Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
In the early 1950s, Dr. Bill Rice made a missionary trip to Africa. Deep in the jungle in what is now Congo, his team met a group of Pygmies who lived in isolation. Most of them had never seen a white person before. Using three different interpreters to bridge the language gap, Bill preached the gospel, and many were saved. At the conclusion of one of the services, an elderly man came up to him. Through an interpreter, he described how as a young man he would climb high into the trees. Looking up at the stars, he realized that Someone must have made them. He said that he had prayed then to whoever the Creator was that he would one day learn about Him. He then shared that he knew his prayer had been answered that day as he heard the gospel.
The truth that God created the world is under attack in our day, but all of the scientists and educators who promote the lie of evolution are forced to do so while denying the evidence before their eyes in the world around us. The truth of creation is revealed every time we see the sun and the stars. Yet people refuse to acknowledge this truth because recognizing the existence of the Creator suggests that He has the right to demand our obedience and judge those who refuse to obey. This truth is a vital reminder for Christians as well. “Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
Rejoice in knowing that you belong to the God who created the world and created you, and give Him your glad obedience.
And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
The purpose of the creation of the world and all of mankind was because it fulfilled the desire and delight of God. He did not need anything outside of Himself to be complete or content. He was already everything before the world was made. Yet it brought God joy to make people—men and women with the capacity to choose to honor and glorify Him. And He still finds pleasure when His children look to Him. "He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 147:10-11).
We live in a self-focused, man-centered culture. For many people, everything in their lives revolves around what will advance their desires and interests. They care little for anyone else, and nothing at all for God. Yet His design and purpose has not changed. He is still looking for those who will seek His face with their whole hearts. He is looking for those who will humbly put His kingdom ahead of their own, and place their lives at His disposal.
One day everyone will bow before Jesus. “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). How much more should we who have already trusted Him as our Savior daily worship Him and acknowledge His authority in our lives? It is our privilege and opportunity to live a life that glorifies the Lord.
We have no greater calling than to fulfill God's plan of bringing honor and glory to His name.
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. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
When John Endicott arrived in the New World to serve as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he wanted to do things that would encourage more people to make the trip from England. Realizing that one of the things they would most miss would be fruit trees, he arranged for a number of varieties to be imported. Sometime in the early 1630s, Endicott planted a pear tree near Salem, Massachusetts. On that day he told the family and friends who were there, “No doubt when we have gone the tree will still be alive.” In fact, almost 400 years later, the Endicott Pear Tree is still alive and still bearing fruit.
God intends for His children to be fruitful, not just for a brief time, but for all of our lives. He wants us to be consistently bringing forth fruit, season after season and year after year. “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3). The impact of a fruitful tree is not fully felt in a few years or even in a decade, but over many years. There is much that we do from day to day that will quickly fade. But if we are deeply connected to the Lord, our lives will also produce fruit that will be a continuing testimony to His grace and power.
A Christian who is abiding in Christ day by day and yielding to the Holy Spirit will, over time, produce fruit to the glory of God.
And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
Most of us have had the experience of going back as adults to visit a place that was special to us when we were young. Perhaps it was a grandparent's house or a church or a park—but wherever it was we have the memories of the way we experienced it as children. Yet often when we return to those places, we find that they are very different from our memories. It may be that we simply did not have the perspective as children to see things as they really were. Buildings that once seemed huge may now look small. It may be that the passage of time has changed them, so that some of the things we remember are simply no longer there. Anyone who has had that experience suffers a feeling of loss or displacement—and a nostalgia for the way things used to be.
As Christians, we have a relationship with a God who never changes. He is always the same, and we need never fear that we will go to Him and find that He is no longer willing or able to help us. God exists outside of the space and time that border our existence. He is not subject to aging or the effects of decay that take their toll on both people and places in our fallen world. God will always be just as present and real and powerful as He was in the past and is today. “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:14).
Our faith has a firm foundation because the God who made the promises we claim will never change.
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
The very beginning of Satan's rebellion against God was driven by pride. He wanted the praise and glory and position that only belong to God. Yet rather than getting him the promotion he coveted, pride drove Satan's fall from the heights of Heaven to the depths of Hell. Pride has been a sin from the beginning, and it is still one of the most prominent and prevalent sins in our world today. And if we allow it in our lives, it will produce the same destruction that it did with the devil at the beginning.
God freely invites us to come to Him. But we must come in humility. “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). The temptation of pride is so appealing, and too often we may fail to recognize it for the threat that it is. We listen to the voices of praise and flattery, and begin to believe them. We look at the accomplishments God has allowed us to achieve and think they are our victories rather than His. Humility is not attractive to us in the way that pride is. It requires us to put others ahead of ourselves. It requires us to give God credit rather than claiming it for our own. But humility is essential, and it is attractive to God. We cannot be filled with God's Spirit if we are full of ourselves.
To fulfill God's purposes for our lives, we must humble ourselves.
We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out. For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.
One of the great pleasures of being a grandparent is getting to tell a new generation about the wonderful things God has done in our lives. I remember telling my children some of these same stories when they were little. Now we are doing what we can to strengthen and encourage the faith of the next generation. But something else is important as well—I don't want to just tell them stories from many years ago. I want to be able to tell them and show them what God is doing right now. God has always been faithful through the years, and we must not forget all that He has done for us. But we must also not be content to rest on the past.
God is not through with any of us. The fact that we are still alive and here on earth means that He still has things for us to do. There are new battles to be fought and new foes to be defeated. There are lost people to reach and Christians to encourage. There are new challenges that require new prayers to see new provision. The God who parted the Red Sea, gave David victory over Goliath, and made the sun stand still for Joshua is the God we love and serve. The God who answered the prayers of Hannah and Esther and Nehemiah hears when we call out to Him. We need new stories of God at work in our lives to share with those who come after us.
As long as we live, we should be looking for the work God has for us to do and putting ourselves wholly into it.
And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.
Helen Lemmel was born into the home of a pastor in England, and moved with her family to the United States when she was a teenager. Her beautiful singing voice made a name for her, yet despite many secular job offers she insisted on using her talent for God. She taught music at Moody Bible Institute and led women's singing groups for Billy Sunday revivals. Later in her life, she contracted a disease and lost her eyesight. Tragically ,her husband left her, leaving her to fend for herself. She began writing poems and hymns, including these words:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
There are always other things on which we can focus, but whether those things are good or bad, they must not be allowed to take the central place of Jesus in our hearts and minds. He alone is worthy of our unlimited love and devotion. While many of us have been blessed to have good and godly examples to follow in our lives, we should be focused on Jesus. While many of us have been blessed with financial resources and possessions beyond what most of the world can imagine, we should be focused on Jesus. Even when Moses and Elijah were present on the Mount of Transfiguration, God told the disciples that they should focus on listening to Jesus.
If our eyes are fixed on Jesus, nothing of this world will be able to draw us away from Him.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens 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.
From the earliest days of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have heard a lot about “essential” businesses. In an effort to stop or slow the spread of the disease, various government bodies put together a list of what they considered to be the most important businesses to the functioning of society. Some places were allowed to stay open, while others were forced to close their doors. And some of the places that were deemed essential certainly didn't seem to be very important to most of us. But in many locations, churches were placed on the list of non-essential businesses and forced to either close or severely limit their attendance.
While public health and stopping the spread of disease is important, we must never lose sight of the fact that church truly is essential. We may need to adjust the way that we meet, but we must not stop gathering together to encourage, exhort, teach, fellowship, and disciple. The Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation. The impact that we have on each other is a vital part of God's plan for us to grow in grace.
The sad reality is that too many Christians do not require an order from a government official to avoid the assembling of believers. They live as if church is non-essential, and that is a tragedy. It is detrimental to their own spiritual growth and development, and it robs those who they could help of the encouragement, example, and instruction they could provide. No matter how long we have been saved or how much we may have grown in grace, church is still essential.
No matter what is going on around us or what the world thinks, church will always be essential for believers.
Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1770, George Whitefield made his seventh voyage from England to America to once again preach in the colonies. Though he was just fifty-five years old, Whitefield had been in declining health for some time. His voice no longer had the strength to preach to thousands of people at once as he had during the Great Awakening in the 1740s. But there were still many who wanted to hear him. When word spread that he was near Boston, the crowd that gathered in Newburyport was so large that Whitefield addressed them in a field near the church while standing on a barrel.
After the service ended, a number of people gathered at the parsonage where Whitefield was staying, hoping to hear him speak. Though it was late and he was tired, Whitefield placed a lighted candle by the window of his room and told them he would speak “until the candle went out.” He finished his message and went to bed, and sometime later that night his candle did go out, and he entered into the presence of the Lord.
While we certainly should take care of our health and be wise in our choices of how we invest our lives, we should never fall into the trap of holding back from serving God because there will be a cost associated with it. Instead, just as Jesus did, we should gladly the pay the cost of fulfilling the will of God, no matter what that requires. We should end our lives here on earth able to say that we kept back nothing that would have furthered the kingdom of God.
No matter what sacrifices it may require, service to God is always worth it both in this world and the next.
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
God does not want us to be contentious or pugnacious, quick to fight at the drop of a hat. Yet at the same time, there are some things that are worth fighting for, and there are times when being faithful followers of Jesus Christ requires contending for the faith. There are many today, just as there were when Jude wrote this brief epistle under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who are undermining the truth and trying to replace it with a substitute that better suits their ideas and wishes. Not all of those people are outside of religious circles. There are many pulpits around the world where a message is being preached that is very different from what God declared.
In the face of this deception, we must not allow ourselves to be cowed into silence. We must not let falsehood flourish because we are unwilling to take a stand for the truth. No matter how many people may oppose us or how popular their ideas are, we must earnestly and diligently fight for what is right. The English poet Charles Mackay wrote:
You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.
Falsehood can only be stopped by those who are willing to take a stand for the truth.
For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.
Critics of the truth and the Word of God are nothing new. All the way back in the Garden of Eden, Satan worked to undermine Eve's reliance on what God had said. In our day we have no problem finding what Paul referred to as “gainsayers.” There are plenty of people willing to speak against the truth. They describe it as old fashioned, out of step with modern understandings and sensibilities. They call it narrow and even bigoted. They say that they refuse to be bound by ancient writings and beliefs.
In the face of these attacks, the most important thing that we can do is to hold fast to the truth ourselves. We must never let the doubting and criticism of those around us plant the seeds of doubt in our own hearts and minds. We must maintain our allegiance to the truth, never wavering in our belief that what God has said is true and right and trustworthy. What David wrote three thousand years ago is still true today: “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9).
The best thing we can do to strengthen our faith in what God has said is to be people of the Bible. In our personal lives and in corporate settings, we need to be readying, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Word of God. The more determined our culture becomes to undermine it, the more tightly we must hold on to the truth we have received.
In a day when truth is under attack, it is more important than ever that we hold fast to what we have been taught.
O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.
There are great debates in some circles over the appropriate means and methods of worshiping God. Many people have strong opinions on this important topic. But before we can answer the “how” question properly, we need to answer the “why” question. Why do we worship God? We know that He has commanded us to praise Him, but it is important to remember not only that we are supposed to worship, but that God alone deserves our worship. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
We worship the God who is the great Creator of everything in this world. We worship the God who has all power and who rules over all. We worship the God who has loaded us with benefits, not because we were worthy, but because He is gracious and loving. There will never come a time when we run out of things for which to give thanks, and our worship is rooted in the soil of a grateful heart. If we forget all that He has done for us, our worship will be a formality at best. But if we enter His presence with thanksgiving, praise comes naturally. Such worship is not a chore or a task, but a joyful event. If our worship is dull, it may be a sign that we have lost sight of who God is.
We cannot properly worship God without hearts that are awed by His greatness and overflowing with gratitude.
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 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.
1 Corinthians 1:21-24
There are many today who tell us that declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ, whether from a pulpit to a crowd or in a one on one conversation is no longer effective. They are looking for new methods and means of reaching people. But what was true in Paul's day is still true in ours, and the message of salvation in Jesus Christ is still the only hope of sinners. Charles Spurgeon said, “The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the devil. The preaching of Christ is the thunderbolt, the sound that makes all hell tremble.”
Sometimes the Bible uses the word preaching not for a formal sermon from a pastor, but simply meaning to declare or proclaim something as true. And the responsibility for sharing the gospel is not reserved for pastors, missionaries and full time employees of the church—it is given to every believer. Not everyone with whom we share the good news will respond favorably. But it is certain that those with whom we do not share it cannot respond. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Corinthians 4:3).
The great gift of salvation which we have received places on us the responsibility of sharing it with others. No matter how the world changes, God's plan for reaching people does not change. He has called His people to declare the gospel to the lost. The problem of a lack of evangelism is not a failure of the way we do it, but a failure of many believers to do it at all, and that is a problem each of us can work to fix.
As Christians we have the only hope for a lost and dying world, and we must share it with those around us.
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
One of the most illogical facades people put on is that of trying to impress God with outward acts of worship or service while inwardly rebelling against God from the heart. This is what was happening in the prophet Micah's day. The people were bringing the required sacrifices before the Lord, but at the same time they were violently oppressing the poor and obtaining the very wealth they were offering to God by deceit. God told Micah that no matter how many sacrifices the people might bring, He wanted them to correct their hearts. There are no outward displays of religious devotion which we can make that will substitute for the inward obedience which God demands. He does want our outward behavior to be right—indeed He insists on it. But that starts on the inside.
When we are focused only on the outward, it is easy for us to be lead off course. The Pharisees in Jesus' day had all the outward trappings of obedience, but their hearts were far from being filled with love for God. Instead they were content as long as others thought of them as righteous. One of the reasons they hated Jesus so much was that He pointed out that their outward compliance with the law was not enough to please God.
The obedient Christian life is lived inside out—it starts with the heart first, and the outward actions follow from that.
Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.
For years as they labored as slaves in Egypt, the children of Israel cried out to God for deliverance. They despaired when Pharaoh gave the command for all male Hebrew babies to be killed. They had no freedom or ability to control their own lives. When Moses came, many of them rejoiced that the ancient promises of God to His people were being remembered and fulfilled. After ten plagues devastated the land of Egypt, and Pharaoh finally agreed to let them go, they went out loaded down with treasure, heading for the land promised to their people by God.
Yet they did not find that trip to be what they expected. When they were confronted by the Red Sea, with Pharaoh's army pursuing them, they despaired. They did not recall the power of God they had seen displayed time and time again, even extending to protecting them from the plagues that ravaged their Egyptian neighbors. They did not recall the way the different plagues had explicitly revealed the weakness of the various gods worshiped by the Egyptians.
Instead they despaired. They told Moses they wished he had left them as slaves. When God did not immediately remove every obstacle from their path, their faith vanished. All of us are going to experience times when things don't go as we wish. In those moments, we must remember that God is in control, and doing what He knows is best.
Hard times are not evidence that God has abandoned us; they are an opportunity to see His power on display.
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
As part of his plans for a possible invasion of England, Napoleon sent the combined French and Spanish fleets to sail, knowing that he would only be able to carry out his plans after the British navy had been defeated. Admiral Nelson led the British fleet, but he was outnumbered by the navies of two countries. As the combat neared, Nelson learned that two of his officers had had a falling out and refused to even speak to each other, let alone cooperate for battle. He summoned them both to the HMS Victory, his flagship. When they arrived, he walked with both of them to the ship's rail. Pointing at the sails of the French and Spanish vessels looming on the horizon he simply said, “Gentlemen, yonder is the enemy.” The two men patched up their differences, and together they won the battle.
There is no way for God's people to be victorious over the world around us if we are consumed with fighting each other. Instead we are commanded to humbly work together, helping and encouraging one another in the face of our common enemy. When we realize the power of the forces aligned against us, we realize we have no time for disharmony and discord. Our love for God and the common presence of His Holy Spirit in each of our hearts gives us the basis on which to build a strongly united group of believers who are prepared to work together to win the victory.
Success in God's work requires us to work together in unity and harmony with His people.
Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.
Under the Mosaic Law, every seven years there was to be a release of all debts that were owed. Anyone who had loaned money to someone who was in difficulty was to forgive the entirety of the debt. Moses gave the people a special caution about refusing to lend to help someone in need because the deadline for forgiveness was coming up. The natural human reaction would be to say that because there was only a little time left until the debt release, the money would be lost—and then to refuse to provide what was needed.
Yet God told the people not to think that way. Instead they were to give assistance to those who needed it, even if it would never be repaid by them. God said that in that case, He would provide the repayment through His blessing. And He warned the people to consider their attitude as they did—not be grudging or resentful about it. Paul gives a similar admonition in his instruction to the church at Corinth about giving: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
God does not need our help to fund His work or meet the needs of others. Nothing we give increases His resources even a tiny amount. But He does offer us the opportunity to join in His work, and commands us to do so from a generous heart.
If our focus is only on ourselves and what we can get and keep, we will never be generous givers as God commands.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
1 John 1:1
During the ministry of Jesus here on Earth, thousands of people came to hear Him. Hundreds followed Him from place to place, wanting more than just a single exposure to this life-changing message and ministry. From that group, Jesus selected seventy people to go out and spread the Good News. And of course there were the twelve apostles who were with Him almost constantly, listening as He spoke and asking questions to learn more about God and His kingdom. Among those twelve, an inner circle of Peter, James, and John were the closest to the Lord. They were the ones who went with Him to the Mount of Transfiguration and saw His glory revealed. But of all the disciples, John seems to have been the one with the most personal relationship with Jesus, and the memory of those experiences was still with him many years later.
There is nothing that will take the place of a close, personal, intimate, and deep fellowship with Jesus Christ. I am part of a great church, but that will not substitute. I have godly friends and family members, but that is not enough. I have a library filled with books about the things of God and His Word, but those will not replace the power of walking with Him on a daily basis. Paul told the church at Philippi that he was willing to give up anything for the sake of such a relationship. He wrote, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” (Philippians 3:10). We cannot expect a close relationship with Him if He is relegated to second place in our hearts and lives. Time spent with God must be a priority—one for which we are willing to make sacrifices—if we are to know Jesus in a close and abiding relationship.
The depth of our relationship with Jesus is determined by the priority we place on it in our daily lives.
(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
1 John 1:2
The night before the crucifixion, when Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples in the Upper Room, the disciples were filled with uncertainty and doubt. In that moment, they wanted to know that God would not forsake them. They wanted the assurance that whatever happened, their future would be secure. In that final conversation before His death, Jesus offered them comfort and a reminder of what He had taught them about His Heavenly Father. “Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:8-9)
The life of Jesus as recorded for us in the Bible is so much more than just the story of a prophet, a healer, or a teacher. It is more than the description of a rabbi whose teaching shook a nation. It is the sinless life of the Son of God, and in that life, Jesus reveals to us what we must know about the Father to come into His family. He told the disciples, “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” (Matthew 11:27).
There is an empty place in the heart of every person born into this fallen world that only God can fill. No matter what people may turn to in an effort to meet that need, only God can supply what we lack. Jesus came to show that need—and to show how God would dwell among and within those who trusted in Jesus for salvation.
We see the nature and character of God most clearly on display when we look closely at the life of Jesus Christ.
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:3
When Jesus appeared to the disciples following His resurrection, Thomas was not with them. When they shared the glad news with him that the Lord was alive, Thomas refused to believe their message. He insisted that it would take physical proof—being able to touch the wounds suffered during the crucifixion—for him to believe that Christ had risen from the dead. When Jesus arrived, He offered Thomas the proof that he sought. “Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:27-28). According to church history, Thomas was martyred in India after twenty years of ministry there, faithfully proclaiming the gospel and the resurrection he had once questioned.
Without a firm grounding in what we believe, we cannot expect to be effective in ministry to others. John wrote that he was declaring what he himself had heard and seen regarding the life of Christ. But though we have not physically witnessed Jesus like John and the other disciples did, we can be just as confident in our faith as they were, because we have the infallible record of the Word of God as the foundation for our faith. And when we believe God, we are blessed by Him. “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). As we work for Christ in this world, we must take great care to ensure that our faith is not undermined or shaken by what is going on around us. Only by faith can we win the victory over the world.
Faith in what the Bible says equips us for effective ministry to others and victory over the world.
And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
1 John 1:4
We live in a world that is desperate for true joy. All around us we see people trying all sorts of methods to achieve the joy that can only come from God. He does not desire for us to be miserable; in fact, He offers joy to all who will believe in Him. But because we must come to Him on His terms alone rather than our own, many people are looking for substitutes. All of the pleasures that the world has to offer are temporal and fleeting at best. Only in God can we have true and lasting joy. David wrote, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).
The Christian life is meant to be filled with joy. That does mean that it will be easy or painless or nothing but endless pleasure. Instead, it means that even in the midst of sorrow and heartache, we can experience the sustaining joy of Christ. Paul and Silas could still sing praises to God at midnight after they had been unjustly arrested, cruelly beaten, and bound in chains. The joy did not vanish because of their surroundings because it has an inward source that could not be taken away. Jesus promised His disciples, "And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you" (John 16:22).
We must not fall into the trap of the world and think that joy requires us to have or get or keep something we desire. God has already given us all that we need (and so much more than we deserve), and He invites us to also experience His joy. John Newton wrote:
Joy is a fruit that will not grow
In nature's barren soil;
All we can boast till Christ we know,
Is vanity and toil.
But where the Lord has planted grace,
And made His glories known;
There fruits of heavenly joy and peace
Are found, and there alone.
We will never find true joy as long as we are looking for it in things around us—it only lives within us.
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5
Moses had a level of fellowship and closeness with God like few others who have ever lived. While he was with God on Mount Sinai, receiving the ten commandments that would form the basis of the law that would govern Israel as a nation, Moses asked to see God's glory in its fullness and splendor. God told Moses that his request—if answered—would kill him. Instead God let Moses see as much as he could without perishing. “And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:22-23).
That fleeting glimpse of God's glory was enough to change Moses' appearance. Though he was not aware of it, he came down from the mountain literally glowing. “And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him” (Exodus 34:30). God's light and glory is that bright. Though our world portrays God as a figure of jest or a foolish old man, He is high and lifted up, and He is complete light without any shadow or darkness of any kind.
The time that we spend in His presence will impact us. It will change the way we think, talk, act, and even look, just as it did with Moses. This is not a measure of our holiness, or a subject for pride, but a reflection of God's light. It should be obvious to those who know us best that the time we have spent with God has impacted every part of our lives.
God's light is meant to be reflected from our lives to the lost and darkened world around us.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
1 John 1:6-7
In Jesus' day no one was more outwardly religious than the Pharisees. They went to great lengths to call attention to their piety. They wanted to be sure that everyone knew they were devoted followers of the law. In reality, they were anything but such followers. Instead they used their outward form of religious observance to mask their disobedience to God. That tendency is still with us today. Some people seem to think that if they sing loudly and give generously and dress modestly and attend church regularly, everything is good. But those good things do not make up for hidden sin.
Each one of us must answer to God for whether we are walking in light or walking in darkness—not just where others can see but where only He can. God will never accept words in place of obedience. Jesus asked the question: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). We may be able to deceive others, but God knows every part of our hearts. And we can only have close fellowship with Him as we walk in the light.
The Christian life is not lived in a moment. It is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour walk. What is incredible is that God desires our fellowship every day along this journey. Indeed, we were created to enjoy this fellowship with God. We cannot, however, walk in ongoing fellowship with God if we are hiding or holding onto sin in our lives. To walk in the light is to simply allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and expose our sin that we might turn from it. If we will thus walk in the light, we have the joy of also walking with God.
If we are walking in darkness, we should not expect to have a close fellowship with the God of light.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1 John 1:8
There are only two kinds of people in the world. There are sinners who have received God's free offer of salvation through Jesus Christ, and there are sinners who have not. There is not a third group of people who are Christians but no longer sinners. As long as we live on this earth and in our temporal bodies, we will still struggle with sin. We will still have sinful and fleshly desires and appetites as long as we live. There is a constant struggle to avoid evil and do good. Paul described his internal conflict this way: “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” (Romans 7:18-19).
The temptation to try to portray ourselves as more holy and righteous than we really are finds ground to grow in the pride of our hearts. There is no place in the Christian life for proclaiming our own holiness to others or to ourselves. Whether this declaration is inward or outward, it is wrong. We are sinners saved by grace, and none of the glory for any good changes in our lives belongs to us. The Lord is not deceived by our words—He sees our hearts. He knows the sins that may be hidden from everyone else in the world. He knows the truth, and despite that, He loves us anyway. But if we cling to prideful declarations of how good we are, we cannot expect to be received in close fellowship with Him. Jesus said, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
Though we cannot get rid of our sin nature, we do not have to give in to it either.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
There are many versions of a similar story that date back thousands of years. One of the earliest tells of a Roman official who went aboard a galley where the oars were manned by prisoners serving sentences following their conviction for various crimes. As he walked past the rows of men, one by one they proclaimed their innocence. They told stories of failing to receive justice, being falsely accused, and being victims of cases of mistaken identity. Finally near the back of the ship, the official heard one man say that he was indeed guilty and deserved to be there. The official turned to the captain of the boat and said, “I want this man removed at once. It is not right for all these innocent men to be forced to spend time with such a criminal. Let him go free.”
We will never find forgiveness for sins we are not willing to acknowledge. As long as we are trying to hide our sin, make excuses for it, or blame others rather than taking responsibility, we will not turn to Christ for the pardon God freely offers. Solomon wrote, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). The problem for Christians whose sin has hindered their relationship with God is not that they cannot be forgiven, but that they have not yet reached the point of acknowledging it. The word “confess” does not mean just to say that we have done something wrong, but to say the same thing about that wrong that God does. Our natural tendency is to try avoid the blame for the wrong we have done. But there can be no repentance until we get to the point where we see our sin clearly, call it what it is, and ask for God's forgiveness.
Facing up to our responsibility for sin is the first step to restoring our relationship with God.
His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
I came across a touching story that demonstrates the kind of appreciation we should have for God's majesty and glory. In five-year-old Judd's Sunday School class, the teacher asked, “What would you do if Jesus walked in the door right now?” Without a word, Judd quickly laid down on the floor. When his teacher asked what he was doing, Judd replied, “Jesus just walked in, so I fainted.”
God is not the figure of jest and fun that our society so often portrays Him to be. He is the high and holy God who is above all things. When He passes by, the earth shakes. And if we see Him for who He really is, we will not feel prideful in His presence. Isaiah was a prophet of God, but when he saw his vision of the throne in Heaven, it magnified his shortcomings in his own eyes. “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). In our proud society, it is easy for us to become infected with the idea that we are on God's level. We are not, and the more clearly we see Him, the less we will think of ourselves. In fact, when we see God for who He is through the pages of His Word, we will be filled with awe.
The natural response to an accurate view of God is repentance and worship.
And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
1 Samuel 15:22-23
Even though it was not God's plan for Israel to have a king, when the people insisted, God gave them the best one He could find. God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul to be the ruler over the people. At the beginning of his reign, Saul was humble and obedient. But as he consolidated his power, he began to view his ideas and desires to be more important than what God said. When Samuel commanded the complete destruction of the Amalekites and all their possessions as God's judgment on them, Saul went out to war. But rather than finish the task, he allowed the people to save the best of the animals of their conquered foes. In those days most of the pay for soldiers was the spoils of battle, but God had made that off limits, just as He had done earlier at the battle of Jericho. Rather than obey God and anger the people, Saul did things his way.
When the prophet Samuel confronted him, Saul first lied to try to cover his disobedience. When Samuel pointed to the evidence that was right in front of his eyes, Saul shifted tactics. Now he explained to the prophet that they were saving the best of the animals to give as a sacrifice to God in celebration of the great victory. That was not true, but even if it had been, it still would not have justified disobedience to God's command. We cannot bargain with God, replacing obedience in one area with a sacrifice in another. We cannot get a pass on sinful behavior by doing other things that are good.
Obedience to God is of paramount importance, and nothing else we can do will take its place.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:10
One of the most damaging and destructive forms of lying is to falsely claim that something is true when it is not. That is why the legal penalty for perjury is so severe. According to the United States Code, perjury is committed when a person “Having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true.”
When a charge of falsehood is brought against someone, the character and record of both parties must be considered. Someone who has habitually shaded the truth and uttered falsehood does not receive the benefit of the doubt. Yet as foolish as it is, there are people who try to claim that it is God who is lying while they are telling the truth. Though they would probably never make such a declaration in public, that is what they are really saying when they claim that they have reached the point where they no longer sin.
The Pharisees of Jesus' day boasted of their devotion to keeping the whole law. They were outwardly compliant with every part of the law, yet Jesus exposed their inward deceit. “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). We must not succumb to the prideful temptation to think that we have arrived and moved past sinning in our lives. We must not put what others think of us above what God sees. And we must not call God a liar.
A proper understanding of God's righteousness encourages us to humbly admit our sin and enjoy restored fellowship with God.
He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
Though Jesus was constantly teaching His disciples, there is only one thing recorded in Scripture that they specifically asked Him to teach them—to pray. They had seen and heard Jesus talking to His Father, and they wanted to learn how to pray as He did. In response, Jesus gave them what is commonly called the Lord's Prayer, although it would be more accurate to call it a model prayer instead. That well-known prayer begins with these words: “And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (Luke 11:2). Jesus was not teaching them something in the abstract. He was not giving them theories or ideas. He was telling them, and us, what matters when we pray.
As Jesus modeled in this prayer and in His own prayer just before Calvary, every prayer must be offered in accordance with the will of God. There are times when we greatly desire a particular outcome to a situation. Yet even in those moments we must not insist on having things our way if God has something else planned for us. Thus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, knowing the physical agony and spiritual torment that awaited Him, yet still praying in perfect submission to the will of the Father.
Prayer is not a means for us to get only answers that we will like. There are times, like Paul experienced when he prayed for the thorn in his flesh to be removed (2 Corinthians 12:9–10), that God uses the hard things for His purpose. Even in the most difficult moments, we must pray for God's will rather than our own.
Asking for God's will to be done is not just repeating words. It must be the desire of our hearts.
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
One of the most often mentioned characteristics of the first church in Jerusalem is that the people were in harmony and agreement. More than once we read that they were of “one accord.” They gathered together day after day, eating, fellowshiping, worshiping, and praying. And their unity prepared them to make a great impact on their city. “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” (Acts 4:31).
While it would be nice if unity and peace came naturally to us, both in our homes and in our churches, the reality is that it takes work. Unity is never accidental. Instead it is the byproduct of God's people joining together in the fullness of His Holy Spirit and doing the work that is necessary to keep the peace. As long as there are people involved, there will be hurt feelings, unkind words, disappointments, and divisions. But we do not have to allow these things to break our unity. Instead we can choose to work through the problems, addressing them rather than sweeping them under the rug.
Of course this is not easy. That is why Paul used the word “endeavouring”—it takes diligent, focused, intense effort. The Lord knows that such effort will be required, and through the Holy Spirit He gives us the power to put aside our focus on our own interests and consider instead the needs of others and the importance of unity. If we want to make the impact our world needs, we must be unified and working together.
We will never experience the blessings of unity unless we are willing to put in the work to maintain it.
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
1 John 2:1
There is an old saying in the legal profession that a lawyer who argues his own case in court has a fool for a client. Things are even worse in the spiritual realm, for we have no hope of standing against Satan when he comes to bring a charge against us before the throne of God. “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night” (Revelation 12:10).
The problem that we face is not that Satan is lying about us. Though he is a liar, he has plenty of truthful material to bring charges against us. Yet each time his attempts to convict us in God's court fail. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). This lack of condemnation does not spring from our innocence, but from the efforts of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
John uses the metaphor of an attorney to picture this work of Christ, and it is a blessing when we remember that His perfect righteousness has been credited to our account. The devil loves to bind us with guilt over things from the past. But God does not. Once we have confessed and forsaken a sin, though some earthly consequences may remain, our relationship with the Lord is never hindered by that again. The Son stands before the Father on our behalf, arguing not that the sin was not committed, but that it has been wiped away from our record forever by His precious blood. Jesus is our advocate.
Every day, Jesus is standing before the Father on our behalf, applying His righteousness to our account.
And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
In His last meeting with the disciples before returning to Heaven, Jesus gave them a final series of instructions to follow. The first step was one that many of us still struggle with today: to return to Jerusalem and wait. Soon the Holy Spirit would come on them and give power for effective ministry, but until then, there was nothing they could do. The same is true today, and unless we are empowered by God, all of our labor and effort will be in vain. Yet for many people, waiting on God poses a real challenge. To overcome that challenge, we need to understand that God's timing is more important than ours and that He does not regard our time waiting on Him to be wasted.
Of course waiting on God must not become an excuse for laziness, but it is a vital part of our Christian walk. G. Campbell Morgan said, “Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.”
When John Milton went blind, it was a devastating blow to the gifted writer. But as he reflected on his new condition, he realized that God knew all about his circumstances, and still had a plan for his life. Milton wrote, “God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts...They also serve who only stand and wait.” God is never in a hurry and God is never late. We must bend our schedules and timetables to His if we are to serve Him well.
We must never rush forward when God has called us to wait for Him to work before we do our part.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
It is very easy for us to allow our lives to be filled with things—often good things—that crowd out things that are even more important. Doing something that is good is no substitute for doing what matters most. Thirty years ago, Readers' Digest ran this story. “Michael Swenson was clocking late nights at the office working as a financial analyst for a large corporation. One night he got in around 12:30 and crawled into bed. His wife woke up and stated, 'You've got to alphabetize.' Swenson was confused so he asked, 'What do you mean?' She replied, 'Wife comes before work.'"
In every area of life, whether it is marriage, parenting, work, church, or something else, it is crucial for us to keep our focus on what comes first. The urgent will easily crowd out the important if we let it, leaving us with no time or energy to do critical things. When it comes to our days, we must set our priorities in the right order, or we will not be able to accomplish what God has set before us to do.
And before anything else, we must put God at the top of our list. Nothing can be allowed to take His rightful place—first place. Paul wrote, “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). There is no part of life where God should not come first.
What God calls and commands us to do must take priority over everything else in our lives.
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2
When God gave Moses the instructions for the Ark of the Covenant, He directed that the top of the chest that would sit in the Holy of Holies be made of solid gold. God described this as the “mercy seat.” It was here on the Day of Atonement that the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice for the sins of the people. This is a beautiful picture of what Jesus did for us on the cross. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the word that was used for the mercy seat is the same word translated “propitiation” in John's epistle. Jesus was both the sacrifice for our sins and the place where God's righteousness was satisfied with that payment.
God is perfectly holy and cannot tolerate sin in His presence. Yet in his love and mercy, He provided the means by which we might be reconciled to Him. The perfect and sinless life of Jesus Christ made Him the only acceptable substitute for us. Unlike the blood of the sacrifices under the old covenant, the blood of Jesus did not just cover sins—it removed them forever. This is the measure of God's amazing love for us, and we must never forget the great gift we have been given.
And the grace of God goes far beyond just our salvation. Paul wrote, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). The sacrifice of Jesus has opened the way for us to come into God's presence, not just once a year, but daily, with our cares.
Edward Joy wrote:
All your anxiety, all your care,
Bring to the mercy seat, leave it there,
Never a burden He cannot bear,
Never a friend like Jesus!
And Hebrews 4:15–16 affirms, "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. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
The love of God for us is seen by His provision of a means for our salvation through Jesus Christ.
Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of the resurrection, they had already been told multiple times that He was alive again. Jesus had told them before He was crucified that He would rise from the grave. Mary and the other women who had gone to the tomb early that morning had told them that it was empty and that the angels witnessed that Jesus was alive. Peter and John had been there themselves and confirmed that the body of Jesus was gone. Then the two disciples who had been going to Emmaus and met Jesus on the road came back with the news that they had seen Him. Yet when Jesus appeared in their presence, they did not really believe it was Him. They thought they were seeing a spirit or a ghost.
Instead of condemning them for their lack of faith, Jesus patiently explained to them that He was indeed alive. To confirm what they were struggling to believe, He ate food with them, something a ghost could not have done. This is a wonderful demonstration of God's mercy to us. Despite the fact that we fail Him again and again and sometimes struggle to believe the promises He is fulfilling before our eyes, He still loves us and cares for us. David wrote, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14). God knows all about our frailty, and so He strengthens us over and over, giving us reminders of His faithfulness.
God never forgets what we are made of, yet He loves us anyway.
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
2 Peter 1:2-4
In the early days of Christianity, a new teaching arose that called people to isolate themselves from society. The monastic movement established centers where men and women could withdraw from the concern of daily life and focus solely on religious matters. One of the driving forces behind this idea was that by no longer being exposed to daily temptations as part of the regular world, a person could live a more holy life. That is not the way things worked out in practice. Each person who entered a monastery took with him all of the sinful desires and habits they started with. We cannot overcome sin by escaping from the world. We can only overcome sin through the power we find in the precious promises of the Bible.
God has not called us to leave the world behind and isolate ourselves from it. Instead He calls us to go out into the world and live in a way that brings honor and glory to Him. He calls us to walk in holiness despite the defilement we see in the world around us. His grace teaches us to "live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:12). When Jesus sent the twelve disciples out to begin preaching, He warned them of the dangers they would face. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Yet in spite of the danger, Jesus sent them anyway, and today He is still sending out men and women into the world to take a stand for Him.
God has not called us to run away from the world, but to overcome it in His power.
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
1 John 2:3-4
Because of its value, gold has long been one of the most widely accepted sources of money. Yet that value has also led to numerous attempts to fabricate value—to convince people that something is gold when it is some other metal. The popular saying, “All that glitters is not gold” reflects this history. In the 1700s, a test was devised that would reveal whether something was actually gold or not. Based on the chemical interaction with acid and metal, the “acid test” became the standard by which authenticity could be verified. The phrase has become commonly used as a metaphor for determining whether something is genuine or not.
The Bible gives us an acid test for measuring our relationship for God, and that test is obedience. It does not matter how loudly or publicly we may proclaim that we love God, if we are not living in obedience to His Word, we do not really have the right relationship with Him. We may be able to deceive others, but God knows what is really in our hearts. And while we certainly do not earn our standing with God through our works or our obedience, the right standing with Him will surely produce obedient living in our lives.
Jesus made this connection clear when He asked those following Him, "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). To His disciples in the Upper Room, Jesus said plainly, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). If our claim of a loving relationship with God is not supported by the way we live, something is very wrong.
We can never substitute words for the actions of obedience which our love for God demands.
This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
2 Peter 3:1-4
According to the Gallup Poll released in March, only 47 percent of Americans say that they are members of a religious organization of any kind—church, mosque, synagogue, temple, or something else. Of course, many of those groups are not preaching and teaching an exclusively Bible message. Even so, 47 percent is the lowest figure ever measured by the poll, compared to some 70 percent who said they belonged to a religious group just twenty years ago. It is a sign of the changes in our overall culture, but it is also a sign of the changes within the church. None of this is unexpected to those who understand the Bible. Both Peter and Paul referred to the downgrading and rejection of truth that would come in the last days.
In the face of critics and skeptics, our faith can remain firm. The fact that others are not going to church and not believing God does not have to impact our trust in Him. The key to standing firm is to keep our thoughts grounded on the Word of God. Those who have no faith like to falsely claim that God does not keep His promises. But if we look back on what He has done, both through the centuries and in our own lives, we will see that He is always faithful. The delay in the fulfillment of some promises is not a failing on God's part, but simply a matter of His timetable.
The uncertainty of the world around us should drive us to the Word of God to strengthen our faith.
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
2 Corinthians 6:14-16
Since 1925, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has drawn thousands of students to test their spelling skills. Winners of local competitions come to Washington DC to compete for the title. Over time, words have gotten harder and harder, becoming much more obscure. The first year the winning word was “gladiolus.” Other winners correctly spelled “luge,” “knack,” and “therapy.” But as the years progressed, the words became much harder. In 1987, the winning word was “staphylococci,” and in 1996, it was “vivisepulture.” The 2018 spelling bee was won by Karthik Nemmani, who correct spelled “koinonia.” Scripps issued a press release which defined koinonia as an “intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community.”
The word “koinonia” may be uncommon, but the concept should not be. It is actually a transliteration of a Greek word that refers to the fellowship and communion we are to share with God and with other believers. The Christian life is strengthened and supported by the time which we spend together. Yet one of the things that is most destructive to the right kind of fellowship is the wrong kind of fellowship. Just as weeds in a garden compete with the flowers and vegetables for the moisture and nutrients needed to grow, the things of the world attempt to crowd out the things of God. If we are spending our time and allowing our affections to be focused on the things of the world, that wrong fellowship will draw us away from our walk with God. We who love God have nothing in common with the philosophies of the world, and we should draw our sustainance, fellowship, and strength from the Lord and His people.
Our fellowship must be with the Word of God and with other believers for us to truly grow in grace.
But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
1 John 2:5
We view King David from a historical perspective that makes us think of him as a great leader of Israel and a mighty man of God. But he did not start out that way. As the youngest son of a large family, David was given the job no one else wanted. Keeping sheep was a dirty and thankless job, requiring a great deal of time away from the comforts of home and exposing one to the elements. David's family thought so little of him that when Samuel came to anoint one of Jesse's sons to be king, Jesse didn't even bother to call David to join his brothers. Apparently, the family didn't think he could possibly amount to anything. But they were wrong.
A large part of the reason that David was so greatly blessed and used by God was that his heart was devoted to God. In recounting the story of the nation of Israel, Paul declared, “And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will” (Acts 13:22). David's heart was fixed on the things of God, and as a result, he loved what God loved and wanted what God wanted. Though he was not perfect by any means, David was devoted to God.
That devotion was a product of the focus of David on the Word of God. Though he did not have the completed Bible as we do, David loved what he had, and it changed his life. He wrote, “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” (Psalm 19:10-11).
The more we love the Word of God the more we will love the God of the Word.
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
In his book The Rise of the Dutch Republic, John Motley recounted a striking and true story of religious persecution in the sixteenth century and of grace and forgiveness being extend to one's enemies. A man named Dirk Willemzoon was condemned to death for the “crime” of being an Anabaptist and refusing to follow the state religion. To save his life, he escaped across a frozen lake. Though he made it safely, the officer pursuing him fell through the ice. In response to his cry for help, Willemzoon returned and resuced him from certain death. Motley wrote, “Unfortunately for human nature, it cannot be added that the generosity of the action was met by a corresponding heroism. The officer was desirous, it is true, of avoiding the responsibility of sacrificing the preserver of his life, but the burgomaster of Asperen sternly reminded him to remember his oath. He accordingly arrested the fugitive, who, on the sixteenth of May following was burned to death under the most lingering tortures.”
Willemzoon did the truly unexepcted and heroic as he put his own life and future in jeopardy to save his enemy. Jesus did something even greater: He fully and freely laid down His life for His enemies—the entire human race who was alienated from him by our own sin. Christ did not die for us because we were lovely or lovable. He died for us while we were His enemies.
In turn, He commands us to extend the same grace we have received to those who do us wrong. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). It is a poor response to the graciousness of God for us to be unforgiving and hold grudges against those who have done us wrong. God doesn't ask us to justify what they have done or say it wasn't wrong, but He does tell us to forgive them. Only through forgiving can we live like Jesus.
We forgive others, not because they deserve it, but because God commands it and because He forgave us.
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.
When God saves us, He does so at once and forever. Yet, as amazing and wonderful as salvation from the penalty of our sin is, it is only the beginning. Salvation is not just about keeping us out of Hell and taking us to Heaven, though it does change our eternal destiny. Salvation is the start of a process through which we are to become more and more like Jesus as we grow in grace. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit and yielding to Him the control of our lives, we begin to produce the fruits of righteousness—not as a means of earning salvation, but as evidence that our faith is real.
Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon titled “Things That Accompany Salvation.” In the sermon, he used the metaphor of a great parade in ancient times. “We read stories of eastern monarchs in the olden time, that seem more like romance than reality; when they marched with thousands of flying banners and with all kinds of riches borne with them. Now you are to take that as the basis of my figure and suppose Salvation to be the sacred treasure which is being carried through the world, with guards before and guards behind, to accompany it on its journey.”
Salvation is freely given to us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and it would be foolish to think that God, having already given us so much, would refuse to give us lesser things. Through His grace and love, He provides all that we need. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
God's grace goes far beyond our salvation, giving us all that we need to grow in grace and become like Him.
He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
1 John 2:6
When Charles Sheldon first published In His Steps in 1896, he had no idea that he had authored what would become one of the best selling books of all time. He wrote of a pastor addressing his congregation: “What I am going to propose now is something which ought not to appear unusual or at all impossible of execution. Yet I am aware that it will be so regarded by a large number, perhaps, of the members of this church. But in order that we may have a thorough understanding of what we are considering, I will put my proposition very plainly, perhaps bluntly. I want volunteers from the First Church who will pledge themselves, earnestly and honestly for an entire year, not to do anything without first asking the question, 'What would Jesus do?' And after asking that question, each one will follow Jesus as exactly as he knows how, no matter what the result may be.”
The Christian life is meant to be lived as Jesus lived. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). We are called and commanded to be like Him in the world. Yet all too often those who carry the name of Christians are not living like the Lord, but like the world around them. It can be almost impossible to distinguish between those who are supposedly believers and those who have no interest in the things of God. The key to living like Jesus and having a positive impact on the world is found in spending time in His presence—abiding in Him. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The more time we spend in fellowship with God through His Word and through prayer, the more like Jesus we will become.
The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.
In 1879, as he was returning from Ohio to his home in Michigan, Josiah Atwood saw a large thunderstorm in the distance. Against the darkness of the clouds, he could see a beautiful rainbow, a reminder of God's faithfulness to keep His promises. The next morning Atwood awoke to a clear blue sky. As he pondered the contrast from the darkness of the night before, he began composing a song we know as “The Unclouded Day.”
O they tell me that He smiles on His children there,
And His smile drives their sorrows all away;
And they tell me that no tears ever come again
In that lovely land of unclouded day.
O the land of cloudless day,
O the land of an unclouded day,
O they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise,
O they tell me of an unclouded day.
God is light, and in His presence there will never be even a hint of darkness. We will no longer need the sun or the moon. We will never see clouds darken the sky. The gracious glory of God will be so powerful that it will be the only illumination we need. “And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:23). And we will spend eternity in the presence of the brightness of God's glory.
The hope and glory of Heaven is that we will spend eternity in the presence of God, rejoicing in His light.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
The devil hates the local church. He knows that even the doors of his fortress cannot stand against God's church operating in God's power. Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Through the centuries, Satan has tried many ways to derail the church. One of the oldest and most effective is by introducing wolves—false teachers who appear for a time to be godly men and women, but whose aim is to destroy the truth by presenting a substitute.
Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus about the coming of these people. The Ephesian church was one of the strongest and most effective churches of the New Testament age, yet despite the warnings they had been given, over time, they let down their guard. When John recorded God's words to this church in Revelation, this was the message: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:4-5).
No church is exempt from this danger. The truth must be cherished and defended. False teaching must be exposed. The wolves must be unmasked. If we do not remain vigilant and on guard, over time, we will turn away from the truth, often without even realizing it has happened.
If truth is not zealously defended, it will be lost over time to the false teachers Satan sends into the church.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
1 John 2:7
When John wrote about Christians loving each other, he was not introducing a new concept. He was instead tying obedience back to an ancient command from centuries earlier. "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:18). This command to love others is rooted in the nature of God Himself. He loved us, even when we did not love Him, and the need for love never changes.
When Jesus was asked which commandments were most important, He pointed to two—that we love God and that we love our neighbors. Not only did Jesus say that these two commands were the most important, but He said that they are the foundation for everything else in Scripture. "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:40). If our love for God and others is not what it should be, we are missing the most important part of life. Love takes priority.
There are a lot of people in our day looking for new ways to do things that are in step with the times. What we need, however, is not a set of new commandments for a modern age, but a return to observing and obeying the ancient commandments which are still as relevant as ever. And the two which are most important of all are that we love God above all else, and that we love our neighbors as we do ourselves.
Love for God and for others will never be outdated, no matter how ancient those commands may be.
Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
When John the Baptist began his ministry of telling the people that the Messiah was about to arrive and that they needed to repent, huge crowds gathered to hear his message. Many of them believed what he said and were baptized. One of the questions John was often asked was what people should do in light of the truth. His answer was always that they should repent and then live accordingly. The notion that there is a repentance that does not produce any kind of change is not what the Bible teaches. Charles Spurgeon said, “Repentance is a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it. It is, in fact, a change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what once he hated, and hate what once he loved.”
The world around us may find sin amusing, but God does not. He calls us to a different kind of life. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17). While we do not receive God's forgiveness because of what we do, our love for Him leads us to turn away from the sin that was once attractive to us and live in a new way. Only then are we fulfilling His plan and purpose for our lives.
God did not save us so we could continue living in the same old way. He calls us to new life.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
In A.D. 711, the Muslim forces of the Umayyad Calihpate swept into Spain. In a series of battles, they defeated the rulers and made Spain an Islamic nation. A few years later, a battle to drive them out of the country began. It was not a quick or easy process. What is now known by historians as the Reconquista lasted until 1492—nearly 800 years. It is generally regarded as the longest war in human history. Yet even that lengthy conflict pales in comparison to the war between the flesh and the Spirit. That one has been raging ever since Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden.
There are two key principles to understanding this conflict. The first is that everyone is controlled by one or the other. There are no neutral parties. There are no exceptions. Though it is a common philosophy in our day, there are no independent operators or moral free agents. All of us are under the direction and influence of God or Satan. The second is that we cannot split the difference. We don't have the option of being partially with the Spirit and partially with the flesh. Jesus warned, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
The victorious Christian life can only be lived in submission to the Holy Spirit of God. Unless we are willing to yield to Him, we are condemning ourselves to living under the control of the lusts of the flesh.
As we yield ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit and His control, He gives us victory in the Christian life.
He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
1 John 2:9
The story of the first two brothers in the human race is a tragedy. Cain and Abel each grew up knowing about God and apparnetly knowing that they were to worship Him with a blood sacrifice. But when Cain's offering was rejected, rather than repenting for his error, he blamed his brother for offering an acceptable sacrifice. In his fury, Cain killed his brother, then protested to God that he should not be expected to know where his brother was. Because of the Fall, division and strife have been a part of human relationships from the beginning until now.
All of us have people in our lives who are pleasant, encouraging, gentle, and considerate, and we find it easy to get along with them. Then there are the other kind. There are some people who seem to be surly, harsh, critical, and unpleasant, and we find it hard to even tolerate their presence. Yet God's command for us to is to love all of our fellow believers, whether we find them likable or not. Peter wrote, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward” (1 Peter 2:18).
If we only love those we find easy to love and allow ourselves to grow bitter and hateful toward those we find difficult, our love for God is not what it should be. It is easy for someone to proclaim love for God, but if his life is filled with anger and hatred toward others, the words are empty and meaningless. John even warns that a person who professes faith in God but lives with habitual hatred toward others should check on the validity of that faith—he may be still living in darkness. God takes the matter of loving each other so seriously because unity is so vital to the growth and health of the church.
It is impossible to love God as we should without also loving our brothers and sisters in Christ as we should.
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
Starting in 1881, D. L. Moody began holding a conference each year at what was then known as the Mount Hermon Boys School in Northfield, Massachusetts. Moody had been born in Northfield, and though he worked for many years in Chicago, he kept his home in Northfield and spent summers there. Students and Christian workers from around the world began coming. As news spread about the conferences, the crowds grew larger and larger. The story goes that one year a preacher came up to the front of the auditorium and said, “I've come one hundred miles to get some of Mr. Moody's spirit.” “You don't want Moody's spirit,” the reply came. “What you want is the Spirit of God.”
Each Christian has the Holy Spirit living within from the moment of salvation. This was the promise Jesus made before His crucifixion and it has been a promise kept ever since. The question is not whether we have the Holy Spirit, but whether He has us. Are our lives, thoughts, desires, and ambitions yielded to His control, or are we insisting on going our own way? Many times when people say that they do not know what to do, that is not the real problem. Instead the problem is that what God wants them to do does not line up with their own desires. It is only when we are willing to listen to the voice of the Comforter and obey it that we receive the guidance and comfort He offers to provide. If we place our opinions and desires over what He says, we will not live in the fullness of His power.
We cannot expect the guidance of the Holy Spirit if we are unwilling to go where He tells us to go.