Keeping the Tension between Equality and Calling

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

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 41-42; Second Peter 1

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

Think about it

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

Suffering before a Perplexed World

Honoring Christ by maintaining hope even in the midst of great trials and suffering, makes the Christian life a huge curiosity to unbelievers.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 36-37; First Peter 3

Selected Verses

In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them.  But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, “These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.”  But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.  Ezekiel 36:19-21

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

First Peter 3:14-16

Reflections

The persistent idolatry of Israel and Judah brought on their downfall, but did they learn from it?  No!  They continued to profane the name of the Lord by not admitting before their captors that God was punishing them for their sin. The God of the universe did not fail so that enemy armies overthrew and captured His people.  So the captors scratched their heads and asked, “Why did this happen to them?”

Judah received a perfect opportunity to show repentance and to honor their God before pagan nations, but they failed.  So Ezekiel declared their guilt to them.  We will learn in the book of Daniel that there were at least a few Jews who were faithful to God while in captivity, but they seem to have been the exception and not the rule.

Peter wrote his readers–who were in a kind of captivity in the first century A.D.–that they should accept their suffering for righteousness sake.  In other words, they should submit to undeserved persecution and maintain hope and trust in the Lord.  He tells them to be ready “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Hope in the midst of unjust suffering is as rare as it is hard to explain.  The question they should anticipate is, “Why are these people still so hopeful under all this opposition?”

Think about it

How do we prepare for the possibility of suffering for righteousness sake?  Should we prepare little sound bites or memorize trite phrases?  Peter told his readers then and us now, to “honor Christ the Lord as holy.”  Do not be like the Old Testament Jews who profaned the Lord’s name. Instead, by honoring Christ in your heart be ready to honor Him with your words.  Create perplexity in the watching world.

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.

The Use and Abuse of Authority

All authority comes from God, so it must be used in God-honoring ways. Here we have contrasting examples of men in authority.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 36-37; Philemon

Selected Verses

As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.  Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. Jeremiah 36:23-25

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required,  yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Philemon 8-10

Reflections

Jeremiah received a message from God for the people of Judah. By God’s instruction, he had his scribe Baruch write the message down on a scroll. Since Jeremiah had been banned from the temple area, the prophet sent Baruch to read the message to the crowd gathered to worship on a fast day. Word came back to the king’s servants about this reading and they investigated further. As these officials of the king listened to Baruch read, they were gripped with fear (Jeremiah 36:16). They knew the king needed to hear the message, so they arranged to take the scroll, send Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding, and have the scroll read to King Jehoiakim.

The king listened to the reading, but had the scroll cut into sections and burned. Such was Jehoiakim’s abuse of God-given authority. He would pay for it with the end of his reign and a shameful death without so much as a pauper’s burial.

Paul, on the other hand, shows great restraint in the use of his authority over Philemon. He appeals to his friend to take kind and forgiving action toward his slave, Onesimus. In God’s providence, Onesimus had met Paul and, through him, Christ. Paul wrote to the Colossian church, possibly about the same time, as to the proper attitudes of a master toward a slave (Colossians 3:22-4:1).

Think about it

As king, Jehoiakim discouraged his officials from what appears to be an initial desire to obey God’s word. Paul encourages obedience to his friend but without being heavy handed.  Beware of ungodly authorities. Beware of the abuse of authority. Submit to God and to His authorities when appropriate. Use your authority with grace and restraint.

What a Church Leader Needs

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

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 9-10; First Timothy 3

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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

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

Think about it

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

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

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 Importance of Giving to the Poor

Giving to the needy honors God, their Creator. It should be done in an orderly way so as to minimize the danger of misappropriation of funds.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 13-14; First Corinthians 16

Selected Verses

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
but he who is generous to the needy honors him.  Proverbs 14:31

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.  And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.   First Corinthians 16:1-3

Reflections

Proverbs frequently commends the practice of giving to those who are poor. Here we see that one of the reasons, perhaps the most important reason, is the poor man was made by God. All who know their Bibles will recall that God made man in His own image and according to His likeness, male and female (Genesis 1:26-27) . This teaching about the nature of all humans–that we are made in God’s likeness–is a great equalizer. We vary in many ways: looks, intelligence, personalities, talents, preferences, etc., but none of these differences (much less one’s socioeconomic status) changes the reality of the image of God in us. Therefore, the writer of the proverb says, our response to the needy either insults God or honors Him. Being generous to the needy is an act of worship to the Lord.

In Paul’s day, there was significant poverty among the believers in Jerusalem. The Apostle organized a collection from several churches to assist these needy brothers and sisters. We learn a bit about some of Paul’s administrative skills and convictions as we read today’s passage. First, Paul wanted the people to save on a weekly basis, as they were able, for this collection. Second, Paul wanted them to select trustworthy representatives to take the fund to Jerusalem. Paul would write a letter commending the envoys to the church in Jerusalem and, possibly, accompany them himself. This seems to have been in order that the Corinthians would rest assured that the money would get to its intended destination and so that the people in Jerusalem would appreciate the intention of this action and the sacrificial efforts made to collect it.

Think about it

God’s people are to be known for their care of the poor and needy. We, of all people, should be generous with those who are less fortunate. But we ought to be wise in the distribution of our resources, limited as they are. Become well-informed both about the identity of those who are truly in need and about reputable agencies through which you may assist them. It is an act that honors God as well as helps others. Make it count.

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.

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.

How God Uses Means to Meet Needs

What should we do when we see people in need? We can’t possibly respond to every worthy cause. Here is guidance that will help us help others.

Today’s reading

Psalms 107-108; Romans 15:21-33

Selected Verses

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!  Psalm 107:6-8

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints.  For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.  Romans 15:25-26

Reflections

Psalm 107 gives four vivid examples of how God worked to deliver people in need who called to Him in their distress.  One group was homeless, others were imprisoned, some suffered for their sin, and still others were on the verge of shipwreck in a storm at sea.  In each case, God heard their cries and delivered them.  In each case, those who were delivered are admonished to give thanks to God for responding to their prayer and saving them.  God is certainly due praise in these cases, but it would be naïve to assume that God never uses other people to answer the prayers of those who are helpless.

Take Paul, for example.  He knew about the suffering of the believers in Jerusalem.  As he traveled through Europe, he asked the churches there to help with this need.  They responded and Paul was in the process of traveling to deliver the collection to the needy.

Think about it

God deserves all praise and thanks when He provides for those in need, but we ought not to sit back passively when we see a need assuming that He will intervene without the help of people like us.

Certainly, we are aware of more needs than any one of us can meet alone.  We do need wisdom in choosing where to assist given the realities of our limited time and money.  But beware of never responding to genuine needs thinking that God will intervene with no assistance from people.  God uses means to meet needs that accomplish His purposes and you and I are some of the means He uses.  Be ready to consider serving when you are called and able to do so.