The Christian’s Identity: God’s Lowly Farmhand

God gives you a role in His work of growing disciples. But do you know your identity in the spiritual harvest? Are you taking yourself too seriously?

Today’s reading

Psalm 119:1-48; I Corinthians 3

Selected Verses

Lead me in the path of your commandments,
    for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
    and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
    and give me life in your ways.. Psalm 119:35-37

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.  1 Corinthians 3:7–9

Reflections

All progress in our personal lives and our ministry to others depends on God.  He commands us to be diligent in our use of the means of grace and in our proclaiming the gospel to the world, but He is the One who ultimately changes hearts and brings about growth.

The Psalmist proclaims his delight in God’s law, but, at the same time, prays to God for help in following that law.  As committed as he is to God’s word, his pleas to the Lord reveal an awareness of his dependence on God.  Of course, delight in God’s law is a good, admirable trait.  It is just not constant enough to be a reliable basis for one’s spiritual life.  God will have to work because there are innumerable other distractions, like selfish gain and worthless things.

The writer of the longest chapter in the Bible knew his own heart.  There were good moments when he could focus on the Lord and His Word with great exuberance.  He is not being deceptive when he professes to love the law, but he also knows the weaknesses of his flesh.  He can be drawn away by money and entertainment.  Jesus warned His disciples against these sorts of things in His parable about the sower.  He told them the good seed of the Word can be “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14)

Paul, too, understands his dependence on God for fruitful ministry.  The Corinthians needed to learn that they are indebted to God for their responsiveness to the gospel, not to Paul or Apollos.  Their divisiveness was partly a result of their misplaced adulation of their mentors.

Think about it

Give all praise to God, if you are walking in His ways, maturing as a disciple and bearing fruit.  He alone causes the growth.  At most, our identity is that of unprofitable servants and God’s lowly farmhands.

The Role of Government

What does God say about the role of government in the life of the Christian? Should a believer ever disobey the powers that be? If so, when?

Today’s reading

Psalms 99-102; Romans 13

Selected Verses

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. Psalm 101: 6-7

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.  Romans 13:3-4

Reflections

The authority of government comes from God, so those who govern are responsible to Him to punish bad behavior and encourage good and those who are governed are responsible to submit and obey as to God.

In Psalm 101 David sets high ideals for his reign.  He says he will praise God, a necessary activity for one who could easily lose sight of the true King over all the earth.  He acknowledges his need for the Lord’s help and presence and vows to bring justice to those who do wrong. Instead, he will create a favorable climate for those who do right.  David determined not to suffer deceivers in his cabinet.  He promises to act quickly in dealing with crime.  These noble goals describe a kingdom in which any upright person would love to live.

Paul continues addressing the Christians in Rome moving on to the issue of their relationship to the government.  The Old Testament era of theocracy in Israel is no more.  Since then and up to now, God’s people live under secular authorities who are under God whether they recognize Him or not. Often, they do not.  Yet Christians are commanded to submit to these officials, pay taxes, and show proper respect and honor.  The government is to encourage those who do good and punish those who do not.

We know from other Bible passages that this general teaching of submission is limited to those situations in which the government does not command citizens to do what God prohibits or prohibits them from doing what God commands (Acts 4:18-20;5:29).

Think about it

What is your understanding of our responsibility to the government?  Remember a ruler is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  Pray for your leaders, those who govern, and seek to encourage them when they fulfill their roles properly before God (First Timothy 2:1-4).

A Warning to Gentiles and a Promise to the Elderly

God uses two trees to give a warning and a promise about our relationships to each other and to Him.  Expect fruitfulness.  Beware of arrogance.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 90-92; Romans 11:1-21

Selected Verses

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
 to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. Psalm 92:12-15

Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Romans 11:19-21

Reflections

Psalm 92 compares God’s righteous people to a palm tree planted in the house of the Lord.  What is the function of this tree?  It is to flourish, grow, and bear fruit.  What fruit does it bear?  Not dates or coconuts, (it is an analogy, don’t forget!), but the fruit of a clear declaration “that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”   This promise of fruitfulness is directed to the elderly.  They will continue to bear spiritual fruit into old age despite the decline of their physical strength.

Paul addresses something that must have been bothering the Christians in Rome. There seems to have been an issue (or, at least, a potential issue) of Christian Gentiles looking down on unbelieving Jews for rejecting Christ.  The Apostle explains that this rejection (anticipated in the Old Testament) benefited the Gentiles who were then coming to Christ.  Ultimately, we can expect a positive reaction among the Jews when they turn to the Lord.   “Be humble about your acceptance before God. He could cut you off and restore the natural branches,” Paul warns the Gentile Christians.

Think about it

God has securely grafted us who believe in His Son into His olive tree whether young or elderly. But it is not our own doing.  It is by grace through faith, not by any merit on our part. We ought to maintain a humble, grateful attitude.  As part of the tree in the house of the Lord, He planted us to bear fruit.  God’s grace will sustain us all the days of our lives as we keep declaring God’s righteousness. So expect fruitfulness and beware of arrogance.

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.

 

Glory Stealing Can Be Fatal

It is a dangerous thing to receive praise from people and fail to give God the glory He deserves. Here are two men whose lives demonstrated this truth.

Today’s Reading

Job 29-30; Acts 12

Selected Verses

I chose their way and sat as chief, and I lived like a king among his troops,
like one who comforts mourners.  But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock. Job 29:25-30:1

And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.   But the word of God increased and multiplied.   Acts 12:22-24

Reflections

Job remembered a time when he had been at the top of the food chain. Everyone was in awe of him. No one questioned his decisions.  He had the final word. Now that has all gone. He is the laughingstock of his former kingdom. Now the people of low status look down on him.

King Herod played to the crowds but lacked any reverence for God. He found that executing James brought him popularity, so he arrested Peter. The Lord sent an angel to release Peter, but Herod just blamed the disappearance on the sentries and had them put to death. He left town for Caesarea. Meanwhile, the people of Tyre and Sidon sought reconciliation with Herod. His accepting their praise of him as a “god, and not a man” brought God’s wrath and his immediate death.

The difference between Herod and Job is that the latter attributed his prosperity and success to God. His losses were, to him, evidence that God had withdrawn His favor from him.  Job never stopped seeking God. Herod never began to seek God. Death was the last chapter in Herod’s life.  Suffering was only the mid-point of Job’s life.

Jesus asked the disbelieving Jews, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).   God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).

Think about it

Don’t be clueless like the egotistical Herod or the faithless Jews who basked in the glory of man. Job knew that God was the source of all blessing, and he would learn that God’s ways and wisdom may not be questioned. Walk humbly giving Him all the glory, because glory stealing can be fatal.

Nobodies Made Famous by God

Those whom God chooses and uses for His purposes need not hold high standing in their society. Here we meet two ordinary men–nobodies until God used them.

Today’s Reading

Esther 7-10; Acts 6

Selected Verses

And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.  Esther 8:2

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2-3

Reflections

Mordecai is an example of a man who was faithful in the small things. He stepped up when his uncle and aunt died leaving a young daughter, Esther, becoming her guardian and raising her. He reported a plot against the emperor, Ahasuerus, which may have saved him from assassination. Mordecai played a key role in saving the Jews from extermination throughout the Persian Empire when he urged Queen Esther to appeal to the king for relief. He took all of these actions without holding any power or position. He just did the right thing when he had opportunity. Yes, he was eventually recognized. His enemy was hung on the gallows meant for Mordecai, and he took over that villain’s property and authority. All this was by God’s providence.

The apostles assigned Stephen to a group of seven servants whose task was to serve tables and wait on the widows of the Hellenists. God had an even bigger role for Stephen.   He filled him with grace to do great wonders and signs and to be an invincible debater for the gospel (Acts 6:8-10). He was faithful in the position he had, and God allowed him to rise to greater prominence and effectiveness.

Think about it

In my college days at home basketball games, our student body would taunt the players of opposing teams as they were introduced. After the announcer gave a name, one side of the coliseum would shout, “Who’s he?” and the other side would respond, “Nobody!” Mordecai was nobody. Stephen was nobody. Yet God used them mightily for His purposes in the plan of redemption. He still does this. Be faithful where you are, even though you may be considered nobody. You do not need a high profile position to do the work He has for you.

Generosity and Contentment: How we know we’re saved

Faith alone saves but since it is invisible how do we know we are saved? Here are two concrete evidences.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 4-6; Acts 2:14-47

Selected Verses

Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.  I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.  Nehemiah 5:12-13

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. Acts 2:44-45

Reflections

The Reformation restored focus on justification by faith alone—faith that expresses itself in good works and good attitudes. In today’s reading we have examples from Nehemiah’s day and from the times of the early Church.

The Jews had suffered greatly through the captivity. When the exiles returned to Judah, some were destitute. Others had managed to accumulate some wealth. The poor had to sell their children into slavery to other Jews just to pay their taxes.

When Nehemiah learned about this he was furious. He called the people together and immediately rebuked those who had engaged in this abusive practice. The response was good because the loan sharks recognized that they had violated God’s law and they stood in fear of Him. Nehemiah’s bold and swift leadership averted the crisis. The wall building resumed amidst joy and unity.

In the early Church, members differed widely in their material wealth. Yet the power of the gospel and presence of the Holy Spirit so moved them that they voluntarily looked out for one another. There seemed to be no need to exhort them to share with one another, at least not at this point.

Think about it

John Calvin wrote that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone, i.e. it is accompanied by good works like generosity and good attitudes, like contentment.  Does your use of material resources reflect trust in God and love for others? Are you generous with what you have? If you have less than others, do you resent your lack or are you content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:6-10)? Flee from the love of money. Be as generous as you are able. Learn contentment. Saving faith bears fruit in generosity and contentment.

A Humble King

Fools seek power that is not theirs through conspiracy and murder, but there is a humble king who did not grasp the power that was rightfully His.

Today’s reading

Second Kings 15-17; John 6:1-21

 Selected Verses

Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place. 2 Kings 15:10

 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6:14-15

Reflections

Shallum held one in a line of short-lived reigns on the throne of Israel. He came to the throne through conspiracy and the assassination of Zechariah. But his reign lasted only a month before he, too, was assassinated. The prophet Hosea would later indict Israel for their failure to seek God’s direction for their kingdom which contributed to all that instability (Hosea 8:4).

What a contrast to Jesus! He relinquished the glories of His heavenly status and came to earth. He began announcing the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. The fickle crowds wanted to make Him king, but they had the wrong reasons and the wrong methods.  So Jesus disappeared to avoid that happening. He knew their hearts. They were only responding to the signs He did and wanted a king who could take care of their health and their hunger (John 2:23-25; 6:2). They thought of an earthly kingdom, but His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).

Although Jesus was the rightful king of all Creation, His goal was not to be merely a king in this world. He would redeem  His people and be established as the Lord of lords and King of kings at the right hand of God the Father in His eternal kingdom (Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 19:16).

Think about it

See how glorious and worthy is our King, the Lord Jesus Christ whose every action and decision showed love, grace, humility, and justice! Give Him, the humble King, the praise He deserves and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength today.

The Trap of Popular Opinion

Seeking glory from society is a sure stumbling block to believing the truth and to living wisely and godly.  Here’s a warning to flee the trap.

Today’s reading

Second Kings 12-14; John 5:25-47

Selected Verses

You have indeed struck down Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Be content with your glory, and stay at home, for why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you?”  2 Kings 14:10

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? John 5:44

Reflections

Amaziah, king of Judah, defeated Edom. Then he called on Jehoash, king of Israel, for a face off on the battlefield. Jehoash called his bluff and told him to “be content with [his] glory.”  Good advice, but Amaziah wasn’t buying it. They fought and Amaziah lost badly, not only the battle but all the gold and silver in the temple and the palace. He would die in a conspiracy. He foolishly started and lost a war that was about his own glory, not God’s.

Jesus confronted the Jews who were increasingly opposed to Him and His teaching. He unmasked their motives. They sought glory from one another and not from God. No wonder they could not see that God had sent Jesus, His Son, and that there was overwhelming support for His claims. John the Baptist, Jesus’ own works, the Father’s approval, and the Scriptures all pointed to Him as the Messiah. Those who sought public approval and acclaim were too blinded by their pursuit to see and accept the obvious truth.

Think about it

Amaziah, though a king, fell into the trap of popular opinion.  The Jews who rejected Jesus were also guilty of seeking glory from their peers.  Our sin nature has an insatiable desire for glory.  Nothing will suffice.

How much does popular opinion affect your decisions and your viewpoints? Jesus calls us to follow Him, the One who did not seek glory from people. We will never follow Christ until we rid ourselves of the desire to please others. Follow Him alone and be free from the tyranny of the fear and praise of men. You will be glad in that hour when the dead are called to the resurrection of life and judgment.

The Backdrop of God’s Glory

What a contrast in leadership: Pontius Pilate and King Solomon!  But against the backdrop of these two men we can see the glory of God in a fresh way.

Today’s Reading

I Kings 3-5; Luke 23:1-26

Selected Verses

And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.  For he was wiser than all other men.

I Kings 4:29-31a

So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.  Luke 23:24-25

Reflections

Solomon is said to have “loved the Lord” and was walking in the statutes of his father, David (3:3).  God came to him in a dream and offered to answer his prayer for whatever he desired.  Solomon asked for an understanding mind to govern the people God had given him.  God was pleased with the request.  He granted it and much more to Solomon.  Solomon was known for his wisdom both within the kingdom and internationally.

Under this wise king, Israel reached the pinnacle of its glory.  Never before and never again would there be such a wise king and a prosperous kingdom.  This golden age of Israel would continue until Solomon himself stopped obeying God and followed other gods (1 Kings 11:1-13).

By stark contrast, at Jesus’ trials (before the Jewish Sanhedrin and then before Pilate and Herod) the depth of foolishness is seen.   The Sanhedrin found Him guilty on trumped up charges and spun those to imply some sort of revolutionary terrorist status to Jesus. Neither Pilate nor Herod found him guilty, but Pilate succumbed to the pressure of the crowd and sentenced Him to death by crucifixion.

Think about it

We will see that Solomon’s reign demonstrates that even gifted, promising  leaders who disobey God will fail.  But the foolish and evil rulings of the Jews and the Romans that seemed to destroy Jesus’ life and ministry became a crucial element in God’s plan of redemption for all mankind.  The Church of Jesus Christ has spread to every corner of the earth.  Praise God that He is glorified in the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord.  He is glorified in the ongoing proclamation of the gospel throughout the world.  He has shown His glory against the backdrop of human foolishness. Praise God for His glory, power, and wisdom that has reached to you and me.