God's Sovereign Dealings With People

by Spiros Zodhiates

Sometimes we need to examine the whole before we attempt to look at the parts. Impressionistic painting is just like that. If you get too close, all you see are little dots of paint. Frankly, it is unattractive and not beautiful at all! But if you step back a few feet, all those little dots are blended together into a picture you could not see when standing so close. The same is true for the Book of Acts. We have been examining the overall picture on this subject of healing in order to draw some conclusions.

God has absolute power to do anything, but He does not violate His nature. He uses His power selectively. We find this in the account of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, for example. In this case, the event was very dramatic and even blinded Paul. You, too, can probably state the time you came to Christ, but it is doubtful that you had the same kind of blinding vision Paul had.

What happened to Paul after his conversion? In Acts 9:20, Luke recorded, "And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues." This caused quite a reaction from the Jews, who "took counsel to kill him" (v. 23), so the Christians in Damascus "took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket" (v. 25). This is a pretty humiliating way to leave town, isn't it?

God does not always do what He is able to do. He allowed Stephen to be martyred (Acts 7:59,60), but He worked a miracle to get Peter out of prison (Acts 12:6-10). His release came after James, the brother of John, was killed by Herod (vv. 1,2). From this, we can learn a vital lesson: Never say that since God liberated one person in the past, He will do the same thing today by liberating us from our problems.

Did the Damascus believers lack faith by lowering Paul down a wall in a basket? No! They used their human ingenuity. If the Lord wants to liberate us through some measure of relief, then follow His leading. We are His servants. Whether we live or die, whether we are sick or well, whether we are free or imprisoned, it all lies in His arranging of our lives. He is the One who makes the ultimate decision.

The Sovereign Dispensing of God's Justice

We have seen that God does not treat His children uniformly but will do that which focuses on His glory and our ultimate benefit. The important word is "ultimate," because from our perspective the problem often appears to be unalloyed pain or disaster.

It is also necessary to examine how God treats His enemies. Here, also, the actions of the Lord are variable. Herod made a speech one day, as Luke records: "Herodmade an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory" (Acts 12:21-23). Here the Lord acted directly and swiftly, and "the word of God grew and multiplied" (v. 24). That was the underlying purpose. God can use angels or any other method, as He sees fit. Jesus demonstrated this in His various healing methods. Sometimes He just spoke; He also made and used mud, or He just touched the person He was healing.

God gave the Apostle Paul physical affliction to bless the lives of others. That is why Paul could begin his letter by saying, "Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (2 Cor. 1:4). Apparently Paul knew that we could be poor comforters to our fellow believers if we have not gone through troubles of our own and drawn from God's storehouse of grace and mercy.

Not only in his physical illness, but also when he was in Rome, Paul understood that the Lord was sovereign. He did not assume that because Peter had been released, he would also be freed. He wrote, "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand" (2 Tim. 4:6). We all need to recall from time to time that Joseph was imprisoned for years, James had been killed, and John the Baptist was beheaded for his biblical stand on the issue of immorality. God does not always take away our problems or eliminate our enemies when we want it.

Those today who wrongly teach that if God did something in the past He will do it now are in some pretty illustrious company. The brothers James and John made this mistake. On a trip through Samaria heading for Jerusalem, Luke records of Jesus that the Samaritans "did not receive Him, because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51-54). But James and John knew their Bibles! They knew that Elijah had called down fire from heaven onto people (2 Kings 1:10-12), so they said, "Lord, will Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elijah did?" (Luke 9:54). Of course, Jesus did not give permission.

This reinforces the principle that God is not bound by His past actions to duplicate them for our circumstances. We must not be presumptuous. He acts sovereignly to execute His plans. Because He healed one person does not mean that He must heal another.

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