The Christian’s Greatest Danger is Success

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What is the greatest danger for the Christian?  Is it failure or success?  The answer might surprise you.

The Greatest Risk

Believe it or not, the greatest risk for falling or stumbling for the Christian is right after a great victory or having great success in something.  This is something that I learned the hard way.  It’s too bad that I didn’t understand that I will learn more from defeat than I ever will from success.  When Christians are successful there is the danger and tendency to believe that it’s from their own effort and not from God.  When we see great accomplishments in our life we start to rely on ourselves and not on God.  This robs glory from God because ultimately everything that happens in our life is the result of a loving and sovereign God.  Not even a sparrow can fall to the ground that He is not aware of or that He does not allow it (Matthew 10:29).

Victory from Defeat

When I was a Little League baseball coach, we were like the Bad News Bears.  We could not win a game at all.  The teams used to rub it in our face but we learned more during our defeats than we could have ever learned from winning.  We came up with a plan:

  • we decided to practice harder,
  • we worked on the basic skills more,
  • we examined the fundamentals more and
  • we also learned how to be good sports in losing.
"When we see great accomplishments in our life we start to rely on ourselves and not on God."

“When we see great accomplishments in our life we start to rely on ourselves and not on God.”

It’s easy to be a good sport when you are winning but the true test is how to be one when you lose…time and again. In short, we learned how to accept defeat even though it was difficult.  Here’s what happened.  We began to practice more than the other teams, we studied the game more intently and we started to improve as a team and individually. Ironically, the teams that were beating us lightened up in their practice times.  They didn’t practice as often or as hard as we did and as a consequence, we slowly began to be more competitive.  Near the end of the season, we started winning games.  No, we didn’t win the league but we started gaining the benefits from our practices that our defeats compelled us to take.  The result was that we turned our season around.  If we had been winning at first, we may have never learned some valuable lessons.  We learned how to lose graciously and how to work harder and improve.  We learned more from our defeats than we ever would have from our victories.

Defeat from Victory

During the zenith of David’s success as king, he had victory after victory and his heart became swelled with pride.  We know this because he took a census and counted his troops.  It was like a rich man counting his money.  Even though Joab tried to warn him that this was sin, David’s pride blinded him.  Pride has a way of doing that and this makes it more difficult for others to warn us.  As you might imagine, this angered God because it revealed that David saw the strength of the troops as his own strength and he began to consider himself as self-sufficient.  This meant that he had taken His eyes off of God and was focusing on his own strength and abilities.   When we begin to take credit for blessings, for success or victories, we are actually robbing God of His due glory. Satan was said to “stand against Israel and incited David” and even though Joab tried to warn him, David should have known better (2 Chronicles 21:1).  As a result, Israel paid dearly with the death of seventy thousand men (2 Samuel 24:15-17).

Another example includes that of Israel when Joshua was in command and it came just as they were having great success against the inhabitants of Canaan. Israel had won battle after battle and often over superior numbers.  Then Israel decided to take on Ai, one of the smaller city-states that was significantly outnumbered.  Ironically, defeat came against one of the smallest of the Canaanite nations, even though the defeat was attributed to one of the soldiers disobeying God (Joshua 7:1-26).

Then there is the example of Elijah who had one of the greatest victories over evil ever recorded in the Bible.  Here was one lone prophet of God going up against four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah.  So here’s the line….Elijah verses eight hundred and fifty but the fact is that 1 plus God is always a majority and God proved that Elijah was serving the One, True God.  You would expect Elijah to be filled with confidence but immediately after this great success and a mighty display of God’s power Elijah ran away to hide from Jezebel who threatened to kill him (1 Kings 19:1-3). Elijah gave up.  He wanted God to just take his life (1 Kings 19:10).

The Lesson of Israel

And what could we say about ancient Israel’s history?  Every time they became prosperous they forgot their God and He would send them into captivity.  This happened time and time again.  They prospered, were sent into captivity, then humbled themselves and God delivered them.  Even though God had warned them numerous times, they refused to learn the lesson of success.  If only they had taken to heart what God said in Deuteronomy 8:10-20:

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’”

There are several important things that God mentions here that we should take to heart.  When things are going well we better not forget the Lord.  When our goods increase and our wealth (or success) is multiplied, don’t let our hearts become proud.  When we are delivered out of our own wilderness with hunger and thirst, remember it is God Who delivered us…we did not deliver ourselves.  When things go well we are tempted to think, “My power and the strength of my hands” have done this.  Whenever we do this we rob glory from God for He alone gives us the power to have wealth.  Anything good that happens is always from God’s gracious hands.  It is not from us. Who among us would want to rob God!?

God Resists the Proud

The greatest dangers come during times of success because it can breed pride and since we know that God resists the proud this means that He will resist us.  The word for resist or as some translations say, opposes, is actually better rendered “at war with,” so if we read James 4:6 in a literal way, it says that “God is at war with the proud but gives grace only to the humble.”  The lesson is that the greatest threat is not found in defeat but from victory.  In defeat, at least we’re humbled and forced to look to God and depend upon Him.  Success makes us look in the mirror…struggles make us look to God.  When we have success or victories, we can easily over-inflate or overestimate ourselves.  When we do this, we rob glory from God.  Since we know God will not share His glory with another, this spells trouble for us.  Isaiah 42:8 warns us that He is “the LORD” and that “I will not give my glory to another nor my praise to graven images.”  Sometimes that “graven image” has been me!

Conclusion

When we are filled with pride we are just like Satan.  When we are lifted up, we are exalting ourselves.  When we are boasting we are headed for a fall. What else can we expect but to hear “How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!” (2 Samuel 1:25).  If we remain humble and give credit to God for our success, God will continue to bless us, but if we boast of anything we do then God will resist us and we are surely headed for a fall.  If you have failed to repent, confess your sins, and trust in Christ, God is at war with you right now. You have made yourself to be your own “graven image” and God has told us to have no other gods before Him…even if it’s us!

Humble yourself today and know that God will give you grace.  He wants us to prosper in all things (Romans 10:17) but He also wants us to acknowledge where that prosperity comes from.  When someone compliments me, I try to deflect it because there is none that are good (Romans 3:10, 12).  I put it this way.  I am like the moon.  The moon has a dark side.  As a matter of fact, it’s all dark.  Without the sun shining on it, it would remain dark.  The moon cannot support life. It is dead, decaying, and pock-marked by asteroids and meteorites.  The moon is a waste land but when the sun shines on it, it is beautiful.  It reflects the sunlight and gives light to darkness during the night.  Likewise, I am dark, dead, and decaying and have no light source but when the Son shines His light on me, I can reflect that light to a dark, sinful world.  Even a tiny match can light up a large, dark cave. I am not the light but He is.  Just as the moon has no right to boast, neither can I boast in my own good works (light).  I must give glory to the Son who illuminates the darkness and is the light of men (John 1).  If I keep this in mind, then God will not resist me and I can properly give credit and glory where it is due…and it’s not me…it is from God alone.  To Him be all the glory, honor, and praise, forever and ever, amen.

Take a look at this collection of Scriptures about success: 20 Bible verses about success

Resources: New International Version Bible (NIV) THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Stewart November 11, 2013 at 5:40 am

Thank you Jack for this article and for reminding us that God desires that we should always be humble and not proud. Indeed we must give glory to God in all circumstances including when we succeed.

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Jack Wellman November 11, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Thank you so much for your very kind words Stewart. I believe that more failures occur in success because I have found that more success comes from failure…this is the opposite of what the world believes and true success is found in Christ Jesus and repenting and trusting in Him. There is nothing to compare in all the universe with knowing Him. Amen to your giving glory to God for all we have.

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Michael Kampff November 11, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Great article and reminder. Thanks!

It raises a couple of questions for me:

You say “we know that God resists the proud this means that He will resist us”. I’ve tended to think of it the other way around: pride resists God, and blocks His work in and through our lives. In His infinite love, He forgives us if we’re humble and repentant, and continues to desire to demonstrate His glory through us (via relationship with Him and our humility), but our pride resists Him. Is this contrary to truth as you understand it? Or is it just another way to look at it? I mean, God doesn’t “go to war” with own children does He?

Another question this raises for me is, what if we boast for/of God. Praising Him proudly and triumphantly for His success through our lives. Is this Godly? I assume this is exactly what He wants of us. As long as we’re boasting in His name, we are fostering our relationship with Him and His ability to work through us. Is this correct?

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Jack Wellman November 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Thank you sir for your question. Does God “go to war” with His own children? or with those who are not saved? If pride continues unabated, God does not qualify whether this verse speaks about the children of God or to the unsaved but I would think both. Who was James writing to? He was writing this to the church and the church consists of believers, so don’t you think this applies to anyone who is prideful? If we are prideful then we are robbing God of glory and God will not share His glory with another and why should He my friend? See my point?

Next, I don’t think boasting about what God has done in our lives is pride in ourselves but a testimony to what HE has done in our lives and therefore He receives the glory. I think boasting in Him name. Scriptures seem to support this idea as David wrote in Psalm 52:9 “I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.” and in 35:28 “Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all the day long.” Does this make sense or have I gotten all of this article wrong?

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Michael Kampff November 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm

James 4:8 says “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” (NKJV)

I think you meant James 4:6 in your article: “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (NKJV)

I’m just curious… which translations use “war” here? “War”, to me, means God is on the attack, or He’s defending Himself from our attack, but God has little reason to defend Himself. Are you teaching that “war” is the proper perspective here? If so, please help me by substantiating this, as it seems contrary to a God who loves His children.

“Resist”, to me, means that if we approach Him with self-oriented pride, that we won’t be able to get close to Him – we won’t experience His grace and mercy and blessing. But if we humble ourselves, exalting Him, we do experience these things.

Pastor Jack, I’m only seeking understanding. I don’t mean to pick at a detail, but the notion of God being at war with His creation, even after Christ’s sacrifice, is very difficult to accept. I want to be sure I have the right perspective.

I thank God for your writing.

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Michael Kampff November 11, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Sorry, not “his creation”, but “his church”

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Jack Wellman November 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm

To believe that God does not resist or make war (I cannot remember where the Greek word is for this but that is what it means) but I learned this from a professor who long ago saw the Latin Vulgate (I believe it was) give this precise meaning.

If God is not at peace with someone, then what is the alternative. God is not so much at war His creation, but anyone who is lifted up with pride. I give up> I have to head to work, and I am also in school completing a masters, plus I have a church I must work for and prepare messages for so if I don’t answer back, don’t take it personally. I also write for this website and so my time doesn’t always allow for quick or thorough responses. I will probably go back and delete this at a later time. I don’t have the time right now Doc. I have been wrong, will be wrong,a dn apparently am wrong again. Take care for now.

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Pamela Rose Williams November 11, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Hello Michael and Jack,

Michael first of all thank you for pointing out the correct reference which is James 4:6 above … I have made the correction in the article.

Jack, I totally agree with you on a correct substitution for the word “resist” to be “war against”. My study led me to the original Greek word “antitassomai” transliterated into English to mean “to range in battle against” according the Strong’s concordance (498).

So Michael to answer your question about what translation uses “war” … that would be the original Greek and a great place to learn about that is to use a Strong’s concordance when you study your Bible.

I hope this is helpful.

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Jack Wellman November 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm

It was helpful to me Pam. I know that you are such an aid to me and to us here at this website and we my schedule sometimes I do a poor job of things at time but this shows you that God can use even train wrecks so that He alone receives the credit and all the glory. I knew that oppose meant to be at war with but I couldn’t find the source in my room but remember I heard this from one of my seminary professors and never forget that. Now, where are my car keys.

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Michael Kampff November 13, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Hi Pam. Thanks for your reply! I always appreciate an opportunity to dig into my Strong’s 🙂 I also appreciate being challenged in my faith, as that can only make me clearer or stronger in my understanding of the Lord.

I want to be clear. I’m not trying to be difficult, or even challenge Pastor Jack’s post. And I certainly don’t have the time to make something out of nothing. I’m only seeking clarity on something that is of importance to me in my spiritual walk. I also believe that if I have question about something, then it’s likely that someone else does as well, so my questions and subsequent discussion is only good. If someone takes my sincere search for God’s truth as “critique” then that is unfortunate. If anything, my questions reveal a desire to learn from Pastor Jack and courage to put my faith to the test.

That said, in Strong’s G498, I did not find a reference to war. I found reference to the following: “to range oneself against, i.e. oppose: — oppose themselves, resist”. I think it’s important to understand that “resist” does not necessarily mean “war”. “Resist” means to withstand, or to keep away, which in the context of James 4:6 makes complete sense – God withstands (or keeps away) man’s efforts to draw near to Him if it’s done in pride, but allows His grace to flow to the humble (does not resist man’s humble attempt to draw near). James 4:1-2 talks about war, but only between man; that does not necessarily mean the same concept translates to James 4:6. In fact, if the text meant “war”, why didn’t it use antistrateuomai (G497)?

Unless there’s another verse in the New Testament that corroborates with the notion that God makes war with mankind, let alone His people, I can’t accept this notion. Our God is a loving God and does not attack, He saves.

I think the reason I am so opposed to this idea is that the idea of God warring against His people is so closely akin to the (in my belief, mistaken and dangerous) idea that God *creates* strife and grief in this world. No, evil comes from the evil one. God may resist the proud, but He is not attacking those He means to save and be glorified through.

I welcome correction, as it can only help me (and others?) in my walk in faith.

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DocReits November 12, 2013 at 2:54 am

Hey Michael,

I was on a 9 hour flight across country when you first posted, so I couldn’t get to this reply. It’s late, so hopefully this makes sense.

It seems you use the word “pride” as if it is an independent entity, with a life of its own. It is “we” who become God’s enemy when we are proud, not “pride”.

The same mistaken idea occurs when believers think some nebulous thing like “faith” saves them. Faith in what? Faith? You will hear people(believers also) saying things like, “my faith saw me through that bad time”. That’s usually a misstatement or pride thinking that their faith(something they exerted really hard…;-))was the agent…robbing God of the glory.

Grace saves us in the former thought while God sees us through in the latter… not faith. Sure we trust Him, but that “trust” is a conduit through which God acts. We misuse these words without sometimes realizing we are doing so. In James 4 read carefully how James leads the reader into the thought that the Holy Spirit is extremely jealous of His position in our lives. His purpose is to direct us, within whom He dwells, to reflect the Father’s Glory.

When we have a proud spirit we do not glorify God, but ourselves, as Pastor Jack said. The Holy Spirit resists that as it is His purpose that all creation should reflect the Father’s Glory. That is why we were created…to manifest the Father’s Glory.

It is a mistake, IMO, that the evangelical church suggests that God seeks a Kumbaya “relationship” with us. A loving, cozy, fireside chat God. Dare I say a “Shack” God. “C’mon in Honey, for some fresh, warm cookies”.

He seeks relationship indeed….but it is one with us on our face before Him,

“8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,

10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”(Rev 4:8-11)

We are humbled at His feet, giving Him Glory….that is why God so vehemently “resists or opposes” the proud.

Pr 16:5 says , “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished”.

God looks upon the proud as an abomination. Not too loving, right? No, God is love. These words of Scripture are to correct us and drive us toward Him.

Personally, I struggle with pride. I try to examine myself every day and must keep turning toward Christ, and away from this sin. If we really can get a glimpse of the Cross and realize that Christ died for “All” sins, past, present and future….that was everyones’ sins, and that our only hope is to run to that Cross and cry “me too Abba”….it is a humbling experience.

The Father, paying such a steep price, by having His Son die and suffer the torture of the weight of “All” sin, of “All” time, makes Him even more jealous of “No man” robbing Himself of the Glory due His name for His indescribable Gift He has given us. Our pride does just that and He is willing to call us His enemies for the same(James 4:4b).

Blessings,

DocReits

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Michael Kampff November 13, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Hi DocReits,

Thanks for your reply! I appreciate and welcome your correction or challenging of my beliefs as it can only make my relationship with my Lord more fruitful. May God bless you.

Re: Faith
I’m not sure where I communicated faith was anything but something that is demonstrated. I agree it’s not an “independent entity”; it’s best attuned to “trust” in our Lord put into action. When we trust our Lord, we DO as He commands / instructs, and He is glorified and we are saved and enjoy experiencing the life we were made for. So, it seems we’re on the same page there.

Re: “Kumbaya relationship”
I agree. God doesn’t want just relationship; He wants to be glorified *through* our lives. This makes our salvation, justification, and sanctification necessary. These things require a form of a personal “relationship” with God / Jesus / Holy Spirit. Humility is definitely a requirement of the relationship (I mean, come on, we’re talking about a relationship with our Creator!), but debasing ourselves is not the point. Humility before God is one thing; debasing ourselves to other men/women is another. If we are in strong relationship with God and He is working through us, we can be bold in that; not “proud” but bold in Christ.

I welcome further dialog, as I feel this is important (hopefully I’m not the only one).

All glory to Him.

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DocReits November 15, 2013 at 2:14 am

Hi Michael,

You write,

“Re: Faith
I’m not sure where I communicated faith was anything but something that is demonstrated.”

Faith was just another example of a personification like the “pride” example…giving these words stand alone identities and thereby disassociating them from their owners. I never intended to attribute the “faith” reference to your comments, but I did intend it as another example of your use of the personification you used on pride (“I’ve tended to think of it the other way around: pride resists God, and blocks His work in and through our lives”…that is a personification)

Further you post:

“Humility before God is one thing; debasing ourselves to other men/women is another”

Unfortunately I do not know your meaning. The way I am reading you(correct me if I am wrong) is that you use “humility” and “debasing” as synonyms. They are not.

If your thought was to contrast humbling ourselves before God to humbling ourselves before men, I disagree with your conclusion that we are not to humble ourselves before man. Jesus was the quintessential example of doing both and becoming our model for doing the same.

In your broader theme on this page you post elsewhere,

“Unless there’s another verse in the New Testament that corroborates with the notion that God makes war with mankind, let alone His people, I can’t accept this notion”

I think we definitely need a clarification of terms before we go further as you use many terms interchangeably:(Egs, war, strife, evil, plus others)

Here is a definition of God’s wrath:

“Biblically, wrath is the divine judgment upon sin and sinners. It does not merely mean that it is a casual response by God to ungodliness, but carries the meaning of hatred, revulsion, and indignation. God is by nature love (1 John 4:16), however, in His justice He must punish sin, vis the unbeliever. The punishment is called the wrath of God. It will occur on the final Day of Judgment when those who are unsaved will incur the wrath of God. It is….. presently being released upon the ungodly (Rom. 1:18-32) in the hardening of their hearts.”

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness…” ROMANS 1:18.

Further on God’s wrath:

“For this you know,[a] that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.” (Eph 5:5-7)

Revelation speaks at length about God’s wrath being poured out in the bowl judgments against unbelievers(Rev 16).

These are just a few references about God’s wrath being meted out upon the world, as you requested.

Regarding God being at war with the believer I think we need a clarification again on the terms. God is at enmity with the sinner(Rom 8:7). What does enmity mean? Opposition or hostility.

“Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom 6:13)

When we are proud we are yielding our members unto sin. In so doing we are opposing God, and are at enmity(hostility) with Him. I do not want to speak for Jack, but I would guess this was his meaning when he used the word “war”.

I think a better understanding of God’s position “against us vs. for us” is that the word “Enmity” is not the same as ‘Enemy’. Enemies can be reconciled, enmity cannot, it must be destroyed. Paul speaks of that in this portion:

“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. “(Eph 2:14-16)

Jesus destroyed this wall of enmity or hostility here between the Gentiles and the Jews. Jesus did this by allowing the Gentiles to become followers of the Law, which they(Gentiles)before had been a “law unto themselves”(Rom 2:14). Aside: Many churches teach that Jesus came to abolish the Law, which might be construed by Eph 2:14-16 above. Not so, it is the wall or barrier between the Law and the Gentiles which was destroyed by Jesus’s death and Resurrection which now allows the Gentiles to “Love Christ by obeying the Commandments” (Jn 14:15).

When we are saved we cease from being “enemies” of God (Rom 5:10). Yet when we willfully sin after salvation we create enmity(hostility) between ourselves and God. This hostility can only be broken through repentance or turning from sin and turning toward Christ. Jesus destroys the enmity our sin has created with His blood.

Further you state that God does not create strife or grief? Seriously? Have you ever prayed for patience? Ask Ananias and Sapphira what they think. Read Paul’s life in Acts. He prayed that He might know the fellowship of Christ’s suffering that he might be made conformable onto His death (Phil 3:10). Why would he pray such a prayer if he thought it would not be answered because he thought God did not create strife or grief. Read the life of the Benedictine monks who pray from their daily prayer devotionals that God would grant them suffering. Do they have it wrong? Have you not read that,

“Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God” (Rom 13:1)

Ask then, how the Jews felt about God placing Hitler in power, or the Bourgeois about Stalin or Lenin. I could go on…but I think you get my point.

Blessings,

DocReits

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Dereck November 12, 2013 at 11:30 am

Good article Jack,

I think a lot of people get the scripture confused. The word tells us that the love of money is sin. The LOVE is where we tend to get ourselves in trouble. When you think about doing anything for the sake of a dollar, then you have to examine yourself, because I guarantee that you are headed for a fall.

Maybe it may not happen right then, but, it will happen none the less.

When we accomplish something, praise God for the victory, but then move on to the next thing and move on with the rest of your life.

However, when one starts thinking that they can do anything and that they are the king of the world and not giving God thanks, then they are getting themselves in trouble.

Peace and Love

Dereck

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Jack Wellman November 12, 2013 at 11:37 am

Thank you Dereck…it seems that few people write encouraging words these days as most will critique what is written but I know you and you are always the Barnabas (son of encouragement) on this website and in our email conversations…you are truly a blessing to my heart my friend. Thank you brother.

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