22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. I23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. (Acts 11:22–23, NKJV)
We frequently hear about people with hidden agendas. Void of forthrightness, these manipulators lurk in the shadows, pulling strings and massaging situations to achieve their nefarious objectives. These people are not only found in politics and business but also in religion (see Gal. 2:4; Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Pet. 3:1-3; Jude 4). When Barnabas went to Antioch, he encouraged the new converts to take an entirely different and honorable approach. He urged them to continue to have “purpose of heart.” The Christian’s agenda should be open, exposed, not hidden. Our lives are to show our open intention to be faithful to the Lord. Barnabas urged Christians to live with obvious determination, to stand in the grace of God, and live faithfully before others (cf. Rom. 5:1-5). We are the light of the world; therefore, we must not hide our faith (Matt. 5:14-16). May we have the resolve of heart to be loyal to the Lord in the face of spiritual obstacles and those who try to keep us from continuing with the Lord.
1 Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. 2 Thus says the Lord: “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.” (Jeremiah 10:1–3, NKJV)
The principle behind this warning against idolatry given to Israel by God’s prophet continues to be relevant: “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles.” Christians must not learn the ways of unbelievers who are not the people of God (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Yet, the currents of social conformity and worldly lusts persuade saints to become “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). The temptation to fashion ourselves according to this age is strong (Rom. 12:2). The Gentiles are those who are “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without Christ in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Do not learn to follow their false gods. Do not assimilate their futile customs that ingrain sin into their hearts. Stand apart, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17). Do not learn the way of the Gentiles. Learn the way of God (Psa. 18:21, 30; Jno. 14:6).
4 Remember me, O Lord, with the favor You have toward Your people. Oh, visit me with Your salvation, 5 That I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation, that I may glory with Your inheritance. (Psalm 106:4–5, NKJV)
God’s historic goodness toward Israel is recited in Psalm 106. From Egypt, to the wilderness, to the land of promise, and to their exile among the Gentiles, Israel repeatedly repaid God’s favor with rebellion. “Many times He delivered them; But they rebelled in their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity” (Psa. 106:43). Yet, God “regarded their affliction,” remembered His covenant when they cried to Him, and showed them mercy among their captors (Psa. 106:44-46). The unrelenting goodness of God compels us to learn from Israel and live faithfully in His blessings under the covenant of Christ. Today, the Israel of God is the church – those who are of the faith of Abraham, not of the flesh of Abraham (Gal. 6:16; 4:21-31; Rom. 2:28-29; 4:12, 16). Those who serve the Lamb of God share in His powerful victory over Satan and his cohorts, for we are “called, chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:14). God offers this salvation to the world through Jesus Christ. In Christ we are the recipients of God’s grace, we gladly rejoice as His nation, and we glory in our inheritance (cf. Psa. 106:5; Eph. 1:3-7; 1 Pet. 2:9; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:3-4). Just as God gathered a remnant of Israel from the Gentiles, the church is gathered by the gospel as a remnant of grace from the nations. We thank God for His power and triumph in His praise (Psa. 106:47; Rom. 11:5; Isa. 11:11). Truly God’s mercy is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psa. 106:48).
22 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: 24 “The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:22–26, NKJV)
This priestly blessing drew Israel’s attention to the presence of Jehovah and His providence over them. Israel was favored when the Lord God was with her, guarding the nation and being gracious to His people. As the sun warms the body, the face of the Lord looked mercifully in love and salvation upon the souls of His chosen ones (Psa. 27:1; 44:3). (But, the Lord’s face was turned against Israel when the nation sinned against Him, resulting in destruction and death, Deut. 31:17-18; Psa. 34:16.) This priestly blessing would remind the Israelites to keep their faith focused on the Lord God as their Provider, Protector, and Giver of peace. Surely these things have been written for our sake (1 Cor. 9:10; 10:11; Rom. 15:4). Christ’s church is the Israel of God, with Christians composing a royal priesthood (Gal. 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:9). The Lord shines down His eternal favors of grace and salvation to us, His children, compelling us to walk in the warm light of His truth (Jno. 8:12). We are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” and inherit a blessing when we are faithful to the Lord (1 Pet. 1:5; 3:8-12).
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28–29, NKJV)
The gospel of Christ makes no fleshly distinctions when identifying the chosen people of God. The text before us is very clear. The gospel of Christ does not identify a Jew by outward circumcision, but by the inward circumcision of the heart. In Christ “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God’s “chosen generation” today is His church that is composed of Christians, whether Jew or Gentile in the flesh, it makes no difference to God (1 Peter 2:9; Acts 15:9). Scripture says, “nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham” (Romans 9:7). Any doctrine that elevates any race of people above another has distorted the gospel of Christ and the salvation it extends to all, regardless of whether they are a Jew or a Gentile (Romans 1:16-17). Fleshly Israel was told to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16). In Christ, it is the circumcision of Christ – the cutting away of “the body of the sins of the flesh” (which occurs in baptism) – that identifies a person as a child of God (Colossians 2:11-13).