Contend for the Faith      

Those in spiritual leadership must take care to contend for the faith, that is, to teach the truth accurately and oppose error. Why is this so important?

Today’s Reading

Hosea 1-4; Jude 1

Selected Verses

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.  Hosea 4:6

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 1:3-4

Reflections

In both readings today, we see God indicting those who have forsaken the truth and who misled those who looked to them for guidance.

Hosea, like other prophets, had a message of warning and hope for Israel and Judah.  The Lord called him to depict God’s mercy and grace toward His faithless people by taking a prostitute for his wife. God told them they were destroyed for lack of knowledge. Their teachers taught lies rather than God’s law. The priests had facilitated national sin.

In a similar way, God called believers in Jude’s day to contend for the faith, that is, the doctrine He gave the Church through the Apostles and Prophets. False and wicked teachers attacked this truth in their deceitful and treacherous ways. They misused God’s grace as an excuse for sensuality. They denied the Lord Jesus Christ. Among other vices, they relied on their dreams. They claimed to get their own truth by direct revelation, a practice Paul also condemned (Colossians 2:18). [1]

Think about it

Truth matters. It matters what we believe, and, if we are in the position of teachers, it matters to all whom we influence for good or bad.  Be sure you know the truth of God’s word and that those you learn from contend for the faith and are not relying on the inventions of their minds.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, Sanford, FL, Reformation Trust, 2015, p. 2292.  See note on verse 8

There’s a War On        

Since the Fall, the cosmic war has been going. Satan and his minions deceive and oppose God’s people, but they triumph through His truth and power.

Today’s Reading

Daniel 9-10; Second John 1

Selected Verses

The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come. Daniel 10:13-14

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Second John 1:7

Reflections

Daniel was in a time of deep mourning for three weeks. He fasted and prayed. God sent an angel to him, but, at first, he was more frightened than strengthened. The angel addressed him kindly and called him a man greatly loved. Daniel’s prayers had been heard from the first day of that three-week period, but the angel had been opposed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia.

John, in this second epistle, warns his readers about the deceivers in the world. They are identified as those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. The Reformation Study Bible [1] notes explain that a heresy called Docetism taught that Jesus did not have a real human body but was some sort of phantom who only appeared to be human. John declared these false teachers to be of the Antichrist.

Think about it

Once again in these passages, we see the very real nature of the spiritual war going on around us. Satan and his forces wield a certain amount of power, but God does hear His children when they pray. He does send aid. He will judge all the hosts of wickedness and deliver His own safely to glory (Isaiah 24:21; Ephesians 6:11-12; Second Peter 2:4; Revelation 17:8; 20:10).

There’s a war on, but God has all things under His control. Trust Him and obey His truth. As we saw yesterday, His children will be victorious over the world through Jesus Christ.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, Sanford, FL, Reformation Trust, 2015, p. 2279

Safe in the Lions’ Den

God shows His power in the apparently impossible and hopeless crises of His faithful children who have even been found safe in a lions’ den.

Today’s reading

Daniel 5-6; First John 4

Selected Verses

 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God,
enduring forever;
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.

So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.                                                                                                   Daniel 6:26-28

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.                                                                      First John 4:4

Reflections

God’s people down through history have been tested and oppressed by evil forces in this world as was predicted in Genesis 3:15. They are not always delivered from those trials, but, by God’s grace and power, they remain faithful to Him and even in death are not defeated. [See also The Grand Narrative].

Daniel’s political opponents set a trap for him. He resolved not to compromise his faith but to trust God to see him through the consequences of maintaining his practice of prayer. God protected him through a night in the lions’ den. King Darius saw the power of God and decreed that all should tremble and fear before Him.

John reassured his readers of God’s power in the face of opposing spiritual forces in the world. He called them “little children” perhaps because of his tender love for them but, probably, also because they were not spiritual giants. Nevertheless, he said they had overcome the false prophets, also called the spirit of antichrist and the spirit of error.  Unlike those in the world, these little children did not listen to the false spirits.

Think about it

Daniel prospered under the pagan kings. Those John addressed were victorious against the forces of spiritual darkness. The faithful do not always prosper in this world. But all who abide in Christ know God’s faithfulness and the ultimate deliverance of what Darius called the kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Stay faithful and confident. You are safe  even in a lions’ den.

Everyday Persecution

God’s people, living in a fallen world, must not be surprised if they are unrecognized, at best, and targeted for persecution and death, at worst.

Today’s reading

Daniel 3-4; First John 3

Selected Verses

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Daniel 3:28

The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. First John 3:1

Reflections

The Jews living in captivity in Babylon faced serious trials. Their faith and practice got them into trouble at times but the message of Daniel is that God always saw them through vindicating their faith and His power.

Nebuchadnezzar needed repeated evidence that the God of Israel was truly God Most High. When he mandated worship of an idol, the three friends of Daniel refused to bow.  He gave them one more chance to obey, but again they stood their ground.  He threw them into the fiery furnace. Yet even that fire could not destroy them. They came forth without so much as the smell of smoke. Nebuchadnezzar was forced to honor God and reward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

The Apostle John instructs his readers about the life of one who has fellowship with God. There will necessarily be a qualitative difference in the person who loves God. It affects his relationships with others and his attitudes toward the trinkets of this world. He practices righteousness and loves his brother. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you, he tells them” (vs. 13). Why? Because the world did not know God.

Think about it

Daniel and his friends endured severe tests of their faith. They prepared themselves for death. But instead they experienced quick vindication (Daniel 3:18).  Others will not be delivered from death but prepare to endure until they see Jesus Christ face to face “as he is.” Be ready for everyday persecution, but, if it costs your life, anticipate transformation by Him when you see Him.

The Sufferings of Christ

The sufferings of Christ on the cross brought an end to the elaborate (but futile) Old Covenant sacrifices for sin and guilt. And they bring sinners to God.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 40; First Peter 5

Selected Verses

And in the vestibule of the gate were two tables on either side, on which the burnt offering and the sin offering and the guilt offering were to be slaughtered.  Ezekiel 40:39

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.  First Peter 5:1

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple, God took him into the inner chamber where there are tables for the washing and slaughter of the various kinds of sacrifices: burnt, guilt, and sin offerings.  Such was the enormity of the sin of God’s chosen people that He commanded the sacrifices to be repeated over and over with no seeming conclusion.  Sin and sacrifices were the way of life on a daily basis.  Talk about life on an endless treadmill!

Would there be no deliverance from the sin or the futility of the animal sacrifices?  Yes, indeed, there would.

Peter witnessed that deliverance accomplished by the sufferings of Christ.  The Apostle knew what those sufferings meant. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” he wrote (First Peter 3:18).  Christ’s sufferings meant that a sufficient offering had finally been made.  Christ suffered once for sins.  His one offering was sufficient because He was righteous. No other person and no sacrificial animal could accomplish what His sufferings accomplished which was to bring unrighteous people to God.

Peter counted himself as one of those unrighteous people graciously brought to God.  He lived out the rest of his life and ministry in the light of the cross of Christ.  When he appealed to the elders among his readers to be faithful and humble shepherds of God’s flock, he did so as one who had never lost sight of the reason for Jesus’ sufferings.

Think about it

Have you grasped the meaning of the sufferings of Christ?  Leave aside any effort to earn forgiveness through any merit of your own, or any feeble offerings to God.  They cannot suffice.  Only the One who suffered for His people on the cross can bring us to God.  Trust in the sufferings of Christ.

God’s Wrath

God’s wrath is coming in judgment. Whom do you think will be found in trouble? The objects of His wrath and judgment might surprise you.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 29-31; James 5

Selected Verses

Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and will cut off from you man and beast,  and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 29:8-9

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.  Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. James 5:1-3

Reflections

Who will be the target of God’s judgment?

In Ezekiel’s day, the Lord pronounced judgment on Egypt.  What had they done?  It was not so much what they had done or not done, but their arrogant attitude.  They prided themselves in the things that God had done.  They did not glorify Him, but made idiotic statements like “The Nile is mine, and I made it.”  Those who refuse to give God the glory He is due are in special trouble with Him.  He would bring His judgment on them and they would know that He is the Lord.

Another target of judgment will be the fraudulent and heartless rich.  James singled these people out for a stern warning.  In the day of judgment, they would be in misery.  The riches they trusted in would not serve them at all, but be rotted, moth-eaten, and corroded.  There may have been a time when they could buy their way out of trouble but no longer.  And take note, it is not the fact that they are rich but that they cheated their workers to expand their wealth.  Furthermore, they trusted in their wealth and not in the Lord.

Think about it

Pride and autonomy robs God of His glory and brings His judgment.  Beware of any tendency toward these quiet ways of rebelling.  On that coming day of God’s wrath, do not be found among those who have attempted to exalt themselves.  As Isaiah wrote:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
 let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  Isaiah 55:6-7

Two Kinds of Wisdom

There are two kinds of wisdom. They are very different. Which kind do you have? Learn how you can distinguish between them.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 24-26; James 3

Selected Verses

For thus says the Lord God: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.    Ezekiel 25:6-7

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  James 3:13-16

Reflections

James warns his readers about the dangers that lie in the power of the tongue.  While it may be attractive to be a teacher, one must beware of the danger of stricter judgment that will come to teachers.  A teacher who lacks wisdom will lack meekness and will be subject to judgment.  Godly wisdom is accompanied by a gentleness and humility not known in the world where those who are considered wise are frequently arrogant, boastful, bitterly jealous, and selfishly ambitious.

The Ammonites, in Ezekiel’s day, demonstrated precisely that kind of earthly, demonic “wisdom” in their attitudes and statements at the time of the fall of Jerusalem.  They rejoiced at the judgment upon the city and kingdom.  God promised to bring worse judgment on them for this. They were not the only ones to receive God’s punishment. In each case, the prophet concludes by telling them, “then you will know that I am the Lord.”

Not knowing the Lord is at the heart of the problem because it is the foundation for not fearing the Lord. Since Scripture is clear that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; [and] fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7), it is obvious that those who lack fear of the Lord will be ignorant fools no matter how educated and esteemed they may be in this world.

Think about it

Beware of those modern-day Ammonites who boast about themselves and arrogantly look down on those wayward believers whom God is judging.  The absence of the meekness of wisdom is the evidence of an earthly counterfeit wisdom we must avoid.

Why does God Save?

The reason God saves has nothing to do with the worthiness or performance of those He saves. So why does He do it? He makes His purposes clear.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 20-21; James 1

Selected Verses

Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.  But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. Ezekiel 20:8-10

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  James 1:18

Reflections

Page after page, Ezekiel lays out the case against Israel and Judah. Their sin and unfaithfulness before a Holy God is an abomination. God would have been just and right to destroy them at the first failure, but He extended patience and relented again and again.  Why? Three times in chapter 20, He says “I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned” (vs. 9,14, 22). Another time He says “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” (v.44). The basis of God showing them mercy was the glory of His name–that His name not be profaned and that Israel should know that He is the Lord.

God showing mercy to His elect people benefits us in two ways.  One, the world can see (if we are willing to) that He is able to save His wayward sheep.  Two, His people come to know Him in truth. James sheds more light on the subject when he writes that “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Why did God save His people? Because He wanted to. It was of His own will. God has no constraints. He has no obligations. He is completely free. He can do what He wants consistent with His holiness. What did He want to do? He wanted to save a people for Himself, the beginning of a new creation.

Think about it

God wanted to save His elect people and that is what He did. Are you one of His? If so, marvel at the greatness of His grace and mercy to you. Remember, you are secure in Him because the reason God saves has nothing to do with you.

Ending Well

While there’s life, there’s hope, but there’s also danger.  Will you be ending well? Here is an exhortation for all of us.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 17-19; Hebrews 13

Selected Verses

The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.   But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Ezekiel 18:20-21

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s day, the people had a saying ‘‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2).  The Lord rebuked them for using this proverb. He said that each person held responsibility for himself as to his obedience or disobedience.  Whatever path a person chose, righteousness or sin, was his own and he would enjoy the blessings or suffer the consequences.  A parent’s sin could not make his child incur guilt, nor could a parent’s obedience merit forgiveness to a sinful child.  Each one stands alone before God with his own record.

But change is possible.  No one is locked into a lifestyle of sin or righteousness based on choices in his youth.  It’s how you end up that matters.  After a life of crime, the repentant thief on the cross pleaded for mercy and found forgiveness at death’s door (Luke 23:39-43).  It is also possible that one might prove to be unfaithful at the end of life.  See? It’s how you end up that counts.  It is never too late to repent, but it’s also never too late to rebel.

The writer to the Hebrews gives his readers an assortment of commands in light of all he has written.  Several of them have to do with their relationship with their spiritual leaders, those who had taught them God’s Word (vs. 7, 17).   They must observe the outcome of those godly lives and imitate their faith.  How did those men’s lives turn out?  If they were faithful to the end, the outcome was good.  If not, one ought to be forewarned that even those who at one time show some signs of true faith and obedience to God can veer off and prove to be unbelievers.  This does not mean that anyone can lose his salvation. It does mean that anyone can act pious for a time and then fail to endure to the end [See Matthew 7:21-23; 13:1-23; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:19].

Think about it

Be on guard against the schemes of Satan.  Do not be presumptuous of your ability to resist every temptation and trap.  We all know some who have not. May you and I endure faithfully and finish by ending well.

God Never Lets Us Go

God never lets us go.  But what if we sin, grievously?  Does He still hold on to us? His Word gives us a clear and certain answer.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 16; Hebrews 12

Selected Verses

I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord,  that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”

Ezekiel 16:62-63

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?   Hebrews 12:5-7

Reflections

Ezekiel delivers a brutal message to the exiles of Judah, a message filled with emotion and grief for the sins of God’s people in the face of His abundant mercy toward them. God poured out on them restoration and love when they were helpless and dying, but, as soon as they could, they responded with betrayal and spiritual adultery.

How did God respond to this? He cast them out of their land and sent them into captivity, but He did not forget His covenant with them. His punishment was discipline not rejection. There is a difference. God would restore them and keep His covenant with them. In fact, He would establish for them an everlasting covenant, a better covenant than the one they had broken.  What’s more He promised to atone for them for all that they had done (vs. 53-63).  That is precisely what He did through the death of His Son, Jesus, on the cross.

The Hebrew believers, too, were experiencing God’s discipline. The author of the epistle called them to count this discipline not as rejection but as evidence of God’s love toward His sons. Instead of doubting the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, they were to “strive for peace with everyone and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (v. 14). When this is not the case and one or more of God’s people fail to obtain the grace of God, a root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble. The whole church can be defiled as a consequence.

Think about it

Welcome discipline. Take difficulties from God’s hand and let Him show you His grace to endure, to grow in holiness, and to be trained by it. Remember He atones for our sin, and He never lets us go. Never, despite our grievous sin.  If we are His.