Divine Mercy and Natural Benefits

~ from email ~

When you talk about Matthew 5:43-45, you mention a parallel verse in Luke 6, but do not explain the entire passage, and there is something there that I do not understand. When Jesus says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36), what does he mean by “merciful”? This Greek word only appears in James 5:11 where James talks Job and his perseverance.

The most important and also the most neglected rule of Bible interpretation is this: Read the words. In fact, this is the ancient secret to decipher any text, jealously guarded and passed down only to those who are worthy by the fabled Legion of Literacy (or LOL). If you learn this, you will instantly become a superior interpreter, unrivaled by the best minds of any generation.

Even professional theologians often refuse to read the words. They are always itching to pull their scholarly moves on the text, so that they go shooting off into space somewhere at the first opportunity, leaving the words behind. Then they publish their inconceivable findings in expensive volumes, to the praise of the common people, who lack the imagination to come up with tales so remote from what the biblical passages say.

One of the most absurd practices in Bible interpretation is when people investigate every little thing about the original language, the culture, the history, and the archaeology, but flatly refuse to read the whole passage to grasp the context, often not even the entire verse. If you acquire this bad habit, you end up doing “dictionary exegesis,” where you study particular words, but never really read the sentences and sections. It will not help you to look up all the places where a word appears if you refuse to read the passages.

My exposition of Matthew 5 is more than enough to help you understand Luke 6 also. You should not need me to discuss every detail about a parallel passage. You need to read the words.

With Matthew 5, I show that the “love” in “love your enemies” refers to natural and practical benevolence, because Jesus uses things like sunlight and rain to illustrate what he means. Therefore, we are to extend natural and practical benevolence even to our enemies. Paul also teaches this in Romans 12:20: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” See also Exodus 23:4-5 and Proverbs 25:21-22.

With Luke 6:36, if you had read even one verse before this — verse 35 — you would have seen that Jesus explains it explicitly: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (v. 35). If you have seen my explanation of Matthew 5, you would not need to go beyond “love you enemies” in Luke 6:35 to know what Jesus is teaching in Luke 6 — he is teaching the same thing. Then he becomes more specific: “do good to them.” And then he tells you what he means by that — he says, “lend to them.”

There is so much more to provide the context. How about verses 32-34? “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full.” He tells you directly. You did not read that? He talks about money. Since he seems to be using money as an example – have you read verses 27-31? – he is referring not only to money but a natural and practical benevolence.

As for Job, there is also no difficulty. The passage tells you everything directly. You do not need Greek, or Hebrew, or any seminary training, or any reading skill beyond the children’s level. You can see it yourself. Do not launch your Bible study software. Close your concordance. Throw your commentary across the room. Do not overthink. Do not try to be a scholar. Just read the words.

James says, “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). If you want to know what he means by the Lord’s “compassion and mercy,” then you go read about “what the Lord finally brought about.” See? It tells you where to look.

Flip over to Job 42, and read the words. God made him twice as rich as before (v. 10), and gave him long life (v. 17). God gave him wealth and health — double the wealth and a lot of time to enjoy it. James refers to this even after his earlier condemnation of “rich people” (5:1-6). Read the words. James does not condemn wealth itself, or even rich people as such, but their lifestyle of oppression, licentiousness, and murder.

Great wealth and health came to Job from God, and James has no problem with it, even using him as our model. When he mentions this example, he also has in mind the natural and practical benefits that we can receive from God through faith, such as miraculous healing (James 5:15) and other miraculous answers to prayer (5:16b, 17-18). We are talking about something similar to Matthew 5 and Luke 6, the natural and practical benefits that come from God, but James focuses on those who have faith in God.

Although there has been a cessation of faith among so-called Christians, and unbelief has become official church doctrine, the mercy of God has never ceased. If God would shower food and rain upon even the reprobates, and if he has not ceased to do this, so that he might bear witness to himself and so that humanity might continue for the sake of his people (Romans 9:22-24), how much more would he bless his chosen ones with these natural benefits?

Heresy is the notion that it is wrong to believe that God is good, even when it comes to natural things. Apostasy has already occurred when people think that, because God no longer has anything to prove, he also no longer has any mercy for us — no more healing, no more abundance, no more natural blessings and benefits. Strange fire, you say? But how is this kind of unbelief better than tribal voodoo? This is not the God that the Bible teaches.

His word will never pass away, and his mercy endures forever (Matthew 8:16-17, James 5:15, Psalm 91:16, Matthew 6:32-33, Mark 8:17-21, Philippians 4:19). Those who restrict the benefits of the gospel to only forgiveness and sanctification, and other hidden operations so that their unbelief is not exposed, in effect reject the gospel and trample the blood of Christ, because the biblical gospel comes with natural benefits delivered by miraculous power immediately when it is introduced (Psalm 103:2-3, Matthew 9:5, Acts 14:9, Galatians 3:5). Therefore, at least in principle, those who oppose this come under the same condemnation as those who preach a different God, a different Christ, a different Spirit, a different gospel, and a different salvation (Galatians 1:8-9).

The teaching of God’s natural benefits, especially to those who have faith, is so pervasive in the Bible that no one can just “Greek” it away. Some theologians Greek themselves into a fantasyland, an alternate reality in which the Bible does not mean what it says, so that they would not have to believe it. The Bible is still here, it still says what it says. People can see they are liars. They are making excuses. They are religious frauds and charlatans. The words of faith haunt their dreams. This God of mercy and power is the bane of their existence. It is their job to have faith, but they do not have faith. It is a total nightmare. And they are stuck in it.

The people still have the book, and they are reading it. They are reading all about God’s promises, and God’s nature to heal and to bless. So the preachers and theologians say it means something else in the Greek. When God says he will do something, in the Greek it means he will never do it. Once you have studied so much theology that you have finally become illiterate, you would see that they are right. And when you read it from the redemptive-historical perspective, the verse means the exact opposite! A text about a miracle is not really about the miracle. A text with a promise is not really about the promise. This is advanced scholarship, super-seminary level. Of course, it is just a scheme to allegorize everything so that it refers to redemption in Christ, so that they will not have to believe what the text actually says and apply any of it to their lives. Theologians have a big bag of tricks to neutralize the Bible and blame Jesus for it. But the people still have the book, and they are reading it. Many of them are “already” suspicious, but “not yet” outraged. If they will really read the words, then the jig is up.

When Jesus walked the earth he healed the sick because “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Matthew 8:17). Now that he has been seated at the right hand of God, he has unloaded all infirmities and diseases back on his people. When Jesus walked the earth he would have compassion and feed the people (Matthew 15:32). Now that he has been raised from the dead, he would burn down your house with all your cats in it “for the glory of God.” For people who claim to be so concerned about the glory of God, they sure make him look really bad. And they make themselves look like long-suffering heroes. Who does all this Coram Deo business really glorify?

God respects faith more than anything. You do not have true orthodoxy until you have faith. Many people will be astonished at the judgment, when after they have policed the whole world with their publications and conferences, they themselves are rejected and thrown into the darkness: “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12).