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By Rev Charles Seet

Text: Numbers 14:1-12

Our meditation this morning is on the theme, 'Faith is the Victory'. This theme is derived from 1 John 5:4 which says � 'For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' From this verse we derive the principle that faith is essential for victorious Christian Living! Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The Bible abounds with many examples of this principle (Hebrews 11 - Noah, Abraham, Moses, David), but today I would like to read from a passage that demonstrates how important faith is, by showing what happens when God's people fail to have faith in Him. Let us turn our Bibles to Numbers 14:1-12 (Read). 

This passage describes the sin of unbelief by the Israelites when they reached the southern border of Canaan. Upon reaching a place called Kadesh Barnea in the wilderness of Paran, the Israelites sent spies unto Canaan. Twelve men were appointed, one from each tribe, to survey the land for 40 days. Perhaps the main intention was to spy out the military strength of the Canaanites whom the Israelites were going to fight. 

When the 12 spies returned, all of them agreed that Canaan was a 'land flowing with milk and honey.' They brought back bunches of grapes so big that they needed 2 men to carry them. But ten of them brought back an unfavourable and exaggerated report, that: The Canaanites were giants, and Israelites were like grasshoppers compared to them. The walls of the Canaanite cities were very high ('up to heaven' Deut 1:28) Therefore the Israelites could not possibly overcome them. 

I. Israel's Sin: They Did Not Exercise Faith in God 

Only two of the spies, Caleb from the tribe of Judah, and Joshua from the tribe of Ephraim, tried to convince the people to exercise their faith in God and to move in despite the odds against them, and occupy the land by His grace. But the people chose to listened to the ten spies instead of to Caleb and Joshua, and their immediate natural response to what they heard was fear. This fear caused a wave of despair that grew out of control and swept through the whole camp of Israel like wildfire until all the congregation cried and wept (v.1). This despair in turn gave rise to the sins of doubting God, and complaining against Moses and Aaron. They said 'And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey?' Finally, doubt gave rise to outright disobedience: they decided to overthrow their leaders and returning to Egypt. They were about to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, when God suddenly intervened by causing His glory to shine in the Tabernacle. 

Israel had provoked God to wrath with their sin of unbelief. God threatened to disinherit Israel and to make of Moses alone a mightier nation. This is the second time that God made this threat against Israel. The first was at the time of the Israelites' sin in worshipping the golden calf at Sinai. The implication here is that the sin of unbelief against God is just as serious a sin as idolatry. Dearly beloved, let us be careful not to fall into the same sin of unbelief as the Israelites. In order to do this, we must now learn what it means to put our faith in God. 

To have faith in God is to depend fully upon the Lord, and particularly to depend on His Word, on His Power and on His love. Faith causes us to lay down the whole weight and hope of our expectation of mercy or deliverance upon Him. The Bible makes it quite clear that God's people are required to trust in Him: For instance, Psalm 9:10 'And they that know Thy name will put their trust in thee: for Thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee.' Psalm 18:2 'The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.' 

II. Our Need to Exercise Faith in God 

And it becomes especially needful for us to exercise faith in God when fear grips our hearts. Do you know that the greatest hindrance to faith is fear? Just like the Israelites, fear can ignite despair, doubts, and disobedience in our hearts. It was the same process of fear that caused Abraham to tell the half-truth about his wife instead of trusting in God to protect him. It was fear that caused Elijah to run from his life from the wicked queen Jezebel instead of trusting in God to deliver him. It was fear that caused Peter to deny Christ three times! 

But when we trust in God we realise that we really have nothing at all to fear. Faith enables us to see that our God is much greater than all the things that we fear. Psalm 56:3 tells us 'What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.' Psalm 23:4 also brings out this tremendous truth 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.' In John 14:1 Jesus assuaged the fears of His disciples by telling them to believe in Him. He said 'Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me.' Hence we now understand that faith means overcoming whatever fears we may have by looking to God for help. Let us now consider:

III. What We Need Faith in God For 

There are several: 1. Salvation - Ephesians 1:12,13 'That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,' Now, this faith is exclusive, That means that when we trust in God for salvation, we are not to trust in anything else - our good works, our family background, upbringing, church membership, etc. God alone must be the object of our faith.

2. Deliverance: We should also exercise faith in the Lord to preserve us or to deliver us when we are sick or in trouble or going through difficult trials: Psalm 25:18-20 'Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins. Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred. O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in Thee.'

We can see the importance of exercising faith in God for deliverance, in the response of the apostle Paul to the dangers he faced - 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 'For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us'

3. Provisions: We should also have faith in the Lord for our daily provisions. Hence we pray 'Give us this day our daily bread.' The term 'bread' is often used in the Bible as a generic term to mean 'necessities, conveniences of this life, food, raiment, housing.' Martin Luther remarked that 'bread' here is symbolic for everything necessary for the preservation of physical life. In the Shorter catechism's answer to Q104 'What do we pray for in the fourth petition?' The answer is 'We pray that of God's free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy His blessings with them.' 

This then is the meaning of the word 'bread' - the necessities of life, the things that we need. One verse that clearly shows this is Philippians 4:19 tells us 'But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.' We also need to trust God for His provision of wisdom, guidance, direction and power to live for Him.

IV. Human Responsibility and Faith in God 

Now, while we need to exercise faith God for things in life like health, food, provisions, etc., this does not mean that we can then be irresponsible to provide these things for ourselves. For God has ordained that most of our needs are to be met by means of our own diligent efforts. This comes under the cooperative will of God. This means that while we trust in the Lord to help us, we are required to do our part at the same time.

One illustration is Abraham's servant who was commanded to find a wife for Isaac. In the prayer he made to God, he trusted God to guide him to the right damsel for Isaac. But he did not just sit waiting for God to bring her to him. He took the initiative to approach Rebecca and ask for a drink, and the Lord caused her to give the sign he had requested for. She not only gave him a drink but also gave water to all his camels. This was an unusual display of generosity. So the servant later testified, 'I being in the way, the Lord led me' (Gen 24:27). The same principle applies to God's provision for things like our health. While we pray and have faith that the Lord will grant us good health, this does not mean that we can then forget to take necessary precautions in our lifestyle, and diet. It does not mean that we do not need to see a doctor and refuse to take medicine when we are very sick. We need to do these things, recognising the biblical principle that God uses ordinary means to accomplish His purposes in our lives.

The same principle is true about our work - God is the One who provides for us, but He uses the work that we do for a living to make these sufficient provisions. The only exception is when it is clearly God's will for a person not to work but to depend entirely upon Him alone to provide for us by other means. E.g. A person who stops secular work because God has called him to fulltime service - to preach the gospel, minister to the sick, needy as a missionary. Or a person who is unable to work because of sickness or permanent disability that result from an accident. Since God is in control and has allowed this situation, it must be His will for him to depend upon the Lord to provide for him by some other means. But for the majority of us, God's will is to work in a secular job to obtain the provisions that we need for a living.

Those who refuse to work and claim that they are trusting God to supply all their needs are rebuked by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 'For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.' The Apostle Paul himself demonstrated this principle when he made tents with Aquila and Priscilla at Corinth at a time in his missionary travels when he had no livelihood and support in that city.

Furthermore, believers are to find work, not only to provide sufficiently for themselves, but for their loved ones as well, as stated in 1 Timothy 5:8 'But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.' 

And let us not think that working for a living is not trusting God or is depending upon our own efforts alone. It is not: our ability to work and earn our salary comes from God. Paul says in Acts 17:28,'For in Him we live For in him we live, and move, and have our being;'. It is God who created our muscles and our brains. It is God who opens the door of opportunity for us to get a job that pays us sufficiently. We must remember that we are all frail creatures, and if God does not sustain our good health and strength we would not be able to work. And if God does not allow our employer or our business to succeed and prosper, we would also have nothing. Deuteronomy 8:18 'But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth,'

And there is also nothing wrong with desiring to earn a little more in order to having some savings for the future, especially in anticipation of future needs, like one's retirement. Some people may think that having savings is contrary to living by faith in God. But when Joseph was the prime minister of Egypt, God gave him the wisdom to save all the excess produce of the land during the 7 years of plenty, so that there would be enough provisions during the 7 years of famine that came after them. The book of Proverbs instructs the sluggard to learn from the ant 'Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.' (6:6) Like many other creatures, ants are able to save and store up enough food during the productive months to tide them over the unproductive months of winter.

And therefore, unless God clearly indicates to a person that it is not His will for him to have any savings for certain reasons, it is wise for God's people to save and make provisions for the future or themselves and their loved ones. And so it is wise for a Christian to have some savings, if he is merely making sufficient provisions for the future.

V. Maintaining the Right Balance between Self-help and God-help. 

But there is a difference between working hard to build sufficient savings for oneself, and working hard to make super-excessive savings. As there is also a difference between having one or two insurance policies and having 30 or 50 insurance policies. And the difference is actually due to the tendency of man to have faith in his own ability to provide for himself, and to have faith in his own provisions to deliver him. This kind of faith is misplaced.

In Luke 12, Jesus told the parable of the Rich Fool, who clearly worked hard and trusted in his riches 'Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?' Those who are rich are susceptible to the temptation of putting their trust in their riches: 1 Timothy 6:17 'Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;'

Faith in riches or material goods makes a person covetousn. And faith in one's own ability to provide for oneself makes a person proud. Both of these are sins that God hates. And faith in these two things can bring forth even more sinful results. When one suddenly loses, or for the sake of obedience to God's will, has to forsake the ability to provide for himself, or when one's riches are suddenly taken away, then it brings much fear and anxiety that in turn lead to despair, doubt, and disobedience.

But when one's faith is placed in God alone, the loss of such things will not affect his obedience to God and his faith in God. Like Job he would be able to say, 'the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' (Job 1:21) Here, Job was speaking the language of faith. Like the apostle Paul he will be able to say, 'I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.' (Philippians 4:12)

True contentment comes from putting one's faith fully in the Lord. These are the responses of those who do not put their faith in their material possessions. Hence if the same thing happens to us now, as a result of the present economic downturn, that despite all our diligent efforts to earn a living, we still cannot earn as much as before, we do not see it as a major setback, or as the end of the world. Matthew 6:25 Jesus said, 'Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?' The words 'take thought' here means 'to be worried' or 'anxious' God will provide sufficiently through ordinary means like our own work, or through extraordinary means, like the unsolicited kindness of fellow Christians, or unexpected loan repayments.

We need to balance faith in God�s help with self-help. Unfortunately many in Singapore find it hard to maintain this balance and end up putting more faith in their own efforts and provisions than in the Lord. And perhaps this is because they have neglected to seek and do the will of God for their lives. Romans 12:2 'And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.'

Is it God's will for a Christian to be spending so much time and effort on his work, to the exclusion of spending time with the Lord and for the Lord? I do not think so. Is it God's will to work 18 hours a day, work overtime, hold two jobs, and to withhold one's tithes and offerings from the Lord? If we have yielded our lives to God to seek and to do His will, we will always be careful to decide what we should do in any situation - whether to take a second job, or take a huge loan to buy a house or a car. Each of us has to discern what God's specific will for us is and ask 'Lord, what do you want me to do?'

For some of us, God's will may include holding two jobs and trusting Him for grace not to compromise our daily walk with Him. For others it may be God's will to have one job, and trust him to help us live on that alone. For yet others it may even be God's will to have no job at all for a time, and live entirely by faith in God's provision. Whatever choices we make we must have a clear conscience that it is God's will is for us. And doing anything that is beyond that, will then result in trusting in ourselves and not in God. I trust that these few guidelines will help us to always experience the victorious life of faith in the Lord.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25