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Sovereign Lord of our Hearts (2 Cor 8:16-17)

Consider with me the far-reaching, all-pervasive, ever-mysterious sovereignty of our great and glorious God!

He rules the heavens above, having set the stars in place. He calls them each by name and upholds them to the praise of his power. (Isa. 40:25-26; Ps. 147:4).

He creates the clouds and directs their paths and forms each drop of rain (Ps. 135:7; 147:8). Snow and hail and wind and waves are subject to his command (Job 37:6; Ps. 147:16-18). Lightnings flash at his discretion (Job 37:3; 38:35; Ps. 135:7) and thunders roar when he wills (Job 37:2-4; 38:25; Ps. 104:7).

Both feast and famine are in his hand (Ps. 105:16; Amos 4:7) and nations rise or fall at his good pleasure (Dan. 1:2; Jer. 25:1-2; Isa. 10:5-14). Rulers ascend to power or fall in disgrace in fulfillment of his purpose (Dan. 2:37-38; 4:25, 30, 32; 5:18, 20, 21).

The womb is closed at his command or opened when he shows mercy (Gen. 16:2; 29:31; 1 Sam. 1:5; Judges 13:3). Neither disease nor disability escapes his control (Exod. 4:11; Job 2:10) and life and death are in his hand (Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6-7; 2 Sam. 12:15; James 4:14-15).

Donkeys drink by his good grace (Ps. 104:11). Birds nest at his behest (Ps. 104:12). God wills and the stork finds a home and the rock badger a refuge (Ps. 104:17-18). When animals kill, he is still Lord (2 Kings 17:25). When they lie helpless, he is still Lord (Dan. 6:22). Plants grow by his word and wither as well (Ps. 104:14; Jonah 4:6-7).

Oh, the glory of the greatness of our God!

But what about us? What of the human spirit? Does God exert control over our hearts? Or do we escape his sovereignty? It's one thing for God to direct the path of the wind or to shut the mouth of the lion. But we are shaped in his image and are the crown jewel of his creative design.

Nothing is quite so unpredictable as the human heart, or so it would seem. Its leanings and loves, its likes and dislikes, seem so random and free, subject to none but their owner. That God should rule over inanimate matter or creatures of instinct is easy to embrace. But what about us?

Surprisingly (or perhaps not), Paul speaks to the point in 2 Corinthians 8. "But thanks be to God," says the apostle, "who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord."

Titus was near and dear to the apostle's heart. So, too, the apostle to Titus. It would have been easy and understandable for this young man to have taken offence at the way the Corinthians treated his mentor. He knew of their slander and suspicion. He saw firsthand their disrespect and doubts. When Paul hurt, he hurt. The apostle's tears were shared by this trusted friend.

If he was to love them and feel an "earnest care" for their lives, God would have to overcome the obstacles in his heart. Titus could easily have yielded to indifference, perhaps even anger and disdain as he reflected on how unjustly the Corinthians had treated Paul. Given their history, Titus might well have nurtured a grudge against them. He probably thought often of the pain Paul endured.

Yet God worked in Titus to overcome these feelings of ill will. If God were to put "into the heart of Titus the same earnest care" that Paul felt for them, he would have to exert a sovereign influence in the depths of his soul to turn him to sincere devotion and a commitment to their welfare.

But wouldn't this require that God violate the integrity of Titus' will? How can Titus still go to Corinth "of his own accord" (v. 17) if it is God who is at work in him "both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13)? Here we see the marvelous mystery of divine sovereignty and human accountability.

Don't overlook the fact that Paul thanked God for the choice Titus made in going to Corinth. Titus was filled with earnest and sincere love, for which Paul praises God! God and God alone is ultimately responsible for the choice Titus made, yet Titus made it "of his own accord"! Can you solve the mystery?

Did we not see this earlier in 2 Corinthians 8, where the Macedonians gave "of their own free will" (v. 3), but only because God had first given his grace to them (v. 1)? God is always antecedent!

Although we may not be able to explain it, we must accept it: God's sovereignty didn't undermine the virtue in Titus' decision. Ultimate credit goes to God, but Titus will be rewarded for his moral excellence (2 Cor. 5:10).

The inescapable fact of Scripture is that God not only knows the heart of man (Acts 1:24; 15:8; 1 Cor. 14:25) but operates on it to secure the fulfillment of his ultimate purpose (Acts 4:27-28). If God can put it into the hearts of wicked men "to carry out his purpose" until his prophetic word is fulfilled (Rev. 17:17-18), only then to judge them for their treachery, surely he can put it into the heart of Titus to love and serve the Corinthians and later reward him accordingly.

Does God not only have the right but actually exercise the prerogative of sovereign rule over the thoughts and ways and wills of men? Well, did not God affirm that Abimelech acted "in the integrity" of his heart while yet it was the Lord who kept him from sinning (Gen. 20:6)? The latter did not undermine the former.

Is not "the king's heart" a "stream of water in the hand of the Lord" who "turns it wherever he will" (Prov. 21:1; cf. Ezra 6:22; 7:27)? Bruce Waltke says it best: "God's inscrutable mastery extends to kings, the most powerful of human beings, and to the heart, their most free member" (2:167).

Was David asking for something God couldn't do when he prayed that he "keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts" of Solomon and all his people and that God "direct their hearts" toward him (1 Chron. 29:18)?

How could God possibly give his people "favor in the sight of the Egyptians" without exerting an effectual influence on their desires and decisions (Exod. 3:21-22; 12:35-36)? Did not God make "obstinate" the heart of Sihon, king of Heshbon (Deut. 2:30), and "harden" the hearts of the Canaanites (Josh. 11:20), and turn the hearts of Absalom and the men of Israel to reject the counsel of Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:14), and move powerfully on the heart of Rehoboam to forsake the wise counsel of older men (1 Kings 12:15), all in order that his sovereign will might come to pass?

And when it came time in the purpose of God for his people to return to the land and rebuild the temple, "the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia" to issue a decree to that effect (Ezra 1:1). But what if no one chose to go? Ah, but they all returned, "everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:5).

We should not be at all surprised, therefore, that God can put love and earnest desire for the Corinthians into the heart of Titus. Nor we should be at all surprised that he is the one who equips us with everything good that we may "do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13:21).

So when you find yourself loving the unlovely, thank God. Each time you choose what is righteous, thank God. When you experience strength to resist sin, thank God. When you show mercy to the weak, compassion to the hurting, and are generous to the needy, thank God. For his sovereignty extends even to the impulses of our heart and the passions of our soul.