Gospel Quest 12: Christ’s Care- Principles of Providence
Introduction: Two Stories of Providence
Shortly after Dallas Theological Seminary was founded in 1924, it almost came to the point of bankruptcy. All the creditors were going to foreclose at noon on a particular day. That morning they met in the president's office with Dr. Chafer for prayer that God would provide. In that prayer meeting was a man by the name of Harry Ironside. When it was his turn to pray, he prayed in his characteristic manner: "Lord, we know that the cattle on a thousand hills are Thine. Please sell some of them and send us the money."
While they were praying, a tall Texas rancher stepped up to the business office and said, "I just sold two carloads of cattle in Ft. Worth. I feel compelled to give the money to the seminary. I don't know if you need it or not, but here's the check."
The secretary took the check and, knowing how critical things were financially, went to the door of the prayer meeting and timidly tapped. The door opened and she gave the check to Dr. Chafer. He took it and looked at the offering. It was exactly the amount they needed to stop the creditors. When he looked at the name, he recognized him as a famous Ft. Worth cattleman. He then turned to Dr. Ironside said, "Harry, it looks like God sold the cattle!" -James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 419. (edits by DKM)
Story 2: In Czechoslovakia, Vera Czermak of Prague discovered her husband was cheating on her. She contemplated both murder and suicide, but she chose the latter, blindly leaping out of her third-story window. She incurred only minor injuries, however, because she landed on her husband who was walking up to their door, in the street below. Vera’s jump killed him. -James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 46.
These two stories illustrate the difficulty of judging the providence of God. In some cases, it is very clear that God is working and providing. In other cases it may seem that it is just coincidental, but to the Christian who understands, both the money and fall are part of the providence of God. In the first Christians, through prayer, were blessed by God’s providence in the second, the people were only swept up in providence.
In Luke 22, Jesus tells the crowd the story of the rich fool who loses his life though his barns are filled with plenty. He then turns to his disciples and how we are to understand the providence of God. His overriding principle is stated in vs. 22. “Take no thought…” In other words, don’t be filled with anxiety, don’t be overcome, with care and worry. When you understand the providence of God, then you will have faith instead of fear and frustration. This morning let’s consider one of the most important foundation of the Christian faith, the providence of God.
Luke and Providence. Turn to Luke 12, Reading though Luke your realize that he actually writes quite a lot about providence and I think its for the same reason that he writes so much about prayer. To him these were unique and new concepts, coming from the rituals of paganism into the a relationship with God, was eye opening, soul shocking, mind challenging and world changing. Pagans didn’t believe in providence, they believed in the capriciousness of their all to much like human, gods. Their gods played games with the lives of humans for their own amusement. They didn’t love humans, they didn’t create them for fellowship, they didn’t care about them, they just watched from Mt. Olympus. They certainly didn’t make provision for their needs and only helped if you were a great hero on a great quest and even then, it was just a game to keep them from getting bored. The Jews, however as Luke learned, grew up with a deep and intimate understanding of God’s providence. They owed their very life, history and identity to God’s care of them as a people through providence, but the Greeks had no such concept.
Providence, therefore, was a big deal to Luke and it should be a big deal to us. Yet I really don’t hear sermons on providence, if anything it is mentioned or alluded to but it is not studied, it is not mined for truths, in the same way as we study and appreciate salvation, forgiveness, or eternity and yet all of those precious doctrines fall under God’s providence.
"Providence is the most comprehensive term in the language of theology. It is the background of all the several departments of religious truth, a background mysterious in its commingled brightness and darkness. It penetrates and fills the whole compass of the relations of man with his Maker. It connects the unseen God with the visible creation, and the visible creation with the work of redemption, and redemption with personal salvation, and personal salvation with the end of all things. It carries our thoughts back to the supreme purpose which was in the beginning with God, and forward to the foreseen end and consummation of all things, while it includes between these the whole infinite variety of the dealings of God with man" (W. B. Pope, Compendium of Christian Theology, I, 456).
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
First Principle of Providence: God’s Concern - Luke 12:22-23
And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
Providence is God’s Business
When I says the first principle of providence is God’s concern, what I mean using the art of alliteration is that providence is the business of God. It is under His direction and power. In other words, the First Principle is to understand the one who created us, life and the body is able and will provide for that body.
Quote: Albert Barnes says about this verse, “He has given life, a far greater blessing than meat; he has created the body, of far more consequence than raiment. Shall not he, who has conferred the greater blessing, be willing to confer the less? Shall not he, who has formed the body so curiously, and made such a display of power and goodness, see that it is properly protected and clothed? He who has displayed so great goodness as to form the body, and breathe into it the breath of life, will surely follow up the blessing, and confer the smaller favour of providing that that body should be clothed, and that life preserved.
Jesus is asking, is it harder to create the body or provide the food and raiment for the body? If God created us and gave us life, then don’t you think He will also provide for it. Don’t allow our small concerns to override the greatness of who God is, what God has done and what God has promised He will do.
The provision of the necessities of life is nothing compared to the provision of life itself. Trust, that God who has provided life, will also provide what is needed in life. This is God’s concern, it is God’s business.
Do you trust that God will provide?
We say that we believe He created the universe. We believe he parted the Red Sea. We believe he resurrected Jesus from the grave. We believe these great things that God has done, yet too many times, we do not believe He will provide the food on our table, the roof over our head or the clothes on our back. But, which is more difficult for God? Holding back the waters of the Red Sea or putting meat loaf and mashed potatoes on your dinner plate?
Jesus is telling them then and us now, Keep things in perspective! This is God we’re talking about. If He can fill the oceans with water, he can fill our stomachs. If He uses gold for paving stones in heaven, He can make a way for you to pay your bills!
Paul’s words on providence
Paul who certainly understood and depended upon the providence of God, make two sublime statements about providence, on in his letter to the Philippians and the other to the Romans.
To the church at Philippi, he wrote, Philippians 4:19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
To the church at Rome, Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
The first principle is Providence is God’s business, the second is that providence when it comes to us, isn’t just business, with God it is personal. Look at Luke 12:24, God cares.
Second Principle of Providence: God Cares- Luke 12:24-28
Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Providence In General or Nature
The word providence literally means foresight or forethought. Providence is seen in scripture in general over all nature and in particular in the lives of his children and the affairs of all men.
In vss 24-28 Jesus show us God general or natural providence. This is the provision or care of God that is throughout the world. It is seen in nature and in the lives of both the righteous and the wicked.
In vs.24, He says God cares for the ravens. This was a scavenging, unclean animal to the Jews and yet Jesus says, God feeds them. In vs 25 It is our physical body that Jesus uses as an example and says can any of you make yourself taller? If you can’t do what God has done so simply, so naturally, then why worry about what is even more difficult. In vs. 27, he uses the lilies that God clothed and says God made them more splendid that anything Solomon wore. In vs. 28, he ends with the grass which only last for a day, how much more will he provide for us, His highest creation?
But Jesus purpose is not just to point out God’s providence in nature but to use it to show his special providence for us. If God has provided and cares for things as insignificant as birds and flowers, then we must realize He has and will provide for us. We are more important to God than birds or grass.
In Matthew 10:29[DKM5] -32, Jesus makes the same point this way, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Our trust in the providence of God must be as natural and unassuming as that of the birds and flowers. They don’t fret or worry over these things it is just provided them. If they have a natural instinct in what will be provided them and don’t worry, then shouldn’t we who live, not on instinct, but on faith live beyond anxiety and fear?
Again Paul, our expert in trusting God’s providence puts it so succinctly, in Philippians 4:12-13 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. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Illustration: The example of George Muller
The following is an excerpt from the diary of George Muller, who in Victorian England, founded 6 orphanages, and cared for 10,024 orphans during his life. He established 117 schools which offered Christian education to more than 120,000 children. He did all this without ever making a public plea for money. Every thing was accomplished by prayer and faith in the Providence of God.
August 18, 1838: I have not one penny in hand for the orphans. In a day or two again many pounds will be needed. My eyes are up to the Lord. (That evening he wrote) Before this day is over, I have received from a sister five pounds. She had some time since put away her trinkets, to be sold for the benefit of the orphans. This morning, whilst in prayer, it came to her mind, I have these five pounds, and owe no man anything, therefore it would be better to give this money at once. She therefore brought it, little knowing that there was not a penny in hand…
August 23: Today I was again without one single penny, when three pounds was sent from Clapham, with a box of new clothes for the orphans.
Muller was later to look back on the period from September 1838 to the end of 1846 as the time when the greatest trials of faith were experienced in the orphan work. During the whole period, the children knew nothing of the trial. In the midst of one of the darkest periods, he recorded, "The orphans have never lacked anything. Had I had thousands of pounds in hand, they would have fared no better than they have…" -James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 261. (edited by DKM)
Quote: The Christian should never worry about tomorrow or give sparingly because of a possible future need. Only the present moment is ours to serve the Lord, and tomorrow may never come...Life is worth as much as it is spent for the Lord's service. – George Muller
If God can take care of all of nature and creation out there, then He will certainly take care of the children of His own house.
This brings us to the final principle of Providence, God’s Children. Now Jesus moves us from considering the general or natural providence of God to His particular providence for his children.
Third Principle of Providence: God’s Children - Luke 12:29-34
And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Jesus now brings the power of providence directly to His followers.
Don’t seek (don’t spend your life, your dreams, your energy) on questions about food and drink.
Don’t let your life be filled with doubt and worry. The word Jesus uses here, doubtful, literally comes from the idea of a sail on a ship being filled near to being ripped by dangerous winds. Here it is our minds being filled near to destruction by the winds of fear and doubt.
Jesus tells His disciples, This is the way the Gentiles, the pagan world thinks and acts but you are not of the world. Your Father knows you need these things. Jesus is using the word Father here, wants them to understand the God will provide for his children, just as parents would provide for their children.
Instead of being focused on the necessities of the world, Jesus says we are to be focused on the kingdom of God. Then all these other things will be taken care of.
Jesus then lifts their eyes and hearts away from the fear of this world to the glories of the kingdom of God.
He says, “Fear not little flock, for it is your Fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Not just food and raiment, not just what you need on to get by on earth, but the glories of God’s kingdom, both here on now and especially one day in heaven.
Keeping this in mind, He then tells to invest in that future, invest in the kingdom of God. Sell what you have, give alms and by doing this you will provide yourself bags which can’t fall apart filled with the treasures of heaven. Treasures that can’t fail, be stolen or corrupted.
And finally, He states this great, overarching principle of providence and faith. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
This is the purpose of Providence, to bless us as God’s children that we might look past the cares of this world to the work of the kingdom and the glory of heaven.
The purpose of Providence is to give us a greater purpose.
Let me put it this way, if we understand providence is God’s business, if we trust in God to provide the necessities of this body, then we will change our focus of living.
Jesus tells us quit seeking the same things the world is seeking. You’re God’s children, you are not of this world, quit acting like it and especially quit thinking like it.
He tells us that if we would enjoy the special providence of God, the providence of God reserved for his children, then we must Seek first the kingdom of God. It must become our focus, our priority, it must be the thing that fills our hearts and minds, controls and directs us.
He goes even further telling us that God’s intent is not just to give us the necessities of this life, but God’s good pleasure is to give us the glories of the Kingdom of God.
What are we settling for? What are we willing to accept as a trade off for the kingdom of God? God’s desire is for us to have His kingdom. We shall rule and reign with Him one day. Are we willing to throw that away for today’s worries and doubts of just getting by?
Look once again at what Paul says, this time in Romans 8:18 For I reckon (I know for a certainty, I have accounted it as fact) that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Jesus challenges us, stop investing in the things of this world and instead invest in the things of God.
If we do this, He promises, we will have a true treasure. A treasure than can’t be lost or stolen, a treasure that grows more precious with each passing year, a treasure waiting for us in heaven and will last throughout eternity. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
So, you know the question each of us must now face, where is your heart? Where are you investing your life?
And you can’t really answer that question until you understand what Jesus has been teaching us this morning about the providence of God. You can’t truly invest in heaven if you don’t know that it’s God’s business to take care of you. You can’t put your treasure in bags that won’t turn to dust, unless you have faith in what God is providing for your physical life, just as He provides for all of creation. You can’t move your heart from here to heaven, until God’s providential love and care are real to you.
Providence overarches everything in time, eternity and creation and yet it intersects the most intimate needs and hopes of my life. How real is the care and provision of God our Father to you, today?
What is God’s Holy Spirit saying to you today about what you have to refocus on, give up on or put your faith in? Where is your heart? Where is your treasure? Please give Him an answer as we sing Great Is They Faithfulness #109.