No Exceptions

The rules in Proverbs have exceptions, but there are no exceptions to the rule that God is with His people in their deepest trials fulfilling His purposes.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 15-16; Second Corinthians 1

Selected Verses

Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.  Proverbs 16:20

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.  Second Corinthians 1:8b-10

Reflections

There are several Proverbs here that seem to emphatically state that if one does right he will be blessed, and, if he does evil, he will suffer (Proverbs 15:6, 10, 22, 24; 16:3, 4, 7, 20).  Yet both in our personal experience and in other parts of the Bible, we see the wicked enjoying success, at least temporarily.  Conversely, godly people may go through unspeakable trials.  Paul himself was in this second category.   So was our Lord Jesus Christ as we already noted two days ago here.

The Apostle describes his suffering in terms of being on the verge of death.  He had no hope in this world, but his trust in God was strengthened.  God raises the dead.  Maybe that was His plan.  So Paul kept trusting God and was delivered.  He could look back on what he went through as a means of growing his faith and trust.

Think about it

Who doesn’t need to grow in trust in God?  I’m sure I do.

If trust in God, such that He is glorified in whatever situation we are in, is our goal (and it should be), what might He use to bring about the purifying of our faith?  In Job’s case, it was bereavement, financial devastation, chronic sickness and constant pain.   His insensitive wife and badly misinformed friends further compounded the problem.  In Paul’s case, it was some kind of near-death experience.

I do not wish for you or me to go through anything remotely resembling Job’s or Paul’s crises, but I am sure that the end result for us, like them, would be wonderful.  Pray for those who suffer today.  Pray that you will be faithful and that, whatever God chooses to send you, He will be with you and ultimately use it for great good and for a ministry of comfort to others.

The Mature Thinker

Christians should be inexperienced in sin, but not ignorant of what it is. Extensive experience with wickedness contributes nothing to mature thinking.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 5-6; First Corinthians 14:1-20

Selected Verses

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.  Proverbs 6:16-19

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.   First Corinthians 14:20

Reflections

In today’s reading we come across the first of the numerical sayings in Proverbs.  [See also Proverbs 30:15-31.]  This list includes seven things that God hates.  The first six are related to body parts, if you include breath which would imply the participation of the lungs.  Certainly, the Scriptures leave no doubt about what is evil.  Each of these vices has to do with relationships with others.  Haughty eyes look down on other people.  Lying may occur in our speech to others or in the formal setting of a false witness.  Hands can murder after the heart has concocted the scheme.  Feet and legs can carry one to do the wicked deed.  God hates the creation of animosity between family members.  How God’s gift of life and healthy bodies can be abused for purposes which are an abomination to Him!

Paul calls the Corinthians to live in ways that build up, encourage, and console one another in the church (vs. 3).  They seem to be concerned about themselves rather than one another.  They use their gifts selfishly.  The Apostle wants them to strengthen their ministry to one another.  As it is they show childish thinking and advanced levels of evil.   This needs to be reversed.

Think about it

Hollywood offers entertainment for “mature audiences,” but if the executives in the cinematographic industry believed their Bibles they would change the designation to “immature audiences.”  Generally, they do not hate what God hates.  As we read in Romans 12:1-2, present your body (eyes, tongue, hands, heart, feet) as a living sacrifice to Him.  Be renewed in your mind so that you will be mature in thinking rather than experienced in evil.  You will be likely to build up, encourage, and console those around you.

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).

To My Dying Breath

Have you found a purpose for life big enough to captivate your soul to your dying breath? The Bible points the way for you!

Today’s reading

Psalms 145-147; First Corinthians 11:1-15

Selected Verses

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.  Psalm 146:1-2

All things are from God.  First Corinthians 11:12

Reflections

Those who know God well never lose their focus on Him whether in the pressures of life at its prime or the pain of life at its end. God is always foremost in the hearts and minds of His people.

The psalmist praises God for a host of reasons, but, besides that, he commits himself to keep praising God as long as he lives, as long as he has being. He could say, “to my dying breath.”   Even in a lifetime, one could never exhaust the things for which God deserves praise and adoration. There is no end to His works of creation and providence which reflect His glory. The psalms help us put words to our thoughts and thoughts to our observations. God in the psalms helps us see His hand in more things and proclaim His praise more clearly.

Paul deals with many difficult questions in his letter to the Corinthians. Now he turns to issues related to corporate worship in the church and the proper and distinct roles of men and women in the church. The passage raises as many questions as answers, but one thing is clear, “All things are from God.” Paul has already set this idea before his readers earlier in the letter (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). It is the principle around which he orients his thinking and instruction on the matters they are dealing with.

Think about it

The fact is that the purpose of our existence–as creatures made in God’s image whether male or female–is His glory. We fulfill that purpose in our actions, attitudes, thoughts, and speech.  I have been privileged to know a few fervent disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who were using their final breath to give Him praise. That is my goal and desire, to praise Him while I have being, to my dying breath. How about you? This is our calling in Christ. Be sure you own it.

Guidance for Complex Decisions

God’s word meets us in real life where we face questions that require His direction. Here we find two examples of how to deal with complex matters.

Today’s reading

Psalms 142-144; First Corinthians 10:14-33

Selected Verses

Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.  Psalm 143:7-8

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,  just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  First Corinthians 10:31-33

Reflections

The Christian is called to glorify God, to make sacrifices to build up others, and to avoid being offensive or selfish so that many may be saved.  With those purposes in view, even complex ethical decisions become more obvious.

We aren’t given the specific historical setting of Psalm 143, but it is clear that David is desperate.  There is much honesty expressed in these Psalms.   No room for denial here.  The author feels he needs direction from God and he needs it fast.  Apparently he had to make a decision by morning.  This could be a prayer in the evening and David is praying that it will be clear to him by then as to which direction he should go.

The Corinthian believers also faced a dilemma.  They wonder how to handle the touchy situation of food offered to idols.  Some see it as a non-issue and have freedom to eat that food with no qualms.  Others are troubled by the idea of eating this food that was offered to demons.  Paul is clear that there is really no problem in eating the food, but there is a problem of causing a brother to stumble.  He gives the readers of his letter some very simple, clear and practical guidelines as to when to eat and when not to eat.

Think about it

Let’s put these guidelines into the form of questions to ask when making complex, ethical decisions:  How can I best glorify God?  How can I be helpful and build others up?  How can I avoid offending so that an unbeliever is more able to find his way to salvation?  Have I prayed to God for wisdom and waited for a sense of clarity on the matter? Consider how you can apply these questions to the difficult decisions you must make.

Wisdom: Making Sense of Apparent Contradictions

What if Scripture seems to contradict itself? This calls for wisdom and careful study, but the result will be worth the effort. Let’s get the Bible right.

Today’s reading

Psalms 128-131; First Corinthians 7:25-40

Selected Verses

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.   Psalm 128:3-4

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none,  and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods,  and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.  First Corinthians 7:29-31

Reflections

To understand the Bible properly, the reader needs to observe principles of interpretation, especially, the principles of reading passages in context and seeking to let the whole Bible comment on specific passages.

The psalmist paints a lovely picture of the family life of a godly man where the husband fears God and God blesses him in every aspect of his life.  His wife and children are an evidence of the goodness and blessing of God poured out on him.  Who would not love to have a family like this or be a member of such a family?

In the first letter to the Corinthians, we seem to get a different message.  Paul says that marriage brings concerns that occupy and distract people.  It would be ideal, he says, for single or betrothed people to remain as they are and to give themselves in “undivided devotion to the Lord.”   Rather than holding up traditional family life as the epitome of God’s blessing, Paul sees it as a potential obstacle to focused service for the Lord.

Think about it

So, which is it?  Is marriage a blessing or a distraction to the believer?  The answer is “it depends.”  Paul condemns the prohibition of marriage (1 Timothy 4:1-5).  He honors marriage and teaches that it is an analogy of the relationship of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). But neither does the Apostle suggest that marriage is the only way to personal fulfillment and fruitfulness ( 2 Timothy 2:3-4). Marriage is for most but not everyone (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:10-12). The Scriptures advise the use of wisdom as we make decisions about marriage or other kinds of responsibilities that will impact our freedom to serve God.  Seek the whole picture of what the Bible teaches on any matter before jumping to conclusions. Let’s handle apparent contradictions in the Bible carefully. Truth matters.

Security vs. Restlessness

Do you find yourself often restless, longing for some change of life that would make you happier and more fulfilled? God has provided security for you.

Today’s reading

Psalms 124-127; First Corinthians 7:1-24

Selected Verses

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.   Psalm 125:1-2

You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

First Corinthians 7:23-24

Reflections

It is pleasant to picture the Jews of Ancient Israel trudging up the dusty roads to Jerusalem on Mount Zion singing the songs of ascents.  They go with expectation of being in the holy city near the temple, and, most of all, in the Lord’s presence.  The mount looks solid, and feels immovable.  The psalmist helps them picture their trusting relationship to God as one which keeps them as firm as the mount itself.

But they are not left on their own, merely clinging to Him in the hope that they do not let go and end up lost.  The song goes on to point out the mountains which surround the city.  These remind them that God surrounds His people.  When?  Sometimes?  Off and on? No! “From this time forth and forevermore!”   What comfort! What peace!

Paul addressed the subject of the marital and socioeconomic states in which the Corinthian believers might find themselves: single, married to a believer, married to an unbeliever, bond servitude, freedmen, etc.  There seems to be restlessness in some to change one or more of these states.  What is the best state to be in?  Paul says (in essence), “the one the Lord called you in.”  There are advantages and disadvantages to any state in which they found themselves, but the important thing is to remember “you are bought with a price” and whatever you do “remain with God.”

Think about it

We, Christians, are called to trust in the Lord and to recognize that we belong to Him by virtue of the purchase of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  We owe no higher loyalty and no greater allegiance. As His disciples, we are first and foremost His servants, freed from sin and the restlessness that so often drives us to what appears desirable.  Beware of enticements to flee the very situation in which God has placed you for His glory. Of course, we should flee any sinful situation, but being His disciple means trusting Him and being secure and fruitful wherever He has planted us. The grass is usually not greener on the other side of the fence. In Him, we have stability and security.

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.

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.