Tolerance, when properly defined, is a wonderful virtue. Tolerance is marked by kindness, forbearance and patience. Paul says of God in Romans 2:4 that the riches of His kindness, his forbearance and patience are all characteristics that bring us to a place of acknowledging God in our lives in the most profound ways. It’s His kindness that leads to repentance (saying yes to him and no to everything else).
Even a casual read of key texts, e.g., 10 commandments or the Great Commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5), give us the sense that God wants our heart, our affections and our whole being. In contrast, because he is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24), He gives His people both in the Old Testament and in the New (1 John 5:21) strong warnings against idolatry: “you shall have no other gods before me” is for real!
There are several ways to define idolatry but it’s always much more (though never less) than a statue (or a 4.7 inch display in our pocket). It’s a question of the affections of the heart and is thus closely connected to obedience and disobedience. When we choose idols over the worship of God, we essentially say no God and yes to other things for guidance, provision and instruction.*
But there is much more going on. When we reject God as our moral arbiter, we create our own moral compass and whether the compass is off by one or 20 degrees, it’s still off. Soon enough, we develop tolerance for that which God has no tolerance; the opposite is also true as we may develop intolerance for the things God finds commendable. When the young man was told by Jesus to sell his possessions and to give them to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22), he went away “saddened.” He went away upset because he lost track of what God loves (taking care of the poor). He also lost track that the very wealth he had acquired was itself a gift from God. God intended the man to understand money as a commodity to serve the furthering of God’s purposes. Instead the young man saw money as something to be kept (his idols) and as a result developed an intolerance for the things God loves.
Paul gets to the same place when he challenges the guilty idolatrous person (whoever they are, Jews and Gentiles = the whole of humankind) in Romans 2:1-4. Our idolatry makes us intolerant even as, ironically, God is unbelievably tolerant/patience toward us!
Since Jesus exercises tremendous patience with us in all our wayward ways, are we extending the same of patience to others? (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
Where are we in this journey from setting up our own moral compass to embracing God’s, to embracing His definition of tolerance from ours?
*with input from Donna Petter and Matt Wilson.
The account of Israel’s past failure to believe in God’s promises takes a central role in Deuteronomy 1. Moses addresses the second generation with a stern warning not to repeat the mistakes of their fathers in the past. The root of the problem is fear (Deuteronomy 1:28-29). Fear allows unbelief to creep in, which ended in failure to receive God’s promises for themselves, including Moses! (Deuteronomy 1:34-39). What we are looking at here is an example for believers through the ages (Hebrews 3:13). What will be the reaction to God’s promises? Fear and unbelief or trust that the Lord gives what He has promised?
As we embark in a new ministry year, the question is still, Will we believe in the promises God has made to us both individually and corporately, or will we be filled with fear and unbelief? —here, name your own challenges you are facing—-We also remember that even in the mundane task of planning to visit churches, Paul appeals to God’s promises now fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His faith, just like Joshua and Caleb’s faith, is boundless: “For all the promises of God find their yes in him [Christ]” (see 2 Corinthians 1:15-22).
Presumption is essentially rolling the dice. With presumptions, we don’t know what we don’t know. When it comes to a life of faith, presumptions ended up in a disaster for our spiritual forefathers in Deuteronomy 1 and the danger remains real today (Hebrews 3:14). In contrast, faith is a conviction: you know what you know, even if you can’t see it. Faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
In Deuteronomy 1:41-46, the sin of presumption is broken down in bite-size pieces. The background is God has just ruled they should not receive the promise of the land because of their unbelief. Here is what the people said in response:
“we have sinned against the Lord.” This sounds pious enough; at least they’re acknowledging they’ve done something wrong. But their next action gives us ample evidence this was all an act. ‘Fake repentance’ is a very real thing!
“we ourselves will go up and fight…” The phrase precisely captures the sense in the original Hebrew. It’s an action they alone think they can carry. This just about defines the notion of self-salvation and gives us a lot to think about in our culture obsessed with self (ies).
“….just as the Lord commanded us” completes the text-book definition of spiritual presumption. We’re doing it ourselves and we are commandeering God’s blessing upon our willful decisions rooted in our own fear and unbelief. Pause and reflect upon this and think about all the times you and I have acted out of fear and unbelief (and presuming God would bless what we’re thinking/doing!)
“…[they] thought it easy to go up into the hill country” The deception of presumption feeds the idea that things can get done without God. When the people ceased to believe in God’s promises and that He alone saves, their faith in their own capabilities to save themselves became boundless. Unbelief in God-boundless faith in self became their new motto.
God in response tries to talk them out of their own presumption, “Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.”
In response, it is said of the people:
“you would not listen”
“you presumptuously went up”
As a result, they were defeated, chased down like bees chase you down (Deuteronomy 1:44). God wasn’t about to bless their presumption and arrogance that somehow they could take the promise land all on their own!
Without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). God loves to hear and answer our prayers, even those formed in the depths of our despair when we are struggling with doubts (read the Psalms!) But the presumption that somehow we can get to where we need to go all on our own and then expect God to be on our side is nothing less than a spiritual rolling of the dice. There is no guarantee God will hear this kind of prayer! (see Deuteronomy 1:45).
We also remember that the real promise land is not a piece of real estate on earth in ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 1), but it’s eternal life, being in His presence forever. The presumption of self-salvation has life and death consequences, with eternal consequences. It’s no small matter!
What is the answer to this problem of the human heart? Just as Joshua (his name means Yahweh saves) took the Israelites into the promised land, Jesus (a transliteration of Joshua) is the One taking us into the rest of the heavenly promise land (Hebrews 12: 22-24). We look to Him, the author and perfecter of our faith; the One who is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses (doubts and all), but He is standing by to give us help in our time of need.
First things first: Have you put your trust in Jesus to save you from your own unbelieving heart? Jesus alone can save us and deliver us from death and into eternal life. We will never be able to save ourselves from forces far greater than us (sin, death and the devil). The journey of faith begins here.
If you are on the way on this journey of faith, in what ways are you and I trusting in God to carry out our goals and desires for this new year?
Or, to put it differently, in what ways are you and I trusting in our own powers to bring about these goals to reality?
As an illustration, what does presumption look like?
“I can approach (and pet) a great white shark and not become his/her dinner.” (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/18/womans-extremely-close-visit-with-giant-great-white-shark-went-viral-marine-biologists-say-dont-copy-her/
Have you ever tried to read through the Bible in a year, only come to a stop at Leviticus? Have you ever wondered why some things in Leviticus are applicable for us today but about some we say, “that’s just the old covenant.” Have you ever wondered how a book that speaks about not eating pork and not wearing clothing of two fabrics could even apply to today? Come to this four-class series on Studies in Leviticus and find out how the church can use this book today. This course will first look at the value of Leviticus for the church. Next, it will observe the various sacrifices. Third, we will discuss the various clean and unclean laws, especially for food laws. Finally, it will look at the Day of Atonement and what the New Testament says about the ideas from Leviticus. Through this, find out now only about how Leviticus is useful to Christians, but how it is one of the most important books in the Old Testament.
This course is led by Ryan Horwath, a 2nd year seminary student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Ryan is pursuing a double degree in Old and New Testament and is an alumnus of the School of Biblical Studies at YWAM Montana where he studied with Tom and Donna Petter. Check out this video to learn more about SBS.
Questions? Contact Ryan Horwath
We’re excited to announce our new sermon series for the fall. Deuteronomy: The Journey from our Presumptions to God’s Promises is an exploration into the presumptions of our hearts, and how we can move from a life led by our own false presumptions, to a life of flourishing in God’s promises.
Our lives are filled with presumptions, assumptions and convictions. The real challenge comes when it’s time to discern which is which! With presumptions, we’re essentially rolling the dice, since we can’t really know whether what we deem true is based on facts or not. Presumption, simply put, is, “we don’t know what we don’t know” and therefore we jump to conclusions just a little too fast. In Deuteronomy, the children of Israel are filled with presumptions, especially as they prepare to enter the Promised land. Moses gives them a reality check and challenges them and us to shed our presumptions and be filled with conviction. Hebrews 11:1 captures the idea perfectly: faith is shedding the presumptions that feeds an unbelieving heart and embracing convictions that are anchored in faith in Jesus. So when we say ‘we’re on a faith journey,’ we’re not simply parroting spiritual platitudes, but we are embracing a powerful and life-changing truth for our lives.
In our new sermon series in Deuteronomy, as we unpack some of the presumptions of the dominant Canaanite culture the Israelites faced, we find similar struggles in the dominant culture of our day. In order to abide in Christ, and to thrive in Him (John 15:5), we too will need to allow the Word of God to convict us of our own presumptions and to embrace the conviction of faith, so that He may lead us safely home to our promised land (Hebrews 11:16).