Faithfulness Pleases God

Beware of a common saying which we hear today that implies that God doesn’t care about our faithfulness but only our faith.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 4-6; Second Corinthians 10

Selected Verses

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.   Ecclesiastes 5:4

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.   Second Corinthians 10:18

Reflections

There is a common fallacy being foisted upon the unsuspecting public in our society today. It goes, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.” As with all fallacies, there is some truth, but along with it is a dangerous, unbiblical implication. It is true we cannot by our actions manipulate God or change Him in any way, but this mantra seems to say, “What you do doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about your personal behavior. Sin all you want. God still loves you. Neglect the means of grace. God still loves you. If you make an effort to serve Him, He won’t even notice. He loves you just the same.”

Solomon warned his readers about being casual in their relationship to God. The Lord “has no pleasure in fools,” he told them. It does matter if you make a vow to God and then delay to keep it. God is not pleased with such foolishness. “God is the one you must fear,” he declared (5:7).

Paul also was concerned about pleasing God. The Apostle had been denigrated by others who took pride in themselves. That gave him the context to propound his view of whose opinion matters. Clearly, all that ultimately matters is how the Lord views you. All the accolades or criticisms of the world do not affect God’s evaluation. The commendation we should seek is God’s and He knows what is really going on in our outward behavior and in our hearts.

Think about it

Does God care whether we are faithful or not? Yes, absolutely. We do not earn our forgiveness, but we do show evidence of it by the level of seriousness we give to our vows and spiritual disciplines. God is not a cruel taskmaster. He is no demanding tyrant. Yes, His love is secure, but He calls us to grow in holiness and to be faithful to the means of grace which He has provided. Seek the faithfulness that pleases God.

Two Sides of Godliness

Godliness has both negative and positive sides. When we turn from sin; we turn to righteousness. Likewise when we turn to righteousness, we turn from sin.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 28-29; Second Corinthians 7

Selected Verses

A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.  Proverbs 29:7

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

Second Corinthians 7:1

Reflections

The Proverbs continues contrasting the wise and the fool, the righteous and the wicked, the rich and the poor. The stereotypes don’t always hold up, however. The poor are sometimes wise. The rich are sometimes foolish. But not always. [See “A Warning Against Stereotyping”].

The righteous man or woman “knows the rights of the poor.” One who does not grasp the dignity and worth of every human being, by virtue of their being made in God’s image, and thus entitled to rights, is classified with the wicked. This does not mean that the sluggard should be enabled to continue in his indolence. It does mean that a godly person will seek to be discerning, and to promote the well-being of the poor who have legitimate needs, perhaps because of health limitations, or the injustices of others, or “acts of God” like crop failures. The poor have rights, and the righteous will understand this. They will not ignore those in real need.

Paul urges the Corinthians to cleanse themselves from sin and to grow in holiness. This is God’s purpose for His own people, that they should be godly, awaiting the appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, and zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-13). They count this life as a transition period in which they can invest themselves in good works. One area of good works is care for the poor and suffering of this world. It is not enough to merely flee from sin, God’s people are also called to do good to others.

Think about it

Sanctification, the process of growing in godliness, has both negative (don’t do that) and positive (do this) aspects. Do you seek to grow both in fleeing from sin and fleeing to good works? Seek to glorify God in both those ways.

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.

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).

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.

Peace and Purity in the Church

Sin among God’s people should not be. Sadly, it has always existed. Here we find instructions for dealing with it. Let us take heed.

Today’s reading

Psalms 120-123; First Corinthians 6

Selected Verses

Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
 I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war! Psalm 120:6-7

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?   But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!  First Corinthians 6:7-8

Reflections

Christians are called to be committed to the peace and purity of the church. There ought never be occasions when professing believers war against and defraud one another.  But there are.  Fortunately, God’s word denounces this and gives instruction on how to respond.

Psalm 120 introduces the section of fifteen psalms known as “The Songs of Ascents,” traditionally believed to be songs sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the feasts. It is easy to see in these psalms the longing to be in Jerusalem and in the temple where the Lord’s presence was most keenly felt.

In this case the psalmist is weary of dealing with liars and deceivers. The locations of Meshech and Kedar may be mentioned to epitomize Gentile locales where one would expect to find liars and deceivers and a total disregard for the fear of God. It seems that the world’s culture had moved into Israel.

Paul found a similar situation in Corinth where the members of the congregation were going to secular courts with complaints against one another. The Apostle is horrified by the thought of this kind of hostility in the church. He tells them there is no place for this among God’s people, who should be willing to suffer wrong and be defrauded before going to a pagan court against a brother.

Think about it

Sadly, these things continue to exist. Despite church members taking vows to “study the peace and purity of the church,” we hear of lawsuits, divorces with no biblical foundation, and other shameful behaviors taking place.[1] Seek to be a force in your local church for peace and purity that God may be glorified.

 

[1]  One of the five questions asked of new members in the Presbyterian Church of America is “Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?” Book of Church Order Ch. 57 Section 5.

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.

Purpose in Life: Unchanging and Unending

Why do we exist? Is there a reason for being that is great enough and noble enough to command our hearts, minds, and wills from cradle to grave? Yes!

Today’s reading

Psalms 103-104; Romans 14

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.   Psalm 104:33

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. Romans 14:6-7

Reflections

For the believer, there is one clear lasting purpose around which everything revolves, to honor the Lord in life and in death.  Circumstances change; that purpose never does.

The Psalmist’s heart overflows in praise to God. God is due all honor for His being, His attributes, and His endless acts of kindness and love to His people.  There is not enough time or words to express it all.  As Fredrick Lehman put it in his hymn “The Love of God:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.

Paul addresses matters that were apparently causing divisions between believers in Rome: the keeping of Jewish feast days, and the eating of meat previously offered to idols.  The Apostle points all of his readers to a place of common ground.  They are all concerned about honoring the Lord, or, at least, they should be.  That is the purpose of their lives.  They have been redeemed to glorify God.  The kingdom to which they have been called is not about what you eat but about “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (vs. 17).

Think about it

Are you focused on what really matters, honoring God?  We, who trust in Jesus Christ, can certainly agree that what matters most is His glory in and through our lives until He calls us home.  That will help us get along even when we don’t see eye to eye with each other on minor points. Let His glory keep you profitably occupied all the days of your life.

Love God; Hate Evil

The true disciple brings his or her whole being to God as a living sacrifice. The result is transformation by a renewed mind that loves God and hates evil.

Today’s reading

Psalms 96-98; Romans 12

Selected Verses

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.  Psalm 97:10

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Romans 12:9-10

Reflections

Our psalms for today are at the heart of a section in which God is worshiped and praised as King (Psalm 93; 95-100). We hear the exclamation, “The Lord reigns” several times. These psalms also portray God as the Judge of all the earth. His rule is absolute. His laws are perfectly just and His judgments are flawless. Obviously, the laws of human kings can be (and often are) biased. Their judicial rulings are not perfect, but our God is just in every way. His laws and judgments are infallible. So it is not only safe but right to love the Lord and to hate evil, as He defines it by His law.

The Psalmist exhorts us, who love the Lord, to hate evil. These are two sides of a coin, impossible to separate. If you love the Lord, you will hate evil. If you do not hate evil, your love for the Lord is in question. Can one’s love for God be genuine, if he does not hate what God hates?

Paul makes an exhortation to the recipients of his letter in Rome which similarly includes the words “love” and “abhor.” He raises the possibility and the danger of phony love. One may pretend to love but not truly love. Loving action can be counterfeit–a setup for later betrayal like Judas Iscariot. Check your love to be sure it is genuine, writes Paul. He then goes on to tell them to “Abhor what is evil.”

Think about it

The Christian faith and life is not only a matter of correct theology, although that is essential, but also a matter of attitudes and actions–the involvement of the will and emotions. The one who presents himself to God as a living sacrifice seeking a renewed mind will be transformed in thoughts, attitudes, and actions. That renewal is a life-long process called sanctification which culminates when we see the Lord face to face (1 John 3:1-3).

Will you take one step forward in godliness today, by presenting yourself to Him as a living sacrifice out of genuine love for Him? Combine that with a hatred of evil, confessing the sin that lurks in your own heart. A renewed mind will bring a transformed heart to love God and hate evil.

When Theory Becomes Reality

Head knowledge and theory are necessary but when it comes to knowing God there is nothing like years of real life experience.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 56-58; Acts 28:1-15

Selected Verses

This I know, that God is for me.
 In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?    Psalm 56:9b-11

And so we came to Rome.  And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. Acts 28:14-15

Reflections

Throughout the Psalms we are told of the trials and afflictions that come to a believer. He may be unjustly treated, falsely accused, betrayed, ridiculed, and pursued by an army. The godly man or woman clings to the Lord, delights in His law, and trusts God no matter what. Through those trials the disciple learns that even when life is difficult, God is there. God is for me.

Paul went through months of trials as a prisoner. He endured shipwreck and even a snake bite. But everywhere he went the Lord was there keeping him and using his life to minister to others. Finally, he made it to Rome and, right away, he met brothers who were anticipating his arrival. All the stress of that trip melted away as, again, God showed that He had a purpose for Paul in Rome, a purpose which included service to the church in Rome.

Paul had written earlier to the Roman Christians telling them, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32). Might this have been Paul’s way of expressing the thought of Psalm 56? Paul was no novice when he wrote Romans 8, but God proved Himself in even more ways by the time he met the believers face to face in Rome.

Think about it

There is no substitute for real life experience in knowing God. Biblical truth may be perceived with the mind and believed but it becomes reality in the actual rough and tumble of life where God shows Himself to be faithful to His people.

Wherever you are in life, young, old, or in-between, seek to know God through His Word and to prove His promises through your experience of trusting Him. There is no way to learn how powerful and present God is other than daily faith and obedience.