Putting God to the test

Christ challenges us to put God first and see what happens:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt 6:33)

Seeking God first would result in the ‘adding’ of all the necessary things of life to us. The Greek word means to put on, to join to, to gather with—which means that the provision of the necessities of life for those who put God first in their lives is built into the process of ‘seeking first’.

This isn’t a theoretical nicety; it is a fundamental test of our faith. Do we believe what Christ tells us, or not? It is as fundamental as the first principles—do we believe in the resurrection of the dead, or not? It is the same issue that goes right back to the first challenge in Genesis, “hath God said” (3:1). It is one way in which our faith in God’s Word is put to the test on a practical level. It may be on a much smaller scale than the test Abraham went through, but our obedience to it is just as telling about our characters:

“And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Rom 4:19-25)

Abraham’s faith was not feeble or powerless. How about our faith in the promise of seeking Him first and believing that all these things will be added to us? Or are we feeble in our resolve? Abraham “considered not” his own circumstances. He didn’t focus on the obstacles in his own life that could prevent the completion of God’s promise. What about us—do we look to the Lord Jesus Christ and walk toward him, or do we look at the sea and the waves roaring around us and begin to sink, being of ‘little faith’? Abraham “staggered not” at God’s promise; the original conveys the thought of being at variance with oneself, to hesitate in doubt. Do we hesitate in doubt, wondering if God can really enter into our circumstances in our modern day and age? James exhorts us to have unwavering faith when we come to God:

“But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” (James 1:6)

Rather, we are to be “strong” in faith; that is, invested with strength. How is this possible? By giving the glory to God. If we were self-confident, self-made men and women we would have reason to doubt. However, if our trust is in God, we have every reason to be endued with strength. Abraham was “fully persuaded” about the promises of God. He had a powerful conviction that God would carry out His Word. This is how we should be about the promises of God. We must believe that God can “perform” what He has said.

We cannot fix our eyes upon our own seemingly helpless circumstances. We cannot vacillate as to whether God can work in our lives today, “wavering like the waves of the sea.” Rather, we must be strong in our faith, giving the credit to God, and be completely convinced that what God has told us He is able to perform in our lives today. This conviction must carry over into the everyday issues of life such as our jobs, our ‘living,’ and our existence in the here and now.

The challenge of putting God first

Christ challenges us to put God first, and promises to provide what we need, just as God challenged Israel in the time of Malachi. Do we take Him at His word? God challenged them to prove Him and put Him to the test (cp Mal 3:10). We do this by trusting in what He says, and we must do this whether it is convenient or not.

This was the challenge to the widow of Zarephath. Consider her dire personal circumstances when her faith was put to the test. She only had enough food for one last meal and Elijah asked her to take that meal and feed him first (1 Kings 17:11-16). To our humanistic way of thinking this was a cruel trial. The widow had to put the practical needs of her family, her only son, in second place before God’s prophet, trusting that God would provide. It was not that she had extra, there was just enough for one more meal, and God required that of her. This was an astounding test of faith. The exhortation to us is clear: put God, and our brothers and sisters before ourselves and our families and trust that He will provide in impossible circumstances. Would we be up to this test?

This is the same biblical principle Christ draws upon:

“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38)

The widow woman gave, and consequently was provided for throughout the entire drought. Had she not put God first, she would have had her last meal, and perished. By trusting in God, she saved both herself and her son from certain death, even though it looked like the reverse would happen.

Generosity will breed the bounty of God; of this we are assured: “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Eccl 11:1).

God loves a hilarious giver

Generosity is both an Old and New Testament principle, for our God does not change. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 Paul exhorted the ecclesia to sow bountifully by giving to others. It was to be done so “not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (v7). The implications to us are clear: if we sow sparingly, by holding back, then we will reap a similar harvest; however, if we are ‘bountiful’ then we will reap the same way. Literally, the verse reads: “he that soweth with blessings, with blessings, also he shall reap.” This has to reflect an attitude of the heart and not simply putting on a show.

This generosity was the character of heart found in Israel when the tabernacle was being prepared. They were invited to contribute to the dwelling place of God “whosoever is of a willing heart” (Exod 35:4-9). This is the character that we need to develop in the work of the Truth.

Paul went on to instruct the Corinthians to give ‘cheerfully’ and from the root word used we get our English word hilarious, meaning with joy, graciousness, and with optimism. It cannot be done “grudgingly,” that is ‘in sorrow, pain, grief, annoyance or affliction.’ Neither out of necessity—in a way that is imposed by distress or by duty of law.

This command cannot be obeyed without an understanding of where all our blessings originate. God has given blessings to us to distribute liberally. This is a form of God manifestation, “the exceeding grace of God in you” (v14). We must not wait for a dire circumstance until we peel back our grip on our possessions, but rather we should try to manifest this attitude at all times. It requires faith to believe what we are told, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (v8). God can provide through His grace so that we will always have all “sufficiency.” The word means a perfect condition in life in which no aid or support is needed. For some, the test is not having enough, forcing us to put our trust in our God and humbly seeking His help. For others, the test is being given sufficiency, with the expectation of liberally distributing to those in need.

The passage Paul cites is Psalm 112 and is worth reviewing in this context:

“Praise ye the Lord. Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever.” (Psa 112:1-3)

The psalm begins by pointing out that being upright, fearing God and delighting in His commandments, will bring blessings. The blessings are listed as “wealth” (the Hebrew means sufficiency or enough) as well as “riches.” This doesn’t mean that if we are godly we will automatically be rich. The psalm is speaking about the blessings being linked to the seed of the righteous and to a faithful generation as a whole. Our obedience can affect subsequent generations.

Again, the blessing of God is tied in with the liberal distribution to the poor: “A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth” (v5).

The righteous are manifesting the character of God, showing “favour.” The Hebrew chanan means to be gracious, to show pity or to show consideration. The righteous demonstrate this by lending, that is, giving without thought of repayment or profiting from the transaction (cp Exod 22:25). In fact, God clearly states in Proverbs 19:17 that He will make up the difference if required, because the individual is really lending to Him: “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.”

Verse 5 of the psalm continues: “he will guide his affairs with discretion.” This is as much an act of faith as it is of generosity. His life and business affairs are ‘guided,’ or ‘measured’ with “discretion,” that is, with ‘judgment and justice.’ The righteous man’s generosity and faith in God is a way of life, firmly grounded in his faith:

“He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies” (v7-8).

He has a confidence which is not in himself, but in his God. It is fixed and unshakable. He trusts in Him to the extent that he is confident and secure in God’s mercy. And it is at this point that Paul quotes Psalm 112:9, “He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour.”

The godly disperse their God-given resources to those who are poor in the ecclesia. In doing so he gives a practical demonstration of righteousness, and of the principle of God manifestation. It is an act of faith that is accounted to the lender for righteousness.

This concept was at the heart of the law of Moses. In Deuteronomy 14:28-29, the law urged everyone to bring forth the tithe of the increase and disperse to all in need. Bringing in the tithe for the Levite, stranger, fatherless and widow was an act of faith, trusting that God would bless them if they were faithful to His Word. This is “pure religion” explains James, to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction (1:27).

These are the weightier matters of the law and we need to ask ourselves whether they carry the due weight in our service before Him.