"...And to Goodness, Knowledge...": Part Four

This e-Pistle article is a continuation of a study of 2 Peter 1:5 – 8 begun in the previous four posts. It is also the fourth article considering Peter’s admonition to add “knowledge” upon “faith” and “goodness” (2 Peter 1:5).
 
In exploring the knowledge that is the third virtue mentioned in Peter’s “curriculum” for spiritual growth, we have turned to some thoughts from the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1:18. Paul mentions three things specifically that he desires for the Ephesians to “know.” In the previous two articles, we discussed the first two: “the hope to which He has called (us)” and “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.” We evaluated the importance of understanding these and teaching them to our children. We will now examine the third area of knowledge for which Paul prays for his readers.
 
“His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe”

 
The contemplation of the power of God evokes numerous, meaningful associations for the believer. God’s power displayed in His creation of all things, the Biblical accounts of powerful miracles, the Gospel as the power of God for salvation, and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit for our spiritual growth all spark our imaginations and encourage our spirits and prompt us to wonder and gratitude to the mighty God we serve. It would probably take a lifetime of articles to examine the teachings from Scripture about the power of God and to reflect on how important it is for us and for our children to know this power and this powerful God. We will limit our observations in this article to references made by Paul in Ephesians.
 
“His Incomparably Great Power”

 
An awe of the “incomparably great” power of God, as Paul expresses in this passage, is certainly a part of the “fear of the Lord” that Proverbs identifies as “the beginning of wisdom.” The Hebrew and Greek words translated “wisdom” convey the meaning of insightful understanding and deep knowledge of the true nature of things. Paul prayed that the Ephesians might have the eyes of their heart enlightened in order that they might know God’s incomparably great power. We need to acknowledge the sovereign power of God. We need to recognize that no demonic force, no corruption coming from our own sinful nature, no circumstance resulting from living in a world that operates under the law of sin and death can compromise or lessen or overcome God’s incomparably great power.
 
Such confidence in God’s power and sovereignty, such “fear of the Lord,” is where the believer begins to know “the true nature of things.” Notice the language that Paul uses in Romans 8:28 and 29: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him”…that they might “be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” Paul’s phraseology is congruent with James’ when he encourages his readers to have a joyful perspective on “trials of many kinds.” He gives the reason for such a supernatural perspective, saying “because you know” that it is being used of God to prove the genuineness of faith leading to perseverance and maturity.
 
The Bible is full of insight into this truth. The stories of Job and Joseph and Daniel particularly come to mind. While we encounter the activity of the enemy, the enticements of our own sinful natures, and the calamities of a fallen creation, we are encouraged to a deeper knowledge about what is going on in all of that. God is at work. Nothing has come to us that is beyond His control or that is not being used by Him for His sovereign purposes in the lives of His people. The clear implication of Paul’s and James’ teaching is that God’s people know this.
 
The book of Job teaches this truth in the first two chapters, and Job himself acknowledged God’s sovereignty as he responded to the beginnings of his trial. Later, the deeper truth that Job needed to learn was that, when he did not understand all the reasons for his sufferings, it was enough that the omnipotent, omniscient God did. And when Job came to that knowledge (Job 42:1-6), he stopped asking for reasons.
 
The story of Joseph provides us with the example of a young man who spent his life focused on the sovereignty of God. Through all that he endured, Joseph clung to the promise of God’s superintending work in his life which had been revealed to him in his youthful dreams. He remained so positively focused on what God was doing sovereignly that he had little reason left to be negatively focused on what people were doing sinfully. So we see Joseph responding with great character when enslaved and imprisoned. Later, when encountering his brothers, he tells them not to be angry with selling him as a slave because it was really God who was sending him to Egypt. At the end of his story, when Joseph’s brothers have proven that his true forgiveness is incomprehensible to them, Joseph tells them the real reason why he was able to forgive: “You intended to harm me,” he says, “but God intended it for good…”
 
A careful examination of the Book of Daniel will reveal another young man who consistently credits God as the source of his strength and abilities, the reason for his devotion, and the authority over his life or his death. Daniel did not yield to fear of the king’s rules, or fear of the great king Nebuchadnezzar, or of his enemies or of lions, because Daniel feared the Lord. He did not claim the ability to tell the meaning of dreams even when he was sought out with great flattery by the greatest of earthly rulers, because Daniel knew that the ability to tell the meaning of dreams belonged to God, and it was God’s to give to whomever He chose to use for His own purposes.
 
Recently, I have become aware of increasing numbers of young people I have taught and with whom I have worked whose lives are riddled with doubt and anger and even rejection of the truth. It is more and more common for these young people to refer to themselves as agnostic and reject the authority of the Word of God. Many will accept some of the teachings of Scripture – presumably those that they like or those that make sense to them – but wholly ignore or openly repudiate other passages and doctrines. They seem to have embraced a new sort of Gnosticism. Believing that God and the things of God are unknowable, they preach the gospel of “I don’t know.” But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel that involves knowing, not just knowing a Person, but knowing truth: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b, 32)
 
I feel, as these young people do, that there is so much that I don’t know either and never will. One of the most important lessons that the Book of Job teaches is that we don’t know, many things we cannot know. But the other important truth that Job teaches is that God DOES know. The lesson is that we are to know that. Like Paul and James declared, we KNOW that God is at work in all things for our good (Romans 8:28), and we KNOW that the testing of our faith leads to maturity (James 1:3,4), not instability which results from doubting (James 1:5-8).
 
In recent years, Josh McDowell has said that, in mainline evangelical denominations in the U.S., over 90% of our young people are leaving the Church after they turn 18. Perhaps they might be among those Paul describes to Timothy when he says, “…the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3,4) I am not sure where or if some of my former students and colleagues fit in these categories, but it appears that they have experienced a compromise of their knowledge of God and of their confidence in His revealed Word.
 
I guess we need to realize that Bible classes are not enough to instill this knowledge and confidence. “Having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5a), “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7), and “evil men and impostors (who) go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” are descriptions of people within the visible Church. In contrast, notice what Paul says to encourage Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have nown the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
 
The most important thing that we as parents can do in this area is to pray for our children. We need to pray, like Paul prayed for the Ephesians, that God would open the eyes of their hearts so that they might know the incomparably great power of God leading them to godly fear of the Lord and His sovereign authority over their lives. It also seems vital that we seek to develop strategies for inculcating this knowledge at an intellectual and an experiential level.
 
Reading, telling, and teaching the stories of God’s power and faithfulness is a valuable way to encourage a confidence in our children. The Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Book of Acts are full of wonderful stories of supernatural and miraculous displays of God’s power at work for His people. The stories mentioned above, of Job and Joseph and Daniel, are helpful for showing evidence of lives that are grounded on the conviction of the sovereignty of Almighty God. Missionary biographies and books that tell of Christians standing for Christ under difficulty and persecution (like The Scots Worthies by John Howie and Jesus Freaks from The Voice of the Martyrs) are valuable tools that challenge us to live lives of devotion depending on the strength of the Lord.
 
Another important part of training our children in this area has to do with how we face the difficulties and storms of life ourselves. As children see their parents trusting God and relying on Him when nothing appears to make sense, when the pain of their trial seems more than they can bear, children have a living testimony that speaks to them day by day: God is good, God is sovereign. God can be trusted. God is to be worshipped and adored because He is worthy. We need to protect our children from some of the harshness of this life, but more than that, we need to walk before our children and with our children through the storms of life pointing them to our Savior and our loving heavenly Father.
 
I really believe that another strategy is to get involved as a family ministering to those in need, spiritually and physically. Paul called the Gospel, “the power of God for salvation.” Our children need to see the power of God at work in people’s lives. We could strategize with them about how we might communicate the Gospel with a neighbor who doesn’t know Christ. We could volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. We could get involved in an inner city work project or go as a family on a mission trip. In Matthew 25:31 – 40, Jesus tells us that the King will commend “the righteous” for feeding the hungry, inviting the stranger in, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned because, when the righteous did these things, they were really doing it for Him. Serving those in need, then, is an act of worship and devotion to the living God. One could hardly imagine a more meaningful experience of the power of God, or a better way to know that this power, and this God, is incomparably great.
 
We cannot guarantee that our children will not fall prey to doubt and anger, or be deceived into rejecting the truth. But by God’s grace, with wisdom and love, we can teach them as Paul encouraged Timothy (quoted above), or as an old Scottish seminary professor once told my father: “Young man, believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts. But never doubt your beliefs or believe your doubts.”
 
The next e-Pistle entry will continue this study with another article on “His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe.”