Each and every one of us has, over time, “naturally” developed a picture in our minds of who God is. Because of the environment that we grew up in, we’ve formed an image of God—a picture of him—in our minds. And, depending on what might have happened to us in our life—whether good or bad—this picture of God has gone through changes as we’ve aged. For instance, if you’ve never struggled financially your picture of God is going to look different than someone who has been in poverty all his life. If you’ve grown up under oppression then your understanding of who God is is not going to be the same as someone who’s known nothing but freedom. If you are a man, then the picture of God that you have naturally formed in your mind is going to be inconsistent with the one that a female has naturally arrived at. If you’ve grown up with a mother but no father, your picture of God is very likely to be different than someone whose father was always there. Indeed, every circumstance of our lives shapes our image of who God is. Who we’re born to, who our friends are, the country we live in, our race, our health, our intellect—everything in our environment contributes to the formation of our understanding of God. We’ve all formed an opinion of what it means for God to loving; to be good; to be merciful; to be sovereign. And we can’t help it—this picture of him is just naturally formed within us as we age. And even if you don’t claim to believe in God, then you still likely have an opinion about what he’d be like if he did exist. And this picture that has formed within us; this image of who God is; this understanding of what characterizes him that we all just naturally have…is wrong; it is incorrect, inaccurate, skewed, warped, and dangerous.
The image of God that we naturally arrive at is false—it is never a clear picture of who God really is. Our environment and our circumstances combined with our natural mind cannot teach us about who God truly is. Why is this true? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:12-14:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. It is clear: the natural person (or the person without the Spirit) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God and thinks that they are foolish. And what are the “things of the Spirit of God?” A very quick study of this chapter will show that the things of the Spirit of God is the Word of God—the Bible. And what is the Word of God but the revelation of Jesus Christ? And who is Jesus Christ but the perfect image of God. The “things of the Spirit” is the knowledge of God that we find in the Word of God In other words, we are told in 1 Corinthians 2 that the natural person—the one without the Spirit of God—cannot understand who God is. He cannot get to know who God is from his circumstances. He cannot look at nature and gain an accurate picture of the true God. Indeed, the natural person will find the true picture of God to be foolishness. And this is dangerous because if you are worshipping that picture of God, you are not worshipping the true God but an idol instead. And idolaters do not enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19-21). Furthermore, because we get our understanding of things like love from God—who is love—we will never know how to be loving unless we know God. O, we’ll get it right some of the time, but we’ll miss often. And so if you want to know how to truly love your husband and children—you must know God. Therefore, we must be very careful—diligent!– to get our understanding of God directly from God himself. If we get it from anywhere else—if we get it from our natural minds interpretation of the circumstances of our lives, it will never be right. Our picture of God must come directly from the source: from God, from the Holy Spirit of God—from the Word of God which the Holy Spirit inspired without error. And this is so applicable to our lives because if we’re not increasing in our knowledge of God through the Word of God, then we’ll never be able to imitate him—nor will we be inspired to imitate him, and we will constantly be doing foolish things that cause us grief. In other words, at the root of our personal problems is our failure to know God. Ø If you are struggling to love others—if there are people in your life that you hate or just don’t like—it is because you don’t know the love of God or his mercyØ If worry and anxiety are consuming you—stealing your peace, it is because you don’t know God’s faithfulness or his sovereigntyØ If you’re losing the battle against sin or not in the fight at all, it is because you don’t know holiness of God
Ø If you find yourself ignoring the treasure that is God’s Word, it is because you don’t know the glory and greatness of God, that are discovered in its pages
Ø Indeed, if you have not made Jesus your Lord at all, it is not because you think that they’ve recently found his body in a tomb in
Jerusalem. No, if you’re not a Christian today, if is because you don’t know the beauty, the glory God—and that to be with him forever is far and away the greatest reward in the universeWhen we fail to know our great God, it is to our great sorrow. And that is why the Bible, which is very interested in your joy, commands us in 1 Peter to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. And it is why Paul–who dearly loved his churches–prays that they would increase in the knowledge God (Col. 1:10). Are you struggling with life today? Do your circumstances dictate to your whether you’re happy or sad? Does sin just run you over? Are you content? Joy-filled? Do you feel free? If not, the root of your struggles is your failure to know God—the God of the Bible. And so increasing in the knowledge of him really should be at the top of your list of priorities. Always ask, what does this sermon, lesson, or passage of the Bible teach me about God? And for the rest of our time this morning, I’d like to help us do this from two passages in the Bible. But before I go any further I want to tell you why I chose these two passages and at the same time equip you to be better at pulling the knowledge of God from the pages of the Bible.
As you are reading your Bible and looking to increase your knowledge of God, always remember that passage that I read earlier from 1 Corinthians 2. Remember that the natural person cannot accept, or grasp, who God is. It thinks what the Bible has to say about God to be foolish: No, he couldn’t be like what this says! The person who is not led by the Holy Spirit just simply doesn’t like and cannot accept the picture that the Bible paints of God. And what we need to remember is that that natural mind is still very much with us. Yes, our minds are being renewed and we are becoming more spiritually-minded every day. But the effects of our natural minds are still with us. And that means that we still will find it hard to accept some of what the Bible has to say about God. This is why we read from Nahum chapter 1 today. How did you feel when you read that God is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies? And that with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness? You might not have liked it much—and your friends who aren’t Christians probably wouldn’t have like it at all. And that is because we’re natural. But the Bible praises God for his wrath and his anger. It is part of what makes him glorious. And so what we need to do when we come to passages like Nahum 1 is to trust the Bible instead of our minds! We need to make it a personal policy that when our natural minds disagree with something that the Bible teaches about God, that we are going to trust the Bible. Instead of being repulsed by a God who pursues his enemies into darkness—join Nahum in praising him for it. And if you decide to do this, it will be a good thing when you come across those passages that paint a picture of God that you don’t like. It means that you’re going to have to change the way you think about God. It means that the natural part of you is going to get smaller, and that the spiritual part—that part that believes the truth—is going to grow. And the result will be that you have increased in the knowledge of God. And so don’t be afraid of those parts of the Bible that you naturally don’t like because of how God is portrayed. Embrace them instead—and believe them. And then watch as your knowledge for God grows and your life changes because of it. And so, with our time left, I’m going to briefly look at two pictures of God from the Bible that the natural part of us just doesn’t like.
The first is found in 1 Kings 14-16. I don’t have time to do anything but summarize it briefly—read it later to verify that what I’m saying is true. Jeroboam was the first king of
Israel (after the kingdom divides). He was a wicked king. So God, through a prophet, tells him that because of his evil ways that God is going to destroy his house, meaning that he is going to kill all of Jeroboam’s descendents. When Jeroboam dies, his son Nadab becomes king, but after only two years he is killed by a man named Baasha, who then takes the throne. And then—not surprisingly–Baasha proceeds to kill the entire household of Jeroboam—and thus fulfills the prophecy made by God. But then we see in 1 Kings 16 that Baasha is also a wicked king, and that because of his wickedness God pronounces that his house—Baasha’s house—will also be destroyed. And what exactly was the evil that Baasha did that brings about God’s judgment against him? 1 Kings 16:7 tells us: it was because he became like the house of Jeroboam and also because he destroyed it. Baasha was to be held responsible for the wickedness of destroying Jeroboam’s children—even though God’s planned this punishment for Jeroboam. In other words, God can plan and ordain that something happen and then hold responsible those who committed evil in carrying it out. He can—without committing any evil himself–ordain Jeroboam’s punishment and then use Baasha to execute that punishment, and then hold Baasha responsible for the evil of executing Jeroboam’s children. How do you feel about that? How does your mind react when you see this picture of God? By the way, there are more and clearer examples of this in the Bible—I actually chose one of the more obscure ones.
Finally today, we turn to Matthew 20 and the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Here are verses 1-16: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Now, parables can be tricky to figure out—usually because we over-analyze them—we mistakenly try to make them allegories—assigning every little piece a meaning. For instance, in the parable I just read, we’ll spend time wondering: why did the landowner hire more workers—is it because the first ones weren’t working hard enough?; and: what was the matter with these men who were standing in the courtyard all day—were they lazy or something and is that why no one else hired them? Those are the types of questions that we ask about parables that usually lead us astray in our understanding of them. When you look at a parable, remember that they have one main point—and in this case, all you have to do to understand it is to do what you should always do when you’re reading the Bible: ask yourself, what does this teach me about God—how does it help me know him? If that is what you do when you read this parable—and others like the prodigal son, you’ll get it with a little thought. And so, what does the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard teach us about God? God is the landowner, and the landowner has the right to do whatever he pleases with his possessions. He is free to give them away however he wants to. He has the right to give the same pay to the men who worked all day through the scorching heat as he did to those put in only one hour in the cool of the day. And no one can accuse him of being unfair for doing so, because he can do whatever he pleases with what he owns. If he wants to take the first and make them like the last, and make the last like the first—it is his right because he is the landowner. And this is exactly how the God of the universe functions: he has the right to do whatever he wants with his possessions. And because the God of the universe owns everything, he has the right to give and to take away in whatever way he pleases—and no one can ever accuse him of being unfair. If he wants to give you a body that never gets sick, and to someone else chronic health problems, he has the right to do so—and the person who suffers has no right to call him unfair while the healthy person has no claim for boasting. If you have to work hard to pay the bills while for others money just seems to fall into their laps, remember that it is God’s right to freely give to others what you have to work so hard for and you have no right reason to get angry with him for it. And it is God’s right to give the greatest gift—that of salvation—to whomever he chooses. Have you ever considered the fact that the Apostle Paul received the same gift of salvation as the thief on the cross? Paul, who labored his entire life to spread the gospel, and who was whipped and stoned and nearly killed for it, gets the same thing as the thief on the cross, a criminal who took from people instead of giving like Paul did. That doesn’t sound right, does it? Our natural minds don’t like it when we hear that God gives the same gift of salvation to the thief as he did to Paul. But if you truly know God—as through this parable—then you know that because he is the landowner of the universe he has the right to do whatever he wants with absolutely everything—and no one can call him wrong or unfair.
In conclusion, I have only this to add. Do you know the real God? Do you love the real God? If so, you can say that you consider everything to be loss compared to him. You can say that you count the world and everything in it to be rubbish in comparison to him. So do you know him? If so, you can sing truthfully: Thou and Thou only first in my heart—High King of heaven my Treasure Thou art. If not, then make those words your prayer, and let everyone commit themselves to increasing in the knowledge of God.