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.

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.

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.

God Uses People Warts and All

God works in and through people who are imperfect to accomplish His purposes and plans perfectly. If you are His, He has plans to use you warts and all.

Today’s Reading

Job 40-42; Acts 15:22-41

Selected Verses

So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.  And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Job 42:9-10

Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.  Acts 15:39b-41

Reflections

The focus of the book of Job has been on his experience of tremendous affliction as evidence to Satan of how a redeemed man serves God whether he prospers or suffers.  Job stood the test and we can all cheer at the end when God reveals Himself to that poor beleaguered man.  God is vindicated by Job whose mouth is shut in humility.  Job has been in our focus, but the three friends of Job were also under God’s watchful eye.  They were in line for some discipline.  They had spoken foolishly and ignorantly.  Job was exonerated, and they were rebuked.  God told Eliphaz to make an offering for their sin and promised to hear Job’s prayer on their behalf.  Eliphaz obeyed and he, Zophar, and Bildad were restored to the Lord.

Paul and Barnabas left Jerusalem unified.  They preached and taught the congregation in Antioch.  Everything was going smoothly,  but then they had a disagreement about taking John Mark on a second missionary journey.  They split up going in different directions.  How did they do? Both seemed to have fruitful ministries.  Paul, we learn later, had a change of heart about John Mark (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).  Indeed, Peter later would refer to Mark as “his son” (1 Peter 5:13).

Think about it

God works through human instruments.  He used Job, Paul, Barnabas, and Mark despite their imperfections.  Others, named and unnamed, were blessed by their prayers, preaching, teaching and other service for God’s glory.  Can God use you?  Yes, indeed.  He uses all of His people for small and great purposes.  Be alert to the service He has for you today.

Surprise! Role Reversals from God

God in His Providence is able to surprise people by a switch in places either actually or figuratively for their growth in faith and godliness.

Today’s Reading

Job 16-18; Acts 9:1-22

Selected Verses

 I also could speak as you do,
    if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you
    and shake my head at you.
 I could strengthen you with my mouth,
    and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.

“If I speak, my pain is not assuaged,
    and if I forbear, how much of it leaves me?  Job 16:4-6

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  Acts 9:13-16

Reflections

Job is weary of his trials which have only been increased by the harsh and hurtful criticisms of his friends. For a moment he imagines switching places with them. He says essentially that if he were in their shoes he could either be critical (as they have been) or he could use his words to strengthen and comfort them. It seems Job is claiming that if given the chance he would not do what they do, but seek to be encouraging to them. Later in Job’s story, we will learn that he does switch places with his friends and he has the opportunity to bless them.

Saul, who supported the stoning of Stephen and helped launch the persecution against the Church, had obtained arrest warrants for the believers in Damascus. On his way to bind others, he himself is stopped and bound in blindness by Jesus Christ. Saul changes immediately and follows the instructions the Lord has given him. Ananias in Damascus seems to know that Saul is coming to arrest them, but God tells him to look up Saul at a certain address and lay hands on him so that he may regain his sight. Ananias is understandably nervous and hesitant. But the Lord assures him that Saul is His chosen instrument to carry His name before the Gentiles, kings, and Israel. Ironically, the man who was going to lay hands on Ananias to arrest him, had Ananias’ hands laid on him. What a reversal of roles that was!

Think about it

God’s Providence may have peculiar turns, but all is under His wise and sovereign will. You may get a surprise so be ready to trust and glorify God no matter how unexpected and bizarre those role reversals seem to be.

God’s Wisdom and Sovereignty

Does evil in yourself and in the world overwhelm you?  Scripture shows us that sin can never thwart God’s wisdom. He even uses sin for His glory.

Today’s reading

I Kings 1-2; Luke 22:54-71

Selected Verses

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. I Kings 2:46b

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly.  Luke 22:61-62

Reflections

Human history is filled with foolishness and wickedness, but God rules over all and uses even the wrath of man to praise Him (Psalm 76:10).

Adonijah was yet another spoiled son of David. Adonijah like his brother Absalom attempted to grasp the throne his elderly father had promised to Solomon.  Joab and Abiathar, David’s commander and the high priest, supported Adonijah.  David acted quickly and successfully to set up Solomon as the new king.  Solomon suspended the execution of Adonijah putting him on probation instead.  However, it wasn’t long before Adonijah made his move.  He asked permission to marry Abishag, the beautiful Shunnamite woman who had cared for David on his death bed.  Solomon saw where Adonijah was going with that request.  The young king applied the death sentence to his devious brother immediately.

Adonijah’s death led to Joab’s.  Within three years, Solomon had cause to execute Shimei for his violation of probation.  What was the result of all this? The kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.  God used the evil of people to bring about His purpose for the kingdom.

In another instance centuries later, Peter’s denial removed the potential obstacle of armed resistance by the disciples to the crucifixion of Christ. Christ’s death had to occur to obtain the salvation for all God’s elect people. On a personal level, Peter’s notorious failure taught him how great his need for mercy and salvation was. Peter had boasted of his commitment and determination a few hours earlier (Luke 22:33). But he had to learn the depth of his sin and the greater depth of God’s grace toward him.  God again used evil to bring about His good purposes both for Peter and for all His chosen people.

Think about it

Do you despair when confronted by evil in yourself and in the world?  Remember that God is wise and sovereign.  He will do all that He decrees.  He will be glorified even in the evil that goes on day in and day out.  His kingdom is far greater than Solomon’s and it will be established forever.

 

How God Uses Evil for Good

All things are not good but because God is wise and sovereign He uses all things for good. Some of those things are unspeakably evil.

Today’s reading

Judges 12-14; Luke 9:37-62

Selected Verses

His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.

Judges 14:4

But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

Luke 9:43-44

Reflections

Samson had a promising beginning. The angel of the Lord foretold his birth. The Spirit of God came upon him. He had godly parents. But his character proved to be deeply flawed. Many of his failures had to do with his weakness for women.

Ignoring God’s law and his parents’ warning, Samson chose a wife from the Philistines. It grieved his father and mother. How could they foresee the victory over the Philistines his decision would bring about? Indeed, Samson would pay dearly for his foolishness, but God accomplished His will and defeated the enemy of Israel.

In Luke 9 we see Jesus at one of the high points of His earthly ministry. He delivered a demon possessed boy, and the crowd voiced amazement at the majesty of God (vs. 43). As they marveled at Jesus’ power, He turned to His disciples telling them of His imminent arrest.

Think about it

As incredible as it seems, Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion were not examples of history going wild and the world out of control. Luke reports the words of Peter in Acts 2:22-23:  “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

The most horrific and evil deed in all of human history, the crucifixion of the Son of God, resulted in salvation for all time for all His people.

While God commands us to be obedient to Him, He uses even our sin for good ends. Many know Romans 8:28 but too often forget it.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

We know it. Now, praise God that it’s true.

Is there a secret to the number twelve?

The Bible mentions the number twelve often. Can we know why? Or should we praise God  for His wisdom not yet fully revealed?

Today’s reading

Numbers 1-2; Mark 3:1-21

Selected Verses

These are those who were listed, whom Moses and Aaron listed with the help of the chiefs of Israel, twelve men, each representing his fathers’ house.  Numbers 1:44

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.  Mark 3:13-15

Reflections

Twelve tribes, twelve representatives, twelve apostles. It is hard to miss the repetition of the number “12” in the Bible even when you are not reading simultaneously in the Old and New Testaments, as we are.  There seems to be a certain kind of completeness in that number.

In our reading of Matthew, we saw this statement:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”  Matthew 19:28

So there is a connection between the twelve tribes and the twelve disciples (later called apostles).  Is this fully explained?  I haven’t found it yet.  I am okay with not knowing all of God’s reasons and purposes now or ever.  We should not attempt to go beyond what God has made clear in His Word.  He certainly lets us know all that we need to know for life and godliness.  As the Apostle Peter wrote:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3

Peter went on to point out that the apostles did not follow cleverly devised myths when they preached the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:16).  Some have tried to make too much out of the secret meaning of numbers in the Bible.  It sounds a lot like cleverly devised myths.

Think about it

Even though God does not always reveal to us His reasons for the things He decrees, we can understand all we need to know to come to life in Him.  Perhaps when His kingdom comes fully we will know the reasons we do not yet understand.  On that day, we will have even more reasons to praise Him for His infinite wisdom.  Meanwhile, start now by faith praising Him for that wisdom.

What and Whom to Avoid

To speak or not to speak

Some things are not worth discussing or arguing about.  Which ones?  That is the question.  Some people are intent on causing trouble and division.  Who are they?  That is another good question.  How do we know who and what to avoid? Let us pray for wisdom in knowing when to keep quiet and when to speak and for understanding in deciding with whom to engage.

Today’s reading: 

2 Timothy 4:9-Philemon 25

My selection:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,  knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. Titus 3:9-11

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.