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.

Legalism Dies Hard

Eternal salvation is no do-it-yourself project. The gospel tells us that the law was given to point us to Christ, never to save. Why does legalism die hard?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 1-3; Galatians 2

Selected Verses

 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.  Isaiah 1:11

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  Galatians 2:19-21

Reflections

Isaiah spoke powerfully against the hypocrisy of the people of Judah.  Their law-keeping was mere window-dressing.  God was not pleased with their offerings and sacrifices.  But wasn’t this what God had commanded in the law given to Moses?  Yes, but they were missing the essential part.  The offerings and sacrifices were not intended to provide a cover-up for their sin.  These should have been an outward expression of their repentance and contrition.  God could see their hearts, and He was not impressed.  He sent Isaiah to call them to act in ways that showed repentance and to seek His cleansing for even the most heinous sin (1:16-20).

In Galatia, a similar thing was occurring.  The believers were abandoning the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and reverting to law-keeping as the basis for their reconciliation with God.  Paul grieved deeply (Galatians 1:6-9).  His letter aims to correct this grave and dangerous error.  To make his point, Paul relates his own experience of receiving the gospel from Christ and, at one point, even having to confront Peter for wavering from that gospel.

Think about it

Why this tendency, of those who should know better, to revert to law-keeping for salvation?  Perhaps, as justified people (but still not fully sanctified), we are prone to a prideful desire to merit our salvation, if just a little. Perhaps this error grows from a desire to cover-up our sin by appearing holy, instead of confessing our sin and trusting God’s forgiveness.  Beware of straying from the basis of our justification, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and not our faulty lawkeeping.  Never rob God of His glory by reverting to trust in good works for your forgiveness.  Legalism dies hard in Judah, in Galatia, and, I’m afraid, in our hearts today.

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.”

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.

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.

Faithfulness Pleases God

Beware of a common saying which we hear today that implies that God doesn’t care about our faithfulness but only our faith.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 4-6; Second Corinthians 10

Selected Verses

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.   Ecclesiastes 5:4

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.   Second Corinthians 10:18

Reflections

There is a common fallacy being foisted upon the unsuspecting public in our society today. It goes, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.” As with all fallacies, there is some truth, but along with it is a dangerous, unbiblical implication. It is true we cannot by our actions manipulate God or change Him in any way, but this mantra seems to say, “What you do doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about your personal behavior. Sin all you want. God still loves you. Neglect the means of grace. God still loves you. If you make an effort to serve Him, He won’t even notice. He loves you just the same.”

Solomon warned his readers about being casual in their relationship to God. The Lord “has no pleasure in fools,” he told them. It does matter if you make a vow to God and then delay to keep it. God is not pleased with such foolishness. “God is the one you must fear,” he declared (5:7).

Paul also was concerned about pleasing God. The Apostle had been denigrated by others who took pride in themselves. That gave him the context to propound his view of whose opinion matters. Clearly, all that ultimately matters is how the Lord views you. All the accolades or criticisms of the world do not affect God’s evaluation. The commendation we should seek is God’s and He knows what is really going on in our outward behavior and in our hearts.

Think about it

Does God care whether we are faithful or not? Yes, absolutely. We do not earn our forgiveness, but we do show evidence of it by the level of seriousness we give to our vows and spiritual disciplines. God is not a cruel taskmaster. He is no demanding tyrant. Yes, His love is secure, but He calls us to grow in holiness and to be faithful to the means of grace which He has provided. Seek the faithfulness that pleases God.

Slow Growth

Spiritual growth is a gradual process, like a great tree, it will not reach maturity quickly. Gather wisdom and truth and be patient. Time is a factor.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 19-20; Second Corinthians 3

Selected Verses

Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom in the future.  Proverbs 19:20

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  Second Corinthians 3:18

Reflections

Many proverbs urge us to heed sound advice, to seek wisdom, to accept correction.  Many promises are made to the one who is teachable and receptive.   In vs. 20 above, there is an orientation toward the future.  Various English translations differ as to whether the idea here is that instruction received now will result in your gaining wisdom in the future or gaining wisdom for the future.   The difference is minor, and, either way, there is a certain dynamic going on.   Time is a factor.

“Why do I need to learn this?” Teachers hear this question frequently. But children must learn information and skills for which they see no immediate or long-term purpose.  Parents and other educators impart what they know will be useful to the child in later years.  Children can whine and complain, but the failure to learn today’s lessons is likely to turn into regret in future years.  Growth is gradual, but God tells us to store up knowledge and wisdom for the time when we will need it.

Paul gives a defense of his ministry here.  He calls the Corinthian believers his “letter of recommendation” to any who might require proof of the authenticity of his apostleship. From that thought he launches into some paragraphs showing the superior glory of the ministry of the new covenant over the old.  Moses would veil his face after meeting with God to hide the fading glory, but in the new covenant our faces are unveiled and the glory grows stronger rather than weaker.  Again time is a factor.

Think about it

Perhaps you find your spiritual growth imperceptible, like watching an oak tree grow.  Seek wisdom today.  Be receptive to instruction, even when it seems irrelevant.  Praise God for sending His Spirit to write on our hearts His truth.  He is at work in you, believing friend, but the distance between one degree of glory and the next may not be immediately evident.

 

The Sniffable Christian

Christians are called to shoulder a heavy responsibility, one that even the Apostle Paul found daunting. Did you know you emit a distinct fragrance?

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 17-18; Second Corinthians 2

Selected Verses

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts.  Proverbs 17:3

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?   Second Corinthians 2:14-16

Reflections

One of the themes in Proverbs is the dichotomy between fools and wise people, between the faithful and the slothful, between those who receive instruction and those who are wise in their own eyes. While it is not always evident to the observer the true state of another person’s heart, God is able to test hearts and He does. Precious metal is purified by fire. The hearts of people are tested by God. So God’s judgment will never be unjust. He is a Judge who truly has all the information. [See Romans 2:15-16]

Paul bares his thoughts and feelings about his ministry. He finds it painful to confront people on hard issues and when he does, he does it because he loves them. This does not mean that the responses he gets are always positive. He gets strong reactions to his mere presence because wherever he goes God “through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

That fragrance will be either the scent of life or the stench of death depending on the heart condition of the one doing the sniffing. So God who tests hearts uses His people to reveal the state of hearts. This is not the only way God tests hearts, but it is certainly one way. And Paul exclaims, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Think about it

Indeed, who wants to carry such a burden? Who wants to be the person who, when entering the room, causes the crowd to either flee from him or flock to him? But that is the role of the believer and, if we are such, we should assume this role with humility and submission.

No, we are not sufficient for these things. But it is not us. It is Christ in us. He “always leads us in triumphal procession.” Trust Him. Follow Him. Expect to be sniffed.

By the way, if you find Christians abhorrent, be forewarned. You are probably perishing. May God give you grace to repent, believe, and find life in Him.

The Practice of Love

Biblical love is not a matter of mere words but expresses itself in practical ways both in what it does and what it avoids.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 3-4; First Corinthians 13

Selected Verses

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.

Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
who dwells trustingly beside you.  Proverbs 3:27-29

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.  First Corinthians 13:4-8a

Reflections

The wisdom literature of the Bible has a recurring theme of the wicked man versus the godly man (e.g. Psalm 1, Proverbs 1, etc).  In Proverbs we see that the godly man is wise and that wisdom grows out of the fear of the Lord.  This godly wisdom has both a vertical (God-ward) and horizontal (man-ward) dimension.  In relationship to others, wise people are kind and loving.  They are not stingy or selfish.  Loving people give to others in need without delay or excuse.  They never seek to trick their neighbor or take advantage of others.

Paul in his continuing instructions to the Corinthian church points them to the most important quality of a believer: love.  He says that great accomplishments, even in the spiritual realm, have no importance if not accompanied by love. He describes it in terms of what it is not and what it is.  The positive qualities include “patient and kind” and “rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”  Love is unselfish and enduring.  This is the love that only Christ showed perfectly, but it is the essential virtue that He calls us to show to others if we would be known as His disciples (John 13:34, 35). The believers in Corinth needed to commit themselves to this kind of love, and so do I.

Think about it

How are you doing in showing Christlike love to others?  Today is a good day to take stock.  Make needed changes, either in attitudes, or in actions, or both.

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).