The Struggles of the Believer (Part Seven)

1 John 5:13

I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (CSB).

The second support is that of a changed life. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:3-6 NIV). To use our previous illustration, this is like showing you my wife and having her testify that we are married. If I claimed to be married, and no one ever saw my wife, you would rightly be suspicious of my assertion.

At this point we must be careful, because of what I’ll call “short-checklist morality”. When most people think of sin, they confine themselves to a few of the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments, like don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, and don’t bear false witness. They might add a couple other prohibitions to their list, but they assume that “holiness” concerns the avoidance of the items on their checklist. And they evaluate others the same way. For example, if homosexuality is on their list, they’ll be proud that they’re not and roundly condemn anyone with even homosexual tendencies. This short-checklist morality twists their own view of true Christianity and also what others think a true Christian is or isn’t. If they keep their short checklist, they assume that they have evidence of salvation. But that is not the changed life the Bible presents. I’ll explain.

  • The apostle John wrote: We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Clearly, this means the commands that tell of godliness for new covenant believers, but I’ll avoid explaining the reasons in this post. To be brief, this means what the Spirit gave as directives to us in all the Scriptures, but according to the age in which we live in redemptive history. These commands involve many prohibitions and many positive commands and instructions and godly wisdom and encouragements.
  • This means not only theoretical agreement, but also practical performance of what the Lord commands us: Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.
  • This kind of obedience springs from love for the Lord. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. A person might say, “I never steal, and I love to tell the truth.” That’s nice. But if they don’t love God in the process, they have never actually obeyed, because love for God is indispensable for obedience. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10 NIV).
  • We do not truly obey unless we model the character of Jesus Christ. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. In every act of obedience, he pleased the Father (John 5:30; 8:29). He rejoiced to please the Father, even in the most difficult time (Hebrews 12:2). This is the kind of life God the Father expects from us, too, a life that pleases the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10; Colossians 1:10; 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 4:1; 1 Timothy 2:3; Hebrews 11:6; 13:16; 1 John 3:22).

The apostle John tells us that we will be able to see a two-part witness of the reality of our salvation, and that this testimony is one of the three bases of assurance. If we lack this testimony, we have a serious crack in our assurance. There is the witness of love for other Christians. This is a witness to ourselves (1 John 3:14). It is also the witness to others (John 13:34-35). We also can see the witness of a holy life (1 John 2:29; 3:3; 5:4). We stop doing some things (1 John 3:8-9). We put sin to death (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). We begin to do other things (1 Jn 2:29; 3:10). This is the process of continual renewal (Colossians 3:12-17; 2 Peter 1:5-11).

This makes a proper doctrine of spiritual growth so important. If you seek to become godlier in the wrong way, you may corrupt your assurance of salvation. We must avoid a common error—making our growth in grace a source of confidence before God. That is legalism, and the error of many in both Reformed and Fundamentalist circles. A truly growing godliness is the product of union with the risen Christ (Romans 7:1-6). Christ alone must be our joy and confidence! The holy witness is a sign of what he is doing in us by his Spirit.

Grace and peace, David

Joseph and Temptation (Part Three)

Genesis 39:11-23

When we encounter temptation, the invitation to evil and its consequences is obvious. Yet by God’s amazing love and power, there is a radically different possibility—an opportunity to show forth the triumphs of his grace! What we see in this account is an interesting contrast between the ugliness of human depravity and the beauty of renewed godliness. God made use of both to accomplish his own purpose.

Joseph suffered a furious attack of seduction by Potiphar’s wife. It happened while Joseph was at the place of duty (39:11). Remember Joseph’s prudence. Men sometimes encourage women by flirtatious or seductive talk. Since we live in a culture that lusts after salacious humor, it is too easy to say things that carry a double intent. At times, it is done for a laugh at a woman’s expense; at others to send out signals of the man’s interest in the woman. But Joseph had taken the opposite course (39:10). In God’s providence, he was in danger. No one else was in the house. The modern small office or store provides a similar situation. Proper behavior and good intentions alone cannot protect us from the snares of temptation (cf. Matthew 26:41).

Joseph had a narrow escape (39:12). Her act was whorish (cf. Prov 7:10-13). His only way out was holy flight. He used the best available means to resist her advances, his feet. “It is better to lose a good coat than a good conscience” (Henry). Joseph had a godly, instead of a worldly, concept of manliness.

Joseph experienced a bitter aftermath. One might expect Joseph to be even more outwardly blessed by God immediately after such obedience to him. However, Joseph’s battle is incomplete. Two new enemies appear.

First was the unsatisfied lust of Potiphar’s wife (39:13-18). An old saying says something like, “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.” Potiphar’s wife was humiliated by Joseph’s refusal to join with her in sin. She determined to get revenge. Let us learn from her sin.

  • Lust can never bring lasting joy. Consider the lust of Amnon for Tamar (2 Samuel 13).
  • Lust eventually gives birth to hate. Love always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). Lust soon tires of its toy and seeks someone else for excitement. It should not surprise us that marriages built on the sand of selfish passion collapse. Only commitment to love one other person produces endurance.
  • Lies then become easy to tell. She was able to twist the circumstantial evidence in her favor. Notice, by the way, her craftiness – “this Hebrew” (39:14). “A great deal of evidence may be brought against a perfectly innocent man. Let us, therefore, be slow to condemn persons of unblemished character” (Spurgeon. cf. 1 Timothy 5:19).

Second was the jealous anger of Potiphar (34:19-20). He is not to be blamed in this (Proverbs 6:30-35). However, she cleverly made him feel guilty (39:17). Watch out for those who manipulate people with guilt feelings. God restrained Potiphar’s anger so that Joseph was not killed. “This is to be ascribed to the good providence of God, which restrains the waves of the sea, and the passions of men, and sets them their bounds which they shall not pass, which watched over Joseph in a peculiar manner” (Poole). However, the rejection of forbidden pleasure gained Joseph shackles and irons. Deeper suffering came to him (Psalm 105:18).

I doubt the health, wealth and prosperity error would have had much appeal to Joseph at this point. Joseph’s obedient faith led him to a prison, Christ’s to a cross, and Stephen’s under a pile of stones. “The iron is entering into his flesh and into his spirit. The earth is shaken beneath him. The heavens are darkened over him. ‘My God,’ he may cry, ‘my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Psalm 22:1)” (Candlish).

Unexpectedly, Joseph receives a slight improvement in his situation. His life has been like a wiggly road along a mountain. He found that he had a “fellow prisoner”. The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden (39:21 NIV; cf. Is 43:2; Ps 139:7-12). God’s worked by common grace in the warden’s heart to make him favor Joseph.

For this reason, we see Joseph back in training for God’s purpose for him (39:22-23). He received another supervisory position. He had learned to manage slaves. Now he had to learn to handle a more difficult group. In this, Joseph had renewed success. Notice the emphasis of the Spirit of God – the Lord. . . gave him success in whatever he did.

Learn to hope and endure, regardless of how deep and dark your prison may be. Think of how you may glorify God in that place. Your present darkness might be the place where God causes his glorious light to shine.

Grace and peace, David

Sharing Your Life with God

IMG_0064 (2)Psalm 17:3-5

You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress. With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped (ESV).

One of the basics about the Christian life is that we have fellowship with God; we share our lives with God. Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3c ESV). The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV). We know this, yet I think that we don’t do well in actually sharing our lives with the Lord. Perhaps part of the problem is that we don’t know how. Yes, we we’ve been taught how to have devotions, how to pray, how to read the Bible, how to participate in a public worship service, how to witness, and perhaps how to meditate and how to listen to a sermon. I am not for a moment downplaying the importance of such skills. I would only say that praying, reading, and so on should not be mechanical or ritualistic. But that is not the concern of this article.

Let’s think on a larger level than the particulars. Let’s think about sharing our life, because a passion for one area can easily “eat up” the others. For this, we need a model or example. The Spirit has given us one in David, the man after God’s heart. Our text has several ideas about sharing one’s life with God.

  • David knew that God was directly involved with him. He did not live like God was far off. He knew that the Lord visited him by night. As Paul said, “God is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27 ESV). God is near, close to us, so that we can share our lives with him. God tests us; this might sound scary, until you remember that God is your Father and loves you. The testing is for your benefit.
  • David knew the importance of the heart, the inner person. This takes us off the stage of attempting to impress God by what we do. He knows our motives and attitudes and emotions. David, like the writer of Hebrews knew that he stood naked before God. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13 ESV). To share life with God, we must want this openness. You can’t share, if you’re trying to hide or avoid.
  • David desired to live godly. God is the Holy One, and to share our lives with him, we must purpose to live in conformity with who God is. Our words come from our hearts (Matthew 12:34), and so David sought comprehensive godliness. To share one’s life with God does not simply happen. It requires godly desires that we put into practice. These come from our union with Christ by the Spirit’s help. God wants us to want his way of life.
  • David realized that he needed instruction from God’s word. He listened to the word of your lips and his steps held fast to your paths. Notice the personal awareness: the repeated your. As he listened to the word and meditated on it, he made choices to live for God. To say it another way, God was his personal coach or mentor. There is a freeness of exchange between a coach and his athlete. For example, “Here is the correct form you need to make a layup.” A wise athlete will seek feedback from his coach about his or her progress in achieving that form.
  • David kept focused on the Lord. He avoided some ways, and held fast to others. The writer of Hebrews urges us to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). To share life with God, we must, so to speak, stay close to where he is and avoid where he isn’t. A basketball team is told to put on a full court press. Each player must know where the coach wants them to be and what to do in various contingencies. “You’re responsible for that area of the court.” The players must keep their heads in the game. We can’t share our lives with God if we “check out”. God is “on the court” with us, and we discuss with him how his story is opening up in our lives.

One more thing: David wasn’t talking theory. This was his life. He shared life with God among other people who had no desire to do so. He made the daily choices necessary to be with God and to interact with him about his life. Do we?

Grace and peace, David

Help, Lord!

img_1224Psalm 12

Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. They speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak (12:1-2 NASB).

The human soul can quickly swing from bright hope to dark despair. David, the king and psalmist, knew and felt acutely all the ranges of emotion. We should also, if we are willing to look at all of reality. It is very easy to attempt to insulate ourselves, to attempt to build a shelter that hides pain, suffering, evil schemes, and brutal oppression from our eyes and thoughts. We would rather “live the dream” than experience the nightmare. God made us to enjoy life and glory; therefore, it is good to want what is beautiful, pleasing, and peaceful.

However, the Lord God also made us to live in the world that now is for his honor and praise and the good of other people. This means that we will often encounter what is horrible and ugly. This psalm by David provides us with a godly way to view things as they are and to respond in a manner that brings glory to God.

We are not told when David wrote this psalm for the worship of the people of God. By the way, do we have room in our worship for “the minor key”? Must every song we sing be bright and cheery? Obviously, the Holy Spirit wants the songs we sing to express the full range of our lives. This is part of the way we share our lives with the living God.

So then, David began this song with a cry for help. We don’t know when he wrote this, but his life had numerous occasions when he needed to cry, “Help, Lord!” David knew that his situation was beyond his ability. He needed the all-powerful, sovereign Lord of all to come to his rescue. The simple request, “Help, Lord!” demonstrates wisdom that few understand. When we pray this way, we confess our inability to problem solve, which few want to admit. Aren’t we all ready to dispense generous doses of advice? But when we cry for help, we come as needy and lowly… in humility. It showed his wisdom in another way. He called upon his covenant Lord for help. David claimed a covenant relationship with the living God. It was a cry of faith!

Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. David looked at his world, and he saw a diminishing number of godly people. It clearly seems that we in our nation share David’s condition. How few are godly! How few want to stand up for the true God among a people whose lives are ruled by idols of all kinds. (Remember greed is idolatry. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry, Colossians 3:5 NLT.) Do we seek out opportunities to pray, to read God’s word, to fellowship with believers, and to spread the good news, to name only a few activities of godly people? And then, there seems to be a falling number of faithful, reliable people. How many make commitments, only to break them when they have new offers to do something else that promises immediate pleasure? We can plan to live godly, but how often do the plans of Christians fail… from not keeping their word. In the world, certainly, we all encounter almost total unreliability.

If you are godly, it is easy to mourn our present circumstances. But please don’t allow your grief to disable you from the first godly response. What is it? We need to cry out, Help, Lord! Pray this prayer, in order that the Lord himself might intervene in our nation.

Grace and peace, David

A Good Restart

DSCN38002 Chronicles 14:1-15

Along with our thoughts on the psalms, we will also do a short series from 2 Chronicles on the reign of Asa, king of Judah. Asa was David’s great-great grandson; his reign began 60 years after David’s ended. He is listed as a good king of Judah. Asa’s reign divides neatly into three periods: his early years, a middle period of peace and progress, and the final six years of steep decline. Today, we will look at his good start as ruler of God’s people. And let us recall that all of this is written for our instruction. 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 15:4 ESV; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11).

Asa’s reign began with repentance and return to the true worship of the Lord (14:1-5). It will help us to know the setting of these early years of Asa’s reign in Judah (14:1). He came to the throne after years of spiritual decline during the later years of Solomon and the reigns of Rehoboam and Abijah. As we consider this decline, it makes us ask, “How did the southern kingdom of Judah sink into such a condition?” Part of the answer lies in the passage of time; it is about 40 years after the midpoint of Solomon’s reign. A generation has passed since the building of the temple. Grace does not pass from parents to children. Godly parents may have spiritually apathetic children and godless grandchildren. Mostly, this spiritual condition sprang from the reintroduction of idolatry into Israel from Solomon’s many wives. The people were led astray from the Lord. Although their way of life was not good, God gave Judah a time of peace. Peace is a great blessing, and we ought to praise God for every day of peace we enjoy. God provided a young man with an opportunity to concentrate on the true worship of the Lord his God (cf. 14:6b). I make an appeal to our younger readers. Use your days of youth to serve the Lord. Everything you do by grace through faith when you are young can be a building block for greater service later. Hours of worship, prayer, Bible reading, and meditation provide resources that you can draw upon when you have less strength and are much busier.

Asa led his people in through repentant actions (14:2-5). A godly world and life view produces godly actions. When the Lord brings you to know the truth, he wants your way of worship to be transformed to agree with the Bible. We live in a day when people assume that worship style and forms are ruled by human pleasures and preferences. Yes, I know that one aspect of worship flows out from who we are, but the other aspect must be what the living God desires. A worship service is not to satisfy the felt needs of those present. “I like…” or “I don’t like…” are heard far too often in most churches. What does God like?

Asa had to remove false worship from his kingdom. First of all, this meant getting rid of the worship of false gods. The people had sunk deep into spiritual and sexual sin. The “sacred stones” were fertility gods, and Asherah was the supposed wife of El, the chief god. Worship of fertility gods involved sexual immorality. Asa also had to remove the incorrect worship of the living God. During the old covenant, the people were to bring all their offerings to the tabernacle or later the temple. But from the time of Eli, they had started to offer sacrifices on high places. This was contrary to what God had ordered; God was not pleased by this false worship. In the new covenant, all our worship must only be through the Lord Jesus Christ on the basis of his finished, once for all sacrifice. This is why we pray in Jesus’ name to the Father, and not to anyone else or on account of anyone’s merits but Christ’s; for example, wrongly assuming that fasting on some supposed holy day or during a holy season gives you a better position with God.

Asa had to reestablish a proper old covenant relationship with God. So he commanded them to seek the Lord (not other gods) and to obey God’s laws and commands (regulations about both the way of worship and the way of life). Consider Deuteronomy 4:29-31, 39-40.

Again, this requires us to live in God’s presence in Christ and his better covenant. Every part of our life and worship must be in Christ, with Christ, for Christ, and through Christ.

Grace and peace, David

A Godly Example

IMG_0939Ruth 2:1-7

A core matter of the Christian way of life is to follow Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:19; 8:22; 10:38; 16:24; etc.) We are to imitate his way of life and think his thoughts, have his attitudes, speak with grace and truth, and do good as he did. The Lord knows that it is beneficial for us also to have people that we can see as examples that we can imitate. Each of us ought to be living in such a manner that we can say “follow my example” or “imitate me” because we follow the Lord Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:15, 17; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9; 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7; Hebrews 6:12; 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3). In the story of Ruth, next in the story is a man called Boaz. God has an important purpose in his plan for Boaz and Ruth. What kind of a man was Boaz? He was a godly man, a man of integrity, goodness, and action.

First we see an example of Boaz’s active oversight. Surprise! Who should arrive to inspect his fields except the “man of standing”, Boaz! And when did he reach his fields? He came to one of his fields after Ruth had been gleaning for a while. This was perfect timing; it was beyond coincidence.

  • Boaz greeted his workers in a godly manner. He brought God into his workplace by blessing his workers in God’s name. Not everyone has the opportunity that Boaz had to act so boldly. Most followers of Jesus must act and speak cautiously, since they neither own the company nor are they paid to evangelize. Some Christians become overzealous and brash when they ought to be humble and quiet. The Lord expects us to be wise and gentle among our coworkers. We need to make friends from our coworkers and then tell our friends the good news, but not on company time. Having been in management, I know it is not appreciated when any worker wastes time for which they are being paid to work. So then, Christians need to show the example of diligent work.
  • Boaz was a man of influence and wealth (2:1). He was in a position to help the poor. This is the view that we should take of our lives. God gives to us generously, so that we might help others, and in this way show his kindness and compassion. The Lord wants us to work, so that we can give to care for others in their needs (Ephesians 4:28).
  • Boaz was also a godly man, as the whole book makes clear. He spoke in conformity with his world and life view. God was in his thoughts, and there could be no better greeting than to wish them God’s presence of blessing. Many times in the Old Testament Scriptures, this is emphasized by saying that “God was with” someone.
  • Boaz noticed who was working in his fields. This shows that Boaz knew what was going on in his workplace. He wasn’t oblivious. He paid attention to his workers. He knew that people were a very important part of his business. Other things being equal, the business that cares for its employees will prosper more than others that do not. More importantly, God cares very much about people! Part of your responsibility as a member of the local assembly you attend is to know everyone who worships with you. That gathering is your spiritual family, and it is unthinkable that you should fail to pay attention to people that God the Father brings into your assembly. Engage everyone in kind and godly conversation.
  • Boaz noticed Ruth. Hmm, this also showed that he was a real man. Men do notice women—in about three-tenths of a second or less. What made him notice her? Was it her good looks? Was it her foreign appearance? Was it her youthfulness? (Yes ladies, men do look at younger women first. Don’t get upset at your man or men in general. Men noticed you first when you were the younger woman.) Whatever the reason, Boaz did notice her and decided he ought to have more personal information about her.

So then, God had Ruth and Boaz in the same place at the same time, and Boaz had some level of interest in her. This was beyond coincidence. God would use all this to accomplish his purposes in Jesus Christ. Since we are also part of the story of God’s glory, we must be ready to be used by the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

Putting the Spurs to Each Other

IMG_0966Hebrews 10:24

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds… (NIV). All followers of Christ Jesus need to grasp the core of this responsibility. What is the how of stirring others in your local gathering toward love and good works?

Consider first the general concept. To “spur on” means “to provoke” or “to stir up”. The word used “has a startling sound. Christians are to be roused, provoked, but to love” (Westcott). It seems strange that those who have received God’s love should need to be provoked to love others. But this is a sad fact stemming from the sin that still hinders us. We become lazy at best, and more often self-absorbed and unkind. Something must be done. The NIV translation is picturesque. You can see the rider in the Old West urging his horse on with his spurs. So every one of us has times when we need to be spurred on, some more often, some less. But this is one of the many “one another” encouragements that we need to grow in grace.

Here comes a difficult action. This involves changing from a self-centered to an one another-centered view of the church, which is a gathering of Christ-followers. We simply cannot live godly in Christ Jesus without this mutual action of stirring up each other. Yet too often professing Christians approach a church with a crass materialistic concept. “What can I or my family get out of this church?” This is not something that has happened only recently. Listen to these words from Postmodern Times, by Gene Veith, Jr. and written in 1994. “Christians, like everyone else in today’s economy, are consumers, but they dare not apply consumer values to God. Notice the implications of the phrase ‘church shopping’. Surely, shopping for a church in the same way we shop for a major appliance is dangerous. Instead of looking for a church that teaches the Word of God, we sometimes look for a church that ‘fills our needs.’ The church does not exist to provide its members ‘services’; rather, it should challenge its members to engage in ‘service’ to God and to their fellow human beings. When we think like consumers, we put ourselves first, picking and choosing what best corresponds to our desires” (p. 118-119). To me, that sounds like exploiting or plundering a church. Where is the love of Christ in such an attitude? Whatever happened to “what can I contribute?” or “how can I help?” and especially, “How can I serve God and one another?” To say this another way, the true Christian is not only concerned about his own salvation, but also about the salvation of others (cf. 3:12-13).

But let us move on from general observations to specific applications. Here are ten examples of people who need to be spurred on (listed in alphabetical order)

  • Disabled – those who are physically challenged or shut in or sick
  • Disadvantaged – those with a previous lack of correct teaching (Some think that because they heard an effective communicator that they heard good teaching. But truth is a matter of substance not style.)
  • Disagreeable – those who seem determined to object to something
  • Discarded – those who are no longer welcome in their former place of worship through no fault of their own
  • Discontented – those who are not content in their present situation (because they don’t like their job, etc.)
  • Discouraged – those who are losing hope in their situation
  • Dismayed – those who have fallen into depression, spiritual or otherwise
  • Disorderly – those who are not obeying the will of the Lord Jesus Christ
  • Disregarded – those who people pay little attention to
  • Dissident – those who disagree with the opinion of the majority

I think you will have little problem finding people like this that would benefit from your personal concern and love for them. We have only to open our hearts and eyes to see them.

Are we ready to minister to one another? To serve, we need a servant’s heart, an attitude like Jesus Christ, the Servant of the Lord. Read Philippians 2:1-11. I’m sure you have seen offices—each worker shut up in his or her tiny cubicle. Most people in our postmodern culture have a “cubicle attitude” toward life. They move from one tiny cubicle to another, avoiding contact with other humans as much as possible. Are we willing to reach out of our small life cubicles and interact with other people? This will require a profound change of attitude, but it must be done if we are to fulfill this directive from the Holy Spirit: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds… (NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Communication: Talking Like Jesus (Part Two)

IMG_0254Ephesians 4:20-32

When we speak like Jesus, we will be pursuing the proper goal or purpose of building up others.

Gospel-focused communication will be spiritually constructive. This agrees with the purpose of discipleship, that is, of teaching disciples (Matthew 28:20; 1 Corinthians 12:7). God wants us to build up the body of believers. Talking like Jesus in constructive speech is part of your function in the spiritual body of Christ. The head (Christ) is sending out beneficial messages to each of his members, and we are to spread those beneficial messages to other members. This means we seek the improvement of the people of a local assembly (church) by the way we speak and what we speak. No sane contractor would seek to harm the building he was under contract to construct. Yet how many Christians pull others down by gossip, slander, cutting comments, or a simple lack of gentleness or compassion? And how few deliberately intend to help others improve spiritually, which is the point at hand? Building up one another rarely happens in a quick conversation on a Sunday morning. Such words can be constructive, but they are limited by time. Every Christian needs to be in a small group.

Constructive speech aims to build up, especially where the brother or sister in Christ has a need. What are some needs that we all have from time to time?

  • Rebuke (Galatians 2:14; Titus 1:13b)
  • Instruction (Acts 18:26)
  • Encouragement (Acts 11:23)

When we speak like Jesus, we will keep our words within some wise guidelines. The entire life of Jesus shows his use of wise words at all times. Will the way I am about to talk build up this person like Jesus does, or will it provoke sinful attitudes or responses? Here are some examples:

  • Is my communication sexually suggestive? Sex is a normal part of life. God created it! But improper words can arouse desires that should not be. Talk about sexual matters wisely.
  • Is my communication inducing the other person to anger? The point is to use some common sense to avoid words that are pushing the other person’s buttons.
  • Is my communication causing fear or doubts?  Don’t spread despair amid the general gloom! TV newscasters are paid to spread doom and gloom, but wise words lead people to confident expectation (hope) in God.

What benefits does this conversation intend to seek in the heart and life my brother or sister in Christ? Have I thought this through before I speak? Actually what good will it do? To talk about some subjects with some people is an exercise in futility, because they do not what to listen or change. Consider Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 7:6). Can I turn this conversation in a spiritually profitable direction? Some cannot be, or it is not the time nor the place. We must use discernment; this requires skill. To what degree does this conversation display “true righteousness and holiness” (4:24)?  Jesus our Lord used his words to teach about God the Father and to make us think with an eternal perspective. How are your words doing that?

Grace and peace, David

An Alternative to an Empty Life

DSCN0546Luke 12:13-21

In the Four Gospels we read selected accounts of the earthly mission of our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to set us free from an empty way of life (1 Peter 1:18). Often we fail to realize the depths of that emptiness. Let’s listen to how our Redeemer revealed that emptiness in his teaching and pointed us to a better alternative.

Luke has already set the scene for this teaching session. A crowd of many thousands gathered (12:1), and it was not a calm crowd. Please do not think of a typical church service in our day where people are bored with the building, the pastor, the music, the ritual prayers, the message, and each other. No, this crowd was trampling on each other in their shared eagerness to listen to Jesus. (The time when modern churchgoers trample upon each other is to get out of the building and the parking lot.) This, however, did not mean that this crowd was filled with spiritual, godly, heavenly-minded people.

After the Lord spoke directly to his disciples (12:1-12) about the important topic of fear and worry, a question comes from the crowd. Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” [All italicized quotes are from the NIV.] Ah, there can be many people in “church”, and many of their hearts are not thinking about meeting with the living God and his dearly loved Son, but their minds are on other personal and “important” matters. People are very easily distracted from God.

The Lord Jesus, instead of brushing aside the man’s impertinent request, used it as a teaching opportunity, because he had come to make God known and to reveal what we are to us. Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” It was a dangerous course to ask Jesus questions. The man perhaps thought that Jesus would take his side out of a concern to see justice done. But Jesus unmasked the greed in the man’s heart. Though he had gathered with the crowd to hear Jesus, he was a functional idolater (Colossians 3:5). Jesus warned his hearers of getting their identity from their possessions. This is a problem in our affluent culture. It is too easy to confuse what we have with who we are. We can learn this about ourselves from how we evaluate others by where they live, what they drive, the clothes they wear, or the places they go. People might say they admire those who devote their lives to helping others, but are they willing to divest themselves of their possessions to do it? We can drift into this kind of transfer of identity, which is why Jesus calls us to be on our guard against all kinds of greed. Where should our identity come from?

Next, Jesus told a story to warn everyone about greediness. And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” This parable is very well-known, and I will make only a few observations. First, the providence of God was working for the prosperity of this rich man. While there is skill in being a successful farmer as well as other occupations, God’s rule of the world overrides the skill of people. If there had been a couple years of drought, the rich farmer would not have had a large crop. Second, God’s blessing on his crop had brought the rich man to the need to make new choices. Prosperity and poverty require us to make decisions. What should a person do when he or she prospers? Consider Romans 2:4. Third, the rich man’s heart was filled with himself. He was proficient at using the first person pronouns. Greed is idolatry, and so is a consuming interest in oneself. Fourth, he thought he knew the future. People proudly assume that they are in charge, that they can map out their lives. The rich man’s attitude can be shared by anyone. Fifth, he lived for pleasure. Hmm, it sounds like he was a “last day’s sort of person” (cf. 2 Timothy 3:1-4). Sixth, God interrupted his plans. This is what people forget. The living God can expose our true emptiness in a moment.

Jesus made his point. “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” The Lord Christ is teaching us the nature of true repentance. We must turn from a self-focused view of life to building our life and identity in relationship to God. Being rich toward God is true wealth. We must prefer the true God over all things.

What is the question you would like to ask Jesus? Since he knows your heart, how would he answer you?

Grace and peace, David

An Important Watchword

We all have short attention spans. After an event, we can quickly ignore any beneficial lessons that our Father in heaven wants us to incorporate into our wFifteenFiveay of life. Reformation Day was last Saturday, and this is a friendly reminder to keep important concepts from the Reformation in your thinking. A watchword is “a word, phrase, or signal given to a guard or the like, used to ascertain whether an unknown person is friendly or hostile… [It is also] a motto, esp. used as a rallying cry or slogan.” When we think of what God has done in the history of the church, there are five important watchwords from the Reformation. We can say that they set forth the essence of Biblical teaching that was learned during that mighty work of the Holy Spirit.

  • According to the Scriptures alone
  • By grace alone
  • Through faith alone
  • In Christ alone
  • To God alone be the glory

In this post, we will look at the first of these five watchwords. Here is an idea to live by: We must always be thoroughly convinced of the absolute authority of the Old and the New Testament Scriptures.

  • Absolute – because it is divinely authored, unqualified, unbending, and final
  • Authority – it is objective fact whether or not people accept it; God said it, that settles it
  • Alone – adding neither human tradition nor experience to it

The Scriptures tell us how we can be right with God (2 Timothy 3:14-15). Prior to the great revival called the Reformation, most people in Europe professed to be Christians, but most were in a condition of deep spiritual darkness, not knowing how to be right with God. They might have had a zeal for God, but it was not according to knowledge.

The Spirit tells us that a correct knowledge of human need and of our only real hope comes through the Scriptures alone. It is certainly true that God has revealed himself in his creation (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20). But it is only in the Bible that we can learn God’s plan of salvation (Psalm 19:7; 119:55). One of the great blessings of the Jewish people was that the true God gave them his word (Romans 3:1-2). Timothy’s mother and grandmother were Jewish, and they taught him God’s word. The Holy Spirit uses the word of God when he gives new birth to people (1 Peter 1:23; cf. John 3:5-8; Titus 3:5).

We must understand that the mere reading or knowledge is insufficient. We must also have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Hearing without faith lacks any value (Heb 4:2). We ought to pray that the Lord would give the gift of faith to people as they hear the word (2 Peter 1:1; cf. Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:29). Practically speaking, pray for five people you know. “Lord, give my friends the gift of faith!”

The Scriptures tell us how the Lord wants us to live (3:16-17). Since there was so much confusion about the way of salvation, it is no wonder that the lives of the religious were so corrupted before the Reformation. The human heart always runs to one of two extremes—legalism or lawlessness.

The Scriptures benefit those who are in Christ. They provide the “blueprints and specifications” for the true Christian way of life. They do this by telling us God’s story in Christ, and our place in it as Christ’s people. Knowledge of the blueprints and spec book is essential in construction, if the building is to please the owner. Positively, teaching tells us what a believer’s life is to look like. It presents the characteristics of Jesus Christ that we are to imitate. Negatively, rebuke tells us what to avoid—if you do these things, you are not showing the pattern of Christ in your life.

They provide material for the actual construction. When Jesus saves us, the Holy Spirit begins the task of renewing our lives. He gets involved in transforming our ideas, thoughts, and attitudes, and he also starts to transform our words and actions. Again, there is a negative and a positive side to what the Spirit does through the word. Negatively, he uses the word to correct us. For example, we might be used to talking with destructive speech (Ephesians 4:25-5:7). As Isaiah realized when he saw the Lord, he was a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5). In many ways we were under the control of sinful patterns of thinking and action. Positively, the Spirit uses the word to train us. He tells us that we show the newness of Christ in specific ways.

So then, let’s grasp the purpose or the goal of the Scriptures. The idea is that we might be properly outfitted (1 Peter 1:13-2:3). If you are going to run or walk, you need the right shoes and clothing for comfort and safety. The desired object is that we might do good works (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14). God wants us to bear fruit (John 15:5)! As God’s priests and temple, we are to bless others by acting with God’s kind of goodness. The teachings of the Scriptures and of Reformation theology are not entertainment for our minds. They are to be obeyed and lived (Matthew 28:20).