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.

The Loving Kindness of God

Those who find God’s forgiveness and restoration always recognize two things: their own sinful unworthiness, and God’s loving kindness.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 33-35; Titus 3

Selected Verses

Give thanks to the Lord of hosts,
for the Lord is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever! Jeremiah 33:11b

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us. Titus 3:3-5

Reflections

Jeremiah’s prophecy is peppered with indictments for Judah’s persistent rebellion against God, His Law, and His prophets. But these lists of failures are also accompanied by reassurances that God will ultimately restore the people He has chosen for Himself. They will be blessed and they will be filled with praise and thanks to the Lord.

Paul wrote to Titus who had the unenviable task of organizing and teaching the congregation in Crete, a society known for being “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Indeed, Paul identifies himself with a list of vices and character flaws that rivals that of the infamous Cretans. He says he and others who have now been saved could be described as “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” It is not a flattering resume, to say the least.

Then God intervened. Everything changed. God the Savior came with His goodness and loving kindness and saved Paul and all upon whom He set His love.

Think about it

Many, like me, will agree that the more we know of God and of ourselves the more amazed we are of the goodness and loving kindness of the Lord. Words cannot describe the relief of sins forgiven, of salvation assured, of adoption as God’s son, and of purpose and calling to serve God. Days spent in malice and envy are now filled with gratefulness and service. No, none who know Him would claim to be sinless or perfect, far from it. But it is all of God’s grace and He will complete what He has begun.

Do you know the goodness and loving kindness of God who saves? If you do, lift up His praises today in all you do.

Good Attitudes about Good Works

God demonstrates that works–to be good–must be done with good attitudes of delight and enthusiasm never begrudgingly. And He commands that we do the same.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 31-32; Titus 2

Selected Verses

I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. Jeremiah 32:40-41

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:13-14

Reflections

Jeremiah had a message from God that gave hope and perspective for the people of Judah in the midst of imminent captivity. God promised to restore them to their land, no matter how far He scattered them. Their disobedience had brought His anger and wrath. They deserved His punishment. But His commitment to them could not be terminated. He would do a new thing and bring them back and establish them. They would have His word in their hearts in that day. They would be stable in their faith and obedience. He would give them a new covenant to replace the old one they had so miserably disregarded. But God would not just do His people good. He would rejoice to do them good. He promised to plant them in the land “with all [His] heart and all [His] soul.”

That promised new covenant was brought about by the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul had met Christ in a dramatic way and spent the rest of his life proclaiming the good news of salvation through Him. He wrote to Titus to remind him that God redeemed His people from lawlessness so that they would belong to God and be “zealous for good works.”

Think about it

Do you do good works with joy and delight?  If we would be godly, we must not merely do the right thing but be sure that action is accompanied by correct attitudes. Seek to do good and to do it with a God-honoring spirit of grace and love.

Distress and Comfort

The Christian rests in his relationship to God through Christ and finds comfort when the spiritual state of those he loves distresses him.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 56-58; 1 Thessalonians 3

Selected Verses

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8

Reflections

Paul was anxious about the Thessalonians. Twice he uses the phrase “[we or I] could bear it no longer” (3:1, 5). He wanted to know how those new believers were doing. He finally sent Timothy to them and learned that they were not only standing firm in the gospel but were impacting the whole region.

Isaiah describes how God who is high and lifted up also dwells with the one who is “of a contrite and lowly spirit.” If God is with us, assuming we qualify as having “a contrite and lowly spirit,” do we need anything more? No, not really. God is enough. The psalmist said, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).

Yet Paul could not bear the distress of not knowing if the young Thessalonian disciples were doing well, not reverting to idol worship. Did Paul lack faith? Did he focus too much on being successful? No. We can see that Paul had a tender heart toward those he taught. It was natural, not sinful. He made the sacrifice of sending Timothy to inquire about them. There was nothing wrong with doing that. We would not expect a sincere minister or missionary to be cold and uncaring about those he has served in the gospel.

Think about it

So we are right to be concerned, even worried, about those whose spiritual lives could be in jeopardy. We are right to do what we can to care for them and to keep up with their circumstances and progress. In the final analysis, however, our greatest comfort and joy will be that “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” dwells with us and revives our hearts. Don’t be unfeeling toward others, but let God’s presence be the bedrock of your spirit to comfort you in distress.

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.”

Poverty, Joy, and Generosity: the Macedonians

Here we meet a group who did not let their desperate need stop their generosity. How God is glorified by such people who give despite their circumstances!

Today’s reading

Proverbs 30-31; Second Corinthians 8

Selected Verses

 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.  Proverbs 31:20

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

Second Corinthians 8:1-2

Reflections

Paul was concerned for the poor in Jerusalem. In an orderly way, he went about Macedonia and Achaia asking the churches to contribute to these needy brothers and sisters whom they had never met. [See The Importance of Giving to the Poor]. The Macedonian churches, those in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, were themselves suffering from affliction and extreme poverty.

There were two surprises here. One, Paul told them about the collection even though they were in need themselves. He did not want to rob them of the joy of doing what they could. Second, they gave far more than Paul expected. How were they able to do this? It was a result of the grace of God in their lives. Surely, they grasped “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (vs. 9).

Proverbs concludes with a picture of the godly woman, wife, and mother. We have met Lady Wisdom and her counterpart Ms. Folly in chapter 9. Now only the wise woman appears. One of her qualities is concern for the poor and needy. She gives to them and reaches out to them. She gives them resources and assists them in practical ways. Diligence, as exemplified by this woman, generally results in abundance. Abundance should result in generosity. Sadly, this is often not the case (Luke 12:13-21). One might think that poverty would squelch joy and generosity. In the Macedonian churches, the opposite was true. God’s grace makes the difference.

Think about it

There is no greater evidence of the presence of God’s grace than to have joy and generosity whether in need or in abundance. What glory that manifestation of grace brings to God! Look at Jesus, today, and learn joy and generosity whether you have much or little.

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.

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 Care and Feeding of Recovering Idolaters

Idol worshipers are not beyond the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. So how should we welcome them into the fellowship of His Church?

Today’s reading

Psalms 132-135; First Corinthians 8

Selected Verses

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see;
 they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.
Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.  Psalm 135:15-18

We know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”      First Corinthians 8:4

Reflections

Scripture tells us that there is One God, the Creator of all things, who made mankind in His own image and after His likeness (Genesis 1:26-27).  But what happens when people reject their God? They replace Him with some other “god,” one of their own imagination. The psalmist tells us that the impact on these idolaters is very negative. Worshipers start looking like the thing they worship.  The worship of a non-existent god of one’s own fabrication diminishes that worshiper to the level of that god.

Despite the apparent hopeless state of those reduced to less than humans, God’s grace and sovereign election to salvation overcomes and redeems those sub-humans. Paul reports that this happened in the city of Corinth (First Corinthians 6:9-11).  Praise God!

On the other hand, many new believers recovering from a vast host of sins populated the Corinthian church. More mature believers might inadvertently cause offense to these young disciples. Paul gives them some urgent advice about the care and feeding of recovering idolaters. Of course, idols don’t exist but former idol worshipers could easily be offended by seeing their fellow Christians eating at pagan feasts or enjoying food previously offered to idols. The point is, “don’t make your brother stumble even if what you are doing is not technically wrong.”

Think about it

Although idol worshipers are reduced to less than human, they are not beyond the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. When converted idolaters enter the church, more mature members must be sensitive to them as they grow in the knowledge of the Lord.

Do you need to limit your freedom in order to keep a brother or sister from stumbling? Do you need to grow in the conviction that there is but One God, so that you progress in your sanctification, fleeing the baggage of your sinful past?  Let those who are mature lead the way in the care and feeding of recovering idolaters.

The Best Encouragers

A friend who knows how to encourage is always a wonderful thing.  But do you know what kind of person makes the best encourager?

Today’s reading

Psalms 22-24; Acts 20:1-16

Selected Verses

 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him. Psalm 22:22-24

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. Acts 20:1-2

Reflections

Sufferers make the best encouragers because they are more in touch with the realities of both earth and heaven than others whose lives are more comfortable and secure.

The writer of Psalm 22 expresses great agony and great trust in the Lord through all of his sufferings. He never loses sight of either his pain or his God but shows that godly perspective which sees the here and now and the “there and then.” The words of this Psalm were on Jesus’ lips on the cross and, no doubt, comforted Him as He suffered and died.

Paul was certainly a suffering encourager. He had just endured jail time in Philippi,  ridicule in Athens, and the riot in Ephesus. The Jews were working on a plot to assassinate him (Acts 20:3), yet he went about encouraging the believers. What could stop the progress of the gospel ministry through Asia and Europe? Not riots; nor assassination plots; nor beatings and imprisonments. Nothing. Paul was in a unique position, as the lightning rod for the gospel, to reassure the saints that the preaching of the gospel could not be stopped. Adverse circumstances would not change the truth of the gospel nor the mandate of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19,20).

Think about it

If you would be an encourager, learn God’s word and be ready to suffer. God is able to strengthen you for that ministry which is always in great demand.