God’s Word for You
Acts 14:16-18 Providence, forbearance, concurrence
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, July 2, 2020
16 In generations past he let all the Gentiles follow their own ways, 17 yet he has not left himself without a witness. He has done good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling you with food and filling your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they barely restrained the crowds from sacrificing to them.
Paul has adequately described the role of God the Father as creator, but the Father also acts in our lives as the provider. His providence comes mainly through natural means (rains, seasons, food, and even joy), but also through supernatural means. One of these supernatural means that the Gentiles may not have realized up to this moment was his forbearance.
Here we should also introduce a doctrine that some readers may never have heard described before: God’s concurrence. “Concurrence” is the Bible’s teaching that God works through the actions of sinful man. He does not condone sins at any time. “You hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors” (Psalm 5:5-6). Paul would later preach to another Gentile audience in Athens: “He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ And as some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” (Acts 17:27-28). And God even uses our sinful actions to bring about his good plans, as, for example, he did when Christ was crucified, which removed all sin from mankind even though it was a wicked act on the part of the Romans and the Sanhedrin of the Jews. We can quickly add that God is not the one who is responsible for our sinful actions even though he may work through them, our responsibility and our guilt have evidence enough in the fact of the conscience: “Their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:15). His concurrence does not imply agreement. Returning then, to forbearance, this is God’s punishment of sin delayed. He delays so that an individual or a nation may come to hear the truth and repent of their sins. It might be that God forbears to destroy a city so that one or two believers can be rescued (as with Sodom, Genesis 19:22-25). He also forbears to punish each of us for our original sin so that we can come to faith in him through holy baptism. “Baptism now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
Anyone who has lost a believing friend or loved one might think, what about my dear one? Why didn’t God forbear to call them home when the accident happened, or the battle, or the disease? When God allowed the Philistines to attack Saul on Mount Gilboa, Saul’s son, David’s friend Jonathan was also killed (1 Samuel 31:2). The ending of a human life in death is not only an end to physical life, but also an end to sin. The earthly means of death, war, disease, the ravages of age in a sinful world, and even accidents, are all a consequence of sin and the way sin works in the world. If I may continue to use Jonathan, Saul’s son, as an example, he was a man who believed in God and showed his faith in his actions. God called him home to heaven in a concurrent act with the Philistine attack on Mount Gilboa. This had benefits for God’s people afterward, since following Saul’s death there was a change of kingship in Israel, and Saul’s remaining son Ish-Bosheth became a rival to David’s throne as we see in his rebellion (2 Samuel 2:8-10, 4:1-12). How different things would have been for David and Israel if David’s dear friend Jonathan had been forced by the people to claim a kingship in opposition to David!
Returning, then, to the question of the loss of a loved one, God has our good and theirs in mind. When a child loses a mother at a young age, he will learn to cherish relationships because he knows firsthand that even the closest ones can and will end one day. He will learn to comfort others who lose loved ones, and he will find that he can set a Christian example and show his faith even in loss, especially if his surviving parent or other family members are there to guide and support him. This brings us back to God’s providence, which is Paul’s main point in the text. God continues to watch over us throughout our lives, giving us those things that we need, and (to use Jesus’ words directly), leading us not into temptation, and delivering us from evil. He provides for us always, even when we don’t know what it is that we need. Count your blessings if you can, but there are more than human calculation or observation can ever keep track of. His mercy endures forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith