Sermon by Rev. Lance Filio
At every beginning of a new year, it is always good be reminded of God’s good providence. While ending a year brings about in us feelings of gratitude and thanksgiving, for some reason, at beginning another year, we tend to start with worry and fear. What will happen to us this new year? Will I still be able to sustain our family financially? Do we need to change the school of the kids? Will my family still be civil with each other considering the incident last reunion? Will I be able to hit the target set by my boss? Will our church survive for another year? What will happen to my health? So on and so forth. The list is questions grow.
As creatures of limited power and knowledge, together with our rebellious and sinful propensity to challenge God’s sovereignty and question God’s wisdom and authority, we quickly entertain such thoughts despite knowing God is provident. We need often reminders to encourage us and help us cast away doubts. We need the Word of God to comfort us in the midst of troubles and afflictions.
The Crook in Lot by Thomas Boston is good primer to understand how God is sovereign over our lives and his providence makes them good regardless of any evil that occurs in this fallen and sinful world. The book examines three passages, two from the Old Testament and one from New Testament. The first is Ecclesiastes 7:13 which declares God’s sovereignty over our afflictions. The second is from Proverbs 16:19 which teaches humility as the proper response towards these afflictions, and 1 Peter 5:6 which determines the outcome of every Christian affliction, the glorifying of God in our lives.
For two Lord’s Day, we will examine the first. We will hear God’s Word preached from Ecclesiastes 7:13. We will summarize them in three points: 1) God makes the lot as well as the crooks in it. 2) God is sovereign over our afflictions. 3) God calls us to live humbly before him. As usual we will spend our time focusing on the first two points and next week, review the second point and end with the third point.
Before we begin, let us pray.
God makes the lot as well as the crooks in it
verse 13: “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?”
The verse is breakable into two parts. First is the declaration God made each of our lots including the crooks in it. Second is the rhetorical question which is answer is “No one except God” and it affirms God’s sovereignty over our lives.
For our first point, let us define our terms, what is a lot and what are the crooks in it. What qualifies as crooks and what makes them crooks in our lot.
The lot is clearly a metaphor of our life from beginning to end. It is the accumulated states and events each of us experienced and will experience in this life. It is the composite whole that makes up everything that happened in our lives. Now, the crooks are the afflictions God placed spread out in various parts of our lot. Afflictions are the adversities and trials God our Creator appointed to every human being he created. This is our first point. God makes both the lot as well as the crooks in it. It is easier for us to accept God gave us our lot but often harder to accept why God would appoint crooks in them. So we need to understand more about the crooks. What makes a crook crook?
But before we proceed answering this question, let me emphasize the reality of the crooks in each of lives of every creature on earth. Both the righteous and the wicked, believers and unbelievers, elect and reprobate as well as hypocrites, have crooks in their lot. Personally, I used to think there are people who live in this life free from any troubles and Christians will always suffer prior heaven. But after reading the book, I realized everyone, Christian or not, will experience sufferings and afflictions in some form one way or another. Consider the words from Boston: “Everybody’s lot in this world has some crook in it. Complainers are apt to make odious comparisons. They look about, and take a distant view of the condition of others, can discern nothing in it but what is straight, and just to one’s wish; so they pronounce their neighbor’s lot wholly straight. But that is a false verdict; there is no perfection here; no lot out of heaven without a crook. For, as to “all the works that are done under the sun, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight.” So let us stop habit of torturing our ourselves into thinking how green the field inside our neighbor’s fences. That is not true. They only look green in our eyes before we often covet the lot God gave to other people but it is foolish to think of changing our lots with them because with their lot comes the crooks. “Kung manalo lang ako sa Lotto, matatapos lang ng mga problema ko. Hindi totoo yan kase ang totoo, idinagdag mo ang pera ng Lotto sa poproblemahin mo.”
Now, the crooks are made of either pure sinless or impure sinful crooks. In order to understand the distinction, we need to premise this by stating that God permitted crooks in his creation as a consequence of sin entering it. Sin came from Adam and God is not its author. And yet for what evil consequences it may bring, God is still provident over them. He appoints them and concurrent with every evil action of men. The mystery of God’s providence allows us to see these crooks as instruments to bring out God’s good and wise purposes in our lives.
Pure sinless crooks are direct afflictions affecting anyone which does not necessary come from his or her own personal sin. Sickness and poverty falls on his category. Popularly in the Bible, Jesus was asked to heal a blind person. He was asked if the person’s sickness comes from his sin or the sins of his parents. Jesus dismissed such idea instead he points them to God’s glory as its purpose. When my eldest son, Eli was born with a congenital heart condition, I quickly sought answers for it cause. While it maybe cause physically by environmental and genetically induced means, I understood now that it God’s own making. He appointed for Eli’s arteries to grow in reverse. In the same way, he appointed his doctors surgically correcting them in order for him to live.
Impure sinful crooks on the other hand are crooks brought about sin and the miseries it brings into our lives. Sinful consequences make crooks in our lot. David’s adultery makes life miserable to his family. Absalom rebelled against his father. Tamar was defiled and Amnon murdered. David’s sin brought sinful consequences in the lives of the people surrounding him.
Acknowledging the presence of such crooks naturally makes us ask the question why does God allow such things to happen in our lives. Admittedly, we do know we still suffer afflictions on this side of heaven so what is important for us know why God allows them.
God is sovereign over our afflictions
It is important first for us to know God is sovereign and his sovereignty is wise, good and true. While our immediate reaction towards any affliction is negative, we know to know it is for our good. The sooner we have come to accept this, the wiser we can face any adversity in our lives.
Now, before I continue explaining the purposes of God in placing crooks in our lot, let me emphasize a quick point to normalize these statements. Abuse in any form must not be tolerated. If anyone who suffers from any abuse physically, mentally, or emotionally, should seek help to make it stop. We are morally obligated to do so. So please, if you are being abused, let us know or your office-bearers know, so we can help.
Crooks, directly given or results from sinful consequences are by divinely appointment for a purpose. Boston listed seven reasons. This week let us learn three.
First, God permits these afflictions as means to test whether we are true believers or hypocrites. It is a potent way of shredding the church from false professors. Numerical growth does not always necessary reflect the successful of the ministry. In times of prosperity, it is always easy to be a Christian. The broad is the road that leads to destruction. Yet in adversity, a true Christian rest on the promises of God. He travels the narrow path as pilgrims in this world. He journey towards Celestial with nothing but God’s Word and armor. He is sojourner who suffers in this world.
Second, God permits these afflictions because it helps us de-focus from our earthly care and re-focus towards heavenly rewards. As Christians, we are in this word but not of it. Yet, being in this world often makes us think we from here, that we live here as permanent residents. We often forget our citizenship is in heaven and our journey here is temporary. When things go our way, we feel powerful and invulnerable. Yet when afflictions come, we immediately reminded of our own finitude and frailty. When exposed to sickness or even threat of death, we suddenly become vulnerable. Related to our first point, when a believer experience afflictions, it primarily to test the presence of faith. Christians when tested makes them look forward to heaven. On the other hand, hypocrites grumble and complaint and immediate find ways, though futile, to improve their lot. Afflictions come as ways to sanctify us Christians so take heart when adversity comes your way. God is making us holy through them.
Third, God permits these afflictions to convict us of our own sins. When we face trials and adversities, it just us an opportunity to reflect and examine our own motives and actions. Boston notes “The crook in the lot usually in its nature of circumstances, so naturally refers to the false step or course, that it serves for a providential memorial of it, bringing the sin, though of an old date, fresh to remembrance, and for a badge of the sinner’s folly, in word or deed, to keep it ever before him.” Afflictions not only helps clear the pathway for our future but cleanse our past and present with repentance of sin. It keep us penitent and live soberly before God.
ZCRC (Imus), God is sovereign over all our lives. He divinely appoints every single detail in them for the purpose of redeeming us and bringing him all glory. May the Lord continue to reveal to us his Word and enable us to live for his glory. Amen.