Saturday, October 12, 2019

Winning Favor through Character: Esther 2, verses 1-11

As we saw in Esther Chapter 1, keeping up appearances at all costs can have unintended and even disastrous consequences. How much better for those who don’t have to worry about what others think, because their integrity and excellent character bestowed by God’s grace naturally turn strangers and acquaintances into friends and allies! Such was the case with Esther, who was blessed by God not only with these virtues but also with being in the right place and at the right time to accomplish His perfect will (Esther 2).

King Ahasuerus, ruler of the Persian Empire, may have truly loved Queen Vashti and felt sorry that his own foolishness resulted in him having to banish her from the kingdom and from the marriage just to save face. But once this plan had been inexorably set into motion, a replacement had to be found. In contrast to conventional wisdom, shown for example by King Solomon (1 Kings 3:1), choosing a new queen would not be based on political alliances, diplomacy, or even the graces and experience that would suit a ruler’s wife, but solely on her physical beauty and appeal to the king. Thus began a kingdom-wide beauty pageant, with Ahasuerus the only judge (Esther 2:1-4).

But God can use even the self-gratifying motives of a pagan king to accomplish His perfect will. From before the beginning of time (Jeremiah 29:11; Ephesians 1:4) He had chosen Esther, an orphaned Jewess under Babylonian captivity, to win the heart of Ahasuerus, and with it influence that would ultimately save God’s chosen people from destruction.

Although God’s Name does not appear anywhere in the book of Esther, we can see His hand at work on every page. When the beautiful maiden Esther lost her parents, she was adopted by Mordecai, a relative who loved and raised her as his own daughter. Praise the Lord that He Himself provides for those who are orphaned or abandoned by their parents! (Psalm 27:10)

Being under Babylonian captivity must have given both Esther and Mordecai a strong heart for their people and a deep desire for their deliverance. God orchestrated their roles in His plan by placing Mordecai on the palace grounds, where he was well positioned to learn of what was going on there, and by moving Esther into the king’s house, under the custody of Hegai, keeper of the virgins who would be brought before the king (Esther 2:5-8; Jeremiah 24:5).

Although Esther was very beautiful, Hegai was likely a eunuch and therefore unaffected by her physical attractiveness. Nonetheless, her noble character, warmth and integrity must have won him over, for he was especially kind to her, giving her seven handmaids, expediting Esther’s required physical purification, and giving them the best rooms and position in the king’s house (Esther 2:9).

Through God’s grace, He had lifted up Esther from the Babylonian captivity into a position of influence in the king’s palace, just as He later would elevate a humble young girl, the virgin Mary, to the honored position of being the mother of Jesus Christ, the promised Savior of the world. Only He could be the perfect, sinless sacrifice to die on the cross in full payment for our sins, to be buried, and to rise again on the third day so that all who trust Him will have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16)..

God chose and exalted Mary despite her modest position in life because she was willing to obey Him and follow His perfect plan, considering herself to be the handmaiden, or servant, of the Lord (Luke 1:38; 46-53). This is in keeping with God’s ability to humble the mighty and wealthy while giving riches and power to the poor and helpless (1 Samuel 2:4-8), just as He did for Esther.

Once Esther found herself in favor in the palace, she could easily have turned her back on Mordecai. Instead, she obeyed him, and in so doing followed God’s law to honor your parents (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Proverbs 1:8-9; Matthew 15:4; 19:19; Ephesians 6:2). Mordecai had advised her not to reveal her Jewish heritage (Esther 2:10), which could be regarded as a slight to God’s chosen people. Rather, Mordecai in his God-given wisdom knew that this was not yet the right time to disclose her Hebrew identity, for God appoints the times and seasons for everything, for reasons unknown to man (Ecclesiastes 3:1-10).

Esther’s obedience to her adopted father, and by extension, to God Himself, and respect for their wisdom speak to her integrity and noble character (Proverbs 19:8). Her love for Mordecai was reciprocated, as he looked after her from afar, walking before the court of the women’s house every day to inquire about how Esther was doing and her future in the palace environment (Esther 2: 11).

As we contemplate the book of Esther, may we be reminded not to trust in worldly values of wealth, power or social standing, but to trust only in God (Psalm 56:4). With Him, all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26). If we follow His Word and His will, He will direct our paths to His chosen destination (Proverbs 3:1-6), and He will mold us into His own image (Philippians 3:10). Then, like our Lord Jesus Christ, we can grow in favor with God and with our fellow man (Luke 2:52).

© 2019 Laurie Collett

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Triplets of Giving

Continuing on our missions theme, as is appropriate given the start of the church year and emphasis on missions in many churches, it may be appropriate to revisit the Bible's views on giving. 

God’s Word reflects His triune nature as God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it describes His creation, doctrinal truths, and practical wisdom to apply to our lives. He asks us to worship Him with prayer, service, and giving of our time, talent and treasure and has specified how we should give back to Him a portion of the material blessings He has entrusted to us. 

Worshipping God with our financial store (James 1:27) includes tithes, offerings, and designated support to further His kingdom. God shows no partiality and is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and He treats everyone fairly by commanding that we give the first tenth of our income, or tithe, back to Him. The dollar amount does not matter to Him as long as we faithfully give ten percent. 

By giving Him the first tenth, and not waiting to see if we can scrape out that amount once we pay our bills and other obligations, we are showing our faith in His bountiful provision, blessing and faithfulness. The tithe was not only part of the law given to Moses (Leviticus 27:30-32), but it preceded the law (Genesis 14:20) and is repeated after Christian liberty replaced the law (Hebrews 7:5-11), including the need to “pay” God first (1 Corinthians 16:2). 

God takes the tithe so seriously that when Israel failed to give Him their obedience, tithes and offerings, He accused them of robbing Him, resulting in their being cursed and in God’s judgment on them. Yet He offered a three-step solution: bring Him the tithes; put Him to the test to see if He would keep His promise of blessing; and trust Him to do so beyond expectation (Malachi 3: 2-10). 

His promised blessing for obedience with tithing is also threefold: He will pour out a blessing so great that we will not have room to receive it (v. 10); He will prevent future financial loss (v. 11); and He will grant us honor among others (v. 12). If we withhold the tithe, we will not lose our salvation (Romans 8:35-39), but how foolish to disobey God in tithing and to miss out on these great blessings! 

We give our love offerings over and above the tithe, again as a form of worship, to express our gratitude for His many blessings. These might commemorate a joyous occasion such as a marriage, birth or baptism. Our church has a special love offering at Christmas, known as our birthday present to Jesus, to thank Him for coming to earth in human form (John 1:14), dying on the cross to pay our sin debt, and rising again so that all who trust Him have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16). 

From the early days of the church, Christians have also provided designated support to contribute to God’s work, to empower that work to continue, and to share in the blessing of being responsible for that work (Philippians 4:14-17). Designated support may be a one-time gift, such as to a specific church project; a regular, ongoing gift to the church, as in Faith Promise giving that many churches have to support missionaries, or a regular, ongoing gift to a specific missionary or parachurch organization. 

For giving to be a form of worship, it should be done cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7), sacrificially, and faithfully (Job 1:5). Jesus praised the poor widow who put her meager two mites into the offering and valued her gift far more than the contributions of the wealthy, for it was all she had (Mark 12:41-44). 

God does not want us to grudgingly dole out our pennies out of a sense of duty, but to give abundantly, knowing that He will be pleased by our faith (Hebrews 11:6), honor our giving and empower us to continue giving. Jesus honored and commemorated the woman who broke open the costly alabaster box and poured its precious perfumed ointment lavishly on Him (Mark 14:3-9). 

The law of the harvest applies to giving just as it does to planting crops (Ecclesiastes 11:6) or sowing the seed of God’s Word (Matthew 13:1-10) – if we sow sparingly, we will reap sparingly, and if we sow bountifully, we will reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6). When we give generously, we receive abundant blessings, including peace that comes from obeying God (Philippians 4:6-7), joy in helping others (Esther 9:22), and honor that He uses us as a part of His plan (2 Corinthians 5:20). 

Jesus used the analogy of receiving a measure of grain – not only the amount we expected, but much more, because it is pressed down in the measuring cup to make room for more, shaken together to accommodate still more, and even running over beyond the bounds of the cup (Luke 6:38). 

We tend to hold out on giving when we forget that everything belongs to God (Psalm 50:10). He has entrusted us with certain resources, but if we use them selfishly instead of to honor Him, He will reapportion these resources to others who are better stewards (1 Corinthians 4:2). 

In the parable of the talents, the Master gave different sums to each of His three servants, and rewarded or punished them based on how well they did for Him with what they had  Matthew 25:14-30). As our first pastor used to say, “God will give much more through you than He will to you.” 

You can’t outgive God, as He has shown so many times in my life, and I am sure in the lives of many of this blog’s readers. During a missions conference several years ago, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me that I should donate a certain sum to the work of a particular missionary. I struggled with obedience to His will, as it was tax time and we also faced many other pressing financial obligations. 

Yet when I obeyed and wrote a check to that missionary, three days later I received a totally unexpected check in the mail, for ten times the amount of the gift I had given, representing payment of a bad debt I had written off many years before! Even better, the following months brought news of how my gift had enabled the missionary to produce much fruit, reaching souls and starting churches. 

When we commit to honor God with our tithes, offerings, and designated support, He will empower us to do so. The associate pastor at our former church gave a testimony of how shortly after he was saved, he had committed to give $20 weekly for Faith Promise missions, which was a sacrificial gift for him at the time due to his financial situation. 

One Wednesday evening, which was when he always put his $20 Faith Promise offering in the plate, he simply did not have it in his wallet, bank account, or spare change, and was almost ashamed to go to church that night. Yet he decided to go empty-handed, and as he was about to get into his car he was shocked to spot a $20 bill lying on the pavement! Needless to say, God enabled him to keep his promise. 

God may not always reward us financially for our giving, but He has promised to provide for His children (Psalm 37:25; Matthew 6:25-33), and He blesses us spiritually exceedingly abundantly beyond what we could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20), giving us showers of blessings (Ezekiel 34:26). 

Whether or not we see the fruit of our giving in this lifetime, we know He will reward us in glory for gifts given with the right motive (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). May we give cheerfully, abundantly, and faithfully and experience showers of blessings! 

© 2015 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives