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.

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.

Do We Need the Old Testament?

Do believers in Jesus Christ who is revealed in the New Testament need to study the Old Testament? Here is clear evidence that we do.

Today’s reading

Psalms 105-106; Romans 15:1-20

Selected Verses

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!   Psalm 105:1-3

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 16:3

Reflections

Psalm 105 gives us a good example of why we need the Old Testament if we are to fulfill our high calling to glorify God (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Revelation 4:11).  The psalm includes both a call to praise (vs. 1-6) and the content for praise (vs. 7-45).   Like several other psalms, this one focuses on praising God for who He is and what He has done in history for the people of Israel.  It is easy to see God’s wisdom, faithfulness, power, and glory.   Well, at least, it’s easy to see when you read this psalm.

My experience personally and by observation of others is that it’s not easy to think of words with which to praise God.  It is easier to look at the problems of our lives and our world than to spend more than a few minutes giving praise to God.  We need the Old Testament, in general, and the Psalms, in particular, to instruct us and encourage us to praise the Lord.

Paul makes his case to the Christians in Rome that the Scriptures that they had from the former days had a crucial place in their lives.  It is hard to find a stronger passage in the New Testament urging the careful and continual study of the Old.  After all, the Old Testament was the Bible that Jesus knew and frequently quoted.  He relied on it when confronted by Satan and while dying on the cross (Matthew 4:1-11; 27:46; Psalm 22:1; Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:5).  It was the Bible from which He taught the disciples about Himself (Luke 24:27).  If Jesus and His disciples needed the Old Testament, don’t we also?

Think about it

The Old Testament (just like the New) plays a key role in the life of believers in Jesus Christ giving them instruction leading to endurance, encouragement, and hope.  Make it priority to know both Testaments.  It’s all God’s word and will instruct you, sustain you, encourage you, and give you hope to finish the race.

Why did Christ Die?

There are several correct answers to “why did Christ die?” but one very wrong answer is “so we may sin freely.” Here is an important correct answer.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 75-77; Romans 6

Selected Verses

For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.  Psalm 75:6-8

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4

Reflections

The Psalms frequently address the contrast between the wicked and the righteous.  The wicked are under God’s judgment although they may appear to be successful for a time (Psalm 73).  God is the One who lifts up and puts down people on earth.  He is a holy God Who will ultimately bring justice through His judgment.  There can be no escape from justice.

Jesus Christ came to bring grace and truth (John 1:17).  The truth is we are all sinners. We should drink to the dregs the cup of God’s wrath.  But the grace of Christ is that instead of us drinking the cup Jesus drank it for us (Matthew 26:36-46).  Now we, who believe in Him, have been buried with Him by baptism into His death.

Paul anticipated some readers thinking that they may sin to the max since they had been freed from judgment by Christ’s death.  That is to miss the message entirely.  Grace is given to us not so we may sin freely but so we may live in newness of life for God’s glory.  If we have died with Christ, His death is our death, and we are now freed from sin to live a life that reflects our belonging to Him.

Think about it

Are you learning to walk in newness of life as an obedient servant of righteousness?  Does your life show you are His and that you are grateful for what He did?  That is why He died, so take care how you live.

Big Boys Do Cry

Today’s reading

Genesis 44-45; Matthew 14:1-21

Selected Verses

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

Genesis 45:1-3

He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.  And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.   Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.

Matthew 14:10-13a

Reflections

In western society, we swing back and forth to extremes.  Decades ago, in my youth, we said glibly “big boys don’t cry.”   More recently, the “feeling male” has become the hero, or at least less of a villain than “Rambo” the earlier granite superhero stereotype of cool, hardness.

Once again the Bible shows a different perspective than we generally see in our culture.

John the Baptist preached against sin at the highest levels of society.  He paid for that boldness with his head. When Jesus heard the news, He sought solitude and a private place to grieve.  That time was interrupted by crowds who came seeking Him.  The Lord responded to them without delay, but notice that Jesus felt fully the pain of others, in this case, John the Baptist.

Joseph, too, was moved by the pain of his brothers, deserved though it was. They had suffered long the guilt of their actions toward him, but when he saw their grief he wept and immediately assured them of forgiveness. He even explained how they ought to look at what they had done as a series of events used by God to bring blessing to them all.

Think about it

Both Jesus and Joseph wept for the pain of others. Big boys do cry, but they aren’t crybabies nor whiners.  The Bible never portrays a godly man as cold and heartless.  But neither is he an emotional basket case unable to take necessary action in a timely way.  In today’s reading both Jesus and Joseph showed deep feelings, but both were able to function even with their emotions raw.  Let these examples instruct you in Christlike living.

Holiness: the Struggle

Today’s reading:

Genesis 12-14; Matthew 5:1-26

Selected verses

So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?  Genesis 12:18

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.   Matthew 5:20

Reflections

A reality for every believer is the awareness that our actions are often inconsistent with our profession of faith.  We veer between the heights of faithfulness and the pits of sin.

Abram shows exemplary faith in his response to God’s call (Genesis 12:4).  He shows generosity and love toward his nephew Lot. He shows a profound understanding that his integrity was not for sale in his interactions with the pagan kings. However, his deceptive dealing with Pharaoh reveals another side of the patriarch.  Gripped by fear, he reverts to deception that even the Egyptian ruler found appalling, passing off his wife as his sister.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we learn that God looks on the heart of His people.  Mere outward conformity to the law is unacceptable.  This got the Pharisees in trouble.  Their sins would not have been as observable as Abram’s famous lie, yet their righteousness was insufficient to gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  They were insensitive to their failure to truly obey God.  If they would find eternal life they would have to recognize their utter inability to be perfect.  They would need to learn that only faith in a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice would open the kingdom of God to them.

Think about it

How do you view your spiritual ups and downs?  Do you trust in your own goodness when you seem to be walking in obedience? Do you doubt your acceptance before God when you sin?  Our acceptance before God is based on His grace through faith in Christ the perfect priest who gave Himself, the perfect offering, for our sins.  It cannot be based on our performance.  Our faith will bear increasing fruit of obedience but that will not be perfect until we see the Lord (1 John 3:2).   Meanwhile, seek to keep believing God’s promises to save us by grace through faith and never quit the struggle to grow in God-glorifying holiness.

The Mind of Christ

Do you have the mind of Christ?

Christians are called to have the mind of Christ.  What kind of mind did He have?  His was filled with humility, love, and obedience to His Father.  He emptied Himself of His majesty, took on human flesh, became a servant, and humbly gave His life on a Roman cross.  We follow in His footsteps renouncing pride and selfishness in loving others.  Like Jesus, we will be lifted up in glory when He appears.

Today’s reading: 

Ephesians 6:1-Philippians 2:30

My selection:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  Philippians 2:5-7

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Children of Light

It’s not child’s play

When he talks of walking as children of light, Paul is not talking about being a nice, good-two-shoes person.  To walk in the light and as children of light means to stand out and to stand against what is culturally fashionable and cool.  This “little light of mine” is a sweet song children sing, but if we let our lights shine it will take courage and faith to stand against a possible tsunami of  opposition.

Today’s reading: 

Ephesians 3:1-5:33

My selection:

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things   Ephesians 5:5-6

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.