The Promises of God
The Promises of God
- Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:14-16).
- Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:32-34).
- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…. And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:13,19).
The Hard Question
Are God’s promises literal? If so, then—given the nature of God—they can be claimed with assurance that what we expect will invariably come to pass. But what about the godly men and women who starve, whether in Ethiopia or Appalachia? What about God’s martyrs who die violent deaths? How about God’s elect who suffer tragedy, or struggle for their daily sustenance?
Then, are God’s promises only spiritual? Can they only be claimed as spiritual realities whose fulfillment is on some mystical or spiritual level only? Do God’s promises have their fulfillment only in the life to come? If so, what do we do with the plainly literal language of the New Testament? The clear meaning obviously refers to something in this world and to real, felt needs.
A Starting Place
The solution to the matter begins with an understanding of what God is attempting to do in us. Consider the following Scriptures:
- For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3)
- Christ loved the church and gave himself for it that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).
- As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1 Pet. 1:15).
- We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose, for whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:28, 29).
- And this is life eternal, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3).
The Scriptures make it clear that the life of the believer is founded upon the relationship of the individual to God in Christ. Fellowship with God and likeness to Christ are foremost. This relationship answers to man’s deepest need.
It follows then that Christian living is governed by the priorities which that relationship demands. Knowing God is “Priority I.” The discovery of God’s will and ready obedience to it become the believer’s primary concern. “Good” is now defined by God, and it means “sanctification”—growing more and more in our knowledge of God and in our likeness to Christ. In doing so, we separate ourselves more and more unto God and away from self-interest. The prayer of every earnest believer is “As the deer pants for the waterbrooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psa. 42:1, 2).
A New Perspective
When our real needs are met, then we view all else differently. We are satisfied with God’s gifts in whatever measure we have them. We are able to make our way in life better with what we have from God purely because our deepest needs have already been satisfied.
The Psalmist wrote, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday” (Psa. 37:4-6).
A proper relationship to God has put all of our other needs in perspective. The “desires of our heart” will never be contrary to the desires of God’s heart. Our “way,” when committed to the Lord, will be blessed of God because it is determined in view of our relationship to God.
Back to the Questio
Having said that, we conclude that God’s promises in Scripture are to be taken both literally and spiritually. The Scriptures themselves give us the illustrations.
When Paul wrote, “My God shall supply all your needs,” we must not forget that he wrote from prison. The context of Philippians 4 indicates that Paul experienced both abundance and need, both health and sickness, both safety and danger. In all of them he honored God realizing that God was his sustainer through every circumstance of life.
In Hebrews Chapter 11 we read of great men and women of faith, whose walk with God was not only in prosperity, but often in want; not only in triumph but often in martyrdom. Yet, without exception, they are credited with being men and women of faith. They trusted themselves to God and lived out their lives by His grace regardless of circumstance.
In Philippians 4:6,7 we read that we are to take all of our concerns to God in prayer. The “response” to committing our cares and needs to God is, without exception, God’s peace. There is no indication in the context that we will always “get” what we have prayed for. What we do “get” is God’s peace, a far superior blessing (see also 1 Pet. 5:7).
The harsh reality of daily living is that the Christian does not find himself entitled to a life of luxury just because he is “a child of the King.” God does not promise His followers unqualified wealth and health in this life. If that were so, no person in his right mind would turn it down.
What God does promise is Himself: “Eternal life is to know God” (John 17:3). “I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” He promised in Matthew 28:20. Our life on earth is limited by time and polluted by sin. In the words of the hymn, we are “just passin’ through.” When we come to see that clearly, then our lot in life doesn’t look so bad after all. We can endure any circumstances because of the grace of God and the promise of His presence. We should never expect that a world spoiled by sin should be ultimately or finally satisfying.
Some More Specifics
It’s a curious fact of God’s dealings that when we attempt to secure the blessings for their own sake, we actually end up voiding the promise. Israel begged for God’s blessings because of God’s greatness. It says of them, however, that “God gave them the desires of their heart, but sent leanness to their souls” (Psa. 106:15). In Proverbs 3, the promises—length of days, good favor in the sight of God and man, health to our flesh and strength to our bones, barns filled with plenty—are available only to those who fulfill the spiritual condition—a heart that keeps God’s commandments, a spirit of mercy and truth, a confident trust in God with all of our hearts, the fear of God, and so on.
In Matthew 5 it is the meek, not the self-seeking, who inherit the earth; it is the poor in spirit, not the proud, who inherit the kingdom; it is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness who are filled, not the ones who want material fullness for the sake of their own comfort.
And we must never forget that The One who taught us most about living by faith and the promises of God was Himself murdered by an angry mob.
But, what about physical healing?
James does say, “The prayer of faith shall save him.” But the record of Scripture shows that God, who can certainly heal, does not always heal. Paul himself had the gift of healing but was unable to heal himself. He did find, however, that God’s grace was his sufficiency, even in illness (2 Cor. 12:9).
If the death of Christ guarantees physical healing (as some contend based on Isaiah 53:5), we still have to ask the question of why we get sick in the first place. If health is guaranteed, why would James admonish us to pray?
And to those who say that we do not receive healing because our “faith” is weak, consider who it is that is to offer the “prayer of faith” in James 5. It is not the one who is sick, but the elders of the church. If anyone’s “faith” must be counted on it is the faith of those who minister, not of the patient. Few who teach “healing” will apply that Scripture properly.
Man’s deepest needs are spiritual ones. Those God has promised to meet in Christ. When we come on His terms, God’s spiritual blessings begin to meet our spiritual needs immediately.
When we realize that our spiritual needs are met, then our view of temporal needs is put into a different perspective. We now know the real value of things of this world—material blessings, physical health, etc. We value The Giver and not the gifts. We seek the face of God for God’s own sake, not for the sake of getting something from Him. We also view all of God’s works and His providences with greater appreciation because they are in their proper perspective.