by Jefferson David Tant
“They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:6-10).
In the above text, we see that Paul wanted to go to Bithynia, but that wasn’t where God wanted him to go. Instead, he was directed to go to Troas. We don’t know much about the city of Bithynia, but there is some evidence that it was a prominent city in its area. Troas is reputed to be what was the ancient city of Troy but had been reduced to a small fishing village. This may have been quite different from what Paul had in mind when he set out on this journey, but note his attitude when he saw the vision — “immediately we sought to go into Macedonia.”
This is where the real test of our faith comes -- when we don’t get what we want. We prove nothing by our faithfulness when in times of peace, health, and prosperity. In the words of an old proverb, “ ’Tis easy to live with a smile, when life flows along like a song, But the man worthwhile is the man who can smile when everything goes dead wrong.”
Here is where we show our true character and loyalty. The Bible and the world are full of examples of both types of religion — “if” and “nevertheless.”
An “If” Religion
Consider the story of Jacob, who has deceived his father and cheated his brother Esau out of the blessing reserved for the older brother. On his journey, while sleeping one night, he had a vision.
“So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You" (Genesis 28:18-22).
Notice Jacob’s promise to God begins with “If.” He then lists five conditions, and then comes to the end of his prayer with the words “then the LORD will be my God." What a deal. If you get everything you could wish for, then you will serve God! Thankfully, Jacob matured in time and grew out of this mentality. And what man is in a position to bargain with the Lord? It is His to command, and ours to obey.
I knew of a mother who was at the hospital with her seriously ill young daughter. She stated, “If God lets my little girl die, I can never trust him again.” Her service was on a conditional basis — if God would grant her wish.
Do we sometimes unwittingly manifest the same attitude, even in our prayers? My father told of a man in New Mexico in a church who prayed for everything under the sun he could think of, and concluded the prayer with “… and give us a home in heaven, and it will be enough.” Well, I certainly hope so! If we get everything on his earth that we hope for and, to top it off, get a home in heaven, that should certainly be enough.
Do some have the idea that the Lord is like the “Genie of the lamp,” and since we have condescended to serve Him, he is at our beck and call?
This is basically the attitude of the denominations. They want to serve God on their terms. “Yes, Lord, I want to serve you and be saved if …
- I can serve you in the church of my choice
- I can be saved by faith only
- I can be sprinkled with water rather than immersed
While preaching in Portales, New Mexico years ago, one of my neighbors was a young Baptist preacher. One day I knocked on his door to see about setting up a study with him. He was not home, but his wife said she would tell him what I wanted. In time he came to my house, and said, “My wife told me what you wanted, but I’m not interested. I already know what you believe.” Well, I wasn’t going to let him off that easily, so asked him one question. “Do you believe that we are saved by faith only?” He said he did.
Then I opened my Bible to James 2:24 and asked him to read it. “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” He slammed the Bible shut and said “That’s not the kind of God I serve.” And that was the end of our “study.” He admitted he had never read that passage, and did not know it was in the Bible. But that made no difference. As my father said, “His mind was like concrete. All mixed up and permanently set.”
Consider Naaman’s reaction when the prophet Elisha sent a servant out to tell Naaman to go dip in the river Jordan seven times and his leprosy would be cured. (II Kings 5) Naaman turned away in a huff, thinking that was the stupidest thing he ever heard. He had his mind set on how his cure was to come. But a servant appealed to his better sense and convinced Naaman to do just what he had been told. But Naaman’s first response was “I want to be cured if it is in the way I want.”
And how about some members of the Lord’s church follow this way of service. I will serve the Lord if “I don’t have to give too much … come too often … work too hard … give up too much …”
Then there is the “health and wealth” gospel that promises the “good life.” Joel Osteen, with the megachurch in Houston, was in Atlanta some time ago and was interviewed on TV and in the paper. He said, “I don’t preach on sin. I want my people to feel good.” I guess poor apostle Paul missed out somehow, as we read about the many things he suffered.
The point is, the Lord never saved anybody on their own terms.
A “Nevertheless" Religion
A prime example of this attitude is Job. I doubt that any of us can comprehend the attitude that Job had when faced with the myriad of disasters that he experienced.
In the first chapter of Job, we have recorded the conversation between God and Satan, as Satan claimed that the only reason Job served God was because of his possessions. So the challenge was on, and Satan sought to destroy Job’s faith. First, the Sabeans stole all Job’s donkeys and oxen and killed the servants caring for them. Then all Job’s sheep were burned in a fire. Job’s camels were then taken by the Chaldeans and the servants slain. Then the devastating news that Job’s 10 children had been killed in a storm. In each of these four disasters, a lone servant escaped bringing the news to Job. And all this took place in a short period of time, for as one was speaking, another came with more bad news. (Job 1:1-19)
And what was Job’s reaction to this unimaginable tragedy? “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:20-22).
To me, that’s overwhelming that Job did not sin nor blame God. The natural reaction of many would go to God in anger asking why all this had happened. But Job had a “nevertheless” religion. Later his wife turned against him and told him he might as well curse God and die. “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9-10).
Then his friends came to offer comfort, and in a sense blamed him for his calamities, claiming he must have deceived them by pretending to be righteous, while in truth he was a sinner, or else God would not have brought all this on Job. Did Job have questions? Obviously, he wondered why God allowed all this disaster. But note some of the most sublime words that could ever come from the lips of one who had suffered so much. “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-26).
There are two things to note from those wonderful words.
- Job’s faith was grounded and secure, and nothing was going to shake it.
- Doesn’t this give us a hint of at least some understanding the ancients had of God’s plan for the ages to come?
Another heartwarming example of “nevertheless” is seen in the parents of a 14-year-old son who lost his life while on a family outing one Saturday. They were by a river, and some young children were in danger in the water. The son jumped in to save them from drowning, and in doing so lost his own life.
He was a beloved son, and all that parents could ever want a son to be, and had already in his youth decided he wanted to be a preacher of the gospel. I believe this happened on a Saturday afternoon. His parents’ zeal for the Lord never slackened. The next morning, they were at church services where they knew their son would have been and remarked that before they left the funeral home, they knelt beside their son’s casket and “Thanked God for His goodness to us,” in that he had blessed them with their beloved son for 14 years.
And what greater example of “nevertheless” could we find than Jesus Christ, who gave up heaven for 33 years? He knew the agony that was before him, and that he could have called legions of angels to come to his rescue.
But in His final hours, we find him in the garden of Gethsemane, praying to His Father. “And he went forward a little, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).
As we look at our lives, what troubles or trials do we have that can compare with the trials of Christ, or even Job or the apostle Paul? How weak our faith is if it falters when our fortunes fail.
Would the “rocky soil” describe this faith? “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:20-22)
We have been warned to expect to suffer.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (I Peter 4:12-16).
So, why do we suffer, and what is its purpose? We are to be refined as silver and gold are refined to remove impurities.
“For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined” (Psalm 66:10).
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10).
“I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:18-19).
Why They Could Say "Nevertheless"
First, they had an unalterable faith in God and thus were willing to do whatever he said, regardless of the consequences. Consider Paul’s confidence.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (II Corinthians 4:7-10).
“At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (II Timothy 4:16-18).
Consider what Israel’s soldiers must have through when Joshua presented the battle plan for taking the city of Jericho. In Joshua 6, the plan was given that the men would march around the walls of the city for six days, and on the seventh day march around seven times, raise a shout, blow the trumpets, and the walls would fall flat. We can only imagine that some of the soldiers must have thought that was the dumbest thing they had ever heard. Whoever heard of a city being captured by marching around the walls and making a big noise only to see the walls fall flat? But we know that it happened just as God said it would.
Are there things today that seem foolish to men? Obviously so, as various denominations ignore what God has told us in the Bible, His revelation to us. Some churches eliminate baptism altogether, as well as communion. Others change the purpose of baptism, reject Christ’s teaching on marriage and divorce, and…well, there is not enough room to detail all the changes 42,000 denominations have made in their creeds, manuals, and doctrines.
But it is God’s Word that will judge us at the last rather than the creeds of men. John told of the vision that he saw in Revelation 20: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:11-12).
Second, they had an abiding belief in the future.
- They believed in the final judgment. “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
- They believed in and feared hell. “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5).
- They believed in and hoped for heaven.
- A rest – “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
- A home – “In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).
So, what is your religion? Are you the shirker, the complainer, the bargainer, as young Jacob? Are you a child whose faith is weak? If so, determine that from this day your words will be “Nevertheless, not as I will, but Thy will be done.”
Are you one who says, “I want to be saved, but on my terms, or by the teaching of my church," rather than what the Bible says? Dear reader, if you want to go to heaven, it will be on the Lord’s terms, as He is our savior. Our salvation begins with the simple words of Christ in Mark 16:16: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”