Doing the Will of God

Matthew 12:46-50


Walter Knight told of an old Scottish woman who went from home to home across the country-side selling thread, buttons, and shoestrings. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed. One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times. “Why do you toss the stick more than once?” someone asked. “Because,” replied the woman, “it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to take the road on the right.” She then dutifully kept throwing the stick into the air until it pointed the way she wanted to go! This story is from Today in the Word, May, 1989. Isn’t that just the way we think about the will of God? The will of God may be telling us to do something, and yet we think we know what the will of God really is. So, we will keep on doing things the way we want until we think that God must just have to come along for the ride. This is a very dangerous way of thinking. But, more positively, how do we know what the will of God is? And how will we choose our course of action? Doing the will of God is being a brother or sister to Christ. That is what our text says.

The context of the passage is important. Jesus has been talking about the heart. The heart’s con-dition determines what comes out of it. A good heart results in good fruit, and a bad heart results in bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. People can only have a good heart if God makes that happen. In other words, the context tells us that we should not look at verse 50 and say that we need to do the will of God in order to become the brother or sister of Christ. And Jesus does not in fact say that. He says that whoever does the will of God is His brother or sister. So we can see the importance of the context for helping us understand this passage: God changes the heart so that good deeds will result. Someone with a changed heart is the brother or sister of Christ.

Now, the passage itself is strange. It looks as if someone came to Jesus merely to tell Him that His relatives wanted to talk to Him, and Jesus gives this very strange response that might sound like an insult to his family. However, that is not what is happening. What is really happening is that Jesus saw an opportunity here to teach about the new family of Christ. Christ came not only to take our guilt on Himself, not only to free us from sin’s guilt and power, not only to assure us that we have a resurrection body, but also to give us a new relationship with God. It is a relationship that is familial. We become part of God’s family. It is difficult to exaggerate what a privilege that is. Anyone would probably leap to become adopted by some great person in the world. It is a ticket to money and fame. Well, we have a ticket to the title deed of the new heavens and the new earth if we are adopted by God into His family. It is worth far more than the world could ever possibly offer. Many people dream about being a millionaire, or in our culture, since that is becoming so common, a billionaire. But Christians own far more than that. A unbelieving billionaire is in abject poverty when compared with what the Christian has. For God owns the entire universe, and we are His heirs.

So Jesus asks this question, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Are you one of Christ’s brothers or sisters? This is the question that lies at the heart of all Christianity, for it is the question of salvation. Only those who have been given a new root system, to refer to Christ’s tree metaphor a bit, are the true brothers and sisters of Christ.

The tree, however, is known by its fruit. That is what verse 33 says. How do you know who the brothers and sisters of Christ are? Well, they are the ones who do the will of God. That is the evidence. But now we come to the question, “What is the will of God?” Many books have been written on this topic, and much debate surrounds the question. However, the question is actually simple to answer. The will of God that we are supposed to do is what God requires of us in the Bible. The will of God for our lives is the Ten Commandments, the law. Remember yet again that the law-keeping does not make us children of God. Rather, the law is what the children of God do. We are made children first, then we act like it. Jessica Hawn, former church secretary who committed immoral acts with Jim Bakker (former host of the PTL Club), and later brought down the PTL empire, said once that God gave her “real peace” about granting an interview to Playboy magazine and posing for topless pictures. On 9-29-87 the news reported that she still considers herself a Christian, but goes to God “one-on-one,” not through any church or organization. See, there is a clear example of someone who doesn’t have the foggiest idea what the will of God is. She seems to think that the will of God consists of what she wants out of life. Her own preferences determine what the will of God is. And when you combine that with a hatred for God’s people in the church, and a desire to be completely on her own, you have a recipe for a complete hypocrite. You know, it is very similar to a movement in the 19th century to write biographies of Jesus. There were probably hundreds of these books written. What is common about almost all of them is that the writer makes Jesus look like the writer. They stare down into a well of water, and see their own reflection and call that reflection Jesus. Similarly, people stare down into the well of what they think is God’s will and find whatever they want to find. God’s law doesn’t seem to matter to them at all. It doesn’t even occur to them that God might have revealed His will to us somewhere. The reason people do not like that idea is that they are like the Scottish woman who wants to take the right fork, when the stick is plainly telling her to go left. But we do not have that option open to us. God has revealed what His will is.

However, we must address an important question here regarding the will of God. There are two parts to the Biblical definition of the will of God. The first part is the revealed will of God, which is the Bible. The second part of the will of God is the hidden will of God. This second sense describes what God wills to happen that will certainly occur. When used in this sense, no one does anything but the will of God. And though it is a hard truth, we have to say that it was the will of God that Adam and Eve would fall into sin. We have to be very careful here, because we cannot say that God is the origin of evil. He is not the author of evil. There is no darkness of evil in God. Nevertheless, He still decrees that evil happen. There is mystery here, and we cannot fully understand how God can decree that evil happen and yet not be the one to blame for evil. Nevertheless, that is the clear teaching of Scripture. The first sense of the will of God, namely, Scripture, the revealed will of God, is often broken. Everyone breaks the law of God all the time. So, there are two wills of God. One is in God only, that is the hidden will of God, and we cannot know it. The other is the revealed will of God, which we can know, since God has given it to us. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Let me repeat that verse: “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

What so often happens is that people want to know what is hidden. We can see that in questions like these: “Does God want me to marry this person or that person?” “Does God want me to take this job or that job?” These questions are not wrong in and of themselves. However, we often ask such questions hoping that the Lord will somehow zap us with direct revelation of the hidden will of God so that we will know. God does not work that way. He communicates to us through the written will of God. So, let’s say you have two jobs that pay about the same, both are honorable jobs that involve no sin in and of themselves, and you are trying to decide which one you should take. And, by the way, although I use jobs, the principle can be applied to any decision that looks like this. God has not revealed His will to you in any supernatural way. What God has done is given you a personality and preferences. Furthermore, there is God’s providence, which will open and shut doors. If the choice is that close, and there are no principles of God’s Word being violated, then pick the one you want to pick. However, what is far more important here is recognizing how deep the principles of God go. Decisions are rarely this neutral in the sense that neither choice is wrong. Usually, one of the choices will have something wrong with it. That something that is wrong is wrong because the Bible will say it is wrong. It cannot be right for Jessica Hahn to say that God has directed her to pose topless for Playboy magazine. That is utterly impossible. God does not tempt people to sin, as James says in his first chapter, and temptation is certainly what that magazine is all about. What fellowship does God have with darkness? The problem is very simple: people will not believe what God has told them. There is a wonderful sign that you can buy at Cracker Barrel, at least you could once. It said, “What part of ‘thou shalt not’ didn’t you understand?” Mark Twain also said similarly that most people have trouble with those parts of the Bible that they don’t understand. He had trouble with those parts of the Bible that he did understand.

So, in conclusion, we should do the will of God, because that is what the brothers and sisters of Christ do. We have been made children of God. That is an inestimable treasure of God’s grace. Therefore, we should act like the children of God.

On Ministering to the Dying and Bereaved

Most of what I have learned about this topic I learned from other people, but I have tested it against Scripture, and have also put it to the test in ministry (16 funerals in almost 4 years), and I find it extremely helpful.

To the Bereaved:

1. While it is true to say that the dead Christian is in a better place, that is not the most helpful thing to say. I mean, it’s great for the dead person that he’s in another better place, but what about the people left behind mourning? In a very real sense, it is a physical bereavement. The bereaved miss the physical presence of the one who has died. They miss the touch, the personality, the talking, the eye contact. This is where it hurts most. Therefore, talking about the resurrection should have a focus not only on the new body that the dead believer will have, but also on the reunion with the bereaved that will occur. This reunion can also be a great gateway into the Gospel message: “How do you know you will see this person again? Only if you trust in Jesus and then have the hope of the same resurrection to eternal life.”

2. Going along with the first point: do not underestimate the power of touch in ministry at this point. Great care must be taken such that touching will always be appropriate. However, I have yet to have anyone misinterpret a hug at such a time. It is a great ease of the sharpness of physical bereavement to have physical contact.

3. Resurrection texts I find are the most appopriate for funerals, even at the funeral of an unbeliever. No other texts in the Bible show us so clearly that death is not the end. No other texts show us so clearly that death is a homegoing and that it is temporary. No other texts offer such hope in the midst of grief. Going right along with this is preaching that death is UNnatural, not natural. Death is an intruder into the created order. We lose sight of this sometimes, especially when we say that death are taxes are inevitable. Make a strong connection between death and sin, as the former is the full flower of the latter. Funerals are the best opportunities to share the Gospel. Nowhere else will people have the results of sin staring them right in the face. Nowhere else can we so legitimately face people with their own mortality and uttermost need of Jesus.

4. Do not advise people to seek to avoid grief. The only way to deal with grief is to go through it, pain and all, recognizing (and 1 Thessalonians 4 is essential here) that the grief of a believer mourning the death of a believer is of a fundamentally different sort than the grief of a non-believer. It is a grief laced with hope. That tempers grief, though it does not eliminate it. Encourage people to take their grief in all honesty to God. The Psalms are important here. We cannot escape grief. The problem with trying to avoid it is that we will bury it, and it will fester, quite possibly into bitterness. It is much better to deal with it immediately and thoroughly, for healing and a measure of peace will come much more quickly that way.

To the Dying:

5. People who are dying want to know about the afterlife. Tell them about where the soul goes, and where the body stays until the Resurrection. It is surprising how many people think that souls sleep after death.

6. People who are dying and know that they are going to heaven will want to know if they can still know things and recognize people. Point to Hebrews 12 in this regard and the passage in Revelation of the souls crying out to God “How long?”

7. People who are dying and do not know where they are going obviously need the Gospel, especially a Gospel of grace. Such people are usually worried about whether their lives have been good enough for God. This is an especially dangerous time for them. They need the full grace of justification by faith alone at this time more than anything else. Machen’s deathbed quotation about the active righteousness of Christ imputed is appropriate also.

8. Ask the dying person about their regrets. Tell them that their past misdeeds and lack of positive deeds can be forgiven in Christ.