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“And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God. Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.”
Exodus 5:8, 9
The descendants of Abraham cried out to God from their bondage in Egypt. God called Moses to go before Pharaoh and demand that His people be released. Pharaoh’s response was not what Israel desired or anticipated. Instead of releasing them, Pharaoh increased their labor and intensified their burdens. They would have to gather their own straw for the bricks, and yet their required production would remain the same. Concluding that these people must have too much idle time on their hands if they were requesting to go and hold a feast and worship their God, Pharoah said, “they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God.” Apparently, they were not busy enough, so Pharaoh’s solution was to keep them busier, “Let there more work be laid upon the men.”
The enemy’s answer to the desire of God’s people to worship was to keep them too busy to have time to think about God or His worship. He put more work on them. We see that our enemy, Satan, works in a similar way. The devil does not want to see people spend time in the worship or service of God. When we set aside time to thank God and praise Him, and to listen to His Word as it is read, taught, and preached, our lives are strengthened spiritually. When God’s people are walking in the power of His Spirit, learning the wisdom of the Word of God, and understanding God’s plan and purpose, they are a threat to the kingdom of the evil one. To keep the children of God distracted from the necessary and beneficial time of devotion and reflection with God, the enemy seeks to keep us too busy for time to worship and seek the Lord.
Satan wants to see us so covered up with things to do that our spiritual lives suffer. This tactic is very effective and is accomplishing its purpose in the lives of many. When we are too busy to spend time alone with God or to assemble with the church each time it meets, the enemy is successfully distracting us by busyness. We must not let our work keep us from the priority of spending time with the Lord.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
What a great promise for all who have known weariness: “ye shall find rest unto your souls.” All of us can identify with the need for spiritual and emotional rest. We know what it is to be weary and burdened. Phrases like “stressed out” and “stress management” are common to our culture. Whether it is the housewife, the commuter negotiating through rush-hour traffic, the pastor shouldering the cares of the ministry, or the teenager dealing with the pressures of adolescence, stress is a part of
life. Jesus offers rest to our souls.
The Scripture sounds forth an invitation to all who are heavy laden, and it is an invitation to come to Him. The rest that the Lord offers is not a formula or a plan; it is a relationship with a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is first an invitation to come to Him and trust Him as Savior. The greatest burden we all have is the burden of our sin. When a person is made aware of God’s holy law, and is confronted with his personal guilt before Him, the weight of sin becomes too much to bear. The only relief for that burden is the forgiveness found in receiving Christ. This does not imply that once we come to the Lord in salvation, we never again experience unrest in our souls. As Christians, we should continue to come to Him and find rest.
Responsibilities, problems, and frustrations can weigh heavily on our minds and hearts. In our weariness, our Savior wants us to come to Him. He invites us to take His yoke upon us. When we are yoked to Him, He is working with us. We are not alone in our struggles. He wants to assist us on our journey. He encourages us to learn of Him. He wants to teach us as we rely on Him and rest in Him.
We see in this passage the gentle nature of our Lord: “meek and lowly in heart.” When we go to Jesus, we need not be concerned that He will be harsh or unkind. He cares about us and wants to give us rest. As we depend on Him and walk in His will, we see that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light.” When done with God’s help, God’s will is never more than we can manage. When it seems the burdens are too heavy for us, we can come to Him and find rest for our souls.
“Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.”
There are worse things in life than being poor, especially when it can be said of the poverty stricken, “the poor committeth himself unto thee.” Those who are destitute and distressed can especially be inclined to turn to the Lord for assistance. Although it would include this, being poor is certainly not limited to the idea of financial poverty. People can also be emotionally distraught, physically impoverished, or spiritually bankrupt. The Scriptures include the fatherless in the same sentence.
To be poor is to be without or to be in great need. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Those in spiritual need are poor and in a position to be blessed if they turn to the Lord in their desperation. Those who are poor have a special motivation to commit themselves unto the Lord. The word committeth means “to leave our burdens with Him, to cast our cares on Him, or to rely upon Him.” Those who are in dire straits are more likely to give themselves up entirely into the Lord’s hands. They have no solution within themselves and are relieved to find rest in His care. Those without a need are not normally so inclined. It seems that as long as man feels he can survive without God, he usually tries to.
In a real sense, the person to be pitied is not the one who is in such calamity that he must trust the Lord, but rather the one who does not feel the need to turn to God for help. This principle is definitely true as far as salvation is concerned. When one sees how desperately lost he is, and how hopeless and utterly incapable he is to improve his lot, he will be open to placing himself into the capable and loving hands of the Lord. The same is also true in the matter of daily dependence on God. As sure as we are unable to save ourselves from our sin and guilt, we are equally bankrupt to live the Christian life without God’s daily and continual help. He wants us aware of how much we need to lean upon His sufficiency. He assists those who are sincerely depending on Him and resting in His desire and ability to aid us in our distress. It would be wise of us to recognize the enemy of self-confidence and welcome the sense of need that drives us to Him.
“And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”
Taught by our Savior, this principle of life seems out of step with our culture and the way many have been programmed to think. Doing more than is required or expected is not the norm. Yet, Jesus instructs His followers that His law of love requires far more than the Old Testament law called for. Why would Jesus tell us to go two miles when one mile is all that is expected? In part, voluntarily going the second mile demonstrates the difference He makes in our lives.
One of the wonderful attributes of our Savior is His generosity. He has given us a beautiful world to enjoy. He has given us physical life. He gave Himself completely, that we might be saved. He gives the gift of eternal life to those who, by faith, trust Him as Savior. He has given us His Word to love and to live by. He gives us abundant life and a purpose for living that the world can never offer. He will give us a mansion in Heaven to reside in. It only stands to reason that since He comes to dwell in a believer by His Spirit, He would cause that person to become, like Himself, a giver. He wants us to go the second mile.
A person who professes to know the Lord, but is selfish and greedy, is a poor example of what a child of God should be. The phrase, “selfish Christian,” is a misnomer. We should do more than that which is expected or required. Going the second mile will require a few adjustments in the way we think, as well as the way we act. This attitude of going the extra mile is a command of Christ, not an option. He has reasons for it, and we must want to please Him more than ourselves.
To become second-mile Christians, we must be willing to develop a servant’s heart. It does not come naturally to want to serve others. Without a heart change, people resent being asked to go the second mile. We must learn to care about those in our world we are trying to influence for the Savior. They are the ones we hope will see the reality of Christ in us, notice our selfless lives of service, and will potentially be drawn to the Lord. Is it not worth it for Christ, for our world, and for us, to go the extra mile? God knows that going the second mile benefits both us and the ones we are serving. When we are willing to do more than we are expected to do, and do so with the right spirit, we too will be blessed.
“What shall I say? he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it: I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul.”
Hezekiah was a truly outstanding king in Judah. He obeyed the Lord and removed many of the images of false worship from the land. It is said of him in II Kings 18:5, “He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.”
The Bible tells us how Hezekiah became sick unto death. He earnestly prayed to the Lord. God heard his prayer, and God mercifully promised to add fifteen, years to his life. How appreciative the king was for the gracious, transforming touch of God upon his life. Hezekiah’s thankful response to God’s goodness toward him included these words: “I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul.” Hezekiah knew that his life had been extended. The phrase “go softly” carries the idea that he would walk humbly and gratefully all of his life, remembering the bitterness of his sickness from which he had been delivered. Hezekiah was determined never to forget how fortunate and blessed he was. The awareness of what God had done for him would serve to keep him in the right frame of mind for the remainder of his days.
The way the Lord had blessed him would have an affect on the way he lived the rest of his life. Shouldn’t the same be true of each of us? God has been so good to us. He has provided salvation for us through the death of His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. No one ever cared for us the way our God cares for us. He has promised an eternal home in Heaven for each one who wholly turns to Christ and receives the gift of eternal life. He has placed us in a New Testament church where the Word of God is preached. God has made it possible for us to own a copy of the precious Word of God. He has placed His Holy Spirit within us at the time of our new birth, and has promised never to leave us. God has not added a mere fifteen years to our lives; He has added abundant and eternal life to our existence.
May we never get over God’s goodness. The awareness of what He has done for us should affect the way we live. Our attitude along this journey of life should reflect how we have been touched and transformed by the gracious hand of the Almighty.
“The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour.”
There is much in the Bible about the sluggard or slothful man. A slothful person is lazy, procrastinates, and makes excuses for his unwillingness to work. One might think that since the slothful man does not want to work, he has no desire to achieve or improve. Yet, the Bible says his desire is killing him. He wants to have certain things; however, because “his hands refuse to labour,” his desire only tends to frustrate him. He would rather do nothing and have nothing, than to work and accomplish something.
God wants us to understand the value of hard work. It is honorable to work and disgraceful to refuse to labor. We all have heard complaints lamenting the fact that too few people are willing to work. This is an interesting phenomenon in our country. We hear that many people are without a job; but at the same time, employers are always looking for dependable workers. As parents and leaders, we should be teaching and training those under our care to see the dignity of honest labor. The opinion that the world owes us something or that our government is responsible to meet the needs of the lazy is wrong. The slothful man’s dreams will never come true because he is not willing to work for them.
There is nothing wrong with seeking to prosper or having an ambition to succeed, especially when we want our successes to bring honor and glory to God. However, effort, toil, diligence, and discipline are the things dreams are made of. It takes work for dreamers to reach their goals and accomplish their objectives. For instance, one does not grow spiritually to maturity without a great deal of discipline and effort. We are to exercise ourselves unto godliness. A successful Christian family does not come about by desire alone. The desire must be accompanied by determination and effort. To reach others with the Gospel message and help believers become all they are capable of becoming takes the investment of time and concern from others.
Many believers would like to have a more fruitful life for Christ, a stable and godly home, and a more effective ministry. Yet, their desire is only making them miserable because their hands refuse to labor. To see our godly objectives realized, we must roll up our sleeves and get to work.
“Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.”
II Timothy 1:6
Paul admonishes his son in the faith to “stir up the gift of God.” This phrase paints a very interesting picture. To stir up means “to re-kindle or fan a flame.” One must assume that Paul recognized the need for Timothy to be stirred up. The implication is that our spiritual fire can grow dim and needs to be fanned back to fervency.
Most of us have been there in our spiritual lives. There have been times when we have let our enthusiasm or zeal diminish. Paul’s language reminds us of those times around a campfire when the fire died down and the embers lost their glow. We have seen the transformation that takes place when that neglected fire gets some much-needed attention. Just stirring the coals or fanning the flame can restore the fire to its previous radiance. It is apparent that Timothy, like many of us, needed to be encouraged from time to time not to shrink back in his service to Christ. He was reminded in II Timothy 1:7 that God had not given him the “spirit of fear.” In I Timothy 4:12, Paul told Timothy to “Let no man despise thy youth.” Perhaps his youthfulness was a part of the reason for his timidity. In any case, it helps us identify with Timothy when we recognize the personal weaknesses that we also have.
Like Timothy, we have all been given the spiritual equipment we need to fulfill God’s will for our lives. However, at times, our spiritual fire loses its luster, often because of neglect. We have not provided the fuel to keep the fire burning brightly. We need to tend to the fire in our souls. Maintaining the fire is partly accomplished through meaningful daily devotions. As we pray, and let God’s Word speak to our hearts, confessing our sins to God regularly, we find that the flames of our spiritual lives stay burning. Sin quenches the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. The Spirit of God wants to fill and flow out of us in ministry to others. When He is grieved by our compromise or disobedience, our lives will not have the influence and impact that they should.
When responded to and obeyed, the preaching and teaching of God’s Word keeps the blaze going in our lives. For those who know the Lord as Savior, a fire has been ignited in their souls. From time to time, it needs to be re-kindled and fanned; then, it will burn brightly for the Lord.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Make thee two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shalt thou make them: that thou mayest use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps.”
God instructed Moses to make trumpets that would be used “for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps.” Different and distinct messages would be conveyed to the vast congregation by means of the trumpets. Trumpets would be used to assemble the entire congregation or call for a meeting of the leaders. They would sound warnings or alarms, give precise instructions for different tribes, call to arms to face enemies, and even communicate times of rejoicing.
Several practical lessons can be derived from this system of communication. It would be imperative that the one blowing the trumpet give the correct message. A confused sound could cause great misfortune. A parallel is given in the New Testament concerning the preaching of the Word of God. Paul asked the church members in Corinth, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8) Preaching should give a certain sound. It should be distinct and easily understood. People should not have to struggle to understand the message being sounded forth.
There is also the responsibility of the congregation to be responsive to the message of the trumpeter. The communication of information from a faithful trumpeter will serve as no benefit if the message is not heard and heeded. When the trumpet began to signal a command, the people of Israel were to comprehend and obey the message. An ignored or misunderstood trumpet could spell disaster. Confidence on the part of the congregation was imperative. Without seeing the trumpeter, they would have to respond in faith. God compares the preaching of His Word to the trumpeter communicating a vital message. Just as the preacher should be clear in the message of truth he is declaring, the listeners must be attentive to hear and respond to what is preached. By faith, the listeners should decisively comply to the truth of the Scripture being proclaimed. To fail to apply the message could result in great disappointment and loss. The responsibility to alertly understand and obey the sound of the trumpet lies with each of us.
“Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”
II Corinthians 4:10, 11
What benefit is there in our problems? There are several equally true answers to that question, but this passage clearly brings out one of them. Our trials have a way of bringing us to experience the death of our natural abilities, bringing us to the end of our sufficiency, that we might experience the ability and all-sufficiency of Christ in our lives.
We all will face hardships, and those difficulties may come in several varieties. Paul spoke of being troubled, perplexed, persecuted, and cast down. In spite of all that, we know that we are never forsaken, left alone, or without hope. We can always know that God is using our trials for our betterment. As these various forms of adversity come our way, they have the ability to introduce us to our inadequacies. Then, we are able to recognize the sufficiency of Jesus in our circumstances. The more this “death” works in us, the more His life is “made manifest in our mortal flesh.” At the same time that death is working in us, life is working through us toward others.
It is helpful for us to understand this part of God’s program for our lives. His ultimate purpose includes taking us to be with Him in Heaven one day, but it involves much more than that. When we are saved, a part of Heaven comes to dwell within us through the Spirit of Christ. God wants to manifest, both to us and to those we come in contact with, how His Spirit can equip and enable us. However, one of the factors that hinder His working through us is our own sufficiency. When we are capable of handling the affairs of our lives, we tend to do things in our own ability or power. But, God in His wisdom knows that when we have problems larger than ourselves, we will be motivated to let Him work through us.
Dying to self and learning how helpless we are can be painful experiences. We sometimes fight to maintain our sense of control and self-confidence. However, it is only in dying that we learn to live. May we not despair in our times of testing. When we think it is more than we can bear, we can know that the end of our sufficiency is the beginning of His.
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
The Scripture gives us instruction to avoid the hindering attitude of mediocrity. It is understandable, and should be appreciated, that the Word of God repeatedly warns us of the danger of being half-hearted about our work. We need these cautions because we have a natural tendency to be or do less than our true potential. Jesus rebuked the Laodicean church for being lukewarm. We are urged in many places to serve, to sing, and to love God with our whole heart. God wants our best, and excellence should be our objective.
Where should we expect excellence in our efforts? Our text tells us we should give our best in “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do.” It has been said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” The Bible does not make a distinction between important things and less important things. We are encouraged to pursue excellence in whatever we do. As a matter of fact, it is probably true that carelessness in the smaller things promotes negligence in the larger things. We know that Jesus promised that faithfulness in a few things would be rewarded with opportunity in many things.
Our text tells us that after the grave, certain opportunities for service will be lost. It is in this life that we are privileged to labor for the Master. One day, it will be too late for us to do what we have been given to do now. Jesus said in John 9:4, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” Every day we draw closer to eternity. What we intend to do, we must do now. We ought to have a sense of urgency about serving God while we have the opportunity. Our day of resting from our work will come.
In the meantime, we should be busy. And how would the Lord have us to go about our calling and place of service? Whatever it is that we find to do, we are to do it with our might. There ought to be a commitment on our part to give God our best, and always do our best. With God as our Helper, let us determine not to offer to Him that which costs us nothing. Let’s not be satisfied with mediocrity in our involvements. One day, we will answer to Him for our stewardship, and we want to know that we did our best for the Master.