Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam. And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature, that had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number; and he also was born to the giant. And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea the brother of David slew him.
2 Samuel 21:19-21
When Goliath issued his challenge for someone to face him in single combat, David's three oldest brothers were part of the army of Israel. They heard the giant's call, but like all the other soldiers, including King Saul, they feared to face Goliath. So a young man who had no military training but did have a strong belief in God brought down the giant and cut off his head. Goliath, however, was not the only giant in the Philistine army. Through the years that followed, Israel was threatened by the relatives and children of Goliath. And one of those threats was met by David's nephew Jonathan who stepped up to overcome the kind of challenge that his own father had previously failed to meet.
The failures of the past do not mean that we are doomed to repeat them. The shortcomings of those who have come before us do not mean that we have to lose our battles. The same God who gave David victory over Goliath was there for Jonathan when it came his turn to face a great challenge. There are always going to be battles to fight. There are always going to be giants to face. There are always going to be temptations and snares to resist. Rather than worrying about what others have done or failed to do, we should confidently run toward the battle as David did, trusting in God to provide the victory He has promised.
If our eyes are fixed on God rather than what others around us have done or are doing, we can see great victories for Him.
And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands. And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.
1 Samuel 17:47-49
The soldiers of Israel feared to face Goliath in battle. They saw his immense size and realized that they would have no hope of defeating him in single combat. Yet David saw something different. He looked at the giant as a target that was too big to miss. He did not tremble his way onto the battlefield but ran there to face the giant. The difference in those responses, however, was not so much in how they saw the giant. The soldiers of the army and David saw the same giant. The difference was in how they saw God. David recognized that it was not Israel but the God of Israel that Goliath was defying, and he believed that God would bring about the impossible victory.
Because we live in a fallen world filled with sin, it should be no surprise that we must face battles. Often the obstacles before us seem to present an impossible situation. But if our focus is on God, we will not be discouraged and defeated before the battle even begins. When God commissioned Jeremiah, He warned the prophet that many of the people would reject the message. But He challenged Jeremiah not to allow that to deter him from speaking the truth. “Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces...” (Jeremiah 1:17). When we look around us, we will find reason to be discouraged or dissuaded from standing for Christ. But when we look to God, we will be motivated to reach forward for Him.
We have no reason to fear any obstacle if our trust is in God to win the battle.
And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine
1 Samuel 17:38-40
When David was going out to face Goliath in battle, Saul focused on the military side of the conflict. Saul wanted David to wear his armor and fight with his weapons. But David had no training with such tools of war and set them aside for his familiar sling. He knew what he could do with it, and he knew how to use it successfully. David was not dependent on military equipment for the victory—he was trusting in God, and he wanted to go to battle with the weapons he knew worked.
There are many people in our day looking for new ways to do God's work. While we should not reject new ideas just because they are new, we need to be very careful that any new methods are still in line with the Bible. A brief look at the history of churches, schools, and denominations reveals that many of them have strayed far from their original purpose and beliefs. The unproven new ideas that they accepted led them into error and then into apostasy.
The things that were true yesterday are still true today, and they will still be true tomorrow. Rather than looking for new armor, we need to trust what God has given us and what has been proven correct and true through the years. Hang on to your sling no matter what new weapon is suggested.
If we hold firm to what we know to be true, we will not be distracted or led astray by unproven methods.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
We live in an impatient world. It seems like every day people come up with new ways to do things faster. We want the fastest cars, the shortest cooking times, the quickest weight loss results—the list goes on and on. Yet God's timetable is not focused on speed. He requires that we be willing to wait for Him to work, even through testing and trials, so that the right fruit will result. There are no shortcuts to holiness or obedience. A. W. Tozer wrote, “The faith of Christ offers no buttons to push for quick service. The new order must wait the Lord’s own time, and that is too much for the man in a hurry. He just gives up and becomes interested in something else.”
The natural tendency when things are hard is for us to want to get out of difficulty as quickly as possible. In doing so, however, we may well miss what God most wants to teach us. The troubles we face in life often come as a surprise, but they never take God off guard. He is in control of the events of our lives; He is not a helpless bystander. Before anything happens, He knows not only what will happen but how we will respond. He carefully calculates exactly what we need to bring the most glory to Him. It is our responsibility not to run away from trials and testings, but to learn what He is teaching and to allow Him to conform us to be more like Jesus. If we refuse to endure the trials, we will not receive the fruit of patient endurance that leads to Christlikeness in our lives.
Remembering the vital purpose of trials helps us to patiently endure them.
And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.
When Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery rather than killing him, they had selfish motives. There was no profit in murder, but condemning their hated brother to a lifetime of servitude in a foreign country would fill their pockets. They certainly had no idea that Joseph would be raised up by God to become the second most powerful man in the world. Joseph didn't either. He was just trying to survive and be faithful to God amid very trying circumstances. And his circumstances didn't improve when he did right. In fact, his commitment to doing what was right put him in prison. But what Joseph couldn't see at the time was that God was preparing him for a great work. Everything that happened to Joseph was just another step on the path to God's plan for his life.
Many times when things go wrong in our lives—or at least when we think things are going wrong—it is not because we have been forgotten or abandoned by God. Rather, it is because His plans and purposes are taking us down a path that leads to a destination we may have never even have considered. The path may be difficult, but we are never alone. God spoke to the prophet Isaiah with this message for His people: “For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:13). Our responsibility is not to understand all that is happening, but to maintain our trust and confidence in God and to be faithful to Him no matter what.
No matter how alone we may feel, God is always with us and at work in our lives.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 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.
When the early church father Polycarp was commanded to burn incense to Caesar to recognize his claim to deity, he refused. Polycarp had been a follower of the Apostle John, and for many years he pastored the church in Smyrna. When told his life would be spared if he would recant his faith, Polycarp responded, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.”
Because of what the Lord has done for us, we must never abandon our faith or deny Him. We can hold fast in the face of opposition, difficulty, and even persecution because He is always faithful. We have a God who cares about what happens to us and who understands the struggles and battles we face. Jesus could have used His power to make sure He never had a problem. He could have met every need that He had rather than becoming tired and hungry. He could have spoken a single word and destroyed all the Pharisees and religious leaders who opposed Him. He could have called on His Father in Heaven for thousands of angels to come and fight for Him. Jesus did none of those things so that He could be our Savior. As a result, we owe Him nothing less than complete obedience and unwavering devotion.
Nothing that we endure or experience can force us to turn away from the Lord unless we allow it to do so.
Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.
If Peter had been taken off guard by the temptation to deny that he knew or followed Jesus, we would find it more understandable. But the disciple had been personally warned by the Lord that Satan was out to get him, and that he would be challenged on the very issue of whether he would stand with and identify with Jesus. Peter did exactly what Jesus said he would do, because in his pride he assumed that he would never fail such a test. Peter knew Jesus and loved Him, but even after three years with the Lord, he was still relying on his own strength and confident that he could handle any challenge alone. Peter's pride told him that he was more devoted to Jesus than those around him. He was not.
Years later, when the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write his first letter to believers scattered across the Roman Empire, he include a warning about pride and an emphasis on the importance of depending on God. I'm sure Peter remembered the events of that night. He wrote, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). If Peter had heeded Jesus' warning, if he had stayed awake and prayed with the Lord in Gethsemane, if he had recognized his complete dependence on God, he would no doubt have reacted differently when the challenge came. Any time we indulge in pride, comparing ourselves to others, or feeling like we have everything together, we are headed for a fall. Instead, we need to humbly flee to God, begging for His help to be faithful to Him.
Pride in our strength or devotion to God makes us more susceptible to any kind of temptation.
I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings. Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God? Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people. Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.
All of us know that God has done great and wonderful things for us. Yet rather than being grateful for them, we often take them for granted and lose sight of God's kindness toward us. It is critically important that we remember God's blessings at all times, but perhaps even more when things are going well than when things are going poorly. In his warning to the Israelites of the dangers they would face once they entered the Promised Land, Moses reminded them that they would be receiving good things, but also said, “Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 6:12).
It should be a regular practice and spiritual discipline in each of our lives to recall what God has done for us. It is a vital part of building gratitude and encouraging praise, as well as a reminder not to be proud for what we have because it all came from God. The more that we focus on the blessings we have been given and the things we have seen God do, the stronger our faith will become. It is no accident that the parting of the Red Sea is mentioned almost fifty times in the Bible. God knows that we are prone to forgetting and leaving Him out of the picture, and He wants us to instead remember that He is the source of every blessing and victory. He alone is worthy of praise. And when we face new challenges, remembering His power keeps us from giving up.
Telling ourselves and others the good things God has done for us builds our faith for future challenges.
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
1 Peter 1:6-8
Most of us know what it is like to go through a deep trial. Whether it is a grave illness, an economic catastrophe, a broken relationship, or something else, the pain and the heaviness are very real. As much as we would prefer not to experience the grief and turmoil that come from such a trial, we should not be surprised by them. Because we live under the curse of sin and its effects, trouble naturally comes. If we are committed to following Jesus faithfully, we can expect an extra measure of opposition and hostility from the world that rejects His message.
The Lord loves us too much to allow us to endure suffering without purpose. Just as gold is refined by being heated to almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit so the impurities can be removed, trials serve a purpose in God's plan to make us more like His Son. Jesus certainly was no stranger to hardship and difficulties. “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).
The purpose of this life is not this life, but the next. The temporary troubles we may experience must be viewed in light of the eternal impact they can have if we respond to them as we should. Rather than feeling singled out or mistreated because things are hard, we should look to Jesus more and more, trusting Him to work all things for good.
The trials that make us more like Jesus are painful, but they are also essential.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.
David certainly lived an eventful life. Again and again he saw God at work to fulfill the promises He had made. Yet God's goodness and His faithfulness did not mean things were easy. Looking back after many years, David could see how even when things had been at their very worst, God had still been there to help him. In his autobiography describing the miraculous ways God had provided for the orphans under his care, George Müller wrote, “The Lord in His faithfulness helped us. Help was never more truly needed, nor did the help of the Lord ever come more obviously from Himself—His timing could not have been better. Praise the Lord for His goodness! Praise Him that He helped us trust in Him in this trying hour.”
No Christian has ever been abandoned by God. Every Christian goes through trials and difficulties. But those are not in any way evidence that God has failed us or broken His promises. God never forsakes His children. He knows all that is coming before it happens, and nothing touches our lives that has not first passed through His hands. God's plans for us often can only be understood when we are able to look back on what happened. But no matter whether it is what we would call a good day or a bad day, we can and should trust Him. God was just as faithful to David when he was running for his life as He was when David was defeating Goliath. He never fails to give us what He knows is best.
No matter what today may bring, God is control and He will never let you down.
Many times did he deliver them; but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity. Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry: And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies. He made them also to be pitied of all those that carried them captives. Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise.
God is perfectly just, and He is perfectly loving. When He allows difficulties into our lives, it is always for good reasons—even though we usually cannot see those reasons at the time. Sometimes those reasons include His discipline to bring us back into fellowship with Him. When we receive His correction, it is a sign that we are part of His family, and it is not to be resented or become a cause for bitterness or giving up. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him” (Hebrews 12:5).
Yet even as we endure such hardship, recognizing that it is for our good, we must also not lose sight of the great mercy of God. He does not hold our sins against us forever, and even when we have gotten ourselves into trouble and what we are going through is all our own fault, He still provides mercy. He still hears and answers when we cry out to Him. Think of Peter walking on the water in obedience to Jesus' command. Peter began to sink when he took his focus off of Jesus and began worrying about the storm. It was his fault, yet when he cried out for help, Jesus rescued Him. We do not receive mercy and help from God because we deserve it, but because we need it, and because it is His nature and character to provide it.
God's character ensures that we will receive the mercy we need, no matter what the cause of our trouble is.
He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
After observing the Passover with His disciples on the night before His crucifixion, the Creator and Lord of Heaven and Earth was on His knees, washing the feet of His quarreling followers. Even on that momentous night, they were not focused on the weight of the burden Jesus was carrying or rejoicing that God's plan of salvation was about to be accomplished. Instead they were jockeying for position in what they expected to be an earthly kingdom. “And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Washing feet was a dirty and disgusting job. If a Jewish man or woman was a servant, it was necessary to ask them if they were willing to do it rather than commanding them to do so.
Yet Jesus was willing to set aside all of His rights and privileges in order to serve. The world values pride, prestige, and position, but God does not. John Owen wrote, “There is an infinite distance between God and His creatures, and it is an act of sheer grace for Him to take notice of earthly things. Christ, as God, is completely self-sufficient in His own eternal blessedness. How great, then, is the glory of His self-humiliation in taking our nature that He might bring us to God! Such humiliation was not forced on Him; He freely chose to do it.” As Christians we are called to serve others in humility rather than seeking our own fame and glory.
When we humbly serve others without thought of self, we are truly living as Jesus did.
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
1 Peter 2:21-23
Though Jesus was fully and completely God, He was also fully and completely human. As He faced temptation, challenges, betrayal, persecution and a painful death, He did not just wave it away with His deity. Instead He remained faithful, trusting in God. This is a pattern that we can follow. We do not have to prove we are right or ensure our vindication when we are falsely accused. We do not have to fight back against those who mock us or call us names. We do not have to allow the actions of others to dictate our own. We can do as Jesus did and simply trust our lives, our reputations, our success or failure in the eyes of the world, and our future, to our righteous Father in Heaven.
There is an old story from the pre-revolution days in Russia that the peasants felt that their problems were the result of local officials. A common saying in those days was, “If only the Tsar knew.” They felt that the ruler of the country would not let things continue if only he were aware of how bad they were. In this telling, the revolution came about because the people found out that the tsar did know—and didn't care. Christians never have that experience. God always knows, and He is always concerned about us. Peter wrote, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). In any situation and in any circumstance, we can be confident that God is in control. That does not mean that things will always go as we wish they would or think they should, but it does mean we can trust Him.
If Jesus could trust God through the agony of the cross, we can trust Him with any pain or struggle we face.
I know that ye are Abraham's seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.
The response that people have when they are confronted with the truth varies. Some people accept it gladly and are willing to make whatever changes are required. Others hear it skeptically, looking for hidden motives and meanings in the word. Still others reject it, refusing to listen because of what accepting the truth would require. Jesus saw all of these responses during His ministry. Most of the opposition and rejection to Him came from those who prided themselves on being the most religious and strict in their observance of the Old Testament Law. Yet despite their proud claim to be descended from Abraham, they did not follow his example in accepting the truth.
There is a great difference between saying that something is right and actually doing what is right. The devil tempts us to substitute words for actions and to rest on the accomplishments and deeds of those who have gone before us. None of that matters when God evaluates our lives. He does not care who our ancestors were or what they believed, but rather what we are and what we do. He is not impressed with our proclamations, but looks at our actions. Rather than resting on our laurels and thinking that we have arrived, we need to be continually obeying God and doing what He commands. Instead of comparing ourselves to other people and feeling superior, we must be holding up God's truth as our standard of measurement.
It is not what we say but what we do that determines whether we are obedient to God.
But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Throughout Scripture we see people setting up reminders of what God had done. Joshua commanded the Israelites to build an altar at the Jordan River where God parted the waters for them to cross. Samuel consecrated a rock and named it Ebenezer to remind the people of the victory God gave them over the Philistines. God knows that we are prone to forgetting what we have been taught and what He has done for us.
Too many times Christians are taken off guard and fail to stand firm for the truth because they do not remember what God has said. There is a tendency to think that because we have heard the truth in the past, we do not need reminders, but, in fact, each of us needs to be brought face to face with the truth again and again. The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 2:1).
The temptation those of us who have been saved for many years face is to begin thinking that we already know all we need to know. We have read through the Bible multiple times, we've heard countless sermons and Sunday school lessons and we've done numerous Bible studies. But in truth even after we have done all of that, we still need reminders of the truth and a constant and steady diet of God's Word.
If we forget what God has said and done in our lives, we are on the path to failure.
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
2 Corinthians 11:24-27
Isaac Watts was born while his father was in jail for refusing to join the official Anglican church, which at the time was considered an act of treason against the king. Thus, Isaac understood from a very early age the cost of following Jesus no matter what others may do. It is reflected in many of his nearly six hundred hymns, including one of the most famous, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” which begins:
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follow’r of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Though it would be nice if serving God were easy and never provoked a response from the world, that is not the case. Our faithfulness to God will at times cause conflict with those who do not love Him. It was from a prison cell in Rome that Paul wrote to Timothy, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Our task is not to take the easy way or attempt to avoid conflict by silencing the truth. Instead it is to be faithful regardless of the consequences. Most of us have never and hopefully will never have to endure such great suffering as Paul did, but if that day comes, that is a price we must be willing to pay.
We must not allow anything to deter us from faithful service to the God who saved us.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
The price of our salvation was far higher than we are able to understand. We know that Jesus gave up the glory of Heaven, took on the limitations of being fully human, and died a painful and agonizing death on the cross. Yet none of that compared to the “contradiction of sinners” as the perfect and holy Son of God took on our sins in opposition to everything that was part of His character and nature. There was no other way for us to be saved, because sin demands a penalty. To pay it, Jesus submitted Himself to the worst thing imaginable. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
There should never be a day when we do not stop to be grateful for the completely undeserved gift of salvation we have received. It was purchased at a very high cost, and only the love and grace and mercy of God can explain why we received it. There is great strength for us in remembering what Jesus paid for our sins, and in viewing how much He endured voluntarily, we are reminded that we must be faithful and dedicated in His service. No matter what we experience or face, all of our suffering and sacrifices pale in comparison to the death of Christ on the cross.
The great price paid for our salvation should inspire us to keep going for God no matter what.
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:16-21
The world around us is filled with doubt and fear, but as children of God we do not need to face the future with uncertainty. God has told us the end of the story, and though we do not know all that will happen as we go through life, we know that we are secure in Him. This is our hope when things go wrong and times are hard. And that hope is based on the certainty of the resurrection.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Let me beg you to remember that Jesus Christ is still alive. Simple as that truth is, you need to be reminded of it. We very often estimate the power of the church by looking to her ministers, her ordinances, and her members; but the power of the church does not lie here, it lies in the Holy Ghost, and in an ever-living Saviour. Jesus Christ died, it is true; but he lives, and we may truly come to Him today.”
We are not bound to despair like those who have no hope. We are not limited to our own resources or plans. We have the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the resurrected and living Jesus, who hears our prayers and keeps His promises. We have a certain and unshakable hope no matter what is happening around us. This world is not all there is. There is eternity with God in Heaven waiting for us when this life ends. Nothing will ever change that.
We never face a problem for which God does not already know the answer.
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge issued his official Thanksgiving Day proclamation, saying: “We are not unmindful of the gratitude we owe to God for His watchful care which has pointed out to us the ways of peace and happiness; we should not fail in our acknowledgment of His divine favor which has bestowed upon us so many blessings. Wherefore, I, Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States, do hereby set apart Thursday, the twenty-fifth day of November next as a day of general thanksgiving and prayer, and I recommend that on that day the people shall cease from their daily work, and in their homes or in their accustomed places of worship, devoutly give thanks to the Almighty for the many and great blessings they have received.”
No matter how difficult things may be, even in the midst of economic uncertainty, rising persecution, or a global health crisis, we always have things for which to be thankful. And we have a responsibility and duty to do so. Our thanks is not based on what we have received, but on a realization that all of it is due to the grace and mercy of God rather than our own ability or merit. Nor is our gratitude conditioned on our circumstances, but on our obedience. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Far more than just one day on the calendar or the kickoff of the Christmas shopping season, thanksgiving should be a daily, ongoing, habitual expression of our hearts. If all you had left tomorrow was the things for which you are thankful, what would you have?
Not just today but throughout the year our hearts and our lips should be filled with gratitude and thanks to God.
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
1 Timothy 1:12-15
I read about a family who were planning to go on an extended vacation. They asked the nine year old neighbor to take care of the dog while they were gone. They carefully explained all that would be involved—feeding, watering, grooming, walking, and lots of play—and what their expectations were. After all of that, they asked the boy what the job would be worth to him. He replied, “I'll give you ten bucks.” Instead of getting paid for doing something he very much wanted to do, he was willing to pay to do it.
Service for God is often costly, difficult, and sometimes even brings suffering. And yet it is a privilege, not just a duty. Getting to be part of His work is an honor rather than a burden. If we view it as such, then we will not be deterred by the cost of serving God, but instead will gladly pay it. Paul told the Christians at Corinth, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
God does not need our help to accomplish His purposes. We are not doing Him a favor when we serve Him, we are accepting a very high privilege He has given us. When the Queen of Sheba met Solomon she said, “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom” (1 Kings 10:8). We serve One much greater than Solomon.
We should serve God with an attitude of cheerful joy, recognizing the privilege He has given us to do so.
For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
2 Corinthians 7:8-10
Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth was filled with correction and rebuke. They needed it. The church was tolerating false doctrine and immorality, confused about how to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit and much more. When Paul wrote them again, he noted the change that had occurred. When they were confronted with their sin, they were sorry. Rather than trying to justify or excuse it, they repented and changed their conduct. Matthew Henry said, “Some people do not like to hear much of repentance; but I think it is so necessary that if I should die in the pulpit, I would desire to die preaching repentance, and if out of the pulpit, I would desire to die practicing it.”
The natural tendency when someone points out something we are doing wrong is to become defensive. Rather than carefully considering whether the person has a point, we may become bitter against them, and blame them for the problem. Paul asked, “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16). A person who holds us accountable is not our enemy, but a greatly needed friend. We must repent. We must not reject the rebuke, or attack the rebuker. We must not justify or excuse or lessen the sin. If we view it in light of the price of that sin to Jesus, it should break our hearts, and that sorrow should lead us to confess and forsake it quickly.
A godly sorrow followed by repentance is the only correct response to sin.
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
For centuries, poets and novelists and songwriters have used the story of a lost love as one of their main literary tools. The tragedy of a lost love is not just a fictional device. When her husband Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria went into mourning. It was almost three years before she appeared again in public, and for the forty years she outlived her husband, she wore black every day as a sign of her grief over the loss.
Yet while a lost love may be sad and painful, there is something far worse, and that is a love that is left behind. This was the complaint the Lord had against the church at Ephesus. They had many admirable qualities and did many good things. But all of that was undermined by the fact that they did not love God as they once had. They were still going through the motions, but they were no longer motivated and driven by their love for the Lord.
Even the greatest of sacrifices are meaningless without love: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). If we want to please God, and we should, the first thing we should look at is not our actions, but our motivations. Have we allowed our love for Him to cool? Have we replaced intimate fellowship with Him with busyness? Do we love Him more now than we did before, or has that love been overtaken in the passage of time?
We must not allow anything to take the place of our fervent love for God.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
Our world is filled with people pursuing something that will provide them meaning and joy in life. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit to produce joy in our lives if we are walking in obedience and submission to Him. There is no outward source that can produce true joy, but there are actions on our part that can take it away. David had known what it was to rejoice in the presence of the Lord, but after his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, he also knew what it was to lose that joy: “For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah” (Psalm 32:4).
The old Scottish preacher John MacDuff said, “Our sins make sorrows needful—our lack of watchfulness may bring disquietude and doubt, and, instead of 'rejoicing in the Lord,' our hearts may be filled with despondency and gloom. Christian! if you have not this joy 'abiding' in you now, you have cause for alarm; for, be assured, it is suspended, not from any lack of love on the part of your Saviour, nor from any forgetfulness of you by the Holy Spirit, but, because you yourself have become less watchful, in guarding the citadel of the heart.”
If we have unconfessed sin in our lives, we cannot expect to have the joy of salvation restored apart from confessing and forsaking that sin. When we do not repent, the relationship with God cannot be fully restored. When it is broken, joy flees. Often people try to find something to replace true joy rather than dealing with the sin in their lives, but those efforts never work.
The full joy that Jesus gives His people can only be experienced while walking in submission to Him.
The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Though God is the perfect expression of all His characteristics, and all of them are part of who He is, the characteristic that He chooses to emphasize is His holiness. The angels flying around the throne of God in Heaven cry “Holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3), not “Loving” or “Merciful” or “Light” or “Truth.” God is all of those things completely and totally, but He highlights His holiness. If we are to enter His presence, we must also be holy. Of course that is not possible for sinful people to do in their own strength. That is why the perfect, sinless, obedient holiness of Jesus Christ is placed on our account when we are saved.
The responsibility we have is to live in that holiness to the fullest extent, both inside and out. It is not enough to say that the motive of our heart justifies wrong actions, or that the right actions make up for the wrong motives. We need both “clean hands, and a pure heart” to have the relationship with God that we should. Jesus dealt with people who believed that only outward holiness was sufficient, and He rebuked them sternly: “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matthew 23:26). Our standing in God's family is secure and unchanging, but if we want to enjoy the close fellowship with Him that we need and He desires, we must strive toward holiness in both our thoughts and actions.
We must be clean within and without to enjoy the close fellowship of God's presence.
And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is a demonstration of God's faithfulness to keep His promises. Everything that the Old Testament prophets had foretold was fulfilled. The timing and location of Jesus' birth were written down hundreds of years before it happened. There is no way human prediction or planning could have been so precise, but God always does exactly what He says He will do. So even though Simeon was an old man, he did live long enough to see the baby Jesus when Joseph and Mary brought Him to the Temple for His dedication. It was not a coincidence, but rather the prompting of the Holy Spirit that made sure Simeon was in the right place at the right time so God's promise would be fulfilled.
When we see that God has declared something, we know it is certain and true, whether it has happened yet or not. Scoffers may mock the promises of God that are yet to come, as Peter saw in His day: “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 3:4). Yet they are wrong. We must not allow the passage of time or the skepticism of critics to weaken our faith that God will do what He promised. No power can defeat His purpose, and no enemy can stop His plan from moving forward. Every promise of God is reliable.
The Christmas story is a wonderful reminder that God always does what He says He will do.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Six months before Jesus was born, Mary's cousin Elisabeth had a child in her extreme old age. They named the baby John, just as the angel Gabriel had told his father Zacharias to do. John was born with a purpose—to prepare people for the coming Messiah. For hundreds of years prophets had looked forward to Jesus' appearance. A key part of God's plan to prepare for that was fulfilled by this miracle birth. John the Baptist had a brief but powerful and effective ministry. He told people Jesus was the Lamb of God, and when many of those who had once come to hear him preach began following Jesus instead, John was not disheartened or discouraged. Instead he declared, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Of all the traits necessary to be effective in pointing people to Jesus, humility is one of the most important. If we are focused on building our own kingdom and promoting ourselves, we cannot show Jesus to the world as we should. D. L. Moody said, “I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.” Our purpose is not to serve and glorify ourselves, but to serve and glorify God.
Proud people cannot effectively present the message of God to a lost and dying world.
I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.
David spent several years after Samuel anointed him with oil and declared that he would be the next king of Israel running for his life. The current king, Saul, did not want to give up the throne, and he did everything in his power to hunt down David and kill him. Humanly speaking, David had no hope of survival. Yet again and again God delivered David, and when the running was finally done, David wrote a psalm of praise and thanks for God's protection. When David needed Him most, God was not distant or indifferent to his circumstances. Instead He provided the hope and help that David needed and kept him safe until he was finally seated on the throne.
The physical deliverance God provided for David is a beautiful picture of the spiritual deliverance Jesus came into the world to provide for us. There was nothing we could do to gain or earn or deserve to stand before a perfectly holy God. Humanly speaking, we had no hope of salvation. Yet God provided what we needed most by sending His Son. When Jesus met with the publican Zacchaeus, some people complained that a man reviled as a traitor to his people would be offered a hope of redemption. But that was the reason Jesus was here. He said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The ultimate meaning of Christmas is not presents or trees or lights. It is all about the coming of the Savior.
Above all else, Jesus was born to be the Savior of all those who believe in Him.
And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
Many of the ancient religions of the world told stories of the various gods and goddesses they worshiped taking on human form and walking among men. The Greeks, for example, believed that their deities lived on Mount Olympus but frequently appeared to intervene in the lives of the people. In these appearances, however, they were anything but divine. They were jealous and selfish and greedy and immoral as they walked the earth. Their gifts usually came with strings attached, and if they granted people's wishes, it was often in a way that damaged the receivers. Being visited by one of these deities was almost always a disaster for the majority of the people with whom they interacted.
By contrast, Jesus came to Earth becoming fully human and yet retaining the perfection and divine nature of God. He set a pattern and example for us, not of selfish or wicked behavior, but of concern and compassion for others. He walked every day in accordance with God's law, never breaking any of the commandments of His Father. Anyone who emulates His life will behave in a manner that is pleasing to God. Yet Jesus being here on Earth went beyond that. Because He was human as well as divine, He fully understands what it is like to be tired and tempted and abandoned. He knows the struggle we face when we are tempted, for He too was tempted. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And ultimately, He gave His life for our redemption.
Only the love of God can explain the reason Jesus came to Earth to be our Savior.
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
Many of the heresies that impacted the early church related to the nature of Jesus Christ. Docetism denied the incarnation, teaching that Jesus had no real human body. Apollonism denied the humanity of Jesus's mind, claiming it was divine. Arianism taught that Jesus was created by God rather than always being God. Nestorianism declared that Jesus was really two separate people rather than being both God and man. Despite all these and many other false doctrines, the truth is clear. The Bible teaches us that Jesus came as the Messiah and Savior, and both completely God and completely man at the same time. Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “[Jesus] is not humanity deified. He is not Godhead humanized. He is God. He is man. He is all that God is, and He is all that man is as God created Him.”
One of the purposes for the writing of Scripture is to show us who and what Jesus is so that we can have faith and complete confidence in Him. The more that we know about the truth, the easier it is for us to resist error. The Bible is not just a book of stories from the past. It is the distilled wisdom and truth of God that He has prepared and preserved for us. It is impossible for a Christian to be stable in faith and growing in grace apart from a thorough, deep, consistent, and continual relationship with the Word of God. There is no other way for us to learn about Jesus, and there is nothing more important for us to learn. The more we know of His life and teaching, the more we are able to follow in His footsteps and live more like He did.
We cannot live as Jesus did unless we know how He lived and what He taught.