Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.”
David did not find out what he had done was wrong when the prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin. He knew it was wrong before he did it, and afterward he knew that he should repent. Instead David went to great lengths to cover up his sin with Bathsheba, to the extent of arranging the murder of one of his inner circle of warriors on the battlefield at the hands of the enemy. When he married the widow of one of his chief soldiers, David must have thought that his sin was hidden and would stay that way. “And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (2 Samuel 11:27).
Even before his sin was revealed and the consequences announced to him, David was suffering from the result. There were serious physical and spiritual results of his attempt to cover his sin. It was not until he repented that David's relationship with God was restored. And it was not until then that his health began to recover. It should be no surprise to us that sin has effects on our bodies as well as our souls. In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul warned them about the results of approaching communion in an unworthy manner: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30).
“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. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”
The first sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sank their teeth into the forbidden fruit. The first excuse for sin followed not long after when God confronted Adam about what he had done. Rather than confessing his sin, and acknowledging his responsibility for it, Adam blamed both his wife and God for it. “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12).
And ever since, blame-shifting and rationalization of sin has been used by generation after generation. But until we accept that we alone are responsible, we cannot deal with sin properly. God desires and demands truth when it comes to dealing with sin. The popular catch phrase “The devil made me do it” is not true. He tempts us and tries to lure us into sin, but he does not cause it. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14).
If we are blaming the devil or other people or even God for our sin, we are not yet ready to make things right with Him. Only when we point the finger at ourselves instead of someone else can we begin to return to close fellowship with God. The lies that we tell ourselves and others about sin will block that relationship as long as we cling to them.
“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
Frederick Charrington was a wealthy and successful English businessman, until he turned his back on his family’s empire and walked away. He told the story of walking down a street and seeing a woman outside a pub pleading with a drunken man to come home to his family. She told him that they had no food and begged for help. In the window of the pub was a sign that said, “Drink Charrington Ale.”
“When I saw that sign,” Charrington said, “I was stricken just as surely as Paul on the Damascus Road. Here was the source of my family wealth, and it was producing untold human misery before my own eyes. Then and there I pledged to God that not another penny of that money should come to me.” Charrington gave up millions to become a leader of the temperance movement.
There is a radical change that happens when we come to God for salvation. Some of us who were saved at a young age and grew up in church did not have a large outward change, but all of us had a heart transplant. And it shows up in our lives. When we turn from our sins and commit to following God, we are willing to give up anything that would hinder our walk with Him.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
Many people struggle with the matter of forgiveness. They know that the Word of God commands us to forgive those who have hurt us, but that does not take away the pain of the offense. The more painful what we have experienced is, the harder it is for us to let go of our hurt and let the one who wounded us off the hook.
It is part of human nature to want to get even. We remember those who have injured us in the past, and all too often continue to hold it over their heads. God commands us to forgive others, not because they deserve it, but because He forgave us. Forgiveness is so important to Jesus that He asked the Father to forgive those who crucified Him. “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots” (Luke 23:34).
The pattern set for forgiveness by Jesus proves that it is possible to forgive those who do us wrong. If He was willing to forgive those who were crucifying Him, and is willing to forgive us for the sins that took Him to the cross, on what basis do we imagine a right not to forgive? When we do not forgive others, it damages our relationship with them. But it damages our relationship with God as well, because we are clinging to bitterness rather than forgiving.
“And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”
People are happy for all kinds of reasons, but some of those reasons are better than others. When Jesus sent His followers out empowered to preach and heal, they saw great results. People believed their message regarding the Messiah. Health was restored, and even demons were cast out of those they possessed. Yet while these were truly great victories, Jesus told His disciples that these victories were not the main reason they should rejoice. Instead, He pointed them to their salvation.
Truly we have no greater gift, and it should be our source of joy. Octavius Winslow wrote, “The child of God is, from necessity, a joyful man. His sins are forgiven, his soul is justified, his person is adopted, his trials are blessings, his conflicts are victories, his death is immortality, his future is a Heaven of inconceivable, unthought of, untold, and endless blessedness—with such a God, such a Saviour, and such a hope, is he not, ought he not, to be a joyful man?”
The reality is that every earthly victory is temporary. When we resist Satan today, he comes back tomorrow. When we overcome temptation in one area, another rears its head somewhere else. Spiritual victories must be won over and over day after day. But salvation is forever. It is settled and cannot be lost. So when our rejoicing is in the new birth given to us, we never run out of reasons for joy.
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”
Though he was brought up in church, when he left home, Joseph Hart turned away from God. He became an ardent opponent of Christianity. At one point he even wrote a pamphlet called The Unreasonableness of Religion. But when he was forty-five, Hart heard George Whitefield preach, and was converted. Joseph Hart spent the rest of his life reaching others with the gospel. Along with his sermons, Hart wrote a number of hymns, including these words:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and power.
I will arise and go to Jesus;
He will embrace me with His arms;
In the arms of my dear Saviour,
O there are ten thousand charms.
There are people all around us who are trying to address issues of life and eternity and their standing with God in their own efforts. But the gulf between us and God created by sin cannot be spanned with any human act. The only hope of salvation is to accept what Jesus freely offers, coming to Him. Though He has promised not to cast out any who come to Him, so many refuse to respond to His gracious invitation. Instead they try to do good works, get involved in a church, avoid sinning, or follow the Golden Rule. None of these are sufficient for salvation. Only Jesus saves.
“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
2 Corinthians 4:5–7
We live in a world that constantly promotes self-reliance. We are told to believe in ourselves and find strength within ourselves. While that message is appealing, it is contrary to Scripture. God tells us instead to rely fully and completely on Him. God delights in using unlikely tools to accomplish His purposes. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27). We do not need more of us, but more of Him. It is His power that works in us to accomplish every good and lasting thing we do, not ours. Unless we lean on Him, we will fall.
Henry Frost, who served for many years as the North American director of the China Inland Mission, wrote, “When I first met Mr. Hudson Taylor, in London in 1887, I expected to see a man with a black beard and a full round voice. Instead, I found him a little man, with a blonde beard and a quiet and gentle voice. I immediately concluded that his power was not in his personality, but rather in God. As the years of my acquaintance lengthened out, this conclusion was increasingly confirmed. To the end of his life he won great victories with God and over men; but the secret was always communion with his Father in Heaven.”
“For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.”
Viktor Frankl was a prominent Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist before the Second World War. In 1942 he was deported to a concentration camp in what was then Czechoslovakia before later being sent to the dreaded Auschwitz death camp. Frankl’s wife and all the members of his immediate family except one sister perished in the Holocaust. After the war, Frankl became a noted author and speaker. In his best-known book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Whether we find meaning and purpose and satisfaction in life is not determined by our surroundings. King Solomon had everything imaginable, yet in his backslidden state, he found life to be empty and pointless. And apart from God, that is the best that is available to man. Because of our sinful natures and the effects of the curse on our world, the best of this life is empty and meaningless. But we have a choice. We can stop living “under the sun” and start living for God. We can refuse to allow our circumstances to dictate meaning and purpose in life. We can say with Paul, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13).
“Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.”
The story goes that a preacher traveling through Europe on a train found himself alone in the car with one other young man. As they talked, the boy told the preacher that though he was a Christian, he felt his faith was weak and he struggled to believe and obey God. The preacher took his Bible out and then a small knife from his pocket. He told the young man that he would make the penknife stand up on the Bible, despite the way the train was rocking from side to side. When the young man expressed skepticism, the preacher said, “It’s easy. I’m doing it now.” “But you’re holding it,” the boy protested. “Yes,” said the minister. “Did you ever heard of a knife standing on its end without being help up? And Christ is holding you.”
The devil rejoices each time a Christian attempts to stand against him apart from God’s power. No matter how sincere or dedicated we may be, we are no match for Satan. But in God’s power we cannot be defeated. We must abandon a focus on ourselves and suppress the pride that makes us want to do things on our own. Instead we must rely on God and the promise of His hand to uphold us. He never fails, and He will hold us up.
“If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
Though George Romney rose to fame in England as a portrait artist, his success came at a high price. One of his mentors declared that marriage spoiled an artist, so Romney abandoned his wife and two young children. After years of success, Romney fell out of favor, lost most of his possessions, and began losing his reason. His long-abandoned wife took pity on him and cared for him in his final years. After Romney’s death, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a poem called “Romney’s Regret.” In it he imagines a conversation with the painter in which a friend says, “Take comfort, you have won the Painter’s fame!” In response to this praise Romney answers: “The best in me that sees the worst in me, And groans to see it, finds no comfort there.”
There is no source of comfort or good in ourselves. The world tells us that we have all that we need within us. That is completely false in terms of our nature. We do not have the ability to do what is right apart from the power of God. Rather than being proud and lifted up, we should find no comfort or joy in any achievement apart from Him. Everything that we do that is good and right and proper and valuable is because of His grace. When we look within at what we really are, we will not be proud, but rather humble and grateful.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
1 Corinthians 13:1–13
The world has little conception of what awaits in eternity. If people did, they would fear Hell and crave Heaven. Our society is filled with misconceptions about the afterlife. In his play King John, Shakespeare wrote of a grieving mother who had been told of her son’s death. The character of Constance says, “When I shall meet him in the court of Heaven I shall not know him: and therefore never, never must I behold my pretty Arthur more.”
But the Bible tells us that we will know far more in Heaven than we do now. Those who have gone before us and those who are precious to us who are believers will be there, and we will recognize them. We will even know people we have only read about in the pages of the Bible or of history. Jesus said, “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
There is so much for us that is in store, and it is beyond our ability to comprehend or even imagine. “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). No matter our circumstances, we have the knowledge of a wonderful eternity with God.
“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”
Everything that we see around us is old. Since the creation the natural world has existed, and since the fall of man, it has existed in a cursed state, far less than what God originally made. As we look at the beauty of the creation and realize it is no longer as good as God made it, we begin to realize that the display of power we see is only a taste of what is to come. Every child of God has a wonderful home in Heaven in his or her future.
T. DeWitt Talmage said, “Many people suppose that we shall see Heaven the first day we get there. You cannot see London in two weeks. You cannot see Rome in six weeks. You cannot see Venice in a month. You cannot see the great city of the New Jerusalem in a day. No; it will take all eternity to see Heaven, to count the towers, to examine the trophies, to gaze upon the thrones, to see the hierarchies. Ages on ages roll, and yet, Heaven is new. The streets new! The Temple new! The joy new! The song new!” But God’s power of regeneration and making things new is not confined to Heaven. Each morning we come to Him, His mercies are new.
“I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.”
If you really want to know what makes a person tick, the key is not so much to look as it is to listen. What we have allowed to fill our hearts is best revealed in what we say. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).
Sometimes people blame other people or their circumstances for what fills their mouths, but that is not the source of the problem. David was at one of the worst points in his life when he wrote Psalm 34, but that did not stop him from praising God. He could not point to good things that were happening right then. He was running for his life, pretending to be crazy to keep from being killed. In earthly terms David was at his lowest point. Yet in his time of great distress, David praised God.
The reason for David’s praise was not in his circumstances, but in his heart. He loved God supremely. He was able to bless the Lord in good times and bad times, because he loved God and he knew God loved him.
“Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses. And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.”
Though we are not given the human author of Psalm 107, many Bible students believe it was Ezra. They believe this was a song of praise to God when the Jewish people returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Though seventy years had passed since the Israelites had been taken captive, God had remained faithful to His people, and when the prophesied period reached its end, He moved the hearts of heathen kings to act in fulfillment of His promise.
God is faithful by His nature, and in every situation, we can fulfill the command to praise Him and give thanks for His goodness to us. It was A. W. Tozer who said, “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.” There are always plenty of reasons for gratitude, no matter how bad things seem to be. An ungrateful Christian is a selfish, world-focused Christian. Rather than rejoicing in all that He has received, he complains because God has not given him enough.
The reality is that God owes us nothing at all, and everything we receive is a good gift of His grace. If we remember this simple truth, it will radically transform the way we act and react. It will change our ingratitude into the persistent praise that God’s goodness deserves. We receive His goodness on a daily basis, and we must never lose sight of the source and the reason for our blessings.
“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:20–22
When Thomas Guthrie was a young pastor in Edinburgh, Scotland, he became greatly burdened for the large number of children forced to live on the streets. In the 1800s there were no government programs to help address the need. So Guthrie established a “Ragged School” to reach the young boys and girls and teach them. From 8:00 in the morning until 7:00 at night the children received a basic education and Bible instruction along with food and clothing. The school and others like it touched the lives of thousands. Guthrie later wrote, “I have the satisfaction when I lay my head upon my pillow of always finding one part of it soft, and that is that God has made me an instrument in his hands by saving many a poor creature from a life of misery and crime.”
It is not enough just to observe the needs of the people we see and meet. To live as Jesus did, to live as He commands, and to make an impact for eternity, we must care enough to do something about it. Paul was willing to make enormous sacrifices, giving up things to which he had a right for the sake of reaching other people. His passion for sharing the gospel cost him a great deal, but Paul thought it was worth it.
“But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.”
Dr. H. A. Ironside related a story from a pastor who was sitting in his office, working to prepare a sermon. He heard the door creak, but didn’t look up until he heard a cry of pain. He found that his young daughter had caught her fingers in the door. He called for her mother to quickly come and look after her. After her mother freed her and asked how bad it was, the child replied, “It hurts, but the worst is that Daddy didn’t even say ‘Oh!’” Ironside concluded, “How we like someone who says, ‘Oh!’ someone who sighs for us, weeps with us, feels with us in our troubles; and you remember what is said of our Lord, ‘In all their affliction he was afflicted.’”
Our world is more connected today than ever before, yet despite all the technology at our fingertips, many people still face a prevailing sense of loneliness and isolation. They wonder if anyone cares about their hurts or their hearts. Most of us have felt that way at one time or another. In truth, Christians should be known by our care and concern for each other. We should have that source of comfort. But whether or not we find human comfort, we are also called to be a source of comfort. “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:1–3
If a job were advertised that required long hours, regular serious sacrifice, and the risk of great danger, there would probably still be some people who would respond to take on the challenge. However if the ad pointed out that there was no pay associated with the job, the number of responses would drop to zero. No one is interested in spending their lives in a way that is completely without result or recompense. Though some are willing to work for things other than money, everyone wants to profit from their labor in some way.
When it comes to our service to God, although He commands our obedience, He also offers rewards to those who faithfully serve Him. Yet it is possible for us to do all of the right things—to make great sacrifices, accomplish great victories, and demonstrate significant human achievement—and yet receive nothing in return. John wrote, “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8).
Though we may deceive others, God always sees our hearts. He not only knows what we do, but why we do it. And to be acceptable in His sight and produce profit to our account, it must have the right motives. Without the proper love, even the greatest and most overwhelming human achievements produce nothing of lasting value or profit.
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,”
1 Peter 1:18–20
Peter wrote his two letters to Christians who were facing serious threats. The local authorities had targeted the early church in Jerusalem for opposition, but as Christianity spread further and further, the Roman Empire stepped in and raised the persecution to a new level. Those who first read the words of Peter’s epistle needed a great deal of hope and encouragement. To provide that help, Peter reminds us of the price that was paid for our salvation. The world might tell Christians, both then and now, that they are of no value, but God says differently, and that is reflected in the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for us.
We are infinitely valuable to God. Though He cares about all of His creation, even the smallest parts, He is focused on His children in a deep and meaningful way. Jesus said, “But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). The devil tempts us to equate the hard times we experience with a lack of care and love on God’s part. But that is never true. And when we are tempted to forget, we need to remind ourselves of the love that took Jesus to the cross to pay the enormous price for our salvation. Thomas Watson wrote, “It cost more to redeem us than to create us. In creation there was but ‘speaking the word.’ In redeeming us, there was ‘shedding the blood.’”
“I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High. When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence. For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right. Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.”
Scripture repeatedly commands us to praise God and give thanks to Him for all that He has done for us. It is only right and fitting that we do so as recipients of His outpoured grace. But in addition to reaping the blessings of obedience, there are “side effects” to being grateful. Dr. Giacomo Bono of Cal State University conducted a survey of seven hundred young people. A number of questions were asked to assess their attitudes and emotional state. The more grateful the teens in the study were, the better off they were. In fact, the study found that the most grateful were 15 percent more likely to have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives and 15 percent less likely to report symptoms of being depressed.
There is a reason behind everything God has commanded us to do. He is the Creator, and He knows what will bring Him the most glory and us the most happiness in life. God does not issue His commands to deprive us of good things, but to protect us from bad ones, and we violate those commands to our own detriment. “Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). Ever since the Garden of Eden mankind has been looking for ways to throw off the yoke of God's commands. And ever since the Garden of Eden, we have been paying the price.
“And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”
The members of the early church were effective in their witness. Thousands came to faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour in just a few days. This result did not sit well with the Jewish religious leaders, and they immediately began persecuting the church. When Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin after healing the lame man at the Temple, the leaders strictly instructed them to stop preaching about Jesus. Peter and John refused. And the church’s first response when Peter and John returned to the other believers was for them to join together and pray.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer languishes in many churches, power in intercession is by no means a common attainment, and meetings for prayer are, as a rule, thinly attended, and not much thought of. Sin abounds, empty profession is common, hypocrisy is plentiful, and the life of God in the soul is but little esteemed. When there is a degeneracy of public manners, you may be sure that there has also occurred a serious decline of secret devotion.”
No law or authority can prevent us from praying, yet too often we fail to pray. We are not compelled to abandon this most necessary resource, but we allow other things to fill our lives. Both in public at church and in private at home, we must be people of prayer. The power that the early church had was found on their knees. That power is still available to us today, and it only comes as we follow their example.
“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “There is no rest for the weary.” But in reality, it is often weariness that drives us to find true spiritual rest in Christ. Those who labor, those who are tired, and those who are struggling will come to Jesus; while those who think they have no need for Him will spurn the rest He offers. After Jesus healed the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, the religious leaders tried to stone Him for breaking their traditions regarding the sabbath day. After clearly laying out His obedience to God and His right to do good for people on the day of rest, Jesus said, “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40).
Those who are convinced that they have everything together see no reason to seek rest from the Lord. They prefer to wear their own yoke and labor in their own strength, hoping to earn their own way to Heaven, rather than coming to Christ. Even those of us who have already trusted Christ as our Saviour can fall into this trap. We can get so focused on doing good things that we forget the source of our strength for everything that we do is in God. We cannot step away from Him and expect to receive His rest and strength for His work. “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
“And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Though he had appeared in several films as a child because of his high-profile father, when he tried acting as an adult, there was little interest. He had a part in a short-lived television series, and a few bit parts in movies, but he wanted more. At the start of 1969, he wrote: “I, Bruce Lee, will be the first highest paid Oriental super star in the United States. In return I will give the most exciting performances and render the best of quality in the capacity of an actor. Starting 1970 I will achieve world fame and from then onward till the end of 1980 I will have in my possession $10,000,000. I will live the way I please and achieve inner harmony and happiness.”
Starting in 1970, Lee did achieve fame, becoming a huge movie star, and was lauded as one of the greatest martial artists in the world. After several hit movies, Lee launched his own production company and was working in Hong Kong on a new film when he suddenly collapsed and died in July of 1973 at just thirty-two years of age.
The plans that we make must include God, or they will not succeed. Even if we climb to the very top of the ladder of success in the world, the best that we can accomplish is fleeting. Only in God is there true meaning and success in life. Only in God is there real security and peace. Only in God is there a certain hope for the future and for eternity.
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.”
Before Israel entered the Promised Land, Moses spent time with them reviewing what God had already done and rehearsing His commands for the future. Moses clearly warned them of the high consequences of disobedience. God would not then and will not now allow His people to sin without being chastened. Of course with His perfect knowledge, God was already well aware that the Israelites would not keep their commitment to Him. And in that knowledge, God also instructed Moses to provide words of hope—so that when the chastening did come, the people would remember that they could still return to God and He would receive them.
There are times in our lives when we endure difficulty because of the actions of others or simply as a byproduct of living in a fallen world. And there are times when what we are going through is a direct result of our disobedience to God. Even in those moments when we “have it coming” we are not abandoned or alone. God does not chasten us out of a desire to inflict pain, but rather from a loving Father’s concern to change our hearts. When we turn back to God and cry out to Him for forgiveness, we will not be turned away. God does not hold our sins against us, having freely forgiven us through the blood of Jesus Christ.
“But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
In their resentment at the way so many people received the message of Jesus and followed Him, the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians—groups that often opposed each other bitterly—joined together to try to trap Jesus in a contradiction that would destroy His standing with the people. One of the tricks they tried was to ask Jesus whether they should be paying taxes to their Roman rulers. Many of the Jewish people deeply resented Roman rule, so if Jesus commended paying the tax, they would reject Him. On the other hand if He opposed paying the tax, they would denounce Him to the Roman government as a troublemaker. Jesus saw through their scheme and answered with the well-known command to render to Caesar the things that belong to him.
But in the same breath, Jesus also commands us to render to God what is rightfully His. Though God gives us salvation freely, there are things which we owe Him. “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?” (Malachi 1:6). In truth, everything that we call our own belongs to God. We are just stewards caring for the possessions of another. And any act of obedience or sacrifice that He calls on us to make is nothing more than what we owe to Him.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”
2 Corinthians 4:7–10
Paul knew a lot about trouble. Most of his ministry was marked by opposition and persecution, and eventually he was martyred for his faith. Yet despite all that he endured, Paul remained undefeated—not because nothing went wrong, but because nothing could make him quit. Paul said, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
The devil does not have the power to stop us. But he does have great skill in convincing us to stop ourselves. He whispers in our ears that we are failures and that we should give up. He is lying. The great basketball player Michael Jordan said, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that’s precisely why I succeed.”
If we give up because we are troubled, perplexed, persecuted, or cast down, we will not win the victory in the battle God has placed before us. Trouble is not a sign of His displeasure. Instead it is often a measure of how effective we have been in our work. Do not let setbacks stop your service to God.
“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:”
When he went to the Philippines in 1915 as a missionary, Frank Laubach found that the vast majority of people in the area where he was working could not read or write. Known later as the “Apostle to the Illiterates” Laubach developed a simple instruction system that would eventually teach more than sixty million people to read. He is the only American missionary to have been honored with a US postage stamp. A noted author and speaker, Laubach was a greatly accomplished man. Yet he did not look at himself, but at God. In a letter to a friend he wrote, “I am disgusted with my unled self. I must surrender wholly to God. I know of no other way.”
The work that God calls us to do for Him cannot be accomplished in our strength. It is not our talent, our effort and our righteousness that matters, but His. When we apply His power to our lives through faith, everything changes. We are not here to bring praise and honor to ourselves or to boast of our achievements. We are here to glorify God by working for Him in the power He provides. Our strength, our identity, and our purpose must be wrapped up in Him rather than in ourselves. When we are found “in Him” our success or failure in the eyes of the world are immaterial. Only God’s opinion matters.
“And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”
Though God had promised to give the land of Israel to the Jewish people, He did not hand it to them. They were required to go into the land and fight to defeat the occupants. In preparing them for those battles, Moses gave the instruction above regarding how they were to fight. War has never been a laughing matter. There is great danger and threat to health and even life. Yet in the face of that reality, God told the people not to be afraid.
God was not telling them that there was nothing to fear. Instead, He was telling them that He would fight for them. Victory over fear does not come from not having anything to fear, but from faith in God. David was in the hands of the Philistines, whose champion Goliath he had killed as a young man and whose soldiers he had defeated over and over when he wrote, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Psalm 56:3).
It is tempting to think that when things settle down and get easier we will be able to trust God more. But faith is a requirement for victory when things aren’t going well. If we allow our emotions to be dictated by our assessment of the enemies we face, fear is certain to result. But if our focus is on God and we are trusting in Him, we recognize that there is nothing of which we need to be afraid.
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Some people teach that it is possible for Christians to reach a point where they no longer sin. They take Bible verses that speak of being perfect as teaching this doctrine. But that is not at all what the Scriptures say. The sense of perfect as it is used in the Bible refers to completeness or wholeness. We find the same Greek word that was translated perfect in Hebrews 13:21 used in the story of Jesus calling some of His first disciples: “And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them” (Matthew 4:21). Here the word is translated that they were mending their nets.
To men who made their living fishing, nets were a crucial piece of equipment. They needed to be sure that gaps did not develop that would allow the fish to escape, and if they found any gaps they needed to be mended. This was a regular part of a fisherman’s life—not something that could be done once and for all, but something that needed doing again and again. And it is worth noting that a completely mended net still has lots of holes in it. Our “perfection” is not something we can do for ourselves. Instead, it is the work of God in our lives. But if we are obedient and committed to Him, we will grow into completeness in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10).
“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
There are events that attract huge audiences because people think they are important. It is estimated that more than 3.5 billion people watched the last two Summer Olympic Games. An average Super Bowl is viewed by about 100 million people in America alone in addition to broadcasts around the world. Although these competitions and other events are viewed as important by our world, God is not impressed. Heaven yawns at the world’s pursuits recognizing that they are fleeting at best. “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:17).
By contrast, Heaven gets excited about people getting saved, because that is eternal. We don’t know exactly what the rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner turning to God looks like, but Jesus illustrated the rejoicing there by talking about a big celebration to celebrate a significant event. The eternal matters. And when we touch eternity, Heaven rejoices.
This knowledge should dictate how we spend our time, talents, and our energy. Our focus is not meant to be on this life and the things that matter only on earth. Paul wrote, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). When we spend our lives on what matters to God, we not only touch the lives of others here, but spark joy in Heaven. There is no greater achievement we can accomplish.
“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.”
2 Timothy 4:9–11
Working with Paul was anything but easy. He and his companions faced the hardship and danger of travel in the ancient world, persecution from those both secular and religious who opposed the gospel, and the opposition of Satan himself. Shipwreck and beatings as well as stoning and imprisonment were part of the package. So it is perhaps not that surprising that when Paul and Barnabas were on their first missionary trip, Mark quit in the middle. When Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance, Paul didn’t think it wise. The disgreement broke up their partnership. “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” (Acts 15:39–40).
Yet at the end of his life, in his final letter to Timothy, Paul recognized that Mark had indeed changed. He asked Timothy to bring Mark to Rome because he would be useful in Paul’s ministry there. God does not throw us away when we fail. We may do things that have lasting consequences that impact our service, but we can still be profitable to Him. We should not give up because we have fallen short. Oswald Sanders said, “Most Bible characters met with failure and survived. Even when the failure was immense, those who [rebounded] refused to lie in the dust and bemoan their tragedy. In fact, their failure and repentance led to a greater conception of God’s grace. They came to know the God of the second chance, and sometimes the third and fourth.”
“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”
Most of us find it easier to judge those around us than to look in the mirror and honestly assess our own failings and shortcomings. That part of our nature is why there are so many admonitions in the Bible against judging other people. When we are focused on other people, we cannot be focused on the Lord as we should. It is not our place to evaluate someone else’s service to God, but rather to make sure our own is right.
The lure of comparing ourselves to others can derail us in two ways. We can find things we think are superior about our lives and service, and thus give in to pride. Or we can find things we think are inferior about our lives and service, and thus give in to self-pity. Both of those are wrong. God does not measure us against what others do, but against what we do with what He has given to us.
Our responsibility is not to keep everyone else in line. We should be helpful and encouraging, but the only person we should be judging is ourselves. When we do that, it offers us protection. Paul wrote, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31).
“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: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:”
All of us start life as babies. But unlike the animals (at least many of them) who can walk within minutes of birth, we take months and months to learn to walk. If you have ever seen a child take those first few halting steps, you know how excited the parents get. But in reality that walking is not very impressive. It is only praised as the beginning of a process. If you see a person who falls down every few steps and wobbles from side to side, you think something is wrong.
Our spiritual life is much the same way. The Bible uses the metaphor of babies for new Christians. And just as we expect children to grow, develop, and mature, God expects us to lay aside immaturity and grow up. He does not want us to remain spiritual infants, unable to process real food and unable to walk in His ways. Yet there are still Christians who have been saved for many years but have not matured.
One of the best evidences of spiritual maturity is stability. Grown up Christians are not easily swayed with new ideas and doctrines. They do not insist on having their own way. Someone said, “An immature Christian is hard to please and easy to offend.” The more time we spend with God in prayer and in His Word, the stronger our spiritual lives grow.
“Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”
2 Corinthians 2:8–11
Though the devil has brought down many believers through the centuries, it is not because he keeps coming up with new ways to deceive God’s children. Rather, it is that the same ways keep working, and that means that the better we understand how Satan attacks us, the better equipped to resist his temptations we will be.
One of his most effective tools is revealed in the warning Jesus gave to Peter just before he denied the Lord three times. “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). In Bible times wheat was often threshed with a tribulum (from which we get the word tribulation), a heavy board with stones and iron attached to it. Harnessed animals would drag the tribulum across the grain, separating the wheat from the chaff.
That is what Jesus told Peter Satan wanted to do to him, and it is often what the devil does to us. By bringing hardship and pain into our lives, he tries to turn us against God. He lies to us that God does not love us because if He did, bad things wouldn’t happen. He lies to us that we have been forsaken. When Satan drags the tribulum across our lives so that he can sift us, we do not have to yield. We can turn to God instead and cling to faith in Him.
“And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that. And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them.”
Robert Louis Stevenson was often sick as a child. Lung diseases ran in his family, and Stevenson was no exception. Frequently ill (several times almost dying) Stevenson nevertheless continued to write. When he lost the use of his right hand, Stevenson taught himself to use his left and kept on with his work. Later, when he could no longer write at all, he dictated his stories. He refused to let anything stop him. In a letter to a friend Stevenson wrote, “I have written in bed, and written out of it, written in hemorrhages, written in sickness, written torn by coughing, written when my head swam for weakness.” That refusal to quit is how Robert Louis Stevenson was able to produce so many books in just forty-four years of his short life.
If we are looking for reasons to quit, we can always find them. Gideon could have contented himself with the great initial victory God gave his three hundred courageous warriors. Instead, he chased the Midianites all the way across the Jordan River and out of the country. He faced opposition and criticism from some of his own countrymen, but he continued. He grew weary and faint, but he kept on pursing. The greatest victories are not won by those with the most talent or the most ability, but by those who simply will not stop until the final victory is won.
“Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.”
When the Holy Spirit directed Philip to leave the revival in Samaria and go into the desert, it must have seemed like a strange thing. Going from a place where many people were responding to the gospel to a place where there were almost no people at all is not in keeping with human logic. Yet God knew that there was one important individual on his way home from Jerusalem, and He wanted Philip to meet him. Philip showed no hesitation. He immediately went where God directed, and when he saw the chariot, he ran to meet the Ethiopian eunuch and took advantage of the opportunity God placed before Him.
If we want to find excuses not to witness to someone, we can always do that. But if we take eternity seriously, if we take the commands of God seriously, and if we take our Christian duty seriously, we must instead be ready to take advantage of any open door to share the good news with those around us. Whether it is family members, co-workers, neighbors, friends, or strangers, every person we know and every person we meet will spend eternity either in Heaven or in Hell.
God has assigned the responsibility for reaching the lost to His children. Paul wrote, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). We cannot assume that someone else will step forward to fulfill this obligation. There are people each of us have a chance to reach and we must reach them.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”
William Ovens spent many years reaching children with the gospel in Ireland. It is said that on one occasion as he watched a parade to honor the veterans of World War I, Ovens was struck by seeing a soldier who was disabled from his injuries limping by in the procession. His gratitude for the sacrifice made on his behalf reminded Ovens of an even greater sacrifice, the one made by Jesus for our salvation. He later wrote:
Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross He was wounded for me;
Gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.
We often speak of Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of mankind, and that is true. But this is not just a general truth. It is very specific to each of us. We find it much easier to speak of the price of sin in broad terms rather than remember that it was our personal sin that Jesus bore on the cross—not just “our” sin but “my” sin.
When we see our sin as the reason behind the nails and the beating and the pain and the blood and the sorrow Christ endured, it becomes much less appealing to us. He could have avoided all of that, but His love and mercy kept Him on the cross.
“For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
1 Corinthians 1:22–25
It is no secret that the world around us wants less and less to do with Christianity. The number of people going to church continues to decline and the number of people without formal religious affiliation continues to climb. In response to this, many people are trying to come up with new ways to draw people to Jesus. But God has already given us the only way that works, which is to lift up Jesus Christ as the center of everything we do. “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18). In both our individual lives and in our churches, Jesus must be the main attraction. Reaching people is not a matter of technique or program, but a matter of the heart.
More than one hundred years ago, E. M. Bounds wrote, “The masses of people are not in the church, and to get them there is of the first importance. Under the stress to do something, many ingenious expedients have been devised and adopted. At times some of these expedients are successful in drawing crowds to the church. The main objection is that the spiritual force of the service must be lowered to get the people there, and still further depraved to hold them there. The crowds who are drawn by an appeal to itching ears, by sensational methods, must have their itchings gratified or else they will not come again.”
“Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
Scientists in Israel recently announced that they had successfully grown date palm trees from two thousand-year-old seeds. The seeds were discovered at the fortress of Masada and in caves near Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. They were turned over to a special team who treated the seeds and then planted them. Despite the centuries that had passed, what seemed to be dead came alive again. Date palm seeds are tough and acclimated to a dry climate, and so the passage of time did not change what was inside.
The promise of Jesus is that those who believe in Him as their Saviour, claiming His free offer of salvation by faith, will have eternal life. Those who have believed on Him through the years, even though their physical bodies have died, are still alive and will never perish. Throughout eternity, this life of salvation will endure. Paul wrote, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Even though he had been dead for four days, when Jesus called, Lazarus came out of the grave. Though one day, in the fullness of time, his physical body died again, Lazarus had a life that would never end. This is the promise of salvation—to replace the death which is the rightful penalty for our sin with the life that only Jesus can provide. No work that we can do can provide salvation, but faith in Jesus gives us life.
“And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff.”
Joshua was distraught when after Israel’s victory over the great city of Jericho, the small village of Ai defeated the Israeli army in battle. He went to his knees, seeking God’s answer to what had happened. God told him to stop praying and do something about the sin in the camp. While there is a time and place for prayer, there is also a time for action. And one does not substitute for the other. When we have a direction from God, delaying in our response is disobedience.
Alexander MacLaren wrote, “No unwelcome tasks become any the less unwelcome by putting them off till tomorrow. Accomplished, they are full of blessing, and there is a smile on their faces as they leave us. Undone, they stand threatening and disturbing our tranquility, and hindering our communion with God. If there be lying before you any bit of work from which you shrink, go straight up to it, and do it at once. The only way to get rid of it is to do it.”
The reality is that we often find ways to delay what we should be doing rather than dealing with it head on. We may cloak our excuses in spiritual language, but that does not change our disobedience. In most situations we do not need further direction from God, but to get up and do what we already know He has spoken. Delaying what God has commanded us to do always produces unpleasant results.
The tasks of today will not get easier by putting them off until later. Tomorrow truly never arrives.
“And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.”
One of the most dramatic stories in the Gospels is the healing of the man possessed by a host of demons in the region of the Gadarenes. This man was so strong because of the demons that chains could not keep him bound. He could not live in the town, but made his home in caves and cemeteries, constantly raving and even injuring himself. When Jesus cast the demons out into a nearby herd of pigs, they drowned themselves in the Sea of Galilee. The man was free and returned to normal behavior, but the people of the town who had been troubled by him were more upset over the loss of their pigs than they were glad that his life and been changed. They wanted Jesus gone. “And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts” (Mark 5:17).
When the man asked to travel with Jesus, he was told instead to return home and spread the news of what had happened to him. While most of us did not experience a transformation as obvious as this man did when we were saved, all of us were changed. And all of us who have received God’s gift of salvation have the responsibility to tell others what has happened to us. This command is given to all believers, young and old in both physical and spiritual life. It is not optional, but essential. We must tell others what God has done for us.
“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”
Before his conversion, when he was still known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was the epitome of a zealous follower of the law and the traditions of Jewish life and worship. He had all the credentials anyone could ever want. He could trace his lineage back to Benjamin. He had been a Pharisee, the most strict group of religious leaders. He was trained in the best school of his day, under Gamaliel, from the time he was very young. Yet in spite of all his achievements and all his background, Paul refused the snare of pride. Instead, he viewed himself in urgent need of Christ. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints, and to be quick to notice their deficiencies. But the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts. Pure Christian humility disposes a person to take notice of everything that is good in others, and to make the most of it, and to diminish their failings, but to give his eye chiefly on those things that are bad in himself.”
“And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.”
2 Kings 2:9–10
In the years he served Elijah, Elisha saw God’s power displayed often. He recognized that the source of the miracles was not the prophet, but the Lord. When the time came for Elijah to be carried up to Heaven, Elisha knew that he would be replacing a powerful voice for God. To accomplish that task, he knew what was needed—the Holy Spirit that empowered the prophet. Rather than being content to just replace Elijah, Elisha wanted to do even more for God, so he asked for a “double portion.”
Elijah told him that his request would be granted if Elisha saw him taken up to Heaven. He did, and that same power rested on Elisha throughout his life. It is not by coincidence that there are eight miracles recorded in Scripture connected with Elijah and sixteen with Elisha. Though both men undoubtedly did many other things, God was making the point that even though Elisha had asked for “a hard thing” God was able to bring it to pass.
There is nothing worthwhile that is accomplished for God without struggle. If we only do the easy things, we will fall short of His purpose for our lives. As the old saying goes, “The door of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.” The fact that something is difficult does not mean that it should not be done, but that we should rely on God’s Spirit to equip us for the task.
“And the LORD spake by his servants the prophets, saying, Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols: Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle.”
2 Kings 21:10–12
God is perfectly holy, and He hates sin. The society around us may mock God and promote sin, but that does not change His view that sin is awful. The church may lower its standards and say things are no longer sin that the Bible condemns, but that does not change the truth. The danger we face is that the voices around us, both secular and religious, that loudly proclaim sin is not so bad and God is no longer judging it can influence us to drop our guard.
God has not changed. He still hates sin, and He is still the judge. This judgment is not just visited on individuals, but on entire nations as well. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17). This truth was once widely recognized. Even Thomas Jefferson, who was not a Christian wrote, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His justice cannot sleep for ever.” While our nation may have forgotten this sentiment, it is still true. The idea that sin goes on and on without consequences is false.
On the other hand, Isaiah 55:7 tells us that when we turn to God in repentance, He is ready to forgive: “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.”
“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.”
There are a lot of people in our world today who claim to be speaking for God, but whose actual words either contradict or add to the Bible. They tell us that God wants us to do certain things and not do others and if we do, we will be healthy and wealthy. They tell us that if we follow their advice, or (more often) if we send them money, God will do things which He has not actually promised to do. No matter what the name on the sign outside the building reads, and no matter how pretty the pulpit and platform on which such a person stands, they are not speaking the truth.
God takes a dim view of those who go beyond what He has spoken. “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5–6). When we speak for God, either in a public setting or a private conversation, we must be diligent that we are accurately relaying His Word rather than our own opinions and ideas. The only reliable standard of truth is not how something sounds or whether it makes sense to our reasoning, but how it measures up against the Bible.
“These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.”
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would provide an offering for the sins of the entire nation of Israel. Two goats would be selected for the sacrifice. The first would be killed, and the blood would be taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the mercy seat. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). The second would be driven into the desert, symbolically taking away the sins from the nation—where we get the concept of a scapegoat.
But the sins were not gone. They were covered by the blood on the mercy seat, but they were only symbolically taken away. Only the Lamb of God could not only atone for sin but remove it from our account before the Father. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). There are things each of us have in the past that we wish were not there. But while some consequences for sin may remain, the guilt of sin is gone forever—not just temporarily covered up, but permanently replaced with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
2 Corinthians 5:18–20
If you’ve been going to church for any length of time, you’ve probably heard a sermon from someone you didn’t expect to hear. Perhaps a severe illness or injury prevented the regular speaker from making it to church. It may have been the unexpected early arrival of a baby, or perhaps even a car wreck. But for some reason, the scheduled speaker was not in his place. When that happens, someone else steps in to preach God’s Word. But the substitute speaker is expected preach the same biblical doctrine as the pastor would have. The same could be said for a substitute school teacher or speaker at an event. The substitute is expected to give a message that aligns with the content or convictions of what the one who asked them to fill in would share.
In the same way, as Christians we have been tasked with speaking for God in our world. Though the Holy Spirit is in each believer and empowers our work for God, the voice that those around us hear is ours. That means that we must be faithful to speak up and to speak the truth. Eternal destinies are at stake. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Corinthians 4:3). We should never speak to others without an awareness that we are speaking to them in the place of God. We must make sure that what we say is an accurate reflection of what He has commanded. There should be no difference between what we say and what He would say.
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
Though there were millions of people living under the control of the Roman Empire during the New Testament era, many of them did not have the full rights and privileges of being citizens. Being a Roman citizen brought special rights and legal protection, no matter where a person was in the empire. As such, it was a status that was greatly desired. When Paul was being held after the riot in the Temple at Jerusalem, he appealed to his standing as a citizen to avoid being scourged without a trial. “Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born” (Acts 22:27–28).
Being a citizen of Heaven is far more important and beneficial than being a citizen of any nation here on earth. And the high cost of that citizenship has been paid in full for us in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. We have been made righteous and freed forever from the penalty of sin. We have access to the throne of God to seek his help when we are in need. We have the Holy Spirit living within. Yet though we have these rights and many others as believers, many Christians do not use them. Instead of claiming what God has promised, they settle for the scraps of the world and the devil.
“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.”
Too many times, we allow opposition, trouble, persecution, and enmity to stop us from doing what God has called us to do. But that is always a choice. We can continue to do right and work for Him, no matter what is going on around us. The early church in Jerusalem faced harsh persecution, even to the point of death, for preaching about Jesus. When they were forced to flee for their lives, they continued to spread the gospel everywhere they went. We never have to stop doing what is right, no matter how difficult circumstances may become.
Though George Liele was born into slavery in Georgia in 1750, he believed God had called him into ministry. His master, Henry Sharpe, gave George his freedom so that he could begin traveling and preaching across the South. But when Sharpe was killed during the Revolutionary War, his descendants tried to re-enslave Liele, and he was put back in jail for a time. After defending his right to freedom, Liele and his family moved to Jamaica. His powerful preaching there sparked opposition, and Liele was again thrown in jail. Undeterred by the persecution, he continued preaching on his release. By the time Liele died, he had baptized hundreds of converts and built a strong church in Jamaica.
There are often hardships in life because the devil is actively working to discourage and defeat those who are working for God. We can feel sorry for ourselves and quit, or, like Stephen and like George Liele, we can continue to do what is right, trusting God for the outcome.
“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. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”
When David repented of his sin with Bathsheba, he came to a difficult realization about himself. He had done something very wicked, but had justified it to himself. When he sought to restore his relationship with God, he highlighted the importance of truth—not just in his speech with others, but in his heart. David’s internal lies to himself had paved the road to adultery and murder. The road back to God began with the truth.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky wrote, “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to [baseness] in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself.”
In a world filled with lies and deception, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of telling ourselves what we want to hear rather than filling our hearts and minds with the truth. This truth is a powerful defense against sin. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Because we have sinful natures and deceitful hearts, it is imperative that we are countering the lies of the world with the truth of God’s Word.
“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
The Christian life is designed to be lived with other Christians. We need other people to help and encourage us, and we need to be encouraging and helping others. There is a powerful influence in fellowship and and friendship that each of us needs. And we must be sure we have a positive influence on others. Washington Irving wrote, “Surely happiness is reflective, like the light of Heaven; and every countenance, bright with smiles and glowing with innocent enjoyment, is a mirror transmitting to others the rays of a supreme and lasting benevolence.”
There are some people who are an encouragement just to be around because of their joy and encouragement. There are days when all of us need that encouragement and positive influence. And there will never be a day when we should not be striving to help others and make a positive impact on their lives. When we see someone who is down or discouraged, that is not the time to judge or critique or condemn, but to help.
The reality is that we may not always find someone to help us when we need it, but we can always be a help to others in need. We can lift up those who have fallen. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).