Thoughts on the Reformation (Part One)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).

The Reformation (1517-1648) was one of the great awakenings (like Pentecost and the First Great Awakening) in the spread of Christ’s kingdom on the earth. Centered in Northern Europe and Great Britain, the power of the Spirit of God and God’s word brought about a very strong witness to the good news of Christ and salvation. Many were born again from above, and a new way of life began in the regions it touched. It showed the value of human life in the here and now, and multitudes lived for the glory of God, including in the 1600s, North America. Like any matter in which people are involved, the Reformation was far from perfect, but that should not prevent us from rejoicing in the salvation of people and much good that resulted through people who had been brought from darkness into God’s marvelous light. Let us avoid the destructive trap of smashing good things because of a few flaws we perceive. It is right to point out errors, so that we can walk more precisely in the truth. But it is very wrong to reject God’s work because of the remaining sin among his people.

The Bible tells us that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, at his appointed time: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son (Galatians 4:4 NIV). The Reformation also came in this way. The sovereign God prepared the times and the seasons for the quick spread of the good news through people chosen by him. Among the many preparations were the rediscovery of ancient languages (to rightly understand the Bible in its original languages) and the printing press (which enabled the inexpensive publication of the Bible and messages based on the Bible). God used many men to translate his word into the languages of people, so that men and women could hear, read, and meditate on his message to them.

This was an important development, because prior to this the corrupt medieval church had strictly controlled access to the Bible, and its leaders had told people that they could only know truth through the church. This meant that the church told people that the way of salvation was through its sacramental system. However, when people could read the Bible, they discovered that people are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When any sinner trusts in the Lord Jesus, he or she is declared right with God. With this in mind, we can appreciate why the first point of Reformation theology is “according to the Scriptures alone”.

In religion, we often see a divided authority. The usual scheme is a holy book, an accumulation of traditions and/or folk practices, and a group of “holy people” that interprets the holy book and the traditions for the adherents of the religion. In practice, this means that the “holy people” are the final authority. This is what happened in the medieval church. It had morphed into a religion that the bishops and priests controlled to keep people paying money in the sacramental system. As long as they controlled the authority structure, they controlled the people. As the Reformers studied the Scriptures, they came to realize that the Bible itself was the written word of God and therefore, our final authority for what we believe and our way of life. The Bible, not the church, declared the way of salvation. Anyone reading the written word of God in a normal manner can clearly understand how to know God and to be right with him, and how to please him.

This first point of Reformation has ongoing value. We do not have to rely on church traditions or her leaders. God wants us to listen to him directly. The practical questions are do we accept the final authority of God’s written word and do we read it carefully, so that we know what God has revealed to us?

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

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-three)

John 14:22-26; 16:12-15

We have seen that the Holy Spirit had a crucial role in the production of the New Testament Scriptures and his “credentials” for that work. He is “the Friend at court” and the Spirit of truth. Next, let’s examine the success of the Spirit in this ministry of revealing God and his words.

We should begin by clearing up three misunderstandings about what Christ said.

  • He is not promising perfect knowledge in 14:26. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (NIV, my emphasis). “The Holy Spirit is not particularly concerned to impart to the disciples of Jesus an exhaustive knowledge of nuclear physics, astronomy, cell biology, the literature of Tanganyika, or the mating habits of the porcupine. Moreover, even if he had the inclination to attempt this transfer of knowledge, we would not be able to receive it; for our finiteness precludes the attribute of omniscience” (Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, p. 71).
  • Nor is Jesus saying that we lack any need for human teachers in 14:26 (just “rely on the Spirit”), which would make Christ completely contradict himself in giving pastors and teachers to his church (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  • Nor is Jesus promising personal guidance in 16:13. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come (NIV, my emphasis). That is to rip part of a phrase completely out of its context. There is not even a hint in these words that the Spirit will somehow mysteriously lead Christ’s followers into perfect choices in their lives.

So then, what is the true success of the Spirit’s ministry? First, the Spirit made sure that the disciples learned all things (14:26) that they needed to know about Jesus (his full significance), brought to their memory everything he said (so we have a trustworthy account of his teaching), and he also would tell them (16:13) about things to come; that is, the meaning and significance of what was about to happen to Jesus—his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. “This is the test that will show how much of the Spirit there is in each of the various types of supposedly Christian theology that jostle for our attention in these days” (Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 65).

Second, in all this, the Spirit glorifies Christ by taking what is Christ’s and making it known to Christ’s people in the New Testament Scriptures. So then, we see in a dominant Christ-focus in the New Testament writings.

These words “indicate that it is by means of the apostolic witness (now inscripturated in the New Testament), not by direct revelation of the Spirit to individual believers or by corporate revelation of the Spirit to teaching officers (the claim which was to be developed in the Roman Catholic magisterium), that Christ’s person, his teaching and his future purposes are made known.” [Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 71]

In the words of the old song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!” The story of the Bible is the true story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. In it, the Spirit guided the apostles and New Testament prophets to record the gospel narrative and to explain its meaning and significance to the church, that we might live for the glory of God. Thank God for the success of the Holy Spirit as you profit spiritually from reading the New Testament Scriptures.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-one)

John 14:22-26; 16:12-15

In this series, we are examining briefly what the Bible teaches us about the Holy Spirit and his work. To this point, we have considered a Biblical perspective on this teaching, the Spirit’s revelation of himself in the Old Testament Scriptures, and the Spirit’s work in the inspiration of the whole Bible. What we want to look next is the ministry of the Spirit in the inspiration of the New Testament Scriptures. This subject has attained a new importance in our day.

  • It has become important in apologetics. The basis of any religion is its authority, and for Christianity, this is found in God’s Word, the Bible. In our culture, we encounter like never before non-Christian religions and many corrupted forms of Christianity (like the “prosperity gospel”). The Christian must be prepared to communicate the finality of the New Testament Scriptures.
  • It has become important in regard to the Christian life. With the decline of sound Biblical instruction, Christians have fallen into the bad practice of misusing texts, taking verses out of their grammatical and historical contexts to teach novel views. It is important that we understand the correct use of every text.

In the preceding verses, Jesus has told his disciples that he, by the Spirit, would manifest himself to his disciples but not to the world. Though this might refer in part to his post-resurrection appearances, it seems more likely that it refers to the time when the Spirit is poured out on them, because of verse twenty—on that day they would have confidence because of the “mutual indwelling”. All this causes the other Judas to ask a question. Why is the Lord going to make himself known to the disciples and not to the world? The answer to that question is that the Spirit is given to those who have a relationship with God—a relationship that is demonstrated (not caused) by love for Christ and obedience to his teaching. All of this conforms to the will of the Father who sent Christ.

But then Jesus took the opportunity to tell them about another aspect of the Spirit’s ministry. He would come, not only to produce a close relationship with God, but he would also come to cause the apostles to remember all of Christ’s teaching to them.

Consider the importance of this ministry of the Holy Spirit. As we study the God’s word, we should observe the contrast between God’s revelation of the Old and the New Testament Scriptures. In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV). The Old Testament Scriptures came to us through the prophets at many times and in various ways. As we saw, the Holy Spirit guaranteed that the written product was God’s message to us. But in the last days, God has spoken to us through his Son. The Lord Jesus came as a Prophet and Mediator far greater than Moses. He is the One whom all must listen to (Deuteronomy 18:15; Matthew 17:5). All revelation from God in the last days comes through Jesus Christ. He is the chief cornerstone of the whole temple of God (Ephesians 2:20). This gives every Christian a basic test for authority. Does this word come from Jesus Christ? We pay no attention to anyone else who claims to have received messages from God. The New Testament writings restrict us from looking anywhere other than to Old Testament Scriptures and God’s final revelation in Christ, which is written in the New Testament Scriptures.

Therefore, the church needs to be assured that we have a genuine, authentic and reliable record of the full message of Christ. The Spirit was entrusted with making this happen.

  • He made it happen by ensuring that all that is written is in full agreement with the Father’s revelation through his Son (John 16:13,15).
  • He made it happen by teaching and reminding the disciples of what Jesus taught them (14:26). Observe how careful Luke is at this point (Acts 1:1-2). Or think of how John opens the last book of the Bible (Revelation 1:1-2). Or think of how constantly Paul refers to himself as a servant or apostle of Jesus Christ as he writes his letters. Why do they do this? The simple answer is that all the New Testament revelation comes from God speaking through his Son!

Let us give thanks to God for this good ministry of the Holy Spirit! Let us read and meditate on it constantly.

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Thirteen)

To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen (Romans 16:27 NIV).

God is wise. God has infinite ability and skill to do what is best for the glory of his name and the good of his people. “Knowledge and wisdom, though often confounded by careless thinkers, are different. Wisdom always has respect to action… Our knowledge and moral principles have much influence in directing our conduct, and that man is considered wise, whose knowledge and moral principles direct his conduct well. Wisdom is therefore regarded as consisting in the selection of the best end of action, and the adoption of the best means for the accomplishment of this end. God is infinitely wise, because he selects the best possible end of action. What the end Jehovah has in view in all his works, we cannot claim to comprehend” (Dagg, pp. 86-87).

God only is wise (Romans 16:27), and his wisdom is profound (Job 9:4), since his wisdom has no limits. We cannot take all things into view at once (or at all!), but he can. That is why wisdom belongs to God (Job 12:3). This is difficult for us to comprehend. We see others make unwise and destructive plans and choices and even, perhaps grudgingly admit, that we also have the same failures. This hinders us from acknowledging God’s wisdom.

However, God makes known his wisdom to us in the scriptures. In wisdom, God made the universe (Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 3:19; Jeremiah 10:12). God works out his purposes of displaying the glory of his wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). If he works to bring disaster on the wicked, such works proceed from his wisdom (Isaiah 31:2). In his sovereign rule over all nations, his wisdom guides all his choices (Daniel 2:20). In salvation, the Lord works through his wisdom to save his chosen people (1 Corinthians 1:21, 24, 2:7; Ephesians 1:7-8). We need to remember the great word of the doxology in Romans 11:36. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (NIV). Everything is under the direction of the all-wise, holy, and sovereign Lord of the universe. When there are matters beyond our understanding, we can trust his wisdom. If we lack wisdom, we should ask God (James 1:5), since he is all-wise. When we comprehend something of his wisdom, we ought to bow in worship him as wise (Revelation 7:12).

In all the events and turns of our lives, we must trust the infinite wisdom of God (Romans 11:33). When we lack comfort or suffer, he has a wise reason (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). If our body fails, we can be assured that he has something better in store for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). If we lack worldly riches, God may be keeping us from a trap (1 Timothy 6:9). If we lose our dearest in life, he remains worthy of our faith (Job 13:15)! God’s wisdom provides a basis for peaceful rest when our world seems to be going crazy.

How can we acquire wisdom? We must reverently fear God (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33) and receive his word (Psalm 119:97-100), but above all, wisdom is found in the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:2-3)!

Grace and peace, David

Our Conduct in Church

1 Timothy 3:14-15

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth (NLT).

The Bible is God’s word; it is God’s voice to us, to people. It speaks about God and mankind. God delivered it to us in human language and in human circumstances. These circumstances provided opportunities to talk to his people through all generations. In this letter, the Spirit spoke concerning our conduct in the church. As always, church in the New Testament does not mean “in a building” but “in our relationships with God and his people”, since “church” means “assembly” or “gathering” or “congregation”.

The great purpose, then, is to present proper conduct with God and his people. First Timothy is not about church government or rules for church order. It concerns how you and I are to share life together and with God. What makes this letter so volatile in the contemporary church is the obsession of many with themselves and their opinions rather than believing submission to what the Spirit plainly said through the apostle. The same self-obsession leads many to ignore the family values of life together in the church. (Read especially chapter five.) This letter deserves fresh, multiple readings of its text, putting aside study Bibles, commentaries, and church manuals, until we have listened together to the text, and have attained a submissive attitude toward its teaching.

As we listen humbly, we will hear teaching about what the church is. As has often been said in various forms, we must know what we are in Christ before we can practice life in Christ. In our text, we discover three ideas about the church.

  • We are the household of God. We are God’s family. He is the Father, we his children. He is the leader and sets the values, ideas, aims, mission, attitudes, and kindred spirit of his family. He tells us how we are to treat each other (5:1-2). Matters like faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness have a high priority in God’s household (6:11; cf. 1:4-5). The Father wants all to sense that such gospel-formed attitudes and actions are to be felt and experienced by all.
  • We are the assembly of the living God. He is life itself, and we are alive in Christ with him. The church is a gathering of life, of spiritually alive people with the living God. The church is organic by nature, not institutional. It is people sharing life, not trying to lead a successful religious business. Life is valued more than profit or loss. Since we live in this fallen world and still sin, God and we know that this life will be messy and challenging, but it remains life shared with the living God.
  • We guard the word; we are the pillar and foundation of the truth. We firmly hold to its teachings, passing them from person to person, and from generation to generation. Truth matters because we know it is the way of salvation to all the people groups of the earth (2:4). We also proclaim the truth to others. We use it to evangelize or “fish for people” (Mark 1:15). To put it this way, we know our mission and how to accomplish it with the help of the Holy Spirit.

This weekend as you meet with God’s people, seek to imbibe and to spread these values. Listen to your Father’s voice, follow the Father’s Son, and worship by the Father’s Spirit. Enjoy the reality that you are in the assembly of the living God! Share his love with others in his family.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Five)

IMG_26382 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (NIV).

The content of the Scriptures does not originate with mankind— “for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man”. The apostle clearly teaches that the prophets did not concoct the Scriptures out of their own choices. They did not have some kind of superior insight from their human nature into the human predicament. They did not invent cleverly devised tales. In many passages you can easily observe the artless words of an eyewitness to an event or those stating what they had been told by God. There is no effort to “clean up the text”. And the heroic acts of the people of God are present right alongside of their miserable failures. Think of David, Samson, Asa, and Peter, too! In addition, often the prophets wrote things that were beyond their knowledge, like Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus. At other times they wrote what they did not even like: Jeremiah (Jeremiah 15:10; 20:7-18), Jonah (Jonah 1:3; 4:1), and Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

This phrase puts at least two necessary limits and clarifications on our thoughts about the Scriptures. “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men.” [Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 153] So though we might call it a joint product, both parties are not contributing to the written product in the same way. Also, the apostles and prophets were not responding to cultural situations out of their own wills. Yet many argue contrary to this text in cases when the Word of God comes into direct conflict with one of the darling ideas of a godless and wicked culture, such as many kinds of sexual immorality.

It is easy to list many objections that unbelieving people have against ideas and values that the Bible presents. They suppose the Biblical writers were anti-human because they prohibited sinful practices that are spiritually and often physically destructive, yet which unbelievers are fond of, such as drunkenness.  The inspired writers did not speak from their own desires, but communicated God’s desires, which seek the peace, joy and unity of his people.

In the face of this statement, we must all submit to God’s authority and bow before it. See 2 Timothy 3:16. This is not a popular position to take in these lawless days, but it is God’s path. Let God be true, and every man a liar (Romans 3:4). The Spirit of truth (John 15:26) acted in the giving of the Bible to provide an accurate presentation of the human condition. Like medical doctors who give their patients correct though unwelcome diagnoses, the Spirit tells us the truth about ourselves. Unlike medical doctors in many situations, the Holy Spirit knows the exact remedy for us. In the Scriptures, he proclaims the only way for people to be right with God. Sadly, the truth is unwelcome, much more unwelcome than the medical doctor that tells you to lose twenty pounds. But better than medical doctors, the Spirit of God can cause us to love the message of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Spirit, cause many to love the truth and to be saved!

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Four)

dscn00222 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (NIV).

Next, we want to think about the activity of the Holy Spirit of God in giving us the written message, the Holy Scriptures. As we begin, it is wise to state that we will encounter mystery here. The Spirit does not answer all our questions in the Bible. In it he gives us true truth, though not exhaustive truth. But though we cannot know fully, we have all we need to know. Consider one illustration. The games of the great chess grandmasters have been preserved for people to enjoy and study. If you have some understanding of chess, you can replay them and grasp to some degree how they achieved victory. But sometimes it is beyond the comprehension of most of us how they could discern the possibilities in a position and bring out its potential through a sequence of many moves. Watch the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer, if you want to see an example of this. In a similar way, when we come to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, we can learn what he has done, but he has not made known the full process of how the Scriptures were written. We should stop where the Scriptures stop. Be content that the Spirit knows, even though you do not!

The Scriptures are a joint product of the Holy Spirit and people. We see this divine-human interaction in many areas of Biblical teaching:

  • Christ has two natures (one divine and one human) in his one person. Both are clearly attested in the Scriptures, though the exact nature of the interaction is beyond our understanding.
  • God’s sovereignty interacts with human responsibility in salvation. God clearly chooses people to salvation, yet everyone who is saved repents and believes.
  • The work of evangelism is another divine-human interaction. Our job is to tell others the good news, but unless the Holy Spirit regenerates, all our evangelistic efforts fail.
  • In the Christian life, the whole process of growth in grace involves divine-human interaction.

Each of these divine-human interactions varies in different ways. But the product of the Scriptures is closer in kind to the relationship between Christ’s two natures than the others, all of which involve human sin.

The apostolic teaching is that “men spoke from God” or “holy men of God spoke”, as the NKJV reads following the textual variant. In either case, we are clearly taught the following:

  • In some way, the Scriptures came through human instrumentality – “men spoke”. We see this same assertion made in other places: David (Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34), Isaiah (John 12:39), Joel (Acts 2:16), and “the word of the prophets” with Amos in mind (Acts 15:15). Compare also Matthew 13:14; 15:7; 22:43; Mark 12:36.
  • Yet as these men spoke, God was speaking through them (Matthew 2:17; 3:3; 13:35; 21:4; Acts 4:25).
  • We can also see this in the differences of style among the various human writers. Ezekiel does not sound the same as Moses, nor does Paul sound like John. Yet in all we read the same consistent teaching, sense the same heart of the master author, and are presented with the same zeal for God’s glory in the face of Christ. And all this in about forty human writers over the space of 1600 years!

The observable facts of Scripture attest to this divine-human interaction. This should lead us to worship the Lord. Who are you, Almighty God, that you can work in human hearts in such a magnificent way?” And the Spirit uses the Scriptures to change us!

Grace and peace, David

Responding to God’s Word (Part One)

20150520_1401262 Chronicles 15:1-7

My usual practice in these articles is to look at a passage from God’s word, whether we go through an entire book of the Bible like Ruth or part of a book, like our articles from the Psalms. Right now we are in a brief series on the life and times of Asa, king of Judah, from the book of 2 Chronicles. In our English arrangement of the Old Testament Scriptures, this book is in the “History” section in the first half of the Old Testament. But Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible is in the section called the Writings and is the last book in the OTS (cf. Matthew 23:35).

Our subject from this section of scripture is something that all of us do in our Sunday morning or small group gatherings. We respond to God’s Word. For some, their response is sudden and complete. They simply ignore God’s Word and turn their attention to other matters. Others listen but fail to apply the Word to themselves. It is just an involvement in ritual. Hopefully, all of us will act more wisely and will listen to what the Lord says, and then by the grace of the Spirit, apply the Word to ourselves.

Before we respond, we listen to the preaching or teaching of God’s Word (15:1-7). Most of us are used to one man, the pastor, stand before a group and present God’s message to them. The group was probably Asa and his advisors and perhaps some of the elders of his kingdom. The “pastor” was a man named Azariah son of Oded. The presentation of the word can be an extended monologue or a discussion. There is a place for both, though I think that it is best that a monologue is followed by discussion. People need the opportunity to ask questions and to interact with others about the message of God’s word. It is hard to benefit spiritually if you listen and then run out the door as fast as you can. Invest time in the consideration of God’s message with others.

The prophet prepared the message (15:1-2a). Behind every message delivered, whether by prophet or preacher, you will discover prior preparation of some kind or another. For the pastor-teacher, this ought to include a walk with God that includes the study of the word and prayer, and certainly also the work of the Holy Spirit in illumination and empowerment. Please pray for your pastor and Bible teachers! Observe the act of the Spirit of God. He came upon Azariah son of Oded. The Spirit would come upon a man to speak through him (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21). When the Spirit did this, the prophet would be speaking the exact words of God. Now we speak from the Bible, which is the written yet living voice of God to us.

This gave God’s authority to the prophet. “Listen to me….” Azariah can command attention, since he declared the exact words of God. This included the king and all the people. There are many voices demanding our attention, but you and I must listen to God’s Word and submit to his authority in the written word. This means that we must look at life in conformity with God’s word. For one example, we learn that we must do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). So we choose to speak words that honor God; we seek attitudes that reflect his character; we live as Christ’s ambassadors.

Next, there is the content of the message (15:2b-7). Every message must have truth content or it is worthless; the preacher’s message must communicate God’s message. When it is God’s message, the intent is change in a godly manner. Azariah preached for change. When you teach, your goal must be that the Spirit will bring about Biblical change in people. Otherwise, it is merely an act of entertainment.

  • He delivered a conditional promise (15:2b). This was how God’s promises came to people during the law or old covenant.
  • He provided encouragement from history (15:3-6). Azariah told about their need in the past. He wanted to reacquaint them with the ways of God. The intent was to give hope in God in their present situation.
  • He added direct application (15:7). He called for change in their way of life. In this case, the change was to avoid the trap of discouragement and wanting to give up.

You and I must listen to God’s word with an awareness that God desires us to respond with new thoughts, ideas, attitudes, desires, and actions.

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