The Christian’s Identity: God’s Lowly Farmhand

God gives you a role in His work of growing disciples. But do you know your identity in the spiritual harvest? Are you taking yourself too seriously?

Today’s reading

Psalm 119:1-48; I Corinthians 3

Selected Verses

Lead me in the path of your commandments,
    for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
    and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
    and give me life in your ways.. Psalm 119:35-37

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. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.  1 Corinthians 3:7–9

Reflections

All progress in our personal lives and our 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.

Think about it

Give all praise to God, if you are walking in His ways, maturing as a disciple and bearing fruit.  He alone causes the growth.  At most, our identity is that of unprofitable servants and God’s lowly farmhands.

The Blessing of Being Simple

Biblical truth runs cross grain to worldly wisdom. How often have you heard someone praised for being simple? But you can hear that in Scripture.

Today’s reading

Psalms 116-118;  First Corinthians 2

Selected Verses

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
    our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.  Psalm 116:5-7

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. First Corinthians 2:12

Reflections

The generosity of the Lord to His people is beyond measure.  It is worthy of a continual sacrifice of praise. In Psalm 116, the writer revels in God’s blessings to him.  He recognizes God’s mercy and grace in the face of impending death, in a time of distress and anguish.  He wonders how to make any kind of sufficient offering to the Lord for all he has received from His hand.  “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving,”  he promises in vs. 17.

Why has God so richly blessed him?  One quality which the Lord looks for in those He blesses is simplicity.  He preserves the simple, we read in vs. 6.  The simple are receptive to God’s Law.   Psalm 19:7 tells us “the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.”   The simple become wise because they pay attention to God’s Word.

Paul continues with his message to the Corinthians showing them that it was not lofty speech that he used to win them to Christ, but rather the simple message of Jesus Christ who was crucified.  Those who believe and are mature are able to receive wisdom from God revealed by His Spirit to His people.  The spirit of the world is of no assistance in knowing God, but God’s Spirit reveals the things that no one could even imagine, the things that God has freely given to His own.

Think about it

The disciple of Jesus Christ is one who has become like a child, simple, trusting in the One who came to make the Father known and to save His people from their sins (Matthew 18:1-4;1:21; John 1:14-18). He leads us to wisdom and blessing from the Lord.  Seek to always be found among the simple.

Unity for God’s Glory

Divisiveness is an ugly sin, but it will not be a problem where people seek God’s glory alone. True unity flows from a passion for God’s exaltation.

Today’s reading

Psalms 112-115; First Corinthians 1

Selected Verses

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!  Psalm 115:1

 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” First Corinthians 1:30-31

Reflections

The Psalmist prays a prayer that God loves to answer. He prays that all glory may go to the Lord and not to himself or his people. God does deserve all glory and those who give Him praise understand this.

Paul admonishes the Christians in Corinth who showed a total lack of passion for the glory of God.  He points out their deep divisions over their loyalties to various pastors and apostles. It was popular for these believers to identify themselves with one leader or another, forming cliques. One group even said they were “of Christ” as if the others were not.

The Apostle disavows any intention of creating such parties within the congregation. He tells them that God’s wisdom is contrary to the wisdom of this world which causes people to elevate themselves and seek their own glory—not God’s. The divisions will stop when they renounce this false wisdom and find their identity in Christ. He is their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

Think about it

God blesses those who seek His glory, not their own, and God’s blessings will not be found by those who seek their own glory.  One of those blessings is unity with our brothers and sisters.

For us, believers, everything we need is in Christ. We ought to see ourselves as one in Him not divided in competing groups. Divisions often come from the desire for our own glory. Beware of ungodly affection that can grow in our hearts. There is but one way to the Father, through Jesus, and all of us who have come to Him are one with Him and with each other. Boast in the Lord alone.

The God of Wisdom and the Wisdom of God

 “Wisdom is the power to see. and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.” J.I. Packer

Today’s reading

Psalms 109-111; Romans 16

Selected Verses

 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!  Psalm 111:10

To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.  Romans 16:27

Reflections

Psalm 111 praises the works of God and tells us there is value in studying them. Scripture includes  the work of scientists and historians here, not to mention educators who train students to do these kinds of work (vs. 2, 4). If God’s glory is seen in what He has done in creation and in providence, then it stands to reason that He is glorified when His works are studied, remembered, and discussed.

The Christian need not hesitate to follow professions which can bring glory to God, but he must beware of careers which will likely force him to reject the very basis for wisdom, which is the fear of God. There can be tremendous pressure to conform to the status quo, the irrational assumption of a Godless universe self-created by a combination of time and chance.   What would be the purpose or benefit of studying such a random cosmos? Can it even be done?

Here is where the godly man or woman, one who fears the Lord, has an advantage. The believer understands that God is wise, that is, He selects “the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it” as Dr. Packer tells us in his classic work “Knowing God”. The Christian researcher can pray for wisdom, praise God for the order and beauty of His works, and (as Johannes Kepler is quoted as saying) “[think] God’s thoughts after Him.”

Think about it

In a day when many doubt the very existence of truth, how are we to find wisdom when we are not even sure there is truth upon which to base it?  Believers will not be discouraged or give up all hope.  We know there is a God.  He has revealed truth to us and He teaches us wisdom as we consciously walk before Him.

We can be sure that all good and honest work done well glorifies God and benefits mankind. Keep walking in the fear of the Lord and seek to use whatever profession or vocation you have to serve Him wisely.

 

How God Uses Means to Meet Needs

What should we do when we see people in need? We can’t possibly respond to every worthy cause. Here is guidance that will help us help others.

Today’s reading

Psalms 107-108; Romans 15:21-33

Selected Verses

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!  Psalm 107:6-8

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints.  For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.  Romans 15:25-26

Reflections

Psalm 107 gives four vivid examples of how God worked to deliver people in need who called to Him in their distress.  One group was homeless, others were imprisoned, some suffered for their sin, and still others were on the verge of shipwreck in a storm at sea.  In each case, God heard their cries and delivered them.  In each case, those who were delivered are admonished to give thanks to God for responding to their prayer and saving them.  God is certainly due praise in these cases, but it would be naïve to assume that God never uses other people to answer the prayers of those who are helpless.

Take Paul, for example.  He knew about the suffering of the believers in Jerusalem.  As he traveled through Europe, he asked the churches there to help with this need.  They responded and Paul was in the process of traveling to deliver the collection to the needy.

Think about it

God deserves all praise and thanks when He provides for those in need, but we ought not to sit back passively when we see a need assuming that He will intervene without the help of people like us.

Certainly, we are aware of more needs than any one of us can meet alone.  We do need wisdom in choosing where to assist given the realities of our limited time and money.  But beware of never responding to genuine needs thinking that God will intervene with no assistance from people.  God uses means to meet needs that accomplish His purposes and you and I are some of the means He uses.  Be ready to consider serving when you are called and able to do so.

Do We Need the Old Testament?

Do believers in Jesus Christ who is revealed in the New Testament need to study the Old Testament? Here is clear evidence that we do.

Today’s reading

Psalms 105-106; Romans 15:1-20

Selected Verses

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!   Psalm 105:1-3

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 16:3

Reflections

Psalm 105 gives us a good example of why we need the Old Testament if we are to fulfill our high calling to glorify God (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Revelation 4:11).  The psalm includes both a call to praise (vs. 1-6) and the content for praise (vs. 7-45).   Like several other psalms, this one focuses on praising God for who He is and what He has done in history for the people of Israel.  It is easy to see God’s wisdom, faithfulness, power, and glory.   Well, at least, it’s easy to see when you read this psalm.

My experience personally and by observation of others is that it’s not easy to think of words with which to praise God.  It is easier to look at the problems of our lives and our world than to spend more than a few minutes giving praise to God.  We need the Old Testament, in general, and the Psalms, in particular, to instruct us and encourage us to praise the Lord.

Paul makes his case to the Christians in Rome that the Scriptures that they had from the former days had a crucial place in their lives.  It is hard to find a stronger passage in the New Testament urging the careful and continual study of the Old.  After all, the Old Testament was the Bible that Jesus knew and frequently quoted.  He relied on it when confronted by Satan and while dying on the cross (Matthew 4:1-11; 27:46; Psalm 22:1; Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:5).  It was the Bible from which He taught the disciples about Himself (Luke 24:27).  If Jesus and His disciples needed the Old Testament, don’t we also?

Think about it

The Old Testament (just like the New) plays a key role in the life of believers in Jesus Christ giving them instruction leading to endurance, encouragement, and hope.  Make it priority to know both Testaments.  It’s all God’s word and will instruct you, sustain you, encourage you, and give you hope to finish the race.

Purpose in Life: Unchanging and Unending

Why do we exist? Is there a reason for being that is great enough and noble enough to command our hearts, minds, and wills from cradle to grave? Yes!

Today’s reading

Psalms 103-104; Romans 14

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.   Psalm 104:33

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. Romans 14:6-7

Reflections

For the believer, there is one clear lasting purpose around which everything revolves, to honor the Lord in life and in death.  Circumstances change; that purpose never does.

The Psalmist’s heart overflows in praise to God. God is due all honor for His being, His attributes, and His endless acts of kindness and love to His people.  There is not enough time or words to express it all.  As Fredrick Lehman put it in his hymn “The Love of God:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.

Paul addresses matters that were apparently causing divisions between believers in Rome: the keeping of Jewish feast days, and the eating of meat previously offered to idols.  The Apostle points all of his readers to a place of common ground.  They are all concerned about honoring the Lord, or, at least, they should be.  That is the purpose of their lives.  They have been redeemed to glorify God.  The kingdom to which they have been called is not about what you eat but about “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (vs. 17).

Think about it

Are you focused on what really matters, honoring God?  We, who trust in Jesus Christ, can certainly agree that what matters most is His glory in and through our lives until He calls us home.  That will help us get along even when we don’t see eye to eye with each other on minor points. Let His glory keep you profitably occupied all the days of your life.

The Role of Government

What does God say about the role of government in the life of the Christian? Should a believer ever disobey the powers that be? If so, when?

Today’s reading

Psalms 99-102; Romans 13

Selected Verses

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. Psalm 101: 6-7

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.  Romans 13:3-4

Reflections

The authority of government comes from God, so those who govern are responsible to Him to punish bad behavior and encourage good and those who are governed are responsible to submit and obey as to God.

In Psalm 101 David sets high ideals for his reign.  He says he will praise God, a necessary activity for one who could easily lose sight of the true King over all the earth.  He acknowledges his need for the Lord’s help and presence and vows to bring justice to those who do wrong. Instead, he will create a favorable climate for those who do right.  David determined not to suffer deceivers in his cabinet.  He promises to act quickly in dealing with crime.  These noble goals describe a kingdom in which any upright person would love to live.

Paul continues addressing the Christians in Rome moving on to the issue of their relationship to the government.  The Old Testament era of theocracy in Israel is no more.  Since then and up to now, God’s people live under secular authorities who are under God whether they recognize Him or not. Often, they do not.  Yet Christians are commanded to submit to these officials, pay taxes, and show proper respect and honor.  The government is to encourage those who do good and punish those who do not.

We know from other Bible passages that this general teaching of submission is limited to those situations in which the government does not command citizens to do what God prohibits or prohibits them from doing what God commands (Acts 4:18-20;5:29).

Think about it

What is your understanding of our responsibility to the government?  Remember a ruler is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  Pray for your leaders, those who govern, and seek to encourage them when they fulfill their roles properly before God (First Timothy 2:1-4).

Love God; Hate Evil

The true disciple brings his or her whole being to God as a living sacrifice. The result is transformation by a renewed mind that loves God and hates evil.

Today’s reading

Psalms 96-98; Romans 12

Selected Verses

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.  Psalm 97:10

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Romans 12:9-10

Reflections

Our psalms for today are at the heart of a section in which God is worshiped and praised as King (Psalm 93; 95-100). We hear the exclamation, “The Lord reigns” several times. These psalms also portray God as the Judge of all the earth. His rule is absolute. His laws are perfectly just and His judgments are flawless. Obviously, the laws of human kings can be (and often are) biased. Their judicial rulings are not perfect, but our God is just in every way. His laws and judgments are infallible. So it is not only safe but right to love the Lord and to hate evil, as He defines it by His law.

The Psalmist exhorts us, who love the Lord, to hate evil. These are two sides of a coin, impossible to separate. If you love the Lord, you will hate evil. If you do not hate evil, your love for the Lord is in question. Can one’s love for God be genuine, if he does not hate what God hates?

Paul makes an exhortation to the recipients of his letter in Rome which similarly includes the words “love” and “abhor.” He raises the possibility and the danger of phony love. One may pretend to love but not truly love. Loving action can be counterfeit–a setup for later betrayal like Judas Iscariot. Check your love to be sure it is genuine, writes Paul. He then goes on to tell them to “Abhor what is evil.”

Think about it

The Christian faith and life is not only a matter of correct theology, although that is essential, but also a matter of attitudes and actions–the involvement of the will and emotions. The one who presents himself to God as a living sacrifice seeking a renewed mind will be transformed in thoughts, attitudes, and actions. That renewal is a life-long process called sanctification which culminates when we see the Lord face to face (1 John 3:1-3).

Will you take one step forward in godliness today, by presenting yourself to Him as a living sacrifice out of genuine love for Him? Combine that with a hatred of evil, confessing the sin that lurks in your own heart. A renewed mind will bring a transformed heart to love God and hate evil.

God is–the Challenge of Describing the Holy One

God is too holy to be described in human words, but we must try. When we have exhausted our efforts, we worship Him by ascribing to Him all glory forever.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 93-95; Romans 11:22-36

Selected Verses

Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!  Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore.  Psalm 93:4-5

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”   For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.  Romans 11:33-36

Reflections

How do you describe God? Psalm 93 uses an analogy to the highest human authority, the king. Admittedly, that comparison falls far short because God is a king whose reign always was and always will be. He is eternal. He rules, not over some limited territory, but over the whole universe.

How do you describe God? The Psalmist draws from the most powerful forces in nature: a flood, mighty waters, the sea. The waters roar. They sweep away everything in their path. But that is not an adequate description of the power of God for He is mightier than the sea. He is on high above it all.

Paul compares God to the wisest counselor or the richest man on earth. They could add nothing to the Lord’s knowledge nor contribute anything He lacks. The Apostle seems out of superlatives as he cries out, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Think about it

How do you describe God? Human kings make decrees, but they cannot guarantee their fulfillment. Maybe the kingdom will be overthrown. Maybe the king will die suddenly. The king’s decree is only a statement of his intention. But God’s decrees are “very trustworthy.” He is holy, set apart, completely other. Forever.

We cannot adequately describe God, but give it a try. He is worthy and accepting of all our feeble, but heartfelt, efforts to praise Him.  There can be no higher use of our minds and tongues.