Slow Growth

Spiritual growth is a gradual process, like a great tree, it will not reach maturity quickly. Gather wisdom and truth and be patient. Time is a factor.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 19-20; Second Corinthians 3

Selected Verses

Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom in the future.  Proverbs 19:20

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  Second Corinthians 3:18

Reflections

Many proverbs urge us to heed sound advice, to seek wisdom, to accept correction.  Many promises are made to the one who is teachable and receptive.   In vs. 20 above, there is an orientation toward the future.  Various English translations differ as to whether the idea here is that instruction received now will result in your gaining wisdom in the future or gaining wisdom for the future.   The difference is minor, and, either way, there is a certain dynamic going on.   Time is a factor.

“Why do I need to learn this?” Teachers hear this question frequently. But children must learn information and skills for which they see no immediate or long-term purpose.  Parents and other educators impart what they know will be useful to the child in later years.  Children can whine and complain, but the failure to learn today’s lessons is likely to turn into regret in future years.  Growth is gradual, but God tells us to store up knowledge and wisdom for the time when we will need it.

Paul gives a defense of his ministry here.  He calls the Corinthian believers his “letter of recommendation” to any who might require proof of the authenticity of his apostleship. From that thought he launches into some paragraphs showing the superior glory of the ministry of the new covenant over the old.  Moses would veil his face after meeting with God to hide the fading glory, but in the new covenant our faces are unveiled and the glory grows stronger rather than weaker.  Again time is a factor.

Think about it

Perhaps you find your spiritual growth imperceptible, like watching an oak tree grow.  Seek wisdom today.  Be receptive to instruction, even when it seems irrelevant.  Praise God for sending His Spirit to write on our hearts His truth.  He is at work in you, believing friend, but the distance between one degree of glory and the next may not be immediately evident.

 

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.

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.

When the Prosperity Gospel Goes Bankrupt

The prosperity gospel teaches “Believe in Jesus and you will have health and wealth.” But many of us find this isn’t true. What then?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 73-74; Romans 5

Selected Verses

 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.   Psalm 73:25-26

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings.  Romans 5:1-3

Reflections

As Psalm 73 opens, the writer is not satisfied at all—not in God, not with life.  He lays out a common complaint. “Why do the unrighteous prosper while good people suffer?” His observation is accurate in many cases.  You’d think the opposite would always hold. But keep reading.  The Psalm gives us two answers to that question.

The first, and most obvious, answer is that though the present life may be comfortable for them the end of the wicked is ruin, destruction, and terrors (vs.17-19).   In light of this, the Psalmist’s complaint turns into a confession of his ignorance and brutishness toward God (vs. 21-22).

Second, the righteous clings to the hope of a good final end, unfazed by the suffering of his present life.  He has the Lord with Him and enjoys God’s guidance.  The godly anticipate the glory to come (vs. 23, 24). God is all he desires, all he needs. He has everything in Him. Why complain and compare?

Paul in Romans 5 expands this thought as he describes the relationship which the justified sinner has with God. That new relationship is one of peace, grace, joy, and hope all through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Are there sufferings? Yes! But even sufferings are a cause for joy, because they serve to build endurance, character, and hope. How is this possible? Because of the love God has “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (vs. 5).

Think about it

Even for us who know Christ, envy of the wicked and complaints about our lot in life will crop up from time to time in our hearts.  Don’t let them take root and flourish. Instead find joy in the hope of coming glory and be satisfied in God alone. As pastor and author Dr. John Piper, famously says “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” We will not learn to be satisfied in Him without a good portion of suffering after the prosperity gospel has gone bankrupt.

 

Paul’s Tweet

Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The godly believer focuses on this as life’s circumstances range from monotonous to terrifying.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 36-37; Acts 23:1-11

Selected Verses

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.    Psalm 36:7-9

It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.  Acts 23:6

Reflections

The Psalms offer an antidote for the tendency to complain, to be bored, restless, overwhelmed, or impatient.  This antidote is to meditate on the Lord, His Word, His steadfast love, and His constant providential care.  On the flipside, the antidote includes a healthy dose of fear of the Lord knowing that He will destroy the wicked.  Do not “flatter” yourself that He can’t see you and bring you to account for your sin.  Instead, run to Him for mercy.  Fear Him. Praise Him.  Love Him.  Delight in Him.

Paul must have understood this as his difficulties grew more and more serious.  He used wisdom, even shrewdness, in addressing the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court composed of members with severe theological differences.  In what we would call today a “sound bite” or “tweet”, he summarized the problem, “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”   Paul, by this statement, showed that, despite his imprisonment and the constant threats to his life, his hope was undiminished and his focus on the gospel was undistracted.  His trust in the historic resurrection of Jesus Christ was the basis for his life and ministry.  His words set off an intense and disorderly debate in the court. He was no longer the focus of their attention, but the subject of hope and the resurrection of the dead took center stage.

Think about it

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.[1]   Review this frequently when the circumstances of life are at best monotonous and at worst terrifying.  Are you prepared for this day with its unforeseeable trials or, most likely, its predictable sameness?  Whatever may come, seek to drink from the river of God’s delights.  You are given the task of enjoying Him, today and forever.

[1] Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 1.

 

When the Righteous are Afflicted

Isn’t it illogical that the righteous suffer afflictions?  Why wouldn’t God see that those who obey Him never suffer? Scripture enlightens those in the dark.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 34-35; Acts 22

Selected Verses

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.    Psalm 34:19-20

Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” Acts 22:22

Reflections

Righteousness does not exempt a person from afflictions, as the Psalmist’s words and Paul’s experience both affirm.  Above all, the only perfect Righteous One, the Lord Jesus Christ, sustained the greatest afflictions ever known.

Nowhere in Scripture does God promise a life free from trials for His people.  He does promise to be with His own and to deliver them out of all their adversities.  But He does not give a time schedule.  It could be soon or it could be after death.  The specific promise of Psalm 34:20, we learn from the Apostle John (John 19:36), was made to Jesus and fulfilled at His crucifixion.

Paul’s life became increasingly difficult.  In Jerusalem, he faced angry mobs of Jews, and nervous Roman authorities who wanted to maintain order.  God was not displeased with Paul, His servant and messenger to the Gentiles, yet God assigned him some very great afflictions which Paul accepted and used as a platform from which to preach the good news of life in Christ.

It may seem illogical that the righteous suffer many afflictions.  Why wouldn’t life be better by living in a godly way?  Why wouldn’t God see that those who honor Him the most suffer the least?  Job certainly asked this question and waited in agony for an answer.  He didn’t know what the Bible tells us about his suffering, that it was to vindicate the name and glory of God before Satan.  Yet Job had no complaints in the end.  He stopped questioning God. He prayed for his friends. And God restored all his losses doubly.

Think about it

Believing reader, are you facing hard times which seem to have no relationship to any failure, foolishness, or sin in your life?  Take rest in God who promises to be near to the brokenhearted and to save the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).  He will deliver you in His time because Jesus Christ suffered to purchase your redemption and promised to deliver you from all affliction in His presence forever.

Silence before God

It is good and instructive to keep silence before God, to listen to His Word, and to observe His mighty acts. Today we meet some who learned this truth.

Today’s Reading

Job 38-39; Acts 15:1-21

Selected Verses

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Job 38:1-3

But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15:11-12

Reflections

Job and his friends have ranted on for thirty-five of the first thirty-seven chapters of the book. The complaining of Job did not relieve him nor vindicate him before his friends. His would-be counselors’ opinions and lectures did not strike home to either help Job or indict him. At last God interrupts the futile discussion and answers Job out of the whirlwind as he seems unable to hear anything soft and gentle. God hurls questions at Job to show him his weakness and ignorance. He can only be silent for he has no answers. He is stilled before the Almighty Creator Who not only knows all things but has made all things.

God was also doing a great work in the days of the Apostles.  Persecution sent the disciples everywhere proclaiming the gospel of the resurrected Christ. Even Gentiles heard and believed. Peter had seen this first. Paul and Barnabas were seeing amazing conversions of Gentiles, too.

What should have been great news, however, was disturbing to some of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. They could accept Gentile believers but not uncircumcised Gentile believers. The apostles called a counsel to discuss the question and to determine their policy on how Gentile believers should be treated in light of the Law of Moses. Peter was helpful in clarifying the truth of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone for all who believe whether Jews or Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas’ report of the work of God made all the assembly fall silent.  Like Job, they learned to be quiet, to listen, to think, and to observe what God had done.

Think about it

As we saw yesterday, there is a time to “stop and consider.” Stop the endless babble of personal opinion and pomposity. Consider what God has done in Creation and in Salvation. As the prophet wrote: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

Can we have a Barnabas or two?

Here we meet a man who demonstrated that wise words spoken by one filled with the Holy Spirit can be used by God to accomplish great good for His glory.

Today’s Reading

Job 26-28; Acts 11

Selected Verses

Then Job answered and said:

 “How you have helped him who has no power!
“How you have saved the arm that has no strength!
“How you have counseled him who has no wisdom,
and plentifully declared sound knowledge!”  Job 26:1-3

They sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.  Acts 11:22-24

Reflections

Job complains again about the ineffectiveness of his friends’ counsel and advice in the face of his great and obvious need.  He has no power or strength and no answers as to why he is suffering.  He needs to hear truth, but they accuse him and ply simplistic views based on “recrimination theology” that God judges without mercy and grace giving to each his just desserts, no more, no less. Wisdom is a treasure not found in this conversation.  He ends today’s reading with the observation, “ Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (28:28).

Barnabas goes to Antioch to check out a report that Hellenists (Greek-speaking, uncircumcised Gentiles) were being converted.  They had heard and believed the gospel from the refugees who had been scattered by the persecution.  In contrast to Job’s friends, Barnabas, full of the Holy Spirit, exhorts and encourages them “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” As a result, “a great many people were added to the Lord.”  Despite Peter’s testimony to God’s work among the gentiles, the church is in uncharted territory with this spiritual awakening among non-Jews.  They want to understand how God is at work in new ways.  Barnabas is a man who had shown, by his openness to the converted Saul, that he is a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  His mission to Antioch is eminently successful, blessing the church there and bringing glory to God.

Think about it

If we are to be used by God with our words, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith.  We need to be people who fear God, holding Him in awe and reverence.  Pray that you will be a “Barnabas” for the world in which you live. Job needed one and so do we.

God’s Timing: does He schedule things?

Does God control both what happens and when? Jesus Christ’s disciple knows that God orchestrates all of life down to the minutest detail. Timing included.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 21-22; Luke 22:1-30

Selected Verses

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”  II Samuel 21:1

For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!  Luke 22:22

Reflections

A famine came upon Israel.  David understood that it was not due to bad luck or some unfortunate coincidence.  He knew that God ruled over the harvest whether it be light or heavy.  David turned to the Lord for answers and guidance.  The Lord revealed to Him the reason for the famine.  It had to do with the guilt incurred by Saul over the breaking of a treaty with the Gibeonites and the attempt to annihilate them. Though the treaty itself was foolish and based on deception, God held Israel responsible to maintain their integrity and honor the treaty perpetually (Joshua 9).  Seven of Saul’s descendants were executed to satisfy the demand for justice.  The famine ended.

In Jesus’ final days before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion we are allowed to see all the forces at work to bring Him down.  The chief priests and scribes were plotting to kill Him. Satan was entering into Judas. The disciples were preparing for the Passover and arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Jesus was serving and teaching them the meaning of His death.

In a matter of a few hours all these protagonists would converge in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the final act would begin on Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Was it a coincidence?  No, not at all.  It was by God’s decree that all this would come about at that precise moment for the salvation of the nations.

Think about it

Are the random incidents in your life really random or are they carefully sent by God according to His plan?  Do you ask “why this?” or “why now?” How would it change your attitude to have a clearer conviction about the providence of God?  Yes, God does schedule things–all things. We may not always understand God’s actions and timing, but we can always be sure it is Him who is doing it. Furthermore, He has a purpose and plan for our good and His glory.

Chaos: the old normal

Chaos is not the new normal.  It has happened before and it will happen again.  But there is a wisdom and guidance from God for His people.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 19-20; Luke 21:20-38

Selected Verses

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.  II Samuel 20:2

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.  Luke 21:34-36

Reflections

After Absalom was overthrown, the kingdom of Israel did not simply pick up where it left off. David created a problem immediately by going into such grief over the death of his son that Joab had to sternly exhort him lest the nation reject his return to the throne. David wisely responded and warded off a dangerous situation. But then there was a conflict between Judah and the other tribes over who should reinstate the king. That resulted in another civil war. David named Amasa as a commander and Joab promptly assassinated him. The kingdom was coming unglued on every level. Chaos reigned. David seems to have held steady through all of this until his kingdom was restored.

That would not be the last time the world would see such turmoil. Jesus prophesied that there would be a time of destruction of the temple. This occurred in 70 AD.   He further indicated that there would be worldwide terror that would come upon all people. No one would escape the distress of nations, the cosmic upheavals.  This is yet to come.

Think about it

Chaos is really the old normal. It has always been with us.  How can we handle it? We can learn from what happened in the past, and we can learn from what Jesus taught us. He said, “Watch yourselves. Stay awake. Pray for strength.” He promised that if we did we will stand before the Son of Man. Jesus said, “Watch your hearts.” Take comfort in God’s Word. Get guidance from His Word. Hold to the Lord who promised that we who do will stand before Him. To the extent that faithful men and women know and believe the Word of God they are prepared for whatever may come their way.