Psalm Nineteen (Part Eight)

Psalm 19:12-14

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

Some time ago, we had several posts on Psalm 19. We return to the concluding verses of that great psalm. Last time in this series, we considered the meaning of secret or hidden sins. Next or second, let us think about the danger of secret sins. They can be more harmful to the person committing them than open, known offenses. Why are secret sins dangerous?

  • Secret sins deprive a person of the help he might receive if his sins were known. When others know of our iniquities, they might call them to our attention, rebuke or correct us for them, or pray for our repentance. However, since such sins escape observation, we are cut off from a valuable means of grace. The sin is like an internal infection, growing in strength, unnoticed until it affects the whole person.
  • Secret sins work on the inner person of the heart, turning spiritual resources to the satisfaction of the sin when they might be far better employed in worship and knowing and fellowship with God.
  • Secret sins help heat the soul for more open sins. If a few coals are spread apart, they quickly cool off, but when gathered together, they stay warm. So secret sins warm the person toward the practice of open rebellion against God.
  • Secret sins help polish the hypocrisy of a person. The more he wants to hide his secret sins, the more skillful he becomes in presenting himself as something he is not.

Third, the person who truly knows the Lord recognizes his guilt for these sins. He senses his need for forgiveness, for inner cleansing, though no other human observes his guilt. The spiritual person wants a heart clean of offense before God. Ac 24:16. “This is a singular difference between pharisaical and real sanctity: that is curious to look abroad, but seeth nothing at home: so that Pharisee condemned the Publican, and saw nothing in himself worthy of blame; but this careful to look at home, and searcheth the secret corners, the very spirit of the mind” (Nathanael Hardy, quoted by Spurgeon, The Treasury of David). The spiritual person knows that God is holy, that God desires fellowship with him, yes, that the Spirit of God lives within. The direction of his soul is to love this Holy God, and not to offend him in anyway. Therefore, he knows that he needs forgiveness even for these hidden misdeeds.

The great point is that we must not dabble in secret sins. A verse that has been a help to me has been Romans 13:14. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (ESV). We should realize that in our Lord and Savior, we have real help, as the Spirit makes Christ present in our hearts. When we feel a temptation to dabble in secret greed, lust, fear, anger, or laziness, etc., Christ has more than sufficient power to help us resist temptation. We should not fret about the temptation, but by faith in Christ act against that temptation. It is good to start each day by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-six)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

We have seen how the Lord Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God for the work that the Father gave him to so. After his baptism, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into conflict with Satan. Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1; cf. Luke 4:1). Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and by God’s will this happened through close combat. The Spirit leads us to overcome the evil one the same way. We engage in struggles with the spiritual forces of evil. We can expect to be attacked! The walk of faith is not a pleasant walk in the park.

Here are two observations about the temptation of Jesus:

  • This was not the only time Jesus was tempted (cf. Luke 4:11; Mathew 16:23). It was the start of an ongoing conflict as the light of the new creation began to push back the darkness of the old, fallen creation.
  • The temptation of Jesus has a two-level significance. Usually Christians consider it as a moral example. Jesus shows us how to face temptation (cf. 1 Peter 2:21; cf. Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). But it also is significant in redemptive history. Jesus, the Last Adam, entered into conflict with the evil one in a far worse place than did the First Adam. Christ faced the same kind of tests (hunger, ambition, authority), but he defeated the enemy. Jesus was the “first wave” of God’s invasion force. King Jesus stepped out of “the landing craft” first and made a beachhead. We follow in his path.

Consider the Spirit’s leadership of Jesus in this conflict. Notice that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1 NIV). In other words, Jesus was enabled by the Holy Spirit to go out and declare God’s message boldly. The Spirit led Jesus to defeat the enemy through the Scriptures. Jesus, the new Israel, went into the desert for forty days (a symbolic reflection of Israel’s forty years of wandering) and while there he was attacked by the evil one (in contrast to old covenant Israel, who willingly followed the idols of demons in the wilderness, Acts 7:41-43; 1 Corinthians 10:20). Jesus replied to Satan’s temptations by using the Biblical instruction (Torah or law) given to Israel and he submitted to God’s instruction. As Jesus trusted God and obeyed, he received the fulfillment of God’s promise that Satan had misused (cf. Mark 1:13)

How must you and I face attacks from the spiritual forces of evil? As Spirit-filled people (Ephesians 5:18; 6:10), we must use the full armor of God. Note especially Ephesians 6:17-18! Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people (NIV). Yes, the Bible does “tie together”, being the work of one Master Author, the Holy Spirit. Knowing this is one matter; it is quite another to pray and to be led by the Holy Spirit. It is active dependence on our Almighty leader. Get up, then, and be ready to use the full armor of God!

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

Joseph and Temptation (Part Two)

Genesis 39:6-10

So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her (NIV).

In our last article about Joseph, we made a few general observations about temptation. Everyone encounters temptation every day. The Lord Jesus taught his followers to pray to be rescued from temptation (Matthew 6:13; 26:41). Joseph’s encounter with it ought to provide sufficient motivation for us to pray. Let’s analyze his first battles with the temptation to sexual immorality.

Potiphar’s wife aggressively tried to seduce Joseph (39:7). Joseph was in a very vulnerable position. This complicated sin’s attack.

  • He was an unmarried young man with normal sexual desires. We must always realize that sexual desires are very good. God created people with a longing for sexual fulfillment. He made us to enjoy sex. This was not Joseph’s temptation; instead, it was to fulfill his sexual desires outside of a marital relationship.
  • He was a man with frustrated ambitions. It would be too easy to seize something to prove himself to himself.
  • He was a servant. Normally, he would have to obey her orders. In other words, he had a ready-made “excuse”. When we make excuses to do something that we know is sinful, we fall into a dangerous trap. Joseph wasn’t looking for an excuse; one was personally delivered to him by his “employer”. Many in business receive these “excuses” to drink excessively, to go to “gentlemen’s clubs”, and to party wildly while away on business trips.

Joseph was caught in a surprise attack. If he were tempted to sexual immorality with a servant girl, that would be a common affair. As the head slave, he could have had occasion to seduce women with a lower position in the household. But his master’s wife had designs on him. This was more unusual. Note, I did not say unheard of. We do not have to go looking for sin. It will seek us (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).

Joseph made a godly refusal of her wicked seduction (39:8-9).

  • He reasoned from general principles. Honor demanded that he not violate the trust that his master had in him. Joseph also respected the marriage relationship that God had established which people have followed from creation (cf. Roman 2:14-15; Genesis 20:3-7). People know that they ought to be faithful to their spouses.
  • He reasoned from godly principles. He was able to call the seduction to illicit sexual pleasure by its correct name: “such a wicked thing.” He viewed sin as foremost of all as an offense against God (cf. King David’s confession of his adultery, Psalm 51:4).

Joseph had to endure an unrelenting assault by Potiphar’s wife (39:10). His sound and solemn reasoning did not change her mind. Temptation does not walk away when it is first spurned. Joseph had to be on constant guard against this temptation: she spoke to Joseph day after day. Let us not think that temptation will grow tired of harassing us. Temptation is always optimistic about its chances for victory. Joseph acted wisely while being tempted. He refused the sin. “No, I won’t go to bed with you.” He also refused the occasion of sin. In general, if you would keep yourself from harm, keep out of harm’s way. May God give us grace to learn from Joseph’s example.

Grace and peace, David

Joseph and Temptation (Part One)

Genesis 39:6-10

The sports world is filled with stories of a young and rising team against an older team, skilled and experienced in the sport. Often the storyline is that the younger team does not stand a chance against the veteran champions. This story is like that for it matches a young godly man against a strong temptation that has conquered many.

The Bible speaks plainly about sexual immorality. The amount of material in the Scriptures on the subject witnesses to mankind’s fatal attraction to this sin. The Lord has recorded such incidents as this one from Joseph’s life as warnings to us all. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:11-13 ESV).

Let us begin with some general observations (39:6-7).

  • The blessing of good looks can be a source of temptation. By his sovereign will, God has chosen to bless certain people with physical attractiveness. A few are even very good looking (Genesis 24:16; 2 Samuel 11:2). God made you how you are (Exodus 4:11). But in this world of sin, even the good gifts of God can become a source of temptation, either to yourself or others. Many beautiful women have found themselves to be objects of lust rather than love. Don’t blame the Lord for the good gift. The temptation is not in the gift, but in sin’s misuse of it. If sin can misuse even the holy law of God, it can also misuse the gift of beauty (Romans 7:10-13).
  • Temptation does not appear suddenly in every course of events. Sometimes we can unpack our bags and settle in before it raises its ugly head (39:7). Temptation can be like a cat, watching its prey for the optimal moment to pounce. Beware of being lulled into a false sense of security. A change of venue does not mean that sin has disappeared. Some have changed jobs because they “could not handle the pressure.” Yet the circumstances of the new job allowed them to walk farther away from the Lord.
  • Marital infidelity isn’t new (39:7). Some foolish people think that sexual immorality is proof of being modern and liberated. There is nothing new or liberating in adultery. This incident happened over 3700 years ago, and there was sexual immorality before this. It comes out of the human heart (Mark 7:21). God’s word always requires that sexual desires may only be fulfilled within the bond of marriage. There are no exceptions for anyone at anytime.
  • God does not necessarily spare his children from severe spiritual trials. Jesus Christ his Son had to endure temptation (Matthew 4:1). We are wise to pray to be kept from temptation. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13 CSB). Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41 CSB).

Joseph found himself in a very dangerous, nearly deadly situation, due to the lusts of another person. Temptation to sin can come in a variety of ways and situations. We don’t have to go looking for it. For this reason, we must be prepared. Fill your heart with godly, heavenly desires, and rely on the help of the Holy Spirit.

Grace and peace, David

Spiritually Outfitted (Part Two)

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Ephesians 6:11

Why should we put on the full armor of God? We should put it on because the Lord commands us to (cf. Luke 12:35). This alone ought to be sufficient reason. We are to recognize his authority to direct our lives. Who are we to disobey the Lord? But this is an age of incredible spiritual immaturity. I speak of us all. Someone has said that American Christianity is 3,000 miles wide and a half an inch deep. Therefore, let’s think of some other reasons.

Satan has a great advantage in battle when we fail to put on and then use the weapons of our warfare (cf. Luke 4:13; 16:21-23). Imagine going tent camping and then failing to zip up the doors to keep out the mosquitoes and other nasty bugs. That would be failing to use your advantage. Whatever opportunity the evil one now misses by our diligence, he hopes to find again by our negligence. He hopes that we will be tired out by continual duty. Satan is a skilled hunter (1 Peter 5:8). He watches the tracks of our feet for an indication of the direction of our hearts (Psalm 119:10). Beware of youthful over-activity, middle-aged laziness, or senior sleepiness. We need to be like Eleazar in battle (2 Samuel 23:9-10) or like Joshua (Joshua 10:12-14).

It is hard to reactivate a habit of grace when it has fallen into disuse (Song 5:3). Sometimes this happens because of the shame of guilt. Is there anyone reading that is too ashamed to serve because you have really messed up your Christian life? I know one way that you can be whiter than snow. The blood of Christ never loses its power! Remember that after David was forgiven he went out to fight again. Sometimes this happens from sheer difficulty. When a room has been messed up, it is harder to clean than when it is kept in constant order. One sin tolerated will eventually lead to greater problems. Learning to play a musical instrument and then neglecting to practice and then trying to play again is difficult. Sometimes our lack of spiritual responsiveness happens from being under false teaching. Human-centered or free will teaching marinates a soul in self-sufficiency. Legalism bakes the heart hard in self-reliance. Transforming experience errors of various types send a soul on an empty search for something besides Jesus Christ. Seek fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, not an experience!

In one sense it doesn’t matter how someone falls into a trap. What matters is how to get out of it. The only way is through a fresh faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. What can I do to persuade you of our Lord’s surpassing worth and all-sufficiency?

We should put our armor on for the sake of our fellow soldiers. A soldier who does not know how to use his weapons is a danger to his own comrades (cf. Hebrews 5:11-14). Good doctrine with an evil lifestyle is like a loaded gun in the hands of a two-year-old. Incorrect doctrine with good intentions is like carrying out attacks without regard to where the enemy is—many are injured by “friendly fire”. The unwise conduct of one professing believer makes the situation worse for many others. Even when the person does not fall into a scandal, he or she cannot help other saints, as should be the case.

We can only put on spiritual armor by faith. This action is a daily necessity for every follower of Christ. You and I must be prepared for battle! However, you cannot put on spiritual armor unless you first know the Lord. Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Are you united to him by faith? Do you desire to fellowship with the Lord? True Christianity is a relationship with the risen Lord, and not an empty practice of duty. Make sure that you know the Lord before you try to follow him.

Grace and peace, David

Jesus and His People

Isaiah 42:2-3b

One of the tactics of the malicious enemy of our souls is to tempt people to have wrong, terrible, hateful thougBEDCD5DD-D15C-4075-AF41-32050BFF4B28hts about God. This surrounds us daily. How often we hear people cursing God for the problems of life. Even Job’s wife told him to “Curse God and die” during their grief and his pain. True Christians can enter into this temptation. When things are going our way, it is easy to say, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will be continually in my mouth!” However, when events run contrary to us, it is easy to fall to the temptation to start pouting or murmuring or complaining. Some Christians go around with the uneasy feeling that, in spite of John 3:16; Galatians 2:20 and other verses, God really doesn’t like them. And so they start to strive harder to do religious stuff to try to persuade God to have a kinder disposition toward them. Or falling into spiritual depression, some cozy up to a slavish fear of God, while they wait for God to “get them”. And there are other pitfalls such Christians can fall into during this miserable condition.

The way out of such spiritual muck is to listen by faith to what the Lord says about himself in his word. God the Father here encourages us to look to his Son and Servant, the Messiah. He is the One we need to fix our thoughts on. He is the Lord who can rescue us!

The Holy Spirit tells us of character of Christ’s public ministry during his first coming (Isaiah 42:2). This certainly is important to lay hold of, because Jesus gave a constant revelation about who God is (John 14:7-11). This is also a reason to persevere in reading the Four Gospels, because you and I cannot see with our physical eyes the life of Jesus. We must read about him in the Bible. (I wish someone had explained this to me when I was a new Christian. It might have helped keep me from much senseless doubt, fear and grief.)

Jesus did not act like an earthly conqueror. Most human leaders make it a point to push their fame, their agenda, and their power on those under their authority. This especially happens when they want their religion to be the law of the land. Verbal, legal, economic, social and physical abuses are all tools of the worldly conqueror to enforce their agenda. Think of what Nebuchadnezzar did to the Hebrews and what the Roman Caesars did to the early Christians. Think of how many followers of Christ are persecuted today because of their stand for the risen Lord Jesus. But our Savior did not do that when he came. Instead, he went around doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil (Acts 10:38), and he preached and taught about God’s saving reign.

There is probably no distinction between the verbs listed, but “the intention is to create a cumulative emphasis on a quiet, unaggressive, unthreatening ministry” (Motyer). And so Jesus healed the Roman centurion’s servant and comforted a weeping widow whose only son had died and raised him to life. Jesus spoke tenderly to a sinful woman, when Simon the Pharisee condemned her. He took time to heal and reassure another woman, while on the way to raise a young girl from death’s clutches. He protected Mary from Martha’s harsh words and later from the cruel remarks of Judas and the other disciples. He became the friends of tax collectors and sinners, while other religious leaders despised them. Jesus healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath, when others would have gladly left her suffer. And he had mercy on a blind beggar, when others were rebuking him and telling him to be quiet. Jesus was strong to deliver, but ministered in peace and calmness. This is the Savior we need. He doesn’t push us down in the dust to grovel before him, but he lifts us up to give us life and liberty and laughter!

Jesus did act with love, as in our previous examples. He still acts with love, because he is always the same (Hebrews 13:8). He died to save us, though we were powerless, ungodly, sinful, enemies of God (Romans 5:6-9). He saved us, though we were not righteous, when we didn’t understand or seek God, when we turned away and became worthless, when our words were filled with deadly poison, deceit, lies, cursing, and bitterness, while our ways were marked by malice, ruin, misery, and unrest, and even while we had no fear of God (Romans 3:10-18).

Christ receives, forgives, and restores us, even when we are disobedient children (1 John 1:9-2:2). He is glad to call us his bride, though we act like whores at times. Yes, whore is not too strong a word for anyone would pay the world to be ravished by its pleasures when they ought to be enjoying life with the Lord of glory. Yet, he welcomes us back and even goes out to find us. “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my God would die for me?” Worship the Lord for his overflowing grace! “Hallelujah! What a Savior who can take a poor lost sinner, lift him from the miry clay and set him free! I will ever tell the story, shouting, “Glory, glory, glory!” Hallelujah! Jesus ransomed me” (Julia H. Johnston).

Grace and peace, David