Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”
In ancient times, Anthemis nobilis—Roman chamomile—was widely used in medicines. The flowers were brewed into tea for treatment of digestive disorders, headaches, and to promote restful sleep. The Greeks also used Roman chamomile as a symbol for humility because, “the more it is trod, the more it spreads.” Walking on the low-growing plants encourages the seeds to spread, and increases the crop.
When the church in Jerusalem was greatly persecuted, that did not end their gospel witness. Instead it increased it widely. At a time when opposition to Christianity is becoming widespread in our society, it is important for us to remember that we are not promised religious freedom by God. Almost every book in the New Testament was written by a man who would be martyred for his faith. But God can turn even the hatred of His people into something positive. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10).
As our culture shifts from resistance to receiving the gospel message to attempts to silence it, we must be conscious of the hand of God even in times of hardship and suffering. The mission we have been given to reach the world is not conditioned on the world being happy to receive the good news. Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves or silencing our voices when things get harder, it is simply another opportunity for us to spread the gospel.
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
What we see in the world today is much like it was when Jesus came to the world two thousand years ago. Technology has changed dramatically, but people have not. Jesus was not accepted by the majority of people when He came, and the same is true today. The problem now is the same as it was then—people not being willing to accept Jesus on His own terms. Many are willing to accept Jesus as an example, a teacher, or even a prophet, but they are not willing to receive Him as the Saviour and only way to Heaven.
Describing Himself as a shepherd Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Jesus is the only way to Heaven, and if we refuse to accept Him as our Saviour and only hope, we cannot be saved.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew they needed to come to God. They knew what the scriptures said about the promised Saviour. But they rejected Jesus as the answer. He told them plainly, “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40). If we are to be saved, we must come to Jesus on His terms and receive Him through faith. Faith stands apart from any work we might do or any sin we might avoid and trusts Him alone.
“And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.”
Everywhere we look, we can see signs of the devaluing of children in our culture. From the decline in childbirths to the widespread use of abortion, children are often seen as a nuisance or an expensive luxury. The rise in childless couples has been noted by a number of sociologists. Many nations around the world have reached their lowest birthrates in modern history.
The Christian view of children is very different. “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth” (Psalm 127:3–4). Every child is a gift from God and deserves all of the love and attention and care he or she needs. The tragedy of child abuse and child neglect should never been seen in the church. As the song most of us learned in Sunday school teaches, Jesus does love the children of the world.
Those who have never had children or whose children are grown and gone, can still make wonderful and meaningful investments in the lives of children. We often speak of church in terms of it being a family, and there are so many ways in which we can make a difference for the children in our church family. We have no excuse to join a wicked world in devaluing children.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.”
Charles Spurgeon told of an elderly Welsh lady who was visited by a preacher as she lay on her deathbed. He asked if she were sinking, and she just looked at him. He repeated the question, and she continued her silence. When he asked the third time she raised herself up a little and said, “Sinking! Sinking! Did you ever know a sinner to sink through a rock? If I had been standing on the sand, I might sink; but thank God, I’m on the Rock of Ages, and there is no sinking there.”
Because our salvation is all God’s doing and not our own responsibility, we do not need to worry if we are secure in Him. He not only does all the saving, but all the keeping as well. He is an unfailing, unchanging Rock and we can have full confidence in Him. There are few more effective tools of the devil than to get us focused on ourselves rather than on God. He is the one we can trust both to take us to Heaven and to guide and provide for us here on Earth.
David said that God “established my goings.” That did not mean David had an easy life. What it meant was that God was the Rock David could trust no matter what circumstances might come. God was just as present with David when he was running for his life as He was when David was sitting in the palace. He never changes, and never breaks a promise.
“Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour;”
In the late 1700s in an effort to relieve prison overcrowding, the British government began sending shiploads of criminals to Australia. Crimes that were eligible for “transportation,” as it was known, were generally lesser offenses like theft, although it was sometimes used to deport people who were deemed undesirable to remain in England. Along with the first ships of prisoners, at the insistence of John Newton among others, was a chaplain, Richard Johnson.
In addition to building the first church in Australia with his own money, Johnson established a system of schools focused not just on academic subjects, but on moral instruction. He said, “It is my long and ardent wish that the minds of the rising generation of this Colony may be duly impressed with moral and religious sentiment.” When I preached at a church in Sydney, Australia, I was able to see the Bible sent from England and used in that church still on display. Johnson is still remembered more than two hundred years later for the powerful impact he had on the entire nation.
If we want to change our society, and it certainly needs help, the most important thing is not to elect new politicians or get new laws passed. The most important thing is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us. There is nothing else with the power to transform the sinful hearts of people. No program or effort or campaign can change the world the way that winning people to Christ does. God has given us the good news to share.
“And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
When Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees over His claim to be the Son of God, He pointed them back to the very basis of their belief and practice—the inspired words of God—what we know as the Old Testament. These men were religious scholars. They knew the ins and outs of the law, and spent much of their lives debating the smallest points of doctrine. Yet for all of their knowledge, it remained on the surface and did not make a positive impact on the way they lived their lives.
It is good and important to know what the Bible says, but that alone is not enough. We must take the Word into our heart and apply it to every situation we face. We cannot be spiritually mature and equipped for the work God has called us to do apart from His Word. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
The devil is delighted if we fall into the trap of equating more knowledge about the Bible with spiritual growth. Knowing what God said is important, but alone it is not enough. We must then apply what we have learned to our daily lives. The best way to deepen our relationship with God’s Word is to put it into practice day after day, and allowing what it says to control how we live.
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.”
1 John 5:1–3
God is not just our loving friend who has promised to supply all of our needs. He is also the King who is high and lifted up, and He commands and demands our obedience to His instructions. The way that we view the commands of God speaks volumes about the condition of our hearts. If we love God as we should, then we do not find His rules to be onerous. R. A. Torrey said, “Cultivate prompt, exact, unquestioning, joyous obedience to every command that it is evident from its context applies to you. Be on the lookout for new orders from your King. Blessing lies in the direction of obedience to them. God’s commands are but signboards that mark the road to present success and blessedness and to eternal glory.”
If our love for God is not what it should be, then we will balk at obeying His commands. We will find them heavy burdens that we have to bear rather than wise fences placed to keep us from harm and danger. God has not set arbitrary rules, nor does He desire to keep us from enjoying life. Every command has a purpose and a reason, and is to be fully obeyed. But when we do not love God rightly, we also demonstrate a lack of belief in His love for us. This lack of love changes our view, both of Him and of His Word. The first step to joyful obedience is not found in our actions, but in our hearts.
“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.”
The story goes that in the latter part of his reign, Peter the Great of Russia took steps to make life better for the poor of his kingdom. A law was passed that said if a nobleman beat or badly mistreated the people under his care, he would have a caretaker from the government placed over his estate as he clearly was not qualified to lead. Yet in anger Peter the Great struck his own gardener, who died a few days later from the injury. When he heard that the man was dead Peter said, “Alas! I have civilized my own subjects and I have conquered other nations. Yet I have not been able to civilize or conquer myself.”
Anger is not always sinful. Jesus demonstrated this after He healed the man with a withered hand. “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other” (Mark 3:5). That was anger for the right reason. However, much of our anger is not directed to defend the truths of God from attack, but directed at real or perceived offenses against us personally. This is the dangerous anger that must be brought under control.
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
Most children in our society grow up learning to talk from their parents. So it’s no surprise that for many the first word is either “Mama” or “Dada.” It is an early expression of a relationship that will grow and develop over the years. In its simplicity, though it conveys great meaning. It speaks of love and trust and kinship. It is this two-syllable Dada that is similar to the Hebrew Abba that we are allowed to use in addressing God because He has made us His children through salvation. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not” (1 John 3:1).
We would never think of walking into a stranger’s house at mealtime and sitting down at the table, expecting to be served a meal. We have no relationship with them and no reason to expect them to respond to us. But when we come to God, we are walking into the presence of our Father. And while He is a high and holy God to be worshiped and feared, He is also our Abba who loves us deeply. Dr. Bob Jones Sr. said that prayer for our needs to be met was like sitting down at the dinner table and saying, “Pappy, please pass the biscuits.” We do not treat God flippantly or casually, but we do have the right to boldly enter His presence on the basis of our adoption into His family.
“Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.”
Most people are very familiar with debt, having borrowed money for a house, a car, or an education. In these cases, we know who we agreed to pay back. They will send statements each month until the original loan has been repaid. If the payments are not made, steps will be taken to collect what is owed. While the Bible contains many warnings about the dangers of borrowing money, it also tells us about another debt that we owe—to share the gospel with others.
Financial debts require an agreement. The borrower signs a note or declaration that the money is owed and that it will be repaid. Unlike those, the gospel debt comes to us not by a contract, but by a gift. Based on the gracious love of God for us and having become recipients of the incredible gift of salvation, we owe it to others to share the good news of the gospel with them as well. This is not the kind of debt where we pay someone back; it is the kind of debt where our plenty obligates us to share it with those who have nothing. To not share the gospel with the lost around us would be like eating a steak dinner in front of starving people. We simply owe it to others to tell them about Christ.
The response of others to the gospel is not our responsibility, but sharing the gospel with them is. Paul recognized that his debt extended even to those living in faraway nations. As Christians, we have what they most need, and the only hope they have for eternity. Our debt to them must be paid in full if we are to obey God.
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I read about a missionary to Zimbabwe who was trying to pass out copies of the New Testament in the local language. One man was very resistant to receiving it, finally telling the missionary that if he did take it, he would use the pages of Scripture to wrap his tobacco to smoke. The missionary said, “At least read each page before you burn it.” Fifteen years passed, and that same man came up to the missionary at a conference. He had not only been saved, but was now a full time evangelist. He explained, “I smoked through Matthew. I smoked through Mark. I smoked through Luke. But when I got to John 3:16, I couldn’t smoke any more!”
The love of God never falters. Human relationships, even the closest relationships, may be broken. David wrote, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up” (Psalm 27:10). It is hard for us to comprehend unfailing love, because it is not natural. We cannot look around us and see examples of it in people, or even in ourselves. All of us are limited, but God is not. He is eternal, and because of His nature never surrenders His love. “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). It is in that unfailing love that we can confidently face every challenge.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.”
Every part of the Christian life depends on the Word of God. We are to read it, study it, hear it, memorize it, and meditate on it. Attacks against the Bible are not new. In the Garden of Eden, Satan questioned whether God had really said and meant what He said. Throughout history, skeptics and critics have attempted to undermine the Bible. Yet it remains perfect. It is not the product of man, but of the Holy Spirit working through those He inspired to record God’s Word to us.
Charles Spurgeon said of the Bible, “If I did not believe in the infallibility of this book, I would rather be without it. If I am to judge the book, it is no judge of me. If I am to sift it, and lay this aside and only accept that, according to my own judgment, then I have no guidance whatever, unless I have conceit enough to trust my own heart. The new theory denies infallibility to the words of God, but practically imputes it to the judgments of men. At least, this is all the infallibility which they can get at. I protest that I will rather risk my soul with a guide inspired from heaven, than with the differing leaders who arise from the earth at the call of ‘modern thought.’”
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
2 Timothy 4:2–4
We live in a consumer-oriented world. New products are tested extensively before being brought to market. Even before getting to the contents, the packaging is offered in different sizes, shapes, colors, and writing to see what people will like the best. Opinion polling has become widespread, as people are asked to give their view on a variety of topics. Focus groups and demographic samples are used to try to figure out what people are thinking and what they will respond to positively.
While that has a legitimate role in marketing, it does not when it comes to determining the truth. God is not interested in our opinions. He is not taking a poll to see if we like what He had to say. Yet many churches seem to have a “customer” focus in their approach. They tailor every aspect of the service to be attractive. The problem is that we often prefer to be told comforting lies rather than the hard truth. “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” (Jeremiah 5:31). It is no surprise that some churches have grown to an enormous size, because they cater to what people want to hear.
There is a real danger when we seek out what makes us feel good rather than what makes us live better. Again and again people refused to follow Jesus when He told them the cost of doing so. We must be willing to be corrected by His Word to please Him.
“And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.”
1 Samuel 8:18–20
God had made it clear to the people of Israel that He intended for them to be different than other nations. One of the ways in which that distinction was shown was that Israel was to have no king. But in the latter years of the prophet Samuel’s life, the people insisted on having him select a king to rule over them. Samuel warned the people about all the things that would happen if they had a king—many of them consequences they would not like. Yet despite his words of caution, they insisted on having their own way. Many times in the years that followed under the reign of weak or evil kings the people suffered, just as God had warned them through His prophet.
There are times when we genuinely do not know what the best course of action is, and at these times, we should pray for God’s direction. But there are many times in our lives when we already have God’s clear direction through the instructions in His Word, but we simply do not want to follow it. When we do this, we set ourselves up for destructive consequences. Proverbs 5:11–13 describes the person who rejects God’s Word and then later wishes he hadn’t: “And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!”
“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:”
Though we remember him best as a gifted hymn writer, Isaac Watts pastored a church in London for a number of years. Watts learned early on the cost of faithfulness to Jesus Christ. His father, also a pastor, was twice imprisoned for refusing to be part of the official Church of England because of ways that church operated which were contrary to the New Testament pattern. When Isaac was a baby, his mother carried him to the prison to visit his father. Yet even seeing that hardship and suffering did not deter the younger Watts from following Christ himself.
Isaac Watts recognized that there are difficulties in the Christian life and those who would deter us from following Christ. Rather than just giving up, we must choose to be good soldiers for Christ in this spiritual battle.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause
Or blush to speak His name?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight, if I would reign
Increase my courage, Lord!
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy word.
It would be nice if doing right and standing for the truth were popular, but that is not the way life is in our fallen world. We have a real spiritual adversary in Satan who must be fought on a consistent and ongoing basis. “Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Peter 5:9)
“From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
For part of His ministry, Jesus was extremely popular. Huge crowds gathered whenever news spread Jesus was nearby. The miracles that He worked, healing those who were sick, casting out demons, and feeding multitudes gave Him a reputation. But Jesus recognized that many of those followers were only interested in the benefits they could receive rather than the truths He was teaching. “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (John 6:26).
When a large number of His followers left after Jesus focused their attention on what it would cost those who truly followed Him. Jesus asked the remaining disciples if they were also going to desert Him. Peter’s response was short and pointed—there is nowhere else to go. Only Jesus has the truth and is the Truth. Only Jesus came to point us to the Father. Only Jesus has the ability to deliver on the offer of eternal life.
Many people today are looking for new alternatives when it comes to doctrine and spiritual growth. Like the crowds in Jesus’ day, they find His teaching too hard to follow because of what He requires. So they abandon what they were taught in search of a new doctrine. But there is no alternative to Jesus and the Word of God. There is no one else to whom we can turn and hope to receive correct guidance and instruction—Jesus is the only way.
“And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
The Duke of Wellington commanded the British armies at one of the most famous battles in all of history, Waterloo. There Napoleon was defeated for a second time as his escape from exile and removed from power for good. The “Iron Duke” was revered throughout England following that victory, and was often asked to attend public ceremonies and dedications. Some ten years after the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington returned to Eton College, where he had once been a student. Watching a cricket match between students, Wellington remarked, “The battle of Waterloo was won here.” He recognized that the lessons young men learned while in school had carried over to the battlefield and made a crucial difference there.
The time to resist temptation is not when it appears, but long before. Jesus warned Peter that Satan was going to be making a special effort to tempt him, but Peter did not take the warning seriously. When it was time to pray, he was sleeping. It is of little surprise then when we read that he quickly denied even knowing Jesus let alone being one of His disciples. If we are on guard, alert, and praying, temptation becomes much less effective. Though none of us will ever be sinless in this life, we can and will sin less if we start resisting temptation before it even approaches us. God’s overcoming power is only released into our lives when we seek Him in prayer.
“What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”
The Israelites in Habakkuk’s time were deeply enmeshed in idol worship. They had adopted the pagan practice of the neighboring countries of recognizing many other gods. Despite the Second Commandment (“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…” Exodus 20:4), many of them had household idols to represent the different deities to whom they had chosen to give allegiance. Sometimes they would purchase these, but often they would make their own. But no matter how elaborate or beautifully decorated these idols were, their underlying falsity did not change. They were still made of wood or stone or clay, and they had no life or power which could answer a desperate prayer for help.
The Israelites found themselves in this low spiritual condition because they had lost their appreciation for God’s character. He alone is high and lifted up, and before His face no man should dare to speak of any other that would come before Him. We must remember who and what God is if we are to love and serve Him above all else. The Scottish theologian, hymn writer and pastor Horatius Bonar said, “All error is, more or less, whether directly or indirectly, a misrepresentation of God’s character and a subversion of His revelation.” God is revealed in His Word, not in the depictions of Him painted by a lost and careless world. We must go to the Bible to see Him revealed, and to be reminded of His greatness.
“After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.”
Many of us grew up hearing the expression “Prayer changes things.” That is true because God still hears and answers prayer. He is not limited by time or space or resources or wisdom in any way. He is able to do things that are beyond what we can even imagine. Things do change in response to prayer. However, prayer does not just impact our outward circumstances. The very process of praying also changes us.
That is why when Jesus wanted to impress on His followers the importance of reaching the lost, the first thing He instructed them to do was to pray. It is impossible to grasp the implications of eternity as we pray for the lost without being moved to action ourselves. Hudson Taylor said, “I have seen many men work without praying, though I have never seen any good come of it; but I have never seen a man pray without working.”
It is easy for us to say that we care about others without doing anything about their needs. It is tempting to want God to do something but not to be part of it ourselves. This was how Moses reacted at the burning bush. When God told Moses that He was going to deliver Israel from Egypt that was good news, but when God said He was sending Moses to lead the work that was a different story. “And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11).
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”
1 Corinthians 12:4–7
God gives each of His children many good things, and among those are gifts designed to be used for His work. The church at Corinth was riven with dissension over spiritual gifts. Rather than viewing them as tools, they were seen more as badges of honor. People vied over who would have the most prominent and public gifts. The spiritual gifts given to the Corinthian believers were viewed through the lens of how they would glorify those who had them rather than how they would glorify God. Though that was not the biggest problem the church had, it was creating divisions and controversies, and at the same time the work that needed doing was not being done.
The parable that Jesus told of the servants who were entrusted with talents while their master was away highlights the vital importance of using what God has given us. When the master returned, he judged the success of the servants, not by how much they earned, but by whether they put what they had to work, and he condemned the servant who buried his talent, doing nothing with it: “His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury” (Matthew 25:27).
Though today we use the word talent more for abilities than for money, the same principle holds true. God has given us gifts to use in a way that is profitable for His kingdom, and He calls us to use our gifts for His work.
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”
1 Corinthians 3:1–3
Though we look back now on the American Revolution from the standpoint of history and see it as settled, at the time of those events the future was very uncertain. There were many different competing and conflicting interests represented by the men who gathered in Philadelphia to consider declaring independence from England. As those divisions threatened the decision making process, Benjamin Franklin reminded everyone of exactly what was at stake when he said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
The Christian life is not meant to be lived in division, but in unity. “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Ephesians 4:3–4). Yet if we are not careful, it will be easy for us to divide over trivial matters. We should never compromise the truth, and there are some lines which we cannot cross in order to keep peace.
But the church at Corinth was not divided because of strong doctrinal positions. Instead, they were bickering over preferences in minor things. The Corinthian church was characterized by their carnality. The reason they were not growing and becoming mature believers was that they could not handle sound teaching of the truth. Their divisions kept them from developing their spiritual lives, and both the church and the city of Corinth suffered as a result. We must do all that we can to “hang together.”
“And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner. And king David himself followed the bier. And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept. And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth?”
2 Samuel 3:31–33
Abner served his cousin Saul for many years as commander of the army. After Saul’s death, he offered to use his influence to encourage the people to proclaim David as king. David accepted the offer despite the fact that Abner had led the troops trying to kill him. Yet Joab held a grudge against Abner because he had killed Joab’s brother years before during battle. So when Joab got the opportunity, he killed Abner at the gates of Hebron. David was distressed because he had not wanted Abner killed, and he especially lamented the way in which Abner died. He instructed that Abner be buried with great ceremony.
Unless we meet Jesus in the Rapture, we will one day die and enter His presence. Once we are gone, those who are left behind will remember us based on how we lived our lives. Charles Spurgeon said, “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.” We should live in such a way that people will be sorry when we die. “Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them” (Acts 9:39).
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Henry Lyte’s father abandoned his family when Henry was just a boy, and not long after that, his mother and younger brother died, leaving him alone in the world. His academic brilliance made it possible for him to receive scholarships to study, and he trained for the ministry. Despite lifelong health struggles, Lyte was a much-loved pastor to his people, and the author of several beautiful hymns that we still sing today. In one of the best-known, Lyte wrote:
Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.
There is no salvation apart from the cross, and there is no true Christianity—the effective daily following of Jesus Christ—apart from the cross. There is a great disconnect between the spirit of the world which seeks to gain and acquire and accumulate, and the spirit of the Lord which seeks to give to others.
It was the custom in Roman times to force the condemned prisoners to carry the instrument of their own execution. When Jesus spoke of taking up a cross, it was a literal description of what He would do. It represents His willingness to lay down His life rather than holding it dear to Himself. When He calls us to follow Him, that sacrifice is a vital part of the process.
"And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep;"
1 Samuel 3:1 - 3
According to Greek mythology, it was Prometheus who first brought fire to mankind. He had a special shrine set up at Athens, in the same olive grove where Plato's famed academy was located. Because of this mythological fable, in the Greek games held to honor the local heroes and deities, there was a “Prometheus race.” Young men would run from the shrine into the city to a post, carrying lighted torches. Winning the prize took more than just running fast, for the victor was crowned for being the first to reach the finish line with his torch still burning.
The instructions God gave to Moses for the tabernacle included the admonition that the light in the menorah was never to go out. “And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always” (Exodus 27:20). Yet by the time of Eli, the priests were letting the light go out every night.
We are called to be lights in the darkness of the world, and we must keep our light shining, not just for ourselves, but for the sake of others. Paul warned, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:” (2 Corinthians 4:3). We have the light that the world needs, but it is only visible to the world if we take care to keep it from being extinguished.
“Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:”
When Paul arrived at the city of Lystra, he healed a man who had been crippled all of his life. When the people saw that they were amazed. They treated Paul and Barnabas like gods, and were going to make sacrifices to them. It took everything they could do to stop the people from worshipping them and point them to Jesus instead. “And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them” (Acts 14:18).
The noted English author Charles Lamb was once discussing with a group of other writers which historical figures they would most like to meet. Each named someone, most of them writers, and talked about how they would respond and what they might say. Finally Lamb said, “If William Shakespeare were to walk in we would rise to meet him, but if Jesus came we would fall to the ground to kiss the hem of His garment.”
The world tells us to lift ourselves up and make sure everyone knows how good we are. God tells us to lift up Jesus Christ and humble ourselves. Jesus alone is worthy of praise and worship, and we cannot allow anything to take His place in our lives. There is no room for pride when we have Jesus on the throne because He demands and commands all the honor and glory.
“The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”
Because of the impact of sin on the world, all of us have to deal with heartbreak and trouble. It is not surprising or unusual, even for those who love God and are trying to serve Him, to suffer times of difficulty and hardship. There is no exemption promised to the righteous—but there is comfort and hope available to us from the Lord. This is something that all of us are going to need at times in our lives. No matter what else we may do or have, we will have trouble.
D. L. Moody said, “There is no class of people exempt from broken hearts. The rich and the poor suffer alike. There was a time when I used to visit the poor that I thought all the broken hearts were to be found among them, but within the last few years I have found there are as many broken hearts among the learned as the unlearned, the cultured as the uncultured, the rich as the poor.”
There are some today proclaiming that God wants His children to always be healthy, happy, and prosperous. Though it’s easy to see why that teaching is popular, that is not what the Bible says. What it offers instead is something better—the close presence of God when our hearts are hurting. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
“Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD.”
It’s easy to look around and see that our world is in need of some major changes. That was true in Jeremiah’s day as well. Despite God’s judgments for their sin, they persisted in worshiping idols and disobeying God’s law. To keep the people happy, many false prophets were telling them what they wanted to hear—claiming God had said things He had not, and that He had given them a message when He had not sent them. Against this destructive falsehood, God instructed Jeremiah to use the powerful Word of God. And that is what we need in our day as well.
When the evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman was asked the secret to the effectiveness of his ministry he replied, “I find that I have power just in proportion as my soul is saturated through and through with the Word of God.” We need the Bible for our own lives, because it holds the key to transforming us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). And it is God’s Word, not our philosophies or opinions that can change society.
“Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.”
2 Kings 7:1–2
When the Syrian army laid siege to Samaria, they cut off the food supply in an effort to force the defenders to surrender. As things grew worse, the desperate people of the city were willing to pay almost any price for even the most disgusting food. Yet Elisha stood and proclaimed that the very next day prices would drop to almost nothing—that there would be plenty to eat. God did just that, driving off the invading army that very night and scaring them so badly that they left all of their food supplies behind. The next day there was more than enough food as the siege was lifted and the Israelites looted the camp of the Syrians.
There was one man present when this word was given, a high advisor to the king, who refused to believe the prophet. He mocked Elisha, claiming that even if God opened the windows of Heaven it would be impossible. And by human reasoning, he had a point. Israel had no reason to expect to be able to drive off the Syrian army. They were outnumbered with their forces trapped inside the city. They did not have allies to come and rescue them. Based on what he was able to see, the advisor was right. But God is not limited to what we can see. He has the power to do whatever we need.
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
There are a lot of things in life that do not go the way we think they should. From simple things like the weather or traffic to major financial or health situations, we feel like we know how things ought to work out. Often in these times we express frustration, and though we usually do not say it out loud, we wonder why God isn’t doing things the way we want. The reality is that God always knows what He is doing, and He never makes any mistakes. Even the most difficult circumstances of our lives can be used by Him to further His purpose.
William Cowper wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines, of never-failing skill;
He fashions up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds that you much dread,
Are big with mercy and will break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.
When we are tempted to doubt God’s love for us because of what we are experiencing, we must remember that we are not capable of understanding what He knows. We are kept safe in His love, and nothing touches our lives that has not first passed through His hands.
“This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came forth to go unto you; but now, behold, it is dry, and it is mouldy: And these bottles of wine, which we filled, were new; and, behold, they be rent: and these our garments and our shoes are become old by reason of the very long journey. And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.”
Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God instructed them to drive out all of the inhabitants of the land. When they began that work, starting with Jericho, they were obeying God. Each enemy was totally defeated and destroyed. As news of the victories of Israel in battle began to spread, those who lived in the land feared for the future. The residents of Gibeon decided on a clever plan. They dressed men in ragged clothing and prepared old provisions to carry. When they reached where Israel was camped, they told the leaders that they had come from such a great distance that their new clothes had worn out and the remnants of their food were unfit to eat because of their journey.
Foolishly the leaders of Israel accepted that at face value, believing what they saw, rather than seeking guidance and counsel from the Lord. Three days later Israel reached the city of Gibeon, and realized that they had been deceived. They kept their bargain, allowing the Gibeonites to remain in the land as they had promised them. But they would not have been in that position if they had trusted God rather than their own eyes. We do not have the capacity to make good decisions apart from Him. “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:”
There is a great temptation facing Christians who have been saved and serve God faithfully for many years to begin to focus on themselves rather than on God. It is easy to begin to rely on our own strength to win the battles we face. The victories of the past, however, were not won in our power, and if we allow ourselves to take credit for them, glorifying our own righteousness rather than God’s, we are on the path to failure and defeat. If we are found with only our own righteousness, we are doomed.
The very best that we can accomplish falls far short of God’s standard of perfection. A. J. Gordon wrote, “There is nothing of ours, soul, body, or spirit, that is without blemish. And when we understand that our very tears need themselves to be washed in the blood of the Redeemer, and our very penitence to be sanctified in his exceeding sorrow, we shall gladly turn wholly to the perfect offering.”
The devil whispers in our ear that we can do it on our own, relying on our strength and goodness. Like Samson after his hair was cut, we go out expecting victory because of what “we” have done in the past without regard to God’s role, only to be utterly defeated. Victories of the past do not provide protection in future attacks, and if we learn to lean on our own goodness, victory will quickly turn to defeat.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.”
In 1501, Michelangelo won a commission from the city of Florence to make a statue for the cathedral there. The resulting figure of David is one of the most famous marble sculptures in the world. But Michelangelo did not begin the project. It had been started more than thirty-five years earlier. Two previous sculptors had tried to work the large block of marble but had not been able to turn it into a viable statue. At just twenty-six years of age, Michelangelo began carving away the stone to bring his vision of the great king of Israel to life. He later said, “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.”
We recognize that God’s plan and purpose is for us to be holy. Yet often, we struggle with the process. As God confronts us with our sin, and the Holy Spirit brings conviction, we often want to cling to the parts of our sin we enjoy rather than allowing them to be thoroughly cleansed. But unless the parts that do not match His design are removed, we will not become like His Son.
As David accepted responsibility for his sin with Bathsheba, he asked God to deal with his sin thoroughly. We know from the Bible record that this was a painful process. David was willing to go through it because he valued his relationship with God above his enjoyment of sin. He recognized that radical surgery was required, and he wanted God to be thorough.
“And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”
Many times when we think about remembrance in terms of repentance, we think of guilt and shame and sorrow for past transgressions. While godly sorrow is important, we must be careful not to be bound by the past. We cannot change it, and if we have confessed and forsaken sin and done what we can to make things right with anyone we harmed, we should let the past go. But there is another kind of remembrance that promotes repentance—the memory of the good things God has given to and done for us. “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
When we forget what God has done, we are vulnerable to temptation. And if we continue forgetting, we are slow to repent and confess our sins. God is always good to us. This is just as true when things are going poorly by our judgment as it is when things are going well. Sometimes people even excuse their sin by citing what they view as a failure on God’s part. If we stop to reflect on His perfect love and the sweetness of close fellowship with Him, we will quickly turn away from our sin and repent.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:”
In 2014, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, unveiled their newest standard for measuring time using the NIST-F2 atomic clock, which was under development for more than a decade. “NIST-F2 is accurate to one second in 300 million years,” Thomas O’Brian, who heads NIST’s time and frequency division told reporters during a press conference. The clock was later certified by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures as the world’s most accurate time standard. Atomic clocks are not subject to the effects that gradually render traditional clocks less accurate. They are an absolute standard against which time can be measured.
When God comes to measure our lives, the standard which He uses is His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. He does not grade on a curve, determining how we compare to those around us. Instead, He measures us by how much we are like Jesus. That is a daunting standard. In fact, it is impossible for us to meet it by our own effort. Paul wrote, “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). It is only through the working of God’s Spirit that we can be transformed in the likeness of Christ.
While it may make us feel better to compare ourselves to the successes and failings of others, we must not be deceived into allowing that to become the standard. Instead, we must seek to know Jesus more closely and more intimately and become more like Him.
“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
The evangelist D. L. Moody told of going into a business on the East Coast and seeing a telegram framed on the wall behind the counter. When he asked about it, he was told this story. One of the owners of the business had been on a ship that wrecked off the coast of Newfoundland. In the first reports, he was listed among those who had perished in the wreck. The store was closed in mourning, and a sign posted that shared the sad news. But the next day his partner received a telegram with a single word: “Saved.” The store reopened with great rejoicing and the telegram was framed and permanently displayed in celebration.
Every one of us was born as a sinner. While our society may go to great lengths to deny that men and women need a Saviour, God’s Word makes it clear that we are hopeless without Him—as Peter put it: “we must be saved.” To meet that need, God sent Jesus into the world. After living a perfect life, and thus not owing a penalty for sin, Jesus died on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice. By coming to Him in faith and trusting Him alone for salvation, we too can be saved. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
“And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
How we respond to temptation is in large measure determined by how we view sin. If we regard sin as a minor, insignificant thing, then we will probably yield to the temptation. On the other hand, if we recognize it as a monstrous and wicked betrayal of God, the temptation loses its allure.
We see this displayed in the life of Joseph. He had been sold into slavery by his brothers and was far from home. When the opportunity to sin presented itself, Joseph could have easily rationalized it away and gone along with the temptation. Instead he firmly resisted, even though that led to him being thrown into prison after he was falsely accused. While Joseph recognized the human impact that would follow sin, his greatest concern was not to sin against God.
We live in a society that minimizes and downplays the nature of sin. It is vitally important that we not adopt their attitude. Solomon wrote, “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Proverbs 8:13). The devil always tries to mask the consequences of sin, but we must not forget that sin is ultimately against a holy God.
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.”
In 2006, the nation was horrified to learn the news that a gunman had gone into an Amish school near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and barricaded himself inside. When the police arrived, he began shooting the students, killing five and injuring five others before killing himself. The man was Charles Roberts. He was well acquainted with the Amish community having driven a milk truck that served several of the families of the students. Roberts left behind a note describing his bitterness at God over the death of his infant daughter nine years earlier. He allowed that bitterness to remain in his heart until it grew into an overwhelming evil.
Bitterness is a deadly poison, and the longer we allow it to linger in our hearts and minds, the more deadly it becomes. There are no people on earth who have never been hurt or disappointed. All of us have scars from the past over which we could allow ourselves to become bitter. But if we do, we are treading a dangerous path. When bitterness flourishes, it impacts many people, not just us.
We do not forgive those who have done us wrong because they deserve it, but because God has forgiven us. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Any offense which we refuse to forgive is fertile ground for bitterness to grow. We cannot undo the hurts and pain of the past, but we can refuse to be bitter about them.
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:6–8
Jack Benny was an extremely successful comedian in radio and the early days of television. He established a character who was tight with his money (though in real life Benny was very generous). One of his most famous sketches had him confronted by a robber who demanded, “Your money or your life.” When Benny didn’t answer he repeated his demand to which Benny replied, “I’m thinking it over.” In his will, Jack Benny left money to have a long stemmed red rose delivered to Mary, his beloved wife of forty-seven years, every day.
What we love is most revealed by the things to which we devote our time and resources. Paul could say to Timothy in his final days that he truly loved Christ’s appearing. Those of us who have accepted Jesus as Saviour know that one day we will see Him face to face. Yet many do not live in a way that demonstrates they love Jesus and long to see Him.
The sad reality is that some Christians are anything but ready for the Lord to return. They may say that they love Him, but they do not live in a way that backs up that claim. These Christians will be embarrassed and ashamed as John wrote, “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). We must love Jesus, not just in words, but in actions.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
1 John 2:15–17
Billions of dollars are spent every year on advertising designed to draw people’s attention and make whatever the product is as attractive as possible. This is not a casual business. Companies do research, testing all sorts of variables to achieve maximum impact on our brains and emotions to get us to respond. A 2017 study reported that the average American sees at least 4,000 ads per day, and some people see more than twice that many.
All of the products and services we are being sold have this in common: even if they work exactly as advertised, they only produce a temporary effect. The things of this world by their nature are temporal and fleeting. After using his great wealth and power to seek pleasure, King Solomon concluded: “Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 2:17).
Just about everyone who has ever been to a fair or carnival has tried cotton candy. This confection of spun sugar is sweet, but as soon as you put it in your mouth, it starts to melt away. In just seconds, the cotton candy is gone. That’s a perfect metaphor for the things of the world. They may be fleetingly sweet, but they quickly vanish. I have never seen anyone seek happiness in the things of the world who ended his life as a happy person.
“And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.”
No one was more important to the Apostle Paul at the start of his ministry than Barnabas. It was this trusted member of the church who vouched for the sincerity of Paul’s conversion when the church discussed rejecting this former persecutor. It was Barnabas who was chosen to go with Paul on the first missionary journey that spread the gospel so widely across the Roman Empire. The two men spent years together as close friends and fellow laborers in the work of the Lord.
Yet when they started laying plans to go back and visit the churches they had established on their trip together, a sharp disagreement arose. Barnabas wanted to take Mark even though Mark had left the first trip before it was done. Paul had no confidence in Mark (although that later changed) and didn’t want to risk endangering the work for an unstable team member. As a result, these two men who had been so close parted ways.
We should never do or agree to something that is wrong in order to preserve a friendship. But at the same time, we should not allow pride or an insistence on having our own way to break our friendships. They have great value. Solomon wrote, “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off” (Proverbs 27:10).
“For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.”
The Roman Empire in the days of Paul was huge, stretching across most of Europe as well as parts of Africa and Asia. Paul took advantage of his status as a full Roman citizen and used the network of roads built by the empire to travel across much of it preaching the gospel. His vision and passion was to go to places where the news of the Saviour had not yet reached, and it was to that cause he devoted so much of his life.
In our day with modern communication technology, we tend to think that the gospel is already everywhere—that there are no places where Christ is not named. But in truth there are still many nations and people groups with no clear gospel witness. This ought to concern all of us who are Christians, for it is our responsibility to change it. Paul wrote, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34). Even in America where there are many churches, there is still a great deal of darkness. Between the false teachings that are so popular and those who ignore or oppose all religions, there is much confusion we must counter with the truth.
“As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack. But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you. And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches;”
2 Corinthians 8:15–18
Titus was something of a trouble shooter for the Apostle Paul. Almost every reference to him in the New Testament revolves around him being sent to a troubled church or city to help make things right. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5). The main reason Titus kept getting these jobs is that he had a heart for the people who needed his help. Paul described it as “earnest care.”
A deep motivating compassion for the needs of the people He met was a defining characteristic of the life of Christ. He was never too busy to stop and heal the sick, cast out demons, or teach the way of salvation to those He met. He did not view these encounters as interruptions or distractions. The people He met were His mission. He said, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
There are people in all of our lives who are in need of someone to care about them. The world is filled with lonely, hurting hearts, even among those who have a host of online “friends.” We can view these people as problems to be avoided or as people to be loved. God wants us to earnestly care for them and their needs.
“But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”
1 Peter 3:14–16
For many years the United States Army has had an elite team of parachuters known as the Golden Knights. They travel to air shows and exhibitions, putting on a display of skill and courage as they jump together, entertaining millions. Every member of the team is a highly trained expert. They have the latest equipment, and they practice again and again. But in 1973 when the team was on a trip to Kansas for an air show, a plane crash killed all fourteen people on board. They were experts at parachuting, but they weren’t wearing their parachutes on that flight because they didn’t expect to need them.
There are opportunities presented to each of us to make a difference for God’s kingdom. We have opportunities to witness, to comfort, to exhort and to help. Yet if we are not prepared, if we are not ready, we will miss those opportunities. We know that these opportunities are coming because we know they are part of God’s purpose for our lives. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Yet too often we do not take advantage of them because we haven’t put on our parachutes. We are not prepared. And that is a tragedy both for us, and for the people on whose lives we should be making a positive impact.
“Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.”
2 Timothy 4:9–13
In 1933 the recently inaugurated president Franklin Roosevelt paid a visit to the home of former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. The aged justice was celebrating his ninety-second birthday when he welcomed the president. As they talked Homes remarked that he was reading through Plato again to which FDR famously responded, “Why are you reading Plato?” Of course the unspoken part of the question was “at your age” but Roosevelt was too polite to say that. Holmes replied that he was reading Plato because it improved his mind.
In the final years of his life, imprisoned in a cell in Rome and awaiting his execution, Paul wrote to Timothy and asked him to bring the books and particularly the parchments which he had left behind on his journeys. Even in captivity and facing death, Paul wanted to keep studying and learning the Word of God and hiding it in his heart. This is something we never outgrow, no matter how old we are.
No matter how many years we have been saved, how much we have learned about the Bible, or how much we have grown spiritually, we must have a continuing input of truth from God. And while faithful church attendance is important, it is not enough. Each Christian should be striving to learn and grow and become more like Jesus. If we want to finish our race well, we must not neglect the Word of God.
“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.”
When we read of the great suffering and hardship Job endured as Satan attempted to shake his faith and loyalty to God, we are amazed that he was able to maintain his commitment in the face of economic collapse, physical affliction, and being judged and critiqued by his friends. Job had every opportunity to doubt God’s goodness, but through all his trials his faith remained. The source of faith for Job is the same as it is for us. Though he did not have access to a full written Bible as we do today, Job’s faith was firmly grounded on the words of God. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
We cannot be people of faith without being people of the Word. The relationship with the Bible that builds faith is not casual, but committed. When David Livingstone made his trip deep into Africa preaching the gospel and looking for the source of the Nile River, he took extensive supplies with him. Everything he would need had to be carried by hand through very difficult terrain. Over time on the trip, recognizing the strain, Livingstone began discarding things that were not essential. He began the journey with more than two hundred books. He ended it with one—his Bible.
“Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”
Paul spent an extended period of time in Ephesus, unlike some cities where he only stayed for a few weeks. A great church grew there which would become one of the most important and influential churches of the New Testament era. Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire and was home to one of the famed Seven Wonders of the World—the Temple of Artemis. The Greek goddess of the hunt, known to the Romans as Diana, was worshiped there by visitors from around the world.
The worship of Diana was central to the economy of Ephesus. When the church there began to grow, the new believers turned away from idolatry to worship God. They abandoned their former practices completely. “Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:19).
The merchants and craftsmen of Ephesus who depended on Diana for their livelihood were outraged. A silversmith named Demetrius sparked a riot by declaring that the Christians were turning people away from worshiping Diana. And he was right. Even though Diana was wildly popular and hugely profitable, the Christians in Ephesus were not willing to avoid speaking the truth and declaring allegiance to the only true God.
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”
1 Timothy 4:1–3
In 1965, Congress passed a law requiring cigarette packages to contain a warning label regarding the contents. The first warning was vague, simply saying: “Caution, Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.” Numerous studies revealed that these warnings had very little impact on people’s behavior when it came to smoking. In the 1980s, many European countries, starting with Iceland, began putting pictures and graphics carrying the warnings. These more pointed statements and illustrations did significantly reduce the number of smokers in the countries where they were used. In 2019 the Food and Drug Administration in the US proposed using them in America.
Clear warnings make it much easier for people to recognize danger and respond. And Paul shared with Timothy such a warning from God—that there would come a time when people abandon the truth for the sake of their own desires and appetites. These are not just people who have not had the truth, though there are many of those. Instead it specifically warns that people will “depart from the faith.” Those who once spoke truth are now speaking falsehoods.
We need this warning because of Satan’s effectiveness at deceiving people and he delights in using people who claim to be teaching and preaching the truth to work that deception. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). There is no excuse for us to fall for these lies because we have been clearly warned they are coming.
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.”
It is not unusual to hear people talk about being close to God, but sometimes it is just in a vague and general sense. To David, who spent so much of his depending on God just for survival, being close to God was an urgent necessity. When that relationship was not right, it had a profoud impact on him. It was David who wrote the words Jesus quoted on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” (Psalm 22:1).
And it was David that the Holy Spirit inspired to pen a description of the path to a close and intimate relationship with God. David highlights the importance of both inward and outward cleansing. He knew what it was like to need, and to receive, both of those. When Nathan confronted him regarding his sin with Bathsheba, David begged God for forgiveness, not just to have his sin forgiven, but to have his relationship restored. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).
Sin always drives a wedge into our relationship with God. It does not change our standing in His family, but it does impact our willingness to go to Him, and His willingness to be close to us. Our salvation through Jesus Christ guarantees our hope of Heaven, but it is our daily cleansing through His blood that keeps us close to Him.
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Every child of God receives the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. This is not something we have to go back and get later, or only receive after some additional spiritual experience. It is immediate. And while we do not always walk in the Spirit, He is always there with us. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
He is sent to encourage us and ensure our salvation, but He is also sent to guide us. This is not a mystical guidance that depends on the shape of clouds or the meaning of dreams, but instead a guidance based on the Word of God as the Holy Spirit who inspired the writers helps us understand and apply His truth to our lives.
Sometimes we forget how desperately we need His help. Paul tells us that when we don’t even know how or what we should pray for, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Most of us have had the experience of looking back at something we wanted and prayed for, sometimes quite fervently, only to later realize that not getting it was a true blessing. Rather than insisting on our own way, we need to walk in the Holy Spirit and accept the help He provides.
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”
In Jesus’ time many people thought that they had the way to please God figured out. They scrupulously followed the traditions that had built up over the years, even though sometimes those traditions went directly against what God has said. They carefully cultivated an outward image of righteousness, and made sure everyone noticed when they did good deeds. Jesus exploded their self-righteous hypocrisy and exposed them for what they were: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
The way to God is not through our effort of trying to do right or trying to make others do right! Jesus provided a way to God through His sacrifice for our sins that changes our eternal destiny. But we are not just saved so that we get to go to Heaven. We are called to live in this world as Jesus did, following the example that He set for us. We are to love as He loved, to forgive as He forgave, to care as He was compassionate, and to take the Good News to others just as He did. This is the plan and calling of God on each of our lives. Mary Slade wrote:
Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,
“Come, follow Me!”
And we see where Thy footprints falling
Lead us to Thee.
Footprints of Jesus that make the pathway glow;
We will follow the steps of Jesus where’er they go.