Guidance for Complex Decisions

Today’s reading: Psalms 142-144; I Corinthians 10:14-33

Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.                                                                  Psalm 143:7-8

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.                                                                                             1 Corinthians 10:31-33

The Christian is called to glorify God, to make sacrifices to build up others, and to avoid being offensive or selfish so that many may be saved. With those purposes in view, even complex ethical decisions become more obvious.

We aren’t given the specific historical setting of Psalm 143, but it is clear that David is desperate. There is much honesty expressed in these Psalms.   No room for denial here. The author feels he needs direction from God and he needs it fast. Apparently he had to make a decision by morning. This could be a prayer in the evening and David is praying that it will be clear to him by then as to which direction he should go.

The Corinthian believers are also faced with a dilemma. They wonder how to handle the touchy situation of food offered to idols. Some see it as a non-issue and have freedom to eat that food with no qualms. Others are troubled by the idea of eating this food that was offered to demons. Paul is clear that there is really no problem in eating the food, but there is a problem of causing a brother to stumble. He gives the readers of his letter some very simple, clear and practical guidelines as to when to eat and when not to eat. Let’s put these guidelines into the form of questions to ask when making complex, ethical decisions: How can I best glorify God? How can I be helpful and build others up? How can I avoid offending so that an unbeliever is more able to find his way to salvation?

Consider how you can apply these questions to the difficult decisions you must make.

Who Do You Trust?

Today’s reading: Psalms 139-141; I Corinthians 10:1-13

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!                                                  Psalm 139:23-24

12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.                                                                                                                                                                                                         1 Corinthians 10:12-13

Scripture is given to us so that we may detect sin in our own hearts and flee from it by the faithfulness of God.

David in Psalm 139 writes some of the most eloquent statements ever penned about the glory and majesty of God: His omniscience, His omnipresence, and His goodness. That goodness is not only seen at a cosmic level but also on a personal level. God’s thoughts toward David are beyond counting.

Then, abruptly, the author begins to call for the judgment of God against the wicked. Is that a result of all the reflection on God’s holiness? It seems so. David hates sin. He doesn’t want any part of those who are God’s enemies. But he is not so foolish as to think he is incapable of sin himself. “Search me, O God, and know my heart!.. see if there be any grievous way in me…” he prays, “…lead me in the way everlasting!”

Paul tells the Corinthians that the history of Israel was given to provide examples to them of the dangers that come, even to those who know God best, from giving in to our sinful natures.   The Israelites knew more about the power and glory of God than anyone since Adam and Eve, yet they sinned grievously against God and were punished with death in the wilderness. Don’t think you could never do the same, Paul tells them. Learn from their bad example. Sin is not inevitable because God always provides a way of escape to the one who does not trust in himself.

We live in a culture that constantly tells us to “trust yourself” and “you can do it.” God tells us that He knows us and that we must trust in Him if we are to walk in the way everlasting, the way that leads to heaven. Face it. You can’t do it. Trust God. He will lead you through temptations to victory and, ultimately, to glory.

 

Being and Doing the Lord’s Work

Today’s reading: Psalms 136-138; I Corinthians 9

     The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;

your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.                                                Psalm 138:8

Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?                                     1 Corinthians 9:1b

God’s people are both the object of His Providences and the means to accomplishing them. God’s people are used by Him in ministry and are changed by Him for His purposes.

David in Psalm 138 rejoices in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. He praises God for answered prayer, for strength in time of need. Now he experiences trouble, but his confidence is unwavering. God is firmly in control and will complete what He has begun. David knows he is God’s workmanship. “Please,” he prays, “don’t stop working in and on me!”

Paul, too, understood how God works in and through people that He has saved by grace through faith. He wrote to the church in Ephesus, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul adds another layer to this concept. God uses people to work for Him in the lives of others. Paul saw himself as a workman, a gardener, in the Lord’s work. The believers in Corinth were his workmanship. He had “sown spiritual things” among them (vs. 11).   He had proclaimed the gospel to them (vs. 14). Wherever he went he made himself a servant to all, adapting as much as possible to those he was seeking to win (vs. 19-23). He exercised self-control and disciplined his body in order to do what he was called to do, to complete the work assigned to him by the Lord.

You are probably a product of someone else’s work or ministry in you. Maybe you still are being discipled,  mentored, and shepherded. Be sure you are an eager, appreciative learner. If you are serving others in the gospel, be careful to run so as to win the prize. After all, you are the work of the Lord’s hands, and He also uses your hands to do His work. We are the Lord’s work, and we do the Lord’s work. May God be glorified in us and through us.

 

 

The Care and Feeding of Recovering Idolaters

Today’s reading: Psalms 132-135; I Corinthians 8

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them.                                                              Psalm 135:15-18

“…we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”                                                                                                                        I Corinthians 8:4b

Although idol worshipers are reduced to less than human, they are not beyond the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. When converted idolaters enter the church, more mature members must be sensitive to them as they grow in the knowledge of the Lord.

Scripture tells us that there is One God, the Creator of all things, who made Man in His own image and after His likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). But what happens when people reject their God? They replace Him with some other “god,” one of their own imagination. The psalmist tells us that the impact on these idolaters is not positive, not even neutral, but, rather, it is very negative. Worshipers start looking like the one they worship.  If they worship a non-existent god of their own fabrication, they are diminished to the level of their god.

Despite the apparent hopeless state of those reduced to less than humans, by God’s grace and sovereign election to salvation, some are redeemed. Paul indicates that this happened in the city of Corinth (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Praise God!

The flip-side of this reality was that the church was populated by new believers recovering from a vast host of sins. There was an ever-present danger of causing stumbling and offenses among this mix of young disciples. Paul gives them some urgent advice about the care and feeding of recovering idolaters. Of course, idols don’t exist but former idol worshipers could easily be offended by seeing their fellow Christians eating at pagan feasts or enjoying food previously offered to idols. The point is, “don’t make your brother stumble even if what you are doing is not technically wrong.”

Do you need to limit your freedom in order to keep a brother or sister from stumbling? Do you need to grow in the conviction that there is but One God, so that you progress in your sanctification, fleeing the baggage of your sinful past?  Think about it.

Interpreting Apparent Contradictions

Today’s reading: Psalm 128-131; I Corinthians 7:25-40

3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.                                                                              Psalm 128:3-4

29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.                                                                                                I Corinthians 7:29-31

To understand the Bible properly, the reader needs to observe principles of interpretation, especially, the principles of reading passages in context and seeking to let the whole Bible comment on specific passages.

The psalmist paints another lovely picture, a picture of the family of a godly man, one who fears God. Even in a fallen world, it is possible to see glimpses of life in an unfallen world where a husband fears God and God blesses him in every aspect of his life. This man is a husband and father. His wife and children are an evidence of the goodness and blessing of God poured out on His life. Who would not love to have a family like this or be a member of a family like this?

When we turn to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we get a quite different message. Paul does not paint such a peaceful picture of marriage and family life. Indeed, he says that marriage brings concerns that occupy and distract people with anxieties. It would be ideal, he says, for single or betrothed people to remain as they are and to give themselves in “undivided devotion to the Lord.”   Rather than holding up traditional family life as the epitome of God’s blessing, Paul sees it as an obstacle to focused service for the Lord.

So, which is it? Is the biblical view that marriage is a blessing or that marriage is a distraction to the believer? The answer is “it depends.” Paul himself does not prohibit marriage, but neither does he suggest that one cannot be fulfilled personally and extremely fruitful in the Lord’s work without being married (1 Timothy 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:3-4). In fact, Paul gives us the analogy of the relationship of Christ and the Church as that of a man and his bride (Ephesians 5:22-33). Certainly, the Scriptures never demean marriage, but individuals who are making decisions about whether or not to marry or to assume other kinds of responsibilities ought to consider the impact of those responsibilities on their freedom to be available to God for His service. Use wisdom. See the whole picture of what the Bible teaches on any matter before jumping to conclusions.

Stability vs. Restlessness

Today’s reading: Psalm 124-127; I Corinthians 7:1-24

1 Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.                                                          Psalm 125:1-2

23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.   I Corinthians 7:23-24

We, Christians, are called to trust in the Lord and to recognize that we belong to Him by virtue of the purchase of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. We have no higher loyalty. We owe no one any higher allegiance. In Him, we have stability and security. Or, we should.

It is pleasant to picture the Jews of Ancient Israel trudging up the dusty roads to Jerusalem on Mount Zion singing the songs of ascents. They go with expectation of being in the holy city near the temple, and, most of all, in the Lord’s presence. The mount looks solid, and feels immovable. The psalmist helps them picture their trusting relationship to God as one which keeps them as firm as the mount itself.

But they are not left on their own, merely clinging to Him in the hope that they do not let go and end up lost. The song goes on to point out the mountains which surround the city. These remind them that God surrounds His people. When? Sometimes? Off and on? No! “From this time forth and forevermore!” What comfort! What peace!

Paul addressed the subject of the marital and socioeconomic states in which the Corinthian believers might find themselves: single, married to a believer, married to an unbeliever, bond servitude, freedmen, etc. There seems to be restlessness in some to change one or more of these states. What is the best state to be in? Paul says (in essence), “the one the Lord called you in.” There are advantages and disadvantages to any state in which they found themselves, but the important thing is to remember “you are bought with a price” and whatever you do “remain with God.”

Disciples of Jesus are first and foremost His servants, freed from sin and the restlessness that so often drives us to long for changes that seem to be desirable. Beware of that restlessness that may entice you to flee the very situation in which God has placed you for His glory. Being His disciple means trusting Him and being secure and fruitful wherever He has planted us. The grass is usually not greener on the other side of the fence.

 

Peace and Purity in the Church

Today’s reading: Psalm 120-123; I Corinthians 6

Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war!                                                       Psalm 120:6-7

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!                                                                                        I Corinthians 6:7-8

Christians are called to be committed to the peace and purity of the church.[1] There ought never be occasions when professing believers war against and defraud one another.

Psalm 120 introduces the section of fifteen psalms known as “The Songs of Ascents,” traditionally believed to be songs sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the feasts. It is easy to see in these psalms the longing to be in Jerusalem and in the temple where the Lord’s presence was most keenly felt.

In this case the psalmist is weary of dealing with liars and deceivers. The locations of Meshech and Kedar may be mentioned to epitomize Gentile locales where one would expect to find liars and deceivers and a total disregard for the fear of God. It seems that the world’s culture had moved into Israel.

Paul found a similar situation in Corinth where the members of the congregation were going to secular courts with complaints against one another. The Apostle is horrified by the thought of this kind of hostility in the church. He tells them there is no place for this among God’s people, who should be willing to suffer wrong and be defrauded before going to a pagan court against a brother.

Sadly, these things continue to exist. Despite church members taking vows to “study the peace and purity of the church,” we hear of lawsuits, divorces with no biblical foundation, and other shameful behaviors taking place. Seek to be a force in your local church for peace and purity that God may be glorified.

[1] For example, one of the five questions asked of new members in the Presbyterian Church of America is “Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?” Book of Church Order Ch. 57 Section 5.

Church Discipline

Today’s reading: Psalm 119:105-176; I Corinthians 5

136  My eyes shed streams of tears,

because people do not keep your law.  Psalm 119:136

Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” I Corinthians 5:12b-13

Church discipline is to be exercised but always with the hope of restoring the impenitent and never with any kind of joy or satisfaction.

The subject of Psalm 119 is the Word of God, also referred to as His statutes, rules, commandments, testimonies, precepts, and law. The glories of God’s Word are praised. The Psalmist tells of his delight in and commitment to the law. There is also an occasional reference to the failure of some to obey the law. For the author, this disobedience on the part of some brought him to tears, and, apparently, at times it brought him to disgust (vs. 158). He is on the alert for those rebels as they threaten his faithfulness (vs. 115).

When we go to the New Testament, the people of God, the Church of Jesus Christ, are in far different circumstances than Old Testament Israel. Now the Church is composed of Jews and Gentiles. There is no theocracy, but the Church exists under various kingdoms and governments. Still, there is a responsibility of the Church to discipline its members. Corinth was a particularly wicked city in the days of the Apostles. Paul instructed them in the proper handling of a case of incest that would not have been tolerated even in secular society. Apparently, the guilty party was unrepentant, so Paul told them to remove him from their congregation. This process is referred to as excommunication. It is not the first step of discipline and is applied only when there is a refusal to repent for the sin or sins that were committed. [See Matthew 18:15-17].

For Church discipline to exist there must be formal local church membership, the defining of who is and who isn’t under the discipline of the body. Everyone is either in the fellowship or, if not, is not held responsible for godly living and obedience to the Scriptures. If you are a believer, be sure you are a member of a Bible-believing church and accountable for your life and walk with God. If you are a member, seek to encourage and admonish others as needed and be receptive to godly correction. If you are a pastor or elder, exercise discipline with care and tears.

 

Preparation for Finals

Today’s reading: Psalm 119:49-104; I Corinthians 4

78 Let the insolent be put to shame,
because they have wronged me with falsehood;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.

79 Let those who fear you turn to me,
that they may know your testimonies.

80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
that I may not be put to shame!                                                             Psalm 119:78-80

It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.                                                                                                       I Corinthians 4:4b-5

Public acclaim in this world is of no consequence. What matters is the state of our hearts when we stand before God in final judgment. I heard of a Sunday School teacher who had a class for senior citizens. He said they attended faithfully because, at their advanced age, “they were preparing for finals.”

The Psalmist knew severe opposition because of his trust in God and obedience to His law. His life was a rebuke to those who had no regard for the Lord. He prayed that the insolent would be shamed and the God-fearers would be drawn to him so that they would know God’s word even better. But he also prayed for a blameless heart with respect to the Law of God. He did not want to be put to shame before the Judge.

In a similar way, Paul sought to be found commendable before God. He had received both criticism and acclaim by people. Some identified themselves with him to such a degree that they went around saying, “I am of Paul.”   This was causing serious division in the church. Paul would not hear of this. He said, “It is the Lord who judges me.” He did not want the approval of men, especially since it was a basis for division.

How should they look at Paul and others, like Apollos? They were mere servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (vs. 1). He already said that they could do nothing but plant or sow, but had no power to cause growth (I Corinthians 3:6). Paul served God with a continual awareness of the judgment to come. He sought only to be faithful. Like the Psalmist, he wanted to have a blameless heart on that day when “the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.”

Do you serve Christ with this mindset? Are you seeking only His commendation at the end of your life? Prepare for finals today.

God’s Farmhands

Today’s reading: Psalm 119:1-48; I Corinthians 3

35     Lead me in the path of your commandments,

for I delight in it.

36     Incline my heart to your testimonies,

and not to selfish gain!

37     Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;

and give me life in your ways.                                                       Psalm 119:35-37

7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.                                                                                      1 Corinthians 3:7–9

All progress in our personal lives and ministry to others depends on God. He commands us to be diligent in our use of the means of grace and in our proclaiming the gospel to the world, but He is the One who ultimately changes hearts and brings about growth.

The Psalmist proclaims his delight in God’s law, but, at the same time, prays to God for help in following that law. As committed as he is to God’s word, his pleas to the Lord reveal an awareness of his dependence on God. Of course, delight in God’s law is a good, admirable trait. It is just not constant enough to be a reliable basis for one’s spiritual life. God will have to work because there are innumerable other distractions, like selfish gain and worthless things.

The writer of the longest chapter in the Bible knew his own heart. There were good moments when he could focus on the Lord and His Word with great exuberance. He is not being deceptive when he professes to love the law, but he also knows the weaknesses of his flesh. He can be drawn away by money and entertainment. Jesus warned His disciples against these sorts of things in His parable about the sower. He told them the good seed of the Word can be “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14)

Paul, too, understands his dependence on God for fruitful ministry. The Corinthians needed to learn that they are indebted to God for their responsiveness to the gospel, not to Paul or Apollos. Their divisiveness was partly a result of their misplaced adulation of their mentors.

Give all praise to God, if you are walking in His ways, maturing as a disciple. He alone causes the growth. We are, at most, unprofitable servants of Christ and His farmhands.