Defying Authority       

The solution to abusive authority is not to question the concept of authority altogether but to reject authority which defies God.

Today’s Reading

Daniel 11-12; Third John 1

Selected Verses

 And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done.  Daniel 11:36

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.  So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Third John 1:9-11

Reflections

As we see in today’s readings, the problem of defying authority is prevalent down through history and in all areas of life, political and ecclesiastical.

Daniel had a vision about a self-exalting king who lifted himself up above every other god and spoke against the true God of Israel. He would seem to be invincible for a time conquering kingdoms and amassing wealth, but in the end he would fall with no one to help (Daniel 11:45).

In John’s time, there was a man named Diotrephes who had a similar defiant attitude. He disregarded the apostle and spoke against him. He treated strangers heartlessly and excommunicated those in the church who attempted to be hospitable. In short, the man was a picture of selfishness and pride. No wonder John tells his readers not to imitate evil but to imitate good. A person like Diotrephes can influence many to follow his wicked example.

Think about it

“Question authority” may be a popular bumper sticker but the solution to the abusive use of power is not to question the concept of authority. We need to submit to God’s authority and to all duly instituted authority in the civil sector. Heed the warnings of Scripture (Romans 13:1-7; Hebrews 13:7,17).

Keeping the Tension between Equality and Calling

The New Covenant brought a wonderful equality and calling in the Church unknown under the Old Covenant but created a tension we must maintain.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 41-42; Second Peter 1

Selected Verses

When the priests enter the Holy Place, they shall not go out of it into the outer court without laying there the garments in which they minister, for these are holy. They shall put on other garments before they go near to that which is for the people.  Ezekiel 42:14

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Second Peter 1:1-2

Reflections

In the new temple of Ezekiel’s vision, God specified the priestly functions and designated the places for those functions.  The priests took great care in the ordering of the ministry.  They wore holy garments for their service and they were not to leave the Holy Place and mix with the people in those vestments.  God was teaching them to respect His holiness and the service that they offered to Him.

What a contrast with the New Covenant!  Peter identifies himself as a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.  Then he tells his readers that they “have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.”  They, like him, have a standing based on “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  The members of the Church of Jesus Christ enjoyed an equality never known in ancient Israel.  The old covenant people observed sacrifices that could, at best, point to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29,35,36).  All those who believed in Christ were and are on equal standing before God. As the saying goes, “the ground is level at the cross.”

Of course, this equality is not absolute.  There are differences in gifts and calling within the Church.  Believers will distinguish themselves by their growth in God.  Not everyone will “make every effort to supplement [their] faith with virtue (vs. 5).”   Some will be more or less ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ (vs. 8).  Some, but not all, are called to shepherd the flock (First Peter 5:1-5).  There are a variety of gifts given by the Spirit to the members of the Body (First Corinthians 12:4-31; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16; First Peter 4:10-11).  The equality is not of gifts and calling but of standing before God based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Think about it

Peter models both a respect for his office and a respect for all other believers who, like him, stand before God because of Christ alone.  In your relationships with fellow believers, be sure to maintain the tension between the equality and calling each one has.

Our Role in Culture: Finding the Balance

Can believers make a positive impact on culture without being consumed by it? How can we avoid the dangers and find the balance?

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 29-30; Titus 1

Selected Verses

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. Titus 1:5

Reflections

While it is true that in Jeremiah’s day the Jews went into exile under the disciplinary action of God upon Judah, life for those exiles was not put on hold as if it were meaningless or purposeless. They would not be coming back to Jerusalem soon. The elderly among them would die before the seventy year captivity ended. False prophets told them to expect a quick return to their native land. Jeremiah, by God’s revelation, commanded them to settle down, plant gardens, buy houses, have children, and seek the welfare of their land of captivity. In other words, God commanded them to do the regular activities of normal life and to be good citizens as much as possible. Indeed, Daniel exemplified this attitude and was a great asset to Babylon in both his personal life and public service. We’ll look at this when we get to the book of Daniel.

Paul wrote his letter to Titus whom he had left on Crete to organize the church under godly leadership. The Cretan people had a bad reputation in general, making it crucial that Titus adhere to the apostolic standards for elders so that the church would not be tarnished by scandal. The church in Crete had to have men above reproach to be their elders. They, like the obedient exiles in Babylon, would stand against the culture of their day and make a difference.

Think about it

There is an ongoing debate among Bible-believing Christians about the role of the Church in society. Should we seek to transform it or flee from it?  Both positions have a basis in the Scriptures.   It is hard to be completely on either side of this debate. God calls us to exercise wisdom that the Church not be consumed with changing society and lose the gospel.  Nor may we be so separate from the world that our gospel witness is lost.

Pray for wisdom to fulfill the role of salt and light, (Matthew 5:13-16) of being in the world but not of the world as Jesus prayed (John 17:14-19).

What a Church Leader Needs

Local churches need leaders but what do those leaders need? Here we find a clear answer from the Apostle Paul and a vivid example from the Prophet Jeremiah.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 9-10; First Timothy 3

Selected Verses

Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing. Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not.  Jeremiah 10:24-25

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. First Timothy 3:14-15

Reflections

Jeremiah was devastated by the sin of his people, God’s people, but he did not become self-righteous.  He knew that even as he preached against the sins of the nation, he himself needed God’s guidance. He pleaded for God’s just correction with restrained anger.  Jeremiah understood the power and holiness of God and his own failures that could bring him to nothing.

Paul, in writing to Timothy, instructs him in the standards for elders and deacons in the church. Their personal lives need to be exemplary in every way. These instructions cannot wait until Paul’s next visit to Timothy. The matter of godly behavior is urgent. The Church, he writes, is “the household of God.” God lives in His people. Furthermore, it is God’s Church, not Timothy’s, not Paul’s.  Finally, it is “the pillar and buttress of the truth.” Although living in a different era, Jeremiah was the kind of man that Paul would have wanted Timothy to have as an elder or deacon in Ephesus.

Think about it

A local congregation must not have phony, hypocritical, self-righteous leaders. They will not be perfect, but they must be teachable, repentant, god-fearing men. God is a God of holiness and wrath.  He will not let His name be associated with sin in His Church.  It is a dangerous thing to be a leader of His church without a broken and contrite spirit.

If you are a church officer, do you seek to grow in conformity to these Scriptural standards? We who lead in the church must be teachable and repentant, recognizing our need for guidance and gentleness from our Lord. Do you pray humbly for yourself that God will correct you gently? As a church member, do you lovingly hold your officers to such standards knowing that we all stand in need of God’s gentle correction?  May we be diligent to honor God in our churches.

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.”

The God of Peace and the Peace of God

Deep disappointment, alienation, pride, and disagreement occur in relationships, but the God of peace is glorified with reconciliation.

Today’s Reading

Song of Solomon 4-5; Second Corinthians 13

Selected Verses

 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

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.

Second Corinthians 13:11

Reflections

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). With all the benefits and risks involved, we feel these are risks worth taking, because God said on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). 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.  Phony “super apostles” drew them away from the true faith. They were tolerant of gross sin in their midst. All this was unacceptable, but not fatal, to the fellowship. Paul 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.

Think about it

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.

Choose your Preacher

The character of a man or woman is revealed in their response to wise instruction.  The wise listen to wisdom and act.  Fools choose foolishness.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 9-10; First Corinthians 15:1-32

Selected Verses

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.  Proverbs 9:9-10

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  First Corinthians 15:1-2

Reflections

The writer of Proverbs addresses the wise and the foolish. Like the sower in Jesus’ parable, he puts out the truth and it falls on good soil and bears fruit or on rocky, thorny soil and produces nothing (Luke 8:4-15). The difference is not in the message taught, but in the receptivity of the hearer.

But are we to be receptive to every self-appointed expert, every professor of “truth”? How will we know who to trust? We will know if we fear the Lord. The true teacher fears the Lord and teaches the fear of the Lord. Anyone who teaches otherwise is certainly not from God.

Paul was a faithful teacher and apostle of Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Corinthians, he reminds them that he passed on to them what he had received, the gospel of Jesus Christ who died for our sins, was buried, rose again the third day, and was seen by Peter, the twelve, and five hundred more. Paul was a reliable preacher of the truth. The Corinthians had been listening to fools masquerading as wise. Someone (or more than one)  told them there was no resurrection. The Apostle quickly lists many strong arguments against this false doctrine.  The historical reality of the resurrection of Christ is foundational to the gospel which is the basis for their faith and salvation.

Will Paul’s readers respond positively to his corrections? They will if they are wise. They will if they fear the Lord.

Think about it

How do you assess the wisdom of those to whom you listen?  Set your heart to fear God and to gain the knowledge of the Holy One. Choose your teachers and preachers carefully. Be sure they themselves qualify as wise, God-fearers before paying them any attention.

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.

Peace and Purity in the Church

Sin among God’s people should not be. Sadly, it has always existed. Here we find instructions for dealing with it. Let us take heed.

Today’s reading

Psalms 120-123; First Corinthians 6

Selected Verses

Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
 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?   But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!  First Corinthians 6:7-8

Reflections

Christians are called to be committed to the peace and purity of the church. There ought never be occasions when professing believers war against and defraud one another.  But there are.  Fortunately, God’s word denounces this and gives instruction on how to respond.

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.

Think about it

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.[1] Seek to be a force in your local church for peace and purity that God may be glorified.

 

[1]  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.

When the Church is Full of Hypocrites

God blesses His people so that they shine as a light to the world and the nations come to Him in faith. But what if believers are hypocrites?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 65-67; Romans 2

Selected Verses

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.  Psalm 67:1-2

You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  Romans 2:23-24

Reflections

The Psalmist has a lofty view of the impact of God’s blessing on His people spreading out to all the nations of the earth.   Truly, God does rule over all the earth. He is the God of all flesh. Through His providence He rules over everyone and everything. Nothing escapes Him. All owe Him everything.

But, alas, this vision of a worldwide impact of blessing and worship dimmed due to the very people who had the Word of God. Paul says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of [them].”

How did God deal with this? He judged His people for their unfaithfulness through the captivities of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But He acted for the sake of His own name to restore them to the land (Ezekiel 36:16-38).

In Jesus’ lifetime, the Jews faced the question of whether or not to believe the Messiah, the Christ whom God had sent them. Most of them failed to believe, yet according to Paul they still maintained their spiritual pride and arrogance, looking down on the Gentile pagans. In Romans 2 he warns them not to be smug in their cultural superiority.

Think about it

Fellow Christian, have you considered how our hypocrisy as believers can cause the lost to blaspheme our God?  Have you pondered how God’s blessing on us is impacting the unbelieving world around us?

At the end of the age, God will bring His elect from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 7:9-10). In Abraham through whom came Jesus Christ, all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). The Psalmist had it right.  “God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (67:7).    And they shall. Pray for the fulfillment of this promise soon. Flee hypocrisy.  Live in such a consistent, God-honoring way as to bring glory to Him.