If the Lord Wills
1 Corinthians 4:19
If the Lord Wills
Today we will be looking at one of the paradoxes in the Christian life, “is God sovereign or do we have free will?” The answer is not either / or but rather the answer is both. God is absolutely sovereign but in His infinite greatness He is able to give His creation genuine freedom to choose without in any way jeopardizing His sovereign control. This paradox in scripture is similar to other paradoxes we find, such as the Trinity. Is God one or is He three? The answer is both. Or the question, did God predestine and choose us or did we choose Him? Again the answer is both at the same time.
The purpose of our study this morning is not to explain or to understand this paradox but to see a practical application of it from 1 Corinthians chapter four.
At some point earlier, perhaps in another letter, Paul has communicated to the church at Corinth that he would return to visit them. As we saw in verse 17, Paul is sending Timothy ahead of himself to begin addressing some of the problems in the church, but as soon as possible Paul himself will be there to put things in order. (vs. 17)
Notice in verse 19 how Paul demonstrates to the church that his life and his plans are yielded to God’s control, “I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills . . .” His life is no longer his own to do with as he pleases, but he belongs to the Lord. (He makes the same statement in 16:7.)
Remember Paul’s exhortation back in verse 16, “I urge you, imitate me.” This was not an invitation to mimic Paul’s words and actions, but rather to follow his way of living. To be totally surrendered to the Lord, allowing God to have His way in Paul’s life. To speak this way, “If the Lord wills”, is not an expression of fatalism as Muslims and others believe. (Fatalism is the belief that it doesn’t matter what I do God has determined everything that is going to happen in my life and there is nothing I can do to alter or change that. Everything I experience in life is my fate. If I have an accident or experience blessing it has nothing to do with my own choices, it is simply my fate to experience those things. That is fatalism.)
However, the Bible clearly teaches that we have been given freedom by God to choose, either to yield our lives to Christ’s control, or to walk after the flesh, doing what seems right in our own eyes. God is absolutely sovereign; He is in total control and there are definitely things in life that are ordained by God, but He never forces Himself on any of us. He never violates our will. Instead we are invited to voluntarily yield full control of our bodies and souls to Him in order that we might have abundant life.
We can all chose to disobey God and to walk down a path of our own choosing and experience the consequences of our choice. Or we can choose to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow wherever He leads us and experience a radically different life than we would have if we had gone our own way. Both options may be filled with pleasures and with trials. However the pleasures of our own way will all be shallow, temporary and leave us empty. And the trials of our own way will be destructive and will leave us barren and wasted. But the trials that come when we follow Christ are always constructive, enriching to our lives and bringing glory to God. And the pleasures of God’s way are deep, very fulfilling and long lasting.
But make no mistake, God will not force us one way or the other, we must choose which way we are going to go, either our own way, which is the way of the flesh, or we can deny ourselves and follow Christ in the way of the cross.
So when Paul says, “I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills”, he is not saying “I will come to you if that is my fate.” Rather he is saying “I will come to you if that is the way the Lord leads me to go because I have chosen to be led by the Spirit rather than to walk in my own way.” The Lord leads us; He does not drive us or force us. We must choose either to follow His leading or to go our own way.
Now there is another aspect of this whole topic of God’s will. That is, we can choose to go our own way but we have no power to control how it will turn out. James 4:13-15 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
This still is not fatalism; James is not saying that we have choice in what we will do. But rather he is recognizing the fact that though we have the freedom to make choices we do not have the power to control the outcome. We can make plans for the future, but we have no control over the future, we cannot make our plans succeed. We can make plans for our own lives, but we do not have the power to make those plans work out the way we want, we don’t even know if we will be alive to carry out those plans. We don’t know what the future holds. Only God has that power.
Death is one of those things that we have no control over. God has appointed unto each one of us a time to die and there is nothing we can do to alter that appointed time. (Hebrews 9:27; Matthew 6:27; Luke 12:25) I believe that this is especially true for the child of God for as a believer our life is no longer our own to do with as we please but it belongs to Him.
Our life is like a coin (or a dollar bill). Just as there is nothing we can do to increase or to decrease the value of a coin, so there is nothing we can do to increase or decrease the length of our appointed lives. But we have the freedom to choose how we will spend our money and we have the freedom to choose how we will spend our lives. But once our pre-appointed life span has been spent, it is gone and we can never get it back to spend it differently. Like a coin we can spend our life any way we want to – but we can only spend it once. So be careful how you spend your life.
We can either yield our lives to God for Him to spend our lives as He wishes according to His infinite wisdom and great love for us, laying up treasure in heaven to be enjoyed forever; or we can selfishly spent our lives on the pursuit of our own desires and temporary pleasures which may be fun while it lasts but will leave us empty with nothing invested in eternity. However, we only have one life, therefore we must spend it wisely. Don’t waste your life.
For many Christians, if we are given the opportunity to see the end approaching (often death comes without warning) but if we receive warning that the end of our life is near, and if we are unprepared we tend to panic because we realize we have not spent our life well. We are not content and at peace knowing our time is up because we know we have not fulfilled our purpose in life; we realize that we have wasted so much of our life. We realize that we are not ready to go.
When Jesus came to the end of His short life on earth He was able to say, “Father . . . I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” (John 17) When Paul came to the end of his life he also was ready to go and he has urged his church to imitate his way of living so that they too would be fulfilled and ready to go when their appointed time came.
2 Timothy 4:5-8 “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. [What is your ministry? Are you fulfilling your eternal purpose for being on earth?”] For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Those who have loved His appearing are those who have lived, not with their eyes fixed on the temporal things of this life, but who have lived with their eyes fixed on Jesus the author and finisher of their faith, longing not for this life but longing to be united as a bride to her groom, together with Christ.
Psalm 90 is a prayer of Moses in which he looks back over the forty wasted years the people of Israel had spent wandering in the wilderness because they chose to live their own way rather than to yield to the Lord and be led into the Promised Land. But this is also a prayer for the next generation of Israelites, a prayer that they would live differently.
Psalm 90:9-17 “For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh. The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away . . . 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom . . . [Teach us to realize that this life is short and not to be wasted. Teach our children to realize that fulfillment isn’t found in pursuing our own life but in pursuing Christ’s life] 14 Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, [early in our lives while we are young let us find satisfying pleasure in God] That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!”