Heart Check Time

We need to be watchful never to forget that the horror of our sin and the holiness of God put Christ on the cross for us who believe. It’s heart check time.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 4-6; Galatians 3

Selected Verses

Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.  Isaiah 5:15-16

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.    Galatians 3:13-14

Reflections

Failure to see the holiness of God and the horror of sin is a problem which repeatedly crops up in human hearts.  It happened in ancient Judah in Isaiah’s day and it happened in Galatia in Paul’s day.  It continues to happen today.

Isaiah warned Judah of her sin and reminded them of the reality of death, the gaping mouth of Sheol consuming all humanity one by one.  The people were living in denial.  They presumed upon the grace and mercy of God as they relied on their own wisdom and ignored the perfect holiness of God.  It would take a reawakening to the imminence of death and their utter failure to attain to God’s purity to humble them.  They needed to see Him “high and lifted up” (6:1).  At the same time, they needed to see themselves as people of “unclean lips” (6:5).  They needed to see how darkened were their minds as they reversed the definitions of good and evil (5:20).  We do too.

The Galatians situation is even more perplexing.  Here were people who had heard and believed the gospel, repented of their sin, and had received the Holy Spirit by faith, but now through the influence of some false teachers were turning away from trusting Christ and returning to law keeping as the basis for their hope.  Paul is astonished.  Yet experience tells us that this is always a potential problem.  It appeals to our pride to achieve our own acceptance before God.  This attitude comes from either not seeing the holiness of God or not seeing the heinousness of our rebellion against Him. In our minds, we either dilute God’s holiness or our sin.  Usually both.

Think about it

God means for us to humble ourselves before Him, to see the awfulness of sin as reflected in the agony of Christ’s death.  He had to become a curse for us to free us from the curse upon us through the law.  Do a heart check today.  Beware of any creeping self-righteousness that diminishes your complete reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ for your standing before God.

Escape the Vain Life

Are you exhausted from trying to meet everyone’s expectations? There is freedom not to live our lives in vain controlled by the fear of man.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 10-12; Second Corinthians 11:16-32

Selected Verses

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.  Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

Second Corinthians 11:19-21

Reflections

The book of Ecclesiastes closes with a final overarching statement about man’s duty.  Fear God and keep His commandments because you will face Him in judgment.  It seems to contradict the oft-repeated phrase, “All is vanity.”  All does seem to be vain, at times. Hard work may not be fully rewarded and crime may pay in the short run.   But all is not really vanity, because, God is going to judge every deed, not only those which are easily observable but the secret ones, too.  When we meet God, He will apply full justice.

Paul continues to admonish the Corinthians about their gullible trust in fools, those phony apostles who were doing Satan’s work.  He stoops to their level, in a sense, by defending himself and showing that his suffering demonstrates the authenticity of his calling by God.

The main reason people “gladly bear with fools” is that they desire to please them.  They fear rejection by others, even those whose opinion clearly is of no consequence.  They do not fear God, but fear man so they are easily manipulated, coerced, and led to foolishness.  Proverbs 29:25 shows that the way to freedom from this malady is by replacing it with the trust in God.

Think about it

Do you suffer fools gladly?  Turn away from this through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He died for this sin and gives His forgiven, Spirit-empowered disciples a proper fear of God.  This is the duty we owe to Him, our Creator and Judge.  Those who fear God may suffer for it in this world. But in the end God will approve them. He is the only One whose opinion matters.  Escape the vain life.

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 Importance of Seeking Wisdom

Wisdom and understanding which leads to the true knowledge of God and a proper fear of the Lord are keys to a blessed life. But can we attain this?

Today’s reading

Proverbs 1-2; First Corinthians 12

Selected Verses

If you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:4-5

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 12:3

Reflections

The book of Proverbs instructs God’s people in wise living, but it is not a self-help book.  Many self-help books assume that we are alone in the universe, answerable to no one but ourselves, and without any God to guide or assist us.  But the Proverbs continually tell us to fear God as the key to wisdom and understanding (1:7).  So fearing God leads to understanding, but understanding leads us back to the fear of God.   Yes, this is circular reasoning, but it proves itself true in life.  All reasoning is ultimately circular because one must presuppose one or more assumptions that cannot be proven. We assume that there is a God, the Eternal One who created all things and that He has revealed Himself in Scripture and in creation.

Proverbs reminds us that God controls all things and that He is just.  His holiness is reflected here in a clear distinction between good and evil and right and wrong which shows the application of the moral law or Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5) to everyday life and relationships.

Paul urges the Corinthians to get informed and to gain understanding to help them in their lives and fractured relationships.  He teaches them how to view themselves as a body with many members.  Thus, they need to accept their own diverse gifts and to accept one another.  They are members of the body of Christ called to glorify Him (First Corinthians 6:15-20).  He has also taught them that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit given to them by God.  By the Spirit, they cannot but confess, “Jesus is Lord!”  To curse Christ is clear evidence of not having that Spirit.  On the contrary, all who have the Spirit of God will confess that Jesus is our wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (First Corinthians 1:30).

Think about it

Wisdom and understanding which leads to the true knowledge of God and a proper fear of the Lord are keys to a blessed life.  But we are not left to raise ourselves by our own bootstraps.    It is the Holy Spirit who gives us this understanding and the ability to love and praise the Lord Jesus Christ.  Seek Him and His wisdom, the One in Whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:1-3).

Church Discipline and Membership

There must be discipline in the church. But what attitudes must members have to submit to discipline? How should pastors and leaders administer discipline?

Today’s reading

Psalm 119:105-176; First Corinthians 5

Selected Verses

My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.   Psalm 119:136

Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”  First Corinthians 5:12-13

Reflections

The subject of Psalm 119 is the Word of God, also referred to as His statutes, rules, commandments, testimonies, precepts, and law. The glories of God’s Word are praised. The Psalmist tells of his delight in and commitment to the law. There is also an occasional reference to the failure of some to obey the law. For the author, this disobedience on the part of some brought him to tears, and, apparently, at times it brought him to disgust (vs. 158). He is on the alert for those rebels as they threaten his faithfulness (vs. 115).

When we go to the New Testament, the people of God, the Church of Jesus Christ, are in far different circumstances than Old Testament Israel. Now the Church is composed of Jews and Gentiles. There is no theocracy, but the Church exists under various kingdoms and governments. Still, there is a responsibility of the Church to discipline its own members.

Corinth was a particularly wicked city in the days of the Apostles. Paul instructed them in the proper handling of a case of incest that would not have been tolerated even in secular society. Apparently, the guilty party was unrepentant, so Paul told them to remove him from their congregation. This process is referred to as excommunication. It is not the first step of discipline and is applied only when there is a refusal to repent for the sin or sins that were committed. [See Matthew 18:15-17].

Think about it

For Church discipline to exist there must be formal local church membership, the defining of who is and who isn’t under the discipline of the body. Everyone is either in the fellowship or not. Members are held responsible for godly living and obedience to the Scriptures. Non-members have not committed to be responsible. If you are a believer, be sure you are a member of a Bible-believing church and accountable for your life and walk with God. If you are a member, seek to encourage and admonish others as needed and be receptive to godly correction.

Church discipline is to be exercised but always with the hope of restoring the penitent and never with any kind of joy or satisfaction. If you are a pastor or an elder, exercise discipline with care and tears.

Preparing for Finals

Public acclaim in this world is of no consequence. What matters is the state of our hearts when we stand before God in final judgment.

Today’s reading

Psalm 119:49-104; First Corinthians 4

Selected Verses

Let the insolent be put to shame,
because they have wronged me with falsehood;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.

Let those who fear you turn to me,
that they may know your testimonies.

May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
that I may not be put to shame!  Psalm 119:78-80

It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.   First Corinthians 4:4-5

Reflections

The Psalmist knew severe opposition because of his trust in God and obedience to His law. His life was a rebuke to those who had no regard for the Lord. He prayed that the insolent would be shamed and the God-fearers would be drawn to him so that they would know God’s word even better. But he also prayed for a blameless heart with respect to the Law of God. He did not want to be put to shame before the Judge.

In a similar way, Paul sought to be found commendable before God. He had received both criticism and acclaim by people. Some identified themselves with him to such a degree that they went around saying, “I am of Paul.”   This was causing serious division in the church. Paul would not hear of this. He said, “It is the Lord who judges me.” He did not want the approval of men, especially since it was a basis for division.

How should they look at Paul and others, like Apollos? They were mere servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (vs. 1). He already said that they could do nothing but plant or sow, but had no power to cause growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Paul served God with a continual awareness of the judgment to come. He sought only to be faithful. Like the Psalmist, he wanted to have a blameless heart on that day when “the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.”

Think about it

I heard of a Sunday School teacher who had a class for senior citizens. He said they attended faithfully because, at their advanced age, “they were preparing for finals.” Do you serve Christ with this mindset? Are you seeking only His commendation at the end of your life? Be preparing for finals today.

The Blessing of Being Simple

Biblical truth runs cross grain to worldly wisdom. How often have you heard someone praised for being simple? But you can hear that in Scripture.

Today’s reading

Psalms 116-118;  First Corinthians 2

Selected Verses

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
    our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.  Psalm 116:5-7

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. First Corinthians 2:12

Reflections

The generosity of the Lord to His people is beyond measure.  It is worthy of a continual sacrifice of praise. In Psalm 116, the writer revels in God’s blessings to him.  He recognizes God’s mercy and grace in the face of impending death, in a time of distress and anguish.  He wonders how to make any kind of sufficient offering to the Lord for all he has received from His hand.  “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving,”  he promises in vs. 17.

Why has God so richly blessed him?  One quality which the Lord looks for in those He blesses is simplicity.  He preserves the simple, we read in vs. 6.  The simple are receptive to God’s Law.   Psalm 19:7 tells us “the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.”   The simple become wise because they pay attention to God’s Word.

Paul continues with his message to the Corinthians showing them that it was not lofty speech that he used to win them to Christ, but rather the simple message of Jesus Christ who was crucified.  Those who believe and are mature are able to receive wisdom from God revealed by His Spirit to His people.  The spirit of the world is of no assistance in knowing God, but God’s Spirit reveals the things that no one could even imagine, the things that God has freely given to His own.

Think about it

The disciple of Jesus Christ is one who has become like a child, simple, trusting in the One who came to make the Father known and to save His people from their sins (Matthew 18:1-4;1:21; John 1:14-18). He leads us to wisdom and blessing from the Lord.  Seek to always be found among the simple.

The Pompous Dead

A man, even a king, who lacks understanding of who God is and how one is saved from sin is no better than an animal. In today’s reading, we have an example.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 47-49; Acts 26

Selected Verses

Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.   Psalm 49:20

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”  Acts 26:28-29

Reflections

The Psalmist exalts God at every turn and is not impressed with the things that society holds of great value: power, prestige, wealth, and knowledge.  One does not need to read far in the Scripture before confronting this reality, but one may be far up the ladder of so-called success before discovering it is leaning against the wrong wall.

King Agrippa makes a perfect example of this truth.  Luke’s account shows that the society held him and his wife, Bernice, in high esteem.  They entered the audience hall with great pomp (Acts 25:23).  Paul is presented to them and he begins his defense describing his previous life and his conversion to Jesus Christ.  Festus discounts the whole story as one of a mad man, deluded through too much education.  Paul appeals to the king for confirmation of what he is saying.  Agrippa, at least, does not call Paul crazy and admits that what he is saying is more than a mere defense.  Agrippa understands that Paul is attempting to win him to Christ!

What makes Paul so bold as to turn his own trial into an opportunity to preach Christ to a king and queen?  He was not intimidated by all the royal fanfare.  Rather Paul was enthralled with the glories of his Lord Jesus Christ.  Whether or not he was consciously thinking about Psalm 49, it is safe to say that he was mindful that “man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”  The king lacked understanding like a mere beast.

Think about it

Are you prepared to grasp even the difficult moments of your life to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ?  Remember kings, queens, and all pompous humans without understanding of the gospel will perish just like beasts.  Be ready to warn them.

 

Paul’s Tweet

Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The godly believer focuses on this as life’s circumstances range from monotonous to terrifying.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 36-37; Acts 23:1-11

Selected Verses

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.    Psalm 36:7-9

It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.  Acts 23:6

Reflections

The Psalms offer an antidote for the tendency to complain, to be bored, restless, overwhelmed, or impatient.  This antidote is to meditate on the Lord, His Word, His steadfast love, and His constant providential care.  On the flipside, the antidote includes a healthy dose of fear of the Lord knowing that He will destroy the wicked.  Do not “flatter” yourself that He can’t see you and bring you to account for your sin.  Instead, run to Him for mercy.  Fear Him. Praise Him.  Love Him.  Delight in Him.

Paul must have understood this as his difficulties grew more and more serious.  He used wisdom, even shrewdness, in addressing the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court composed of members with severe theological differences.  In what we would call today a “sound bite” or “tweet”, he summarized the problem, “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”   Paul, by this statement, showed that, despite his imprisonment and the constant threats to his life, his hope was undiminished and his focus on the gospel was undistracted.  His trust in the historic resurrection of Jesus Christ was the basis for his life and ministry.  His words set off an intense and disorderly debate in the court. He was no longer the focus of their attention, but the subject of hope and the resurrection of the dead took center stage.

Think about it

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.[1]   Review this frequently when the circumstances of life are at best monotonous and at worst terrifying.  Are you prepared for this day with its unforeseeable trials or, most likely, its predictable sameness?  Whatever may come, seek to drink from the river of God’s delights.  You are given the task of enjoying Him, today and forever.

[1] Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 1.

 

God’s Righteous Judgment

Final divine judgment is not a popular topic today.  Might that explain why we struggle to find meaning and purpose in life?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 10-12; Acts 17:16-34

Selected Verses

Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.   Psalm 10:13-15

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. Acts 17:30-31

Reflections

The Psalmist analyzes the thought processes of the wicked who say, in essence, “God is not going to judge people.” They assume that God doesn’t know what is going on, but He does. They assume that He will not take action against their evil schemes, but He will. The idea of final judgment runs throughout the Bible. God is both holy and sovereign, so He must put right the injustice of mankind. God helps the fatherless and the weak and the poor. He hears their pleas and will bring full justice.

In Athens, Paul declares the existence of the God that they call the “unknown god.” They had many idols, but, in case they had overlooked a god, they added this one for good measure. Paul tells them about the God who is Creator and Sustainer of life. This God cannot be contained in a temple because He is infinite. He is the God who needs nothing and depends on nothing for His existence. He is not distant and aloof but will judge the world in righteousness on the appointed day by a Man whom He has raised from the dead, namely Jesus Christ. Like the wicked of Psalm 10, some of the people of Athens mocked the idea of judgment.  Some wanted to hear more.

Think about it

Many today dismiss the idea of final judgment.  At the same time, they search desperately for a reason to live. Without a clear understanding of the judgment of God we will neither have a reason to live nor motivation to seek God’s forgiveness and to live in holiness before Him. Be sure you are clear on the judgment of God and how Jesus said we may escape it (John 5:24).