Faithfulness Pleases God

Beware of a common saying which we hear today that implies that God doesn’t care about our faithfulness but only our faith.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 4-6; Second Corinthians 10

Selected Verses

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.   Ecclesiastes 5:4

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.   Second Corinthians 10:18

Reflections

There is a common fallacy being foisted upon the unsuspecting public in our society today. It goes, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.” As with all fallacies, there is some truth, but along with it is a dangerous, unbiblical implication. It is true we cannot by our actions manipulate God or change Him in any way, but this mantra seems to say, “What you do doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about your personal behavior. Sin all you want. God still loves you. Neglect the means of grace. God still loves you. If you make an effort to serve Him, He won’t even notice. He loves you just the same.”

Solomon warned his readers about being casual in their relationship to God. The Lord “has no pleasure in fools,” he told them. It does matter if you make a vow to God and then delay to keep it. God is not pleased with such foolishness. “God is the one you must fear,” he declared (5:7).

Paul also was concerned about pleasing God. The Apostle had been denigrated by others who took pride in themselves. That gave him the context to propound his view of whose opinion matters. Clearly, all that ultimately matters is how the Lord views you. All the accolades or criticisms of the world do not affect God’s evaluation. The commendation we should seek is God’s and He knows what is really going on in our outward behavior and in our hearts.

Think about it

Does God care whether we are faithful or not? Yes, absolutely. We do not earn our forgiveness, but we do show evidence of it by the level of seriousness we give to our vows and spiritual disciplines. God is not a cruel taskmaster. He is no demanding tyrant. Yes, His love is secure, but He calls us to grow in holiness and to be faithful to the means of grace which He has provided. Seek the faithfulness that pleases God.

Two Sides of Godliness

Godliness has both negative and positive sides. When we turn from sin; we turn to righteousness. Likewise when we turn to righteousness, we turn from sin.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 28-29; Second Corinthians 7

Selected Verses

A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.  Proverbs 29:7

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

Second Corinthians 7:1

Reflections

The Proverbs continues contrasting the wise and the fool, the righteous and the wicked, the rich and the poor. The stereotypes don’t always hold up, however. The poor are sometimes wise. The rich are sometimes foolish. But not always. [See “A Warning Against Stereotyping”].

The righteous man or woman “knows the rights of the poor.” One who does not grasp the dignity and worth of every human being, by virtue of their being made in God’s image, and thus entitled to rights, is classified with the wicked. This does not mean that the sluggard should be enabled to continue in his indolence. It does mean that a godly person will seek to be discerning, and to promote the well-being of the poor who have legitimate needs, perhaps because of health limitations, or the injustices of others, or “acts of God” like crop failures. The poor have rights, and the righteous will understand this. They will not ignore those in real need.

Paul urges the Corinthians to cleanse themselves from sin and to grow in holiness. This is God’s purpose for His own people, that they should be godly, awaiting the appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, and zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-13). They count this life as a transition period in which they can invest themselves in good works. One area of good works is care for the poor and suffering of this world. It is not enough to merely flee from sin, God’s people are also called to do good to others.

Think about it

Sanctification, the process of growing in godliness, has both negative (don’t do that) and positive (do this) aspects. Do you seek to grow both in fleeing from sin and fleeing to good works? Seek to glorify God in both those ways.

Dangerous Alliances

Beware of forming alliances with fools and unbelievers. Your intention to “reach” them is likely to fail and result in your own downfall.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 25-27; Second Corinthians 6

Selected Verses

Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him. Proverbs 27:22

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.

Second Corinthians 6:14-16

Reflections

The Proverbs sound many warnings about associating with fools. Here we see another reason why. You really cannot change a fool. You may take extreme measures similar to the process of crushing grain, but it will be futile. “His folly will not depart from him,” we are told.   Send him for advanced education, intensive therapy, military boot camp, wilderness survival training. You name it. It won’t help. He is a fool and he remains a fool.

Are there no exceptions? Yes. We already saw that there are exceptions to the Proverbs, that these maxims are general principles, but not ironclad promises that never fail.  Nevertheless, you should not expect someone who has demonstrated a track record of folly to change even through much rehabilitation.

Paul on the other hand, tells the Corinthians to never be yoked unequally with unbelievers. No exceptions. This verse is often quoted in reference to choosing a marriage partner. Believers don’t marry unbelievers. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul may have been intending for them to apply his command to those false prophets that had arisen among them or come to them (Second Corinthians 11:12-14). The principle has wide application. Beware with whom you link up.

This does not mean we are not to seek to win unbelievers to Jesus Christ. On the contrary, we do build bridges of communication (First Corinthians 5:9-13). It is quite a different thing to seek to win a lost person (who, at some level, is going to be a fool for being an unbeliever) versus forming a binding partnership in marriage, business, or in the church with that non-Christian.

Think about it

Pray for the unbelieving fool, but beware that you do not form forbidden alliances with him or her.  He is, by virtue of rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ, the worst kind of fool.  Give him the good news of salvation for even he is not too lost for Christ to save.

Slow Growth

Spiritual growth is a gradual process, like a great tree, it will not reach maturity quickly. Gather wisdom and truth and be patient. Time is a factor.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 19-20; Second Corinthians 3

Selected Verses

Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom in the future.  Proverbs 19:20

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  Second Corinthians 3:18

Reflections

Many proverbs urge us to heed sound advice, to seek wisdom, to accept correction.  Many promises are made to the one who is teachable and receptive.   In vs. 20 above, there is an orientation toward the future.  Various English translations differ as to whether the idea here is that instruction received now will result in your gaining wisdom in the future or gaining wisdom for the future.   The difference is minor, and, either way, there is a certain dynamic going on.   Time is a factor.

“Why do I need to learn this?” Teachers hear this question frequently. But children must learn information and skills for which they see no immediate or long-term purpose.  Parents and other educators impart what they know will be useful to the child in later years.  Children can whine and complain, but the failure to learn today’s lessons is likely to turn into regret in future years.  Growth is gradual, but God tells us to store up knowledge and wisdom for the time when we will need it.

Paul gives a defense of his ministry here.  He calls the Corinthian believers his “letter of recommendation” to any who might require proof of the authenticity of his apostleship. From that thought he launches into some paragraphs showing the superior glory of the ministry of the new covenant over the old.  Moses would veil his face after meeting with God to hide the fading glory, but in the new covenant our faces are unveiled and the glory grows stronger rather than weaker.  Again time is a factor.

Think about it

Perhaps you find your spiritual growth imperceptible, like watching an oak tree grow.  Seek wisdom today.  Be receptive to instruction, even when it seems irrelevant.  Praise God for sending His Spirit to write on our hearts His truth.  He is at work in you, believing friend, but the distance between one degree of glory and the next may not be immediately evident.

 

The Mature Thinker

Christians should be inexperienced in sin, but not ignorant of what it is. Extensive experience with wickedness contributes nothing to mature thinking.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 5-6; First Corinthians 14:1-20

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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.

Think about it

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 Grand Finale of Praise

The final Psalms and the Lord’s Supper prepare us for the coming grand finale of praise to God when Jesus Christ returns in all His glory for His people

Today’s reading

Psalms 148-150; First Corinthians 11:16-34

Selected Verses

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.    Psalm 148:11-13

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.   First Corinthians 11:26

Reflections

God is worthy of all praise from all people, whether rich or poor, old or young, men or women, for His Son died to redeem sinners and is coming again to reign forever.

The Book of Psalms ends with a grand finale of praise to God. The writers have taken us through the valley of the shadow of death, described unimaginable agonies of body and soul, and cried out to God, “How long?” But now in this last section of five psalms, we break through all the darkness and emerge into the unclouded day of God’s majesty, power, and glory.

In this sense, the Psalter reflects our present life as well as our expectant hope for the joy that we will know when the Kingdom of God comes in all its fullness. Meanwhile, we walk by faith with our fellow believers in the Church Militant, that is, the Church here on earth awaiting the return of our Lord and King.

Paul admonishes the Corinthians in their practice of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. They fail to observe it with reverence. In fact, he says, some have died already as a judgment of God on their sacrilege. The focus is to be upon His death which purchased our redemption and His promised return when we will be with Him forever.

Think about it

There are innumerable ways in which we may praise God every day: in the mundane responsibilities of domestic life, in our work, in our driving, in our kindness and courtesy to others. Praise Him today whether you are in formal, corporate worship with His people, or in the trenches of every day existence. Praise Him for the cross of Jesus Christ, and praise Him for His promised coming in glory. It could be today, so be warmed up to sing His praise in the grand finale of victory.

Being and Doing the Lord’s Work

The disciple of Jesus Christ is both a product of God’s workmanship and a workman in His service. Life is a path of growth in Him and service for Him.

Today’s reading

Psalms 136-138; First Corinthians 9

Selected Verses

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?  First Corinthians 9:1

Reflections

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 and 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.

Think about it

You are probably a product of someone else’s work or ministry in you. Maybe you are still 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.

Security vs. Restlessness

Do you find yourself often restless, longing for some change of life that would make you happier and more fulfilled? God has provided security for you.

Today’s reading

Psalms 124-127; First Corinthians 7:1-24

Selected Verses

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

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

First Corinthians 7:23-24

Reflections

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.”

Think about it

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 owe no higher loyalty and no greater allegiance. As His disciples, we are first and foremost His servants, freed from sin and the restlessness that so often drives us to what appears desirable.  Beware of enticements to flee the very situation in which God has placed you for His glory. Of course, we should flee any sinful situation, but 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. In Him, we have stability and security.

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.

When You Despair over the Lost

What believer has not felt some level of despair over his or her unsaved loved ones? What can we do?  Scripture gives us some positive steps to take.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 85-87; Romans 9

Selected Verses

Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?

 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.  Psalm 85:6-7

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.  Romans 9:2-3

Reflections

The Psalmist calls out to God for Israel to again experience His blessing.  He remembers past days when they knew the Lord’s forgiveness and enjoyed His favor in the land.   Now, that favor has been withdrawn.  God is indignant with them.  What can be done?  The writer calls on the Lord for restoration.  Only He can bring revival to the people.  The Psalmist calls on God and he is confident in Him.  He recognizes their foolishness, but he knows that God’s love and faithfulness are greater than the waywardness of His people.

Paul also agonizes over Israel.  He sees them foolishly ignoring all that God had given them.  Look at the list of blessings they have uniquely received:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.  Romans 9:4-5

What had they done with what they received?  They wasted it.  They turned away from their Messiah, who is God.  Indeed, they crucified Him!  Paul’s anguish is palpable.  So much so that he even states that he would give up his own salvation if that would bring them to Christ.  Of course, it would not, but we get the picture of the depth of his despair about the Jews.

Think about it

What believer has not felt at least some level of despair over his or her unsaved loved ones?   What can we do?  Paul prayed for Israel.  Psalm 85 gives us the right approach in our prayer.  Remember God’s blessings in the past.  Confess any sins that need confessing in the present.  Ask God for mercy and to give life to those who are dead in their sins.  Trust God to do what is right in His time.  Praise Him for His righteousness.  Wait on Him.  Repeat daily, as needed.