by Al Maxey
Issue #857 -- November 21, 2022
The supreme imperative is not merely to
believe in God, but to do the will of God
Abraham Joshua Heschel [1907-1972]
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism
Dr. Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), a well-known author and university professor of comparative mythology and comparative religion, wrote the following insightful statement in his book titled "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" - "When the Lord Himself answers Job out of the whirlwind, He makes no attempt to vindicate His work in ethical terms, but only magnifies His Presence, bidding Job do likewise on earth in human emulation of the way of heaven (Job 40:7-14)." Although some scholars might differ somewhat with Campbell's understanding of God's primary purpose for speaking as He did to Job in this particular passage, yet Campbell is most certainly right that, in general, our Lord desires mankind to emulate on earth the way and will of heaven. In the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray, one finds this key phrase: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). Later within this Sermon on the Mount, in which many feel Jesus reveals the true nature of God's will for mankind, Jesus warns, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21, NKJV).
Such statements in the sacred writings, of which there are many, beg the question, "What is the will of God and how does one do it?" When it comes to discerning the will and way of God, there is an enormous amount of speculation, some of it scholarly and sincere, some of it not. Much of the world simply doesn't care what God wants of mankind, and such is abundantly evident in the way He is shoved aside in every area of their lives. This is true not only of individuals, but of organizations, institutions, nations, and even of too many churches who falsely profess to be proclaimers and followers of His will. In a world where the "way of heaven" is viewed at best as irrelevant, there is little interest in seeking to understand God's will, and even less interest in emulating it and applying it. The result is a continual and increasing promotion, whether intentional or by default, of the darkness that blinds us to the countless blessings our Creator longs to pour out upon us! Even among sincere disciples of Christ there is a tendency to focus our attention more on the particulars of our party traditions than on what constitutes the true will of our Father in heaven, which, frankly, has little to do with our many traditions and religious regulations - e.g., Matthew 15:6 ("You reject what God said for the sake of your own rules" - New Century Version). Our will supplants His, and our "worship" of Him becomes "vain, useless, worthless" (Matthew 15:9).
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a friend in Miami, Florida. He wrote, in part, "In our men's Bible study on Wednesday morning, we are going through the book of Matthew. The other morning we looked at verses 21-23 of chapter 7, and it hit me that we were blowing by the phrase 'the will of My Father' in verse 21. It dawned on me to look and see what you have written on this phrase in this text, so I went to your Textual Index and looked at the six articles you had listed there, but none of them (and I may be wrong here) seemed to address the question: What exactly is 'the will of My Father'? Further, in researching this in my Expositor's Bible Commentary, which I believe you are familiar with, nothing came up clarifying this. Have you given any additional in-depth thought on what Jesus may have meant regarding men 'doing the will of My Father'? Thank you, as always, my friend." I am indeed very familiar with the commentary set of which this brother speaks, and he is right: it left the reader with little insight into the nature of the will of God. It simply stated, "The determinative factor regarding who enters the kingdom is obedience to the Father's will, ... and Jesus alone claims to be the authoritative Revealer of His Father's will (vs. 21)" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 192]. Nothing is said there about precisely what the will of the Father is. It does tell us, though, what it isn't: "It quite misses the point to say that the Father's will is simply the OT law" [ibid]. I would agree whole-heartedly with that. In light of the teaching of Jesus, and also the writings of Paul and others, it would be absurd to assert that it was God's "will" that mankind forever live under bondage to LAW. Even "OT law," although it served a limited purpose, was never intended to be permanent in nature, especially for His people today, "for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14). To identify God's "will" with some legal system, in which we find a host of rigidly regulated religious rituals and "acts of worship," is an enormous error ... yet, sadly, one many have made over the centuries, and which many continue to make even to this day!
This friend from Miami also is correct with regard to the several Reflections articles in which I mentioned something in passing about Matthew 7:21. In none of those articles was my focus specifically upon the phrase "...he who does the will of My Father in heaven." To some degree, I suppose, I too "blew by" that statement in my haste to focus on other aspects of the teaching of Jesus in that section of His Sermon on the Mount. Thus, I told this brother and friend that my next issue of Reflections would correct that oversight (which is the article each of you are now reading).
There are a number of places in both the OT and NT writings in which we find the phrase "God's will," or "the will of God," or "His will," or some similar wording. In each, however, mention is made of the "will" of this Supreme Being for His creation. As we have already noted, there are a number of these passages in which nothing is said with respect to the specifics of that divine will. In Matthew 12:50, for example, Jesus says, "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother." Cool. Awesome! So, what is that "will," and how does one DO it?! One would almost think that we were given an impossible task with no directions for achieving it: "Do My will." "But Lord, what is Your will?" "Sorry, My child, but that's up to you to figure out, and you had better get it right, or I will beat you with many stripes!!" In a similar scenario, I have asked legalistic patternists to provide me a list of the particulars of their elusive "NT pattern" that we must follow precisely in order to be saved, and they have refused to provide it. Instead, they say, "You have a Bible; go read it and figure it out for yourself." Is this what God is doing as well?!! Thankfully, God doesn't behave like some who profess to be His children. In fact, we have been informed as to the nature of His will. Why many of us have been confused is because it wasn't what we expected. We were looking for a list; we were expecting law. It was/is neither!!
Before we get into that evidence, however, let me say a few words about Matthew 7:21, which is the verse that triggered this current study. It comes at the end of Christ's Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which many feel, and I believe rightly so, is the very essence of the message of God through His Son to mankind. It reveals His true intent and purpose for us. It gives us a glimpse into His nature, and it informs us as to how we may emulate that divine nature in our daily living. It is a call to action, a challenge to rise above earthly passions, and to begin a process of transformation from selfish pursuits to selfless service unto God and our fellow man. At the close, in verses 21-23 of chapter 7, Jesus warns His hearers that "lip-service" is not what God expects of His people. Just saying we are devoted to His lordship over our lives is a hollow profession if we don't show it in the attitudes and behaviors of our daily living (vs. 21). We may even do some very good things on occasion, acts that may even convince ourselves and others that we are "holy ones," but if our hearts and minds are not transformed, if our motivation is wrong, then those acts are a false witness to our true nature (vs. 22); they are acts that will not secure any reward from the Lord (vs. 23). Jesus closes the "sermon" with the parable of the wise and foolish builders (vs. 24-27), in which He urges us to consider our foundation in life. How we build, and upon what/Whom we build, is critical to our ultimate survival.
The reader from Miami, whose email I mentioned above, asked me, "I know Jesus is finishing His Sermon on the Mount, so is Matthew 7:21 in some way the sum of all His teaching in chapters 5-7?" In other words, is "the will of My Father" the teaching He just gave us in this discourse? Even though Jesus speaks of God's "will" a time or two in this "sermon," without ever specifying precisely what the "will" is at the time He used the word, He nevertheless had God's "will" and eternal purpose for us in view all through His teaching. He was seeking to shift our focus away from LAW to LOVE, from religion to relationship. Yet, some, as they read His message, utterly fail to grasp His intent to show us the nature of God's will for us (as seen in the church sign to your right).
Jesus did not come to bring new rules and regulations to govern a new "religion." He came to free us from such. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. ... You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:1, 4, NKJV). Saying "Lord, Lord," and engaging in a host of religious acts (even though those acts may be good in and of themselves), is nothing but an outward show if His Spirit does not dwell within us, daily transforming us into His image! The "goats" found this out the hard way in Matthew 25:31-46. All the good works in the world, and all the cries of "Lord, Lord," will "profit me nothing" if we do not possess the love and Spirit of God within us (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; Romans 8:9). The will of God for us is simply this: He wants us to strive to be holy and pure, as He is holy and pure; and He calls us to show LOVE unto Him and unto others in all that we say and do. I like what the brother of our Lord said in James 2:8 (and remember, the book of James is, in many ways, a practical commentary on the Lord's Sermon on the Mount). James writes, "If you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well." You are not only doing "well," you are also doing His "will." His will is for each of us to be channels of blessing through which He touches the lives of those around us. The German theologian Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) summed it up well: "God expects but one thing of you, and that is that you let God be God in you."
It is not God's will for mankind that they perform the "five acts" of a "worship service" exactly "according to the pattern." That is absolute nonsense!! Dr. R.C.H. Lenski rightly observes that people are dreadfully wrong when they regard our Lord's reference to "the will of My Father" as "a reference to orthodoxy" [The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 306]. It is not God's will for mankind that we search the Scriptures for every rule and regulation regarding our "religious" experience, and that we conduct our lives in obedience to such "laws." Jesus rebuked the legalistic religionists of His day for doing this very thing (John 5:39-40). James actually tells us what Jesus meant by "religion" -- he wrote, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27). Be holy as I am holy; love as I love! Let Me live in and through you in your daily lives! Let God be God in you! Jesus continually stresses "the ethical side of religion" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 42]. Whereas we tend to focus on the externals, the Lord looks at the heart. It is far more in the why than the what of our actions that we discover the true will of our God. Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann expressed it this way, "A mouth-Christianity can never be a valid substitute for heart-Christianity" [Popular Commentary of the Bible: the NT, vol. 1, p. 40]. Dr. John Gill (1697-1771), an English pastor and theologian, wrote the following in his commentary on our text, "Such do the will of Christ's Father: he that seeth the Son, looks unto Him, ventures on Him, commits himself to Him, trusts in Him, relies on Him, and believes on Him for righteousness, salvation, and eternal life; he it is that does the will of the Father, and he only" [Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, e-Sword]. Which is precisely the point that Jesus made rather forcefully in John 5:39-40 to those searching the Scriptures thinking that in them they could obtain life.
Is this rather "untraditional" (some might say) perspective of God's divine "will" for mankind to be found within the New Testament writings? Do they reveal to us this better way to understanding and applying His will? I firmly believe it is, and that they do. Although there are a number of places (like Matthew 7:21) where the term "the will" of God is left largely, if not entirely (even by the context), undefined, that is not always the case. Let me close this study by giving several examples:
1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7-8 - "For this is the will of God: your sanctification ... For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." In the intervening verses, Paul expounds on the meaning of this: focusing on those who give in to lustful passions, and who transgress against and harm and defraud their fellow men. God wills us to be holy, as He is holy, and to love one another, as He loves us.
1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 - "Always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
Hebrews 13:20-21 - "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." He who dwells within us, is also working through us, to bring about His will for us. And what is it that "pleases" the Father? "Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (vs. 16). "Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers" (vs. 1-2). Marriage is to be held in honor (vs. 4); our character is to be free of the love of money (vs. 5). "Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (vs. 14). Godly character; Christian service unto others. Holiness in action. This is what pleases our God; this is His will for us.
Romans 12:1-2 - "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Our very lives are to be lived in holy, loving service to others, thereby "proving" that this is His "will" for us, and that such service is not only good and acceptable, but it is also worshipful in nature. It is exactly what He is looking for.
1 Peter 2:13-17 - In this passage, Peter speaks of our responsibility to be good citizens of the communities and societies within which we live. It is His "will" that we behave honorably and godly before the peoples of this world, serving as an example of holiness. "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." His will is that we be people of godly character; loving, charitable, merciful, yet unwilling to forfeit our freedom in Christ to those who would enslave us (as per Paul's charge in Galatians 2:4-5).
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Al, please find enclosed a check for the following five Bible classes you taught, the MP3 recordings of which are found on these CDs: "The New Covenant Church: Identity - History - Mission" ... "Law to Liberty: Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ" ... "A Reflective Study of Philippians: A Quest for Joy Amidst the Storms of Life" ... "A Reflective Study of James: Our Practical Guideline for Daily Christian Living" ... "Great Prayers of the Bible: Devotional Study of Devout Disciples as they Poured out their Hearts in Prayer." My husband and I truly enjoy all of your sermons, Bible studies and writings. We were also fortunate, a few years back, to hear you speak at The Tulsa Workshop. We are looking forward to hearing more of your teachings with this order, and plan to listen to many of the classes on our upcoming trip overseas. Thank you so much, and may you continue to bless God's people. Love you!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, I trust you are doing well. We are entering our summer period; it's warm, but not yet too hot. Yesterday I happened, providentially, to stumble upon your Reflections article titled "Our Fellow Soldier Archippus: Honoring an Unknown Hero of Faith" (Reflections #663). We are currently studying Colossians, and will be studying Philemon soon, so this article of yours is a Godsend. Thank you!! I will be making copies of it to hand out to the class. Please keep us here in New Zealand in your prayers. God bless you!
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Good morning, Al. I am a reader of your writings from Mississippi. I will soon be doing a Devo on the Lord's Supper and would love to use your Reflections #55 ("The Lord's Supper: Perceiving its Purpose") as a guide for my class. However, I wanted to get your permission before I did so. Thank you so much!
I am always happy to hear that readers feel some of my writings are worth sharing with others, and I have no problem at all with these studies being shared with others. Please feel free to do so! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Nigeria, Africa:
We read that the devil and his angels were cast down because of rebellion. In light of this Bible passage, how can we say there's no sin in heaven? I've recently been confronted with this question. What are your thoughts?
Angels, like us, have the freedom to choose whom they will serve. They are not automatons with no will of their own. One such being, perhaps bolder and more self-willed than the rest, sought to elevate himself above the Creator, and a number of angels followed his lead in this rebellion. Yes, these beings sinned against God, but they were also quickly cast from His presence! God is holy, and He will not long tolerate SIN in His presence. It will be decisively dealt with! This is a lesson we ourselves would do well to learn. Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." If God won't put up with sin in heaven, then we need to realize that a day of "casting out" awaits willful, rebellious sinners here on earth as well. Thankfully, we have a merciful God who is presently being patient with us, for He desires none to perish, but for all to come to repentance. Let us not presume on that patience, though, for a day of reckoning will come, just as it did for the angels who rebelled! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Virginia:
Al, I have a copy of the book "Scribes and Scripture" by Drs. Gurry and Meade (which you mentioned in Reflections #856 - "Puzzling 'Tall' Tale of Goliath: Stature-Seeking Study of 1 Samuel 17:4"), and I also highly recommend it. I have only read the first couple of chapters, but I am greatly impressed. Most books on how we got the Bible either ignore or gloss over the Old Testament writings. This one provides some very good info on that process. I also highly recommend a little book by Greg Lanier, "A Christian's Pocket Guide to How We Got the Bible." Lanier also covers the Old Testament writings very nicely. While I'm on a roll, I will also highly recommend Hixson's and Gurry's "Myths and Mistake in New Testament Textual Criticism."
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, thanks for the reminder in your last article that we need to take our eyes off our enemies and put them on the Lord, who is more than tall enough to handle even the biggest giant that comes against us! Love ya, brother!
From a Reader in California:
Al, as always, your study of the "Puzzling 'Tall' Tale of Goliath" was an interesting article. Thank you for mentioning in that article a very dear friend of mine: Patrick Mead. There are many Sunday mornings that I choose to listen to him rather than our own preacher, who is far from a biblical scholar (even though he has his D.Min.), and who frequently ignores context in order to make his point. I've talked with him a time or two about this, but he seems to lack a teachable spirit. Love you, brother.
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