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.

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 Grand Finale of Praise

The final Psalms and the Lord’s Supper prepare us for the coming grand finale of praise to God when Jesus Christ returns in all His glory for His people

Today’s reading

Psalms 148-150; First Corinthians 11:16-34

Selected Verses

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.    Psalm 148:11-13

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.   First Corinthians 11:26

Reflections

God is worthy of all praise from all people, whether rich or poor, old or young, men or women, for His Son died to redeem sinners and is coming again to reign forever.

The Book of Psalms ends with a grand finale of praise to God. The writers have taken us through the valley of the shadow of death, described unimaginable agonies of body and soul, and cried out to God, “How long?” But now in this last section of five psalms, we break through all the darkness and emerge into the unclouded day of God’s majesty, power, and glory.

In this sense, the Psalter reflects our present life as well as our expectant hope for the joy that we will know when the Kingdom of God comes in all its fullness. Meanwhile, we walk by faith with our fellow believers in the Church Militant, that is, the Church here on earth awaiting the return of our Lord and King.

Paul admonishes the Corinthians in their practice of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. They fail to observe it with reverence. In fact, he says, some have died already as a judgment of God on their sacrilege. The focus is to be upon His death which purchased our redemption and His promised return when we will be with Him forever.

Think about it

There are innumerable ways in which we may praise God every day: in the mundane responsibilities of domestic life, in our work, in our driving, in our kindness and courtesy to others. Praise Him today whether you are in formal, corporate worship with His people, or in the trenches of every day existence. Praise Him for the cross of Jesus Christ, and praise Him for His promised coming in glory. It could be today, so be warmed up to sing His praise in the grand finale of victory.

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.

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.

The Authority of the Bible

The Christian church spread widely and rapidly in the First Century.  Do you know why?  It can happen again if we follow the Apostles’ example.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 13-16; Acts 18

Selected Verses

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.  Psalm 16:9-10

And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews is public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. Acts 18:27-28

Reflections

In the First Century, the Apostles used the Scriptures of the Old Testament powerfully and effectively as they spread throughout the known world proclaiming that the promised Christ had come. Later the New Testament containing the Apostles’ teaching would be added, completing our Bible.

The Messiah, Christ, was promised to Israel and sent to them. He lived out His life and ministry culminating in His death by crucifixion, His resurrection, and His commissioning of His Apostles to go into the entire world and make disciples of all nations. That work which Jesus commissioned still goes on today throughout the earth.

The Psalms are filled with references which had immediate relevance to their time but would later be more completely fulfilled by Jesus in His earthly life. Here we have a prophecy which both Peter and Paul understood to point clearly to His resurrection (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35). To see Christ in the Psalms and other Old Testament scriptures motivated the Apostles and fueled their boldness as they preached to the Jews.

One of those Jewish converts to Jesus Christ was a gifted man named Apollos. He displayed great eloquence in his speech and diligence in his study of the Word of God, but he received needed help from the mentoring of Paul’s disciples, Aquila and Priscilla. Apollos went on to Achaia and had an effective ministry encouraging the believers and showing the Jews from the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

Think about it

Do you rely on the Scriptures as the basis for your faith and in your presenting Jesus to others? We need to beware of relying on arguments based on mere human reasoning and logic and neglecting to point people to the claims of Christ made in God’s Word. Let the Word of God be your authority for your life and your ministry. The Apostles modeled this and we will be wise to follow their example. We may yet see amazing growth in Christ’s Church.

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.

The Importance of Expository Preaching

Good preaching is modeled in the Bible.  But it is too scarce in pulpits today.  Are you hearing sound preaching as the Bible commands and demonstrates?

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 7-8; Acts 3

Selected Verses

They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.  Nehemiah 8:8

But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,  whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  Acts 3:18-21

Reflections

In both Old and New Testaments, the importance of clear preaching is demonstrated.  Expository preaching includes both the reading of Scripture and the explanation of the meaning of it.

In Nehemiah’s day there had been a lack of reading and teaching the Scriptures. When the people heard the Word, they were grieved by what they heard and understood. They wept. It was natural that they should feel the weight of their failure and sin, but then the preacher (whether Ezra or Nehemiah, is not clear) exhorts them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).

In Acts, another preacher stands proclaiming God’s Word, also in Jerusalem but centuries after Ezra and Nehemiah’s day. Peter takes the opportunity, afforded by the crowd attracted by the healing of a lame man, to proclaim the good news of the risen Christ. The bad news  precedes the good news, they have killed the Author of life, Jesus, but Peter tells them they may repent, turn back, and have their sins blotted out. God will hear their prayer and send times of refreshing from His presence. Then they may wait expectantly for Christ, who promised to come back for His people.

Think about it

The gospel teaches us of our sin, but it doesn’t end there. It takes us to the mercy and grace of God who saves His repentant people, restores us to Himself, and gives us joy. Are you both grieved by your sin and relieved by God’s joy? Good expository preaching is a means of grace that takes us to both repentant grieving and unspeakable joy. Be sure you hear God’s word from faithful expository preachers. .

Means of Grace in a Hostile Place

God sends us into a hostile place, and He preserves us in it by the means of grace: His word, the sacraments,  and prayer.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 26-28; John 17

Selected Verses

In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord—this same King Ahaz.  For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.  2 Chronicles 28:22-23

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  John 17:15-17

Reflections

King Ahaz rebelled against the Lord which led to defeat in battle and distress. Did he learn to turn to God through His failure? No. He took his disobedience to the next level and began worshiping the god of the Syrians. Some of the kings we have studied were corrupted by success. Others were corrupted by failure. In some cases, they turned to God in defeat and were delivered. The circumstances seem to be neutral factors. What is the difference? It is the work of God in the hearts of those kings that either turned them toward Himself or let them go on in apostasy and error.

Jesus knew the kind of world into which He was sending His disciples. He prayed for them and gave them God’s word. They were not perfect. But in the end they succeeded in proclaiming the gospel far and wide and laying the foundations for the Church.

Think about it

What do we need in order to stand firm in the faith in a hostile world? Like the Apostles, we need God’s word and we need God’s power sustaining us in the midst of adversity and spiritual danger. Do we have that? Yes, Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25). He has given us His Spirit (Romans 8:1-17). We have the completed revelation of God in the Scriptures to equip us for every work He calls us to do (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We also need God’s people, those who identify with Christ and fellowship with Him through the Sacraments.

Do not fear the world, but do be vigilant of your heart that your distresses or your successes not turn you away from the Lord who keeps His own. Do not make a bad thing worse. Trust Him and make diligent use of the means of grace.