Reflections of God’s Love

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 human love stories.

Today’s Reading

Song of Solomon 6-8; Galatians 1

Selected Verses

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

 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,  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;  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

Reflections

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 Mary and me.  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–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 marveled at 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!”

Think about it

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!

Do you marvel that it pleased God to reveal His Son to you?  No lack or longing obligated God to do it.  He chose to do so because it pleased Him.  Like the bride in the Song, never stop exclaiming, “I am My Beloved’s and His desire is for me.”

Unstoppable Love

Love overcomes any obstacle and pays whatever price necessary for the beloved. Unstoppable is the love that Christ has for His Church.

Today’s Reading

Song of Solomon 1-3; Second Corinthians 12

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

Over the centuries, Bible scholars have sought allegorical interpretations of the Song of Solomon attempting to minimize the obvious sensual language here. Yet today evangelical scholars hold widely that the poem speaks of the beauty of sexual love between a man and woman in the context of marriage. While sex has been and is abused by humanity the world over, 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 husband and wife does not denigrate the former relationship, but, rather, ennobles the latter (Ephesians 5:22-33).

The poem poignantly describes the intense desire between a man and a woman in love. This attraction is not degraded or sinful but exalted and celebrated. 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. Clearly, his love is unstoppable.

Paul 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” (Second 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 paid 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. His love, like Jesus’, is unstoppable.

Think about it

Are you married?  Consider how well your marriage reflects the godly love and commitment of Christ to the Church. Can you say to your spouse, “I am glad to spend and be spent for your soul?”  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.

Wisdom: True and False

One must beware of the distinction between deception which passes as true wisdom and true wisdom which can be imperceptible and overlooked.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 7-9; Second Corinthians 11:1-15

Selected Verses

But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.  Ecclesiastes 9:16

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.   Second Corinthians 11:2-3

Reflections

Solomon, in reflecting on how wisdom works in the real world, relates a story of a small city attacked by a great army. Through the wisdom of an anonymous resident of the city, a poor man, the city overcame the attack. It is not hard to imagine the great party that the people held. But did they honor their benefactor? Did they erect a monument to the hero? No! No one remembered him. The presumptuous populace didn’t bother to find out his identity or didn’t care about the poor, wise man. How did the wise man respond to the slight?   He was wise enough to create a successful strategy for victory in war, so he was probably wise enough to forgive the oversight and trust God for ultimate recognition. The city fathers failed to recognize the presence of greatness in their midst.

The members of the church in the ancient city of Corinth, on the other hand, did recognize and honor deceivers in their midst. False teachers came to them. They attempted to draw the church away from “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”   The Corinthians failed to see them for what they were–emissaries of Satan who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (vs. 11).  Foolishness never shows its hand. Satan never comes as a horned creature, dressed in red pajamas, and carrying a pitch fork. He comes showing what seems to be superior knowledge and wisdom.

Think about it

Aim to be well-informed of biblical truth and to never be drawn away from love for Jesus Christ. He is the Man who by His eternal wisdom delivered the city of His people from the army of Satan. Reject all counterfeit messengers and their phony gospel. Distinguish true wisdom from false. Things are not always the way they seem.

Aiming to Please God

Life has meaning because we will all stand before an Omniscient Judge from whom we will receive our due. We must aim to please Him.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 23-24; Second Corinthians 5

Selected Verses

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?  Proverbs 24:11-12

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  Second Corinthians 5:9-10

Reflections

Today’s reading in Proverbs points us to our responsibility for the lives of others who are dying, and we may assume, unjustly. Innocent people are killed by war, poverty, and abortion to name a few of the obvious causes. The media insures that we have a daily dose of the worst atrocities on the planet. We cannot say we know nothing about this. It is easy to be overwhelmed before breakfast seven days a week.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that this life is fleeting. Meanwhile, we should “make it our aim to please him.” To begin with, we please Him when we recognize our utter depravity. We are not able to be righteous before Him, not in ourselves. We please Him when we trust in the One who died for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (verse 21).

Think about it

Starting with Christ as our Redeemer, we may consider how we can further aim to please God. Clearly, no one of us can do everything to correct all the ills of our world and the culture of death. But we can do something.  Edward Everett Hale, though a Unitarian, made this wise observation and resolution, “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”

So what can we do in our aim to please God?  We can pray. We can proclaim the good news of life in Jesus Christ. We can give to ministries that serve hurting and dying people.

Life matters because there is judgment to come. Aim to please God. Begin by trusting in Christ alone for your righteousness.

The Paths to Life and Death

God’s Word bears the force of His authority.  To ignore it is death, but to study and obey it brings wisdom for blessing and life.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 7-8; First Corinthians 14:21-40

Selected Verses

Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who hate me love death.  Proverbs 8:34-36

If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.  If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.  First Corinthians 14:37-38

Reflections

The warnings of Proverbs are as needed and relevant today as they were thousands of years ago when they were penned.  People of all ages are seduced by easily accessible online pornography.   They assume anonymity, but millions learned otherwise when they signed up for a web service to facilitate relationships intended to lead to adultery.  Fittingly, many of them were “busted” when the site was hacked and their identities were published openly for the world to see.  Once again, the Scriptures prove true that ignoring the wisdom that leads to righteousness will end in death, either literally or figuratively.

This biblical wisdom does not merely lead us away from sin, but it also leads to a path of life and blessing only known to those who trust God.  What can be more glorious and fulfilling than “favor from the Lord”?   How is this obtained?  By daily listening, watching, and waiting for His wisdom.  That is why we read the Bible every day.  We never outgrow our need for His wise guidance.

Paul tells the Corinthians that what he is writing to them is not mere personal opinion.  He writes them commands from the Lord.  If anyone disregards God’s commands they are to be disregarded.  Jesus promised to send His Spirit to reveal all the truth to His apostles and, certainly,  what Paul and the others wrote in our New Testament is the result of that promise (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15).

Think about it

Beware of those who reject (or even question) the authority of God’s word.  Instead, diligently seek God’s wisdom in His word.  You have no idea how it will save you from the path to death, but it will. Besides that, it will take you to life.

Guidance for Complex Decisions

God’s word meets us in real life where we face questions that require His direction. Here we find two examples of how to deal with complex matters.

Today’s reading

Psalms 142-144; First Corinthians 10:14-33

Selected Verses

Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.  Psalm 143:7-8

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,  just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  First Corinthians 10:31-33

Reflections

The Christian is called to glorify God, to make sacrifices to build up others, and to avoid being offensive or selfish so that many may be saved.  With those purposes in view, even complex ethical decisions become more obvious.

We aren’t given the specific historical setting of Psalm 143, but it is clear that David is desperate.  There is much honesty expressed in these Psalms.   No room for denial here.  The author feels he needs direction from God and he needs it fast.  Apparently he had to make a decision by morning.  This could be a prayer in the evening and David is praying that it will be clear to him by then as to which direction he should go.

The Corinthian believers also faced a dilemma.  They wonder how to handle the touchy situation of food offered to idols.  Some see it as a non-issue and have freedom to eat that food with no qualms.  Others are troubled by the idea of eating this food that was offered to demons.  Paul is clear that there is really no problem in eating the food, but there is a problem of causing a brother to stumble.  He gives the readers of his letter some very simple, clear and practical guidelines as to when to eat and when not to eat.

Think about it

Let’s put these guidelines into the form of questions to ask when making complex, ethical decisions:  How can I best glorify God?  How can I be helpful and build others up?  How can I avoid offending so that an unbeliever is more able to find his way to salvation?  Have I prayed to God for wisdom and waited for a sense of clarity on the matter? Consider how you can apply these questions to the difficult decisions you must make.

Wisdom: Making Sense of Apparent Contradictions

What if Scripture seems to contradict itself? This calls for wisdom and careful study, but the result will be worth the effort. Let’s get the Bible right.

Today’s reading

Psalms 128-131; First Corinthians 7:25-40

Selected Verses

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.   Psalm 128:3-4

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none,  and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods,  and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.  First Corinthians 7:29-31

Reflections

To understand the Bible properly, the reader needs to observe principles of interpretation, especially, the principles of reading passages in context and seeking to let the whole Bible comment on specific passages.

The psalmist paints a lovely picture of the family life of a godly man where the husband fears God and God blesses him in every aspect of his life.  His wife and children are an evidence of the goodness and blessing of God poured out on him.  Who would not love to have a family like this or be a member of such a family?

In the first letter to the Corinthians, we seem to get a different message.  Paul says that marriage brings concerns that occupy and distract people.  It would be ideal, he says, for single or betrothed people to remain as they are and to give themselves in “undivided devotion to the Lord.”   Rather than holding up traditional family life as the epitome of God’s blessing, Paul sees it as a potential obstacle to focused service for the Lord.

Think about it

So, which is it?  Is marriage a blessing or a distraction to the believer?  The answer is “it depends.”  Paul condemns the prohibition of marriage (1 Timothy 4:1-5).  He honors marriage and teaches that it is an analogy of the relationship of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). But neither does the Apostle suggest that marriage is the only way to personal fulfillment and fruitfulness ( 2 Timothy 2:3-4). Marriage is for most but not everyone (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:10-12). The Scriptures advise the use of wisdom as we make decisions about marriage or other kinds of responsibilities that will impact our freedom to serve God.  Seek the whole picture of what the Bible teaches on any matter before jumping to conclusions. Let’s handle apparent contradictions in the Bible carefully. Truth matters.

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.