3)