Reassurance and Responsibility

In today’s reading, Ezekiel 17:1-19:14, the prophet lays out an important truth: each person is responsible for himself before God (Ezekiel 18:20).  We do not bear the weight of our parents’ sin, but we do bear the weight of our own.  On the other hand, parents are responsible for modeling grace and patience as they raise their children with a knowledge of biblical truth.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4 ESV

But there are limits to this responsibility, if we take into account what Ezekiel says.  Parents are dependent on the Lord to call their children to Him and are not responsible for the sins of their children who may go astray from the teaching they have received.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 ESV

This certainly does not alleviate the pain that parents of unbelieving children feel, but it does assure them that each one will stand before God and answer for himself.  Meanwhile, those parents pray for their children and trust God that all who are His will come to Him.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  John 6:37 ESV

That’s the promise Jesus Christ makes to us who still wait on Him to save our loved ones.  Count on it. Keep praying.

[For more reflections on today’s reading, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

The Importance of Marrying in the Lord

“How can I find the perfect spouse?”  is a question many single people ask.  The Bible gives clear guidance on one attribute that is non-negotiable.

Today’s reading: Ezra 8:1-10:44

In a fallen world, no one can find or be a perfect spouse, but we, who seek to honor God, must wait for a life partner who is a believer (1 Corinthians 7; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

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

The Blessing of God through Children

In Bible times, an abundance of children was considered a good thing.  Today we meet a man who was blessed by God with a large family and with important responsibility in the kingdom of Israel.

Today’s reading: 1 Chronicles 24:1-26:19

The ability to conceive and bear children is not totally in our control.  It was even less so in ancient Israel so parents considered offspring to be tangible evidence of the blessing of God.  Obed-edom was blessed with eight sons and his grandsons were able rulers in their family.

How blessed are the parents who are able to see successful grandchildren! This may not be your lot, but believers can certainly mentor children and youth in the church as virtual parents and grandparents.

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

Marriage Laws: Ancient Israel vs. Modern America

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 22:13-25:19

“Marriage is for adults… A good marriage is not achieved in days, weeks, months, or years, but in decades of struggle, forgiveness and unshakeable commitment.” [from Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days page 75].

Does it matter?

Looking at life from the perspective of 40, 50 or even more years, it is possible to be completely mistaken about the importance of believing God and serving Him.

Today’s reading: Malachi 1-4; Revelation 22

18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. Malachi 3:18

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Revelation 22:14-15

One of the advantages of a careful reading of the Bible is the reader gains God’s viewpoint on human history and destiny. Although Malachi wrote around 500 years before John penned his Revelation, these writings converge in a harmonious and glorious view of the final end of all things.

Malachi, like all the prophets, sees clearly the inward and outward sins of the people he addressed. He goes into detail about their idolatry, their failures in marriage, and their stealing God’s money. The Jews were presumptuous before God, thinking that either their status as descendants of Abraham exempted them from obedience or that the Holy One of Israel was unconcerned about righteousness in His people.

The prophet warns them that the day of the Lord was coming. They would see that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. It does matter how one lives before God.

John points us to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Those who are accepted before God are those who recognize their sinfulness but come to have their robes washed in His blood (Revelation 7:14).   They do not presume upon God’s mercy but receive the salvation which is offered in the gospel. They have access to the tree of life. They enter the city by the gates. Meanwhile, those who remain in their sins, such as immorality, murder, idolatry, and falsehood, are outside.

It does matter. No one gets away with their sin. All sin will ultimately be punished. For those who do not believe, they will be punished and barred from the city where God dwells with His people. For those who believe in the Lamb, their sin has already been paid for with the atonement of Jesus Christ. He bore our sins so that by His wounds we may be healed (1 Peter:2:24).

Be sure you know that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Thank you for walking through the Scriptures with me this year and, if we have not met here, may we meet in glory to worship the Triune God. Our life here matters and  it does matter forever.

Happy New Year!

Note:  Tomorrow I will begin another year in the Bible using the reading plan from my book, “Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 Days.”  You may purchase the book in either kindle or print editions by clicking here.

The Bride’s Dress

The true worship of the saints is more than merely acceptable. It is the glorious attire of the Church, the Bride’s dress.

Today’s reading: Zechariah 7-9; Revelation 19

5 “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? Zechariah 7:5-6

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Revelation 19:6-8

Do our good deeds, done for God on earth, matter in heaven? The answer may surprise you.

Zechariah was sent to confront Judah about her unacceptable service to God. Oh, she had fasted and mourned. She had put on an outward show of brokenness and repentance, but the Lord saw through the phoniness and hypocrisy. True service to God is performed with fear of Him, not some kind of self-serving motivation. It is done by “small and great” since no one is exempt from responsibility before Him (Revelation 19:4). It is futile to attempt to perform outward acts of service to God that are not matched by inward piety.

John relates his vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb. What a joyous occasion it is! There is nothing quite like a wedding celebration where bride and groom are filled with love and hope for their future. They commit themselves fully to one another “till death do us part.”   But no matter how splendid the ceremony, the banquet, or the couple, nothing compares to the marriage of the Lamb to His bride, the Church.

At weddings, the big question is always, “how will the bride look? What will she wear?” Through John’s vision we are allowed the rare privilege of seeing the bride before the ceremony. Are you, like me, surprised by her attire? We expect it to be fine linen, bright and pure, but on closer examination we see that this linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. That is what she is wearing.

Fellow disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, never underestimate the eternal significance of your righteous deeds done in fear of and love for Him. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). You and I are creating the bride’s dress.

His Desire is For Me

It is wonderful to know that the one you love so much, loves you just as much. How much more to know that the Eternal God knows, loves, and has set you apart for Himself before you were born!

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 6-8; Galatians 1

10 I am my beloved’s,
and his desire is for me. Song of Solomon 7:10

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Galatians 1:15-17

Human love is a reflection of the love of Christ for His Church. For that reason, we can learn a little about Christ’s love from real life love stories.

In Solomon’s Song, he tells us of a beautiful and passionate love between a man and a woman. They describe each other with tenderness and awe. Each has found in the other all they could ever want in a spouse. No one or nothing could draw them away. They long to be together. They revel in being desired by each other.

In officiating weddings, I frequently use a famous prayer by Dr. Lewis Evans, the same one our pastor prayed for us. The next to last paragraph says, “May they never take each other for granted, but always experience that breathless wonder that exclaims, ‘Out of all this world you have chosen me!’” Amen.

But there is an even greater love. It is the love of God. It is love which existed before time. It is love which planned our existence and, if God is pleased, chose us to be His own and to do His will. Paul was enthralled with the wonder of God’s grace, His undeserved, unmerited favor. Paul never stopped exclaiming with breathless wonder, “Out of all this world, God has chosen me!”

Do you marvel that God was pleased to reveal His Son to you? God was not forced to do it. He chose to do it because it pleased Him to do it. Like the bride in the Song, never stop exclaiming, “I am My Beloved’s and His desire is for me.”

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.

Unstoppable Love

Love overcomes any obstacle and pays whatever price necessary for the beloved.

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 1-3; 2 Corinthians 12

8 The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills.                                                       Song of Solomon 2:8

15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.       2 Corinthians 12:15a

Over the centuries, there have been various allegorical interpretations set forth about the Song of Solomon which attempt to minimize the impact of the obvious sensual language here. It is widely held among evangelical scholars today that the poem clearly speaks of the beauty of sexual love between a man and woman in the context of marriage. While sex has been and is abused and misused by humanity the world over, nevertheless, when experienced within the boundaries set by God’s law, it is honorable and God-glorifying (Hebrews 13:4).   Paul’s comparison of the relationship of Christ and the Church to that of the relationship between a groom and bride does not denigrate the former relationship, but, rather, ennobles the latter (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Song of Solomon speaks poignantly to the intense attraction and desire between a man and a woman in love. Here this attraction is not degraded or sinful but exalted and celebrated. We ought never to jump to an allegory to hide the original message of the honor of human love and the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. The beloved revels in hearing her lover’s voice. Her joy is palpable as she anticipates his arrival. He leaps over mountains and bounds over hills to get to her. His love is unstoppable.

Paul looks at the Church with the same longing that a bridegroom has for his bride. He is jealous for the Corinthian congregation as she seems to be on the verge of being seduced away from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” by “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:2-5). He has been making his case against these usurpers showing his own devotion to the Lord and to them. Though Paul is merely a messenger of Christ, he loves the Church on behalf of Christ. He loves whom the Lord loves, His elect people. So in showing that his ministry is authentic and reliable, he enumerates how he has and will pay a price to serve them in the gospel. “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls,” he tells them. He pours himself out for them, and he does it joyfully, wholeheartedly.

If you are married, take time to consider how your marriage is reflecting the godly love and commitment of Christ to the Church. Whether you are a married or a single believer, think about the price Christ paid for your soul because of His unstoppable love for you.

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.