The Care and Feeding of Recovering Idolaters

Idol worshipers are not beyond the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. So how should we welcome them into the fellowship of His Church?

Today’s reading

Psalms 132-135; First Corinthians 8

Selected Verses

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see;
 they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.
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.”      First Corinthians 8:4

Reflections

Scripture tells us that there is One God, the Creator of all things, who made mankind 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 very negative. Worshipers start looking like the thing they worship.  The worship of a non-existent god of one’s own fabrication diminishes that worshiper to the level of that god.

Despite the apparent hopeless state of those reduced to less than humans, God’s grace and sovereign election to salvation overcomes and redeems those sub-humans. Paul reports that this happened in the city of Corinth (First Corinthians 6:9-11).  Praise God!

On the other hand, many new believers recovering from a vast host of sins populated the Corinthian church. More mature believers might inadvertently cause offense to these 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.”

Think about it

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.

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?  Let those who are mature lead the way in the care and feeding of recovering idolaters.

Peace and Purity in the Church

Sin among God’s people should not be. Sadly, it has always existed. Here we find instructions for dealing with it. Let us take heed.

Today’s reading

Psalms 120-123; First Corinthians 6

Selected Verses

Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
 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?   But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!  First Corinthians 6:7-8

Reflections

Christians are called to be committed to the peace and purity of the church. There ought never be occasions when professing believers war against and defraud one another.  But there are.  Fortunately, God’s word denounces this and gives instruction on how to respond.

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.

Think about it

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.[1] Seek to be a force in your local church for peace and purity that God may be glorified.

 

[1]  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 and Membership

There must be discipline in the church. But what attitudes must members have to submit to discipline? How should pastors and leaders administer discipline?

Today’s reading

Psalm 119:105-176; First Corinthians 5

Selected Verses

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?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”  First Corinthians 5:12-13

Reflections

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 own 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].

Think about it

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 not. Members are held responsible for godly living and obedience to the Scriptures. Non-members have not committed to be responsible. 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.

Church discipline is to be exercised but always with the hope of restoring the penitent and never with any kind of joy or satisfaction. If you are a pastor or an elder, exercise discipline with care and tears.

When the Church is Full of Hypocrites

God blesses His people so that they shine as a light to the world and the nations come to Him in faith. But what if believers are hypocrites?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 65-67; Romans 2

Selected Verses

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.  Psalm 67:1-2

You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  Romans 2:23-24

Reflections

The Psalmist has a lofty view of the impact of God’s blessing on His people spreading out to all the nations of the earth.   Truly, God does rule over all the earth. He is the God of all flesh. Through His providence He rules over everyone and everything. Nothing escapes Him. All owe Him everything.

But, alas, this vision of a worldwide impact of blessing and worship dimmed due to the very people who had the Word of God. Paul says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of [them].”

How did God deal with this? He judged His people for their unfaithfulness through the captivities of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But He acted for the sake of His own name to restore them to the land (Ezekiel 36:16-38).

In Jesus’ lifetime, the Jews faced the question of whether or not to believe the Messiah, the Christ whom God had sent them. Most of them failed to believe, yet according to Paul they still maintained their spiritual pride and arrogance, looking down on the Gentile pagans. In Romans 2 he warns them not to be smug in their cultural superiority.

Think about it

Fellow Christian, have you considered how our hypocrisy as believers can cause the lost to blaspheme our God?  Have you pondered how God’s blessing on us is impacting the unbelieving world around us?

At the end of the age, God will bring His elect from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 7:9-10). In Abraham through whom came Jesus Christ, all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). The Psalmist had it right.  “God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (67:7).    And they shall. Pray for the fulfillment of this promise soon. Flee hypocrisy.  Live in such a consistent, God-honoring way as to bring glory to Him.

 

The Faithful Church Impacts Culture

The presence of God’s people within an unbelieving culture impacts that society.  But will we learn from history and stand firm for the truth in our day?

Today’s Reading

Esther 1-3; Acts 5:1-16

Selected Verses

 The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel.  And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.   Esther 3:15

And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.   Acts 5:11-13

Reflections

Through fascinating circumstances, Esther, a Jew in captivity, becomes the queen of the Persian king.  About this time, a pompous man named Haman becomes second to the king.  Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, causes proud Haman to become infuriated by his refusal to show him homage.  Haman, learning that Mordecai is a Jew but unaware of his relationship to Queen Esther, decides to use his newly acquired power to exterminate, not only Mordecai but, all the Jews in the empire.  With the decision announced, the king and Haman relax with a cool drink while the capital city turns chaotic.  Tomorrow we will learn how the faithful believer Mordecai fared.

In Acts, the early church was alive with passion for the gospel and with love for its members.  Enter two hypocrites, Ananias and Sapphira, who pretend to give all their wealth to the apostles.  Their truth comes out and they die for their lie.  The news spread and fear gripped everyone both inside and outside of the church.  The word was out: don’t trifle with these Christians!  No one dared to join them, but, on the other hand, “The people held them in high esteem.  And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (vs. 13-14). No one joined them unless they truly believed.  Who would enter a group where you might die if you were a phony?

Think about it

Do you, like me, long for a revival in the Church of Jesus Christ, where the level of commitment to God and His people is such that hypocrisy would melt away?  If we are steadfast, like Mordecai, we may yet see that.  Be ready.  The obedient church wins.  Ananias loses. The faithful church impacts culture. God is glorified.

True Worship of the True God

Many worship practices are justified because “they work.”  But do they truly honor God?  Do they conform to what God says in His word?

Today’s reading

Exodus 31-33; Matthew 22:23-46

Selected Verses

And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”  Exodus 32:4-5

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. Matthew 22:37-38

Reflections

When Jesus was asked “which is the great commandment in the law?” He immediately identified it as wholehearted love for the Lord your God.  That devotion toward God includes our hearts, minds, and souls, that is, our entire being.   It is both outward and inward.  It involves our thoughts, our emotions, and our wills. Nothing that is us is left out.  We may not reserve a corner of our hearts for another god, an idol of our own making.

The Israelites at Mt. Sinai showed the folly of attempting to create their own god.  Aaron caved in to the fears and demands of the people to have some physical object to look at and worship.  He seems to have been unwilling to fully renounce the God who had brought them out of Egypt, but he was willing to introduce a golden calf as a means to worship the Lord.

Think about it

We live in a pragmatic society whose methods and values too often seep into the church.  Many worship practices are justified because “they work.”  But in what sense do they work?  They may work to induce the “me generation” to attend and give, but do they truly honor God?  Do they conform to what God says in His word?

The reformers identified the marks of a true church as the accurate preaching of the Bible, the observance of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper), and the right administration of discipline.  Let us be sure our worship, whether corporately or privately, is of the one true and living God and according to His commands, with no eclectic golden calves permitted.  In other words, let ours be true worship of the true God.

The Sardis Syndrome

Reputation without Reality

The Sardis church had a great reputation but no character to back it up.  God knows our hearts and He is not fooled by pretense.  Beware of the common myth that perception is more important than reality.  Don’t fall into the Sardis syndrome.

Today’s reading: 

Jude 1-Revelation 3:13

My selection:

And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

Revelation 3:1-2

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

A Chosen Race; A Holy Nation

God’s purposes in human history

God is carrying out His purposes in human history.  He decreed to elect a people for Himself and through Abraham to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3).  He called Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).  But He had much more in mind than just the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He had the Church, the body of Christ, in view as Peter calls the Church a chosen race, a holy nation.  Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, is gathering in to Himself His own from every tribe, nation, and tongue (Hebrews 13:20-21; Revelation 7:9-10).   Rejoice! His redeeming work encompasses the whole earth and all of history, including you and me living in the here and now.

Today’s reading: 

James 3:13-1 Peter 2:12

My selection:

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

Taking Time to Celebrate

The wall builders took time to celebrate the work accomplished.  Do you?

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 11:1-12:47

Don’t let the relentless pressure to produce more and more rob you of times to pause, praise, and party.   God is at work through His people and we need to recognize that frequently.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

The King at Home

There is evidence that David had plenty of flaws in his personal life as a husband and father.  Nevertheless, on one occasion, at least, he showed care, love and sensitivity on the home front.

Today’s reading: 1 Chronicles 14:1-16:43

Christian husbands and fathers are exhorted to love their wives and to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 5:25-6:4).  Having major responsibilities in their work does not exempt men from family duties and loving service.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].