Come Follow Me

All the Gospels portray the calling of the disciples in one way or another. All the Biblical records have this in common: Jesus called the disciples into a personal relationship with God through him. Matthew describes it like this:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him (Matthew 4:18-22).

Jesus found Peter, Andrew, James and John amid their ordinary day-to-day lives. He did not say, “Stop what you are doing for a few moments and accept me as your Lord and Savior.” He did not ask for a mere intellectual commitment, “Recognize I am the Son of God.” He said, “Come, follow me.” In other words, he asked for a commitment that would involve mind, heart, body, and soul. He might as well have said, “Stop what you are doing. Leave your old accustomed way of life. Leave the books you are reading right where they are. Stop going to your therapist. Make your hobbies, families, and work secondary. Then, follow me.” He even offered them a new occupation: From now on they would not fish for fish; they would fish for people.

Too often modern people think of our commitment to follow Christ is purely intellectual terms, as if recognizing who Jesus was and is makes a person a Christian. Too often in our evangelism and discipleship we simply ask people to make a verbal statement of faith. We ask them to confess with their lips, remembering that they must also believe in their heart—the center of their very being. Christians believe in and trust Jesus for all of life.

Jesus wanted the disciples to know who he was. More importantly, he wanted them to spend time with him, follow him, and become more like him. He wanted them to make a deep commitment to God through him. He knew that this would take time, a lot of time. He knew it would take personal commitment on their part and on his part. He even knew it would require a cross.

Sometimes, we think it must have been easier for the disciples than for us to follow Jesus. We think that if we physically saw Jesus, if came and personally asked us to follow him, we would find it easier to follow than after hearing a pastor, evangelist, or friend share what God has done in their lives and ask us if we are ready to follow Jesus. This is a mistake.

The disciples had it just as hard as we do. They had families. They had friendships. They had hobbies. They had occupations. They already had a religion. They probably went to synagogue in Capernaum if there was one. They had homes and responsibilities. They did not have the gospels or the records of Jesus’ life death and resurrection. They had even less information than we have. One day, when they were out fishing or getting ready to fish, a man came up to them and asked them to follow him and become fishers of human beings..

Deciding to Follow Jesus

The gospels tell us that the disciples heard the invitation, left what they were doing, and followed. Somehow, amidst the hustle and bustle of earning a living, caring for spouses, parents, and children, the disciples saw something important in Jesus and decided it was worth the risk of following. They did not have it easier than we do. In fact, they may have had it harder. We can look back at the generations of lives changed, of people healed, of ministries and missions of compassion and care.

We have the examples of people like St. Francis of Assisi, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and hosts of others. We have reason to know what God can do with one ordinary life. When Jesus called the disciples the cross, resurrection, and spreading of the gospel, the birth of the church, the example of the martyrs, the evangelization of the world, had not occurred. It was all to come. They had to look in the traveling Rabbi’s eyes and answer the question, “Will I follow Him or not?” So do we.

We are called to answer the same question the disciples answered: “Am I going to respond to the call to follow Jesus?” As we ponder that question, we must ask ourselves the same questions the disciples must have asked. We must ask if are we willing to be committed to follow Jesus. When we ask another person if they are ready to become a Christian, we need to be careful not to make it sound too easy. We probably should not say, “Are you ready to believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” We should say, “Are you willing to be follow Jesus?” Eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, membership in the family of God, citizenship in the kingdom of God depend upon our being willing to follow Jesus, not tell people we believe in Jesus.

The Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard puts it this way, “Jesus does not need admirers. He needs imitators.” In the ancient world a disciple was more than just a learner. A disciple followed his master and imitated his master. While learning is a large part of the life of a disciple, it is not the end or goal. Jesus asks us to follow him because he intends to have us become little Christ’s living as he lived and doing the same kind of things he did. A follower of Jesus will have certain characteristics, the most important of which is that followers of Jesus try to become like Jesus and in becoming like Jesus we believe we become more like God. Our goal, as the Eastern orthodox put it is “theosis.” We are Christ’s disciples so that we might become more like God.

Christianity is not just knowing who Jesus is, a few Bible verses, and three or four theological ideas. Christianity is a way of life. Furthermore, it is a specific kind of way of life: it is a way of life patterned after Jesus the Christ and his way of life. It is a life of loving others, of being a servant, of sharing life together, of discovering and using spiritual gifts, of healing our broken world, and speaking truth into the darkness of a world too often governed by lies. Being a Christian is learning to bear a cross now and again. We can only learn these things as we do them. We cannot be a disciple or learn to be a disciple any other way but by following Jesus, watching and listening to Jesus, and acting and living like Jesus. This is what it means to be a disciple.

Counting the Cost

One of the most famous Christian books of the 20th Century is by the Christian teacher, pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is called, “The Cost of Discipleship.” He begins his book with these words, “Cheap Grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for  costly grace”. [1] If these words were true in Europe in the years leading up to the Second World War, they are even truer today.

Bonhoeffer describes cheap grace in this way:

“Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principal, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception of God.” An intellectual assent to the idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure the remission of sins.”  [2]

He later describes the calling of the disciples in these words, “The call goes forth and is at once followed by the response of obedience.” [3]

One dangerous failure of churches today is a failure to understand that the Gospel is not primarily a system of doctrine, a theology of Grace, or a formula of verbal and mental acceptance to propositions about God, Jesus, and Eternal Life. The word we translate “Faith” could also be translated as “Trust”. Real faith is seen in obedience to Christ and in responding in faith to the pressures of daily life. Real faith is seen in disciples who follows Jesus regardless of the cost, personally, professionally, or otherwise.

At the time of the Reformation, it was unquestionably important to guard against the idea that by doing certain liturgical actions one could be saved as if by magic. The Reformation was a corrective to the excesses of the Middle Ages. Today, among evangelical churches, indeed among all churches, there is a need to correct the notion that faith is merely accepting a proposition about Jesus, getting your admission ticket to heaven punched, and then living as you always lived in reliance on the Cheap Grace of God. If it was a problem in Bonhoeffer’s day, Cheap Grace is a worse problem today.

The call to be a disciple is a call to follow Jesus. It is a call to respond by committing one’s self to God in such a way that we follow Jesus, learn from Jesus, imitate Jesus, and grow to become more like Jesus. This includes cross-bearing. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We cannot be disciples without becoming like Jesus and being willing to experience what Jesus experienced, for good or for bad. We cannot become like God unless we are willing to give our lives for others in self-giving love.

Crosses are not difficulties. Crosses are not the consequences of our own behavior and choices. Crosses are the decisions we make to suffer for others though we are not required to by law, or compulsion, or some inner brokenness. Jesus went to the cross because God loves us, and Jesus was sent by God to bear our sins and brokenness on the cross. Being a disciple means bearing the sins and brokenness of others, loving them unconditionally.

Years ago, I was a lay leader in a large congregation. A problem arose. As time went by, I came to think that my closest friends, those I was theologically most in sympathy with, and those with whom I wanted to side were not adopting the right strategy, and therefore were behaving improperly. On the other hand, members of my own family were on another side, which I did not believe was acting properly either. It was the first time as a Christian I ever had to go against the very people who were most important in my life and to my Christian walk. It was a time of personal suffering. During this time, God taught me an important lesson: Being a disciple does not exempt us from being misunderstood, misquoted, slandered, and otherwise deeply hurt.

To be a disciple is, from time to time, to bear a cross. I’ve now been a pastor and for over twenty years and a Christian for well over 35 years. Every pastor and every serious Christian leader knows that following Jesus does not exempt you from suffering and carrying a cross in the name of Jesus. In fact, as I sometimes say to leaders, every time God desires to do something really important in this world, someone carries a cross.

The Role of Faith

From the beginning, Jesus warned his disciples what belief in him meant. Think of Abraham. God called Abraham to leave his homeland on the basis of the promise of a son and blessing. Abraham left his homeland because he believed. He trusted God, believed that God would be faithful to his promises, and so Abraham acted on that belief. When Jesus called potential disciples to come and follow him, he was asking them to show the same kind of trust/faith that Abraham had.

Mark begins his gospel with Jesus proclaiming the good news and telling his hearers to “repent and believe” (Mark 1:14). The faith of which Jesus speaks is more than knowing Jesus is right. It is moving out in faith, trusting in the wisdom and love of God. It requires that we give up our self-trust, our sin, our selfish ambition, and follow Jesus. If we believe in Jesus we will trust him, move out, and live like him trusting that a life of loving service to others is the best way of life there is.

In Galatians, Paul speaks of the Gospel that can only be accepted by faith. He teaches the principle that people cannot earn their salvation. He is correct: We cannot be justified by our moral behavior or by following the moral law (Galatians 2:16). However, Paul goes on to say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Responding to the cross means dying to self and selfish desire (“I have been crucified with Christ”) and then living by the power of Christ (“it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”). Faith means responding by giving our whole selves to God, turning away from our selfish, self-centered ways, and living out of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Faith inevitably results in works. This is why in Ephesians, Paul says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Our works do not save us, but when we believe we are going to do things we never would otherwise have done. We are going to be more loving, more caring, more truthful, than we were before. God does not save us because of our works; he saves us so that we can become capable of living like Jesus and doing the works Jesus does.

Faith and Works as a Personal Journey

There is a lot of confusion in our society and in our churches about the nature of faith. Is faith merely recognizing who Jesus is and calling upon him so that you can go to heaven when you die? Does faith simply believe Jesus is who Jesus said he was? The answer is, “No.” The Bible is the story of faith lived out by faithful people. The story begins with Abraham, who is told by God that he will be the father of many nations and have an heir if he goes to the land of the promise God will show him (Genesis 12:1-3). The Bible tells us that Abraham believed and went. In other words, he trusted God not just with his mind (“OK, God I know you can to this”) but also with his heart, soul, mind, body and strength. Abraham went and followed God in the wilderness for years because of his faith. As James reminds those who think faith can be divorced from works, Abrahams faith was revealed and completed by his works (James 2:14-26). A faith that does not change the way we think, live, act, and feel is not a faith at all.

When Jesus says, “Come and follow me,” Jesus means just what he says. He wants us to follow him because we believe that he holds the secret to our becoming the people we were created to become. Our faith is shown in our discipleship. The person who believes one thing and does another can never be psychologically or personally whole. To have integrity, to be whole, our hearts, minds, souls and spirits have to be one. Only then can we be a whole person.

The life of faith is a life of transformation. We are slowly being made whole as we gradually become the people we profess to be. As what we believe in our minds becomes imbedded in our hearts, our emotions and how we behave automatically change. This is the work of grace we call sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which what we believe and how we live become one thing in one life.

This is the journey of faith. Just as Abraham went on a journey with God, and the disciples went on a journey with Jesus, when we become Christians we begin a journey of faith. It is journey of following Jesus and therefore God through a process of discipleship and spiritual growth. It means following Jesus where Jesus goes, with companions (other disciples) who are also following Jesus and listening to the Words of Jesus spoken in the Bible in our hearts through prayer. It means doing what Jesus did and is doing in the world. It means making a few mistakes along the way, just as the disciples made mistakes, correcting those mistakes and growing along the way.

As with any journey, there are and will be twists and turns, blind allies, and mistaken paths.
A few years ago, a close friend and I walked five days of a pilgrimage, the El Camino de Santiago. The path of the pilgrimage is marked with the sign of sea shells. Occasionally the path may not be precisely marked or one may miss a marker or a marker may have been obscured. When that happens, it is easy to take the wrong path and then have to retrace your steps. This happened to us on the last day when we were very tired and ready for the journey to be over. We had to walk back a mile or so to where we left the path and begin again.

This happens over and over again on the journey of following Jesus. We cannot always see Jesus. Sometimes the way is obscured. Sometimes the thorns and thistles of our culture make the way hard to see and find. Sometimes we misread the signs God has given us in Scripture. When that happens, we retrace our steps (ask for forgiveness and make amends) find the place we went off the path, and begin again. God in his mercy knows that we will need instruction, examples, and mercy on the journey. At the same time, God because of his steadfast love for us will bring us safely through the journey. This is why Paul could say with confidence to those he was discipling, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1”6).

Copyright 2017, G, Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York, NY: McMillan, 1937), 45

[2] Id.

[3] Id, at 61.

The Blessed Life )Part 3)

This is the final installment of the Blessed Life. If we are to truly be disciples of Jesus, we must be fully convinced, as the Apostles were truly convinced that following Jesus is the way to the Blessed Life.

The New Testament

By the time of Jesus, the religion of Israel had developed in a disturbing way seen from the perspective of the prophets. In terms of religious observance, the blessed life was to be achieved by participating in the rituals and festivals of Israel and in making the proper sacrifices. In terms of behavior, the blessed life was to be achieved through understanding the law of Moses and following that law as best one could. The Pharisees, and teachers of the law those who took the Old Testament seriously, had developed detailed understanding of what it meant to follow the law in every area of life and achieve the blessed life.

For the religious few, this form of life gave meaning and purpose. However, for the average person, temple religion had become a matter of mere external form, and the religion of the scribes and Pharisees was complicated and unachievable. Certain forms of modern Christianity bear a resemblance to the situation. People continue to go to church. A few continue to study the Bible and attempt to organize their lives around biblical principles. However, for the majority of people the life of discipleship has become a dim memory. The life of faith seems complicated, unrewarding, and unachievable.

When Jesus for Joseph walked beside the Sea of Galilee and called twelve ordinary men to become his followers, he brought something new. The blessed life was not to be achieved merely by external religious observances, devoted study of the law, or even dedicated obedience to the law. Instead, discipleship, and blessed life it entails, was to be a matter of a living relationship with the God who is the source of wisdom and love. First and foremost, Jesus called his disciples into a personal relationship, and through that relationship, into a personal relationship with God. As with any relationship, the primary aspect of this relationship is a personal commitment, a commitment that we call faith. The faith of the original disciples was reflected by their decision to follow Jesus. Our faith is no different.

Just as in a marriage (or any other human relationship) not every day, week, month, or year is characterized by good feelings, so it will be true of our relationship with God in Christ. Perhaps even more challenging is Jesus’ warning that following him will entail sacrifice and even suffering. “If anyone would come after me, they must take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34; Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23). Following Jesus may involve not just discomfort, but true suffering and sacrifice. There will be blessing, but that blessing will not eliminate the reality of suffering and even undeserved suffering.

It took the disciples a long time to understand that the blessed life Jesus promised was not a promise of uninterrupted health, success, or victory over opposition. The cross, and the suffering crucified Messiah, revealed a kind of blessing that transcends human experience. This is why Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The blessing (Shalom) that Jesus offers is a kind of blessing that cannot be achieved by simple religious obedience or ritual. Is a blessing that may only be found in a personal relationship with the Living God.

The Truly Blessed Life

So then, what is the blessed life? First of all, the truly blessed life is a life lived in fellowship with God, nature, and others. It is a life lived in solidarity with the external world, as we human beings recover the stewardship of creation for which human beings were made. It is a life of restored interpersonal relationships, as the personal and social alienation caused by pride, selfishness, and self-seeking is overcome. The blessed life is a life of spiritual and emotional wholeness. It is a life of restored communion with God.

The person who lives in communion with God, creation, and other human beings achieves personal, emotional and spiritual wholeness. The blessed life is a life of humility, because the wise and blessed person recognizes that we human beings are fallible, finite, and capable of wickedness. Blessed life is a life of steadfast, self-giving love, because those who live in relationship with the God of steadfast love exhibit that steadfast love in their own day-to-day lives. It is life of wisdom, for Christians believe that the wisdom of God was personally present in Jesus and his teachings embody a true wisdom.

When I was a young Christian, the missionary, evangelist, and social theologian Francis Schaeffer diagnosed the condition of Western society as dominated by a definition of the good life as achieving personal peace and affluence. [1] Certainly our society is dominated by the individualistic search for things, for experiences, for recreation, for a sense of happiness and peace. In the midst of this search, we experience a high level of dysfunction. Why is this so? Is it because the “Blessed Life,” the “Happy Life” as some translations put it cannot be found in having more things, achieving greater success, experiencing greater pleasures, and the like? What if the blessed life can only be found in the humble search for wisdom in daily living and in loving service to God and others? What if our society, and every other society, have always been and are today misguided at a deep level concerning what constitutes the blessed life?

In Jesus’s day, just as in our day, there were those who desired to experience the blessed life. In Jesus’s day, just as in our day, people had misconceptions about what it would be like to live blessedly. The Jews, just like modern Americans, were inclined to suppose that those with sufficient material blessings and economic and political security to relax and enjoy life would experience the blessed life. The Jews, just like many modern Americans, were inclined to believe that if only their own particular political opinion and preferred form of government could be achieved, their lives would be blessed. Jesus came to deconstruct that entire way of thinking.

Jesus knew that we human beings seldom change our behavior until we experience what life might be like if we only adopted another pattern of behavior. Therefore, he was not content to simply think  or teach about the blessed life. Jesus lived out the blessed life for all the world to see. In order that we human beings might see the blessed life, he called disciples who lived with him and observed him. They did not know it at the time, but they were experiencing the blessed life and being trained to share that blessed life with others.

If people in contemporary society could achieve the blessed life by reading about the blessed life, our society would indeed be a blessed society– the many self-help book published each year would guarantee blessedness. There are books about how to lose weight, gain weight, exercise, take vitamins, diet, think and grow rich, retire early, become more physically able to defend ourselves, find peace with God or the Ultimate (however you visualize it)— in fact there are books about anything and everything we might do to achieve the blessed life on our own terms. It is been my experience, and the experience of most people who’ve tried these books, that they don’t work. Why?

It is because we human beings do not need more books on the blessed life. We need to experience the blessed life. We need to experience what it is to live wisely. We need to experience what it is like to live in healthy relationships with other people. We need to experience what it is like to love others with what the Bible calls “steadfast love” or “agape love,” that is the self giving, long-suffering, faithful love of God. In order for us to see, there must be disciples who follow Jesus and to now know not just from reading books but from experience how to live the blessed life.

We know from Scripture that the disciples did not immediately understand what Jesus was showing them. We know that until after his cross and resurrection they did not fully understand just exactly whose disciples they had been. Like us, they did not learn all at once but only after a long period of discipleship training. Although Peter was inspired to say that Jesus was the Christ, the son the living God at Caesarea Philippi, his inspiration was temporary. He would still deny Jesus and go back to fishing until his time of discipleship was complete. It was only after he saw the risen Christ and experienced the power of the resurrection that Peter became capable of living the blessed life.

We cannot expect people in our time to be any different. Relational understanding comes slowly. It requires time, practice, mistakes, correction, teaching, patience, and all the other attributes of discipleship. The reason Jesus created and lived in relationship with his disciples during his entire earthly ministry was because that is the way, and the only way, people can truly change and be transformed. In our day and time, we are experiencing a crisis of discipleship precisely because we have not done a particularly good job of discipling others into a living relationship with God. The crisis will not abate until we give up the idea that better marketing, worship, or programming can achieve real change. Real change involves a return to Way of Jesus.

[1] Francis Schaeffer, How the blessed life.geall at once iworld Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture Rev Ed. (Old Tappen, NJ: Fleming H. Revel, 1976), 205.

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

Part 2 of The Blessed Life

This is the second in a series of three posts on the blessed life. In the book on discipleship, they form one chapter. This week focuses on the nature of blessing in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament and the Blessed Life

The Old Testament reflects a clear understanding that the blessed life, like all of life, is a gift of God. The Hebrew word “Baruch” implies a kind of all completeness and wholeness that can only come from God. In the creation story, God creates the human race and then immediately blesses them (Gen. 1:27-28). The blessing God gives to the man and woman implies that the human race was intended to occupy and enjoy God’s good creation as a creature that can appreciate the blessings of God. The story of the fall contained in Genesis reflects the human race falling away from its divine destiny of blessing (Gen. 3:16-19). The curse is not the abusive action of an angry God, but the natural result of the human race leaving the path of fellowship with God for the self-centeredness of sin—a path that inevitably leads to alienation and suffering and a way from blessing. The human race, meant for communion with God, nature, and one another has forfeited its divine destiny and now must roam the earth in search of a restoration of its blessings.

In the story of Noah, God saves a righteous man in the midst of a catastrophe of sin and alienation that engulfs the entire world. When the flood is over, Noah departs from the ark, builds an altar, and praises God. God in return blesses Noah in language that reveals God’s desire to restore the blessing lost in the garden of Eden: “Then God blessed Noah and his children saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’” (Gen. 9:1). [1] Even in judgment, God is seen restoring and renewing His intended blessing on the human race.

The story recorded in Genesis reaches a decisive moment when God calls Abram into a new and special relationship with God. When the Lord calls Abram to leave his country, his people, and those of his household left behind, he promises:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2-3).

The blessing God gives to Abraham is a blessing not just for his family. It is a blessing for the entire would to flow from the restoration of Abraham and his family. It is a blessing for all the peoples of the earth. Throughout Genesis, over and over again, God blesses the family of Abraham. As the story unfolds, the blessing of Abraham is a blessing continually extended from Abraham and his family to the entire world (See, Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 28:14).

In at least one modern translation of the Beatitudes, the term blessing is translated “Happy.” The Old Testament makes clear that, while happiness may result from the blessed life, the blessed life is not constituted by happiness. The blessed life is dependent upon the grace and mercy of God. God is the source of all blessings. It is God that establishes his covenant with Israel. It is God who establishes his covenant with David. It is God who promises to bless Israel and the house of David. To be blessed is to receive a state of wholeness and holiness that only God can provide. It is a gift, an act of mercy, not a reward.

The book of Psalms begins with a blessing:

Blessed is the person who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His instructions day and night.

Such a  person is like a tree planted by streams of water,  which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever he or she does prospers.

Not so the wicked!  They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,  nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

By the time the book of Psalms was written, the people of Israel had come to understand that the blessed life is also a life of righteousness and of following the instructions of the Lord God. The blessed person not only receives the blessing of fellowship with God, but also the blessing that comes with obedience to the instructions God is provided for his people. God has revealed in nature and in his word a way of life that leads to blessing.

Those who follow the way of wickedness and live contrary to God’s will, can never be blessed. Those who follow God’s will and become wise in good living, receive the blessing a fellowship with God. Those who follow the way of holiness and righteousness are recreated into the image of the God who created them in the first place and received the blessing of that re-creation.

Wisdom literature continues this same idea: the blessed life is a life lived according to the wisdom God has imbedded in the universe, a wisdom that is revealed for the people of God in God’s instructions and laws. Thus, in Proverbs 3 we read:

Blessed are those who find wisdom,  those who gain understanding, for wisdom is more profitable than silver  and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;  nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand;  in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed (Proverbs 3:13-18).

 The blessed life is the wise life. Those who follow the path of wisdom (adapting their lives to divine and created reality), find a path that leads to peace and plenty. It is a way of life that leads to increased blessings and wisdom. For the wisdom writers, the blessings of God are to be found by those who find wisdom, a wisdom God imbedded in the universe he created. Thus, the wisdom writers go on to say:

By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,  by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew (Proverbs 3:19-20).

The blessed life is a life filled with the kind of wisdom that can only come from God and from a life lived in fellowship with God. The blessed person listens to the voice of God’s creative wisdom, listens to it daily, and waits for God’s revelation of the proper course of action (Proverbs 8:34). Ultimately, the wise life is a life of trustful, faithful obedience to God (Proverbs 16:20). It cannot be achieved without the kind of deep reverence and respect for God that that Bible terms, “the fear of the Lord,” which is the beginning of wisdom and of the blessed life (Proverbs 1:6, 9:10; 28:14).

The prophets also teach that the blessed life is a gift from God. If wisdom literature emphasizes that the blessed life is the result of wisdom, the Prophets teach that the blessed life is a result of following the will of God. The end of the Kingdom of David, the failure of Israel to retain its freedom and independence, their defeat by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and their exile to Babylon were all interpreted by the prophets as a judgment for their lack of faithfulness to the God of Abraham. As a result of their apostasy, God removed his blessing from them, and allowed a terrible judgment to come upon them. The people of God forfeited the blessed life.

If the receipt of the wisdom writers for a return of blessing was to forsake foolishness and wickedness and return to the “Path of Life,” the recommendation of the prophets was that Israel return to faith in the Living God of Israel and lives according to God’s commands. Their message was one of religious and national revival. “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). If Israel did return to faithfulness to the LORD, they would be restored to their land and the kingdom of David would be restored. They will then be blessed once again.

In Isaiah, for example, the prophet speaks of the coming of a “King of Righteousness,” who will usher in a time of blessing for the people of Israel (Isaiah 32:1). People will learn to live wisely and receive the blessings of justice and righteousness (v. 2-5). For those who refuse to follow God’s instructions and will, there will be suffering (vv. 6-15). Then, at the end of the prophetic vision, Isaiah speaks these words:

The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert,  his righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;  its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,  in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be,  sowing your seed by every stream,and letting your cattle and donkeys range free (Isaiah 32:16-20).

The blessings of God impact the moral and the physical well being of God’s people.

The Old Testament writers were not unaware of the role chance, good fortune, and bad luck play in human life. [2] Nevertheless, they believed that God was the fount and source of the good life and all the blessings of life, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The restored Kingdom of David was, even in the early stages of its development more than a restored earthly kingdom, but a kingdom of unusual blessing from God. It would be revealed in a kingdom of wisdom, righteousness, and peace.

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The language of Genesis 1 and 9 are nearly identical, indicating God’s divine intention remains the same for the fallen human race as it was for the human race at its creation.

[2] I have written about the awareness of the Old Testament writers that the wise and good life does not guarantee happiness: Job, Ecclesiastes and some of the Psalms speak of this awareness. Nevertheless, the Old Testament writers believe that God is the source of the blessed life and that it cannot be achieved without following God’s laws in faith. See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).