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

God Uses People Warts and All

God works in and through people who are imperfect to accomplish His purposes and plans perfectly. If you are His, He has plans to use you warts and all.

Today’s Reading

Job 40-42; Acts 15:22-41

Selected Verses

So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.  And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Job 42:9-10

Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.  Acts 15:39b-41

Reflections

The focus of the book of Job has been on his experience of tremendous affliction as evidence to Satan of how a redeemed man serves God whether he prospers or suffers.  Job stood the test and we can all cheer at the end when God reveals Himself to that poor beleaguered man.  God is vindicated by Job whose mouth is shut in humility.  Job has been in our focus, but the three friends of Job were also under God’s watchful eye.  They were in line for some discipline.  They had spoken foolishly and ignorantly.  Job was exonerated, and they were rebuked.  God told Eliphaz to make an offering for their sin and promised to hear Job’s prayer on their behalf.  Eliphaz obeyed and he, Zophar, and Bildad were restored to the Lord.

Paul and Barnabas left Jerusalem unified.  They preached and taught the congregation in Antioch.  Everything was going smoothly,  but then they had a disagreement about taking John Mark on a second missionary journey.  They split up going in different directions.  How did they do? Both seemed to have fruitful ministries.  Paul, we learn later, had a change of heart about John Mark (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).  Indeed, Peter later would refer to Mark as “his son” (1 Peter 5:13).

Think about it

God works through human instruments.  He used Job, Paul, Barnabas, and Mark despite their imperfections.  Others, named and unnamed, were blessed by their prayers, preaching, teaching and other service for God’s glory.  Can God use you?  Yes, indeed.  He uses all of His people for small and great purposes.  Be alert to the service He has for you today.

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.

Dangerous Alliances with God-haters

The disciple of Jesus Christ walks carefully proclaiming the gospel to the lost but avoiding alliances with those who hate God.

Today’s Reading

Second Chronicles 17-19; John 15

Selected Verses

Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned in safety to his house in Jerusalem.  But Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him and said to King Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord.”  2 Chronicles 19:1-2

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  John 15:18-19

Reflections

Jehoshaphat had a great reign going until he went astray making a marriage alliance with Ahab, king of Israel.  Ahab was described as one who hated the Lord.  Why did the king who had taken such care to seek the Lord and walk in His commandments (2 Chronicles 17:4) abruptly throw in his lot with the rebellious king Ahab?  Maybe he hoped to reunify the nation.  Maybe he hoped to move Israel back to faithfulness to God.  Neither of those goals was bad in itself.  But in allying with Ahab, Jehoshaphat became a participant in that king’s disobedience.  He ignored the wise counsel of Micaiah who stood up to the 400 lying prophets.  He entered a battle that God had not sanctioned and nearly lost his life. In the end he was rebuked for his foolishness.

Jesus warned His disciples to expect hatred from the world.  They had been chosen out of the world and would receive the same treatment that their master had received, for “a servant is not greater than his master” (vs. 20).  One who abides in Christ will be fruitful but will also be persecuted.

Think about it

It may seem extreme but there are people who hate God.  It was true in Jehoshaphat’s day, in Jesus’ day, and in our day.  Jehoshaphat paid a price for ignoring this reality.  The disciples received the Lord’s advice to look for opposition from those who hated Him.

Two lessons are clear.  One, beware of alliances with those who hate God.  Marriage and business partnerships between believers and unbelievers are out of bounds.  Two, be prepared to experience rejection, opposition, and even hatred for your identification with Jesus Christ.  We are not to withdraw from the world, but rather hold forth the truth in a dark society.  Walk in His steps.  Proclaim the gospel without compromise.  But flee dangerous alliances.

Your Assignment from God

God makes assignments to His people. It may be enduring great suffering or making great music. But He is always glorified and His people always built up.

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 23-25; John 11:1-17

Selected Verses

And they cast lots for their duties, small and great, teacher and pupil alike.   The first lot fell for Asaph to Joseph.  I Chronicles 25:8,9a

So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  John 11:3-4

Reflections

Under David’s reign, God’s people were given assignments for His glory.  In today’s reading, there are long lists of people who had responsibilities in the service of worship, such as playing musical instruments.  Maybe you find the lists of names tedious to read, but if your name were on that list you would not.  Those listed there had positions, an assignment, a specific job to do, and a time and place to do it.

In John 11, we learn about two benefits from the illness and subsequent death of Lazarus.  First, it was for the glory of God and so that the Son of God would be glorified through it (John 11:4).  Jesus would show His power in this incident and the disciples would learn more about His glory.  Second, it was so that those disciples might believe (John 11:14-15).   Jesus was all about teaching His disciples so that they might believe in Him.

Death is universal.  No mere human has ever solved the problem of death. But Jesus, the Son of God, came to give eternal life to all who hear His word and believe God (John 5:24).  Lazarus had the assignment of getting sick and dying so that the glory of God would be seen and the disciples would believe.

Think about it

It is thrilling to know we too have an assignment in God’s great cosmic plan.  It may be through suffering and death or it may be through playing beautiful music or through innumerable other ways.  Seek to glorify Him whether you are clearly conscious of your role or not.  Just think, the story of the raising of Lazarus has been preached from pulpits and discussed around supper tables for centuries.Though this God is always glorified and His people are strengthened in faith.  Lazarus completed his assignment.  May you complete yours, too.

No Drama; Simple Trust

Belief in God is evidenced by simple trust. No drama.  Just a readiness to believe Him and to seek His direction in His Word.

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 14-16; John 9:24-41

Selected Verses

Now the Philistines had come and made a raid in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of God, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up, and I will give them into your hand.” 1 Chronicles 14:9-10

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” John 9:35-36

Reflections

David was off to a good start in his reign (except for all the wives).  When the Philistines heard that he was on the throne they wasted no time in coming against him in battle.  Perhaps their utter defeat of Saul, a few years earlier, had left them overconfident.  Maybe they thought the new king would be distracted with all the matters of the kingdom and be an easy push over.  But David was a seasoned military commander.  He could have relied on his extensive experience, but he consulted the Lord for direction about how to respond to the approaching army.  David was not presumptuous but desired to know what God wanted him to do.  David showed simple trust in the Lord.

That simple trust paid off. David was victorious.

Jesus had a second encounter with the man who had been born blind.  The now-seeing man had held his ground in the repeated interviews with the Jewish authorities.  Now Jesus asks him if he believes in the “Son of Man.”  Of course, the man does not know what Jesus means, but he is quick to express simple trust in the Lord.  “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” he asks without hesitation.  Jesus introduces himself to the man as that One to whom He had referred.

And the man worshiped him.  That healed man got more than he bargained for that day: physical sight and spiritual sight.  His simple trust was well-placed.

Think about it

What is your attitude toward God and His Word?  Does your faith express itself in simple trust?  No drama, just a readiness to accept whatever the Lord puts in front of you today?  Seek to be a person who believes without delay and without excuses, one who trusts simply.

The Consequences of Not Hearing

Hearing the words of God is evidence that one is of God.  But disaster awaits everyone who will not hear. We can learn much from a horrible example.

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 8-10; John 8:37-59

Selected Verses

So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse. 1 Chronicles 10:13-14

Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. John 8:47

Reflections

The Book of 1 Chronicles opens with a meticulous genealogy of Israel as we have been seeing.  There are not many details about all those individuals until we come to Saul.  Then the writer zooms in on the final hours of Saul’s life.  His life ended the same way he lived it during the long years of his reign.  He disregarded God’s commands.  For example, he sought guidance from a medium.  He led the nation to defeat and died in agony by suicide.  Three of his sons died at the same time.  The threat of imminent defeat and death did not serve to awaken Saul to his need to repent and turn to the Lord for mercy and deliverance.

The Jews listening to Jesus reacted negatively to His every claim.   They hid behind their status as descendants of Abraham.  They were sure that God was their father.  Yet they were already plotting to kill their Messiah.  They considered Jesus to be the one who was illegitimate, not themselves.  They drip with self-righteousness.  As the Apostle Paul would later write, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Think about it

Privilege and status did not make Saul faithful or obedient.  He grew harder as his life unfolded and he left a shameful legacy to his nation.  Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day did not believe the Truth when He lived among them.  We can learn from these examples of foolishness and blindness, but will we?  Let us learn and humble ourselves to hear and do what God has said.

A Humble King

Fools seek power that is not theirs through conspiracy and murder, but there is a humble king who did not grasp the power that was rightfully His.

Today’s reading

Second Kings 15-17; John 6:1-21

 Selected Verses

Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place. 2 Kings 15:10

 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6:14-15

Reflections

Shallum held one in a line of short-lived reigns on the throne of Israel. He came to the throne through conspiracy and the assassination of Zechariah. But his reign lasted only a month before he, too, was assassinated. The prophet Hosea would later indict Israel for their failure to seek God’s direction for their kingdom which contributed to all that instability (Hosea 8:4).

What a contrast to Jesus! He relinquished the glories of His heavenly status and came to earth. He began announcing the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. The fickle crowds wanted to make Him king, but they had the wrong reasons and the wrong methods.  So Jesus disappeared to avoid that happening. He knew their hearts. They were only responding to the signs He did and wanted a king who could take care of their health and their hunger (John 2:23-25; 6:2). They thought of an earthly kingdom, but His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).

Although Jesus was the rightful king of all Creation, His goal was not to be merely a king in this world. He would redeem  His people and be established as the Lord of lords and King of kings at the right hand of God the Father in His eternal kingdom (Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 19:16).

Think about it

See how glorious and worthy is our King, the Lord Jesus Christ whose every action and decision showed love, grace, humility, and justice! Give Him, the humble King, the praise He deserves and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength today.

The Backdrop of God’s Glory

What a contrast in leadership: Pontius Pilate and King Solomon!  But against the backdrop of these two men we can see the glory of God in a fresh way.

Today’s Reading

I Kings 3-5; Luke 23:1-26

Selected Verses

And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.  For he was wiser than all other men.

I Kings 4:29-31a

So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.  Luke 23:24-25

Reflections

Solomon is said to have “loved the Lord” and was walking in the statutes of his father, David (3:3).  God came to him in a dream and offered to answer his prayer for whatever he desired.  Solomon asked for an understanding mind to govern the people God had given him.  God was pleased with the request.  He granted it and much more to Solomon.  Solomon was known for his wisdom both within the kingdom and internationally.

Under this wise king, Israel reached the pinnacle of its glory.  Never before and never again would there be such a wise king and a prosperous kingdom.  This golden age of Israel would continue until Solomon himself stopped obeying God and followed other gods (1 Kings 11:1-13).

By stark contrast, at Jesus’ trials (before the Jewish Sanhedrin and then before Pilate and Herod) the depth of foolishness is seen.   The Sanhedrin found Him guilty on trumped up charges and spun those to imply some sort of revolutionary terrorist status to Jesus. Neither Pilate nor Herod found him guilty, but Pilate succumbed to the pressure of the crowd and sentenced Him to death by crucifixion.

Think about it

We will see that Solomon’s reign demonstrates that even gifted, promising  leaders who disobey God will fail.  But the foolish and evil rulings of the Jews and the Romans that seemed to destroy Jesus’ life and ministry became a crucial element in God’s plan of redemption for all mankind.  The Church of Jesus Christ has spread to every corner of the earth.  Praise God that He is glorified in the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord.  He is glorified in the ongoing proclamation of the gospel throughout the world.  He has shown His glory against the backdrop of human foolishness. Praise God for His glory, power, and wisdom that has reached to you and me.

God’s Wisdom and Sovereignty

Does evil in yourself and in the world overwhelm you?  Scripture shows us that sin can never thwart God’s wisdom. He even uses sin for His glory.

Today’s reading

I Kings 1-2; Luke 22:54-71

Selected Verses

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. I Kings 2:46b

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly.  Luke 22:61-62

Reflections

Human history is filled with foolishness and wickedness, but God rules over all and uses even the wrath of man to praise Him (Psalm 76:10).

Adonijah was yet another spoiled son of David. Adonijah like his brother Absalom attempted to grasp the throne his elderly father had promised to Solomon.  Joab and Abiathar, David’s commander and the high priest, supported Adonijah.  David acted quickly and successfully to set up Solomon as the new king.  Solomon suspended the execution of Adonijah putting him on probation instead.  However, it wasn’t long before Adonijah made his move.  He asked permission to marry Abishag, the beautiful Shunnamite woman who had cared for David on his death bed.  Solomon saw where Adonijah was going with that request.  The young king applied the death sentence to his devious brother immediately.

Adonijah’s death led to Joab’s.  Within three years, Solomon had cause to execute Shimei for his violation of probation.  What was the result of all this? The kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.  God used the evil of people to bring about His purpose for the kingdom.

In another instance centuries later, Peter’s denial removed the potential obstacle of armed resistance by the disciples to the crucifixion of Christ. Christ’s death had to occur to obtain the salvation for all God’s elect people. On a personal level, Peter’s notorious failure taught him how great his need for mercy and salvation was. Peter had boasted of his commitment and determination a few hours earlier (Luke 22:33). But he had to learn the depth of his sin and the greater depth of God’s grace toward him.  God again used evil to bring about His good purposes both for Peter and for all His chosen people.

Think about it

Do you despair when confronted by evil in yourself and in the world?  Remember that God is wise and sovereign.  He will do all that He decrees.  He will be glorified even in the evil that goes on day in and day out.  His kingdom is far greater than Solomon’s and it will be established forever.