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.

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 Confusing Faces of Sin

Good defensive units in football confuse their opponents by showing many different lineups, leaving the offense wondering what to expect. Satan is just as devious in hiding the true nature of sin, so that we confuse evil with good and good with evil.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 43-45; Hebrews 3

“You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ 3 but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” Jeremiah 43:2b-3

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.                                                                                                     Hebrews 3:12-14

Sin is deceitful. It appears to be good when it is really evil. The deceitfulness of sin produces a hardened heart that is less, not more, sensitive to temptation.

When Jeremiah gave the remnant of Judah the message from God that they should not seek protection and security by going into Egypt, the leaders responded by accusing Jeremiah of lying. They even furnished him a motive for lying, that Baruch had pressured or bribed him into giving a false prophecy from God. Thus, those who were preparing to disobey God attacked the messenger, rejecting the message and impugning his motives. They deflected their own guilt by accusing the faithful prophet. So they marched themselves down to Egypt filled with self-assurance and indignation towards Jeremiah.

The writer to the Hebrews warns his readers, whom he calls “brothers”, to “take care.” He is concerned that they are about to fall away from the living God as a result of evil, unbelieving hearts, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. In today’s reading he describes various “faces” of sin: evil, unbelief, hardness of heart, rebellion, and disobedience. Our enemy does not want us to detect our own sin, but to see it as a good thing. God, however,  calls sin by all those negative descriptors.

Are you taking care to not be deceived by sin? Let us “exhort one another every day” but begin by exhorting ourselves through listening to God’s Word. Take care. Do not be hardened by the deceitful and confusing faces of sin.

Distress and Comfort

While the Christian rests in his relationship to God through Christ, he is not unaffected by the circumstances of everyday life, including the spiritual state of those he loves.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 56-58; 1 Thessalonians 3

15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.                                               Isaiah 57:15

6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.                                                                                        1 Thessalonians 3:6-8

Paul was not a little anxious about the Thessalonians. Twice he uses the phrase “[we or I] could bear it no longer” (3:1,5). He wanted to know how those new believers were doing. He finally sent Timothy to them and learned that they were not only standing firm in the gospel but were impacting the whole region.

Isaiah reports how God who is high and lifted up also dwells with the one who is “of a contrite and lowly spirit.” If God is with us, assuming we qualify as having “a contrite and lowly spirit,” do we need anything more? No, not really. God is enough. The psalmist said,  “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).

Yet Paul could not bear the anxiety of not knowing if the young disciples in Thessalonica were doing well, not reverting to idol worship. Did Paul lack faith? Was he too dependent on being successful in his work? No. We can see that Paul had a tender heart toward those he taught. It was natural, not sinful. He made the sacrifice of sending Timothy to inquire about them. There was nothing wrong with doing that. We would not expect a sincere minister or missionary to be cold and uncaring about those he has served in the gospel.

So we are right to be concerned about those whose spiritual lives could be in jeopardy. We are right to do what we can to care for them and to keep up with their circumstances and progress. In the final analysis, however, our greatest comfort and joy will be that “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” dwells with us and revives our hearts. Don’t be unfeeling toward others, but let God’s presence be the bedrock of your spirit to comfort you in distress.

 

The Purposes of God

God’s purposes include all nations, all peoples, and all times and result in the exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 22-23; Ephesians 3

8 Who has purposed this
against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes,
whose traders were the honored of the earth?
9 The Lord of hosts has purposed it,
to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
to dishonor all the honored of the earth. Isaiah 23:8-9

11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. Ephesians 3:11-12

It is not hard to see that the Bible reveals God who is over all the earth, over all mankind. It is true that He chose Abraham and made a covenant with him and his descendants, but even that covenant included all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).

Through Isaiah (and other prophets) God gave warnings and instructions to the Gentile nations around Israel and Judah. Today we read about God’s purposes to bring down the pomposity of Tyre and Sidon. They were proud in their successes, congratulating themselves for their victories and prosperity with no thought for God.

What concern did the God of Israel have for Tyre and Sidon? The same concern He had for all the families of the earth. Their prideful arrogance offended Him, but also drew His mercy and grace as He purposed that His Son would be the Savior of the world, including those from Tyre and Sidon and a thousand other tribes and nations that would come and go through human history.

The mystery of God’s purpose was revealed to Paul and the other apostles and, through their writings, it was revealed to us.  God was working out His plan for the fullness of time “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). This was Paul’s calling, to announce this mystery, the uniting of all in Christ. Jews and Gentiles in Christ are now one with God and with each other. Paul prays that his readers in Ephesus (and beyond) may grasp “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and that they “may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19).

Press on to know God’s glorious purposes through Jesus Christ. We have only scratched the surface on the eternal purposes of God.

The God of Peace and the Peace of God

In the best human relationships, there are moments of deep disappointment, alienation, pride, and disagreement, but the God of love and peace is glorified when these are overcome and restoration occurs.

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 4-5; 2 Corinthians 13

6 I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.                                              Song of Solomon 5:6

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

Romantic love has its ups and downs, and Solomon paints that picture in his Song. Anyone who has ever been in love can relate to this: the exhilaration of the first glimpse of the one who steals your heart completely (4:9) and the agony of possible loss of that relationship forever (5:6). We feel this is a risk worth taking, because God said on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone;” (Genesis 2:18a). So, most of us pursue a lifelong, loving relationship with a mate. Alas, it can be elusive.  When found, it is never without difficulties and setbacks. But it is pleasing to the God of love to find it, and to nurture it.

In the church, Christians are called to live in love demonstrating true discipleship through a level of sacrificial love faintly reflecting that of Jesus Christ (John 13:34, 35). The Corinthian church of Paul’s day had plenty of challenges. They were divided. They were drawn away from the true faith by “super apostles”. They were tolerant of gross sin in their midst. All this was lamentable, but not fatal, to the fellowship. Paul has instructed them in the two letters, which we still have, as to how to overcome these problems and be restored to a life of peace together. This is what God calls them to.

All of us, believers, need one another in the context of the local church. We are called out to be His body and to work together for His glory. He is not glorified when sin is overlooked and tolerated and when there is division and competition that negates the message of reconciliation with God. That reconciliation with Him is the foundation for our reconciliation with one another. For us who are married in Christ, we also are called to model, on a human level, the relationship of Christ and His Church. The same commands and promises Paul gave the church in Corinth apply to us who are married. Seek to be such that the God of peace and the peace of God are always with you.

Why Life is Not Vain

The gospel of Jesus Christ shows us why the earthly life of believers, while far from as complete as it will be in glory, is also not vain as Solomon thought.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 1-3; 2 Corinthians 9

20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?                    Ecclesiastes 3:20-22

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.                                  2 Corinthians 9:10-12

Solomon, who, I believe, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, had the time, money, and motivation to invest in the pursuit of the meaning of life. But he came up with a rather bleak picture. His conclusion, after all that study and experimentation, was that “All is vanity.” The best humans can hope for, he concluded, is   “…to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:12b-13).  Somehow it feels like something is missing, something that transcends this world. Certainly, Solomon grasps this too, as he says, “…[God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (3:11)

But God’s self-revelation continued with the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the announcement of the Kingdom of God. Paul writes to those in Corinth who have heard this message and who are trusting in God’s Son for salvation. He tells them that their faith expressed in generosity for the poor is actually sowing a harvest of righteousness that results in praise and thanksgiving to God.

When God’s people use the resources He supplies to serve others, this action produces win-win results for all. Genuine needs are met. Those who give are blessed. God is glorified. Far from being a vain, useless enterprise, generosity and good works produces lasting fruit. Take opportunities to give today. May the eternal, triune God be glorified and may you be blessed!

Poverty, Joy, and Generosity

God’s grace brings joy and generosity among those who have little.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 30-31; 2 Corinthians 8

20 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.                                  Proverbs 31:20

1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.                                                                                             2 Corinthians 8:1-2

Paul was concerned for the poor in Jerusalem. In an orderly way, he went about Macedonia and Achaia asking the churches to contribute to these needy brothers and sisters whom they had never met. [See The Importance of Giving to the Poor]. The Macedonian churches, those in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, were themselves suffering from affliction and extreme poverty.

There were two surprises here. One, Paul told them about the collection even though they were in need themselves. He did not want to rob them of the joy of doing what they could. Second, they gave far more than Paul expected. How were they able to do this? It was a result of the grace of God in their lives. Surely, they grasped “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (vs. 9).

Proverbs concludes with a picture of the godly woman, wife, and mother. We have met Lady Wisdom and her counterpart Ms. Folly in chapter 9. Now only the wise woman appears. One of her qualities is concern for the poor and needy. She gives to them. She reaches out to them. She gives them resources and assists them in practical ways. Diligence, as exemplified by this woman, generally results in abundance. Abundance should result in generosity. Sadly, this is often not the case (Luke 12:13-21). One might think that poverty would squelch joy and generosity. In the Macedonian churches, the opposite was true. God’s grace makes the difference.

There is no greater evidence of the presence of God’s grace than to have joy and generosity whether in need or in abundance. What glory that manifestation of grace brings to God! Look at Jesus, today, and learn joy and generosity whether you have much or little.

The Mature Thinker

Today’s reading: Proverbs 5-6; 1 Corinthians 14:1-20

16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.                     Proverbs 6:16-19

20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.                                                                             1 Corinthians 14:20

Christians are called to be unsophisticated in their personal experience of sin, but not to be ignorant of what God hates and calls evil. On the contrary, we should be clear that extensive experience with wickedness contributes nothing to mature thinking.

In today’s reading, we come across the first of the numerical sayings in Proverbs. [See also Proverbs 30:15-31.] This list includes seven things that God hates. The first six are related to body parts, if you include breath which would imply the participation of the lungs. Certainly, the Scriptures leave no doubt about what is evil. Each of these vices has to do with relationships with others. Haughty eyes look down on other people. Lying may occur in our speech to others or in the formal setting of a false witness. Hands can murder after the heart has concocted the scheme. Feet and legs can carry one to do the wicked deed. God hates the creation of animosity between family members. How God’s gift of life and healthy bodies can be abused for purposes which are an abomination to Him!

Paul calls the Corinthians to live in ways that build up, encourage, and console one another in the church (vs. 3). They seem to be concerned about themselves rather than one another. They use their gifts selfishly. The Apostle wants them to strengthen their ministry to one another. As it is, they show childish thinking and advanced levels of evil. This needs to be reversed.

Hollywood offers entertainment for “mature audiences,” but if the executives in the cinematographic industry believed their Bibles they would change the designation to “immature audiences.” Generally, they do not hate what God hates. As we read in Romans 12:1-2, present your body (eyes, tongue, hands, heart, feet) as a living sacrifice to Him. Be renewed in your mind so that you will be mature in thinking rather than experienced in evil. You will be likely to build up, encourage, and console those around you.

 

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.