The word sovereign has been used throughout history to refer to a king or queen’s right to rule a country. There is no one higher than they so they have unquestionable authority and power to back up that right to rule. Their words and actions are law. Their will is absolute with consequences for those who resist.
In the same way, we recognize God as our Sovereign Who reigns with absolute authority and power.
Now, declaring Him Sovereign is easy. Explaining how He uses that sovereignty is the difficult part. Since we don’t see His hand at work, we often don’t know He is at work. Though we’re watching Him at work we usually don’t know it. That’s why we’re told to live by faith and not sight.
Sovereignty grants Him any and all means available to carry out His plans. Faith does not demand evidence to believe that. Someone once wrote: When you cannot see God’s hand, trust His heart.
One day a farmer's only horse wandered away and was lost. The neighbors came to console him and they, “We are so sorry you lost your horse. It is so bad.” But the man said, “Good, bad who can tell?” The next day the horse came back home with 13 wild horses that followed him right into the corral. The neighbors came to congratulate the man for having his horse back and 13 new wild horses. They said, “That’s so good!” The man replied, “Good, bad who can tell?” The next day when his son was trying to break one of the wild horses he was bucked off and broke his leg. His neighbors came and said, “We’re so sorry. It is so bad.” The man said, “Good, bad who can tell?” The next day a recruiter came to take all the able-bodied young men for war but the man’s son could not go because of his leg. “Good, bad who can tell?”
When we look at circumstances, we often fail to see God’s sovereignty at work. We will call something good He calls bad or say something is bad He calls good. Faith says, let’s wait and see how God resolves this.
But for such a powerful and necessary doctrine of God’s sovereignty, the English word sovereign isn’t used in the OT and is found only once in the NT. 1Tim 6:15 …God, who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords…
The word sovereignty is used seven times but only once in reference to God. Ps 103:19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.
Fortunately, these two verses are enough to understand what it means for God to the only sovereign – There is no other God above Him. He is the highest authority who rules over all.
Now instead of sovereign, you will find the word translated kingdom or reign. In the NT the word Kingdom is used over 190 times.
The assumption is the Lord of a Kingdom has sovereign right to rule that kingdom. Now, he may be an iron-fisted dictator or one more benevolent who grants greater freedom, but it is his right to rule as he chooses.
In Scripture you will find God operating as both. When circumstances require it, God will take over and take charge – He will rain down fire on Sodom and Gomorah – while at other times He’ll work within the freedoms He has given man – He will let the rich young ruler simply walk away.
Sovereignty allows Him either response. A God who accomplishes all that concerns us must be able to manipulate circumstances when necessary to complete His plans. But at the same time, a God who grants free will does not have to control every aspect of life to fulfill His purposes.
We know from Scripture nothing is too difficult for Him and nothing is impossible. That’s sovereignty. That’s the kind of God I want to belong to. I don’t want a God in whom only some things are possible.
Job said: Job 42:2 I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
This is the definitive definition of sovereignty. Only a God who is without restriction can accomplish His intentions. But does that mean nothing happens that He doesn’t want to happen? Which can be turned around to say: does He cause everything that happens?
Some have pressed this so far as to say, as did one Rabbi: “No man bruises his finger here on earth unless it was so decreed against him from on high”
One man, who believed so strongly that God micromanages every aspect of his life, tripped and fell down the stairs. He got up, brushed himself off and said, “Well, Lord, I’m glad we got that over with.”
You don’t find such micromanagement of incidental affairs of life in Scripture and yet God remains sovereign. What you find is a balance between what God directs and what God permits. I will never take the position that God plans everything that happens. I will say that in whatever does happen God has a plan.
I admit, I don’t understand all the implications and ramifications of sovereignty. I see free will and I also see a God who can accomplish what concerns us. So, maybe another word will give us better perspective. Providence.
From the dictionary: Providence is the protective care of God as a spiritual power, making timely preparation for future eventualities.
The word itself means: to foresee and attend to. It is an ability to sustain and guide the human journey by looking long-range and affecting circumstances to coincide with future plans.
The word used in the NT is predestination. It means God determining things in advance.
Providence establishes the fact that God created heaven and earth with a plan in mind. He can, therefore, govern all that occurs within His creation to fulfill that plan, by shaping circumstances and events.
Even George Washington saw God’s providence shaping the establishment of America: “The Man must be bad indeed who can look upon the events of the American Revolution without feeling the warmest gratitude towards the great Author of the Universe whose divine providence was so frequently manifested in our behalf.”
What about in Scripture? There are only two times the Greek word for providence is used in the NT. Neither mentions the Lord specifically. In Act 24:1-2 After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul. After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor [Felix], "Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation…
Felix was being appreciated for his foresight and action as providential care for the Jews.
The second time, the word is translated provision. In Rom 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
Here the focus is to not provide our flesh the opportunity to sin. The word can cover both examples because by making provisions or not making provisions, circumstances can be influenced and an outcome expected.
As with sovereignty, providence is an aspect of the work of God we accept by faith. It means God’s involvement has long-range implications. Most of the time we aren’t aware of what the hand of God has providentially provided until it’s over and we look back. That’s why we should expect it, look for it and thank God whenever we see what He has done.
In 1945, a young man committed to ministry had just married his fiancée, Billie. Cliff and Billie had very little money but scraped up enough to take a honeymoon. When they arrived at the hotel, they were told it was now a rehabilitation center and not available to overnight guests. They hitchhiked to a grocery store several miles down the road. The owner felt sorry for them and let them stay in a room over the store. When he discovered they were Christians he sent them to a friend with a nicer place to spend the rest of their honeymoon. A youth rally was going on at a nearby conference center and their host invited them to go with him. When they got there they found the regular song leader called in sick, so Cliff was asked if he might take charge of the music service. He stepped in and led the music before a young evangelist named Billy stepped up to preach. Cliff Barrows met Billy Graham that night and formed a ministry team that preached the gospel throughout the world for over fifty years.
God had a plan and purpose for Cliff Barrows and Billy Graham. It didn’t just dawn on Him that night this might be a good idea. But He had planned that night long ago as how He would get them together. Only a sovereign God can work out such details.
It’s not hard to see providence throughout Scripture. We’re reading after the fact how God worked a plan and involved whoever He chose to be a part of that plan. Even using those who rejected Him as God. A sovereign God can do that.
What we’ll learn over the next few weeks is: No one can thwart God’s purposes. His plans will show up in places we’d never expect, through circumstances that seem totally contrary to a good God. Even when He allows evil to overtake his people, He is still able to keep them on the path He has planned.
How? He knows where everything is headed. He is fully aware. He knows when to connect dots and move things in the direction they need to go to coincide with other plans He has made. He is fully aware of now and later and how to bring the two together
How aware is He? Matt 10:29-31 Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
God is not thumping each sparrow to make it fall. But when it falls He is fully aware. When it comes to our heads, He doesn’t pluck out each hair, but even as insignificant as when a hair falls out, He is fully aware. A God with that level of awareness is the kind of God who works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Nothing happens in your life without God knowing.
He must be able to control circumstances, move players and regulate timing, because those are the kinds of things a sovereign God does. Next time, we’ll see that in action.
- Sovereignty is God’s knowledge, wisdom, power and purpose coming together because He has the authority to accomplish His plans.
- Providence is His ability to work those plans into completion.
- Both sovereignty and providence are best seen after the fact, however, must be anticipated by faith.
- Sovereignty gives Him the right to do whatever He needs to do providentially to complete His purpose.
- Remember Job: I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.