The Limits of Wise Counsel

We must be careful to hear godly counsel while recognizing that even godly counsel is not infallible. Ultimately, we are responsible to obey God.

Today’s reading

Psalms 31-33; Acts 21:15-40

Selected Verses

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!    Psalm 31:14-15

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.  Acts 21:15

Reflections

Paul had heard from several wise fellow believers that he would suffer arrest and adversity in Jerusalem. He also heard them urge him not to go. They loved him, and they did not want him to suffer and possibly die. Paul was not foolhardy. There were certainly several instances when Paul avoided danger (e.g. Acts 9:23-25; 29-30; 13:50,51; 14:19-20; 17:13-14). Indeed, Luke comments that Paul and Barnabas “shook off the dust from their feet against [Antioch in Pisidia] and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:51) following the policy Jesus had given to His disciples when He sent them out to preach to unresponsive people (Matthew 10:14).

Paul probably remembered the words of Psalm 31 quoted above. His trust was in the Lord. He knew that he had been given a purpose and a ministry to complete. He believed it included going into the lions’ den of Jerusalem where some believers had questions about him and where unbelieving Jews were out to get the former persecutor of the Church. Paul trusted God who had his times in His hands.

So he did not follow the advice of his many well-meaning friends. He got ready and went to Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t tell us how Paul was so sure he needed to do this. He just went. As prophesied, he did begin to suffer almost immediately, but he would remain faithful and use that platform of suffering to glorify God and proclaim the gospel in some very unusual settings.

Think about it

God does not guarantee that His path for us will be easy and pleasant or even “sensible” at all times. Be ready for anything, so that someday you can say:

 Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.  I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Psalm 31:21-22

The Importance of Seeking God

God, who knows the hearts of all, is near to those who seek Him, even when His will for them may include trials and suffering.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 7-9; Acts 17:1-15

Selected Verses

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.  Psalm 9:9-10

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.  Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.  Acts 17:11-12

Reflections

David knew suffering and difficulties throughout his life, but he also had learned to count on God no matter what came his way.  He knew how to take refuge in God (Psalm 7:1).  He knew that God would never abandon him or anyone else who was seeking Him.  God was his rock and stronghold no matter whether circumstances were good or bad.

As Paul, Silas, and Timothy continued on their missionary journey through the towns of Asia Minor, they preached about Jesus to the Jews and those Gentiles who adhered to Judaism.  The response was mixed, not everyone believed and some became hostile, but they saw faith everywhere they went, too.  The Jews in Berea who heard Paul were especially diligent in studying the Scriptures to see if what Paul was telling them was really true.  These were people who, no doubt, had been seeking God in His word.  God would not forsake them and He sent them none other than the Apostle Paul to proclaim to them the truth of Christ.

Think about it

How does your daily life reflect a seeking after God?  Are you dependent on success in your activities and business in order to remain confident in the Lord or are you spiritually stable no matter what storm you are in?  Seek the Lord through His word and prayer.  Be alert to His providence in your circumstances.   Let Him be your stronghold.  This was the way of David, the Bereans, Paul, Silas, and Timothy.  Seek Him for He will never forsake those who seek Him.

 

The Christian and Personal Piety

While no one is saved by good works or personal piety, those who are saved demonstrate their love for God through good works and personal piety.

Today’s Reading

Job 21-22; Acts 10:1-23

Selected Verses

 They say to God, “Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.
 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?” Job 21:14-15

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.   Acts 10:1-2

Reflections

Job describes the wicked who prosper as those who tell God to “get lost,” have no passion to know Him or His ways, and won’t serve God or pray to Him. Instead they ask, “What’s in it for me?”   If we want to know what the godly man or woman looks like, we can just reverse these descriptions.  The godly seek God’s presence. They draw near to God and find that He draws near to them (James 4:8).  They want to know Him and His ways.  God’s people serve Him and pray to Him without hesitation and know that it is a privilege to serve Him and pray to Him. Nothing else is needed or desired but to know Him.

Cornelius, a Roman military officer, would seem to be an unlikely candidate for the roll call of faith.  Not so.  He was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” Undoubtedly, his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ was lacking, but God saw his heart and sent Peter to him to proclaim the good news.  Cornelius was not saved by his piety, but it did show his passion to know the Lord and God heard him.  He led his family toward the Lord and had a soldier who was devout (Acts 10:7).  It would seem that Cornelius’ fear of the Lord impacted his personal life, his family, and his professional life.  By the way, we see included here the virtue of the fear of God, a quality notably lacking among people today.

Think about it

How do you view your devotional life?  Is it a joy?  Do you anticipate being in the Lord’s presence?  Is prayer merely for personal benefit or is it communion with your Savior?  Is reverent fear of God a characteristic you seek to develop?  Think about it.  Make attitude adjustments as needed.

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.

Obedience by Faith

Queen Esther risked her life to obey God.  So did the apostles.  We applaud them now, but at the time they had to practice obedience by faith.

Today’s Reading

Esther 4-6; Acts 5:17-42

Selected Verses

Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.  Esther 4:16

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”  Acts 5:17-20

Reflections

Obedience to God must be by faith, because it does not always bring pleasant results immediately and, sometimes, it can even cost you your life. Yet for the Christian, his obedience always has a positive outcome because even loss of life brings him into the glorious presence of God.

Esther was queen, but she and all the Jews were under a death sentence because of Haman’s instigation of the king’s decree. Mordecai challenged her to go to the king and plead for a reprieve from the law. After some back and forth, Esther agreed, knowing that, if the king did not hold out the golden scepter to her, she would be executed. She uttered her famous words, “if I perish, I perish.”

Of course, in her case the king received her and heard her plea. She did not have to wait long for the reward of her obedience.

The apostles continued to preach the gospel of the risen Christ, and the high priest and the Sadducees had them thrown back into prison. This time the angel of the Lord opened the door of the prison and sent the apostles back to the temple to preach. The officials looked like fools when they sent to the prison and could not find them. Finally, a report came in that they were preaching in the temple again. At their hearing they maintained that they “must obey God rather than men.”

Think about it

There really is no downside to obedience by faith to God for even if we perish, we win the victor’s crown (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Be ready to obey by faith today, no matter what the outcome.  If you are persecuted for your obedience,  you may go straight to glory.  But, if not, you will be able to rejoice “that you were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

God or Government? Choosing Whom to Obey

God’s people understand that our secular rulers are servants of God who must be obeyed except when they command disobedience to the Lord.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 9-11; Acts 4:1-22

Selected Verses

Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves.  And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.                                                                                       Nehemiah 9:36-37

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. Acts 4:19-21

Reflections

Nehemiah, the governor of Judah under King Artaxerxes, gives an eloquent analysis of the history of Israel from Abraham to the return from captivity. He sees how God has been gracious and good to them giving commands that, if obeyed, would bring them prosperity and security. Even after repeated episodes of rebellion, God showed mercy to them. Nehemiah reflects on their status in his day and sees that the people, although living back in Judah, are virtual slaves in their own land. They are not free to enjoy the fruit of their labor. They are controlled by a foreign power due to their disobedience. He calls the people back to faithful worship of the Lord and they make a covenant to respect the law. This is a wonderful example of a political leader proclaiming spiritual truth and actually facilitating the population’s obedience to God.

Fast forward to the time of Peter and John who in Jesus’ name heal a lame man in the temple. They face opposition from the authorities who prohibit their preaching in the Savior’s name. Peter says that they will obey God. Peter understands that the chief priests are under God’s authority and they will suffer if they prohibit what God commands or command what God prohibits.

Think about it

Are you aware that the powers of governments are granted by God? Officials must answer to Him as we all must. Are you ready to obey God rather than be complicit in disobedience if it comes to that? Be prepared with knowledge of His Word and trust in Him. God can give us wise leaders who fear Him, like Nehemiah. But, if He doesn’t, we will obey God rather than man.

Emotional Engagement

The life of faith is not a cold, intellectual exercise.  The presence of God manifested by His mighty works brings deep emotional engagement to the believer.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 1-3; Acts 2:1-13

Selected Verses

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  Nehemiah 1:11

And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.  And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?”  Acts 2:6-7

Reflections

News of the ruined walls of his beloved Jerusalem devastated Nehemiah.  True, Cyrus had ordered the rebuilding of the temple. Exiles had been allowed to return to do that work.  Now, decades later, Nehemiah learns that the city is defenseless.  He goes to God in prayer, a prayer that reveals his deep knowledge of the Lord.  Nehemiah mentions a fascinating characteristic of God’s servants that they delight to fear His name.

When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples gathered together on the day of Pentecost, suddenly they begin to preach to the crowds in various languages.  And the people are able to understand them perfectly.   God was manifesting Himself at that time and place through His apostles.  The work of God, so dramatically revealed, stirred up all kinds of emotions in these devout men: bewilderment, amazement, astonishment, and perplexity.

Think about it

Do you think of a committed Christian as one who is cold and stoic?  We see in Scripture that believers most certainly feel deeply the power and presence of God. Do you think of fear as being antithetical to delight?  “How can someone delight to fear God’s name?” you may ask.  Yet the knowledge of Almighty God brings a proper fear and awe to the heart of the believer that is joyful.  The fear comes because we know Him to be Almighty, but that knowledge is also accompanied by joy in knowing that He can and will fulfill His Word and keep us safe until He gets us home to glory.  Fear God.  Delight in the fear of Him.  Be amazed.  Enjoy emotional engagement with God. Just don’t be cold.

Following Christ without Distraction

God calls people to avoid distractions and focus on following Christ through careful study and applying of His Word. But when we fail is there any hope?

Today’s Reading

Ezra 6-8; John 21

Selected Verses

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.  Ezra 7:10

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”  John 21:21-22

Reflections

Peter was by nature an impulsive and fickle person. This is obvious from the various stories we read about him in the gospels. Remember his nervous response to the transfiguration of Jesus? On another occasion, He confessed Jesus as the Son of God, but moments later Jesus rebuked him for contradicting the Lord’s  prophecy about His death and resurrection.  Peter promised to be loyal to Jesus to death, if necessary, and followed that up with multiple denials that he knew Him.

Now Jesus speaks to him personally giving him the opportunity to confess three times his love for Christ. Jesus charges Peter three times: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep.” Jesus then makes a reference to Peter’s future martyrdom and says, “Follow me.” But Peter, true to form, notices another disciple nearby (John) and asks what will come of him. Jesus gently tells him it’s none of his business and repeats His earlier command, “You follow me.”

Peter needed to take a lesson from Ezra, who “set his heart” to study, do, and teach the Law of God. Ezra focused on what God had given him to do and would not be distracted from it. Peter did indeed learn this lesson as we can tell from accounts of his later life in the New Testament about his service for Christ in the gospel.

Think about it

How about you? Have you set your heart to study, do, and teach God’s word? Are you single-mindedly following Christ? We can all improve in this. But the same Lord who was gracious, merciful, and patient with the Apostle Peter is the same toward us who struggle to be faithful to Him. Pray that you will be undistracted in your devotion to the Lord and His word.

 

A Basis for Confidence

Our hope is not in the triumph of an earthly kingdom, but in the coming of the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, we serve Him with confidence.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 32-33; John 18:24-40

Selected Verses

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.  2 Chronicles 32:7-8

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  John 18:36

Reflections

Pilate, the Roman governor, was presented with Jesus to be tried, yet no charges were filed against Him. Rightly, Pilate wanted clarification as to the offenses of the prisoner. It finally came out that Jesus was claiming to be a king although His kingdom was not an earthly one. Nor were His followers mounting any kind of attack against the powers of Rome. It was a bizarre exchange in which Pilate looks confused and perplexed. He tries to release Jesus but finally succumbs to mob pressure. So much for the so-called rule of law! But since Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, it could not be defeated by any force in this world, not even the misapplication of law in the Roman Empire.

By contrast, the kingdom of Judah in Old Testament times was a kingdom of this world. Like every aspect of the culture of Israel in those days (the priesthood, the religious ceremonies, and the political structure) life in the kingdom revealed the instability of mankind and the need for a greater kingdom with a Perfect King. That King was and is Jesus Christ. Hezekiah had some good days and saw temporary victory over the Assyrians. Manasseh was famously evil during most of his life, but in the end he repented. Amon reverted to the worst days of his father. Stability eluded them. Nothing lasted long.

Think about it

The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom based on truth and governed by a Perfect Eternal King. We wait for it, but we should not be idle in our waiting. What has God given you to do today to hasten the day when our faith shall be sight? Do it with all your heart and with confidence. The King is coming and His kingdom is spiritual and eternal.

What to do when obedience brings ridicule

The price of obedience to God can be extremely high.  Obedience must be by faith, because it does not always bring instant positive reinforcement.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 29-31; John 18:1-23

Selected Verses

So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them.  However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.  The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.  2 Chronicles 30:10-12

When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”  Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” John 18:22-23

Reflections

Hezekiah set out to turn Judah and Israel back to the Lord.  After cleansing the temple and consecrating the priests, his next step was to celebrate the long-neglected Passover.  The king sent out couriers to the northern kingdom inviting them to join in the feast, but it seems the typical response was to laugh them to scorn.

There were exceptions, of course, as “some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.”  Why did these few respond?  The next verse says it was the hand of God which “was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.”  It is God Who works in human hearts to bring about obedience and faith.  Otherwise, people mock and scorn the Lord’s messengers as they did the couriers of the king.

Jesus’ obedience was the most costly of anyone in all of human history.  In His trial before Annas, He was questioned about matters of public knowledge as they searched for grounds on which to charge Him.  Jesus spoke the truth but was struck for it.  This was only the beginning of the sufferings, mocking, and abuse He would receive.

Think about it

When you obey God and suffer for it, are you tempted to second-guess your action?  Do you expect to have your obedience to God instantly rewarded?  Neither Hezekiah’s couriers nor Jesus did.  Obey by faith and be ready to follow the steps of your Savior who suffered for you.  His reward was not instant, but it was great and it was eternal.  Your reward may be delayed, too, but it will come in God’s time.