A Principle of Trust

Isaiah 31:1

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord (NIV).

We all are dependent. Self-sufficiency is a myth clung to by those who have failed to think deeply about life. We all receive help from others in many ways. Crises can unmask live-shaking experiences of this reality, but our need for trust is constant. For a common example (for those over fifty!), I just received a message to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. I trust that the pharmacist puts the correct medication in the bottle. I also trust the prescribing physician, the drug manufacturer, etc.

More pressing needs, like severe illnesses and terrorism, compel people to exercise faith, to pray. Or perhaps they do. Our text teaches that people seek other solutions besides trust in the Lord. Israel, God’s old covenant people, serves as a teaching example for us in the new covenant age (cf. Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:5, 11). Isaiah spoke to Israel’s desperate situation. Strong nations encircled them, and they had an obvious need for protection from attacks and conquest by foreign powers. Need was not their problem or ours. God knows what we need. (See Matthew six.) It was what to do about the need. This brings us to a principle of faith.

  • We need to avoid attractive, plausible alternatives. In Israel’s situation, the substitute for trust in God was to go down to Egypt for help. What made the alternative appealing was the power they could see, rather than the greater power that was invisible. Horses, chariots, and horsemen could be seen. Today, people depend on military might, on wealth and prosperity, on people of skill, and on the latest technology. Part of our difficulty is that we get caught up in the latest and greatest. For example, “Don’t give me an iPhone 4; it’s not even functional. I have an iPhone 7, but there’s so much it can’t do. I need the next version soon!” We long for what we can see with more power. We spiral down and away from God.
  • We ought to understand God’s judgment on those who go down to Egypt for help. The Spirit of the Lord gave a terse verdict on those who put their trust in other things: Woe. It was a course of action that was doomed, that the Sovereign Lord would ensure was doomed. The Spirit wanted them to see the “poison” label and shun the alternative. To seek other help besides the Lord invites God’s judgment and ruin into our lives. What might look like a good solution becomes the portal to deeper and more destructive consequences.
  • We should act in the way of God’s wisdom: look to the Holy One of Israel and seek help from the Lord. What is the point? From many passages in the Bible, it is clear that we are to use human means, since they are all gifts from God. So, this verse is not teaching some sort of passivity in which we do nothing. Instead, the Lord wants us to seek him first and to rely on him in the use of proper means. Yes, go to the doctor, take your medicine, and get proper rest and exercise. But first, depend on the living God for your health and other needs. We are to actively trust: seek help from the Lord.

The question is, “Will we trust in the Lord first in our next predicament?” God wants us to desire him first and above all. This is an important principle of trusting God.

Grace and peace, David

Unneeded Teaching

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10IMG_2092

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.

First Thessalonians is one of the first letters that the apostle Paul wrote. By God’s grace, he was able to start a church in Thessalonica, which was the capital of Macedonia with a population of approximately two hundred thousand. Paul was only there a short time and had to leave because of intense opposition to the gospel of Christ. One of the purpose of this letter is to give instruction about the Christian way of life (4:1-5:22). He wants his readers to know how to please God (4:1). He had instructed the Thessalonian believers about this, but he felt that they needed more. Thankfully, he sensed their need and by the Spirit we have this letter.

The apostle’s method to arouse their attention is paradoxical for two reasons. First, their love for one another is evident. It appears unneeded, since there were people who were the recipients of their love. Second, in an earlier prayer for them in this letter (3:12), he had prayed that their love for each other would increase. Why say that they didn’t need this instruction, if he had sensed the need to pray about this concern? Let’s make a couple suggestions.

  • Followers of Christ can display the reality of the Spirit’s work, and still be in the need for instruction. Sadly, there are some who think they have “arrived” and do not hesitate to let their pastor or Bible teacher know that they already know what he is teaching them. They look at themselves as the educated elite, above the needs of ordinary Christians. They say something like “This stuff is Christianity 101. We need something deeper.” Certainly, I would never plead for constantly giving out the “ABCs” of the Christian faith and walk. However, there is something wrong in the spirits of those who look down on the basics. We can get rather blind to our own weaknesses at the very time the Spirit directs someone to teach us what we need to hear. A useful practice is for everyone to read a devotional like Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. Sharon and I have found many times that what he wrote years before and that we have read more than once is applicable again to our current situation.
  • The Holy Spirit can burden teachers to pray about a matter and then to teach on it for the ongoing progress of those who listen. Let us never forget the help that our Friend from heaven gives through his work in the souls of those that speak to us. Part of it might come from the teacher’s own observations and those given to him by others, but often the Spirit leads those that teach into the word to help the hearers in a special way. When the Spirit urges us to pray for others about some need, you can be sure that there is a reason.
  • Though we might be doing what the Spirit teachers, we all need to grow in our faith and practice. No one has arrived. Yes, we might be strong in faith or love or hope. But really, how much greater is your faith than a mustard seed? Are you overflowing with hope? How much stronger and deeper ought your love to be? Remember that in all points, the measuring point of the new covenant way of life is “as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35; 15:12).
  • God has taught every Christian to love one another. This is an interior, life-changing act by the Spirit of God. It’s what happens when we’re born again from above. He gives us an inward impulse to reach outward in love toward each other. Yet, this inward teaching still needs the instruction from the Holy Scriptures. It is always the Spirit and the word!

So then my friends, this unneeded teaching is much need. Let us respond by loving one another “more and more”.

Grace and peace, David

A Place for You (Part Two)

DSCN02401 Corinthians 12:7-26

Christ’s people have a variety of functions in his spiritual body (12:14). This is illustrated by hands, feet, eyes, ears and noses (12:15-18). The Spirit of God is teaching us that there are clearly defined bodily functions and parts of the body to fulfill those functions.

Your position in the church is an adult son; you have authority to minister because you are a priest; the place of your ministry is determined by God. Since we have spiritual gifts and have been shaped by the Spirit to serve, we perform various spiritual functions in the local gathering of saints (church) we attend. To use the illustration, God makes you, a priest and an adult son, to act as a hand, a foot, an eye, an ear or a nose.

Many parts are necessary in the body for all spiritual functions to be fulfilled (12:17). Clearly, this makes the spiritual maturity of every member of the body important. In the new covenant way of life, this is very important. (I will spare you from an overdose of adjectives and adverbs, but I’m pausing here so that you will reflect on this point.) The new covenant way of life is not about pressing people to conform under a code of laws, rules, etc. This “checklist morality” is the focus for Christian behavior that many people are zealous to enforce by “church discipline”. But that is not my subject. The new covenant way of life is about people in Christ sharing life in the Spirit, which involves mutual service. You do not achieve service by investigating whether everyone is keeping the code. You serve because you have a vital relationship with others that impels you to show concern by practical actions for the benefit of each other. It is a sense that all of us, yes, all of us, are necessary for the spiritual health and progress and mission of our local gathering. For example, your timely use of your gift of encouragement might be what the Spirit uses in me today to persevere in the struggles of life. The personal Spirit enables spiritual people to provide care for Christ’s people.

So then, think on a couple ideas. First, a few people cannot possibly do everything. God intends a better way. That better way is the involvement of every member of the assembly. Some people have remarkable people skills that bring people to open up their hearts to each other. It is a joy to behold. Second, the tragedy is that people gifted by the Spirit are not fulfilling their function. This means that some parts of body ministry are left unfulfilled and other parts are weakly done by members unequipped to do them. They see the need and valiantly seek to serve, but… it would be so much better if those with the right spiritual skill sets were doing them. Try lifting your fork to your mouth with your ear! I don’t think the job will be done very well. If you are thinking, “That’s ridiculous! You can’t pick up a fork with your ear!” then you might be able to understand the weakness of the church in our time.

In every local church, God arranges the parts as he intended (12:18-20). If the Lord has saved you and brought you to a gathering of his people, he clearly has a purpose for you to fulfill in it. God your Father wants you to experience the joy of fulfilling his purpose for you as you share life with others. You find your purpose by learning the needs of the body and your desires and abilities in reference to those needs. Others should notice your gifts. But you can’t wait for others to push you to do it. I don’t want someone to tell my liver every morning, “Please do your liver thing, whatever it is.” Start to serve one another in love, and the Spirit will provide insight to you and others that you are learning to function in your local church. If you are not connecting with other followers of Christ, seek a local gathering to join this week.

Grace and peace, David