How Sin Corrupts (Part One)

Hosea 6:7-7:16

But they, like Adam, have violated the covenant; there they have betrayed me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with bloody footprints. Like raiders who wait in ambush for someone, a band of priests murders on the road to Shechem. They commit atrocities. I have seen something horrible in the house of Israel: Ephraim’s promiscuity is there; Israel is defiled. A harvest is also appointed for you, Judah. When I return my people from captivity, when I heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim and the crimes of Samaria will be exposed. For they practice fraud; a thief breaks in; a raiding party pillages outside (6:7-7:1 CSB).

The hymn writer of old said it well, “Change and decay in all around I see.” We live in a cursed world; cursed because of mankind’s rebellion against God. Since we are God’s image bearers, we can make new things, but because of the curse, we cannot keep them in a new, pristine condition. Even items set aside and specially protected suffer tarnish or the yellowing of age.

Far worse than this ongoing decay is the corruption that sin produces in human hearts. It both pollutes and ruins what it touches. Israel experienced the destroying power of sin when they turned away from the living God. Hosea writes to expose what had happened to Israel.

The prophet first denounces Israel for her unfaithfulness. The people were unfaithful to God (6:7, 10). Here we encounter a well-known difficult translation. Notice the translation of the new NIV: As at Adam, they have broken the covenant; they were unfaithful to me there (my emphasis). This harmonizes the two parts of verse seven, which the ESV, CSB, and others do not. We should not build nor reject doctrines on questionable translations, like some covenant theologians do to find a text for a pre-Fall covenant of works. Any clear teaching does not need a doubtful translation to support it. But I digress….

Whatever the exact meaning, the main point is clear. The people of the northern kingdom were unfaithful to their covenant vows. God expects us to be faithful to him, regardless of the storms of life. We need to face the issue of commitment. On the day you were baptized as a believer, you committed yourself publicly to following the Lord Jesus and to loving and fellowshipping with one another in the church. You do this every time you partake of the Lord’s Supper. Let’s all strive to raise our commitment level. Let’s begin in three areas: daily prayer for one another, weekly participation in public worship and a small group of some kind, and ongoing partnership in some ministry.

The prophet also denounces Israel for unfaithfulness to people (6:8-9; 7:1). Here was treachery of the worst kind. Murder was committed by religious leaders on the way to worship. That would later be repeated by the religious leaders who wanted Jesus killed at Passover time. And there was robbery of their neighbors. People could not trust anyone. Think of all the times you lock your car, cover the card reader at stores when you punch in your pin, and fret about the safety of your confidential information. Hopefully, followers of Christ are all far, far removed from such sins! But are we fulfilling our new covenant responsibilities? See Colossians 3:12-17. One of the glaring failures of the contemporary church is the lack of practical godliness.

Next, Hosea speaks against the intrigue the people engaged in. They did this within the nation (7:3-7). They perverted justice. The king, who was supposed to suppress evildoers (cf. Romans 13:1ff; 1 Peter 2:13ff) was pleased by their wickedness. Also, there was the assassination of their leaders (7:5-7). Four of the northern kingdom of Israel’s last six kings died this way (2 Kings 15:10, 14, 25, 30). When intrigue is accepted as a way of policy, it is natural to use assassination as a way to remove unwanted leaders. We must remember that murder resides in the human heart (Matthew 15:19), and without restraint, people will murder others. In contrast, in the church, we should seek change through the spiritual growth of people. We want to use wisdom in putting people in positions of service and responsibility. Then we ought to help each other develop in our positions.

They were involved in international intrigue (7:11-13). This involved seemingly incompatible problems.  There was diplomatic duplicity. They ran from one potential ally to another. Who can offer us the most today? This is another example of a lack of faithfulness in their character. Yet there was misplaced confidence. Israel was only to trust in the Lord for protection (Psalm 118:8-12). God gives them the wages of their lack of faith: destruction. Can we see ourselves? Have we become a people who flit from one to another, only concerning ourselves with “what is the best deal today”? Don’t look for temporary satisfaction; look for truth.

Grace and peace, David

Responding to God’s Word (Part Two)

20150523_1439292 Chronicles 15:8-19

In our last article, we mentioned a couple wrong responses to God’s word: ignoring it and failing to apply it to ourselves. The last mentioned can happen because of distraction, laziness, or some other reason. In today’s text, we learn three good responses to the Word. Anytime that people respond positively to God’s message is a time to give thanks and worship, because it is only God’s grace that makes us live godly.

The right response is renewed reformation or better, transformation (15:8). Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2 HCSB). We must see our lives, worship, and fellowship transformed in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. This is a task that is never completed in this world. Churches and the people who are the gospel partners in them too easily get stuck in tradition, being unwilling to transform their beliefs and practices according to God’s Word, the Bible. Brothers and sisters, we must be willing to walk in the light of the Word that the Spirit of God gives us!

  • The starting point of this renewed reformation was the effect of the message on the leader, Asa. “When Asa heard these words… he took courage.” He had courage to lead his people in change. When we know that we are mired in the ways of tradition and unbiblical practice, we must act courageously and change. The lack of this courage yields churches that are in steep decline. To how many people is your local gathering actively reaching out now? Can you name them? Does your group pray for these people? Please don’t complain about the decline in church attendance if you aren’t involved in outreach. Being filled with the Spirit produces boldness in God’s people.
  • Asa responded by acting to remove the objects of false religion from the land (cf. Deuteronomy 12:4). We must clean out evil, the thorns that choke out the fruit, so that the good fruit may flourish. Anyone who has ever had a garden knows this truth. You must always be after the weeds, or soon the good plants will die. Yet people fail to apply this truth to spiritual matters. If you allow the weeds of false teaching or ungodly living or unrestrained desires for worldly matters to remain in your heart, they will choke out the good fruit of the Spirit.
  • Asa also sought to restore true worship by repairing the altar. Here we must think for a moment according to the old covenant. The altar at the temple was crucial for old covenant worship. The Israelites had to offer their sacrifices there for worship and fellowship with God. If it was in a state of disrepair, their worship would have been hindered. We worship properly when we keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

The response of covenant renewal (15:9-15). Such assemblies had occurred earlier in Israel’s history (Deuteronomy 29:1ff; Joshua 8:30-35; 24:25; cf. 1 Samuel 11:14-15) and also later (2 Chronicles 23:16; 34:31-32; cf. 29:10). Here are the parts of such a gathering: First came the call and gathering of a great assembly (15:9-10). It this case it was around the time of the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), which was one of the three times of the year that all the men were required to assemble in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Asa probably took advantage of this time to impress the truth upon his people. Second, it was a gathering to worship of the Lord (15:11). They presented sacrifices from the plunder that the Lord had given them (14:13-15). In this way they would be acknowledge God’s goodness according to the manner of worship of the law covenant. We should be bringing a sacrifice of praise to the Lord (Hebrews 13:15).

Third, their commitment to the Lord was reaffirmed (15:12-14). This recommitment touched the roots of their being as God’s people. We see:

  • Essence of true commitment ­– They agreed to seek the Lord with all their heart and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5; 11:13, 22; 30:2, 6, 10). The Lord Jesus calls us to the same kind of commitment today (Mk 8:34).
  • Expectation of true commitment – They saw that God was serious about total devotion to him, as he had stated in the Law (Deuteronomy 13). In a physical nation, the penalty was severe. New covenant people are to enforce commitment to the Lord in a spiritual manner, since we are a spiritual people (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
  • Excitement about true commitment – They were glad about the whole-hearted commitment that they saw others make. When we see commitment to the truth in other, we should rejoice, too (2 John 4; 3 John 3-4). Are you making other believers rejoice because of the commitment they see in you? Total commitment leads to great joy!

The Lord God responded to their faith (15:15). He gave them rest!

Asa was affected by the act of reaffirmation. He responded by cleaning his own house (15:16-19) in two ways. He removed the queen mother from her position. She was a descendant of David’s son Absalom and was a source of much evil. She had to be removed. He also contributed financially to the worship of the Lord. Asa got around to giving to the Lord what he had promised. What should you give? The old trite phrase is “put your money where your mouth is.” Generous giving, including the giving of money, should be a priority matter among a people transformed by the grace of God. Give for the glory of God!

Grace and peace, David

Part of Friendship’s Back and Forth

STG_08482 Corinthians 7:2-4

Friendship is a two-way street. Friends reach out to each other. They delight to share life with each other, even when this requires some straight talk between them. The believers in Corinth needed to receive Paul’s words in the spirit in which he gave them. He wrote: I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you (7:3).

Paul had not said what he had to condemn them. Since we are sinners and know what sin deserves, it is too easy for any of us to walk around in a spirit of condemnation. The case is complicated for those who lack a clear understanding of the gospel. It disables them from living in conformity with the gospel. For example, when people with condemnation ringing in their ears hear the Lord’s commands, they hear condemnation instead of instruction in Christ-likeness. And so they act like they are being judged rather than helped. Paul understands such spiritual weakness, so he plainly tells them that he is not speaking this way to condemn them. They should have caught his true attitude when he reminded them of what they are in Christ and the promises they have from God. But we people can be slow to understand, and so Paul wisely reassured them. We must be willing to invest the necessary time it takes to reassure others of our love in Christ for them. Once said is rarely sufficient, especially when admonition and correction is involved. Love is patient.

Paul adds a reminder about his deep brotherly commitment to them. He resends a message about his ongoing affection for them. How we all need to do this! I have learned through sad experience that once or even a couple times is insufficient. Regretfully, life has no undo command. He wants them to know that they are in his heart! Here is where the contemporary church falls far short of the early church. Their operating attitude of heart was deep affection; ours sadly has been casual acquaintance. Vibrant Christianity does not rise out of the surface dust of casual friendship. The apostle committed to being willing to die or to live with them. Paul had the same kind of kindred spirit that Ittai the Gittite showed to David (2 Samuel 15:21). Such an attitude shows forth the power of God’s love. This is how to reassure one another! We ought to remind one another of our commitment to each other. For example, one of my friends and fellow workers in the gospel watched the movie Dave. It is about an ordinary guy who becomes a stand-in for the president and through a bizarre plot finds that the one-night temp job has become permanent. Eventually, Dave feels guilty about doing this, and leaves. But in the meantime, he wins the loyalty of a secret service agent, who says, “Dave, I would’ve taken a bullet for you.” And so, my friend said to me, “Pastor, I’d take a bullet for you.” And I think he did a number of times! Each of us should have that kind of kindred spirit for each other.

The apostle Paul reassured them about his love for them. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds (7:4). He reminded them about how he spoke to them and of them. He knew he had to do this, because of the way he had spoken to them. And they needed to know how he talked to others about them. To them, he always talked with great boldness. This is how Christians should talk with each other, since God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5)., and love rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love wants those it loves to walk in the truth (3 John 4). While love will speak kindly, it will also speak boldly, because hidden love is worthless. When he talked about them to others, he always talked with great boasting. Paul bragged about what the grace of God did in them and through them. “Here are people, brought by the Spirit from the darkness of sin, who will one day rejoice in the glory of God!” What good news it is to see hopeless sinners now recently born again from above! What good news it also is to see Christ’s people persevere in grace year after year as they head for glory. We need to regain the lost art of boasting in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).

Paul told them of his joy while he was suffering. This showed the depths of his delight in them. Though he suffered, he was comforted, yes filled with comfort. Hmm, do you have this same kind of interest in those with whom you share life in Christ? Not only is that true, but he also overflowed with joy! Where does such overflowing joy come from? Clearly, it comes from the grace of Christ in the gospel. What Christ has accomplished through his death and resurrection is much greater than any trouble in the world. Do you have such joy in the gospel?

Grace and peace, David

Ready and Engaged

20130214_184424Romans 12:3-8

Although Sunday is Valentine’s Day, this article is not about desiring marriage and committing to marry someone. Instead, it is about us, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, and the relationship of love that we ought to have with the Lord and each other. On Thursday of this week, Sharon and I were able to attend a public rehearsal of the Philadelphia Orchestra through the generosity of a brother in Christ. The conductor was Vladimir Jurowski, and the orchestra practiced Symphony No. 10 by Miaskovsky and Taras Bulba by Janacek. We enjoyed the performance very much, though it was only a rehearsal. The music was dynamic, stimulating, and pleasing.

As I watched the rehearsal, I noticed how intently involved the conductor and every member of the orchestra was in this run through. When they played, they played with emotion. They gave themselves to the music. Not everyone was playing at the same time, but even when they were waiting, they were emotionally involved in the music. Their eyes were on the conductor and each wave of his baton or hand, summoning louder or softer sound, guiding the tempo, and drawing forth the impact that he desired the music to have. They were not distracted. When they had opportunity, they would make notes on their copy of the score. They would ask questions of the conductor. Since this was a practice, the conductor would occasionally halt the orchestra, make a couple comments, and then start fresh. One time, someone made a glaring mistake, apparent to the conductor and everyone in the orchestra, I guess. The conductor stopped them, and the person said, “My bad.” And the conductor replied, “Yes, your bad.” But then they resumed the practice. The error was corrected, and they continued. All were working together to achieve a beautiful presentation.

This made me think of Christ’s people the church. He is the composer, the conductor, and the giver of each one’s abilities and gifts by the Holy Spirit. He is directing his church in a presentation of the gospel story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. He wants this “symphony” to show God’s surpassing brilliance and ultimate worth to the whole universe. He sends his Spirit to breathe upon us that we might be able to let our lights shine for the glory of the Father. Christ works in and through us to make this production succeed.

But he also works “with us”. Each one is responsible and significant. The cello players in the orchestra did not become disinterested and careless when the horns took the lead. A couple times the lead violinist was the brief centerpiece, but all others kept involved. Oh that the church was also ready and engaged. Yet how often individual members wander off to please themselves, forgetting their fellow members—and worse, Christ, the head of the body! How often we all fail. We are not ready to do our part or emotionally engaged in what is happening. We want rest and personal pleasure, instead of denying ourselves to follow the Lord (Mark 8:34). We’re not into the “song”, whether it is worship, reading the word, prayer, serving one another in love, or spreading the word. We need to admit, “My bad”, receive the Lord’s rebuke, and get involved in our heavenly calling afresh.

Listen my friends, the Lord knows who and what you are; he knows everything about you! Yet his grace to you and desire for you is always new. The Lord Jesus wants to work with each and every one of us for the glory of God. My plea is that we are all ready and engaged. Read our opening text from Romans and meditate upon it. Think about how you are in Christ and so part of the body, and your resultant obligations to the Lord and to your brothers and sisters. Consider how you have gifts that are needed by all and be intent in using them. Be ready and engaged.

Grace and peace, David