One of the more precious passages in all of Scripture to me is Psalm 16:11. Here David speaks of the presence of God and the inimitable pleasure and power that flood the soul of those who experience it. Knowing this ought to instill in us a ravenous hunger for intimacy with God. What surprises many is to discover the immense practical benefit of such desire.
I first saw this in something said by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. In the opening verses of chapter thirteen we are exhorted to love each other (v. 1), to be hospitable (v. 2), to be compassionate to the oppressed and needy (v. 3), to pursue sexual purity both inside and outside of marriage (v. 4), and perhaps most difficult of all, not to love money but to be content (v. 5). A formidable task indeed!
How can God possibly expect such behavior from people as self-absorbed as we? The answer, in vv. 5b-6, is found in a promise that God himself makes to every one of us: “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” so we can confidently say: “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Both of my daughters are grown and well-educated now, but I can still remember the struggle I had with them to avoid using double negatives. One of their favorites was: “I’m not never going there again.” I’d gently(?) correct them: “No honey, don’t use a double negative. Say ‘I’m not ever going there again.'” “Whatever, I ain’t doing it.” “No, honey, don’t never say ain’t” (oops!). I trust you get the point. My reason for mentioning this is that a deliberate double negative is present in the Greek text of our passage. The statement is quite emphatic and could be literally translated, “not not will I leave you, neither not not will I forsake you,” or better still, “I will never, by no means ever, leave you; neither will I ever, by no means ever, forsake you.”
This is related to what we read in Romans 8:1 where Paul makes the astounding declaration that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” When we think of the word “condemnation” and all it entails: the loss of hope, fear of the future, uncertainty of today, shattered dreams, painful separation, etc., Paul’s statement suddenly begins to echo and reverberate in our hearts with a power and force that makes it feel as if we’re going to explode with joy, exuberance, and gratitude!
When we wed these two texts (Romans 8:1 and Hebrews 13:5-6) we discover that if you are in Christ Jesus, there is no valid reason why you should ever again experience fear or apprehension about your relationship with God or your eternal destiny. That doesn’t mean you won’t experience such fear. It does mean there is no valid reason why you should.
The Christian is not one who swings like a spiritual pendulum, as if forgiven one moment and condemned the next, only to be forgiven yet again, endlessly back and forth between God’s redeeming grace and retributive wrath. Paul couldn’t have been more explicit. The definition of a Christian is one who is not now nor ever shall be condemned: no condemnation! A believer may feel condemned. For that matter, an unbeliever may feel forgiven (even though he isn’t)! But this is not an issue of subjective sensations or inner impressions. This is our eternal position in Christ, now and forever.
What that means, practically speaking, is that you and I never, by no means ever again, have any excuse for being afraid of what others can do to us. We never, by no means ever again, have to try to do something alone that we know God wants us to do. Why? Because God, our omnipotent helper, is always and forever with us.
Think about it: since God is really and truly forever and always right here with you, other people cannot control or shape or determine your life. Some of you hear this statement in v. 6 – “What can man do to me?” and you say: “Good grief, are you kidding? They can do a lot to me! They can beat me up, rob me, slander me, sue me, even kill me!”
But our author knows that. He said it explicitly in Hebrews 10:32-34 and in 11:35-38. Look right here in our passage at v. 3! Our writer isn’t stupid. He knows that people can do a lot of really bad things to us. So what could he possibly mean in v. 6? Why does the promise “I will never leave you or forsake you” cause him to feel so confident in v. 6 that he can declare that no man can do him harm? There are at least three answers.
First, no human can do anything to separate you from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-37). Notwithstanding the worst imaginable physical torment or emotional distress or financial disaster, you and I are forever safe in the arms of God. Second, God is able to cause all things people do to us, even the bad things, to work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). This isn’t to say that all things are good, but that God can orchestrate the evil into a symphony of glory. And third, God enables us to respond with everlasting joy to whatever they do, by reminding us that we have “a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34).
Although the promise of Hebrews 13:5b-6 follows immediately on the exhortation not to love money, I believe our author intends for us to understand that this is how we fulfill all five exhortations! We can love each other because God is always with us as our helper. We can be hospitable to strangers because God is always with us as our helper. We can find the energy and resources to help the oppressed and needy because God is always with us as our helper. We can live in sexual purity because God is always with us to help us. And we can break the power of money over our lives because God is always with us to help.
Perhaps the hardest thing of all is the exhortation not to love money. Infatuation with what money can do for us comes easily. But if this promise is true, the way to be free from the love of money is to know and believe and be satisfied by the promise of God summed up in “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
If God really means that, then I don’t need to crave after money as the source of my security and identity and pleasure. I can find all that and more in the enjoyment of intimacy with the God who promises never to leave! The bondage to money and what it can do for us is only broken by believing that God can do far more. Money makes a promise. So does God. The question is: Whom will you believe?